I am so happy to be sharing an extract with you all today, bookworms.
Ivy Ngeow’s latest thriller, Heart of Glass is out now and has received some excellent reviews already so it’s my pleasure to be sharing this today.
First, here’s the blurb …
Unbound Digital (30 Jun. 2018)
Chicago 1980. Li-an Donohue’s luck changes the instant she meets a mysterious Italian businessman in the Drake Hotel. Hearing her play, he offers her a job in Macau on the spot.
She’s there in a heartbeat. From a drab Chicago winter to swimming pools, Sémillon Blanc and lobster. It seems perfect. Li-an has her own private pavilion on the estate of a colonial gothic mansion. But easy livin’ is harder than she thought. She’s homesick. Lonely. And beginning to think it might not be all it seems.
Until she meets slick New Yorker DJ, Ben. He is the ring-a-ding, the daddy cool of the club scene who shares her passion for – her obsession with – music. An island in China isn’t fun when you’re desperate to cut a recording deal, make it big in disco, he says. Ben has a secret plan. But it sure doesn’t sound like music to Li-an’s ears…
The extract …
I woke up. I was dreaming of music, and it’s free to dream. I was going to get caught very soon and I could feel it. My nose was tingling. Things were on the decline. No, seriously. Only that very afternoon I contemplated selling my wine-red Gibson Les Paul deluxe guitar in its silver padded bag, in order to live.
Last night, I met Paolo. I was 23 years old. I had 24 dollars left in my black patent clutch and some belladonna tabs. Four, if I remembered right. It was freezing cold, and just like the night in Blondie’s ‘Picture This’. It was November 4, 1980. The streets were celebrating the former Hollywood actor, Republican Reagan beating Democrat Carter in a landslide. TVs in bars were showing the firework displays. My throat was also on fire. Outside I was ice but inside I was baking. I was dying of thirst and I hadn’t eaten for three days. It took an hour to do my Maybelline makeup to look just like Debbie Harry. Dallas would be proud. I wore my red-framed plastic glasses. I was more Warhol than Debbie.
I headed straight for the Drake Hotel, open every night since Prohibition era ended. I eyeballed a guy who was a little on the short side, perhaps five seven. He was at least 40. He looked smart, sexy if you were into that kind of guy, skinny. The three Ss. He had small neat hands, like those of a teacher. He was dressed immaculately in a sharkskin suit with an unbelievably pointed collar and I assumed he was Italian. His face was tanned and chiseled like a doll. If I was speaking Dallasese, I would call him an Italian pimp-dog, a know-it-all émigré sonofabitch. After a couple of drinks at the bar, I asked him if I could have a cigarette. I only had six dollars left, after cabs, tips and so on.
‘Join us,’ he beckoned and called, ‘We’re celebrating.’ I assumed he meant the elections, but Dallas said to always answer with a straight question. This way you kept the conversation going. If you said, ‘Yeah, how ’bout that, huh?’, then what would they or you be able to say next?
So I played the ingénue. ‘Really? What are you celebrating?’
‘We’re goin’ into partnership to open the first and the best pizza restaurant in Asia — in Macao.’ He said McCow. Wow, I thought to myself, but I wasn’t about to act like some dumb broad.
‘If you’re the first, then how can you be the best?’ I said.
He squinted and looked at me. ‘Waiter, can we have another glass?’
He snapped his fingers real quick and twice. The waiter came back with a champagne flute. Paolo rolled his eyes and shut them, as if he had been sent a message from the Heavenly Father in Naples.
‘Gentlemen, this young lady is a mathematical genius,’ he said. ‘Dja think we oughta drink to dat? Huh?’
They each raised a glass and laughed. He poured me a glass of bubbly and I tentatively took a sip.
‘What are ya? Who are ya?’
I shook my head. I put on a real serious look. The three guys roared with laughter.
‘Italian?’ said Paolo, when the laughter died down, only he said it more like Eyetalyun.
‘Well, no, actually my mom is Chinese from Singapore and my dad is from here, from Chicago. Irish.’
‘Bella,’ he said, looking at me approvingly, ‘bella. That’s why I thought you were Italian.’ I kicked myself under the black shiny tablecloth with a real red rose on it, just lying there as if a gardener from a country mansion somewhere had cut and left a single rose before running off. Why did I tell him the truth? I feared the three things that all immigrants feared: cops, hunger, truth. Something about him, his voice, his hands, made me tell him the truth. Dallas would kill me if she knew. The deal was a different story each night: we were the Queens of Magical Journeys into the Unknown, whatever that meant. I felt I was too old for this game and the stories had run out. Paolo was with a couple of friends or distant relatives I didn’t know yet, who ran Johnny’s pizzeria on West 35th. Originally it was Gianni’s but somebody, probably a Johnny, changed the name. It was Paolo’s family business, but he had a huge family.
‘Johnny’s. Is famous. Is a block from the big Walgreens. You never been there?’ They were proud of their pizzeria. I had heard of it, though I was not exactly a regular in the 60609 neighborhood. ‘There’s always a line round the block. Ya get a pizza, fries and two cans of coke for about 12 bucks. Johnny’s is great for toppings.’ They were super-selling it to me. If they said any more, I reckon I’d hit the floor I was so starved.
‘Pretty cheap date, huh?’ They had no idea. I was given a not-so-top secret: the trick was that the pizzas at Johnny’s were baked. ‘We know everythin’ there is t’know about pizzas and we ain’t sayin’ nothin’.’ Huge guffaws. I made sure I was listening. In Dallas’s rulebook, listening was number one.
The conversation unavoidably drifted to ‘less regulation of business activity’, ‘direction of government policy’, ‘consumerism’… Stay out of politics, said Dallas. You never heard nothin’.
‘Ya play?’ Paolo asked, tossing his head toward the piano as only Italians could, without looking like they were doing neck stretches.
‘Sure,’ I said.
I thought I wasn’t ever going to get an audience again. I went to the piano when the pianist was on his break. I asked him if I could play. He balanced his unlit cigarette on the top edge of the piano as though he was about to perform some magic trick. He gestured with his palm as if to say be my guest, and just when I was about to sit down, he said, ‘You gotta coupla bucks?’
‘No,’ I said but I continued to sit down. ‘Jerk,’ I said under my breath. I played ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’, Fats Waller stride-style, big pouncy crab chords in one-two. Paolo came over bearing our drinks during the middle eight, leaving the two guys behind at our table.
‘This is incredible!’ he yelled. ‘Guys! She plays! We have found her!’
I didn’t know what he was talking about. Found who?
Paolo cried, ‘Bellissima!’ and started singing. His hands burst in the air like an orchestral conductor’s. He knew all of the words. He had a kinda showbiz voice, smooth, deep. But after the song was over, he wanted to sing about some shark with pearly teeth and I knew I wouldn’t get out of it. He was a big fan of Bobby Darin. I changed the mood and started playing something more apt: ‘Dreaming’ by Blondie, with its wonderful descending scalic melody, about meeting in a restaurant when one wasn’t a debutante. Were truer words ever spoken? No. He shook his head. How could he not dig that tune? During Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, with its pulsing ascending blues bassline, I lost my fan. At first he politely nodded his head in time, but he didn’t know any of the words and wasn’t singing along with me. Then he was looking back at the guys. He jokingly mouthed to them, ‘I’ll call ya’, and made the universal gesture of the phone call, fist to the ear. It was just as well.
The real pianist came back from his break, winked in that cocktail pianist way and said, ‘Hey, thought that was neat.’ We headed back to our table but my legs folded over.
I passed out.
Now this has really whet my appetite, if it has yours too, get over to Amazon now and grab your copy:
Hugest thanks to the author and Anne Cater at Random Things Blog Tours for my space on the tour. Do make sure you keep up with the rest of the bloggers for more reviews and extracts:
About the author …
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Press Literary Prize out of almost 1,500 entrants worldwide. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, the New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her fiction has appeared twice in Silverfish New Writing anthologies, in The New Writer and on the BBC World Service. Most recently, her story was published by Fixi Novo in an anthology, Hungry in Ipoh. Her first novel, Cry of the Flying Rhino, was the winner of the international 2016 Proverse Prize and was published in November 2017 in Hong Kong. Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998, and was shortlisted for the David T.K. Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999. Ivy has been a highly accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood and won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song, Celebrity, when she formed her own band, Satsuma (2005-07). Her songs are funky, modern and eclectic, with strong urban grooves and lyrics. Satsuma has played headlining gigs at top London venues such as: The Marquee Club, The Troubadour Club, The Water Rats, The Betsey Trotwood, Plan B and Clockwork.