Grabianski, Degas & The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Jerzy Grabianski, as I mentioned in a recent post , first appeared in the second Resnick novel, Rough Treatment; one half of a skilled team of cat burglars, a bulky, perhaps surprisingly humane man with a propensity for falling inappropriately in love. Too interesting a character for me to leave alone; not least for the similarities – physical and genetic – between Resnick and himself. So, after a gap of some years, he featured prominently in the short story, Bird of Paradise, first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and collected in Now’s The Time (2002) , and appeared again in 1997, in the ninth Resnick novel, Still Water.

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still water

And it’s to Still Water that we go for a little of Grabianski’s background …

Grabianski was thinking of his father; the half-sister, Kristyna, he had never seen. The family had fled Poland in the first year of the war – and a slow, cold fleeing they’d had of it, walking, occasionally hitching a lift, hiding beneath the heavy tarpaulin of a river barge: Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland. Kristyna had drowned in the waters of Lake Neuchatel; she had been eleven years old.
His father, a textile worker from Lodz, had flown as a navigator for both the French and British forces; parachuted out over the Channel, plummeting towards the black, unseeing water with images of Kristyna, her stiff, breastless body, trapped tight behind his eyes.
He had survived.
Jerzy Grabianski had been born in South London, his mother a nurse from St. George’s, his father sewing by electric light in the basement room in Balham where they lived. Weekends, when his mother was working, his father would walk him to Tooting Bec Common, sit with him in the Lido, dangling Grabianski’s flailing legs down into the shallow water, never letting go.

And here, in the opening paragraphs of Bird of Paradise, is Grabianski, ornithologist and burglar, first sighting the woman with whom he becomes infatuated  …

It was still surprisingly cold for the time of year, already well past Lent, and Sister Teresa kept her topcoat belted but unbuttoned, so that the lower part of it flared open as she strode through the stalled traffic at the corner of Radford Road and Gregory Boulevard, revealing a knee-length grey wool skirt and pale grey tights which Grabianski, watching from the window of an Asian confectioner’s, thought were more than pleasingly filled.
He popped something pink and sugary into his mouth and smiled appreciatively. One of life’s natural observers, he never failed to enjoy those incidental pleasures that chance and patience brought his way: a brown flycatcher spied on the edge of Yorkshire moorland, the narrow white ring around its eye blinking clear from its nest; a chink of light just discernible through the blinds of a bedroom window, four storeys up, suggesting the upper window may have been left recklessly unfastened; the stride of a mature woman, purposeful and strong, as she makes her way though the city on an otherwise unremarkable April day.
Casually, Grabianski stepped out on to the street. He was a well-built man, broad-shouldered and tall, no more than five or six pounds overweight for his age, somewhere in the mid-forties. His face was round rather than lean and freshly shaved; the dark hair on his head had yet to thin. His eyes were narrowed and alert as he angled his head and saw, away to his right, the woman he had noticed earlier, passing now between two youths on roller blades, before rounding the corner and disappearing from sight.
Dressed in civilian clothes as Sister Teresa was, Grabianski would have been surprised to have learned she was a nun.

The order to which the good Sister belongs is The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as detailed in chapter four of Still Water

The Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help lived in an undistinguished three-storey house midway between the car park for the Asda supermarket and the road alongside the Forest recreation ground where the local prostitutes regularly plied their trade.
There but for the grace of God, as Sister Bonaventura used to remark, bustling past. Whether she was referring to whoring or working at the checkout, Sister Teresa and Sister Marguerite were never sure.
All three of them were attached to the order’s outreach programme, living in one of the poorer areas of the city and administering as best they could to the unfortunate and the needy, daily going about the Lord’s business without the off-putting and inconvenient trappings of liturgical habits but wearing instead civilian clothes donated by members of the local parish. Plain fare for the most part, but ameliorated by small personal indulgences.
Sister Marguerite, who came out in a painful rash if she wore anything other than silk closest to her skin, purchased her underwear by mail order from a catalogue. Sister Bonaventura stuck pretty much to black, which she relieved with scarlet Aids ribbons and a neat metallic badge denoting Labour Party membership. “Who do you think He would vote for, if he came back down to reclaim his Kingdom on earth?” she would ask when challenged. “The Conservatives?”
And Sister Teresa, whose mother had stopped measuring her against the kitchen wall at fourteen when she had reached five foot seven, was forced to make her own arrangements as the kind supply of cast-offs rarely matched her size. Regularly, she would bundle up a pile of pleated skirts and crimplene trouser suits and take them to the Oxfam shop where she would exchange them for something more fitting.

When Grabianski and Sister Teresa finally get to speak, in a scene from Bird of Paradise, it is when he rescues her from being physically attacked by a fiercely angry man whose battered wife she has been trying to help.

Hearing the sound of someone at his back, Palmer half turned and met the heel of Grabianski’s outthrust hand full force upon his nose. The snap of cartilage was dredged through snot and blood.
“Don’t … ” began the woman, easing herself up on to all fours. “Please, don’t … ” as she levered herself back against the wall, head sinking gingerly forward till it came to rest against her knees.
“Don’t what?” asked Grabianski gently, bending down before her.
“Don’t hurt him.”
He recognised the dull sparkle of the ring upon her hand. Why was it they always defended them, no matter what? One of her eyes was already beginning to close.
“A beating,” Grabianski said. “No more than he deserves.”
“No, no. Please.” She fumbled for then found his wrist and clutched it tight. “I pray you.”
Something about the way she said it made Grabianski think twice; he recognised her then, the woman who had been striding out in shades of grey, and felt a quickening of his pulse. Somehow instead of her holding his wrist, he was holding her hand. Behind them, he heard her attacker scurry, slew-footed, away.
The muscles in the backs of Grabianski’s legs were aching and he changed position, sitting round against the wall. Sister Teresa, blood dribbling from a cut alongside her mouth, was alongside him now, shoulders touching, and he was still holding her hand.
She found it strangely, almost uniquely, reassuring.
She said, “Thank you.”
He said it was fine.
She asked him his name and he her’s.
“Teresa,” she said.
“Teresa what?”
And she had to think. “Teresa Whimbrel,” she said and he smiled.
“What’s amusing?” she asked.
“Whimbrel,” Grabianski said, “it’s a bird. A sort of curlew.” The smile broadened.    “Notably long legs.”
He looked, she thought, decidedly handsome when he smiled – and something else besides. She wondered if that something – whatever it was – might be dangerous.
She was looking at the fingers of his hand, broad-knuckled and lightly freckled with hair and curved about her own.
“I think you should let go,” she said.
“Um?”
“Of my hand.”
“Oh.” He asked a question instead. “Was that your husband? The man?”
“Not mine, no.”
He could feel the ring on her finger, no longer see it. “But you are married?”
“In a way.”
Grabianski raised an eyebrow. “Which way is that?”
“A way you might find difficult to understand.”

 

Back, finally, to Still Water, in which Grabianski, learning that Sister Teresa is interested in visual art, invites her to join him in London to visit the exhibition of Degas’ paintings at the National Gallery ….

Grab 1

Grab 2 copy

 

Time 2

French Time

 

“Rough Treatment” … 30 years on.

 

Rough 1

It barely seems possible, but thirty years have passed since the second Resnick novel, Rough Treatment, was published. I’d like to say it seems like only yesterday, but that would be to belie the truth; with a memory like mine nowadays, I’m lucky if yesterday seems like yesterday. 1990, though – the year, I do remember, that Notts County – the team with Mark Draper and Tommy Johnson [the Jack Grealish of his day?] –  were promoted to the old Division One. Some things just seem to stick.

Rough Treatment, though: a glance at the first page brings it back …

“Are we going to do this?” Grice asked. Already the cold was seeping into the muscles across his back, January he hated with a vengeance.
Milder than usual days, Grabianski thought, you expected nights like these. “A minute,” he said, and started off towards the garage. For a big man, he moved with surprising lightness.

Grice and Grabianski, cat burglars by profession; Grice a small, ratty little man, short on temper and a lifelong supporter of Leyton Orient; Jerzy Grabianski, in both his size and his Polish heritage, a deliberate echo of Resnick himself –  a soft-centred man who will pause in making his escape from a house he and Grice are burgling to give CPR  to the unfortunate house owner who has just had a heart attack, and who will fall in lust with another of their victims, Maria Roy, when she comes across him unawares …

The man was still in the same position, almost leaning against the jamb of the door but not quite. He was a big man, nothing short of six foot and stocky, wearing a dark-blue suit with a double-breasted jacket that probably made him broader than he actually was. He didn’t say anything, but continued to stare at her, something in his eyes that was, well, appreciative of what he was seeing.

Round about this time, I’d been reading, and hugely enjoying, the novels of Elmore Leonard, and my two burglars were a nod in his direction, a combination, hopefully, of humour and criminal – sometimes violent – behaviour. It works, I think, quite well on the page, but perhaps better still when brought to life by Jim Carter and Tom Georgeson, as Grabianski and Grice respectively, in the 1993 Deco Films & TV version for the BBC.

We had a little difficulty, I remember, casting the part of Maria Roy, mainly due to one of scenes I’d carried over from the novel into my dramatisation …

Maria Roy lay back far enough for her breasts to float amongst the scented foam which covered the surface of the water. In the pale light from the nearby nightlight they were soft-hued, satin, the darker nipples hardening beneath her gaze. Harold, she thought. It didn’t help. Softly, she rubbed the tip of her finger around the mazed aureoles and smiled as she sensed her nipples tense again. What kind of marriage was it if after eleven years they only place you had ever made love was in bed? And then, not often.
“Never mind,” she said to her breasts softly. “Never mind, my sad little sacks, somebody loves you. Somewhere.”
And easing herself into a sitting position she gave them a last, affectionate squeeze.
“Never mind, my sad little sacks of woe.”

While some we spoke to, otherwise keen to play the part, drew the line at the above, we were delighted when the wonderful Sheila Gish seized the opportunity with, shall we say,  both hands.

3.Rough Treatment

Print

Rough 2

Rough 3

Rough 5

Rough 6

 

Rough 7

Rough 10

Rough 11

 

Rough 9

 

 

 

 

Captured Online …

Probably an age thing, but I’ve never been one to rummage around online, searching for references to myself or my work; I’ve never, for instance, looked up any reviews of my books on Amazon or similar, and when my publicist sent one of my novels out on a Blog Tour a couple of years back, I had to exert severe self-discipline before I could bring myself to read what the various and worthy bloggers had to say. No disrespect to them, the fault – if such it is – lies with me. [Pauses to consult Guardian Style and emerges still uncertain, except that now I think it should be ‘lays’, ‘lays with me’. More advice welcome.]

Anyway, what I was getting around to saying, was that until I was put in the know by one of my more dedicated readers [hi, Andrew], I had no idea that a goodly number of interviews and the like in which I’d taken part can be viewed online. Without too much searching, I found a dozen or so, dating back to the Bouchercon Mystery Convention which was held in Baltimore in 2008.

Here they are …

Book Talk with librarian Chris Jones, 2020
Inspire Culture/Nottingham Libraries
32m40

In Conversation with Alison Joseph at CrimeFest, Bristol, 2019
4m31

In Conversation with Daniel Pembrey at Bromley House Library, Nottingham, 2016
12m

In Conversation with Mark Billingham, Deptford, 2014
Cornerstone Publishing
5m46

[The above comes from a video recording session which took place in the cells of a disused police station in South London; the other sections from the same session follow.]

Saying goodbye to Charlie Resnick
3m24

Discussing Darkness, Darkness
3m09

Advice to would-be writers
4m16

Reading & inspiration
1m58

Talking about writing crime fiction, 2012
At home, in the garden, walking on Hampstead Heath
Open Road Media for Mysterious Press
2m03

Interviewed by Otto Penzler at the Baltimore Bouchercon, 2008
59m34

… and just for a taste of something different, here I am with the band, Blue Territory, at West Bridgford Library in Nottingham in 2014, reading two pieces about the tenor player, Lester Young; first, unaccompanied, an extract from the short story, ‘Minor Key’, and then a poem, ‘Ghost of a Chance.’
7m27

And now I’ve watched them all – all right, ‘fess up, I might have nodded off once or twice during the 59 minutes plus at Baltimore – I feel in a position to make recommendations. So if I were only going to catch one, and were – shall we say – a little pressed for time, I’d plump for the Open Road video from 2012, which is very professionally shot and edited, with the extra bonus of watching my whiteboard work – a skill that goes right back to my teaching days when I was once awarded a special commendation for my blackboard skills while on teaching practice.

 

Daniel Woodrell, Dashiell Hammett and Me

For some years – a period that, for me, encompassed the first ten Resnick novels – Lonely Hearts to Last Rites – Daniel Woodrell and I shared the same publisher in the States, the redoubtable Marian Wood at Henry Holt & Company. Address: 115 West 18th St., New York 10011 – I remember it well.

Whereas Marian would have worked closely with Dan from the first draft manuscript on, with Resnick she would have bought US and Canadian rights to books that already existed in published form. For many publishers that might mean little more than commissioning a new jacket, scouting out some blurbs that would mean something to American consumers, and maybe – just maybe – sending a junior through the manuscript with the task of Americanising those ‘difficult’ British terms which might defeat US readers – ‘elevator’ for ‘lift’ and ‘sidewalk’ instead of ‘pavement’. Not so Marian. She was as eager to get to grips with the text as would have been the case were she the primary editor, and, more importantly, she was keen to make suggestions as to how the series and its central characters might best be developed, pointing out weaknesses that should and could be avoided. When, in Easy Meat, for instance, I ventured to set Resnick up in a relationship with a teacher named Hannah Campbell, Marian argued quite fiercely that I should make her a far stronger character than she first appeared to be, more conscious of the feminist issues of the time.

Most importantly, she championed my books, just as she did Dan’s, in the face of sales figures that would have had Holt’s accountants sadly shaking their heads. We were her authors, her boys, and she believed in us, which didn’t mean she was above putting us in our place if she thought it was deserved; the only reason I can get away with publishing the pair of you, she pointed out on more  than one occasion, is because I also publish Sue Grafton.

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Daniel Woodrell

I first met Dan Woodrell in St. Louis, probably the largest city close to the Ozarks, the vast rural area of Missouri where he had been born and continued to live. Both with new books out – Dan’s Give Us a Kiss (the one that gave birth to the term Country Noir) and my   8th Resnick, Easy Meat – we were due to appear at Big Sleep Books, then under the management of Helen Simpson. I assumed that, in the normal way of things, I would read an extract from my novel before chatting amiably to would-be customers and, finally, signing as many copies as I could lay my hands on – the usual malarkey – and I’d imagined Dan would do the same. But no. Dan doesn’t read, Helen said. He just doesn’t. Ever. He’s shy. Which would have left me showcasing, while Dan sat quietly in the corner, nursing a beer. It didn’t seem right. Okay, I said, tell him if he won’t read then I won’t either. [Clearly, to anyone who knows me, a barefaced lie: given an audience in excess of one I’ll read till someone finally puts out all the lights and jiggles the keys.] To Helen’s surprise, however, Dan agreed. Perhaps he was being polite to a fellow author visiting from across the Atlantic. And, of course, he read brilliantly, bringing out every nuance of the language, every ounce of humour, every frisson of sexuality, and left me thanking the heavens I’d read first!

Dan 1

Give Us a Kiss is told in the first person, its central character, Doyle Redmond, is Ozark born and bred, a writer who – like so many of us at times – feels his work is both undersold and misunderstood. Dan getting some of his frustrations out into the open. Here’s a couple of examples …

I always get called a crime writer, though to me they are slice-of-life dramas. They remind me of my family and friends, actually. I hate to think I’ve led a “genre” life, but that seems to be the category I’m boxed in.

… and …

I sat up, crossed my legs beneath me. “When I’m dead they’ll say I was ‘passionate and ruggedly self-reliant,'” I claimed.
“Oh, Doyle.” Lizbeth’s lips had that puffy, tenderer look lips get from deep kissing someone new. “They’re not going to talk about you when you’re dead.”
That sealed the end. That comment. This was the sorest spot she could gouge at, my life’s work to this point being four published novels nobody much had read, let alone bought or reviewed prominently. This sore spot of mine had yet to quit oozing since the last book had been met with a great, vicious silence, and for her to stick me there meant it was over for sure.

Some time after our meeting in St. Louis, Dan and his wife, the novelist, Katie Estill, moved, temporarily, to San Francisco, which is where my partner, Sarah, and I got to hang out with them a little. One of the reasons Dan had been attracted to San Francisco was its associations with Dashiell Hammett, a writer he greatly admired; Hammett had lived there in the 1920s, and it was there, in a top floor apartment on Post Street, that he had written the bulk of The Maltese Falcon. So, in honour to both Hammett and his private eye, Sam Spade, we went to John’s Grill, which has long traded on its association with The Maltese Falcon, and ordered the over-priced but tasty lamb chops, as briefly featured in in the novel …

He went to John’s Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes, ate hurriedly, and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when a thick-set youngish man with a plaid cap set askew above pale eyes and a touch cheery face came into the Grill and to his table.
“All set, Mr Spade. She’s full of gass and rearing to go.”

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hammett-s-martini

We also went to Burritt Street, where Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, was lured to his death by his seemingly innocent client, Brigid O”Shaughnessy, and not shot and killed, as she had claimed, by one Floyd Thursby.

Spade said” “Miles hadn’t many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years’ experience as a detective to be caught like that by a 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 a dumb as any man ought to be, but he wasn’t quite that dumb …
He ran his tongue over the inside of his lips and smiled affectionately at the girl. He said: “But he’d’ve gone up there with you, angel, if he was sure nobody else was up there. You were his client, so he would have had no reason for not dropping the shadow on your say-so, and if you caught up with him and asked him to go up there he’d’ve gone. 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.”

JBH G'smith On.IMG_0007
Your author in younger days

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Finally, before leaving the subject of Daniel Woodrell, it’s worth noting that of his nine novels, three have been turned into films: not a bad ratio. Woe to Live On was filmed by Ang Lee in 1999 under the title, Ride With the Devil; Debra Granik made Winter’s Bone in 2010; and Tomato Red was filmed by Juanita Wilson in 2017. Of the three, it seems to me that Winter’s Bone is the most successful. In part this may be due to the fact that it was largely filmed in the Ozarks, where the novel is set, and Dan, I believe, helped both with the locations and in persuading some of the locals to take part. Without losing on the finer points of atmosphere and characterisation, Granik never allows the pace of the narrative to slacken, and she secures a compelling performance from Jennifer Lawrence in her ‘breakthrough’ role.

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Dan 2

 

 

The Jazz Steps Story

Jazz Steps is the name under which jazz has been promoted in Nottingham – city and county – for some 20 years, and now there’s a book, nicely produced and copiously illustrated – The Jazz Steps Story – which tells of the development of the organisation and the people behind it, as well as chronicling the many and varied gigs that have taken place under its guidance.

More than that, it also tells the story of live jazz in Nottingham from the Nottingham Rhythm Club, founded in the early 40s, and the Dancing Slipper – which featured a goodly number visiting American jazz players with top British bands throughout the 60s & 70s – to Limelight Club evenings in the Nottingham Playhouse bar, which was where I first read in a poetry & jazz session with the fine little band that were then called, rather cheekily, the MJQ, or Midlands Jazz Quartet. With just a few changes of personnel and several changes of name – from the MJQ to Second Nature to Blue Territory – that was the same group I would be happy to read with on occasion for another 20-plus years.

Jazz Steps 1

The book costs £15 and is available at Jazz Steps gigs and Notts libraries, or from the Jazz Steps web site

Here’s a little taster from my Foreword …

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Charlie Resnick novels or, for that matter, the short stories, will know that the connection between Resnick, jazz and Nottingham is a strong one. Following, more or less, in my footsteps, Charlie would have had his first taste of local jazz Sunday lunchtimes in The Bell, closely followed by evenings at the Dancing Slipper in West Bridgford or at Bill Kinnell’s short-lived Gallery club in Mapperley.

Then there was the Old Vic and, on one night I particularly remember, Charlie Parker’s old sparring partner Red Rodney was up on stage with Pete King, the two of them, alto and trumpet, sailing through the fast and intricate lines of Bird’s bebop tunes as if they had been playing together half their lives.

Jazz Steps 2

In a True Light

 

Light 2

I spent an interesting hour yesterday in the offices of the Royal National Institute of Blind  People, talking ‘down the line’ to half a dozen or so members of a group of blind or partially sighted people about my work as a writer. Most had some awareness of my books through various audio or large print versions, others from radio and – going back a little – from television. Fay, now in her early 80s and a retired probation officer, had read only one – In a True Light – and found it compulsive. She liked the way the different parts of the story commented on one another [it moves between New York and London in the late-50s and the present] and she liked the style. Laconic, that was how she described it. Laconic. Well, I can live with that.

They let Sloane out of prison three days short of his sixtieth birthday.

That’s how it begins.

First published in 2001, and a break from the sequence of 10 Resnick novels that began with Lonely Hearts in 1989 and finished [for good and all, I thought at the time] with Last Rites in 1998, In a True Light sought to move away from Nottingham and the police procedural [though it does feature two New York cops – Catherine Vargas & John Cherry – of whom I’m very fond] to new locations and a broader range of subject matter. I’d been interested for some little time in the abstract expressionist paintings of such artists as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, who first came to prominence in the 50s, and this, I thought, would give me the opportunity to explore that interest further. The list of works consulted was far longer than previously; longer than it would be until, years later, I researched the Miners’ Strike for the 12th and final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness.

The story of In a True Light is straightforward enough. When Sloane, a painter, is released from prison in London, where he has been serving time for forgery, he goes to New York in search of the daughter, Connie, a jazz singer, from whom he has become estranged [sound familiar?] and who is involved with a violent man – Delaney – whom the police suspect of murder. One back in New York, he remembers being there as a struggling young artist and the brief but fiery affair he had with an established painter, Jane Graham, who he learns is slowly dying.

To be honest, I’ve never been totally convinced how well the book ‘works’, how effectively (believably?) those sections dealing with Delaney, his violence and his connections with the Mob, merge with the rest. But some readers don’t seem to have that problem; like Fay they like it a lot.

As did Michael Connelly …

In In a True Light he is at his very best. It’s a crime story, sure, but it’s also a larger story about redemption and consequences set to the beat of the human heart.

And this comes from the reviewer (Marcel Berlins?) in The Times

At one level this is the story of Sloane’s attempt to save his daughter from the criminal world in which she has become trapped. It is also a sensitive and moving study of ambivalent fatherhood, an unsparing portrait of an artist, and an atmospheric look at the bohemian New York of the late Fifties.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be some hard on myself, hard on the book?

One of my favourite passages is a description of Thelonious Monk playing piano at the Five Spot, which I refashioned as a poem and was recently published in Aslant, so I won’t repeat it here.

Instead, here’s the young Sloane calling, unannounced, at Jane Graham’s studio, and being allowed to watch her work …

“OK,’ she said, stepping back. ‘Come in. Come in and sit over there.’ Pointing to the far side of the room. ‘Sit there and don’t say a word,’

So Sloane sat for almost two hours, shifting his weight from side to side, from one buttock to the other, slowly stretching his legs. then drawing them up to his chest, as Jane, blanking him out, worked on her painting, moving, moving, rarely still, pacing, walking back and forth, in then out, close and away. The wide canvas stretched across its heavy wooden frame and stapled fast, covered then with white paint applied in broad strokes, a white, stippled ground upon which she was adding blocks of colour, gradations of alternating blue and yellow shading down to mauve and orange, their edges blurred and softened with a swab of cloth soaked in turpentine, each balanced in relation to what was immediately above and below, and to the painting as a whole.

Jane darting quickly forward now, a fast sweep of brush from right to left, a slash of darkling, curving red; and then another, finer, ending in a filigree of scarlet flecks like tracks in snow.

And Sloane, watching, in thrall, as the painting grew, took on a life, each element held in tension with the rest but all, somehow, and this the real art, the artistry, in harmony. Something he would rarely, if ever, himself achieve. Not like this. Beautiful. Thrilling. The act, the thing, the thing itself.

Light 1

 

 

 

 

 

Now’s the Time … Again

 

For quite a while after I’d published a batch of novels, I remained wary of the short story. Writing one, I mean. It always seemed a little too difficult: the need to be precise while simultaneously working through inference; the ability to create an atmosphere with a minimum of folderol and faff; and then the ending – clever without seeming tricksy, with an element  of surprise that nevertheless satisfied expectations.

Perhaps I’d been thinking about it a little too much. All that analysis and not enough action. It was Maxim Jakubowski – editor, author, and, at the time, proprietor of the eminent London mystery bookstore, Murder One, who got me to change my mind.

How?

Looking back, I suspect he did it simply by asking. I would have been more than a little flattered, eager to oblige.

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The result, published in London Noir (Serpent’s Tail, London,1994) was “Now’s the Time”, set, somewhat perversely, in Nottingham, and featuring an encounter between my by then well-established series character, Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick, and an alcoholic jazz musician, Ed Silver.

I remember how surprised I was at the pleasure I derived from the process, the actual writing, and the small but real feeling of satisfaction when the final sentence was set down. Since then, I’ve written and had published a further thirty five stories, one of which – “Fedora”  – was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Short Story Dagger for 2014. And “Now’s the Time” itself has been reprinted in a number of other collections: Das Grosse Lesebuch Des Englischen Krimis, Goldmann, Germany, 1994; Now’s the Time, Slow Dancer, London, 1999 & Heinemann, London, 2002; Opening Shots, edited by Lawrence Block, Cumberland House, Nashville, 2000; First Cases, Vol. 4, edited by Robert J. Randisi, Signet, New York, 2002 and  Great TV & Film Detectives, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Reader’s Digest/Orion, New York/London, 2005.

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All this is the background to “Yesterdays”, my contribution to Invisible Blood, a new collection of stories that Maxim claims will be his last as compiler and editor. I wanted, in some way, to refer back to that first story and acknowledge Maxim’s role in its creation. Thus, in the opening paragraphs, Resnick recalls a key incident from that earlier story …

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

Ed Silver’s words echoed across the years, across the near-empty room in which Resnick stood, remembering. He had been about to go off duty when he’d been called to a disturbance at Emmanuel House: a man threatening to take a butcher’s cleaver to his own bare feet – first the left and then the right and heaven help anyone who tried to stop him.

At first Resnick hadn’t recognised him and then he did. Silver. Ed Silver. Up on the bandstand at the Old Vic on Fletcher Gate, shoulders hunched, alto sax angled off to one side, fingers a blur of movement as he blitzed through an uptempo blues with sufficient speed and ferocity to make the eyes water. Now the same hands, purple and swollen, were scarcely able to hold the cleaver steady, never mind a saxophone; Resnick had reached out slowly but firmly and taken the cleaver safely into his own. Taken Silver home and fed him, made coffee strong and black, talked long into the night.

“They’re all dying, Charlie. Every bugger!”

Invisible Blood will be published by Titan Books in July, both here in the UK and in the States, and includes stories by Lee Child, Stella Duffy, Jeffery Deaver, Denise Mina, Cathi Unsworth and others, seventeen in total.

Blood

 

William McIlvanney, 1936-2015

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William McIlvanney

My Italian translator, friend, musician and frequent collaborator, Seba Pezzani, asked if I would contribute to an article he was writing about the Scottish author, William McIlvanney, and I was pleased to agree.

Here’s the link to Seba’s article – useful if you want to brush up your Italian … and below is my little contribution …

The first time I met William McIlvanney was at a crime writing festival in Frontignan in the south of France, a country where we were both published by François Guerif, chef of Rivages Noir. I’d already read much of McIlvanney’s work, of course, the crime novels featuring Glasgow police detective Jack Laidlaw, as well as other titles, including ‘Docherty’ and ‘The Big Man’.

McIlvanney didn’t often attend these kind of events and I think only his long-standing friendship with François had brought him all the way from Scotland. As can often be the case when people are known more from their absence than their presence, rumours about him abounded: he was a heavy drinker, hard to get along with and possessed of a strong if not violent temper. The man I met could hardly have been more different; quite softly spoken, sober, charming even – handsome, certainly. We were staying a little way out of Frontignan and each evening we were there, at Willie’s suggestion – Willie, that was what he insisted I call him- we would stroll along to the café at the end of the street and sit at one of the corner tables outside, talking of this, that and everything else over a glass of single malt. I think it was Abalour.

Ian Rankin has made no secret of the fact that Laidlaw and McIlvanney’s portrait of Glasgow were a strong and direct influence on his character Rebus and his portrayal of Edinburgh. In my case, the influence was less direct, but no less strong. I’d also read – at around the same time, though they’d been published earlier – the Martin Beck novels of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, which, in a not dissimilar way to McIlvanney, used the medium of crime fiction and the figure of the detective as instruments to open up and explore contemporary urban life. Resnick and Nottingham were not so far away.

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Charlie Resnick & Billie Holiday

As the closing credits start to roll at the end of Hale County This Morning This Evening, RaMell Ross’s brilliant documentary about black lives in rural Alabama, there’s a sudden shift of tone on the soundtrack, eight bars of bright, clear trumpet leading into the unmistakeable voice of Billie Holiday singing – what else? – Stars Fell on Alabama.

It’s the version Billie recorded in January, 1957 for Norman Granz and released on the Verve label. Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison is the trumpet player, with Ben Webster on tenor, Jimmy Rowles at the piano, Barney Kessel guitar, Red Mitchell bass and Alvin Stoller drums. I know it from a ten disc set which brings together the studio sessions recorded for Verve between 1952 and 1959, along with various live sessions from Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival and several early concerts with Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.

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I can’t swear when I bought my copy, but I know full well when Charlie Resnick bought his, Christmas 1993. It says so in the sixth novel of the series, Cold Light, which was published in 1994.

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Here’s the beginning of chapter 8 …

For Christmas, Resnick had bought himself The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, a new edition of Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography and The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette. What he still had to acquire was a CD player.

But there he’d been, not so many days before, sauntering down from Canning Circus into town, sunshine, one of those clear blue winter skies, and glancing into the window of Arcade Records he had seen it. Amongst the Eric Clapton and the Elton John, a black box with the faintest picture of Billie on its front; ten CDs and a two-hundred-and-twenty-page booklet, seven hundred minutes of music, a numbered, limited edition, only sixteen thousand pressed worldwide.

Worldwide, Resnick had thought; only sixteen thousand worldwide. That didn’t seem an awful lot of copies. And here was one, staring up at him, and a bargain offer to boot. He had his cheque book, but not his cheque card. “It’s okay,” the owner had said, “I think we can trust you.” And knocked another five pounds off the price.

Resnick had spent much of the morning, between readying the duck for the oven, peeling the potatoes, cleaning round the bath, looking at it. Holding it in his hand. Billie Holiday on Verve. There is a photograph of her in the booklet, New York City, 1956; a woman early to middle-age, no glamour, one hand on her hip, none too patiently waiting, a working woman, c’mon now, let’s get this done. He closes his eyes and imagines her sniggering – Cheek to Cheek with Ben Webster, wasn’t that fifty-six? Do Nothing ‘Till You  Hear From Me. We’ll Be Together Again. The number stamped on the back of Resnick’s set is 10961.

So much easier to look again and again at the booklet, slide those discs from their brown card covers, admire the reproductions of album sleeves in their special envelope, easier to do all this than take the few steps to the mantlepiece and the card that waits in its envelope, unopened. A post mark, smudged, that might say Devon, the unmistakable spikiness of his ex-wife’s hand.

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Not so Private Passions …

Four years ago, not so long after the final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, was published, I was invited to be a guest on the BBC Radio 3 programme, Private Passions – a sort of (mainly) classical version of Desert Island Discs, only, since this was to be broadcast alongside the London Jazz Festival, there was to be a somewhat higher jazz content than is often the case.

I was delighted to be asked [understatement!] and thoroughly enjoyed the process, from making the choice of music to be featured to the interview itself, which was conducted with little or no preamble or rehearsal, the presenter, Michael Berkeley, making me feel immediately at my ease. The pair of us sat in a relatively small studio space, listening together to the pieces as they were played on air, which meant that one’s immediate response was, well, immediate.

I wanted to choose music that meant something in particular to me, while being conscious of delivering a broad ranging selection I thought people might respond to, and which might include some pieces with which listeners might be less than familiar with – Jocelyn Pook’s Tango with Corrugated Iron, for instance, or James P. Johnson’s Victory March.

Here’s the full list …

Mean to Me  [Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk]
Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra inc. Lester Young (tenor sax)

Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) [Mendelssohn]
Maxim Dmitrievich Shostakovich  & Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra

Victory Stride [James P. Johnson]
Marin Alsop & The Concordia Orchestra

Shipbuilding [Elvis Costello]
Elvis Costello with Chet Baker (trumpet)

Cello Concerto No. 2 [Shostakovich]
Sol Gabetta with Marc Albrecht & Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

Tango with Corrugated Iron [Jocelyn Pook]
Electra Strings & Jocelyn Pook

Rhythm-a-ning [Thelonious Monk]
Thelonious Monk Trio

And, somewhere in there, I was asked to read my poem about Chet Baker, which, of course, I was more than happy to do.

The programme is now available to listen to for 29 days …