The Smoke'Cockney slang for Londonis about a cat burglar and jewel thief, called Jethro, in the austere world of 1947 post-war, black-market-riddled England.
Brought up in and around one of London's famed street markets, Jethro is as smart as he is street wise, which is just as well, as he always needs all of his wits about him to pull off the perfect job and not get caught.
Since the end of the warhaving finished service in the Merchant NavyJethro has told everybody that he's gone straight and has taken-up as a stagehand around London's many theatres and music halls. (His skill with ropes and pulleys is as easily transferred to going up and down the outside of buildings, as it is to the needs of the theatre fly-floor.) But the truth is, hiding in plain sight in around London's West End is the perfect cover for him to be able to set up his diamond capers in the wealthy areas of Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia.
None of London's top villainsthe true life, Jack Spot and Billy Hillbelieve that Jethro has gone straight, and neither does Messima, Soho's fearsome crime-lord. And at some time or another everyone wants him to do just one more little job for them.
And when, after he's burgled the embassy of a certain, un-named Iron Curtain power, and stolen jewels belonging to the ambassador's wife and daughter, Jethro comes to the attention of His Majesty's Secret Service, even they ask him to burgle the place again to retrieve a code book for them. And the trouble is, if he doesn't agree, then things threaten to go very badly indeed, for him, his family and his friends.
But it's all really a set up for a thief to cat ch a thief, that leads to a deadly game of cat and mouse to see who will get to Jethro first: London's gangsters, MI5, or one of the Soviet's most formidable secret agents.
In The Smoke, author Tony Broadbent captures the heartbeat of London and offers up a thrilling first mystery that marks him as a writer to watch.
Read the prologue and chapter one.
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MP Publishing, April 2012
(originally published in hardcover by St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002)
This knockout first novel carries the reader deep into the labyrinthine streets of London immediately after World War II. 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... Remarkable history-mystery with fascinating background.
Booklist (starred review)
First of a series: with lovable, larcenous Jethro a good bet to steal hearts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Kirkus (starred review)
An evocative and witty style distinguishes Broadbent's first novel, set in austere 1947 London. This strong debut marks Broadbent as definitely an author to watch.
The best stories take the reader into new worlds and experiences. Tony Broadbent provides that with wonderful skill in The Smoke. More than a page-turner or a caper novel, it's about a time and place uniquely and expertly captured by this new writer. I was enthralled with it.
The Smoke takes its time concentrating on its main suspense story; after all, there are so many dark alleys and byways in London to explore (the great crumbling theaters, fry shops like The Victory Cafe, where customers can still get "a good nosh") that the novel is easily diverted from its spy-vs.-spy machinations. Not a problem. Jethro's illicit adventures are entertaining, but this is one of those mysteries whose distinctive sense of place lingers long after plot details have faded.
The Washington Post
What a wonderful setting and what brilliant writing. I strongly suggest that you hurry out to your friendly independent book dealer and secure a copy. Hopefully, there may be another book in the series in the near future.
Bill Gottfried, Left Coast Crime