My First London Dream is a modern crime novel, following the adventures of accidental detective, Billy Vehement, as he searches South London for the missing film maker Felix Link, who has disappeared while making his ambitious guerilla epic, 'My First London Dream'.
Hack actor, ex-convict and ex-agent provocateur, Billy is hired by his mentor Peter Priest, a retired director of schlock, who had been advising Felix on the film industry in the weeks before his disappearance. Set in 2007, months before the financial crash, My First London Dream follows Billy Vehement's search through the Brixton underworld where, aided by his old friend, Manny Solomon, he navigates a plot of coke dealers and pornographers, amateur actors and part-time DJs, where links to organised crime and Russian political killings come in unexpected places. Blending elements of Billy's work as a jobbing actor, and his past dealings with Peter Priest's black propaganda organisation, The North Soho News Agency, My First London Dream explores the performances at the heart of life in the twenty-first century city.
By turns comic and dark, with a frenetic cast of characters and a keen sense of place, My First London Dream is an energetic and off-beat take on the detective novel, for fans of modern British crime fiction as practiced by such writers as David Peace, Cathi Unsworth, and Stav Sherez.
The black car squatted on Stockwell Road. Billy Vehement clocked it on his way back from Brixton tube station. The regular gang gathered outside the Portuguese delicatessen across the road from his flat, swapping jokes over bottles of Super Bock. Traffic tore up the tarmac beside them; a rogue gull dawdled over the skating park. Billy could only focus on the car. It looked like something from another world: old, stately and sleek, with one tyre hitched up on the kerb, like a show dog cocking its leg.
Late summer, mid-afternoon. Billy had attended an audition earlier in the day, for the part of a crazy comedy chef in an insurance advert. A nothing job, but it would see him through winter. A few steps closer to the car and he could make out a tall, balding, male figure seated on the back seat, visible through the rear glass. A ping sounded lazily on Billy's radar. He headed towards his front door. He hadn't reached the first step when the soft sound of knuckles on the window, soon followed by the electric whine of powered windows.
The voice echoed back at him from - what was it now? - three, four years. The cut-glass affectation. Billy's stomach had actually soured. He turned to see Peter Priest smiling at him from an interior of cappuccino leather.
'I hoped we had the right address.' He pointed behind Billy, at the house beyond, 122 Stockwell Road. 'That's your place isn't it.'
I know where you live.
'Pedy. Long time no see. New wheels?'
'She's beautiful isn't she?' The old man smiled. Imagine a hawk regurgitating a desiccated mouse. 'I've always wanted a Bentley. My birthday treat for myself. A friend of a friend does some renovation of old models. The engine purrs. Why don't you step inside and we can have a chat?'
'I don't know...'
Billy made a move towards the step of 122, but his step failed under the power of Peter Priest, dark star, black hole.
'Come on Billy.' Pedy chided, implored. He cracked open the door. 'Have a seat.'
Billy bent inside the car, and shut the door behind him. Up close, he could take in Pedy's outfit. Beige linen trousers, a blue shirt with thin white stripes, a silk handkerchief in the breast pocket matching a burgundy pair of socks. A panama hat lay on the seat between them, resting next to a creased up copy of The Times.
When Billy had first met Pedy, the old man had sported tweed jackets and red polo-necks, car coats with tweed trilbies. Call it bookie chic. These days, he wouldn't look out of place in the queue at Lords. You'd never know that once upon a time he'd been one of the most notorious schlock film makers in the country.
'What's this about, Pedy?'
'Fancy a little spin?'
'Sure I can't tempt you? Maybe we could get out of the city, take in a pub meal? My treat.'
'I don't think so.' Billy couldn't take his eyes off the panama hat.
'Well, I was going to say how good it is to see you,' Pedy said, returning to the charm. 'You're looking well. Don't you think he's looking well, Clyde?'
Up until this moment, the driver had sat silently in front of them, staring out ahead of him into Stockwell road. He turned, offered Billy a glance of sharp grey eyes. 'He looks very well, Mr. Priest.' Early fifties. Accent hard to trace, probably one of Pedy's West London collective. Perhaps a down-on-his-luck foot-soldier from The Old Days.
'This is Clyde,' Pedy said. 'He helps me out now and then. I don't like to drive too far these days. And Clyde is a man of talents, shall we say.' He held Billy's gaze, like he was trying to make him jealous. Look Billy, look how you've been replaced. 'But you do look well.'
'Yeah, well. I try to stay fit.' He spoke without looking Pedy in the eye. 'Walk instead of taking the bus. Press ups. Fresh fruit, olive oil...' The sentiment drifted when he realised he might have been spouting the tag line for a margarine advert he'd tried out for the previous month. '... blended with fresh organic milk, and a touch of Sicilian sunshine.' No, he hadn't landed that job either.
'It's important for an actor,' Pedy agreed. 'The rough physicality of the profession demands it. An out of shape actor is good for nothing. I've always maintained that. You are still acting, I take it?'
'Keeps me honest.'
The old man's film career had started in the late sixties with a few coy stripping films, but when the seventies hit, he got nasty with Tippy Takes A Trip. The title, trailer and poster drew you into a hippy-dippy sex comedy, but, by the final reel, the action went about charting where free love edged into serial murder. Blue Sisters, Dolores and the Whip, Help Me Hold Madeleine Down: the films had crawled through the cinemas over the next fifteen years, infamous for their grubby blend of sex, violence and English repression, their aesthetic something like mopping an abattoir floor with a copy of The Daily Mail.
Pedy had first employed Billy as a runner, factotum, but, eventually, as an actor. Billy's first roles had been in Pedy's later films, as a gaunt and gangly sixteen year old. He played an assortment of delivery boys, milkman's assistants, and street cleaners: wise-cracking witnesses to awful events. Pedy had liked Billy because he appeared more knowing than the usual child actors, his delivery tinged with a degree of terrible experience. 'I see a lot of me in you,' the old man had said. He never missed a chance to make your skin crawl.
'Oh, I never met an honest actor,' Pedy went on. 'You're all liars and charlatans. You're all confidence tricksters and agents.' He grinned, his teeth horsey and unreal. 'Are you still using that ridiculous nom-de-guerre?' He shook his head. 'Billy Vehement. I mean...'
Here’s another excerpt from about halfway through My First London Dream. Hope you llike it.
Pedy had once told Billy about a film he’d made in the late seventies. The offer had come through to the North Soho News Agency to smear Harold Wilson. ‘We’d got the old Trot out of Number Ten,’ Pedy explained. ‘But we needed to ruin his legacy. The clients involved had requested something…
My First London Dream is the first in a series of novels following the haphazard adventures of Billy Vehement, bit-part actor and accidental detective. I've always had a soft spot for a crime series. From Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes through to Ian Rankin's Rebus, the history of crime fiction is the history of the series. And holding any series together is that central figure, the detective.
'And did you read this? Russians killing each other on the streets of London.'
'Must have passed me by.'
'Gangsters, the lot of them...' Pedy shook his head, smirking. 'Oh those Russians.'
Thank so much to everyone who has pledged to My First London Dream during these early weeks. This is my first experience of crowdfunding, and it's turning a little, well, edgy. Still, I think an edgy ride…