Danny Miller is the author of the Vince Treadwell novels, which expose the dark heart of the Swinging 60s. The second installment, The Gilded Edge, was released last week and this book continues in the same strong vein as his debut Kiss Me Quick. Atmospheric and highly literate, it’s a must for readers who like their period detail more cosh than cosy. We asked the author to join us and talk about what inspired him about the 1960s, its characters and its crime scenes…
Welcome! Can you tell us a little about your new book?
The Gilded Edge centres around the investigation into the murders of a young black girl from Notting Hill and a Belgravia aristo. As these seemingly disparate worlds collide we meet the cast of characters who inhabit their lives, including members of the Montcler Club – a casino in Berkeley Square – plus Michael X, the Black Power leader, and the powerful Soho gangster Billy Hill. And, this being a noir, there’s a femme fatale in the form of society ‘it’ girl, Isabel Saxmore-Blaine, who Vince falls for.
What inspired you to set the work in 60s London?
It’s an era that really belonged to England – it swung. It’s full of iconography, great music, films, clothes. And it was a period for classic crimes, with sharp suited gangsters running around painting the town red and pulling off headline-grabbing heists. It was also the height of the Cold War with spies and scandals.
The first book, Kiss Me Quick, was set in Brighton in 1964, and featured Mods and Rockers rucking on the beach. I’m from Brighton, so it was a bit of a hometown hymn. But The Gilded Edge is pure London, featuring the drinking dens and jazz clubs of Notting Hill, the casinos and high society parties of Belgravia, and the night clubs of Soho.
Your work is period without being cosy. Was it important to you to explore the darker side of the era?
I take the dark side as a given. I’m a big fan of James Ellroy and he portrayed Eisenhower’s 50s through to Kennedy getting wet in Dallas without resorting to rose-tinted rifle sites. The same with Raymond Chandler, he was a prose stylist but his narratives are very dark and seedy. What lifts them is Chandler’s humour filtered through Marlowe’s seen-it-all cynicism that allows him to confront the world he’s operating in. A sidewalk Galahad as one character calls him, whose armour is humour. I’m always on the look out for a gag.
The upper classes get a thorough going over in this book, exposed as degenerate gamblers and eccentric lushes. Was this a political statement?
I know many working class people with the same proclivities, but the book is riddled with political statements simply because the 60s was a very political era. One of the main characters is Michael X, a Notting Hill gangster and Rachman rent collector, who became politicised and emerged as one of the first exponents of British Black Power. The book also explores the developing meritocracy in Britain – Vince is a working class lad with a law degree, he sees the class barriers as something to kick down. His affair with Isabel Saxmore-Blaine is underscored with class war; it’s part of the frisson between them.
You’ve been very playful with your characters and readers will definitely recognise the real names which inspired them. Were you driven by research or cheekiness?
Bit of both. Part of the novel was based on an alleged real life crime centred around the Clermont Club, which I changed to the Montcler Club. I read up on the Clermont Set – John Aspinall, James Goldsmith, Lord Lucan and the others. They were all fearless gamblers who thrived on the buzz of risking it all on the turn of a card.
I did do a lot research for the book, because I found the characters and the world I was writing about fascinating. The gangster Billy Hill makes an appearance, and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. Keith Richards and Marianne Faithful don’t, but Kevin Ridgeway of The High Rollers and his girlfriend Minnetta Fruitful do. So yeah, there’s fun to be had. You just have to check with your lawyer – which we did.
Vince Treadwell is an engaging character, refined tastes combined with a hard edge. Are we going to see more of him?
I think Vince has got legs as a character. He’s in his mid-20s and has plenty of energy. As for refinement, he’s like a lot of working class young men. He likes his clothes and looking good, this is the age of the Mod afterall. And he likes girls. He really likes girls. So he’ll always have some romantic interest or intrigue on the way. The hard edge? Yeah, definitely. Isabel notes that he has ‘a little murder around the eyes.’ And Vince is impulsive, he enjoys kicking down doors and getting into a good tear-up. I quite like choreographing fight scenes too, so it suits us both.
You started your career as a playwright, how have you found the transition to full fiction?
After the plays I wrote screenplays, then worked as a scriptwriter on various TV shows and adapted some crime books including Martina Cole’s The Graft, which was never filmed but was still great experience. When you adapt a book for TV you have to do a fair amount of deconstructing to put the pieces back together again into a five act, TV-friendly format. Martina’s books adapt easily, and that’s why they make great TV.
The other thing that eased the transition was reading. Lots and lots of reading. Just always done it. I don’t think you can be a writer without being a reader.
What’s coming up next?
I’m busy writing Vince Treadwell’s third book. I’m also working on a new novel independent of the series. It has a different structure from the Vince books, with a narrative that’s spread over 10 years, and it’s a got a bit of an epic sweep to it.