Deadline missed – apology

I had specified not so long ago that my novella The Hunters would have an October 1st publication date. For various reasons (which I’ll go into in a separate post over the weekend) this will no longer be the case.

The release date will now be December 5th. Basically I have several things that have come up as more urgent (again, will explain later) and these need to be addressed first, added to which I want to get this release right – fully corrected, nicely designed and with no readability issues.

I apologise to those who were hoping to get their hands on the finished article but, trust me, it’ll be worth the wait. I’d rather delay and lose a bit of momentum to ensure that what you have in your hands is the pukka article, the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks or, as the Teesside folks would have it, make sure it’s as quality as fuck!


Dead Man Upright – review

Until a year or so ago I didn’t realise that Derek Raymond had written a fifth novel in his superb ‘Factory’ series of novels set in London. I had always thought that the series ended with I Was Dora Suarez, which would obviously seem a natural place for the series to end – the nameless hero seems damned literally and metaphorically.

However, I kept hearing about a fifth novel, so after a bit of looking around I picked it up on Amazon and started reading.

The action picks up about a year after the events in Suarez. Nameless is still working in the A14 department of the Met, still insubordinate and still just about hanging on to his job. He gets a call from Firth, an ex-colleague who was kicked out of the Met because of alcoholism, about his neighbour – a man Firth suspects of some kind of wrongdoing, but he doesn’t know quite what. Middle-aged women turn up at the neighbour’s flat for a few months at a time only to seemingly disappear very suddenly.

Nameless is initially dubious but after further consideration he decides to look into Firth’s suspicions and finds that something is wrong. The neighbour appears to be living rent free at the expense of a property rental company that appears to have no owner, or at least not one who can be easily traced. Also, the neighbour appears to have more than one name. And he also has designs on another woman, one who Nameless tries to save in spite of herself. As he progresses his investigation, using methods that could him in prison, with opposition from nearly all of his colleagues, he comes to realise just how bad a man Firth’s neighbour is…

Dead Man Upright is a strange novel. It is often superbly written and some sections practically rise off the page they are so well realised, and Nameless is such a compelling narrator, but the ending is odd. It continues a theme from the earlier novels that killers, especially those of the serial type, are dull facsimiles of the rest of humanity, far from the Hannibal Lecter ideal envisaged by Thomas Harris and other similar crime writers. Derek Raymond’s killers are much closer to the shabby reality.

The problem with the novel is the ending, which climaxes with a letter and an interview with a killer. By this point the story is done and we are left with a boring, self-regarding man recounting his theories and his methods. It simply doesn’t work, or at least not very well; mostly because there’s nothing particularly interesting about the man being interviewed. Dramatically it is inert and in terms of character progression it really adds nothing that hasn’t been described better by Nameless earlier in the novel.

For four-fifths of the novel it is a decent if unspectacular addition (albeit with a few superb moments) to the Factory series, but the final fifth really takes the lustre off the work.

The received wisdom is that most series-based novels usually have one or two books too many and Dead Man Upright falls into that category. It’s not a total failure – as Raymond is too good a storyteller and stylist to write a failure – but it’s not the novel I so wanted it to be either. It’s worth a read, but if you’re expecting another Dora Suarez or How The Dead Live then prepare for disappointment.

My Favourite Crime Novels – No. 20

Three To Kill – Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Three To Kill is much like The Prone Gunman in that it’s a very cold, detached piece of work, as happy meticulously describing a stereo system as it is describing the characters that populate its pages – treating both as objects, in essence; objects that Manchette’s moves around the chessboard of his plot with chilly abandon. In fact, when Manchette describes Georges Gerfaut, the hero of the novel, he describes him in relation to the vehicle he is driving:

“Georges Gerfaut is a man under forty.  His car is a steel-gray Mercedes.  the leather upholstery is mahogany brown, matching all the fittings of the vehicle’s interior.  As for Georges Gerfaut’s interior, it is somber and confused; a clutch of left-wing ideas may just be discerned.”

It turns out to be a very neat touch making Gerfaut a left-winger who has slowly but surely slipped into contented, though slightly bored, white-collar bourgeouis lifestyle. One night he is forced, more by social mores than out of concern, to help somebody who has been hurt in an accident – but it’s not an accident, a gunshot as it so happens. By doing this he sets in motion a chain of events that leads to him being pursued by two hitmen – despatched by a right-wing paramilitary who’s attempting to keep his identity a secret

Gerfaut responds by eventually killing one of them after several attempts on his life. Then he goes on the run, is attacked by a psychotic vagrant with a hammer, thrown off a train and ends up in the mountains, where he is taken in by, and becomes the friend with, an elderly bone-setter. The bone-setter teaches him how to hunt with guns, equipping Gerfaut with skills he’ll use in the final section of the novel.

When the bone-setter dies, his beautiful bourgeouis daughter turns up and inherits the place. Gerfaut makes a poorly judged pass at her and is rebuffed, but she keeps him on as a handyman. Later she returns and they start an affair. All the while, though, the second hitman is closing in on him, leading to a storming third-act.

Three To Kill is a superb piece of crime fiction but it’s more than that too. It’s a great example of Hemingway’s Iceberg theory in action; a lot of story, a lot of subtext is hidden well below the water-line of the main plot. Gerfaut is a classic consumer – the kind of person who loves his stereo and his lifestyle trappings as much as he loves his family – though he is able to cast off that lifestyle, and his family, without too much hardship. TTK also makes comments about people viewing their lives through the prism of popular culture: on a few occasions Gerfaut views his life almost as an outsider, relating his predicament to films he’s watched or books he has read. Both of these pieces of subtext are still relevant, if not more so, to readers today (I like to think if Manchette was alive today his heroes would be in thrall to the Church of Apple, drowning beneath the weight of their gadgets). Despite being a slim volume, this novel has a lot to say beneath the surface.

The beauty of Three To Kill is if you want to read it as just a thriller, you can – and a barnstorming one it is too – but if you want something deeper than that, it’s there too, just beneath the main text, if you care to look for it.