Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Derek Raymond and a few upcoming titles
Coming up next: the new Declan Hughes and Brian McGilloway from Ireland and the first of Swedist crime novelist Camilla Läckberg's novels to make it into English. But first... Serpent's Tail is bringing out new edition of How the Dead Live, by Derek Raymond (a pseudonym used by British writer Robin Cook--no, not that Robin Cook), with a new introduction by Will Self (who had stolen the title for one of his own books without having read Raymond's book)--giving an excuse to reconsider the Factory series that Raymond-Cook published in the '80s. Raymond broke new ground for noir fiction, updating classic pulp noir with an almost baroque style of writing and a police detective (nameless) at the center of the narrative rather than the private detective that is more typical of classic noir. Raymond certainly established a precedent followed by Ken Bruen (and others) years later, the irritable, violent, and philosophical detective that lies behind Bruen's police detective and to some extent his ex-Garda private detective as well. As in any kind of writing, crime writing generally falls into two categories, in terms of style: a transparent, almost journalistic style and a self-conscious style that calls attention to itself as a narrative. Raymond definitely falls into the latter category. Not only does the detective-narrator use dated London slang (probably dated when Raymond was writing) but also a manner that includes colorful, pithy observations and asides--even extended philosophical considerations of death, loneliness, and social deterioration (Raymond is perhaps the poet of the Thatcher years). And the plots of the Factory books are also distinctive: while most of them are set in gritty London, How the Dead Live moves out to small town England--but not a cozy village: this is the small town of Gothic extremes. Indeed the plot is extremely Gothic, rather than crime or mystery oriented. The detective is sent down to the village to look into the apparent disappearance of a leading citizen's wife, who has been missing for months without the local constabulary taking any notice. What the London detective finds is a crumbling manor house, with beautifully described ruined rooms, and a defrocked physician who has done something dreadful with his wife (all will be explained in a more or less reasonable manner, but the Gothic atmosphere is as think as Jane Eyre or the Surrealist/Symbolist excesses of the turn of the previous century). All of that with the tough detective on top of it is a heady mixture bound together by Raymond's quirky prose. This is definitely a unique and distinctive read, quite different from even Raymond's other books (much less the run of the mill detective or mystery novel). What the current crop of crime fiction owes to Raymond is his example of thoughtful, distinctive prose along with the hard-boiled police detective--but a little weirdness perhaps, too, in some of the "mire" of Arnaldur Indridason's first novel, as just one example of neo-Gothic noir. I can only ask of the living inheritors of Derek Raymond's mantle: more, please.