“Fedora”

SLOW cover

As I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who’ll bend an ear, Five Leaves are publishing Going Down Slow, a collection of seven of my previously uncollected short stories, on November 14th and marking the event with a launch evening at their grand little bookstore in Nottingham. On Monday of the week following, November 20th, I shall be joining forces with Woody Haut at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, north London, to celebrate the publication of both Going Down Slow and Woody’s new novel, Days of Smoke. And that Friday, I shall be at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, doing my poetry & jazz thing with the John Lake Band and sneaking in a smattering of short fiction when the band’s back is turned.

I might even read the beginning of “Fedora”, which goes like this …

When they had first met, amused by his occupation, Kate had sent him copies of Hammett and Chandler, two neat piles of paperbacks, bubble-wrapped, courier-delivered. A note: If you’re going to do, do it right. Fedora follows. He hadn’t been certain exactly what a fedora was.

Jack Kiley, private investigator. Security work of all kinds undertaken. Ex-Metropolitan Police.

Most of his assignments came from bigger security firms, PR agencies with clients in need of baby sitting, steering clear of trouble; solicitors after witness confirmation, a little dirt. If it didn’t make him rich, most months it paid the rent: a second-floor flat above a charity shop in north London, Tufnell Park. He still didn’t have a hat.

Till now.

One of the volunteers in the shop had taken it in. ‘An admirer, Jack, is that what it is?’

There was a card attached to the outside of the box: Chris Ruocco of London, Bespoke Tailoring. It hadn’t come far. A quarter mile, at most. Kiley had paused often enough outside the shop, coveting suits in the window he could ill afford.

But this was a broad-brimmed felt hat, not quite black. Midnight blue? He tried it on for size. More or less a perfect fit.

There was a note sticking up from the band: on one side, a quote from Chandler; on the other a message: Ozone, tomorrow. 11am? Both in Kate Keenan’s hand.

He took the hat back off and placed it on the table alongside his mobile phone. Had half a mind to call her and decline. Thanks, but no thanks. Make some excuse. Drop the fedora back at Ruocco’s next time he caught the overground from Kentish Town.

It had been six months now since he and Kate had last met, the premiere of a new Turkish-Albanian film to which she’d been invited, Kiley leaving halfway through and consoling himself with several large whiskies in the cinema bar. When Kate had finally emerged, preoccupied by the piece she was going to write for her column in the Independent, something praising the film’s mysterious grandeur, it’s uncompromising pessimism – the phrases already forming inside her head – Kiley’s sarcastic ‘Got better, did it?’ precipitated a row which ended on the street outside with her calling him a hopeless philistine and Kiley suggesting she take whatever pretentious arty crap she was going to write for her bloody newspaper and shove it.

Since then, silence.

Now what was this? A peace offering? Something more?

Kiley shook his head. Was he really going to put himself through all that again? Kate’s companion. Cramped evenings in some tiny theatre upstairs, less room for his knees than the North End at Leyton Orient; standing for what seemed like hours, watching others genuflect before the banality of some Turner Prize winner; another mind-numbing lecture at the British Library; brilliant meals at Moro or the River Café on Kate’s expense account; great sex.

Well, thought Kiley, nothing was perfect.

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“Going Down Slow”

Once upon a time – 2009, to be exact – there was Minor Key, a nicely put together limited edition hardback published by Five Leaves of Nottingham and containing five short stories, half a dozen poems and an introductory essay, “Resnick, Nottingham and All That  Jazz”.

 

SLOW cover

Well, now the good folk at Five Leaves are set to publish something in the way of a sequel: Going Down Slow & Other Stories – seven previously uncollected short stories in a limited edition hardback with a run of 1000 copies, the first 100 of which will be numbered and signed. Publication date is Tuesday, 14th November and there will be a launch event at Five Leaves Bookshop between 7.00 & 8.30pm that evening. Admission is free, but, as anyone who’s been to the shop will know, space is limited, so if you’re thinking of going along, best to RSVP to events@fiveleaves.co.uk or risk being shut outside, looking in, with only the occasional punter heading for the betting shop next door for company.

As you’ll see from the cover, there’s a bit of a retro thing going on: retro-noir; retro-hard boiled detective; retro-fedora. Which is the title of one of the stories – “Fedora” – the story that was awarded the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2014. It’s a Jack Kiley story – as are “Second Chance” and “Dead Dames Don’t Sing”, the latter a tale of rare books, rarer manuscripts and pulp fiction that first appeared in the Bibliomysteries series published by Otto Penzler’s New York-based Mysterious Bookshop.

Kiley, for those who haven’t previously made his acquaintance, was formerly an officer in the Met, as well as, briefly, a professional footballer, and is currently eking out a living as a private detective in North London – hence the fedora, given to him by his friend Kate as a kind of joke. Joke or not, he wears it well.

Along the three Kileys, there are two Nottingham-based stories featuring Charlie Resnick – “Not Tommy Johnson” and the title story, “Going Down Slow” – and a third Nottingham story, “Ask Me Now”, a companion piece to “Sack O’Woe”, which first appeared in a Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Blue Religion, edited by Michael Connelly.  And if you’ve been counting you’ll know that leaves one more: “Handy Man”, a rare, for me, exercise in writing in the first person, female first person at that, which takes off from the excellent Amy Rigby song, “Keep It To Yourself”.

If you can’t get along to the launch in Nottingham, but live down south, on the Monday of the week following, the 20th, I shall be at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town with the writer Woody Haut, to celebrate the publication of his novel, Days of Smoke, and to talk about both that book and Going Down Slow. And just to round things off, on Friday 24th, 6.30 – 7.30pm, I’m reading with the John Lake Band at a Ray’s Jazz event at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road. Mostly poetry on this occasion, but I’m sure the short stories will sneak in there somewhere.

And should you want to pre-order a copy [there are only 1,000, remember] you can do so from the Five Leaves Bookshop bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk / 0115 837 3097. Price £12.99 post free in the UK.

Going Down Slow …

A while ago, 2009 to be precise, Nottingham-based small press publisher, Five Leaves, brought out a snazzy-looking hardback collection of my stories and poems in a limited edition. Minor Key, by name. The good news is they are going to follow it up, this November, with a similarly sized book, also a limited edition, bringing together seven stories which have not previously appeared together in any collection.

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Going Down Slow & Other Stories will include two Charlie Resnick stories, three featuring my North London-based private detective, Jack Kiley, and two others.

Of the Resnicks, “Going Down Slow” was first published as an ebook by Random House in 2014, and then reprinted in the same year in a special Arrow paperback edition of Darkness, Darkness for exclusive sale at Sainsbury’s.“Not Tommy Johnson”was first published in OxCrimes, edited by Mark Ellingham & Peter Florence for Profile Books, also in 2014.

The first of the Jack Kileys, “Fedora” was first published in 2013 in Deadly Pleasures, edited by Martin Edwards for Severn House and was the winner of the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2014. “Second Chance” was first published in 2014 in Guilty Parties, again edited by Martin Edwards for Severn House.The most recent of the three, “Dead Dames Don’t Sing”- more a novella, I like to think, than a short story – was first published as No.32 in the Bibliomystery Series, edited by Otto Penzler for the Mysterious Bookshop in New York in 2016.

Which leaves two strays: “Handy Man”, which was published in Ambit magazine, No 204, in the Spring of 2011, and “Ask Me Now” , which was published in 2015 in These Seven, edited by Ross Bradshaw for Notingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop, in association with Bromley House Library and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Take all this as an early warning; there will be more details, including how and where to order copies, at a later date.

 

Jim Burns on Dead Dames Don’t Sing

Jim Burns and I have crossed paths in a number of ways since 1978 when he first published poems of mine in Palantir, the small press magazine he edited between 1974 and 1983; poetry aside, we have a shared interest in jazz and painting and have kept up an exchange of correspondence across the years, meeting from time to time at readings – most happily one organised by John Lucas in Nottingham some little time back, when we read together. Closely associated with the magazine Beat Scene, Jim was also, for many years, a principal reviewer of poetry for Ambit, and now contributes regularly to Penniless Press’s on line Northern Review of Books, from which the following review comes.

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Jack Kiley is a one-time aspiring footballer whose career was disrupted by injury, an ex-policeman, and a jazz fan. He now works as a private detective, “investigating dodgy insurance claims, snooping on behalf of a local firm of solicitors or shadowing errant wives.” And then one day he’s asked to contact a bookseller who has been offered the chance to buy a supposedly long-lost, unpublished pulp novel written to make money by a talented, but hard-drinking, impoverished poet. The poet died years ago, but one of his daughters claims to have found the manuscript in a cottage in Cornwall once owned by the family.

The bookseller needs to know if the manuscript is genuine, and hires Kiley to see what he can find out about it. Kiley doesn’t claim to have an awareness of most twentieth century literature, apart from writers like Patrick Hamilton, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, and Gerald Kersh, and often puts on the typically English “straight-talking, call a spade-a-spade, don’t-waste-any-of those-high-faluting-ideas-on-me act” when he comes across people connected to the arts. The thought of attending a lecture at the British Library on some poets who were “the Visionary Heirs of William Blake” is enough to make him shudder.

Perhaps his main concession to an interest in anything artistic is the jazz he listens to. He likes Chet Baker, but has his doubts about Miles Davis. He’s not averse to some classical music, either, especially if it’s likely to put a lady at ease. And he does sometimes pay attention to the visual arts, though is reluctant to admit it: “I like a good snap as much as anyone,” he replies when asked if he’s into photography.

Kiley’s investigations bring him up against the poet’s daughters. The one who claims to have found the manuscript, and have the right to sell it, is a slick opportunist who has worked as a model, actor, and photographer. She knows how to use her good looks to get what she wants. The other is a somewhat frosty individual who is employed at the Poetry Society, says the manuscript is a fake, and is about to have a “literary” novel published. She’s careful to make it clear that she doesn’t think that her father would have written a novel called Dead Dames Don’t Sing set in the jazz clubs and pubs of 1950s Soho with a cast of shady characters, and that her own forthcoming book is superior to anything in that line.. Neither woman makes a good impression on Kiley. His own lady friend is a journalist with a sense of humour and a down-to-earth approach to dealing with his hang-ups about art and life. She likes to read Dickens and similarly big books, whereas Kiley thinks a couple of hundred pages at most is what a novel should add up to.

The cast of characters in this short, but entertaining book includes the bookseller, the late poet’s small-press publisher, now a resident in a nursing home, the daughter of an actress who may have had a fling with the poet, and sundry others, such as a dead screenwriter, an equally deceased and long-forgotten, pulp novelist, and a plumber in Penzance. They all add colour to the story, as do the little comments on life in London. Kiley seems to have problems when it comes to finding suitable accommodation. He loses one apartment (referred to that way no doubt because this is an American publication: flat might better describe the kind of places Kiley lives in) when the site is about to be redeveloped, and another, above a charity shop, when the property is going to be taken over and turned into an estate agent. It’s suggested that Kiley might be able to stay if the new owners keep the flat, but he inclines to the view that he’s choosy about who he associates with. As I watch the estate agents increasingly moving into various premises around where I live I have a certain amount of sympathy with his attitude.

I won’t delve too much into how and why the mystery of the manuscript is resolved, but it’s a tribute to John Harvey’s skill as a writer that everything is neatly wrapped up in such a short space. But, like one of the people in his book, he’s had a great deal of experience over the years as a novelist, short-story writer, poet, writer for TV and radio, publisher, little magazine editor, and much more (the back cover of Dead Dames Don’t Sing notes that he’s the author of more than one hundred books) so knows how to make an impact within a limited (in length, not content) framework. His characters take on real personalities with a minimum of effort. And he cleverly constructs a couple of convincing passages from the contested manuscript. It’s easy to see why he, like Kiley, admires writers such as Eric Ambler and Gerald Kersh, who were professionals in every sense of the word. I share his tastes and was delighted recently to find several old Kersh books in a local charity shop.

I was amused by the fact that attitudes towards crime novels and pulp writing (not necessarily the same thing) among some literary types are shown as still being coloured by their belief that they often represent an inferior area of activity. I’m possible prejudiced, having enjoyed many crime and pulp novels and short stories. And I’m convinced that the writing in them can sometimes be far superior to what I’ve read in “literary” novels. I’ve delighted in books by Gil Brewer, Richard Deming, John D. MacDonald, and William P. McGivern. Just a few from the hat. Those are the names of older writers, I know, but they’re the ones I like to read and even, in a small way, collect. With newer novelists I’d have to point to John Harvey as someone whose books always appeal to me.

A note on the publisher of this book. The Mysterious Bookshop is located in New York and Harvey’s book is the thirty-third in what they call their Bibliomysteries series, all the stories having connections, of one sort or another, to writers, bookshops, libraries, and books in general.

Dead Dames Don’t Sing is available now in paperback, or signed hardcover, from The Mysterious Bookshop, and will shortly be available also as an eBook.

The Northern Review of Books can be found here …

Jim Burns essays, reviews and articles have been collected in a series of volumes from Penniless Press Publications : Radicals, Beats & Beboppers (2011); Brits, Beats and Outsiders (2012); Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (2013); Artists, Beats and Cool Cats (2014); Rebels, Beats and Poets (2015); Anarchists, Beats & Dadaists (2016)

Dead Dames Don’t Sing

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Some time ago now, Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop in the States began a series of short stories and novellas under the blanket title of Bibliomysteries – crime stories that, one way or another, have a strong connection with the world of books, book collecting and book selling. The first of these, The Book of Virtue, was written by Ken Bruen, since when authors have included Ian Rankin, Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Denise Mina and John Connolly. Published as single small-format book(lets), they are available in hardcover editions, limited to only 100 copies, numbered and signed by the author, priced $50, and in   in paperback for $4.95 each. They are also available in Ebook format through MysteriousPress.com.*

When Otto first approached me to contribute to the series, I was slightly put off by the minimum word requirement of 10,000 words, the majority of stories I’ve successfully written in the past coming in at considerably less than that; but once an idea had taken hold– the provenance of an unpublished crime novel by a minor but highly collectable Modernist poet, with its origins in mid-20th century Bohemian Soho – and with the considerable expert knowledge of my friend Giles Bird, book seller extraordinary** – I breezed past the limit by a good 3,000 words and very much enjoyed the experience.

This is how the story begins …

Once upon a time Jack Kiley lived over a bookshop in Belsize Park. Nights he couldn’t sleep, and there were many, he’d soft foot downstairs and browse the shelves. Just like having his own private library. Patrick Hamilton, he was a particular favourite for a while, perversity in the seedier backstreets of pre-war London: The Siege of Pleasure, Hangover Square. Then it was early Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Gerald Kersh. He was four chapters into Night and the City when the envelope, pale blue and embossed across the seal, was slipped beneath his door. Notice to quit. The shop was being taken over by a larger concern and there were alternative plans for the building’s upper floors that didn’t include having a late-fortyish private detective, ex-Metropolitan police, as tenant. Kiley scoured the pages of the local press, skimmed the internet, made a few calls: the result, two rooms plus a bathroom and minuscule kitchen above a charity shop in a less buoyant part of north London, namely Tufnell Park. If not exactly low rent, it was at least affordable. Just. And no more a true park than it’s upscale neighbour.

Having to pass through the shop on his way upstairs, Kiley’s eye grew used to picking out the occasional bargain newly arrived on the rail: a v-necked sweater from French Connection, forty percent cashmere; a pair of black denim jeans, by the look of them barely worn, and fortuitously his size, 36” waist, 32” inside leg. The book section was seldom to his taste, too many discarded copies of J. K. Rowling and Fifty Shades of Grey, whereas the ever-changing box of CDs offered up the more than occasional gem. A little soul, late 50s Sinatra, Merle Haggard, a little jazz. He was listening to Blues With a Reason, Chet Baker, when his mobile intervened.

“Jack? I’m across the street at Bear and Wolf if you’d care to join me.”

Kiley pressed stop on the stereo and reached for his shoes.

Tempted? If so, copies may be ordered from the Mysterious Bookshop …

* Ebook not yet available, but will be shortly.

** Giles may be found, professionally, at BAS Ltd., London, N7 8NS