Viper's Dream (US)
by Jake Lamar
(Crooked Lane Books 2023)
Viper's Dream has been translated
into French under the
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 heartbraking novel, one man must decide what he is willing to give up and what he wants to fight for.
At the center of Viper's Dream is a turbulent love story, and the climax bears an element of Greek tragedy. But Viper's Dream has a fast-paced vibe all its own, a story charged with suspense, intrigue and plot twists and spiced with violence and humor. It is also steeped in music.
"Most dreams are doomed to die, and for Clyde Morton, whose journey is at the center of Jake Lamar’s moody noir VIPER’S DREAM, the heartbreak of realizing he can’t cut it as a jazz musician in 1930s Harlem informs all of his subsequent decisions. By 1961, it’s impossible to tell that Morton — nicknamed “the Viper” — is doing anything but living his dream: After all, “he now owned two Cadillacs, one silver, one black,” along with a fifth-floor apartment in Harlem’s Sugar Hill with stunning views of northern Manhattan.
Ah, but the price of such riches turn out to be ruinously expensive. Morton earned his lucre as an enforcer in the drug trade, committing a murder here and there. They were necessary, he explains, except for the one that was pure revenge. There’s another great cost: the ebb and flow of his relationship with Yolanda, a talented singer he couldn’t keep because she didn’t know how to keep herself.
Lamar’s primary strength is his sense of place, especially the “crowded, hot and rollicking” Harlem jazz clubs that Morton so loves."
Sarah Weinman, New York Times
"In the vibrant jazz scene of 1936 Harlem, Clyde 'The Viper' Morton pursues his dreams as a musician, but when talent falls short, he's ensnared in the perilous world of the drug trade. Viper's Dream is a gripping, heartrending tale of one man's choices in a challenging era. With a riveting pace, a bold narrative voice, and a poignant exploration of the Black American experience, this novel offers a unique and emotionally resonant reading experience."
Lisa Quigley, Murder & Mayhem
"Lamar keeps the pages turning in this taut saga of an aspiring jazz musician’s descent into Harlem’s criminal underworld. In 1961, Clyde 'The Viper' Morton is distraught after killing an unnamed victim; it’s not his first murder, but it’s the first one he regrets.... The ’30s and ’60s timelines alternate throughout, building to the revelation of who Morton killed in the present, and why. Lamar dexterously uses the ping-ponging structure to ratchet up suspense and render the climactic payoff properly shocking. This sympathetic portrait of a violent antihero is hard not to wolf down in a single sitting."
"The first thing readers will notice about Viper’s Dream is the quality of the writing. Jake Lamar’s wordsmanship and the vitality of his choices are beyond reproach. Following the syncopated rhythms of jazz and containing echoes of the rhythmic motifs and improvisational approach that are hallmarks of the beloved musical genre, the language used in Viper’s Dream sizzles from start to finish...Pick up Viper’s Dream by Jake Lamar so that you can be part of the conversation moving forward. You will not be sorry."
Kristopher, The BOLO Book Review
"Clyde 'The Viper' Morton leaves Alabama for Harlem in the 1930s to realise his dreams of being a jazz musician. Trouble is, he's no good, so he ends up selling weed for a local Mr Big. But the price of being a criminal takes its toll. Superb period thriller that's up there with the great US crime writer Chester Himes."
Simon Copeland, The Sun
"New York 1961 and gangster Clyde 'Viper' Morton's sins are about to catch up with him. For 20 odd years he's been supplying marijuana to the cool cats of the city's jazz world. He's seen rivals come and go. It's only his weakness for the beautiful but dangerous Yolanda that has the potential to bring him down. The excellent Lamar has produced a wonderfully vivid portrait of Harlem in its heyday."
John Williams, Mail on Sunday
"VIPER’S DREAM explores a vital time and place in American history: Harlem from the 1930s through to the post-war period. A coming of age tale that follows the eponymous Clyde ‘Viper’ Morton, Lamar’s narrative is simultaneously restrained and utterly exuberant. Not a word is wasted as he conjures up the evolution of Harlem, ‘Black America’, and Viper’s own journey from country bumpkin with dreams of musical stardom to ruthless killer and drug kingpin. A jazz-infused crime odyssey."
Vaseem Khan, award winning Author of the Baby Ganesh Agency series
"Hardboiled, but also achingly tender, this is a tour-de-force of jazz noir."
Mike Ripley, Shots Crime & Thriller Ezine
“Fun, fast-moving and full of unforgettable characters, Viper’s Dream is a fiercely captivating novel that you’ll never want to wake up from. The best novels are transporting, and Jake Lamar’s latest does exactly that: bringing you into the electrifying, mid-century Harlem clubs where the smoke is dense, the jazz is loud, and the night is young. With love, ambition, and fate as the novel's main chords, Lamar conjures a controlled chaos only achievable by a master of his craft, just like the jazz greats. What a trip!”
Mateo Askaripour, New York TImes bestselling author of Black Buck
"Viper's Dream, with its African-American gangster anti-hero, is reminiscent of Ray Celestin's jazz-oriented thrillers and similarly introduces real jazz greats into a fascinating mélange."
"Dark poetics, magical prose and meticulous storytelling - Viper's Dream is way more than a crime novel. It is an intriguing seduction.
Stephen Mack Jones, author of the August Snow series
"Laced with a stiff shot of politics, romance and jazz, Viper's Dream is moody, poetic and immersing."
"Wonderful writing. From the first lines, you're there. You can almost see sweat flying off the strings of a slapped upright bass. You've been listening to the music, reading the book, for hours now - and it's still full of surprises."
"For too long, Jake Lamar, an American expatriate in Paris, has been one of French Crime Fiction's best kept secrets. But now, at last, thanks to No Exit Press, VIPER'S DREAM, widely considered to be Jake Lamar's masterpiece, is published in English and it does not disappoint. VIPER'S DREAM is one Long High, sweeping us through Harlem from the 1930s to the 1960s on riffs of melancholy poetry cut through with the hardboiled beats of gangsters and their streets, leaving us hooked on a pure, true Jazz Noir Classic."
"Clyde Morton, anti-hero of Viper's Dream by Jake Lamar (No Exit, ★★★★★), has faith in little except the power of jazz. Sadly, when he leaves his one-horse hometown in Alabama to make it as a musician in Harlem, he proves to be so terrible that his auditioner thinks he’s been sent as a practical joke. So, instead, he ploughs his energies into becoming one of the most successful drug-dealers of the 1930s.
The book begins in 1961 with Morton facing jail for murder, and then spools back to tell his story from the start. Don’t forget to watch out for the clues to the identity of Morton’s victim, and his motive, while you’re savouring Lamar’s gorgeous portrayal of that 'sweet b---h Harlem' over three dark, vibrant decades."
Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph, 17 May 2023
"In the 1960s, the gangster Clyde Morton, aka the Viper, is holed up in the apartment of the jazz-loving baroness Nica Rothschild. While waiting for the cops to come and arrest him for murder, she asks him what his three wishes would be.
Viper uses the time to look back over the 30 years that have passed since he failed to make it as the new Louis Armstrong after arriving in Harlem from Alabama. He became a ruthless enforcer, earning his nickname and making his fortune selling marijuana to musicians. All the while he yearned for Yolanda, a woman who was another’s.
Lamar populates his hard-boiled plot, which borrows its title from a Django Reinhardt track, with cameos from Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The mise en scène is lovingly recreated, but if the debt to Chester Himes is apparent, the violent twists are Lamar’s own."
James Owen, The Times, 17 May 2023