From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 20 Jul 2002

Given the lack of discussion of this month's topic, I thought I'd at least briefly mention the UK titles I've read this month

UNDERGROUND by Russell James. This was James's first book, and I thought it was a good time to re-read it. It didn't make such an impression on me this time round, but that's largely due to knowing the protagonist's identity. Suffice to say, you can't get much more a social outcast than this guy. The writing is as taut and the subject matter and atmosphere as noir as any of James's later novels. Highly recommended.

THE SACRED ART OF STEALING by Christopher Brookmyre. Half the cast of Brookmyre's most recent novel are American, which might a difference to anyone otherwise dissuaded by language/dialect considerations. Essentially a simple tale of the art of illusion, Brookmyre puts together some brilliantly bizarre situations, my favourite being a bunch of armed robbers performing Beckett's Waiting For Godot to keep their hostages amused. The books opening rant on the virtues of one of the few honest-to-God financial transactions left in the modern world, the retail blow-job, is inspired. I thought this was his best novel since NOT THE END OF THE WORLD.

NINETEEN SEVENTY FOUR by David Peace. Being a huge fan of NINETEEN SEVENTY SEVEN, I was expecting to be disappointed by Peace's first novel. Apart from the fact that certain characters kept "hissing" sentences that contained no sibilants, I thought this was a tremendous achievement. It's every bit as brutal as SEVENTY SEVEN, and the characters are every bit as nasty. I still find it incredible that a publisher (Serpents Tail) has the balls to print Peace's work. He's been compared to Ellroy, but I think the comparison is fairly superficial (he uses short sentences, so what?). SEVENTY FOUR, like SEVENTY SEVEN, is one big heart-rending scream.

LIVE AND LET DIE by Ian Fleming. Recent discussions of James Bond's hardboiled credentials made me realise not only that I wanted to form my own opinion but that I hadn't read a Bond novel for 23 years. Ouch. The only one I had to hand was Live and Let Die, which I've never previously read, so I gave it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised by Fleming's sense of place. I know Edward Aarons gets praise for conjuring up foreign locales, but Fleming ain't bad either (I had no memory of this from my youth). Another surprise was the extent to which Bond admitted how scared he was. In fact, fear and uncertainty saturated the entire novel. The voodoo theme helped create the atmosphere, as did the various man-eating sea creatures, skin-flaying coral, etc. As much as anything, though, Fleming's language helped evoke decidedly sinister images. Conclusion? Noir, definitely. Hardboiled, probably not.

CARDIFF DEAD by John Williams. The only previous book I'd read by list-member John Williams was the excellent INTO THE BADLANDS, in which John travels around America interviewing just about every hardboiled crime writer you care to mention. CARDIFF DEAD, a novel, comes with a cover blurb from George Pelecanos: "an atmospheric thriller...fresh, dirty and real." And it's hard to disagree. Perhaps not hardboiled enough for some rara-avians
(although the protagonist's favourite novel is FAREWELL, MY LOVELY), I found it extremely entertaining. John brings Cardiff to life. I've never been there, but I kind of feel like I have after reading the book. The plot revolves around the members of a defunct ska band, who, as a result of the death of one of their members, meet up again twenty years later. The relationships between them are all very complex, as are the detailed characterisations which drive the narrative. I couldn't get enough of Tyra. If only she were real...

HE DIED WITH HIS EYES OPEN by Derek Raymond. Having only read one of the Factory novels before (and not being overly impressed) I have to confess, now, to being utterly sold on Derek Raymond. This, the first, is bleak, beautiful, sad, ugly, terrific. I have another couple of his books which have gone straight to the top of my to-be-read pile.


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