In this hard-boiled debut mystery, a private investigator seeks to solve a series of holiday murders.
The year is 1947, and London is still recovering from the devastation of war. Whole city blocks are still full of rubble. Mr. Newman, an American private investigator, responds to a call on Christmas morning from his client Councilor Drake who asks him to investigate an incident at a property he owns. What Newman finds is the body of Raymond Jarrett, a pimp shot dead in a nearby church. Newman is initially suspicious of the nurse who called it in, but soon he’s got plenty of other suspects: a missing university professor and his assistant; a hard-to-find sex worker named Terry Reilly; the abusive father of a young woman who befriended Reilly; and many other characters. Newman quickly finds that many have plenty to hide, and some aren’t too sad about Jarrett’s death, as he ran a blackmail racket involving compromising photos. As the suspects mount, so do the discoveries of dead bodies. Throughout this novel, Roger keeps the reader guessing. She does an especially good job of complicating the motive behind the killings, which at first seems fairly simple but later points to a far larger scheme. The author has a strong command of pace and plot, and the book moves at a good clip, with clues and other bits of information doled out along the way. She’s clearly a student of the hard-boiled masters, with plenty of Raymond Chandler–ian narration. The language is often vivid, clever, and humorous: Regarding a bloodstained coat, Newman says, “Maybe the janitor thought the professor’s Christmas turkey had put up a fight.” Too often, though, Roger goes overboard with the gumshoe poetry, and the meaning gets garbled: “The hull lifted on a creaming pad of bow wave and a trail of fractured blue glass unwound astern for a quarter mile.” But more often than not, the author successfully conjures an old-school detective-story feel: “You never had a wife?” someone asks Newman. “I’d have remembered,” he answers.
An enjoyable, well-plotted whodunit.