My Favourite Crime Novels – No. 19

Shoot Shoot, by Douglas Fairbairn, is one of those novels that was a bestseller in its day but was slowly forgotten by readers until it eventually stopped being reprinted (in the UK, at least). Frankly, it deserves better than languishing unread on the bookshelves of second-hand bookstores.

Shoot is a strange novel, almost too difficult to categorise, which might account for its current out-of-print status. It is a crime novel, yet not a crime novel – it deals with a crime and its aftermath, setting the reader up for a bigger crime at the climax, but it doesn’t have the feel of crime fiction, even if it does have the spare, clipped prose; It is more suspense than thriller, although ultimately it isn’t quite either – the finale is pure thriller, but the lead-up is all about suspense, and yet it isn’t really either, it seems to be something else entirely; it isn’t strictly a character study, more a study of America’s odd relationship with guns – Rex Jeanette, the narrator, is the only character we really get to know and even he remains mired in obscurity, only really coming alive when he’s discussing guns or previous exploits.

If I had to classify Shoot I would call it Gun Noir. Jeanette and the rest of the characters are unsatisfied with their middle-aged lives; financial success, women, children, sex, consumerism, none of these things quite fill the void that seems to have been left by their wartime exploits. In fact, you get the feeling that none of these men really like each other, despite the fact that they have been friends for years. The only common bond they share is their war exploits and a love for guns.

It is a superb piece of work – a novel that makes you think, a novel with an ending that stays with you – but don’t necessarily expect it to fulfil your expectations. In some respects it reminds me of Harry Crews’ A Feast Of Snakes, but without the element of the surreal which makes Snakes such an original. If you can get hold of it, please read Shoot – it’s definitely a one of a kind.

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