Ex–Metropolitan Police Officer Jack Kiley spent his career discerning fact from fiction. Now a private detective, Kiley has agreed to investigate the provenance of a newly discovered manuscript. Lost for decades, Dead Dames Don’t Sing is typical pulp fodder: “Hard, fast, and deadly,” according to Daniel Pike, the rare book dealer who hires Kiley. What makes it unusual—and potentially valuable—is that the novel appears to have been written by the late poet William Pierce before he made a name for himself. Pierce’s bewitching socialite-cum-model daughter, Alexandra, insists that it’s genuine, but Kiley isn’t so sure. Something doesn’t feel right, but the deeper he digs, the more he wonders if poetry and pulp really are such strange bedfellows.
Hailed as “one of our most accomplished writers” by The Daily Telegraph, John Harvey brings swinging London—both past and present—to life in this gripping novella.
The Bibliomysteries are a series of short tales about deadly books, by top mystery authors.
About the Author
John Harvey (b. 1938) is an incredibly prolific British mystery writer. The author of more than one hundred books, as well as poetry and scripts for television and radio, Harvey did not begin writing professionally until 1975. Until then he was a teacher, educated at Goldsmiths College, London, who taught literature, drama, and film at colleges across England. After cutting his teeth on paperback fiction, Harvey debuted his most famous character, Charlie Resnick, in 1989’s Lonely Hearts, which the English Times called one of the finest crime novels of the century. A police inspector noted for his love of both sandwiches and jazz, Resnick has starred in eleven novels and one volume of short stories. The BBC has adapted two of the Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment (1990), for television movies. Both starred Academy Award–nominated actor Tom Wilkinson and had screenplays written by Harvey. Besides writing fiction, Harvey spent over twenty years as the head of Slow Dancer Press. He continues to live and write in London.
Read an Excerpt
Dead Dames Don't Sing
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2016 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
Once upon a time Jack Kiley lived over a bookshop in Belsize Park. Nights he couldn't sleep, and there were many, he'd soft foot downstairs and browse the shelves. Just like having his own private library. Patrick Hamilton, he was a particular favorite for a while, perversity in the seedier backstreets of pre-war London: The Siege of Pleasure, Hangover Square. Then it was early Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Gerald Kersh. He was four chapters into Night and the City when the envelope, pale blue and embossed across the seal, was slipped beneath his door. Notice to quit. The shop was being taken over by a larger concern and there were alternative plans for the building's upper floors that didn't include having a late-fortyish private detective, ex-Metropolitan police, as tenant. Kiley scoured the pages of the local press, skimmed the Internet, made a few calls: the result, two rooms plus a bathroom and minuscule kitchen above a charity shop in a less buoyant part of north London, namely Tufnell Park. If not exactly low rent, it was at least affordable. Just. And no more a true park than its upscale neighbor.
Having to pass through the shop on his way upstairs, Kiley's eye grew used to picking out the occasional bargain newly arrived on the rail: a v-necked sweater from French Connection, forty percent cashmere; a pair of black denim jeans, by the look of them barely worn, and fortuitously his size, 36" waist, 32" inside leg. The book section was seldom to his taste, too many discarded copies of J. K. Rowling and Fifty Shades of Grey, whereas the ever-changing box of CDs offered up the more than occasional gem. A little soul, late '50s Sinatra, Merle Haggard, a little jazz. He was listening to Blues with a Reason, Chet Baker, when his mobile intervened.
"Jack? I'm across the street at Bear and Wolf if you'd care to join me."
Kiley pressed stop on the stereo and reached for his shoes.
Bear and Wolf was an upscale coffee shop with more than half an eye on the growing number of affluent couples and laptop-toting singles newly moved into the area, the women unstylishly stylish in a cool kind of way, the men mostly tall and bulky and distinguished by their lumberjack shirts and metrosexual beards.
Kiley made his way past the workaholics hot-desking at the front table and, pausing at the counter just long enough to order a flat white, ran the gauntlet of buggies and small children to where Kate Keenan was sitting, an oasis of apparent calm around her, in the furthest corner. Kate looking unimpeachable in a dark linen trouser suit and cream shirt, dark hair framing her face as she smiled.
"So, Jack. Long time, no see."
It had been a month or so back, a private view for an exhibition of Saul Leiter photographs at the Photographers' Gallery, Kate there to do a piece for The Independent, one of the last before the print edition of the paper folded. Kiley had liked the photos, the color shots especially, but felt uneasy in the crowd. After twenty minutes he'd made his excuses and left.
"Been keeping busy, I trust?" Kate asked now.
"Not so you'd notice."
"Don't tell me things in the PI business are slowing down?"
Kiley shrugged. Kate liked to tease him in a good-natured way about his late-chosen profession, referring to it with appropriate hard-boiled inflections, as if he were some combination of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, instead of an ex-copper who'd once played soccer in the lower leagues and now spent his time investigating dodgy insurance claims, snooping on behalf of a local firm of solicitors or shadowing errant wives.
"Only if you're not overburdened, there might be something I could pass your way."
"And here was I thinking this wasn't going to be business but pleasure."
"Can't it be both?"
An eyebrow was raised. "You shouldn't keep walking out on me so early."
"It's not you, it's just ..."
"The company I keep? Too arty, too cerebral for a down-to-earth guy like you?"
"Too up themselves, don't forget that."
Kate laughed. "Jack, you're so full of shit."
"Difference is, I know it."
Whatever response Kate had lined up was halted by the arrival of Kiley's flat white, the shape of a left-leaning heart traced through the cream on the surface.
"Why do we argue all the time, Jack?" Kate asked, after Kiley had taken his first approving taste.
"It stops us jumping all over one another?"
Leaning forward, she brushed her fingers across the back of his hand. 'In that case, couldn't we agree not to argue for the next hour or so?" Kiley was looking quizzically at his watch. "You do realize it's eleven-forty
in the morning?"
"You could always drink that slowly. Then it'll be afternoon."
When Jack awoke Kate was lying with one leg stretched across the back of his, the other angled up towards her chest. Supple for a woman gradually edging closer to fifty than forty, Jack thought. All that yoga, he supposed. Pilates. In the half-light that filtered through the blinds, the skin at the curve of her shoulder shone with a roseate glow.
Kiley's bladder insisted he slide himself free and when he returned Kate was sitting up against the pillows, legs crossed at the ankles, elbows resting on her knees.
"Tea?" Kiley said.
"Builders' is fine."
While the kettle was boiling, he set the Chet Baker back on but, seeing Kate's frown, changed it for some Chopin nocturnes he'd brought up from downstairs on a whim and not yet played.
"Is your shower working?" Kate asked.
"Last time I tried."
Clean, refreshed, she pulled on one of his t-shirts, a white towel wrapped around her head, and took her tea into the room that served as living room and office both.
"So are you going to tell me now?" Kiley asked. "This proposition you mentioned?"
"You mean now we've got the preliminaries out of the way?"
"Very well. I've a friend who owns a specialist book store. Deals in first editions, original manuscripts, authors' letters, anything literary that's collectable and hard to find."
Pausing, she sipped her tea.
"He's been offered something which, if it's kosher, might turn out to be a significant find. At the asking price even something of a bargain."
"And the problem?"
"He's been in the business long enough not to trust bargains."
"What sort of money are we talking here, this manuscript, whatever it is?"
"Well, top end, a draft of a Sherlock Holmes short story in Conan Doyle's own hand just fetched upwards of $400,000 at auction in New York. Count down from there. But not too far."
Kiley pursed his lips.
"This friend ..."
"Daniel. Daniel Pike. Most of the serious dealers are in Cecil Court, but, for reasons best known to himself, his shop is in Camden Passage. He's expecting you this afternoon between three and four. And don't worry, friend or no friend, it's not pro bono; he'll pay usual rates at least."
Ever since Kate had cajoled him into accompanying her to a screening of The Big Sleep, part of a Howard Hawks season at the South Bank, Kiley had entertained the fantasy that all rare book stores were staffed by attractive women with more than a passing resemblance to a young Dorothy Malone. Women who, given some small encouragement, would remove their spectacles, shake down their hair and set the sign on the door to closed.
If anything, Daniel Pike bore a passing resemblance to Sidney Greenstreet, but a Greenstreet significantly slimmed down and confined to a wheelchair, white hair straying either side of a jowly face. Propelling himself around from behind his desk, he shook Kiley's hand firmly enough, then gestured for him to take a seat.
"I don't know how much Kate has explained," Pike said in a gravelly voice.
"Beyond the fact that someone's offered to sell you what you consider to be a dodgy proposition, next to nothing at all."
"Very well." Pike eased himself back behind his crowded desk. "How are you on poetry, Jack? Mid-twentieth century, British."
"Questions like that in the pub quiz, I make my excuses and go for a slash."
"So, William Pierce, that name doesn't mean anything?"
Kiley shook his head.
"Hughes, Larkin, Seamus Heaney, they're the ones most strongly recognized, all dead and gone now, of course. But behind those, Championship, if you like, instead of Premier League, there's a whole batch of others. Also, mostly passed on. Peter Redgrove. R. S. Thomas. William Pierce. More. Of those, partly because his output was, shall we say, shaky — small collections in even smaller editions — it's Pierce who's become the most collectable in recent years and whose reputation has risen accordingly."
"And it's one of those small editions you're wary of buying?"
"Not exactly." Pike changed position in his chair. "What I've been offered is not a volume of poetry, but the manuscript of a novel. A crime novel it's claimed Pierce wrote when he was a young man as a means of making money, but which was never published."
"Never published why?"
"I can't be certain, but it's possible he simply changed his mind. He was just beginning to gain some critical recognition and this novel, from what I've so far seen — fifty or so pages of typescript — well, let's say it wouldn't exactly have endeared him to the literary establishment."
"Crime novels not ranking high in their estimation."
"That depends. It's more the kind of crime novel he opted for. Something along the lines of Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers — the cozy kind where the butler did it with the candlestick in the library — that would have been acceptable. But this seems to be aiming at the more sensational end of the market. Pulp fiction in the style of someone like James Hadley Chase or Peter Cheyney." Pike smiled. "Hard, fast, and deadly."
Kiley nodded as if the names were ones he'd recognized. He might have read a Peter Cheyney once, but he couldn't be sure. Lemmy Caution, was that the character's name?
"These pages, they're typed, I imagine?"
"Doesn't that make it more difficult to prove they were written by Pierce himself?"
"It would. But in this case roughly a third of the pages I've seen have corrections and revisions inserted by hand."
"Either that or a very accurate copy."
"Presumably you can check ..."
"We can bring in experts, certainly, to testify as to the validity or otherwise of the handwriting, analyze the ink if need be, the age and weight of the paper and so on ..."
"And still not be satisfied?"
"There are other issues, less easy to determine. The provenance of the manuscript, for instance; whether the person wishing to sell it is the rightful owner. Added to which the fact that, so far, I have only that person's assurance that the remainder of the manuscript actually exists and is in her hands."
"Alexandra Pierce, the youngest daughter. Younger by quite a long way. Pierce must have been well into his fifties when she was born."
"And she came to you directly, this Alexandra?"
"Yes. I've acted for the family in the past. Some papers of her father's that were placed with an American university. Letters, mainly. Page proofs of a rare early chapbook. Even so, with something like this which could, if authenticated, command a good deal of money, the more usual path would be to sell it at auction; instead of which Alexandra has suggested I should find a buyer without resorting to the open market."
"Did she give a reason for wanting to go down that route?"
"As I understand it, she wants to avoid a lot of rigmarole, a lot of fuss. It would be easier, she thinks, more straightforward to deal with me directly instead. Someone she knows she could trust."
Kiley shifted his chair back a notch. "It sounds as if that trust doesn't necessarily run both ways."
"Let's just say Alexandra's not the most straightforward of people. Contradictory, you might call her. Impulsive. Not easy to read."
"And that's what you'd like me to do? A little close reading? Somewhere between the lines?"
Pike smiled. "Any financial losses aside, in this profession what I can least afford to lose is my reputation. If my personal situation were different, there are steps I would take to ensure, as far as is possible, that what I'm being offered is the real thing. As it is ..." He prodded the sides of his wheelchair. "I need someone to be my legs for me. Eyes and ears, too."
"Good. And the sooner you can become involved the better. Word about Pierce's supposed foray into sensational fiction is bound to leak out sooner or later. Rumors of that kind, they're the pornography of the rare book trade. The first chapters of Plath's follow-up to The Bell Jar that mysteriously disappeared after her suicide; the Hemingway manuscript that was in a suitcase stolen from a train; the Dashiell Hammett novel he wrote somewhere between finishing The Thin Man and his death twenty five years later. We believe and don't believe in equal measure. Always hoping. If Dead DamesDon't Sing is legitimate I'd like to get there ahead of the pack. I just don't want to move too soon and find my head on the block."
"I'll do what I can."
"Thank you. Kate assured me you were most resourceful." Reaching into one of the desk drawers, Pike lifted out a large envelope and passed it across into Kiley's hand. "The first fifty pages, Jack. All I've so far seen myself. Copies, of course. Enough to give you an idea of what we're dealing with." He levered himself around from behind his chair. "I'll see you out."
The Passage was heaving with bargain hunters and the merely curious, a miscellany of languages rising on the air. Some old Dylan song from Highway 61 was playing from the used vinyl store across the way. Kiley shook Pike's hand and crossed towards the alley that would take him towards Islington Green. "If you're not doing anything later," Kate had said, "why don't we go to Casa Tua? My treat."
Kate opted for the spinach green tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil sauce; Jack, the tortelloni stuffed with sausage and ricotta. For a short spell it was possible to believe you were in a small café in Puglia rather than one facing out towards a busy road junction on the edge of Camden Town. Experiencing a moment of self-denial, Kate said no to the hazelnut cream gnocchi for dessert and asked for a double espresso instead. Kiley did the same.
All through the meal they had steered clear of what might be termed business. Now Kate asked how the meeting with Daniel Pike had gone, what impression he'd come away with.
"Would I buy a used book from him, do you mean?"
"Something like that."
"On balance, probably, yes. Though I might shy away from his kind of prices."
Primed by a flurry of car horns, Kate's attention turned towards the window and the street outside in time to see a cyclist in full gear swerve up onto the pavement to avoid colliding with a 4x4 driven by a woman paying more attention to her mobile than the traffic lights ahead.
"This Alexandra Pierce," Kiley said, "you know her at all?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. I interviewed her a year or so back for the Guardian Weekend. There was a small show of her photographs at Atlas and they were reproducing some in the magazine."
"I didn't know she was a photographer."
"She's been a lot of things, Jack. For someone still just the right side of thirty. Model, actor, minor celebrity. I think for a while she was in a band. These last few years, in the main, she seems to have been concentrating on the photography. If you hadn't walked out on the Saul Leiter when you did, you might have met her there."
"Well, there's a chance to make up for it this Sunday. An afternoon lecture at the British Library: Sebastian Barker, William Pierce, and the Visionary Heirs of William Blake."
Kiley shuddered. "Over my dead body."
"It's okay. You don't have to go to the actual lecture. It's the reception afterwards we're interested in."
"Sherry and canapés, Jack. What's not to like? I'll come along, introduce you to Alexandra. She's sure to be there. After that you're on your own."
Standing on the corner of Royal College Street and Camden Road, traffic pouring past, they kissed then went their separate ways.
Back home, Kiley opened the bottle of ten-year-old Springbank a client had recently passed over in payment, together with a premium ticket for the Chelsea-Spurs game, twelve rows up, level with the half-way line. The match had been a bruising, bad-tempered encounter, twelve players booked, nine from Spurs, Chelsea coming back from two goals down to draw. As was always the case when Kiley watched soccer nowadays, part of the time was spent wishing he were out there on the pitch, the rest thankful that he was not. The leg that had been broken in two places in only his second game of the season for Charlton Athletic — his last as a professional and just a few days short of his thirty-first birthday — still gave him gyp when the weather turned. The whisky was much easier to take. Settled in his one easy chair, Kiley opened the envelope Daniel Pike had given him, smoothed out the pages and began to read.
Excerpted from Dead Dames Don't Sing by John Harvey. Copyright © 2016 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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