Sat 25 Aug 2007
Here’s both a private eye and a private eye author you’re not too likely to have heard of before. Sam Carroll is the PI, and Robert Leigh is the author. Both of two books were published in England, one of them was published here in the US, and neither of them ever appeared in paperback. Once upon a time private eye novels were always published in paperback, and often paperback only. Not any more.
Here, before going to the books themselves, is the author’s entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:
LEIGH, ROBERT (1933- )
* The Cheap Dream (London: Macmillan, 1982, hc) [Sam Carroll; London] U.S. title (?): First and Last Murder. St. Martin’s, 1983.
* _First and Last Murder (St. Martin’s, 1983, hc) See: The Cheap Dream (Macmillan (London) 1982).
* The Girl with the Bright Head (London: Macmillan, 1982, hc) [Sam Carroll]
We can make some additions and correction to that entry right away. The US novel entitled First and Last Murder is not The Cheap Dream, as conjectured, but the The Girl with the Bright Head, which happens to be Leigh’s second novel. The setting is London, the same as the first one.
THE CHEAP DREAM
From the front inside DJ flap:
“I reached for a cigarette and then heard the rhythmic pocking of the record player. As I looked down at it I saw that the record was still spinning. The machine hadn’t been damaged in all the violence. There was blood on it and one drop had stayed in a groove. It spun around with the record like a rose in a whirlpool.”
Sam Carroll was good at finding out what really goes on behind the neon glitter of modern London. He aspires to the highest level of the ‘crusader’ private eye. His world is bounded by central London, and focussed on Soho. This is a London of the most depraved character, of sex in many forms, drugs, gambling, reckless and dissolute extravagance. It is peopled by pop stars, models, prostitutes, negroes, journalists, a fringe world of night-birds awash with money and frenetic for ‘happiness’ or release.
A man of wealth, a publisher of shady magazines, wants Carroll to investigate the circumstances of the death of a girl called Valentine: a drug addict, she appeared to have died from an overdose. But an ‘open verdict’ had been returned so there seemed to be something worth investigating.
As he wades through the expensive twilight of the city, Carroll runs into an assortment of other characters who don’t wish him well and soon finds himself on the floor in a Pimlico basement next to a small black corpse.
An exciting and weird story is told with clarity and elegance in this unusual first novel.
From the inside back DJ flap:
ROBERT LEIGH was born in 1933. His first job was as a junior reporter on the Kent Messenger and he subsequently worked in Paris (carrying sandwich boards for the Jean Cocteau cinema), in Soho and Victoria (selling ice cream, writing for literary magazines), in Holland (writing a column for a Dutch daily newspaper), in Spain (coaching a local village football team, writing articles for the New York Times) and is now back in London running an advertising consultancy.
He still plays a lot of sport from Sunday morning football to canoeing and badminton, and has plans for further Sam Carroll novels.
Review excerpts (from the back cover of The Girl with the Bright Head):
“A fresh talent stirs.” The Guardian.
“Does more than pass muster.” The Observer.
“Undoubted talent.” Catholic Herald.
“Augurs well for subsequent thrillers.” Manchester Evening News.
THE GIRL WITH THE BRIGHT HEAD
From the inside DJ flap:
In his first novel, The Cheap Dream, Robert Leigh introduced the private investigator Sam Carroll. Carroll belongs to the ‘crusader’ school of private eyes and his first recorded adventure took place amid the candy-floss glitter and deepest vice that stains a spectrum of society not far below the surface of London, and Soho in particular.
It is in the same setting – all too realistically described – that Carroll now sets out to rescue the ‘girl with the bright head.’
“The thing you might have noticed about her was that her hair was parted in the middle and that one wing of it was red while the other was bright green.”
She was trying (rather ineptly) to set up as a whore, but Carroll detected an innocence in her: he was also reminded of another girl who said that ‘she was going to sin until she died.’
This bit of rescue work involves Carroll with Charlene’s complicated family, also with some pretty callous thugs, then a messy murder and then the police. In fact Carroll is in deep trouble.
Violence and evil pervade these events, but Carroll is his own man. In the end, he fights his way through to survival, only to discover a weird twist at the end.
Robert Leigh’s second novel is a ‘good read,’ but something more serious is at issue in its depiction of an aspect of London life and in Carroll’s own attitudes to these corrupt and wicked people.
FIRST AND LAST MURDER (aka THE GIRL WITH THE BRIGHT HEAD)
The blurb on the DJ flaps is an abridged version of the one above, with the last paragraph replaced by:
In the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Robert Leigh writes with the vividness and precision of a worldly poet, demonstrating that he is a new detective novelist of extraordinary promise.
[There is no indication of the book’s previous title. As I'm sure you'll agree, the cover is hardly designed to catch a would-be buyer’s eye. The book was published back in the day when 90% of the hardcover mysteries produced were sold directly to libraries.]