In a True Light: A Novel of Crime


Sloane's past in New York's bohemian 1950s is never far from the slippery surface of his present in this stylish noir tale from John Harvey, the award-winning novelist touted by the London Times as "the King of Crime." Nearing sixty, Sloane has just finished serving two years in an English prison for art forgery, when he's summoned to Pisa by Jane Graham, the celebrated artist with whom he had an affair four decades before, in New York. Now on her deathbed, Jane reveals that Sloane fathered a child with her. ...
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Sloane's past in New York's bohemian 1950s is never far from the slippery surface of his present in this stylish noir tale from John Harvey, the award-winning novelist touted by the London Times as "the King of Crime." Nearing sixty, Sloane has just finished serving two years in an English prison for art forgery, when he's summoned to Pisa by Jane Graham, the celebrated artist with whom he had an affair four decades before, in New York. Now on her deathbed, Jane reveals that Sloane fathered a child with her. Jane's last wish is that he find their missing daughter. Sloane agrees, but his trouble only begins when he locates the confused, edgy Connie. Let alone that she is wasting her bluesy voice singing in New York's smalltime jazz clubs; she is wasting her life big-time on Vincent Delaney, her volatile mob-connected manager. An unfamiliar paternal instinct pulls Sloane into Connie's rescue and a maelstrom of criminal violence, serial murder, police procedures, hard truths, and increasingly dangerous consequences.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British author Harvey (Lonely Hearts and others in his Charlie Resnick detective series) offers the stuff noirs are made on in this stand-alone: mean streets and shattered dreams; heartfelt jazz and smoke-filled rooms; lonely people in sleazy bars; the harmless, and the harmful who prey on them; a world in which violence is mindless, brutal and inevitable. On his return home to London after serving two years in prison for art forgery, Sloane, a 60-year-old painter and all-around loser, is surprised to receive a letter from an old flame and far more successful artist, Jane Graham, who's dying of cancer in Italy and wants to see him. In Pisa, Sloane learns that he's the father of Jane's daughter, Connie, whom she hasn't seen in years. Sloane agrees to try to find Connie and soon tracks her to New York, where she's a nightclub singer. The problem is she "belongs" to her manager, mob-tainted Vincent Delaney, who has left a trail of maimed or murdered girlfriends behind him. Two NYPD detectives, Catherine Vargas and John Cherry, are doing their best to nail Delaney, a most formidable villain, for the murder of the last woman who told him good-bye. The reader really comes to care about the tragic and compelling Sloane, whose efforts to fill his unexpected father role lead him into all sorts of trouble. While the plot might have been stronger had Sloane acted without the help of Vargas and Cherry, this dark and dazzling tale of crime and redemption can only enhance Harvey's reputation. (Sept. 12) Forecast: Blurbs from such heavyweights as Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman and George P. Pelecanos should reinforce Harvey's bona fides for American hard-boiled fans. The author has won the Sherlock Award for the best detective created by a British author. This one's a likely candidate for award nominations on both sides of the Atlantic. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When Harvey published the tenth and last Charlie Resnick mystery (The Last Rites), fans mourned the end of that finely written Nottingham series. Fortunately, Harvey is back, though with a very different setting and protagonist. Sloane, an American just out of British prison at 59 for art forgery, is called to the deathbed of a long-ago lover, who reveals that he is a father. Sloane returns to Manhattan to discover that his daughter is a jazz singer plagued by alcohol and drugs and trapped in a relationship with a manager who seems mob-connected and may have a murderous past. Caught between memories of the 1950s art and music scene and the present, in which his emotional barriers are threatened, Sloane finds himself a reluctant knight. Harvey excels at portraying world-weary people, raw emotions, and no-win situations. This work ends more easily and is less a mystery than a search for human connections. Still, it offers Harvey's trademark command of dialog, vivid sense of place, and ever-present interest in music. Strongly recommended for most popular fiction collections. - Roland C. Person, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sloane has always traveled so light he doesn't even need a first name. As a gifted young painter, he drifted through the art worlds of London and New York without ever seeing his star rise; agreeing to suave gallery owner Robert Parsons's proposal that he paint a few canvases to be signed with more famous names, he did fine work and also did two years in prison without ratting Parsons out. But the tempera hits the fan with the news that Jane Graham, the older, once-famous American painter with whom Sloane had an affair 40 years ago, is dying in Pisa, and that the deathbed revelation she wants to make to him is that her daughter Connie is his daughter too. Will Sloane track down the estranged lounge singer and make peace among all three of them? Of course he will, if Connie survives her reunion with her own former mentor, sharp-dealing Manhattan club owner Vincent Delaney, whose last disagreement with a singer left her dead. Charlie Resnick chronicler Harvey (Now's the Time, 1999, etc.) does a beautiful job in evoking the New York still alive with echoes of Sloane's magical year with Jane. But he's less convincing when he turns from asking how Sloane-with or without the help of the two NYPD detectives getting on Delaney's case-will succeed in separating Connie from her baleful protector than in suggesting what kind of future the unlikely father-daughter duo will have. Except for the forgivably formulaic windup, a lovely, jazzy noir Tale of Two Cities.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786712298
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/14/2003
  • Series: Otto Penzler Books
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 0.61 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt


a novel of crime


Caroll & Graf Publishers

Copyright © 2001 John Harvey.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-7867-1053-5

THEY LET SLOANE OUT of prison three days short of his sixtieth birthday. Three years for deception, reduced on appeal to two; six months in Brixton, the remainder in Ford open prison. Naturally lean and wiry, Sloane walked out through the gates a fitter man than when he'd first walked in. Afternoons spent working in the gardens, cultivating everything from camellias to purple sprouting broccoli, cutting back random shrubbery, building dry-stone walls. Evenings he had read, sketched, exercised in his cell. Though graying at the temples, his hair was still strong and full, his eyes clear and disconcertingly blue. Strong cheekbones and lightly weathered skin. Inside, he had elected to keep himself to himself and few, fellow prisoners or guards, had tried to change his mind.

Now he stood at the center of Waterloo Bridge, the river running broad and free beneath him. To his left, St Paul's and the City; to his right, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben. The sun pale in a blue-gray sky and the air bright with the bite and promise of spring.

That morning he had walked along the Embankment from London Bridge, Blackfriars to Waterloo Station, words and music to an old song by the Kinks accompanying him. Walked slowly, taking it all in. Open prison or not, prison was what it had been; what liberties they had allowed him, small and illusory.

Sloane breathed deeply,stretched both arms wide and, the beginnings of a smile bright in his eyes, set off for the north side of the Thames.

* * *

Crossing the river: Sloane had friends way back in his early thirties who, when he'd told them he was selling up, moving south, had looked at him askance. South. South of the river. Camberwell. Peckham. Shooters Hill. You can't be serious. But to Sloane, much of whose formative years had been spent criss-crossing the Atlantic, one home, one parent to another, Chicago to London to New York to London again, the journey across the Thames failed to assume any such significance. And yet, when he looked back, it was true that few of those so-called friends had found their way south to pay their respects to Sloane in Deptford, the only place he had been able to afford the accommodation he wanted: somewhere secure to live, light and large enough in which to paint. True, too, that when he himself made the journey in reverse, back to then familiar watering holes in Camden or Wood Green, all eyes would widen with amazement, as if some long-departed spirit had just walked through the door. Christ, Sloane, what you doin' here? Thought you'd gone for good.

And he had. Or so he thought. For a long time Deptford suited him perfectly. Anonymous. Poor. A shuttle of short streets and railway arches, scattered stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to knocked-off boots and jeans at stripped-down prices. When claustrophobia threatened he could stride up the hill to the broad heights of Blackheath and Greenwich Park, or cut north, following Deptford Creek to where the river curved round the Isle of Dogs.

But things changed as things must: it was in the late eighties, when Sloane returned from yet another prolonged visit to the States, that he noticed it most. The scrubbed wooden shutters that had appeared in the windows of turn-of-the-century terraced houses and the occasional four-by-four parked bulkily at the curb. Gentrification had arrived and tall skinny lattés would not be far behind. Worse still from Sloane's point of view, the growing prominence of the art school at Goldsmiths' College, west towards New Cross, was threatening to turn the whole area into a trendy enclave. Already there were two new art galleries on Deptford High Street, both exhibiting installations—perish they should show actual paintings—and more would follow. Soon, Sloane thought, take a walk to the butcher's for some lamb chops and you won't know if it's the real thing or just another piece of tired conceptual art.

It was time to change direction. Go north. North London, that is. The part of his world where he had spent perhaps his most formative years—from primary school into his early teens.

After months of searching, chasing down what seemed increasingly impossible to find, Sloane stumbled on the perfect location, half-hidden in the back streets of Kentish Town, and not so far from where he and his mother had lived all those years before. The same page of the A-Z.

The building was set across the end of a short, curving cul-de-sac, flat-fronted, flat-roofed, almost as broad as it was tall. Previously some kind of workshop, Sloane had thought, a small business; the brick exterior, painted white, now veiled in inner-city grime and smut. Large, squarish windows on both floors, the lower ones protected by iron bars; the heavy door padlocked fast. Both window frames and door were painted a dull blue.

To the right a cobbled alley led to the rear of an old factory, which was gradually being refitted to accommodate smaller enterprises; opposite, high fencing and overgrown shrubbery protected the grounds of a former school, the premises now rented out to minority groups and teachers of self-actualization and contemporary dance. Immediately behind and high above ground level the track of the old North London railway carried trains into West Kentish Town station every twenty minutes in the hour.

The upper floor of the building itself was no more than an open space with bare boards and roughcast walls; ample room for housing Sloane's accumulated canvases and sundry paraphernalia, room to work, his studio. It would be easy enough to tear out the partitions on the lower level, smooth and sand the floor; he would trawl nearby Junction Road for a reconditioned cooker and fridge to stand with the existing sink, a few bits of basic furniture, second-hand. A plumber could replace the cracked lavatory bowl in the extension out back and, with a little ingenuity, install a shower in the existing space.


A month after he signed the lease, two officers from Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiques Unit intercepted him as he left the Pizza Express at the corner of Prince of Wales Road. `Fiorentina?' one of them asked, a slight but perceptible Welsh lilt to his voice. `American Hot? Got to be favorite, that. Couple of bottles of Peroni. Garlic bread.' After dispensing the usual warnings, they placed him under arrest. LIKE SO MUCH ELSE, it had happened by chance. Falling in with Robert Parsons, that is.

Sick of getting by on the dole and what little he could earn from selling his own paintings, Sloane had talked himself into a job at one of the main London auction houses. Nothing too demanding: packing, lifting, loading. Regular money, regular hours. Once in a while he'd poke his nose into the bidding room while there was an auction going on. Two hundred and seventy, two hundred and eighty; yes, thank you, two ninety, two ninety-five, three hundred thousand. Going for the first time at three hundred thousand pounds. The last of his own work Sloane had sold, a large canvas measuring 150 by 260 centimeters, thick swathes of vermilion and magenta overlaid with coils of crystal blue, had been bought by a former rock star, who had paid fifteen hundred pounds for the privilege of having it on the wall in his Tex-Mex restaurant. That and all the enchiladas Sloane could eat. He tried not to feel bitter and mostly he succeeded.

He was in the packing room one day, wrapping a small Matisse in folds of tissue, when one of the auction house staff came in with a visitor. Camilla, with a degree in Art History from Oxford and a diploma from the Chartered Institute of Marketing; Robert Parsons, owner of a small, conservative gallery off Cork Street, scrupulous in gray suit, pale pink shirt with white collar, public school tie. A voice you could cut glass on.

`You will treat her carefully,' Parsons said, smiling amiably in Sloane's direction. `She's just cost me a small fortune.'

Sloane glanced down at the painting, a dancer resting among green flowers, and said nothing.

`You don't like it?' Parsons asked.

`I don't have to.' In fact, Sloane thought it lovely, delicious. The rich darkness of the green, the palpable strength of the dancer's legs, even in repose. It was Parsons he didn't like.

Sensing this, Camilla took Parsons's arm and led him off in her earnest, sexless manner, encouraging him to share whatever gossip had come his way.

* * *

Sloane didn't see Parsons again until one afternoon months later, when he was sitting in the furthermost corner of a pub in Notting Hill, enjoying a slow pint and fiddling with somebody's discarded Times crossword. A small group of people spilled into the bar from the restaurant upstairs, loud on their own brilliance and too much wine. Handshakes and kisses, laughter and farewells: when the rest of them had left, there was Parsons, slipping his mobile from the pocket of his overcoat and checking it for messages. Half turning, he spotted Sloane in his corner and, after only the slightest hesitation, walked over. `Robert Parsons,' he said, extending a hand. `The Matisse ...'

`I remember.'

`You didn't like it.'

`On the contrary.'

`I see.' Parsons eased out a chair and sat down. `Then it was what? The money? Not quite as obscene as if someone had turned up another dreary Van Gogh. In which case you could have objected


Excerpted from IN A TRUE LIGHT by JOHN HARVEY. Copyright © 2001 by John Harvey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good solid novel

    John Harvey is best known for the Charlie Resnick novels. Here he adopts a new protagonist in Sloane. Sloane is a superb artist who has just finished serving a short term in prison for art forgery. The plot centers on his search for a daughter, Connie, he never knew he had. Sloane is soon immersed in protecting his unwilling daughter from a thug of a manager who thinks he owns Connie and who has a history of violence against women. The novel develops well and the dialog is solid and the plot believable. All around a solid book by a very good author. This is a keeper for the permanent libary.

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