The American Boy
Andrew Taylors atmospheric mystery novel, The American Boy
Georgette Heyer meets P D James, with late-Regency atmosphere seeping from every page
is an engrossing, genrebusting read, with added Stoke Newington.
Our flawed hero/narrator, one Thomas Shields, down on notmuch-luck-to-begin-with, embarks
on a new career, in 1819, as a teacher at the Reverend Mr Bransbys Manor House
School, in the village of Stoke Newington, where the situation is quite rural and
the air is notably healthy.Recognisably Church Street, then, but without the 73.
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Shields, a disgraced veteran of the battle of Waterloo, is an intelligent
young man of no means: he must make his own way in the world, relying only on his wits and
what favour he can curry. At the school, he befriends a new boy, young Charlie Frant, and
young Edgar Allan (born Poe Charlies American Friend). In a
suitably gothic series of plot twists grasping American businessmen, dodgy banks,
pulchritudinous heiresses who are not as good as they should be, a fearsome murder on a
Hackney building site, a dash of cross-class rumpy-pumpy and more intrigue than youd
expect to encounter at the Fire Station farmers market Shields gets drawn
into a murky world of subterfuge, duplicity and double-cross, as he leaves his post at the
school to attend Charlie and the young Edgar as tutor-guardian. As hes drawn deeper
into the affairs of the Frant family, he begins to realise that nothing is quite as it
should be, or as it seems.
As Shields attempts to unravel and understand the complexities and intrigues of his
betters and to resist the charms of the lovely but apparently unattainable
Sophie, Charlies by-now widowed mama, he must also try to make sense of
Charlies fathers death, the death-bed codicil he signs, the mystery of a
banks missing millions and the apparent reappearance of young Edgars
real father, the malevolent Poe senior. To give more of the plot away would spoil the
story, but be assured, gentle reader, its a cracker.
And for Poe aficionados theres added fun in spotting possible clues. Did the
French-speaking parrot ayez peur become transformed in
Poes adult imagination into the Raven (never more)? What of the missing
finger, the incarceration, and countless other horrors? Never mind never more:
curl up and enjoy.
Review by Anne Beech
of Freedom: the politics of Bob Dylans art
Keep a clean nose, watch the plainclothes, you dont need a weatherman to know
which way the wind blows. For many who were young teenagers in the early to mid
1960s (like I) the seven Bob Dylan albums spanning Bob Dylan to Blonde on
Blonde were a revelation. Dylans lyrics, from the achingly tender intimacy of
Visions of Johanna through the madcap stridency of Subterranean Homesick Blues to the
apocalyptic nightmare of Desolation Row, were matched in their majesty only by the man
himself, a crazed young prophet, a surreal visionary for that tumultuous decade.
In his new book, Stoke Newington resident Mike Marqusee author of, among others,
the highly praised Redemption Song, a book about Muhammad Ali eloquently considers
the phenomenon that was Dylan in the 1960s, with particular emphasis on his political
influences and impact on popular culture in that era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil
rights marches and the Vietnam War. Marqusee places Dylan in the radical tradition of the
blues and the work of such as Woody Guthrie and the emerging folk revival. He argues that
Dylans art can be understood as much in the context of the political struggles of
the time as in his deeply personal and ever evolving quest for spiritual understanding. He
concludes the book with an examination of the increasingly commodified counterculture of
the late 1960s and Dylans response to this with the Basement Tapes and John
Marqusee offers incisive and revealing analyses of his lyrics and, although fans of his
Bobness will know that this is not the first time such a task has been undertaken, the
author nonetheless suggests fresh and plausible explanations of Dylans work. His
scholarship is impressive and his writing style is absorbing and often lyrical.
Every Dylan fan will learn something new from Marqusees labour of love.
Dylan was no saint and could be brattish, manipulative and often cruel. But during these
early, awesomely productive, speed fuelled years, he was a genius. Chimes of Freedom
perfectly captures the essence of this young icon of the times, and Marqusee is to be
ongratulated on his revealing and hugely enjoyable book
(The New Press, £14.95. Published on 9 October)
Review by Rab MacWilliam