PARIS NOIR: CAPITAL CRIME FICTION
Published by SERPENT'S TAIL
CONTENTSMaxim Jakubowski, John Harvey, Jason Starr, John Williams, Cara Black, Jean-Hugues Oppel, Michael Moorcock, Barry Gifford, Dominique Manotti, Scott Phillips, Sparkle Hayter, Dominique Sylvain, Jake Lamar, Jim Nisbet, Jerome Charyn, Romain Slocombe, Stella Duffy
INTRODUCTION by MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI
By a twist of fate, my parents moved to France when I was only three years old and my first encounter with the dark side of Paris was when, a year or so later, I was parachuted into the
and, little British boy that I happened to be (albeit with a Polish name of sorts), was quickly bullied and mildly beaten up by all the other kids because, a long-lasting grievance in France, the British had once burned Joan of Arc!
Needless to say, becoming fluent in French became a personal priority, and I promptly made certain my true nationality was soon forgotten as well as finding out that Joan of Arc’s fiery demise was actually at the hands of her French compatriots…
To cut a long story short, I went on to live in Paris until my mid-twenties and have since cultivated a curious relationship with France and the French. But my love of Paris has never changed, a city of delights and contradictions which still manages to fascinate, surprise and unsettle me on every visit to old and new haunts. Much better commentators than me have waxed rhapsodic over the centuries about this city of light, its culture, its geography, its soul, its uniqueness, but being a foreigner in Paris, a spy beneath my bilingual cloak, has also allowed me different insights into the character of the city, its rainbow assortment of people and quirks. Indeed, Paris has proven a magnet for decades to generations of foreign writers, artists, more than just tourists, and this head-on clash of visions has generated some truly wonderful books, films and art.
When I decided to follow up my
volume of crime and dark stories of over ten years ago, it became quickly obvious to me that I should tackle Paris, if only to compare my own vision of the city with that of others with different backgrounds, tastes and idiosyncrasies. I knew that many crime and mystery writers of my acquaintance had also spent time there or, in some cases, still made regular visits, and it made sense to invite a rather prestigious assortment of authors each to interpret the theme of Paris Noir in their own inimitable way. I think the results speak for themselves and offer a rich and varied panorama of Paris today, a psycho-history through the lens of noir fiction.
The writers and friends who climbed on board hail from the UK, the USA, Canada and also France, and all confess to an ambiguous relationship with the French capital. Some stories embrace history and politics, others examine crime and social ills, yet others even skirt fantasy, but all display a strong sense of place and take the reader on a thrilling ride through familiar and unfamiliar streets and
, which even the literary tourist knows little about.
Tighten your seat belts,MINOR KEY by JOHN HARVEY
Mesdames et Messieurs.
It used to be there under
, some years at least. The daily listing in the paper, the
18 September. Valentine Collins, jazz musician. And then his age: 27, 35, 39. Not 40. Val never reached 40.
He’d always look, Val, after the first time he was mentioned, made a point of it, checking to see if his name was there. ‘Never know,’ he’d say, with that soft smile of his – ‘Never know if I’m meant to be alive or dead.’
There were times when we all wondered; wondered what it was going to be. Times when he seemed to be chasing death so hard, he had to catch up. Times when he didn’t care.
Jimmy rang me this morning, not long after I’d got back from the shops. Bread, milk, eggs – the paper – gives me something to do, a little walk, reason to stretch my legs.
‘You all right?’ he says.
‘Of course I’m all right.’
‘You know what day it is?’
I hold my breath; there’s no point in shouting, losing my temper. ‘Yes, Jimmy, I know what day it is.’
There’s a silence and I can sense him reaching for the words, the thing to say – ‘You don’t fancy meeting up later? A drink, maybe? Nice to have a chat. It’s been a while.’
‘OK, then, Anna,’ he says instead, and then he hangs up.
* * * *
There was a time when we were inseparable, Jimmy, Val, Patrick and myself. Studio 51, the Downbeat Club, all-nighters at the Flamingo, coffee at the Bar Italia, spaghetti at the Amalfi. That place on Wardour Street where Patrick swore the cheese omelettes were the best he’d ever tasted and Val would always punch the same two buttons on the jukebox, B19 and 20, both sides of Ella Fitzgerald’s single, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’.
Val loved that song, especially.
He knew about goodbyes, Val.
Back then it was just another sad song, something to still the laughter. Which is what I remember most from those years, the laughter. The four of us marching arm in arm through the middle of Soho, carefree, laughing.
What do they call them? The fifties? The years of austerity? That’s not how I remember them, ‘56, ‘57, ‘58. Dancing, music and fun, that’s what they were to me. But then, maybe I was too young, too unobservant, too – God! it seems impossible to believe or say – but, yes, too innocent to know what was already there, beneath the surface. Too stupid to read the signs.
Patrick, for instance, turning away from the rest of us to have quick, intense conversations in corners with strangers, men in sharp suits and sharp haircuts, Crombie overcoats. The time Patrick himself suddenly arrived one evening in a spanking new three-piece suit from Cecil Gee, white shirt with a rolled Mr B collar, soft Italian shoes, and when we asked him where the cash came from for all that, only winking and tapping the side of his nose with his index finger – mind yours.
Val, those moments when he’d go quiet and stare off into nowhere and you knew, without anyone saying, that you couldn’t speak to him, couldn’t touch him, just had to leave him be until he’d turn, almost shyly, and smile with his eyes.
And Jimmy, the way he’d look at me when he thought no one else was noticing; how he couldn’t bring himself to say the right words to me, even then.
And if I had seen them, the signs of our future, would it have made any difference, I wonder? Or would it all have turned out the same? Sometimes you only see what you want to until something presses your face so fast up against it there’s nothing else you can do.
But in the beginning it was the boys and myself and none of us with a care in the world. Patrick and Jimmy had known one another since they were little kids at primary school, altar boys together at St Pat’s; Val had met up with them later, the second year of the grammar school – and me, I’d been lucky enough to live in the same street, catch the same bus in the morning, lucky enough that Jimmy’s mother and mine should be friends. The boys were into jazz, jazz and football – though for Patrick it was the Arsenal and for Jimmy, Spurs, and the rows they had about that down the years. Val now, in truth I don’t think Val ever cared too much about the football, just went along, White Hart Lane or Highbury, he didn’t mind.
When it came to jazz, though, it was Val who took the lead, and where the others would have been happy enough to listen to anything as long as it had rhythm, excitement, as long as it had swing, Val was the one who sat them down and made them listen to Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker, Desmond with Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Lester Young.
With a few other kids they knew, they made themselves into a band: Patrick on trumpet, Jimmy on drums, Val with an ageing alto saxophone that had belonged to his dad. After the first couple of rehearsals it became clear Val was the only one who could really play. I mean really play: the kind of sound that gives you goose bumps on the arms and makes the muscles of your stomach tighten hard.
It wasn’t long before Patrick had seen the writing on the wall and turned in his trumpet in favour of becoming agent and manager rolled into one; about the first thing he did was sack Jimmy from the band, Val’s was the career to foster and Jimmy was just holding him back.
A couple of years later, Val had moved on from sitting in with Jackie Sharpe and Tubby Hayes at the Manor House, and depping with Oscar Rabin’s band at the Lyceum, to fronting a quartet that slipped into the lower reaches of the
small group poll. Val was burning the proverbial candle, going on from his regular gig to some club where he’d play till the early hours, and taking more Bennies than was prudent to keep himself awake. The result was, more than once, he showed up late for an engagement; occasionally, he didn’t show up at all. Patrick gave him warning after warning. Val, in return, made promises he couldn’t keep; in the end, Patrick delivered an ultimatum, and finally walked away.
Within months the quartet broke up and, needing ready cash, Val took a job with Lou Preager’s orchestra at the Lyceum: a musical diet that didn’t stretch far beyond playing for dancers, the occasional novelty number and the hits of the day. At least when he’d been with Rabin there’d been a few other jazzers in the band – and Oscar had allowed them one number a night to stretch out and do their thing. But this – the boredom, the routine were killing him, and Val, I realised later, had moved swiftly on from chewing the insides of Benzedrine inhalers and smoking cannabis to injecting heroin. When the police raided a club in Old Compton Street in the small hours, there was Val in a back room with a needle in his arm.
Somehow, Patrick knew one of the detectives at West End Central well enough to call in a grudging favour. Grudging, but a favour all the same.
When Val stumbled out on to the pavement, twenty-four hours later and still wearing the clothes he’d puked up on, Patrick pushed him into a cab and took him to the place where I was living in Kilburn.
I made tea, poured Patrick the last of a half bottle of whisky, and ran a bath for Val, who was sitting on the side of my bed in his vest and underpants, shivering.
‘You’re a stupid bastard. You know that, don’t you?’ Patrick told him.
Val said nothing.
‘He’s a musician, I told the copper,’ Patrick said. ‘A good one. And you know what he said to me? All he is, is another black junkie out of his fucking head on smack. Send him back where he fucking came from.’
A shadow of pain passed across Val’s face and I looked away, ashamed, not knowing what to say. Val’s father was West Indian, his mother Irish, his skin the colour of palest chocolate.
‘Can you imagine?’ Patrick said, turning to me. ‘All those years and I never noticed.’ Reaching out, he took hold of Val’s jaw and twisted his face upwards towards the light. ‘Look at that. Black as the ace of fucking spades. Not one of us at all.’