Read A Good Year for the Roses (1988) Online
Authors: Mark Timlin
|A Good Year for the Roses (1988)|
|Nick Sharman |
The explosive and compelling thriller of drugs and murder in south London's mean, gangland streets. Nick Sharman is nobody's favourite person. Ex-cop, ex-doper, invalided out of the Met after a stray bullet in the foot saved him from an investigation into the missing evidence from a drugs haul. The cops don't like him. The villains don't like him. Sharman is unemployable. So he's hired himself an office and set up shop as a private investigator in his south London patch. Divorces and debt-collecting were what he expected. What he gets is Patsy Bright, young, pretty and missing. Her father wants her back. She's a good girl, a model, and only a little bit into drugs. With Sharman's connections it should be a piece of cake. Only when he comes to with a split head, a pocketful of planted heroin, a dead girl and two policemen acting on a tip-off, does Sharman realise this case is different. And serious. And personal.
‘A pure pulp vision closer to Spillane than Chandler. The Sharman books are bloody romances of the South London badlands’ - John Williams
The cops don't like him. The villains don't like him. Sharman is unemployable. So he's hired himself an office and set up shop as a private investigator in his south London manor.
Divorces and debt-collecting were what he expected. What he gets is Patsy Bright, young, pretty and missing. Her father wants her back. She's a good girl, a model, and only a little bit into drugs. With Sharman's connections it should be a piece of cake.
But when he comes to; with a split head, a pocketful of planted heroin, a dead girl and two policemen acting on a tip-off, Sharman realises this case is different.
Mark Timlin is the creator of South London’s premier private detective, Nick Sharman.
Born in Cheltenham on 15th June 1944 (at the local borstal requisitioned by the Royal Navy for the use of the WRNS as a maternity home), within nine days he was back in London with his mother and grandmother dodging V2 rockets, and spending most days under the kitchen table in the family’s Kilburn home. When Timlin was seven, the family relocated to Tulse Hill in south London where he was later educated at the Strand Grammar School in nearby Brixton Hill. As a young adult, Timlin tried a panoply of various jobs: a forklift truck driver, mini cab driver, skateboard manufacturer, roadie for T-Rex and The Who (giving him a healthy sampling of the excesses of the era - which he was later to put to good fictional use). It wasn’t until 1985, faced with another period on the dole, that Timlin decided to add ‘novelist’ to his ever expanding CV.
A Good Year For The Roses
(1988) was Timlin’s answer to the hardboiled noir of 1940s America, uprooted lock, stock and barrel to the dingy back streets of 1980’s south London. Nick Sharman, a down-at-heel ex-copper with a gunshot wound in his foot, is opening his own private investigation business in a shop front close to Tulse Hill station when he is hired to track down a teenage runaway named Patsy Bright.
Timlin’s love of vintage cars is reflected in the vehicle that Sharman drives - a shiny E-Type Jaguar, which comes to a sticky end during a particularly frenetic car chase. Combining humour with brutal violence, Timlin’s breezy writing style tapped into the rich tradition of British gangster films such as
The Long Good Friday
(1980) with Sharman himself very much a modern take on the quintessentially American Philip Marlowe-style ‘tec, which mirrors the author’s love of Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Richard Stark, John D. McDonald et al. More Sharman books followed, with
(1991) being chosen to launch Sharman’s television career in 1995, in a one-off pilot starring Clive Owen. Alas, caught in the crossfire of media hysteria concerning screen violence following the tragic Dunblane massacre in March 1996, the series proper was eventually shunted to a late time slot, only managing four more episodes before the plug was pulled. Latterly though, it has enjoyed re-showings and a welcome reappraisal.
Other notable Sharman books include
Pretend We’re Dead
Quick Before They Catch Us
(1999) which dealt with the hot topic of racism in the Asian community, in both London and Manchester.
All The Empty Places
(2000) saw Sharman dealing with the problems of a girlfriend, when a thuggish ex-flame of hers promised violent retribution, and had the surprising plot turn of Sharman leaving the country to live on a Caribbean island. After a long break
Stay Another Day
(2010) sees the return of Sharman to London when his daughter is in danger.
Answers From The Grave
(2004) is a long (for Timlin) stand-alone novel about a criminal family in south London where Sharman makes a guest appearance. Timlin’s nom-de-plumes include Jim Ballantyne, Martin Milk, Tony Williams and (most recently) Lee Martin for his more mainstream novel
(2007). This may have explored the female side of gangland violence, but it still offered the same copious amounts of sex and violence so prodigiously displayed in the author’s previous more male-dominated offerings.
A GOOD YEAR FOR THE ROSES
‘The king of the British hard-boiled thriller’ –
‘A pure pulp vision closer to Spillane than Chandler. The Sharman books are bloody romances of the South London badlands’ –
‘It is possible that South London contains some law abiding citizens in conventional relationships but they make no appearance in Timlin's immoral, wildly enjoyable books’ –
‘Full of cars, girls, guns, strung out along the high sierras of Brixton and Battersea, the Elephant and the North Peckham Estate, all those jewels in the crown they call Sarf London’ –
‘As British as a used condom in a fogbound London taxi…’ –
‘The plot races along like a salsa dancer – a guilty pleasure…’ –
‘Definitely one of the best’ –
‘Reverberates like a gunshot’ –
‘Brit-pulp's tough guy prize goes to work on Mark Timlin's Nick Sharman’ –
‘The most impressive aspect of Timlin's compressed style is the constant juxaposition of the witty and the tense . . . Brilliantly conveys the dereliction and moral emptiness of the London underworld’ –
‘Grips like a pair of regulation handcuffs’ –
‘The mean streets of South London need their heroes tough. Private eye Nick Sharman fits the bill’ –
Other books by Mark Timlin
Gun Street Girl
Take the A-Train
Zip Gun Boogie
Hearts of Stone
Falls the Shadow
Ashes by Now
Pretend We're Dead
Paint It Black
Find My Way Home
Sharman and Other Filth
(short stories) 1996
A Street That Rhymed with 3 AM
Quick Before They Catch Us
All the Empty Places
I Spied a Pale Horse
Answers from the Grave
as TONY WILLIAMS
Blue on Blue
as JIM BALLANTYNE
as MARTIN MILK
as LEE MARTIN
The Lipstick Killers
NO EXIT PRESS
The first one's for Mum
I woke last night from the dream of roses again. It was the same recessing nightmare I've come to know so well.
I lay in the dark with my eyes open, and felt the cold sweat drying on my body. As before, whilst I tried to fall asleep again, my mind went back to those few dreadful days last summer.
I opened for business on a chilly morning, in a cool August, in a cold and wet, forgettable summer. The headlines in the newspapers told me that there had been a radiation leak at Sellafield Nuclear Re-Processing Plant, Beirut had been bombed for the third successive day, a fourteen year old girl had been raped and left for dead in Clapham, and England had lost in the final test at Edgbaston. It must have been someone's birthday, or someone's wedding anniversary. Somebody had cause to celebrate. But the Lord Mayor didn't come down and cut a pink ribbon for me. I didn't notice the earth move.
I unlocked my office and looked around the room furnished by a second hand commercial furniture company, slumped down in a second hand typist's chair and propped my foot in the open drawer of a second hand desk. My foot was sore. I'd been shot through it by a bullet from a .38 calibre Colt Detective Special two years previously. Ultimately that slug of lead had brought me to where I was sitting. Although I had made virtually a 100% recovery from the injury, I still limped slightly when the weather was wet or cold, and as I said, it had been both that year. It felt good to take the weight off my old wound. I wasn't a walking miracle.
Starting a new venture left me with a certain feeling of anti-climax. But then I felt anti-climax every morning when I woke up.
I was resting on an overdraft that resembled the national debt of a small South American country, like more successful men rest on their laurels. I was in my peak earning years and worth less than zero.
The office I had rented was situated in a cul-de-sac leading to a railway station deep in South London. I had been born and bred in the area and when I was a baby, my mother had taken me for long walks across the grounds of a riding school which was now a council estate where two thousand souls lived. She'd bought our vegetables from a market garden where a used car lot now stood.
The city had eaten into the suburbs like a giant cancer and gobbled up the little communities one by one. Digesting them into a sprawling mass of shopping precincts, slum flats and rows of houses stretching from the river for mile upon soulless mile. The few remaining green areas surrounded by concrete and brick like a wagon train encircled by Apaches.
To most people, that little manor in which I'd put my roots down again was just an insignificant name on the map, a place they drove through to reach the inner city or out to the green hills of Southern England. The South Circular road cut through Tulse Hill like a wire through mouldy cheese. On one side of the road lived the have-nots, on the other the have-lesses. The sign-posts pointing out were a constant reminder that things could be better.
It hadn't always been like that of course. It used to be a genteel area, full of elderly ladies sipping coffee together in tiny cafes, served by young girls in smart uniforms. Now it had slipped down the charts and was full of shops selling greasy take-away food or cut price furniture. The ladies had died or moved down the line to Surrey. The girls were married now and lived on the council estate. Things had gone full circle. After my short period away, I'd returned to the kebabs and chop suey and litter on the pavements. I'd cashed in my chance of a ticket out again.
The single shop front I sat in had previously housed a coal-merchants. It was in a hundred year old terrace of buildings that were dark with soot from the railway. The narrow windows of the flats above the shops looked over towards the rutted car park next to the station. The whole block was about due for demolition and it showed.
The interior of the shop consisted of a large, high ceilinged outer office. On one wall was set a cranky old gas fire with broken elements, mounted in the middle of a cracked, brown tile fireplace. The front of the office was almost filled with a plate glass window which allowed me a panoramic view of the street outside. Separated from the window by a slat of white painted wood was a narrow door with a pane of frosted glass set into it at head height. The wall opposite the window held another similar door that led into a smaller, windowless inside room, bare but for a stained stone sink with one dripping cold water tap. A further door led out into a tiny, muddy, high walled yard which contained nothing but an outside toilet. I'd congratulated myself on getting fixed up with premises that featured all mod-cons. But it was cheap and the penthouse could come later. I'd painted the interior of the whole place white and fitted some shelves to hold a selection of leather-bound law books which I hoped looked authoritative and business-like. On the day I'd picked up the keys and checked around my new establishment, a big, old cat had come stalking by to suss me out. He was black and white in colour with a ripped ear and a wall eye that appeared to gaze off into the distance behind my shoulder when he looked at me. I'd thrown him a few scraps from the cheeseburger I'd bought for my lunch. He gobbled them down and came back for more. So much had vanished from my life over the previous months that there seemed no harm in feeding him with the left-overs from the take-out food that made up most of my diet. Cod and chips was his favourite, closely followed by chicken tikka from the tandoori.
I didn't want any long term relationship, so I just called him Gat and refused to pet or stroke him. I think we were both satisfied with the arrangement. When he came to be fed we just sat on opposite sides of his bowl and scowled at each other.
At least having an animal around the place was a good excuse for me to talk to myself without being taken away for treatment. I'd had enough of that to last a lifetime.
So I formed a tenuous kind of attachment to Cat. It was a start and about as far as I was prepared to go for a while.
I hadn't got dressed up for my big day, I was wearing a yellow cotton polo shirt and old blue jeans with soft Italian moccasin shoes. No jacket. I'd been up half the night wandering about the place, putting the finish to the decor, besides, I didn't have a shoulder holster to hide. Not yet anyway.
As a thought, I'd put a tiny advertisement in the local paper that week, just my name, address and telephone number, plus a simple description of my new profession. ‘Discreet investigations’ it read. I'd received no mail yet, not anything addressed to me anyhow. Just a circular giving me the chance to win a new Volvo and someone ordering half a hundred-weight of smokeless fuel. By ten to eleven boredom had set in and I was really beginning to feel like a cold bottle of beer. I thought about knocking up a sign saying I was in the boozer in case anyone was interested.
Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds. It shone down across the roofs of the buildings on the opposite side of the street and directly through my window into my eyes. The room turned primrose colour and I could feel the chill lift from the skin on the back of my hands. The light was bright and piercing.
I was mulling over those thoughts in my mind with my eyes closed against the glare, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, when a dark shadow fell across me. Someone was standing in the open doorway. I squinted upwards and saw the outline of a man in the opening. His face and body were silhouetted by the sun shining over his shoulder. I felt a shiver run down my spine for a moment, as if someone had walked over the place my grave would be one day. Then he moved towards me and I shifted my position on my chair slightly, so that I could see him clearly.
He was tall, over six foot and aged somewhere in his mid-fifties, I guessed. He reminded me of Burt Lancaster going to seed, with sharp handsome features beginning to fade under a coating of excess flesh over his cheekbones. He was pale under a tan, giving his face a yellow, unhealthy look. His hair was thick and newly barbered, with grey speckles salting the youthful style.
He was wearing a smart navy blue suit of conservative cut, a white shirt with a red tie and a pair of polished black, lace-up shoes. In his right hand he carried a black brief-case with chrome locks that sparkled in the sunlight. He looked like the managing director of a successful advertising agency, or a top consultant at a private hospital, or the VAT man.