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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fires of London by Janice Law

Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful surrealist painters of the twentieth century and Janice Law imagines him on the track of a murderer in London's gay underworld during the Blitz.

Law paints Bacon as a likeable, cheeky, self-deprecating but starlingly intelligent and sincere young man, troubled by his sexuality but unlikely to renounce it. Bacon, who narrates, is an ARP warden in London. It's 1939. During a blackout, he walks into a dead body and promptly becomes the prime suspect for murder. A detective on his back has a suspiciously specific agenda, and with old friends and old conquests going missing, things start to get personal.

This short adventure-mystery culminates in a predictable but thrilling manner. While Bacon has been exploring the darkest parts of London and the darkest corners of the human soul, it all ends with a huge flash of light. If you know what I mean. This is London; this is the war.

An immaculately-researched and evocative novel, Fires of London (2013) had me turning e-pages like there was no tomorrow (and `tomorrow' was far from certain for these characters). It does not surprise me one jot that its author is herself a painter: the artistic temperment, and the narrator's tendency to see everything in terms of which paint he would use to capture it, are authentic.

However, I will eat my hat if Janice Law is British. Slang such as `copper' is over-used and often used jarringly. Very few natives of London in the 1930s and 1940s will have used this and only this word to refer to a police officer. Then, as now, and there, as the world over, language was more fluid, more dynamic. Slang is a tricky thing to get the hang of, and only the strongest writers can pull it off. Passages like this were genuinely distracting: `Oh, there were all manner of deviants [...] and a good many pleasant chaps who wanted to buy me drinks and fondle my bum, so to speak.' Brian Sewell aside, I defy you to find anyone who has ever spoken like that.

Writing about corruption, networking, light and dark (on all levels), and secrets, though, Janice Law is in her element. I have a suspicion that Francis Bacon will be thrown into more exploits. And people will want to read all about them.

This review originally appeared on Amazon UK in 2013.

Disclaimer: I was given a review copy by the Mysterious Press.

1 comment:

  1. I'd never heard of this one, and it does sound intriguing. Right with you on the language use - it IS hard to get right, but some writers do seem to have a tin ear for it... I tut my way through many an otherwise-enjoyable book set in the past because of errors in language - and also in etiquette.