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An evocative and witty style distinguishes Broadbent's first novel, set in austere 1947 London (or "the Smoke," per the glossary of underworld slang that precedes the main text). Chapter One opens with the marvelous sentence: "So there I was lying on the roof, seeing through my ears and taking in the sounds of the night, my face pressed against the damp soot-covered tiles, yellowy-grey wisps of fog folding about me like cast-off mortuary shrouds." An initially slow, overly familiar plot and a rushed climax, however, show that this talented author is not yet master of his craft, while some readers may wish an editor had pruned some of the verbal extravagance. Where Broadbent excels is character, starting with his picaresque and charming rogue of a narrator, Jethro, whose spellbinding exploits as a "creeper" or cat burglar occupy much of the story. After breaking into the Russian embassy and stealing jewels belonging to the ambassador's wife, Jethro finds himself at odds with several gangs of dangerous people, including MI5, who want his services in retrieving a code book from the Soviets. He escapes harm by the intervention of one deus ex machina after another. Almost as engaging as Jethro are those out to give him trouble, especially Robert Browno of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, an ogre of a DCI; the gangster Messima, aka the "Emperor of Soho"; and Chalkie White, Messima's weasel-like henchman. This strong debut marks Broadbent as definitely an author to watch. Agent, Jill Grosjean. (Sept. 16) Forecast: A fittingly gray, "smoky" jacket with plug from Michael Connelly prominently displayed should catch the eye of the casual browser. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
"The Smoke," according to Broadbent's "Glossary of London Underworld Slang," is London. This knockout first novel carries the reader deep into the labyrinthine streets of London immediately after World War II, a time of continued rationing, chaotic railways and roadways, and a populace in which just about everyone, from long habit, is constantly figuring how to bend the rules just a bit, or a great deal, to get ahead. Broadbent's hero, cat burglar Jethro, fits perfectly into this post-Blitz zeitgeist. A witty and jaunty opportunist, Jethro serves as combination narrator and tour guide through his own adventures and craft. The first four chapters (arguably one of the most exquisitely suspenseful openings in crime fiction) offer Jethro's take on a "creep" (slang for a cat burglary) he conducts in the Soviet Embassy. Jethro just barely gets away with the jewels and his life, but he doesn'st escape completely. His Majesty's Secret Service learns of the successful heist and coerces Jethro into going back one more time, to lift a ledger that contains a highly sensitive code. Unfortunately for Jethro, others, including London criminals and Soviet secret agents, have thrilled to his expertise as well and watch his every move in order to snare him and the codebook. An anguishing game of cat-and-mouse plays out over the bulk of the book, heightening tension with each move. Remarkable history-mystery, with fascinating background. --Connie Fletcher