Summer reading: The Day Jesus Rode Into Croydon, by Kirk St Moritz

By - Friday 12th August, 2016

In the first of a series of reviews of Croydon-themed summer reading material, Rob Preston identifies with a hero from Anytown CR0

Image by Kirk St Moritz, used with permission.

This, the debut novel by Kirk St Moritz, will be full of the familiar to any man born in the mid-seventies and raised in the suburbs. To those who eagerly awaited the next episode of Rentaghost or Blake’s Seven, or who dreamed of receiving prized possessions with the words Star Wars and Kenner on the box, and to those who were presented with the bands of the Madchester scene once old enough to really get into music, and to those who played a certain James Bond video game endlessly once they had the freedom of living in a place of their own.

For us comes the possibility of a greater familiarity still. Anyone hoping for a tale that namechecks Beano’s, the Cartoon and the Whitgift Centre will be disappointed, for the word Croydon doesn’t come up in the novel once and the author has perhaps chosen the name representationally, making a pretty safe bet that people across the nation and perhaps further afield will associate our town with the suburbia that his characters inhabit… but perhaps there’s more. It is revealed that Weybridge is not far away, and that – as in Croydon parlance – going ‘into town’ could mean going into the town centre, or into the centre of London. So it’s easy enough to imagine the fictional ‘Manor and Toad’ pub as any number of real Croydon boozers, ‘Loop Road’ as Oval Road, the unnamed record shop as H&R Cloake’s, and so on. For this Croydonian, it added something.

I recognise all of this: the squalor of house-sharing with another fella, the haze of smoke that might not be just tobacco

The story is told for the most part in the first person, courtesy of central character Joseph. I recognise so much of Joseph’s life, particularly the squalor of house-sharing with another fella, and listening to Pink Floyd and Ozric Tentacles in a haze of smoke produced by more than mere tobacco. Pining over his ex, Beth, and another with whom he remains friends, Katie, we join him as he moves into a new house-share with friendly drug dealer Danny. Much of the humour in the book is down to this Peep Show style pairing. Think Simon Pegg with Nick Frost, at times Shaun of the Dead, at other times Spaced.

The action takes place mostly in the present, but some chapters take us back to Joseph’s boarding-school-for-troubled-boys childhood, where he is bullied and where he in turn bullies. Other chapters, where Joseph is not present, are told in the third person, and most of these focus on the inept cops of the story, an inspector and sergeant who hate each other to the point of both aiming to destroy the other’s career, and the inspector’s faithful dog, Callahan, who hates the sergeant as much as his master does. They are watching ‘wannabe gangster’ Danny, but when Joseph turns up, they decide that perhaps he instead will lead to them cracking the crime of the century.

This killer twist is worth waiting for

Things take a turn for the peculiar, as mysterious people spouting rants of religion appear in Joseph’s life: a tramp, more traditional ‘bible bashers’, and other strangers, culminating in a meeting with the prophet himself, a faded actor whom Joseph admires, who imparts to him that the antichrist is in fact a TV presenter whom Joseph cannot stand. Soon enough, he finds himself on a mission from God, the kind that you couldn’t possibly leave to the police to sort; indeed, the kind that the police are out to ensure you don’t succeed in. Things get stranger still when Joseph meets the girl of his dreams, a beautiful woman named Mia. It’s a case of mistaken identity (she thinks that he is someone else that she knew years ago) but he throws ethics to the wind and pursues this relationship, pretending to be this other chap and getting away with it all too easily.

St Moritz writes well, with much humour and believable dialogue. His book is populated with just the right number of characters, all of whom are well rounded: the bitter coppers, the dopey dope dealer, the nightmare landlord, the plucky ex-girlfriend, her failed actress housemate and the smarmy suits at Joseph’s work who can’t quite believe that he’s pulled such a beauty. If you read this novel and find your own belief stretched, with events that are too far-fetched and situations that don’t quite add up, trust me, stick with it, because when the book’s killer twist arrives, it is such a satisfying pay-off that you’ll race through the final fifth of this story like you’ve never turned pages before, cursing yourself for not picking up on more clues before you arrived at it. There’s even a good old-fashioned car chase, though the real highlight is the five-a-side football match a few chapters before. And if you’re a fan, a fan fan, of the late ’70s/early ’80s cult sci-fi programme Blake’s Seven, believe me, you will want to read this book.

You can buy a copy of When Jesus Rode Into Croydon by Kirk St Moritz here. Prices start at £1.99 (free to Kindle subscribers) or from £7.73 for a paperback copy. 

Rob Preston

Rob Preston

Rob was a co-host on Croydon Radio's Encyclopaedia Croydonia, and hosts the popular bi-monthly tribute nights at The Oval Tavern on Oval Road. As a writer / photographer his work has been published in Doctor Who Magazine, Dreamwatch, Auton, Dog's Breakfast, Bulletin Your Head and SoHo Life & Technology Today. His short stories have been read at Tales of Croydonia at The Oval Tavern, and he is currently working on two anthologies of his own short stories, one crime, the other horror. He has written and directed seven plays at various Croydon venues, and survives today as a jobbing actor.

More Posts