Monday, October 03, 2011

I meet Derek Raymond

While strolling the Boucheron book room last month, I stopped to chat with a fellow from Melville House Publishing. We gabbed for a few minutes and, when he found out that I was Detectives Beyond Borders, he said, "Here" and handed me a bagful of books including his company's reissue of Derek Raymond's Factory novels.

One chapter into I Was Dora Suarez, I find it hard to believe anyone has written noir better than Raymond. The chapter is shocking, violent, funny, and, perhaps most surprising, it gets inside the killer's head without getting melodramatic. (Or barely getting melodramatic, anyway. It flirts briefly with childhood trauma as an explanation for adult crimes, but happily drops the idea.)

But the chapter's neatest, most electrifyingly attention-grabbing tricks are the shifts from free-indirect speech, with the killer as point-of-view character, to first-person narration from the unnamed police protagonist, to quoted/direct speech for a second killing.

I'm not sure what this will all mean, but for now, it has grabbed my attention, especially when, almost without knowing it, I am in the cop's head rather than the killer's.

My favorite line so far:
"Bores and killers are much the same; dullness and despair explain most murders."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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55 Comments:

Blogger Mack said...

Peter, Raymond's Factory series is some of the best noir I've ever read. I'll need to read them one more time (at least) before I feel confident about writing reviews. You've touched on the stylistic brilliance that grabbed me as I read.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I read a couple of these many years back at the suggestion of a friend. Very dark and very good. I don't think I got to Dona Suarez, though.

For years I was under the illusion that Raymond was actually the thriller writer Robin Cook, but it was actually another British writer, Robert Cook. I don't know why the synonym, but it's an honorable tradition in detective fiction.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I'd tried to read Raymond once before, but it was, for some reason, a false start. I still don't know how this current effort will turn out, but this opening is stunning. I mean, it's thematically raw and stylistically polished at the same time. That's pretty damned impressive.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I seem to recall reading that Robert "Robin" Cook took the name Derek Raymond, perhaps at a publisher's urging, to avoid confusion with the thriller-writing Robin Cook.

"Very dark and very good." That would cover my early reaction to this book, as well.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The same thriller-writing Robin Cook, by the way, who is to be a guest at Bouchercon next year.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

He wrote his earlier stuff as Robin Cook-such as The Crust On It's Uppers- and then disappeared to France to avoid the law. When he wrote the Factory books it was, as you said, to avoid confusion with the thriller writer.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I think his fame rests entirely on the Factory novels. Is his earlier work worth seeking out?

October 04, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Robin Cook was also a pretty famous English politician who in the 90s was tipped as a potential Labour leader so a pseudonym was probably a good idea.

I've read two or three Raymond novels and I've always liked him. I know I've said this before several times on your blog (and elsewhere) but if an English boy goes to Eton and wants to become a great writer he will always fail because he will never understand working class life. The class system in the UK is just too rigid. David Cameron and his Chancellor are doomed never to understand a massive segment of their population and people like crime novelist Peter James will never write convincingly about the proletariat and their foibles.

The exceptions are people like Derek Raymond and George Orwell who both went to Eton but who both went to Paris and lived as pennyless bums. Raymond acutally got himself some real life experience and although he's not and never could be Jim Thompson at least he's not completely embarrassing when he writes working class dialogue like Peter James or on a higher level Rushdie or Martin Amis.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Still, I love Rushdie more than I do Derek Raymond.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well yes. He's the greater artist. Actually I regret mentioning Rushdie. Genius has a way of transcending everything.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I've probably mentioned before that he was just a couple of years ahead of my friend at Rugby. As my friend put it, "He wasn't well liked."

Perhaps his outsider status gave him a leg up when it came to the writing game.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, as far as I can tell from the potted biographies of Raymond included with books, he veered away from a privileged life more sharply than Orwell ever did.

I don't know how he does with working-class characters, but in this book he does take us into the last days of a poor, old pensioner without, I think, too much in the way of condecension. And by god, his writing can make you laugh one page and break your heart the next.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So one can be a toff and a wanker as long as one is a genius?

I'd have to know more about Raymond's life before I could draw any plausible connection between the life and the work. As it happens, I'm sometimes skeptical of colorfully downmarket crime writers' biographies. They can seem too calculated to appeal to a lust for grit as glamour.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

You can be a toff and a wanker even if you aren't a genius. There's plenty of proof.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, one had better be a genius if one is going to be a toff or a wanker. Otherwise one might wind up as, er, prime minister?

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

See? There's no downside.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if there are impoverished toffs or wankers who have come down in the world.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I have a feeling there are fewer than we might hope.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dead Wanker's Society comes to mind, and much of P.G. Wodehouse's fiction was about toffs on their way down. Not as rapidly as he thought, though.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

His toffs were transitioning.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Toffs will always be with us, in one form or another.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What do we call our toffs in America? Fops, I suppose, but it's just not the same. Even fop is so much more English a concept than an American one.

October 04, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Seana

American protests that the US is a classless society cannot be taken seriously but English society is still much more moribund. Walk into NBC say and you dont find it dominated by chaps from Philips Exeter, but walk into the BBC and The Guardian and you will find public school boys running the show.

Its interesting and apposite that most of great American novelists of the twentieth century came from relatively humble backgrounds: Bellow, Faulkner, Hemingway, Roth, Heller, Steinbeck etc. Scott Fitzgerald is a notable exception, but he was definitely middle not upper class. The only really rich kid who became a successful novelist that I can think of is Gore Vidal and his books haven't dated that well.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

What about Updike?

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Or what about J.D. Salinger?

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here in America we like to note how many of our presidents and presidential candidates and their appointees went to Harvard and Yake, but your point is well-taken. The figure of the toff is not nearly as ingrained in the popular imagination here.

Weren't Updike and Norman Mailer in the same graduating class at Harvard?

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Were they? I know that Mailer got to Harvard on hard work and talent rather than family connections...

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, they weren't; I don't know where I heard that. In fact, Mailer was nine years older than Updike.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well Salinger's an interesting case isnt he? Only one generation removed from dirt poor immigrants. And always feeling like an outsider because he was Jewish. Catcher in the Rye seethes with resentment against the rich kids...

I also like the fact that Salinger fought in World War 2 as an enlisted man, in the infantry (like Kurt Vonnegut) when he probably could have gotten an easier posting behind the lines.

Updike may spoil my argument but I'm afraid I dont know enough about Updike's oeuvre. I liked Rabbit Run but didn't feel I had to read the others.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And Mailer did his military service, though he didn't see much combat.

There's some interesting evocations of Salinger, or a Salinger-type figure in A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory (not to be confused with his neighbor on the crime-fiction shelves, Ellroy).

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

There was a time when I was living on Plum Island when I used to drive past John Updike's house every day. Alas I never made anything of that unlike this talented macher:

http://arsonistsguide.com/

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Now, that's one hell of a high concept. If the author made himself a macher, it's only because he was one hell of clever momzer.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

For Salinger, read Rushdie. Sort of.

I haven't really got on to Updike, although I did enjoy reading his art essays sometimes.

Of course, you have Henry James and Edith Wharton as sucessful members of the well-to-do classes, so maybe the configuration here has been different for quite awhile.

Given education, it's possible it's a level playing field.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

My wife's working on a book on the novels of 1948 and she claims that Mailer saw zero combat.

Salinger was constantly in the shit in Normandy, at the Battle of the Hurtgen forest etc. and never talked about it. Whereas Mailer...

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I read that Arsonist's guide, actually, and though I don't think he quite pulled it off, I admired it in many ways.

He has a nonfiction one called Charlatan that I've been eying for awhile.

Personally, I think the MFA programs are in some way creating a new form of literary toffs. Whether for good or ill, I can't say.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I've really tried with James and Wharton but the tittle tattle of dull aristocrats just does not work for me. Wharton's a bit funnier (I remember a good line about an air conditioner). The later period Henry James is just insufferable.

But anyway thats my point. Its not a level playing field. The 5% of the English population who go to private school or boarding school know almost nothing about the other 95% who don't. That's why JK Rowling's books strike such a false note with me. This isn't England, this is England through the prism of a rather precious, prim, priggish, upper middle class plonker.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Tittle tattle I do not agree with. And neither do I think had the kind of class allegience that you're talking about in England. They both made a break for it in their different ways.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

What was the Edith Wharton one about the woman who got too old to marry and her circumstances got narrower and narrower? That one was pretty good I'll grant you.

If you talk to Colm Toibin he'll try and convince you that Henry James was the greatest novelist who ever lived and that he was a really interesting guy to boot. I'm not convinced. Like many of his characters he fled the most interesting society on the planet for the stuffy drawing rooms of Edwardian England...

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

House of Mirth, I think you mean. They are all good. They are not about tittle tattle so much as about American infatuation with money.

James is like Rushdie for me. Mind of my mind. Or really, the reverse. I cannot understand how he does what he does.

Although I did not care for The Turn of the Screw.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, Wiki says he served mostly as a cook (though I thought that was a waiter's job) and saw little combat, though enough to see him through The Naked and the Dead.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

... and her circumstances got narrower and narrower?

Sounds noir.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that Arsonist's Guide might be worth a look, if only to convince myself that it need not be is precious as its title threatens.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Dont know about the Arson book. I only read the back cover which looked pretty interesting but somehow I never got the motivation to actually read the thing.

Seana

Yeah The House of Mirth, I liked that one.

How did Henry James do it? He had a thought and then span it out for ten pages without any paragraph breaks. And then went back and wrote it in very elegant prose and added two or three paragraph breaks for those among his readers without his own mental toughness.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Worked for me.

October 05, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Actually, while we're on the subject of long, impenetrable prose, a friend of mine who knows I'm in this Finnegans Wake group had been reading David Boyer's Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker and sent me this:

"One of my favorite passages occurs when the protagonist, a young, disillusioned former teacher is reading a western novel while he dries his sheets @ the laundromat. A young woman comes in to the laundromat and unloads her clothes from a guitar case:
When her clothes were in the washing machine she took Finnegans Wake from the case, crossed her booted legs, and began reading it. I snuck the western into my laundry bag. The girl was about halfway through the book and appeared unpuzzled by what she read. A page took her on the average of 45 sconds, which wasn't much more than what a page of the western took me. This was a remarkable girl. I decided that it would be worthwhile to marry her just so I coud watch her read Finnegans Wake with such style. I walked up to her, pointed at a washing machine, and said, "Riverruns circlesudsingly, don't you think?"
She looked at me blankly. "In the washing machine," I explained. She continued to look at me blankly and didn't say anything. I said, "It's sort of a bewilderfusing book, isn't it?"
She said, "Why don't you go back to your western?" and began to read again, humming.
I said, "If you're going to be so darned pretentious, at least you could be friendly."
"Go back to your western, little man."
"

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Jeff VanderMeer wrote about the Factory novels a couple of years ago. A real nice in depth study.

http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/05/15/derek-raymonds-factory-novels/

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's a fine passage. It reminds me a bit of Woody Allen trying to pick up the suicidal black-haired woman in the museum in ???

October 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Brian. I'll take a look if I ever get these &*&*(&% connection problems solved.

October 05, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, oh, Looks like you gave up on Derek Raymond again...? That is, no follow-up comments re I Was Dora Suarez.

Revisit the thread that followed your July 31 post... In it author Ray Banks mentions Raymond's memoirs, The Hidden Files. Peter, I highly recommend it to you. DR makes so many observations on writing and the writing life (in addition to such autobiographical details about dropping out of Eton at 16, etc.) that I think you would really find it most engaging. Even that old chestnut, thought-provoking. Blog post-provoking even.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not at all. I finished it, liked it, and will probably start Devil's Home on Leave soon.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks on The Hidden Files. It does sound like a thinking man's-- I mean, it does sound worth reading. (Ray Banks' latest is also on my list.)

October 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

finished it, liked it

Ah! Good! I just didn't see any subsequent comments from you after the beginning-the-book comments so feared you had given up once again. Glad I was mistaken.

What Raymond means by the "black novel" (is not equivalent to "noir") is clearly explained in his memoirs.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That makes me want to read his memoirs all the more. Noir is notoriously hard to define, but I Was Dora Suarez certainly has affinities with what I think of as noir, notably the hopeless romanticism.

October 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I realize this comment is perhaps too late but...

Adrian, if you and other readers avoid Edith Wharton's Gilded Age novels because "the tittle tattle of dull aristocrats just does not work for me," may I suggest one of her Jazz Age novels such as The Glimpses of the Moon, 1922, or Twilight Sleep, 1927?

October 10, 2011  

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