Friday 28 April 2023

Viper's Dream by Jake Lamar BLOG TOUR #VipersDream #JakeLamar @noexitpress @RandomTTours #BookExtract


For fans of Colson Whitehead and Chester Himes, Viper’s Dream is a gritty, daring look at the vibrant jazz scene of mid-century Harlem, and one man's dreams of making it big and finding love in a world that wants to keep him down.

1936. Clyde ‘The Viper’ Morton boards a train from Alabama to Harlem to chase his dreams of being a jazz musician. When his talent fails him, he becomes caught up in the dangerous underbelly of Harlem’s drug trade. In this heartbreaking novel, one man must decide what he is willing to give up and what he wants to fight for.

Viper's Dream by Jake Lamar was published in paperback on 20 April 2023 by No Exit Press. As part of this #RandomThingsTours blog tour I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today. 

Extract from Viper's Dream by Jake Lamar 

‘Tell me, Viper,’ the Baroness asked, ‘what are your three wishes?’ 

I am speaking now of November 1961. It was ’round midnight at the Cathouse. There must have been about twenty jazzmen scattered around the place, talking and laughing, drinking and jiving, eating, smoking, toying with their instruments. One could hear the distant plucking of a bass coming from one corner of the house, the errant honk of a saxophone echoing from another, the playful tickling of piano keys. And one could hear a cacophony of meowing, of purring, of hissing, of claws scratching at the furniture. The Cathouse was a double entendre, a home away from home for the two-legged black cats of the jazz world and the actual home of more than a hundred furry felines. 

The Cathouse belonged to the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, ‘Nica’ to her many friends. She was a Rothschild heiress, a blue-blooded European who had parachuted into the New York jazz scene and become a sort of patron, protectress, groupie of the bebop generation. She used to throw all night party-jam sessions in various luxury Manhattan hotels. It was fun times till Charlie Parker dropped dead in the Baroness’s suite at the Stanhope. Management was not pleased. That was six years ago. The ensuing scandal made it impossible for Nica to find a place in the city that suited her desire for space and all-night jams. So she bought a Bauhaus- style edifice in Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the bridge from Manhattan, with huge picture windows offering a spectacular view of the glittering metropolis. Thelonious Monk more or less lived at the Cathouse. And the guest list of musicians who passed through, stopped by or stayed a while included the likes of Duke, Satchmo, Dexter, Dizzy, Mingus, Miles, Coltrane... I could go on. Lots of folks you’ve heard of. Plenty more you haven’t. This story is about someone you probably haven’t heard of. He wasn’t a musician but he was as welcome at the Cathouse as any of the jazzmen. Clyde Morton was his actual name. But just about everybody called him The Viper. 

You may not have heard of him but you’ve most likely seen him, in grainy black-and-white photographs, going back to the 1930s. He’s often there, hovering in the shadows, at jazz clubs, recording sessions, impromptu jams, always deep in the background, dressed in a sharp suit, with a sly smile, pencil- thin moustache, sleek, processed hair. You’ve seen him there at the after-parties, sitting at the far corner of the table, behind the half-empty liquor bottles, the overflowing ashtrays, and plates filled with chicken bones. That look of his. Languid yet dangerous. He sits there, a stillness, a watchfulness about him. There was indeed something reptilian about this man. Everybody was scared of Clyde ‘The Viper’ Morton. Except for maybe the Baroness. 

‘Viper, are you allergic?’ ‘Slightly.’ ‘I never noticed before.’
‘It’s all right, Nica.’
‘What a surprise. I didn’t think you had any weaknesses at all. Are your eyes watering?’ 
‘I’m fine, Nica.’
‘Viper, are you crying?’ 
‘No, it’s just the cats.’ 
‘Let me get you a drink. Bourbon on the rocks, yes?’ 
No, the Viper was no musician. He had wanted to be one. 

He had the desire. All he lacked was the talent. But he figured if he couldn’t make music himself, he’d help those who could by supplying them with some of the inspiration they needed, the elixir of creativity. On this night at the Cathouse, the jazzmen greeted the Viper with the usual gratitude and respect. 
‘Hey, Viper, how ya doin’, my man? Thanks for that last score.’ ‘Viper, you got any of that go-o-o-od shit for me tonight?’
‘Yeah, man, I don’t know if it was the Californian or the herb from Indochina but I was so high at that gig at the Vanguard last week – I ain’t never played like that. Thank you, Viper!’ 
Just about everybody at the Cathouse that night was partaking of the Green Lady. The sweet smell of marijuana perfumed the air. And Clyde Morton had provided all of it, if not directly, then through his network of dealers – every ounce, every grain. 

‘Yo, man, you gonna share that joint or what?’
‘Take another hit, then try it in B flat.’
‘No, no, the way Pops plays it, the trumpet squeeeeeeals at the end. You gotta make it squeal...’ 

The Viper leaned back on Nica’s living room couch, languid and watchful, taking in the scene. No one, aside from the Baroness, had noticed anything strange about the Viper tonight. But he was indeed fighting back tears. Twenty-five years in this vocation. And until this night, in November 1961, he had killed only two people. Tonight was the Viper’s third kill. For the third time in twenty-five years, he had taken a person’s life. But this was the first time he had regretted it. 

JAKE LAMAR was born in 1961 and grew up in the Bronx, New York. 

After graduating from Harvard University, he spent six years writing for Time magazine. 
He has lived in Paris since 1993 and teaches creative writing at one of France's top universities, Sciences Po. 
He is the author of a memoir, seven novels, numerous essays, reviews and short stories, and a play. His most recent work, Viper's Dream, is both a crime novel and an audio drama, set in the jazz world of Harlem between 1936 and 1961. 
He is a recipient of the Lyndhurst Prize (for his first book, Bourgeois Blues), a prestigious Centre National du Livre grant (for his novel Postérité), France's Grand Prize for best foreign thriller (for his novel The Last Integrationist), and a Beaumarchais fellowship for his play Brothers in Exile. 
He is currently working on a memoir about his life in Paris.

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