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At the Chime of a City Clock

By D.J. Taylor

Corsair, 2011

ISBN: 9781849013901

The protagonist of this fine novel, set for the most part in London in the 1930s, is James Ross, a writer with a fledgling literary career.

To make ends meet, he takes a job as a door-to-door salesman.  His later adventures lead him to skirt the edges of the underworld and upper-class society, both.  He also meets a nice girl and falls in love with her, even writing a poem to mark the occasion, while another girl dies at a country house where Ross is spending the weekend.

What kept me reading D.J. Taylor’s novel was the ambience of ‘30s London, which he captures perfectly.  It’s a world of caffs and pubs, dodgy nightclubs and fly-by-night businesses.  There’re toneys and borassics, gangland bosses and villains, including a wideboy by name of Leo that Robert Westerby would have been proud of (for a review of Wide Boys Never Work click here).  All the fast girls are wearing A-line skirts and Shetland wool jumpers a size or two too small.  They knew it was a good vintage and went with it.  Allusion is made, in the title of chapter 13, to Gerald Kersh’s great novel of London (which I review here) and there’s maybe also a passing nod to Patrick Hamilton in the name of Ross’s long-standing girlfriend, Netta.

If you’re up for reading an engaging, noirish novel about the seedier side of the capital in the 1930s, then At the Chime of a City Clock is warmly recommended.  London looms like an ashen rainbow above while at its heart below a hellish furnace feeds off human hopes and dreams.  What keeps it humming is the promise of that crock of gold.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.