Shamus Dust (2019) Janet Roger
Trade paperback, 367 pages
Trouble was in the air. Right now there were Soviets in Berlin, Communists in Manchuria, Zionists in Palestine. And the Americans on Bikini Atoll weren’t there for the beaches or the coconuts. But in the end, those were just headlines in the foreign pages. The City of London had troubles of its own. It had an empire waving goodbye, a currency stepping off a cliff, and some high-toned citizens with singular tastes and private arrangements they couldn’t buy off anymore. Berlin and Bikini passed over their heads. What walked them through my door were the tastes and the private arrangements. A chrome-plated address on Snow Hill made no difference. They would have found me anywhere.
In one paragraph, Janet Roger has given us everything we need to know about the world of Shamus Dust, a hard-boiled noir mystery set in 1947 London featuring an American private investigator named Mr. Newman. To state the old writing adage, the above paragraph shows rather than tells us the condition of postwar London, a city that has survived, now working its way through the rubble, not all of which is physical. Yet removing the remnants of the war’s devastation cannot remove the desires and passions of the heart.
Early Christmas morning, Newman is awakened by a telephone call. A London city councilor named Drake hires the PI to deliver a set of keys to a police detective investigating an incident at one of Drake’s properties. Drake also wants to know what this “incident” is, instructing Newman to report back with more information. Upon his arrival, Newman finds no detective, but rather a dead body in the lobby of a church very close to Drake’s property. With no detective around and the keys in hand, Newman investigates the councilor’s building and discovers something certain individuals would easily kill for, on Christmas Day or any other.
In no time at all we’re following Newman on an investigation taking us through the dark brokenness of postwar London, filled with people so damaged they could’ve been the grandchildren of characters from a Dickens novel. But the voice is that of Raymond Chandler, an obvious influence on the author, yet Roger has used shades of Chandler to create her own unique style and tone. Combined with the harsh London winter, the hardboiled narrative delivers a fresh and welcome look to a familiar genre.
Shamus Dust is a dense book filled with atmosphere you can get lost in, the kind of tale that may cause you to occasionally look up from its pages and discover that reality is sadly disappointing compared to the world Roger has so wonderfully created. As the clues emerge and the body count rises, you may find yourself in a labyrinth from which there is no escape, but do not worry: Janet Roger is a writer you can trust. Enjoy every moment of her world. Shamus Dust is a book to savor.
You can find out more about the book and the author at https://www.janetroger.com.