Down and ‘borassic’ in 1930s London

At the Chime of a City Clock by D J Taylor

Taylor’s novel is a cleverly portrayed slice of 30s noir. It’s set in the seedy backstreets of London in 1931.

James Ross is an aspiring writer, but there’s no chance of making a living at it. He lives in London’s seedy Bayswater and his landlady is always after the rent money. But he’s permanently borassic, (Boracic Lint = Skint). So he gets a job as a door-to-door salesman flogging carpet cleaner – his commission gets him 2/6 – a whole half a crown per sale – could be a nice little earner. Then he meets Susie, a real looker, and falls head over heels for her – it seems she likes him too. She works as a secretary for the odd Mr Rasmussen who, James is sure, is up to no good. Meanwhile a chipper lad called Leo is also trying to make ends meet, but is not above helping out in shady deals.

James is desperately trying to save up enough money to take Susie away for a dirty weekend, when an opportunity arrives to take the place of a friend at a houseparty to which Rasmussen is going – and he’s taking his secretary…

This novel was really successful at recreating 1930s London, when guys wore hats and everyone met at Lyons tea shops where they drank cups of ‘ackermaracker’. The language was full of slang including swear-words – ‘Berkshire’ (Hunt) took me a while to cotton on to! In fact I got out the ever-reliable Eric Partridge Dictionary of Slang to check a few others – it appears that ackermaracker comes from an elaborated prison blackslang word for tea!

It was less successful in terms of plot. The front cover proclaims it as a thriller – I’d call it ‘thriller-ish’. There are scams going on, but they’re almost incidental to James trying to make a few bob all the time. At first we alternate between James and Leo which is slightly confusing, but gradually James moreorless takes over the plot.

I enjoyed the read for the evocation of London life, but wished there had been more plot. (7/10)

This post was republished into its original place in my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive

Source: Review copy

DJ Taylor, At the Chime of a City Clock (Constable, 2010) Corsair pbk 256 pages.

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