cover image THE SMOKE: A Creeping Narrative

THE SMOKE: A Creeping Narrative

Tony Broadbent, . . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-29027-6

An evocative and witty style distinguishes Broadbent's first novel, set in austere 1947 London (or "the Smoke," per the glossary of underworld slang that precedes the main text). Chapter One opens with the marvelous sentence: "So there I was lying on the roof, seeing through my ears and taking in the sounds of the night, my face pressed against the damp soot-covered tiles, yellowy-grey wisps of fog folding about me like cast-off mortuary shrouds." An initially slow, overly familiar plot and a rushed climax, however, show that this talented author is not yet master of his craft, while some readers may wish an editor had pruned some of the verbal extravagance. Where Broadbent excels is character, starting with his picaresque and charming rogue of a narrator, Jethro, whose spellbinding exploits as a "creeper" or cat burglar occupy much of the story. After breaking into the Russian embassy and stealing jewels belonging to the ambassador's wife, Jethro finds himself at odds with several gangs of dangerous people, including MI5, who want his services in retrieving a code book from the Soviets. He escapes harm by the intervention of one deus ex machina after another. Almost as engaging as Jethro are those out to give him trouble, especially Robert Browno of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, an ogre of a DCI; the gangster Messima, aka the "Emperor of Soho"; and Chalkie White, Messima's weasel-like henchman. This strong debut marks Broadbent as definitely an author to watch. Agent, Jill Grosjean.(Sept. 16)

Forecast:A fittingly gray, "smoky" jacket with plug from Michael Connelly prominently displayed should catch the eye of the casual browser.