Friday, June 08, 2012

96 Tears



So, Hughton has gone and  the various rumour mills and their mongers are working overtime. The wishful thinkers are beside themselves. I think the best thing we Blues fans can do is set our sights low, I can't see that any established manager who still has a reputation to lose will find us attractive, and nor will any ambitious young bucks. Who knows what tomorrow will bring though.

Enough of Blues, for now. Read any good books lately? I have. I've read some shit ones too, I won't mention those though.

For years, I couldn't get on with Walter Mosely. I found him a bit po faced, and always felt like I was reading a black consciousness polemic rather than  a novel. I may have been doing him an injustice, I have little patience with books that start off by getting on my nerves…... maybe his books were better than I thought. Last year, I gave one of his later novels a try, one with a new hero, Leonid McGill, and set in the present time and, I was, well, blown away, man.

I first got into crime fiction because of Margaret Thatcher and the death of the engineering industry in Brum. After leaving school, without so much as a CSE in art or woodwork, I found it quite difficult to find gainful employment, once I went on to adult pay rates anyway, and I became unemployed and unemployable . I would spend all this free time in a flat in Bromford Bridge, way before day time telly, the internet and all day pubs had been invented, reading. Obviously, I was skint, so would get my reading matter from Brum central library, much loved by Prince Charles, I believe. I virtually worked my way through the whole damn catalogue.

By chance, or because I had got to the "G's" I picked up a Goodis, or it might have been a Cain, I don't know, I can't remember, but I can remember being astonished. I had never come across anything like it. Despite my lack of educational achievement, I had read like a bastard since I was first able to read, and although I had read the kitchen sink stuff of Barry Hines  and his like, mostly, when I escaped into a book, I escaped into a cosy, middle class, English world. At the time I picked up that Goodis, or whoever it was, I had mostly been reading books by the likes of A.N Wilson, Kingsley Amis, David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury. Oh, and Knut Hamsun. I loved Knut Hamsun…….nothing cosy about that old Nazi.

So, Goodis, and Cain and Thompson, and Woolrich and Hammett and McCoy, were a surprise and a delight. Here were blokes that had been writing decades before, in a place far, far away, that touched me in a much more profound way than all these English professors could manage. The English lot amused and diverted me, but they didn't engage me; they dealt in fripperies, whereas these hard boiled dudes got to the heart of the matter. Which reminds me, I was reading a fair bit of Graham Greene at the time as well. These Yanks didn't record their latest long dark night of the soul, or engage in middle class angst. They knew that life was too important for all that shit.

Being crime novels, what you got, was crime, then the books would go off at surprising and interesting tangents. The economic circumstances of the time would be looked at, and the psychology of the perpetrators might be examined. Notions of justice would be considered. The heroes were not necessarily heroic. These books examined the lives of people who had been handed the shitty end of the stick. I loved this stuff, and became a bit of an aficionado. I know what an aficionado is, because, at the time, I also read a bit of Hemingway.

Finding all this great stuff also presented me with a bit of a problem. Most crime writing is shit. Finding books that lived up to my new found expectations was difficult. It's difficult now, even with Amazon and twitter throwing up recommendations; it was a task and a half in pre internet days. You certainly weren't going to find this stuff in the review pages of The Guardian and TheTimes. I became hard to please, I'm still hard to please. I work hard to find these books and if they want me to like 'em, they had better be good. Even then, when you find an author who writes like a bastard, there is a tendency for them to become formulaic, you can find yourself, essentially, reading the same book over and over again.

Which brings me back to Mosely and his new McGill novels. He gives us aficionado's something different, something to get stuck into. The books are highly readable, which has to be the overriding criteria, but on top of that they are funny, in a wry, understated way; they are morally ambiguous, and they engage the emotions. Best of all……. the ripe red cherry on the top…… they are radical. The best crime fiction is radical. Mosely could well be the most radical writer currently at work. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that the McGill novels hit the spot.

I've also discovered Roger Smith in recent months, thanks to twitter. I needed to be convinced here. There is a surfeit of authors who write well enough, are good at ratchetting up the violence to unlikely levels but don't really have much to say to us. That's OK, I have no problem with that, but it's not my cup of tea. I feared that Smith would be amongst this lot, but I was wrong. I've read two so far, Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, and both have had me making regular trips to the internet to find out more about  the places and people he writes about. Not many authors inspire that. I now go to bed at night saying my prayers, and praying that some devilish demon of the night doesn't deposit me, innocent and ripe for the plucking, in Cape Flats. If you want a comparison, he would most definitely be up there with early Pelecanos for pace, wit and energy.

I'm not a slave to crime though. Browsing the shelves at the incredible Cwmbran Library I came across The Visiting Angel, by Paul Wilson. It's not the type of book I would normally read. It was about an angel, for a fucking start……….then, it featured a hero (?) who had endured a parental loss at an early age, and it was set in a hostel for people recovering from mental illness, all of which is a bit close to home for me. I don't like misery memoirs and I don't like anything that is even remotely connected with work, so I wasn't likely to enjoy, or even finish reading this book.

Initially, I struggled; he was writing about stuff I know about and I was finding it irritatingly implausible, but the thing drew me in. It is warm, has it's moments of wit and pathos and is moving and wise; you come to like and care about all the characters in it. It is highly fanciful, but who gives a fuck? It gives you pause for thought………not that it is a difficult read, any book I manage to get through has to be readable above all else. I recommend it, with a capital R.

If you feel like reading a brilliant piece on the value of crime fiction as art……here you go. Mind you, I wouldn't class the work Woodrell as crime fiction.

An excerpt from Smith's Mixed Blood and an excerpt from Wake Up Dead

An excerpt from Mosely's The Long Fall and an excerpt from All I Did Was Shoot My Man


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