Thursday, September 13, 2007


Will Self at the Guardian on the reissue of Derek Raymond's novel How the Dead Live by Serpent's Tail:
Cook was remarkably faithful to the hardboiled genre. If anything, How the Dead Live is more Chandler-esque than Chandler, right down to the incongruous quotations from Shakespeare, Spenser and Mrs Gaskell (!), and an allusion to Socrates that has to be oddly obscured in order to make it plausible mental content for a sergeant in Met.

Then there's the lexicon of Cockney geezer slang, terms recondite even when Cook was writing in the mid-1980s. With his darlings, loves, shtucks, bunny rabbits, artists, berks and wooden-tops, Cook hearkens back to an earlier era, when 'the code' prevailed, and there was a difference between good, honest, working crims, and dirty little toe rags; an aristocracy - believe it or not - of crime, the upper reaches of which his solitary jaundiced hero feels a certain affinity with.

And then there are the lacunae with which these books proceed: the frontal lobe discombobulating occasioned by intoxication. For Hammett it was usually opiates - for Chandler, liquor. Cook's characters swim in the stuff. In How the Dead Live the drinking begins at 9.30 or 10.00 in the morning and pours on unabated. There's also coke, smack and dope, but you can sample this boozy stream as if it were contaminated river running through the text: Kronenburg, vodka martinis and plenty of Bells (or ring-a-ding as our man jocularly refers to it), sherry, more whisky. When the bent copper is cornered he tries to buy his way out of it with a single malt, when the villain's catamite comes out shooting his hand is unsteadied by a tumbler of whisky. When the tragic Dr Mardy's guerrilla surgery fails, his patient is numbed by morphine "on a whisky base".
Derek Raymond really is a total genius, the intensity of my serious encounter with his books in the late 90s will always stay with me--must reread some of 'em....

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