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At the Chime of a City Clock [Hardcover]

D.J. Taylor
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Mar 2010
Summer 1931 in seedy Bayswater and James Ross is on his uppers. An aspiring writer whose stories nobody will buy ('It's the slump'), with a landlady harassing him for unpaid rent and occasional sleepless nights spent in the waiting room at King's Cross Station, he is reduced to selling carpet-cleaning lotion door-to-door. His prospects brighten when he meets the glamorous Suzi ('the red hair and the tight jumper weren't a false card: she really was a looker and no mistake'), but their relationship turns out to be a source of increasing bafflement. Who is her boss, the mysterious Mr Rasmussen - whose face bears a startling resemblance to one of the portraits in Police News - and why he so interested in the abandoned premises above the Cornhill jeweller's shop? Worse, mysterious Mr Haversham from West End Central is starting to take an interest in his affairs. With a brief to keep an eye on Schmiegelow, James finds himself staying incognito at a grand Society weekend at a country house in Sussex, where the truth - about Suzi and her devious employer - comes as an unexpected shock. Set against a backdrop of the 1931 financial crisis and the abandonment of the Gold Standard, acted out in shabby bed-sitters and Lyons tea-shops, At the Chime of a City Clock is an authentic slice of Thirties comedy-noir. Praise for Kept: A Victorian Mystery: 'Very entertaining and well done, with a sharp appreciation for the details' - The Times. 'An ingenious tale of madness, murder and deception' - The Guardian. 'A stylish page-turner ...all done with humour and cunning' - Sunday Telegraph.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Constable; First Edition edition (25 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849010242
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849010245
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 902,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

London’s Bayswater in the summer of 1931 is not the most fashionable of places to live, and the protagonist of DJ Taylor’s strikingly original At the Chime of a City Clock, James Ross, is not comfortable with his lot. He’s a writer, but unfortunately there are no publishers eager to sample his wares. His landlady is breathing down his neck for unpaid rent, and he is forced to try extremely uncongenial occupation to keep body and soul together: pedalling carpet cleaning lotions from door-to-door. His life, however, is about to change -- dramatically -- when he meets the seductive Suzi, and her mysterious boss, Mr Rasmussen.

In the vividness of its seedy setting and the evocation of a particular period in British history, Taylor’s highly entertaining book is more than a little reminiscent of that great chronicler of the less-than-salubrious London of this period, Patrick Hamilton. But as the nicely judged retro cover suggests, At the Chime of a City Clock is about crime and femme fatales. But it’s also about more than that, as readers will discover. The aforementioned Mr Rasmussen may well be a criminal -- and certainly his interest in the disused premises over a jeweller’s shop has sinister implications. When a member of West End Central becomes intrigued by Rasmussen's behaviour, the reluctant James Ross finds himself dragooned into keeping a close watch over Suzi's boss. And things will come to a head -- dramatically -- when James is invited to stay at an upscale country weekend in Sussex, where the revelations will come thick and fast.

DJ Taylor is a distinguished critic and biographer (with both Thackeray and Orwell under his belt), but aficionados of the best fictional writing will be aware of his six novels. This latest one -- which functions as both as an evocation of an earlier period and as a clever modern riff on familiar themes -- is possibly his most accomplished yet. Even if you are not an admirer of Patrick Hamilton, you would do well to pick up this highly intriguing and well-researched mystery. --Barry Forshaw


Steeped in historical detail, the novel evokes the sleazy side of the Thirties so vividly that you can almost feel the grease and grime on your fingers. --Anthony Gardner, Mail on Sunday

A beautifully crafted, brilliantly written and atmospheric slice of pre-war noir --Daily Mirror.

Engaging, cheerful, opportunist James Ross. You won't forget him or the London he frequents for a long time after closing the book. --Susan Hill, Literary Review

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect evocation of low-life 1930s London 30 Mar 2010
I read At the Chime of a City Clock a month ago while recovering from a short illness. My washed-out, listless moods entirely matched the atmosphere of this slow-paced amble through 1930s London, following the adventures of James Ross, a would-be writer and part-time carpet-cleaner salesman.

Young James leads a dreary life, living in "digs", and struggling to pay the rent. He writes poems and short-stories which are occasionally published in minor literary magazines, but the need for cash drives him to find a job with the Abraxas Carpet Cleaning Company. The small retainer and commissions on sales just about keeps him in beer and cigarettes and goes some way towards placating the land-lady's brother who is pressing him to clear his rent arrears.

While demonstrating the cleaner in Kensal Green, he meets the rather lovely Suzie (who looks like "the girl in the toothpaste advert", down to the tight jumper and red hair) who is impressed to meet a writer and agrees to go for a drink with James in a pub which is frequented by literary types.

There is not a lot of point in describing the story, other than to say that James finds that Suzie works as personal assistant to a mysterious Dane, Mr Rasmussen. James discovers that Rasmussen is a rather shady character and eventually a plain-clothes policeman recruits James to find out what he can about him. James discovers that Rasmussen and Suzie have been invited to a country-house weekend and manages to persuade a friend who has also been invited to let him have his invitation, which will of course require James to impersonate his friend.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the mystery of a running commentary 6 Feb 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Now that I've read the book, I'm still not sure what to make of it. I was fully expecting a murder mystery, possibly on the lines of a Chandleresque character with a bit of Christie thrown in for good measure. What we've got is a running commentary on a few people's lives during the latter half of 1931. As with most lives, nobody goes anywhere very much. There are some evocative descriptions of the period, tainted somewhat with some incorrect inclusions but that aside, the anti-hero of the story is a rather aimless lad trying to earn his living selling carpet cleaner. That he somehow falls for the secretary of a man who turns out to be a thief and that she responds to his overtures is rather bemusing. We never find out why she would, although the story seemed to suggest there'd be a reason. 'Fraid not.

When you've finished the book, you're none the wiser - indeed about anything really. It's a pleasant enough book. The writing is such that you do want to keep on reading to see where it leads but, unfortunately, it goes nowhere - except back home to mum.

I'll look out for the author's next novel in the hope that we can progress into a real murder mystery - there should be enough information around to put together a gruesome murder or two and I'm sure the author has the skill to do us justice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By ratscat13 VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is awful. I can't decide if it is written by a twelve year old as a writing project (which would explain it!) or a pretentious academic with no talent.

Unfortunately I have to come down on the side of the academic. The plot is practically non existent. The characters are caricatures and have no personality or feel to them. The language used is recreating the thirties admittedly but to use at least three currently unused words on each page is pushing it a little far and makes the whole book unreadable.

I gave up before I was half way through!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The seedy side of 1930s London 5 Feb 2010
By Pitoucat VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A tale of seedy happenings in the London of the 1930s, populated by jewel thieves, society girls, aspiring writers, and downright chancers. The author has clearly been influenced by the works of Julian Maclaren-Ross, James Curtis, and even Patrick Hamilton. This book is in a similar style, employing many of the same themes - but it's none the worse for that.

I enjoyed the book a lot. It is well written and entertaining. If you enjoy it too then I'd recommend that you check out the other authors I've mentioned for more of the same. And vice-versa!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars shamelessly derivative 25 Jun 2011
By Jarah
The author shamelessly plunders from Julian Maclaren Ross and other writers of the era without adding anything original. Given that he is supposed to be a historian, it is astonishing that he makes such elementary mistakes as calling the main shopping street in Bayswater 'Queensway', when it was 'Queen's Road' until 1946. And I am still trying to work out how the hero managed to read his copy of the Police News while lying on his bed with his "hands round the back of [his] neck".
I would skip this one and read Maclaren Ross instead.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Named as it is after one of my favourite songs by Nick Drake, I was predisposed to enjoy this novel. I thought the cover was very appealing, but it all went downhill from there. The novel is set in London in the 1930s, and is billed as a kind of pastiche period thriller. However all the expected elements of a crime novel - suspense, excitement, mystery - are noticeably lacking, and instead the book leans strongly towards being an account of social and literary history. The author has a tendency to namedrop people and brand names of the period, very heavily, and 1930s slang is generously ladled on for good measure. This is all very well if you're absolutely fascinated by 1930s popular culture, but if like me you were hoping for a well constructed thriller, then you'll probably be disappointed. Not too bad, and not badly written, but not exciting either.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, poor ending
This book beautifully evokes a slice of Thirties London. James Ross, struggling writer, inhabits a world of gloomy bedsits, door to door sales and seedy Soho pubs. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kate Vane
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful portrayal of prewar London
I loved this book - a very unconventional work, showing true imagination. The nice stylistic trick is that nothing really happens to the central character - he is always on the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by antony mair
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful
I'd always hated DJ Taylor and his sanctimonious preachings.

Finally bludgeoned to death by his appearances on Radio 4 I thought it must be me and bought this book. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dan Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars repitition, repition, repitition
I enjoyed this apart from one thing: a huge sense of deja-vu. Not only was the safe-breaking scene so reminiscent of that in 'Kept', the country house bit is also very similar to... Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2012 by bookworm
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice cover - shame about the contents
D J Taylor can certainly write, but this book is not the best advertisement for his undoubted ability. Read more
Published on 27 May 2010 by G. Brack
3.0 out of 5 stars Gentle
At The Chime Of A City Clock is a gentle novel. It is set in a seamy, seedy London of the 1930s; days of calm and relative prosperity between the wars but unrecognizable by today's... Read more
Published on 18 May 2010 by MisterHobgoblin
2.0 out of 5 stars The Clock Strikes Dull
Some novels are about epic events that sweep a nation; whilst others are about the personal journey of an individual. Read more
Published on 26 Mar 2010 by Sam Tyler
4.0 out of 5 stars Noir set in London
The setting of this, early 1930s London, gives it a slightly Dorothy Allingham/Dorothy L Sayers feel, balanced against the more hard boiled 'gangsters and jewel thieves' theme,... Read more
Published on 21 Mar 2010 by KalteStern
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy going and undemanding.
James Ross is a struggling writer reduced to selling carpet cleaner door to door. He spends
his time trying to make a few easy quid, having a flutter at the track or... Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2010 by Doh
2.0 out of 5 stars Out of Time
DJ Taylor has attempted to create a noir novel mixing depression era London and the great Country House Murder Mystery formula. It fails utterly. Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2010 by Donald Thompson
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