Danny Miller’s 2011 debut, Kiss Me Quick, was a well-observed and thoroughly engaging period piece lifting the lid on the dark side of 1960s Brighton, with its mods and rockers tearing up the beach, porn barons, mafiosi and corrupt police. Out of this came Detective Vince Treadwell, a quintessential working-class boy done good and the very embodiment of 60s meritocracy with his sharp suits and quick fists. Now Danny and Vince are back for a second outing.
The Gilded Edge opens with the murder of Marcy Jones, a young, black nurse from Notting Hill. She has been bludgeoned with a hammer in her own home and the only witness is her little girl, who can tell the police nothing about the assailant. On the same night a second murder is committed, a man as far removed from Marcy Jones as it’s possible to be in the same city. Johnny Beresford is shot dead in his Belgravia pad amid champagne bottles and half-smoked joints. An aristocratic gambler with a circle of friends straight out of Debrett’s and a double-barrelled femme fatale for a girlfriend, it seems impossible to Vince that the two murders could be linked. But this is London and lives touch in the most unexpected ways.
Vince plunges into the high society world of the Montcler Club, a Belgravia gambling den populated by degenerates and eccentrics, where he’s sure he’ll find Beresford’s killer. Isabel Saxmore-Blaine, the beautiful but troubled girlfriend is the main suspect, and even she believes she killed him. Vince becomes increasingly convinced of her innocence though and their relationship looks set to complicate matters. Is it possible to cross between the worlds of the high life and the low? Vince discovers that it is; that it’s the quickest of trips, and he’s not the only one to make it.
The investigation into Marcy Jones’ murder begins to spin him closer to the Montcler set. Via Soho drinking dens finessed with Chandler-ish touchs, specialist brothels where his brother officers rub shoulders with the highest in the land, Turkish baths and private hospitals, Vince discovers that Marcy Jones had secrets and connections which could have got her killed. She had a lover with strange proclivities and an ex-boyfriend with links to the incipient Black Power movement. Trouble is, threatening the liberty of such powerful men might just get Vince killed too…
The Gilded Edge, like Kiss Me Quick before it, is a thoroughly engrossing novel and Miller handles the complex plot and large character list with a confidence that jumps off the page. The period setting is lovingly evoked in highly descriptive prose which reeks of hash smoke and corrupt affluence, and whether you’re in an upscale nightclub or the bowels of a police station, you feel the authenticity in every line. The main strength of the book is Vince Treadwell, though. He’s a compelling protagonist with more than a touch of the Harry Palmers about him – young, handy and brimming with the self-confidence of the 60s man, he is someone you will want to read more about.
Period crime novels don’t come much better than The Gilded Edge.