After Love : Aleem Khan Copilot : Anne Zohra Berrached Limbo : Ben Sharrock Never Gonna Snow Again : Małgorzata Szumowska Nomadland : Chloe Zhao Petite Maman : Celine Sciamma Power of the Dog : Jane Campion
A Ghost in the Throat : Doireann Ni Ghriofa Fidelity : Susan Glaspell (First published, 1915) Jack : Marilynne Robinson Lean. Fall. Stand. : Jon McGregor That Old Country Music : Kevin Barry The Night Always Comes : Willy Vlautin The Night Watchman : Louise Erdrich Real Estate : Deborah Levy Scratched – A Memoir of Perfectionism : Elizabeth Tallent The Vanishing Half : Brit Bennett
Magnetic Field – The Marsden Poems : Simon Armitage Country Music : Will Burns Learning to Sleep : John Burnside New Hunger : Ella Duffy If You Want Thunder : Ruth Valentine The Last Dinosaur in Doncaster : Sarah Wimbush
Mohamed Bourouissa : Goldsmiths CCA Helen Frankenthaler – Imagining Landscapes : Gagosian Grosvenor Hill Helen Frankenthaler – Radical Beauty : Dulwich Picture Gallery Margaret Mellis – Modernist Constructs : Towner Eastbourne John Nash : The Landscape of Love & Solace : Towner Eastbourne Ben Nicholson – From the Studio : Pallant House Wim Wenders – Photographing Ground Zero : IWM Breaking the Mould – Sculpture by Women since 1945 : Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham
It used to be there under Birthdays, some years at least. The daily listing in the paper, the Guardian, occasionally the Times. September 18th. Valentine Collins, jazz musician. And then his age: 27, 35, 39. Not 40. Val never reached 40.
So begins one of my short stories, Minor Key, concerning a British saxophonist hoping to keep his life – and his playing – together by accepting a residency in a Paris jazz club, at the same time that one his idols, Lester Young, is in Paris trying to do the self-same thing. Though to an outsider – or to anyone who cares, such as Val’s long-time friend Anna – it might not seem as if either man is trying very hard. Rather, the opposite.
Here’s a taste, involving both men …
“Minor Key”: First published in Paris Noir, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2007. Reprinted in Minor Key, Five Leaves, Nottingham, 2009. Reprinted in A Darker Shade of Blue, William Heinemann, London, 2010.
Listening to a selection of recordings by Lester Young the other day reminded me of several occasions on which he crops up in my writing – quite frequently, in fact, in the Charlie Resnick novels – if not as frequently as Thelonius Monk.
Here’s one occasion, from the second Resnick novel, Rough Treatment …
It seems not just unlikely but a little crazy that after 80 years [Yes, 80. Count ‘em] John Huston’s film version of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, re-released by the BFI, should be as absorbing and, in its portrayal of characters caught up in a maelstrom of sex, violence and betrayal, recognisable today. Only the stakes and the levels of betrayal have changed.
Huston wrote the script, sticking very closely to the original, so that much of the dialogue is more or less straight from the novel; one thing that is different, of course, what the film adds, is the fleshing out of the supporting characters – and in Sydney Greenstreet’s Kaspar Gutman, often filmed from below to emphasise his impressive girth, fleshing out is the appropriate term. He and his co-conspirator, Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, seem never to have quite decided if they are playing comedy or something altogether more dangerous and sinister, and its greatly to the benefit of the film that they manage both, simultaneously.
Their other function is to offset the stubborn seriousness of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade, who, through it all and despite the temptations of Mary Astor’s femme fatale and a share of the wealth the Falcon represents, stays true to his code.
“When a man’s partner gets killed you’re supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we’re in the detective business. Well, when of your organisation gets killed it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. It’s bad all around – bad for that one organisation, bad for detectives everywhere.”
And Hammett should know: he worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency before turning to writing.
The lines above are delivered to Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy, whom Spade is convinced was responsible for murdering his partner, Miles Archer, whose body was found in an alley after being shot at close range.
“Miles hadn’t many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance. He was as dumb as any man ought to be, but he wasn’t quite that dumb. …. But he’d have gone up there with you angel … He was just dumb enough for that. He’d’ve looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear – and then you could’ve stood as close to him as you liked in the dark and put a hole through him with the gun you had got from Thursby that evening.”
When, with increasing desperation, Mary Astor/Brigid attempts to use his feelings for her, his attraction to her, as the means for letting her, literally, get away with murder, he is adamant that whatever those feelings might be, he is neither going to be taken for granted, nor made a fool of. “I won’t play the sap for you,” he says. “You killed Miles and you’re going over for it.” And, with macabre humour, “I hope they don’t hang you, angel, by that sweet neck.”
In the film’s final scenes, Brigid is taken into the lift by the police and we move to a close-up of her face behind the bars of the lift’s inner door, before the outer door closes, shutting her deeper inside and as the lift begins to descend – she’s, literally, going down, Bogart/Spade walks past towards the stairs with the Falcon in his arms.
If I do have a problem with the film, it’s quite believing in the Bogart/Astor relationship. David Thomson [no less] says “it’s the love story that is riveting” and refers to a “lovely crisscross of screwball and noir”, whereas it seems to me that description is far more accurate if applied to the other famous Bogart private eye film from the forties, Howard Hawk’s 1946 version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, built as it is around the relationship between Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which was first revealed on screen two years earlier in the same director’s To Have and Have Not.
Here Bogart’s hero, Philip Marlowe, is as hard-headed and hard-hearted as Sam Spade where necessary – towards the film’s climax, and without compunction, he sends the gambler Eddie Mars off to a certain death at the hands of his own gunmen – but he’s also portrayed as someone who can charm the birds out of the trees and, in the famouses bookstore scene, the glasses from Dorothy Malone’s nose. And the scenes between Bogart and Bacall are brilliant examples of sex by inference and innuendo – each one sparking back and forth against the other. Look, speak but don’t – quite – touch. At least, not until the director has called ‘Cut!”
Each one hour episode is broadcast at 10.00am, repeated at 15.00, and available later on BBC Sounds. Produced by David Hunter, it features Tom Georgeson as DI Charlie Resnick, Sean Baker, Paul Bazely and Kate Eaton as his fellow coppers, and John Simm as the young hospital doctor, Tim Fletcher.
A quick reflection glimpsed in the glass door before him and Fletcher turned his head in time for the downward sweep of the blade, illuminated in a fast curve of orange light.
*All five BBC radio dramatisations – Wasted Years, Cutting Edge, Slow Burn, Cheryl & Bird of Paradise – are available as an audio download from Penguin. 507 minutes total.
* I’m delighted to report that the first edition of Aslant [Shoestring Press, 2019] featuring my poems alongside my daughter Molly’s photographs, has now sold out and a reprint is imminent.
“John Harvey’s poetry is spacious, unhurried, measured, taking its time to unfurl its effect but keeping its hooks in the reader by careful control of pace and by making every word count.” Robin Thomas : The High Window Press
Copies will be available from all the usual sources, but I’d ask you to consider ordering from your local independent bookshop, in my case Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town https://owlbookshop.co.uk (close enough for me to nip in and sign or add a dedication if that’s your fancy). Alternatively and not exactly local, I’d recommend the excellent Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham. https://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk
* More generally I’m pleased to report that although, my blog and the occasional Monday morning Twitter poem aside, I might have retired, such is not the case with my agent nor my publishers. Audio rights to the Frank Elder books have recently been sold to Denmark and Norway and Donmay Publishing continue to bring out beautifully designed hardback editions of the Resnick novels in Taiwan. Almost everything in the backlist seems to be available one way or another, as ebooks or in print, including a bunch of westerns from Piccadilly Publishing and some very early crime fiction from The Mysterious Press/Open Road.
* And finally, let me put in a plea for what will almost certainly be my last piece of full-length fiction, Blue Watch [Troika, 2019]. Set in London during the Blitz and dedicated to the memory of my father, who served in the Auxiliary Fire Service throughout WW2, it was mainly intended for younger teenage readers, but I’ve heard from a growing number of adults who’ve enjoyed it and you might, too. Independent booksellers as above.
It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the whole of London was on fire.
During the years since Payot Rivages published the first Resnick novel – Coeurs Solitaires – Lonely Hearts – in France, I’ve been fortunate in both the depth and breadth of reviews that have appeared there, both in print and on radio. With the publication of Le Corps et l’ame – Body & Soul – in early January, I’ve been well served again. What follows are extracts from three reviews, rendered into English through a shaky combination of Google Translate and my ancient schoolboy French [Advanced level, Failed].
TELERAMA Christine Ferniiot
Thriller writer John Harvey says goodbye to his heroes …
In 2014, in Darkness, Darkness, British writer John Harvey decided to abandon his famous hero, Chief Inspector Charles Resnick. He did not kill him off, preferring to watch his figure blend into the landscape; leaving him on a bench, a cup of coffee in hand, outside Nottingham Town Hall, daydreaming of a recording by Thelonious Monk – an ending suited to his image: melancholy, poetic and discreet. At that time, John Harvey explained that he wanted to devote himself, in a personal capacity, to poetry and jazz. We believed this to be the case, but luckily writers can change their minds. Here he is again, with Le Corps et l’Ame, a new thriller, one last lap in the company of Frank Elder, a retired police officer. This time, the book does sound like a farewell from this major author who began his career in 1976 under several pseudonyms, writing detective novels and westerns.
It was François Guérif, then editor of Rivages/Noir, who enabled French readers to discover John Harvey in 1993 and to follow him for almost thirty years. “Another British writer, the formidable Robin Cook, spoke to me one day about John Harvey, telling me to read Lonely Hearts, the first investigation by his hero Charles Resnick. I immediately loved this character, full of humanity and compassion, but also the elegant writing of John Harvey, very inspired by the jazz he loves.”
…. Consider the title of this novel in its original edition : it is called “Body and Soul”, like the title of a song by Billie Holiday which dates from 1957. ** One of those jazz tunes imbued with melancholy, blues, both sad and beautiful, oscillating between different emotions, leaving you alone facing the sea (as on the front cover), as if, finally, to better understand life, you sometimes had to let it rock you with nostalgia. .
The intimate, beautiful, poetic, musical writing (with many and magnificent references) won me over. It has a “je ne sais quoi” that is sublime. Suffering is faintly present between the lines: it inhabits the novel but is not painful because of the way Elder carries it, certainly like a burden, but it is not allowed to dominate the story, because it is mentioned with discretion, finesse and intelligence. The style is sober, calm, each word (especially in the dialogue) carries meaning.
The author talks about art, the complex links between models and artists; about the difficulties of family relationships when a person has mental health problems; the role of parents, of friends. The whole book is imbued with a bittersweet vibe that charmed me. Like jazz, it captivates you, captivates you, and stays with you for a long time …
**Billie Holiday first recorded “Body & Soul” in 1940. The 1957 recording, with Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, was one of her last.
LIVRESSE DU NOIR LE CORPS ET L’ÂME – NADIA DI PASQUALE – 5 JANVIER 2021
… A dark novel, full of atmosphere where the contrast between the rural landscapes of Cornwall and the urban settings of London is striking. Family relationships are at the heart of this story, the author explores the father-daughter relationship … A father assailed by doubts, devoured by guilt, plagued by demons from the past; a very touching father who tries to reconnect with his vulnerable daughter, a father ready to do anything to defend and protect her.
A very realistic plot, tightly wound in 300 pages, which advances at its own pace and captivates us from start to finish. The construction is rigorous, we oscillate between the meticulous investigation, the procedures, a few well-placed twists and small touches of decor and atmosphere. The characters occupy a central place; John Harvey has the art of searching their souls and complexes with great depth and a beautiful humanity. His pen is very elegant, the style classic while leaving a lot of room for darkness; the dialogue is sharp and subtle.
And then, an unexpected finale, tinged with a certain sadness. Goodbye! I’m happy to have discovered Frank Elder. An excellent reading moment!
For quite a while now, it’s been my habit to begin the year – my reading year – with either Katherine Mansfield or Virginia Woolf, occasionally both: one of Woolf’s novels, most often To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway; two or three of Mansfield’s short stories – ‘The Garden Party’, say, or ‘Prelude’; ‘Daughters of the Late Colonel’ or ‘At the Bay’. This time around, everything else being different, I felt like a change. Though nothing radical. Something from roughly the same period, the early 20th century.
England, My England, a collection of ten short stories by D. H. Lawrence, was first published in 1922; the copy that I have – one of Penguin’s uniform edition with tastefully rural photographs by Harri Peccinootti – I bought at Hatchard’s in Piccadilly in 1974. Still a long way from Oradea, which, if you were uncertain, is a university town in the north west of Romania, close to the Hungarian border. But I urge patience. No sooner had I finished reading the second story – ‘Tickets, Please’, which begins with a bravura description of the journey made by a Midlands tram into the industrial countryside and back again: two jostling, skittering 11-line sentences with a pair of shorter sentences applying the brake in between – than I thought the perfect companion for my reprise of Lawrence would be Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, in which he does everything possible not to follow his alleged purpose of writing about Lawrence and ends up writing about him with perception and a great deal of humour. A quote from Lawrence himself, at the beginning of the book, gives us the idea …
“Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.” D. H. Lawrence, 5 September, 1914
The title page of my copy was signed by Geoff – in green ink – matching the cover – with a sprawling dedication which refers to the “many memories … of our Romanian quest … especially of your drumming.” Drumming? Okay, take a step or so back. Try to explain.
In the spring of 1997, I was one of a group of writers setting out on a British Council sponsored visit to the University of Oradea to take part in a three day seminar, an exchange of work and views with Romanian (and, as it turned out, Moldovan) colleagues. Myself and Geoff Dyer aside, our group included the poet George Szirtes, the short story writer, Helen Simpson, and the academic and critic, Valentine Cunningham, who had recently written a very positive review of one of the Resnick novels for the Times Literary Supplement and, I suspect, was behind my inclusion. It was Cunningham, also, who had the trumpet. Have horn, will travel. In this case, aboard BA2894 from Gatwick to Bucharest and hence by well-appointed coach across country to Oradea. If he had known there would be a band on hand at our welcoming dinner, I don’t know – perhaps he took his trumpet with him everywhere on the off chance – but once he had discovered that George Szirtes could play the piano – admittedly only 12 bar blues in the key of, I think, C – and that way back in the early 60s I had played drums in a ‘trad’ jazz band at Goldsmiths College, he had no hesitation in leading us up onto the stage the moment the band announced the interval. What occurred for the next thirty minutes or so is something of a blur – much as it was at the time. All I know is that I performed my basic function of keeping time, with only the occasional cymbal flourish or snare drum paradiddle, and Valentine played some decidedly tasty trumpet.
Could our visit get any better? It could, and did, and one of the highlights was listening to Geoff Dyer read from Out of Sheer Rage, which had me – at the appropriate moments – helpless with laughter.
Amongst the writers whose work I enjoyed discovering were the Romanian poet, Romulus Bucur, and a young Moldovan poet, Julian Fruntasu, and thanks to some financial help from the British Council, I was able, through Slow Dancer Press, to publish their poetry in Britain for the first time. Typeset, of course, in Romanian Bookman Light.
The following year, together with a different group of writers, including the poet and novelist, John Burnside, I was pleased to return to Oradea with copies of the two pamphlets, present them to the poets, and listen to their inaugural reading. My only small sadness on this occasion, no welcoming band, no trumpet, no last chance behind the drums.
There’s nothing like restriction of movement to get you thinking about how badly – having changed trains in York – you want to be sitting again, upfront on the bus taking the winding road from Scarborough to Whitby; or the never-ending train journey that makes each and every stop between Plymouth and its eventual terminus in Penzance. And January being the month Body & Soul is published in France, I could have expected, in more normal times, to have been whisked across to Paris on Eurostar for lunch with my French agent and publisher, with talk of returning later in the year to take part in Noir sur la Ville in Lamballe or Quais du Polar in Lyon.
But, no. Rien. Instead, there are memories of journeys taken, book tours in Sweden and Italy, the UK and the USA.
For a number of years, when the Resnick novels were being published in the States by Henry Holt, they would fly me over and, after several events in New York, where they are based, send me out on the road. More precisely, and before my highly developed fear of flying, in the air. Most visits were short-lived. Someone would be standing at Arrivals with a copy of my latest book in their hand and I’d be whisked off to sign stock at Barnes & Noble et cetera, before being deposited at the hotel and picked up again later and ferried to whichever bookstore I was appearing at that evening. After which, most often, I’d be driven to the airport early the following morning to catch a plane to the next stop on the schedule. It was tiring, it was fun, and I was getting to see far more of the States than I’d ever visited before.
Ferreting through a poorly organised folder labelled Events, I came across the following, a list of venues visited on a book tour I made in 1994, twenty of them.
Generally speaking, events at dedicated crime and mystery bookstores were more successful than those at larger, general stores, and over a number of years I got to know a number of them – and their owners – well and relish the opportunity to make another visit. The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale would be one of those and The Black Orchid another. At Partners in Crime, in New York City, there was always the possibility of at least one other author being present, Larry Block on one occasion, I remember, and Charlotte Carter on another. Michael Connelly dropped in to the Mystery Annex on an evening when, for some reason, I’d decided to read poetry as well as fiction – the story of which is told in his 2011 novel, The Drop.
Now, here we are when planes and trains are out of reach, buses are risky last resorts and visiting my local bookstore – Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town- to chat to Gary, the manager, and browse the shelves, is no longer a possibility – and a visit to Ross Bradshaw and Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham a fantasy
Stand By Me : Wendell Berry The Falconer : Dana Czapnik Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me : Kate Clanchy All Among the Barley : Melissa Harrison Long Bright River : Liz Moore Olive, Again : Elizabeth Strout
Anne Enright Kent Haruf Thomas McGuane
Country Music : Will Burns When the Tree Falls : Jane Clarke New Hunger : Ella Duffy Yes But What Is This? What Exactly? : Ian McMillan How I Learned to Sing : Mark Robinson Sweet Nothings : Rory Waterman Squid : Matthew Welton
The Perfect Candidate : Haifaa Al-Mansour Rocks : Sarah Gavron The County : Grimur Hakonarson Da 5 Bloods : Spike Lee A White, White Day : Hlynur Palmason Portrait of a Lady on Fire : Celine Sciamma So Long, My Son : Wang Xiaoshuai
From An Old Guitar : Dave Alvin Ballads : Paula Cole Time : Jess Gillam Piano 2 : Pete Judge Bach, Goldberg Variations : Pavel Kolesnikov Monk – Palo Alto : Thelonious Monk Winter Hill : Liz Simcock Avenging Angel : Craig Taborn
The Oil Rigs at Night : The Delines All in the Past : Dave Ellis & Boo Howard Straight Back To You : Everything But the Girl Angry All the Time : Tim McGraw Inside : Bill Morrissey Wichita : Gretchen Peters Angels & Acrobats : Rod Picott You Tattooed Me : Tom Robinson Old Chunk Of Coal : Billy Joe Shaver Flowers on Valentine’s Day : Liz Simcock Sister Mercy : John Stewart Tryin’ To Hold the Wind Up With a Sail : Jerry Jeff Walker
On Twitter recently, I offered signed copies of the penultimate Resnick novel, Cold in Hand, in exchange for donations to Médecins Sans Frontières – or Doctors Without Borders – an international medical organisation working in conflict zones and countries affected by endemic diseases. The take-up was pleasing enough to send me scouring the shelves in search of other gems with which to broaden the offer.
Here’s the deal: email me at email@example.com, giving a mailing address and letting me know which book you want and if you’d like a dedication as well as a signature. Then, once I’ve confirmed the book is still available, you make a donation (a tenner?) to MSF. and I send you the book. Simple.
And these are the books …
BODY & SOUL Pegasus Books (US) hardcover edition, 2018. The fourth and final book in the Frank Elder series
“When he’d said he’d drive in and meet her at the station, she’d said there was no need, she’d catch the bus. Lengthening his stride, he was in time to see its headlights as it rounded the hill; time to see her step down and walk towards him – ankle boots, padded jacket, jeans, rucksack on her back – uncertainty flickering in her eyes seen as she summoned up a smile. ‘Kate . . . It’s good to see you.’ When she reached out her hands towards his, he struggled not to stare at the bandages on her wrists.”
BLUE WATCH Troika paperback, 2019. A ‘Young Adult’ novel set in London 1n 1940, during the heart of the Blitz, it follows the adventures of Jack, a fifteen year-old Fire Brigade messenger, and his friendship with Lilith, a young refugee. A good read for anyone of secondary school age and beyond – quite a few adult readers have liked this a lot.
“It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the whole of London was on fire.”
OUT OF SILENCE New & Selected Poems Smith|Doorstop, 2014 New poems – well, new in 2014 – along with Peter Sansom’s selection from two earlier collections, Ghosts of a Chance & Bluer Than This.
Driving through Camberwell the rain slides down black across the windscreen and as we pass the lights for the third time you push a cassette into place the click and hiss of tape and then it’s him: Rhythm-a-ning. Charlie Rouse on tenor, Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor at the drums. New York City, February, 1959 . . .
… and still some copies of
COLD IN HAND Harcourt (US) hardcover edition, 2008 The penultimate book in the Charlie Resnick series
“At first he thought what he heard as he stepped into the hall was the sound of a car backfiring, then knew, in the same breath, that it was not.“