As any Mod worth their salt will tell you, it’s all about the detail, and Jason Brummell’s second book, All Or Nothing, is all about the detail.
The plot centres on an unnamed photographer (shades of Absolute Beginners from the off) who returns to London in 1966 against the backdrop of the World Cup after three years in Milan and through investigating the death of his friend becomes embroiled in a cops and robbers tale involving murder and a gold bullion robbery. The chapters, all named after famous songs of the period, are narrated through the eyes of our sharp but shifty snapper; a criminal lynch-pin Terry Rankin; and a Glaswegian Detective Sergeant Alex Dixon-Brown.
Brummell, by his own admission, writes with caper movies like The Italian Job and Gambit in mind and this come across; All Or Nothing reads like a neat little Pan paperback movie tie-in picked up from the local charity shop.
I was less interested in the actual story than how Brummell manages to demonstrate his keen eye for period detail and especially the changes which occurred the three years the main protagonist was out of the country. The changes in fashions are dealt with superbly, with a commercialized uniformity mixed with contrived outlandishness replacing the subtle discreet touches of 1963. It’s very much a “Mod novel” but done skilfully enough to include obvious reference points (scooters, John Lee Hooker, drugs, tailoring) in a more imaginative way than “picked up a suit from the tailors, hopped on the GS and collected a handful of purple hearts inside the doorway of the Scene Club”.
Brummell’s appreciation and love of original Mod ethos shine through the chapters narrated by his hero (which are the ones which work best). “Mod was so serious then. It was a religion. It still is for me. Black music was like our hymns and the DJ booth was our alter delivering its nightly sermons direct to our souls.” I’m a sucker for prose like that. Cameo appearances from Pete Meaden, Jeff Dexter, Mark Feld, Lord Lucan, the Krays and many others populate the pages, adding colour and a knowing nod. Details, it's all about the details.
All Or Nothing is the sequel to All About My Girl (set in 1963) which I’ve not read yet but on this showing is also going to be worthy of investigation.
All Or Nothing by Jason Brummell is published by The House of Suave and available for £5 (including P&P) from Suave Collective.