A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon – Review
By Rich Barnett
Lovers of British crime fiction will argue about when was the greatest era for such writing: Just like trying to compare the skills of Grand Prix drivers of different decades, there’s no hard and fast answer.
Yet many will say the fiction that came out of the 1930s and 1940s was especially good or, at the very least, spun a good yarn.
‘A Scream in Soho’ is a fine example of such writing, being written by Australian-born John G. Brandon and published in 1940. Brandon churned out stories for magazines after he’d settled in Britain following the First World War, and his first novel was published in 1923.
“Sometimes seedy enclave”
By the time ‘A Scream in Soho’ appeared he had clearly mastered his craft, and there’s no getting away from how this crime novel portrays London settling into another conflict, yet maintaining a ‘life goes on’ attitude too.
As a certain popular newspaper once said, ‘All Life is Here’, and that’s certainly the case. Inspector Patrick Aloysius McCarthy, who lives in Soho, clearly knows his manor like the back of his hand, and his presence in the streets of this, despite the war, still-bohemian and sometimes seedy enclave populated by gangs, ladies of the night and the police.
Weaving Italian gangs with German spies, Brandon also manages to include a transvestite Prussian, a midget working with those spies, McCarthy’s sometimes-helper ‘Big Bill’ the taxi driver and a glamorous Austrian countess.
The story begins in a very foggy Soho, with one character being beaten-up and dumped in Hampstead following a murder, and the action is squeezed into just a couple of days or so.
Moving along at seriously cracking pace, Brandon writes with an understanding of Soho, and the characters that filled it, leaving the upshot until the final two or three pages. There’s some thoroughly decent black humour too.
A Scream in Soho is a first-class read and the British Library should be commended for giving these works a second lease of life. Brandon died just a year after this was written, but here is a work one hopes he was proud of.
‘A Scream in Soho’ by John G Brandon is published by The British Library, £8.99