Robert Musil, Derek Raymond, and some fat guy on the roof breaking into my house
"Moosbrugger was a carpenter, a big, broad-shouldered man without any superfluous fat, with hair like brown lamb’s-skin and harmless-looking great fists. His face also expressed good-hearted strength and the wish to do right, and if one had not seen these qualities, one would have smelt them, in the rough-and-ready, straightforward, dry, workaday smell that went with this thirty-four-year-old man, from his having to do with wood and a kind of work that called for steadiness as much as for exertion.That's a lot more effective than the scores of chapters told from inside a killer's head, usually in italic type, that fill contemporary crime novels.
"One stopped as though rooted to the spot, when for the first time one encountered this face so blessed by God with all the signs of goodness, for Moosbrugger was usually accompanied by two armed gendarmes and had his hands shackled before him to a strong steel chain, the grip of which was held by one of his escorts."
I happened to flip through the opening chapter of Derek Raymond's How the Dead Live recently. That chapter, in which a crowd of bored, restless detectives thoroughly take the piss out of a lecturer who presumes to know how psychotic killers think, would make a nice companion to Musil's Moosbrugger passage. Both confront the salient fact that, for most authors and most readers, the gap between death and killing on the one hand and ordinary experience on the other is unbridgeable, unimaginable, even.
Musil and Raymond embrace the gap and make it part of their stories. Most crime writers, on the other hand ignore it, which is why all those passages from inside the killer's head are so much cheap and showy play-acting, more skillfully executed or less depending on the author's (and editor's) skill with words. It's also why not just Musil, acknowledged as one of the twentieth century's great authors, but also Derek Raymond, is infinitely greater than— well, you know who those writers are.
"She was capable of uttering the words ‘the true, the good and the beautiful’ as often and as naturally as someone else might say ‘Thursday’."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012