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VINE VOICEon 6 February 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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on 21 March 2016
Taylor, DJ. At the Chime of a City Clock

DJ Taylor, renowned as a literary critic and biographer, shows in this novel that he is equally at home in writing historical mystery novels. Set in 1930s London Taylor adopts a mainly first person narrative using down-and-out James Ross as his focus. Ross is a failed writer seeking to remain afloat by selling carpet cleaner on a door-to-door basis. He owes his landlady rent and consoles himself at the Wheatsheaf, reflecting on past loves and the possibility of making out with Susie, who works in the office of Mr Rasmussen, a wanted criminal. Susie is a delightful if unreliable young woman who admires James mainly it seems for being a writer of sorts.

This gritty novel is set in the Depression of the Thirties, long before the welfare state, when a man needed all his wits about him to survive. Most of the chapters are introduced by epigraphs of advice from the Abraxas Salesman’s Handbook, pep talks acting as an ironical contrast to the reality of life on the streets. The reader is taken to dog-racing at White City, witnesses a cat-burgler and his mates at work over a jeweller’s and finally joins Ross at a country house party at Newcome Grange, where Susie and Rasmussen occupy themselves on a higher floor, while Ross hangs about chatting to society ladies, eventually contriving to be alone with Susie - although ‘I didn’t enjoy it much. But then I never do.’

At the Chime of a City Clock is not a success story and neither does it have a happy ending. James returns to his memories, receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, but is unimpressed. He returns to his landlady, has a few poems accepted for The Blue Bugloss, which pays its contributors with Coutts and Co cheques, ‘which impresses the old lady no end.’ We leave James Ross before the final chapter with his poem published in the New English Review, December 1931, concluding with these unsentimental lines:
I was taught to believe in a better age
That had been before and would come again
Settled instead for a living wage
An English sky, and English rain.

Meanwhile Mr Rasmussen stows away with a Miss Chanberlain. Telling her he will now go into politics. ‘There’s no money to be made in business any more.’ He watches her appreciatively as she throws overboard a note from a presumed admirer and ‘A moment or two later they went below.’ Cynical, but true to life as we know it.
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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.

The scene is set for a classic 1930s set-piece which has been seen on so many theatre sets - an ill-assorted bunch of people mingling in over-decorated rooms where nobody is quite as they seem and various misdeeds are planned and carried out. This is almost a game of Cleudo acted out on the page and needless to say, ends up with the police arriving on the premises.

Some reviewers have criticised this book for its definitely uncomplicated plot - its all a bit predictable. But I think this misses the point. The book seems to me to be an ironic recreation of a 1930s thriller, and the lack of sophistication (which might be found in a modern novel by Ruth Rendell of P D James) is all part of the concept.

I found the slow-pace quite acceptable because there is so much 1930s detail to keep the reader's interest. D J Taylor delights in describing seedy bed-sitting rooms and disreputable pubs where blousy tarts mingle with spivs and wide-boys. The criminals are parodies of themselves, from the cunning mastermind to the plodding henchmen, but this is all deliberate and is what the author intended.

If you can bear not sitting on the edge of your seat, then its a perfect read for a wet Sunday afternoon. Its strength is in D J Taylor's perfect evocation of 1930s London. I'm pleased I read it and would recommend it to anyone who might be able to appreciate its charm despite its lack of thrills.
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on 10 February 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A strangely entertaining read. Quite a few of the details ring true, for example '...tea and two slices, sixpence...', I thought I detected the influence of George Orwell especially 'Down and out in Paris and London' and 'The Road to Wigan Pier', and such details confirmed this, not to mention the flyleaf which credits our D J Taylor with having written 'Orwell: A Life'.

Unfortunately, as other reviewers have mentioned, the story, if such we can call it, lacks the essential elements of beginning, middle, and end. The characters, even the main character, appear lightly, almost hurriedly, sketched as if to be finished at some future point, a point which sadly we never reach. The author, I hasten to add, has not lost the plot, as there was no plot to lose.

I got the impression when reading this book that the author was preoccupied with something more important at the time of writing, possibly a small domestic crisis such as a ferret running up one's trouser leg or someone setting fire to the curtains, who knows?
Those two incidents have all the makings of a fine thriller with suspense aplenty, thrills and spills, ah well!

Attention to detail does not seem to have been much of a criterian as he becomes she in a couple of places (To head off the accusation of sexism perhaps?). Further, how does Rasmussen come to recruit two of the biggest blockheads in London? Hardly Colonel Moriarty the Napoleon of Crime, this pair of ill disciplined dotards would be hard pressed to steal away never mind steal much else.
So ill disciplined are they that one even appears to change his name in the middle of their nefarious activities, and without so much as the benefit of deed poll becomes French - Zut Alors! (pp186 para 1), either that or Rasmussen decides to recruit an extremely temporary new member of staff who appears and disappears with all the alacrity of a pantomime villain, a 1930s version of the 'YOPS' scheme perhaps?

By the latter end of the tale I was forming a mental image of a badly made socio-documentary film which had become entangled with an amateur travelogue, been spliced together and had escaped from the editing suite, also Peter Seller's brilliant sketch
'Balham-Gateway to the South' kept rearing it's hilarious head.

All in all then, a bizarrely entertaining Whodunnit - If indeed anyone dunnit and to whom, a bit like eating that light and fluffy ready sliced bread that lacks substance. Annoyingly, there were also enough unresolved loose ends lying around to have made a genuine 1930s 'Tatting Rug'.
Another reviewer called this book a pastiche, I'm so glad it wasn't a Cornish Pastiche as it would have completely lacked filling!

Down and Out in Paris and London (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Peter Sellers Collection
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 5 February 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel failed to deliver on so many levels it is difficult to know where to begin. The blurb on the back promised an interesting mystery with the 1930's financial crisis as the backdrop, a bit of British noir, with mysterious gentlemen, struggling heroes and attractive girls - and never has a blurb, and review quotes, been so misleading.

The plot revolves around aspiring writer James Ross and the mysterious gentleman Rasmussen, whom he encounters when he falls for the latter's secretary, Miss Chamberlain. Soon he is seconded by the police to spy on Rasmussen - it all supposedly coming to a head at a country house weekend, but it just fails. The plot meanders without getting anywhere, the denouement fails to materialise, and then it is all over - and you are left wondering what was the point of it in the first place. The writing is adequate but without a reasonable plot to hang it on it just dribbles along.

Overall a definite miss.
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VINE VOICEon 28 January 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel is a cleverly portrayed slice of 30s noir. It's set in the seedy backstreets of London in 1931. James Ross is an aspiring writer, but there's no chance of making a living at it. His landlady is always after the rent money - but he's permanently borassic. (Boracic Lint = Skint). So he gets a job as a door-to-door salesman flogging carpet cleaner - his commission gets him 2/6 - a whole half a crown per sale - could be a nice little earner. Then he meets Susie, a real looker, and falls head over heels for her - it seems she likes him too. She works as a secretary for the odd Mr Rasmussen who, James is sure, is up to no good. Meanwhile a chipper lad called Leo is also trying to make ends meet, but is not above helping out in shady deals. James is desperately trying to save up enough money to take Susie away for a dirty weekend, when an opportunity arrives to take the place of a friend at a houseparty to which Rasmussen is going - and he's taking his secretary...

This novel was really successful at recreating 1930s London, when guys wore hats and everyone met at Lyons tea shops where they drank cups of 'ackermaracker'. The language was full of slang including swear-words - 'Berkshire' (Hunt) took me a while to cotton on to. In fact I got out the ever-reliable Eric Partridge A Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional Englishto check a few - it appears that ackermaracker comes from an elaborated prison blackslang word for tea!

It was less successful in terms of plot. The front cover proclaims it as a thriller - I'd call it 'thriller-ish'. There are scams going on, but they're almost incidental to James trying to make a few bob all the time. At first we alternate between James and Leo which is slightly confusing, but gradually James moreorless takes over the plot.

I enjoyed the read for the evocation on London life, but wished there had been more plot. (7/10)
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on 11 March 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 attempting to get
somewhere with his seemingly disinterested girlfriend Suzi. Oh yes, and now he's involved
in a jewellery shop robbery. To be honest that's pretty much all you need to know as there
isn't much else going on here.

I really was expecting a fast paced crime/thriller novel as this book is only 256 pages
long. However I was sadly mistaken. The characters felt real enough if somewhat lacking in
development and the feel of the whole novel felt right for a seedy 1930s London setting.
The problem was that the whole thing never really got going. The plot is minimal, it seems
to be more about the day to day life of a struggling writer/door to door salesman than
anything else. It's a shame that the plot didn't really go anywhere as it is well written
and seemed to have potential.

Strangely enough though I actually quite enjoyed this book. It's light weight, easy reading
which is undemanding and requires little concentration. It would be a perfect read whilst
waiting at an airport. If you're looking for a real crime thriller then look elsewhere
otherwise you will be very disappointed.
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on 22 December 2010
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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