and a blurb from James Sallis: I knew I was going to really, really like this one, and I did. It's The Not Knowing by Cathi Unsworth, recently out from Serpent's Tail, and it's great. The first third or so I found a bit rough round the edges, but it came into focus for me around the middle and the personality of the main narrator is very appealing (and competely persuasive--this is good female noir, again). What's really special about the book is its amazing evocation of early 90s scenester London: music mags, Brit noir, Camden, Ladbroke Grove, unbelievably vivid and persuasive. There are a lot of if-you-were-there-you'd-know-who-the-real-person-was characters here; and I was secretly convinced that Ken Bruen was the model for the Irish police detective, though I have no idea if that's really the case.
Here's Unsworth talking to CrimeSquad about how she came to write the book:
There are two people who I really owe it all to - Derek Raymond and Ken Bruen. I met Derek, or to use his real name, Robin, when I was 25 and a music journalist. My favourite band Gallon Drunk made a record with him of his book I Was Dora Suarez and he and it totally changed my world. I had loved the dark, foggy London of Sherlock Holmes as a child, but, wrapped up in the hepcat swing of popular beat music as I was since I started writing for Sounds at the age of 19, I hadn't read much in the way of thrillers since. Dora Suarez showed me what a crime book could do and Robin fixed in my head what a crime writer should be. That was it, I was hooked. Crime fiction became the new rock-n-roll, and just as well, with bloody jolly old Britpop on the horizon. Robin was such an inspiring person - there didn't seem to be any kind of age gap between himself, who was in his 60s, and me and Gallon Drunk who were in our 20s. I was gutted when he died, only a year after I'd met him. I didn't think I would meet anyone like him again. But I did - I met Ken Bruen when I was doing the books page at Bizarre. I loved his books the same way I loved Robin's - here was another writer looking from the gutter up, who took in the theatre of the street and cared about those who dwelt there - and was also fucking funny and totally believable. I became great friends with Ken, and after a few years he said to me: 'Right, you've met all your heroes, now it's time you wrote a book.' He gave me a list of rules to stick to - Ken's Kommandments - and off I went. I worked with a Sacred Heart Ken gave me on my desk and a portrait of Derek Raymond my friend Mark Reeve drew looking down from the wall. How could I let either of them down?
I fell hard for Derek Raymond, it must have been 1997 or so and I really can't remember now how I first came across him--possibly I picked up one of the Serpent's Tail rereleases from the shelf in the L&B room, one of Yale's best-kept secrets? Or maybe I read something about somewhere and realized I had to get his stuff as soon as possible. At any rate his books became my obsession, I read them all and then tracked down anything else associated with him (Iain Sinclair's essay in Lights Out for the Territory, which I am too lazy to link to now, various other things) and basically was completely fixated on them for some time. The Factory books are extraordinary, but all of his fiction is must-read. It pained me to think I would never meet him, he had died only a year or two earlier, and then like Unsworth I also discovered Ken Bruen's fiction and it was like the second coming of Derek Raymond--not to imply that Ken's fiction is not completely and utterly sui generis, it is only like Derek Raymond's in being utterly striking and absolutely most satisfying in the literary sense and also of course very much like life (fortunately life seems less like that these days, at least externally, but seriously, in New Haven during grad school I was living on an incredibly seedy block right above this awful bar owned by a bail bondsman, the strangest things would happen, including one night when the bread-delivery truck for the bar/restaurant accidentally--in my opinion the driver must have been stoned out of his mind, it's one of those bread-delivery things--backed into the plate-glass window of the hair salon immediately downstairs, it was three in the morning and it sounded like the world was coming to an end; the hair salon guy rang my doorbell the next morning looking absolutely devastated and asked what had happened, I was only vaguely able to fill him in; of the two other apartments in my building, one was occupied by a falling-down drunk alcoholic who worked for the water board, literally you would see him staggering home from the bars after happy hour barely able to walk, the other by a middle-aged dominatrix whose customers unappealingly seemed to ring my doorbell far too often by mistake, as I irritably told them to ring the second-floor buzzer instead I felt they should be paying me a surcharge for yelling at them over the intercom). In any case, Raymond and Bruen and Chester Himes are enshrined in my heart as my three personal favorites of noir, there are other great ones but none that quite hit me personally in the same way.