Excerpt from The Month of The Leopard by James Harland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Month of The Leopard

by James Harland

The Month of The Leopard by James Harland
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    Jun 2002, 352 pages

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He had been riding home on the District Line, another day at the City offices of Samuelson and Company completed. An Evening Standard lay on his lap, but nothing in the news had engaged his interest for more than a few moments. A bunch of yellow roses were tucked beneath his arm, flowers he had bought from the stand outside Monument station, a place where the woman was familiar with his wife's taste for yellow. How he had slipped into the habit of buying her roses at the beginning of every week, he could no longer recollect, and yet it was now part of their routine; flowers, dinner, sex, all in the same order, every Monday evening. It was, he reflected, a pleasant and relaxing start to the week, even if he sometimes wondered if they were slipping into too much of a routine.

A few lines from a Van Morrison song were humming through his mind. "You can't stop us on the road to freedom/You can't stop us, 'cos our hearts are free/ She's as sweeet as Tupelo Honey/ Just like honey from the honey tree." The words looped through his mind, running on instant replay, locked into an aural backdrop that blacked out the sweaty mass of commuters hanging onto railings of the tube train.

The good groove, Tom reflected to himself. Why the thought had come to him just then, he had no idea, but he remembered reading a Van Morrison interview once, where he was asked the only question that really mattered; how was it that all his records sounded exactly the same. With the sort of absolute wisdom, authority and finality that only a Celt can lend to a fundamentally ordinary thought, Morrison replied, "When you find the good groove, there is no need to change it."

The walk from Gloucester Road tube station to the small mews house they had shared for the three years they had been married took no more than ten minutes, but the words stayed with him for most of the journey. There was a simple, almost elemental, truth there, something that probably only a musician could capture. A good groove was what he and Tatyana had together. There was no need to change it.

Indeed, he reflected, there was no need to change anything very much. He had a job he enjoyed, one that combined his interests in economics, and in the politics and history of Eastern Europe; since the stock-markets in those countries had developed, the bank had valued him a lot more highly. True, he was not yet on the board, but then he was still only thirty-seven, and he was only a couple of promotions away. That could come in time, and, anyway, whether it did or not no longer worried him as much as it might have done when he was younger, or as much as it might worry his friends in the club. There was plenty of money coming in, more than enough to support the two of them, and to pay for a couple of children in due course. They had everything he needed.

He was surprised to find the door double locked. A couple of evenings a week Tatyana might go out with some of the girlfriends she had made in London since moving here from Estonia four years ago. She had involved herself in a coupe of charities to build up a network of acquaintances in her new city, and supported a group that raised money for charities in Estonia, though since few people in London could even locate the place on a map the amounts were never huge. And she had been starting to do some work on translating one of the classics of Estonian folk history into English. All of those things kept her busy and interested in life, and sometimes took her away from home in the evenings. But not on Mondays. On Monday they were always together. That was part of the groove.

Tom turned the key in the lock, opening the door, and switching on the light. The entrance to the house opened straight onto the sitting room, a space they had furnished together, and which reflected both of their tastes. The room was painted a pale yellow, with a fireplace dominating one wall, and three large pictures on each of the other walls, works they had chosen together on their travels through the frozen, northern hinterland of the old Soviet Union. On the mantelpiece was a small, bronze bust of Stalin that Tatyana had bought as joke. Tom checked his watch. It was just after seven thirty, and, he supposed, if he started making supper she would no doubt be home soon.

Copyright James Harland, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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