Thrilled to host Gabriel Valjan here today. Gabriel’s a fellow Bostonian and a music fan, and his novels of suspense are chock full of the kind of sensual detail that make them perfect for a winter escape. His latest, Symphony Road revisits a Boston I remember, bringing back the down-on-his-luck private detective Shane Cleary from last year’s aptly named Dirty Old Town. Take it away, Gabriel!
,Thank you, Clea, for having me guest-post on your site. I am grateful. Like some of my author friends, I’m trying to promote my latest book, Symphony Road, in the middle of a pandemic and, like every American, find myself glued to the screen watching awful history in real time. However proud I can be about having another Shane Cleary Mystery out in the world, it seems irrelevant. I struggled with what I could write about here, after having written several essays for several blogs, but then I realized that we have something in common besides writing mysteries.
You wrote a delicious noir story called World Enough, with two different timelines. You exercised Memory, Then and Now, with Then being the 80s punk scene in Boston. I thought a few words about the role of music in the two Shane novels might interest you. We first meet Shane Cleary in Dirty Old Town. He’s a former cop, ostracized for testifying against a brother in blue who murdered a kid in a housing project. It’s a racial crime, at a time when Boston was one spark away from burning to the ground over the busing crisis in South Boston in 1974. Shane lives in Boston’s South End. He’s hard up for cash and takes a gig, looking into the potential blackmail of a Boston Brahmin. Problem one is he can’t stand his client. Problem two is wife of said client is Shane’s first love. Fires of one kind or another are a recurring theme in the series.
In the course of his investigation, Shane visits a gay nightclub, where in the background a crucial song is playing: Donna Summer’s Love to Love You plays in the background. It’s 1975, so the track is on a German bootleg. Everyone knows that Donna is both a gay icon and synonymous with 70s music, but what they might not know is that she fled to Germany because she had witnessed a murder, and she was scared for her life. She’d been threatened not to take the stand. Anyway, the song is sexual, to say the least, and her voice defined disco.
In Symphony Road, there is more music at another gay club, but I don’t name the tunes; only that each floor of the hotspot plays different music in line with the choice of recreational drug. Incidentally, both clubs were real places in Seventies Boston. In Symphony Road, however, an older song haunts Shane. Frank Valli and the Four Seasons’ December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) torments Shane because it reminds him of his father’s suicide and his mother’s subsequent death from a broken heart. He turns the dial whenever he hears it. I think we can all relate to how a few bars of a song can fling us back in time, to a pleasant or unpleasant experience. First love. Heartbreak. Family. In later installments of the series, certain songs will rekindle Shane’s brutal memories of his time in Vietnam.
No spoilers here, but I use music in an action scene in Symphony Road. It’s really a tip of the hat to a group that I thought should’ve received a whole lotta love but didn’t. Borrowed Time by Fanny is playing on the radio. Like the group Heart with sisters Ann and Nancy, Fanny was seen as a cover band, a knockoff of Cream or Zeppelin, but I think that does the Millington sisters, June and Jean, and their band mates a huge disservice. Oh, fun fact. Patti Quatro, sister to Susi Quatro, played guitar. And we now come full circle back to your Eighties scene because Fanny influenced The Bangles and all-girl punk bands such as The Runaways and the Go-Go’s. I don’t quote Nickey Barclay’s lyrics, for legal reasons, but just the song’s title Borrowed Time is ominous and suggestive enough.
In the end, the rhythm is gonna get someone.
Gabriel lives in Boston’s South End. He is the author of the Roma series and The Company Files (Winter Goose Publishing) and the Shane Cleary mysteries (Level Best Books). Whether it’s contemporary Italy, a mystery set during the Cold War, or Seventies Boston with his Shane Cleary, he is known for a turn of phrase and crisp spare prose. His second Company Files novel, The Naming Game, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original in 2020. Gabriel is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. Shane’s cat is named Delilah, but Gabriel’s feline is called Munchkin.