When I was a kid I was my Dad’s de facto vinyl-wallah, meaning it was my job to change his records while he lounged around and drank tea. This is why I know my record labels, my Argo from my Tempo and why, when Dr Walid called me down to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing as ‘Body and Soul’. Not literally playing, you understand, but something violently supernatural had happened to the victim on or around his death, something strong enough to leave its imprint on his corpse as if it were a wax cylinder recording. The former owner of the body was one Cyrus Wilkins part time jazz drummer and full time accountant who dropped dead of a heart attack half an hour after finishing a gig at the Spice of Life. When I checked I found that two other jazz musicians had died in the last year, all of heart attacks, all within an hour of finishing gigs.
Nobody was going to let me exhume corpses of their loved ones just so I could see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old fashioned legwork. There are jazz clubs all over London but the heart of the scene has always been Soho and so that’s where I headed. Trouble was my jazz mojo was thirty years out of date, so luckily I hooked up with Vanessa Tancred, music journalist, professional jazz kitten and as round and sly and as inviting as a Rubens’ portrait. I didn’t trust her but I needed her help because there were monsters stalking the clubs and dives of London, creatures that fed off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind sickness, failure and broken lives.
But as I hunted them I began to realise that my investigation was getting tangled up in another story, that of a young man from the East End with a talent for the trumpet and a burning desire to prove himself the best jazzman in London – Richard ‘Lord’ Grant, my father, who almost became the British answer to Clifford Brown – and who had managed to destroy his own career on not one but two separate occasions. That’s the thing about policing, most of the time you’re doing to maintain public order, occasionally you’re doing it for justice but rarely, maybe once in your career, you get to do it for revenge.