Ghosts of A Chance

by John Harvey
Smith/Doorstop Books, UK 1992, £5.95, trade paper [out of print]

Wrapping up National Poetry Month with a wonderful collection

Seattle, 1994 (goodness, can it have been that long?)

I attended my first Bouchercon, and one of the Saturday 1:00 p.m. panels was “Music, Mystery and All That Jazz”, moderated by Bill Moody with panelists Linda Barnes, Ed Goldberg,  John Harvey and John Reynolds. The room was crowded and Bill had a little trouble loosening up his panel until he got to John Harvey, author of the Charlie Resnick police procedural novels. Harvey talked for a minute or two about jazz and the music Resnick listens to in the books, then took out a slim volume of poetry, opened it and began reading:

“Chet Baker looks out from his hotel room
across the Amstel to the girl
cycling by the canal who lifts
her hand and waves…”

Maybe it was his soft English voice or maybe it was the rhythm in the words but the room grew hushed. He read two other poems, then Linda Barnes talked a little and then Harvey took out a comb and some waxed paper and rather adroitly accompanied Barnes as she sang a song she’d written. If you were there you won’t have forgotten it. Certainly for me it was a highlight of the ‘con.

I knew I had to have that book of poetry, but when I asked Harvey about it in one of those brief “escalator chats”  one gets at conventions, he only said it was out of print. Some time later, when he was here in Southern California signing either Cold Light or Living Proof, I again asked him about his poetry and again he told me it was out of print, though some of it was available on cassette, him reading several of the poems from the collection. . Harvey is also a musician and the tape contains his small jazz group playing and accompanying his reading. I bought that tape and have enjoyed it.

Four years later…

I got the catalog from Thomas Books (sadly no longer in business) and there, near the back, was listed Ghosts of a Chance by John Harvey. I called and got it, a mint signed copy, and I have (carefully, carefully) read it through several times, most recently a few days ago.

There are 59 poems in 61 pages, so you can see the poems aren’t long, but they pack a lot of emotion. I’m a jazz lover and an admirer of Harvey’s novels and I find these poems, most of them with jazz themes, very, very enjoyable.

NOTE: I just took a look at ABE Books and they have 6 copies of this book listed, ranging in price from $7 to $43 plus shipping, all but one of them in the UK (and thus extra shipping costs).

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15 Responses to Ghosts of A Chance

  1. Art Scott says:

    Great photo of Lester Young on the cover. Who’s the photographer?

  2. Richard says:

    The photograph is attributed to Herman Leonard.

  3. I was at the Seattle BOUCHERCON. How come we didn’t see each other?

  4. Richard says:

    I don’t know, George. I wasn’t in view that much, I guess. I didn’t go on Cap’n Bob’s trip to Bainbridge Island (I went to the lobby, but didn’t know who to look for and so went to the hotel coffee shop for dinner by myself), didn’t go to the awards banquet (too expensive) but watched it in my room on in-hotel channel. I was in the bar a couple of times, met Don Sandstrom, Marv Lachman, a few other people. I wasn’t in DAPA at the time, but was participating in MDM. Ah, but you remember that, I roared in with a tough letter to you…

  5. Richard says:

    George – this is a collection I highly recommend.

  6. You missed the exclusive viewing of Art Scott’s famous slide-show! It may have been the highlight of the Seattle BOUCHERCON. We need to get Art to redo it and put it on YouTube.

  7. Carl V. says:

    That sounds like such an unforgettable moment that you describe. Those unexpected treasures are all too rare, but build such precious memories. I got excited about it just reading your recollection of what happened.

    I am as woefully ignorant of jazz as I am of poetry. I’ve thankfully had some experience with both that I have liked, but my knowledge and experience is still very much in the novice stages. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’m willing to experiment and generally find things I like, but I don’t have enough experience with either to consider myself a fan. Or at least feel like real fans would burn me at the stake for hitching my wagon to their star.

  8. Cap'n Bob says:

    Maybe it wasn’t that long ago. I thought that B’con was in 1995. But I could be wrong.

  9. Richard says:

    George – I’ve seen the slide show at least 3 times: Seattle LCC, Monterey B’con, Milwaukee B’con. I would, however, love to have it on video with commentary, as I’ve told Art on more than one occasion.

  10. Richard says:

    Cap’n Bob – I could be a year off on this, but my notes, such as they were at the time, said 1994. Either way, it seems a long time ago.

  11. Richard says:

    Carl – I think the word “expert” is most often a self-diagnosis, or something applied by another person for that person’s benefit. There certainly will not be any burning at the stake (or elsewhere) around here! The poem I quoted the first few lines from is about jazz musician and singer Chet Baker, and it helps to know how Baker died when reading the poem. Or maybe it doesn’t, I’m not sure.

  12. Patti Abbott says:

    I like John Harvey’s blog. He always recommends wonderful music and movies.

  13. Richard says:

    Patti, I agree, and I really like his Resnick books too. I have two of them I’ve held back, unread, that I really should get to.

  14. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Great review, Rick, and very evocatively told!

    I also love the Resnick series. Have you read the most recent addition, COLD IN HAND?

  15. Richard says:

    Thanks, Jeff. No, I haven’t read it. The last two in the series – the ones he wrote initially – are in that “set aside for later” status. I have read mixed reviews of his other series and of the last Resnick.

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