Thursday, 30 October 2014

Gods and (Holy) Ghosts: Kingsley Amis, The Green Man (Jonathan Cape, 1969) and The Anti-Death League (Gollancz, 1966)

NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 31/10/14.

When I was drafting my post on Kingsley Amis's The Riverside Villas Murder (1973) last week I came across an interview with Amis which is germane to another Amis book that, like The Riverside Villas Murder, I bought and read bloody ages ago but hadn't got round to blogging about properly (until now). The interview dates from 1973, so not too many years after the book in question:

The Green Man, was published, in 1969 by Jonathan Cape under a dust jacket designed by Colin Andrews – this copy of the first edition of which being a 2009 eBay win, nabbed for four quid; prices have evidently crept up since then, as on AbeBooks at present you'd be looking at more like forty quid for a decent copy of the first (from a UK seller; there are slightly cheaper ones available from US sellers). Anyway, conducted by Amis scholar Dale Salwak – who interviewed Amis six times in total and corresponded with the author for over fifteen years – the Q&A was published in Contemporary Literature 16, No. 1, 1975, and ranges across a variety of topics, from the well-worn – Lucky Jim, the "angry young men" – to more interesting (to me) subjects like human nature, morality and God, both in relation to Amis's work – The Anti-Death League (1966), say – and his life.

In regard to The Green Man Salwak inquires, "How earnestly should we take the supernatural in [the novel]?" To which Amis replies:

As earnestly as possible, I would say. It all really happens; none of what is recounted happens only in the hero's [Maurice Allington, landlord of the Green Man inn, Hertfordshire] mind. It's all literal in that sense. I think we can fit the supernatural part into the natural part by saying that the hero is made aware of his deficiencies by finding out that the reason he's being picked on by the dead wizard [Dr Thomas Underhill, "notorious seventeenth-century practitioner of black arts and sexual deviant suspected of two particularly savage murders", as the jacket flap copy has it] to fulfill his designs is that the wizard feels Allington's character is essential for the wizard's purposes, Allington being a man who doesn't care for people and manipulates them for his pleasure. That's the link between them. I think it should be taken very seriously; I took it very seriously. And naturally I enjoyed doing it, and brought in some devices that had been in my head for years. I'd always been interested in the supernatural in fiction; here was a chance to do a ghost story.

And a ghost story, or a horror story, is in essence what The Green Man is – in other words another of Amis's experiments with genre – see also the aforementioned The Anti-Death League and The Riverside Villas Murder, and The Alteration (1976). (It's also an expression of his desire to, as he puts it in the interview, "elude categorization" and avoid "repeating oneself... the most dreadful thing in the world is that you're writing a book and you suddenly realize you're writing a book you've written before".) Although as with his other dabblings in genre it's many other things besides, in this case a very human account of a functioning alcoholic and his dysfunctional relationships with, well, pretty much everyone, but especially his teenage daughter.

God is tackled too, in a rather different manner to the way in which He's tackled in the earlier The Anti-Death League. In one extraordinary scene towards the end of the novel, shortly after Maurice has participated in a disappointing and ultimately abortive – on his part – threesome with his wife and mistress, God makes a special guest appearance, stopping "all molecular motion" outside the confines of the dining room of the Green Man (so as not to be disturbed) and manifesting before Maurice as a smartly dressed young man to explain why He has chosen Maurice to combat the malefic ghost Underhill. In the Dale Salwak interview Amis addresses this scene and his portrayal of God in both The Green Man and The Anti-Death League:

These are two very different incarnations. In The Anti-Death League, it isn't an incarnation at all in a sense. This is a view of the malignant God, who is very well described in Empson's Milton's God where he states practically, I think, that the orthodox God of Christianity is very wicked, and gives reasons for this. He sees God playing in Paradise Lost not altogether a dissimilar role from the role God plays in The Anti-Death League (although, of course, Empson's book was written before my novel ever appeared). I think if you were to look at that, this would throw some light on The Anti-Death League. In the novel, God is showing his malicious, malevolent side.

The Green Man takes a rather different view, and I'm not sure if they are really reconcilable. The Green Man's God is slightly malignant, doesn't at all object to inflicting suffering, but that is not his main concern. He's running a game that's much more complex than that. He's admitting that he's not omnipotent, and that what may strike Allington as very arbitrary is in fact forced upon him because of the rules of the game. The chap in The Green Man does get tempted occasionally (let's throw down one dinosaur into Picadilly Circus and see what will happen), and that's the sort of thing with the being in The Anti-Death League (let's give her a cancer, smarten them up a bit; so that priest thinks he's in communication with me does he – all right, let's sort out his dog). Of course I incarnated God in The Green Man as a young man simply because he can't be an old man with an enormous white beard. The idea of a young, well-dressed, sort of aftershave lotion kind of man, I think, made him more sinister. That was the intention, anyway.

Amis made his own feelings about God clear in an essay entitled "On Christ's Nature" – originally published in the Sunday Telegraph in 1962 (on Easter Day, appositely enough) and reprinted (with a postscript) in What Became of Jane Austen (1970) – setting out his stall as an atheist before stating, "I am one of that company (large and rapidly growing, I hope) which says: 'I think the traditional God of Christianity very wicked.'" (Amis notes that he is quoting Sir William Empson, who he also references in the Salwak interview.) The God of The Green Man may not be wicked per se – as he tells Maurice, "It's not that I want to be cruel, not that so much as finding that's what I seem to be turning out to be" – but he's a memorable creation nonetheless, his cameo an unexpected highlight in what is by any measure a remarkable novel.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Lost Callan Episode and Short Stories by James Mitchell Collected for First Time

Quick bit of news: crime writer and critic Mike Ripley has drawn my attention to Callan Uncovered: The Collected and Missing Files, a newly published – by Mike's Top Notch Thrillers imprint – anthology of long-out-of-print Callan short stories plus a never-before-seen treatment and script by Callan TV show creator and writer James Mitchell. Mike "spent the best part of a year tracking down the stories for the collection" – 24 of which originally ran in the Sunday Express from 1973–1976, with one, the first Callan story, appearing in the TV Times in 1967 – "with the help of the British Library and a network of die-hard Callan fans". In addition, as Mike explains in an article on the Ostara Publishing (TNT's parent publisher) website, Peter Mitchell, the late James Mitchell's son, unearthed "an outline treatment for an episode of Callan and a complete script, originally called The Senator’s Daughter but then changed by James Mitchell to Goodbye Mary Lee. Although Mitchell was credited with writing the scripts for some 30 episodes of the highly successful television show between 1969 and 1972, it seemed that Goodbye Mary Lee was one script which had never been filmed and which could genuinely be called the 'lost Callan episode', not having been read by anyone outside the Mitchell family for more than forty years."

I'm told by Mike there's a copy of Callan Uncovered on its way to me, so I shall be giving it a thorough going over as soon as possible. In the meantime, allow me to point anyone interested in Callan and James Mitchell to these previous posts:

A Magnum for Schneider Book Review

The Callan Spy Thriller Series by James Mitchell

The Man Who Sold Death: James Mitchell alias James Munro

Russian Roulette Book Review

First Editions of Bonfire Night and The Money That Money Can't Buy

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Reading the Detectives: Kingsley Amis, Unreal Policemen and The Riverside Villas Murder (Jonathan Cape, 1973)

What with one thing and, er, well, the same thing really, I've been falling a bit behind with my reading of late (to give an example: I've another two Elmore Leonard books I intend to blog about besides City Primeval and Split Images, but I haven't finished reading either one yet). So, to give myself a chance to catch up with myself, I thought I'd take a look at some books which I bought (and read) years ago – when Existential Ennui was just finding its feet as a books and book collecting blog – but which I've only ever written about in passing fashion – my posts back then being somewhat shorter – some would say mercifully so – than they are now. And it occurred to me that there are a few first editions of Kingsley Amis novels I own which fit that bill. Like this one:

The Riverside Villas Murder, published in hardback by Jonathan Cape in 1973 under a dust jacket designed by illustrator and children's author Ian Beck. As I mentioned in my 1000th post back in March, this was the first Kingsley Amis novel I bought, purchased for a few quid from the Lewes Antiques Centre in, I believe, 2009. I'm not entirely certain why I decided to buy it. I'd not read any Amis Sr. prior to that point (although I had read a handful of Amis Jr.) but I was, I think, becoming aware of Amis's enthusiasm for genre, of his regard for Ian Fleming's Bond novels and for authors like Gavin Lyall and Geoffrey Household – all of which/whom I was becoming interested in myself – and so I suspect I bought it on the basis that, accordingly, Amis was an author I should try too.

In any case, in a way it was serendipitous that I should have started with The Riverside Villas Murder because it's a good example of how around this late-1960s/early-1970s period Amis was himself experimenting with genre, offering his own distinctive takes on the spy novel (The Anti-Death League, 1966; Colonel Sun, 1968), the ghost story (The Green Man, 1969) and, in this instance, the detective story, or whodunnit, or locked room mystery.

Set in 1936, the novel centres on fourteen-year-old Peter Furneaux, resident, with his parents, of suburban South London domicile 19 Riverside Villas, through the french windows of which one Tuesday afternoon stumbles local man Christopher Inman, soaked to the bone and with blood flowing from his temple. Inman falls to the floor and mutters "Hallo" a few times and something about being hit in the head. Peter fetches Mrs Trevelyan from next door, who keeps an eye on Mr Inman while Peter rings an ambulance, but by the time he returns to the scene, Inman is dead. Before long Acting Chief Constable Colonel Manton – who is also investigating the disappearance from the local museum of Longbarrow Man, a.k.a. "Boris Karloff", a stone age skeleton which has been stolen for reasons unknown – is on the case, enlisting Peter's aid in cracking not one but two confounding crimes.

When I originally read The Riverside Villas Murder I had thought it was Amis's take on an Agatha Christie-style mystery – not that I've ever read any Christie, but I've seen plenty of TV adaptations of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories, and Amis's book seemed to be riffing on that kind of thing. But in his excellent and stimulating 1966 essay "Unreal Policeman", collected in 1970's What Became of Jane Austen? (it originally ran in Playboy under the title "My Favourite Sleuths"), Amis is actually quite dismissive of Agatha Christie, at least her Marple and Poirot tales (he's more enthusiastic about the "ingenious plots" of the earlier Christies like Why Didn't They Ask Evans?). (Amis is also fairly dismissive of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, arguing that Mickey Spillane is the better writer, " unpopular view, which I would defend hotly"; but that's by the by.)

In fact The Riverside Villas Murder owes more of a debt to writers like G. K. Chesterton, Rex Stout and especially John Dickson Carr, all of whom Amis was a great admirer of, especially Carr (besides "Unreal Policemen", see also Amis's 1981 Times Literary Supplement review of the short story collection The Door to Doom). In "Unreal Policemen" Amis traces a literary line from Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes to Chesterton's Father Brown, Stout's Nero Wolfe and Carr's Doctor Gideon Fell (whom Carr modelled on Chesterton), asserting that the latter three characters are the "three great successors of Sherlock Holmes". Colonel Manton – tweedy, idiosyncratic, iconoclastic and brilliant – is very much in that tradition, something that Amis makes explicit in his novel when Detective-Constable Barrett visits Manton at home and spies on the shelves of the colonel's library books by Carr (and John Rhode and Anthony Berkeley), their jackets "of a garish yellow" – a nod to Gollancz there – their "visible bindings cheap and often scuffed".

The Riverside Villas Murder is more than merely an arch murder mystery, however (although Amis does have considerable fun with that aspect; witness the note on the dust jacket flap inviting readers to "pit their wits against the author's and solve the mystery for themselves" by studying "pages 61, 82 and 160"): it's also a keenly written evocation of boyhood (of a sort which has perhaps since changed almost beyond recognition) and an exploration of sexuality, both flowering – or, more accurately, deflowering in Peter's case – and, to an extent, repressed. From Peter's pursuit of fifteen-year-old near-neighbour Daphne Hodgson to his adventures in mutual masturbation with his friend Reg – and rather more adult encounters with an older woman – to Colonel Manton's hidden proclivities, all of this is handled not only entertainingly but sensitively by Amis – something which may come as a surprise to those only familiar with Amis's reputation (or utterances, or letters) rather than with his fiction (the aforementioned The Anti-Death League, say). (For more on this see Philip Hensher's 2007 piece for The Independent.)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Split Images by Elmore Leonard: Book Review (W. H. Allen, 1983), Intended Sequel to City Primeval

NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 17/10/14.

Though he wasn't especially known for writing sequels, and even less so immediate sequels, there are a couple of instances in Elmore Leonard's backlist where a novel was followed by a sequel in quick succession. Raylan Givens's 1993 debut, Pronto, was followed two years later by Riding the Rap, while the first Carl Webster novel, 2005's The Hot Kid, was followed two years later by Up in Honey's Room – with a Carl Webster short story collection, Comfort to the Enemy, following two years after that. (Examples of originals and sequels spaced farther apart would be The Big Bounce, 1969/Unknown Man No. 89, 1977; Swag, 1976/Stick, 1983; Get Shorty, 1990/Be Cool, 1999; Out of Sight, 1996/Road Dogs, 2009; and Riding the Rap, 1995/Raylan, 2012.) If all had gone according to plan, that would have been the case with City Primeval (1980) and Split Images (1981) too, but Hollywood threw a spanner in the works.

Originally published by Arbor House in the US, Split Images was published in 1983 in the UK by W. H. Allen, which is the edition seen here. As with the other two Elmore Leonard novels published by W. H. Allen – the aforementioned City Primeval, which Allen published in 1981, and Gold Coast, which they issued in 1982 (two years after its US debut) – Split Images is pretty uncommon in British first, with just four or five copies currently available online (one of those ex-library). (My copy was a fairly inexpensive eBay win.) The dust jacket bears a photograph by Howard Bartrop, who also took the picture on the wrapper of the Allen edition of City Primeval; I've added it the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page alongside its predecessor.

In City Primeval the lead character had been a Detroit police detective named Raymond Cruz; for Split Images, Leonard told his researcher, Gregg Sutter – as related by Sutter in an article he wrote for Armchair Detective (Volume 19, Number 1, Winter 1986) – he wanted to "take the Detroit cop down to Palm Beach". But at the eleventh hour the author had to remove Raymond from Split Images because the film rights to City Primeval had been sold and the character was tied up with those. Leonard's solution, according to Sutter, was "to change Raymond Cruz's name to Bryan Hurd and lighten his moustache". (Other characters are also altered in similarly superficial fashion – for example, Detective Maureen Downey, Raymond's quiet, unflappable colleague in City Primeval, becomes Detective Annie Maguire, Bryan's similarly quiet, unflappable colleague in Split Images.)

Leonard may have originally written Split Images with Raymond as his lead – and in fact there is one instance in the W. H. Allen edition at least where Leonard and his copyeditor missed a mention of Raymond instead of Bryan (page 65, towards the end of chapter three) – but actually the novel benefits from being a standalone: it's a better book than City Primeval, and deserves to be appreciated on its own merits. Part of that is to do with the characterisation. Bryan is a more rounded creation than Raymond in City Primeval, and whereas in the former book Leonard's bad guy, Clement Mansell, was cut from the same cloth as Raymond Gidre from Unknown Man No. 89 (1977) or Roland Crowe from Gold Coast (1980), here the villain of the piece is quite an unusual figure in the Leonard canon: Robbie Daniels, a bored millionaire businessman with a taste for murder. Best of all is Walter Kouza, a veteran Detroit homicide detective who encounters Daniels when the millionaire shoots a Haitian home invader, and subsequently quits the force and takes a job as Daniels's chauffeur – ostensibly; it turns out Daniels has other plans for him.

In his Armchair Detective feature Gregg Sutter points out that Walter is a good example of how sometimes in Leonard stories "minor characters demand a star turn", noting that Walter "was originally a bit player, but, when he opened his mouth, [Leonard] realized his importance: 'Kouza forced his way into the story. He talked... and came to life'". But Walter is also a good example of how Leonard gets inside his characters, how he allows them to direct and shape the story, tells the story through their eyes. It's something Leonard explored in a 1991 interview by Anthony May which ran in Contrapasso Magazine in 2012 – how his "work is based on character, the characters and the interplay of the characters and there is story that comes out of that", and how "once I decide the point of view of a scene, then that character's sound will permeate the narrative, will continue on through, because everything you see in that scene is from that character's point of view and you won't know what anybody else is thinking until you come to a place on the page where I've skipped down a few spaces and got into someone else's head".

Take this passage early on in Split Images, where Walter has been invited by Daniels into his house to talk shortly after the shooting:

He considered himself an ace at sizing people up:

A guy shoots and kills an intruder. The guy seems not exactly shaken but awed by it. A bright eager good-looking guy. Sort of a millionaire Jack Armstrong but very impressionable.


Walter Kouza would run through those first impressions again, then piece together step by step the revelations of that afternoon in Mr. Daniels's study.

He remembered Mr. Daniels, Robbie, opening the second bottle of vodka and going downstairs for more ice...

Yeah, and he opened another pack of Camels while Daniels was gone. Tore off the cellophane, dropped it in the silver dish full of cigarette butts, mashed Came stubs. He remembered seeing words engraved around the rim of the dish he hadn't noticed before. Seminole Invitational 1980 and the club crest covered with butts and black smudges. Shit. He got off the stool to look for a regular ashtray and almost fell on his ass. There weren't any ashtrays. He was standing there looking at the inlaid cabinets – beautiful workmanship – when Daniels came back in, closing the door this time, turning the lock, and said, "While you're up, let me show you something might interest you." Took out a key and unlocked one of the cabinets.

There must have been two dozen handguns in there, a showcase display against dark velvet.

"Jesus," Walter said.

That said, there are passages in Split Images where Leonard does seemingly assume the rule of omniscient narrator, and in particular one extraordinary one which I believe signals his intent with the novel. It comes about two thirds into the book, and takes the form of a litany of homicides in the Detroit area over the course of a year, a catalogue of everyday killing which reads as all too plausible (perhaps Leonard was drawing on his experiences riding with the Detroit Felony Homicide Squad for a Detroit News Magazine cover feature he wrote in 1978):

Ruth May Hayes, thirty-seven, was tied by the neck to the rear bumper of her boyfriend's car and dragged in circles over a field until she was dead. Robert Jackson, thirty-four, and James Pope, thirty-five, died in a gunfight that developed when Jackson put his cigarette out in a clean ashtray. Sam James, thirty-five, told his wife their twelve-year-old daughter's shorts were too tight; an argument followed and James was stabbed to death. Paul Struggs, twenty-nine, was shot to death by his girlfriend. Richard Scott, twenty-three, was shaking hands with people he'd been arguing with at a party when someone struck him from behind with a baseball bat and killed him. Myros Cato, forty-seven, was shot to death by his wife following an argument. James Ware, sixty-five, was shot to death by his son, a psychiatric patient at Veterans Hospital. Charles Roby, thirty-two, got in an argument with his girl friend over a pack of cigarettes and she stabbed him to death. Gloria Glass, fifty, told James Lindsey, fifty-six, they were through; Lindsey shot and killed her. Betty Goodlow, thirty-two, was beaten, doused with paint thinner and set on fire by her boyfriend...

The single unbroken paragraph continues in the same vein for at least as long again.

For me that passage brought to mind the 1989 Alan Clarke film Elephant, which, though focusing on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, deploys a similar stylistic impassivity, and at root deals with the same thing: the banality of murder. The mass of murders which Leonard lists; the self-aggrandising and ultimately horrific actions of Robbie Daniels – horrific both for Bryan and for the woman he falls in love with, Angela Nolan, a reporter investigating Daniels – aided and abetted in farcical fashion by Walter Kouza, who comes to comprehend far too late how out of his depth he is; even the straight-out-of-the-headlines-of-the-day assassination attempts Leonard references, on Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, both of which events, according to Gregg Sutter, "made a deep impression" on Leonard: all of this only serves to underline the purposelessness, the pointlessness of killing. Which is the point, I think, of Split Images.

In common with other Leonard works, although Split Images is a crime novel, there is no conventional mystery to solve, no whodunnit, not even a howdunnit; the only mystery in the novel, as in life, is why people do stupid fucking things – why they kill each other over the most ridiculous and insignificant and absurd matters – and Leonard is wise enough to know there's no answer to that, only consequences. John D. MacDonald put it most succinctly in a line in a blurb on the back of the W. H. Allen edition of the novel: "Elmore Leonard's Split Images is strong and true and persuasive." To which I'd add, of the roughly two dozen Elmore Leonard books I've read to date, Split Images ranks as one of the very best.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 by Robbie Morrison and Dave Taylor (Titan Comics, 2014): Comic Review

This must be one of my timeliest reviews ever – I'm posting this the morning of the day the comic in question, Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1, arrives in comic shops (whereas in the ordinary run of things my reviews tend to appear months, if not years, if not decades after a comic or, more typically, book has been published) – which, considering that comic stars a Time Lord, is doubly apposite. And the twelfth incarnation of that Time Lord, no less, the one currently being brilliantly played on telly by Peter Capaldi, here making his comics debut... if we discount the comic strip starring the Twelfth Doctor which has been running in Doctor Who Magazine for a couple of months, that is. But no matter: this is the Twelfth Doctor's comic book debut, the latest addition to Titan's fast-expanding line of Doctor Who comics, and it's a nicely crafted, faithful and, on the whole, successful affair.

One's reaction to it, I suspect, will very much depend on one's reaction to the TV Twelfth Doctor, so convincingly do writer Robbie Morrison and artist Dave Taylor channel him: irritable, irascible, airily dismissive of almost everyone he meets and prone to dispensing withering putdowns left, right and centre – in other words, as enormously entertaining on the page as he is on the screen. Taylor, an artist I've admired since I encountered his work on the late-1990s Dark Horse series Tongue*Lash (an aside: when I myself was working at Titan in the mid-2000s he was on my list of artists I'd loved to have found projects for), is good on Capaldi (those eyes...) but less so on the Doctor's assistant, Clara Oswald; he hasn't quite got the hang of Jenna Coleman's subtly characterful phiz yet, although there is the odd panel where Clara clicks visually. In any case, Morrison's dialogue captures her perfectly, notably her trademark exasperation at – and attendant sarcastic rejoinders to – the Doctor.

The story is a bit Star Trek III: The Search for Spock-y, involving as it does accelerated planetary terraforming gone awry, but much like the current series, where even the more workmanlike stories are made magical by Capaldi's towering, glowering performances – and Coleman's quieter but no less important countering foil – here a so-so story is enlivened by choice character interplay and some cracking dialogue. And the story shouldn't really be discounted out of hand; there are seeds being sown here – bits of Gallifreyan business, some kind of ancient evil – which may produce satisfying fruit down the line.

First issues are always a tricky business, still more so first issues of licensed comics, where there are more often than not innumerable additional hurdles, hoops and other more confounding and baffling obstacles which must be negotiated over and above the usual editorial ones. Rare is the licensed comic which emerges from that process unscathed, so the fact that Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 retains much of the feel and heart(s) of the TV show is only to be applauded. A creditable job all round.

Incidentally, in addition to the regular cover by Alice X. Zhang there are 30 variant covers, all of which can be seen in the back of the comic. Admittedly the vast majority of these are retailer specific covers – i.e. produced for individual comic shops and online retailers – and I can see how the economics of that would work for Titan, but still – that's quite a lot of covers for one comic.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Donald E. Westlake's The Getaway Car: The Aftermath – Links and Notes

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker.

Over at The Violent World of Parker, Trent's been rounding up links to reviews of Levi Stahl's excellent Donald E. Westlake nonfiction miscellany The Getaway Car – and if you haven't grabbed yourself a copy of that fine tome yet, why not? – but I've come across a few additional bits and bobs in the wake of its publication last month which I reckon might be worth a moment of your time.

There's a piece by William Kristol at the Wall Street Journal site (if you hit a paywall via that link, try Googling it and going in that way) titled "In Praise of Westlake", in which Kristol, well, praises Westlake, and along the way praises Levi's book too. It's a nicely written article, a good primer for anyone coming to Westlake afresh, which I realise probably won't include many people reading this post, but still – I enjoyed it.

Paul Westlake has posted a personal and heartfelt tribute to Levi's book at, in which he reminisces about his dad "making a manual Smith-Corona sound like a machine gun with the hiccups" and reflects on how his father "had dry spells, he had bills, and kids, and more bills, and more kids. He had no backup plan. If he didn’t write, and get paid for writing, there was nothing else. The next line in that sequence is blank. His vocation was, and was always to be, writing. If the variety of his published works didn’t make that apparent, [The Getaway Car] surely will." Paul also kindly nods to both The Violent World of Parker and Existential Ennui, and more importantly to a man who played a key role in the genesis of The Getaway Car, Ethan Iverson. Speaking of whom...

I've referenced Ethan's excellent overview of Westlake's oeuvre, "A Storyteller That Got the Details Right", numerous time over the years; when I was first getting into Parker and Stark and Westlake five years ago, Ethan's guide proved indispensable, and I still look it up on a regular basis. And just the other day when I was doing so again I realised Ethan had updated it, adding his blog post from April 2014 about what he and and Levi found rooting through Westlake's attic, and further embellishing the piece here and there. Even if you've read Ethan's essay before, I heartily recommend reacquainting yourself with it; almost every time I go to it I find something new – in this instance, literally.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Elmore Leonard's City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit: British First Edition(s) (W. H. Allen, 1981 / Viking, 1987), Book Review

 NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.

As the 1980s dawned, Elmore Leonard found himself with new publishers on both sides of the pond. In the US, after an itinerant 1970s, during which he was published by, variously, Gold Medal, Bantam, Dell and Delacorte (often straight to paperback), he landed at Arbor House, where he would remain for the rest of the decade. In the UK, after four novels with Secker & Warburg from 1974–1979 (two of them appearing in hardback for the first time anywhere), he switched to W. H. Allen, where he would remain for just two years. In both cases, the novel which heralded this change was this one:

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. At least, that was its full title for the 1980 Arbor House edition; for the 1981 W. H. Allen edition, which is the edition seen above, the title was truncated to simply City Primeval, with "a novel" added to the front of the dust jacket for good measure and, presumably, the avoidance of any doubt. The photo on that jacket is by Howard Bartrop, who took the picture of Battersea Power Station – and inflatable pig – which adorns the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals.

Like the other two Leonard novels W. H. Allen published – Gold Coast (1982; originally 1980 in the US) and Split Images (1983; originally 1981 in the US) – City Primeval is pretty scarce in British first: my copy – which is about as close to fine condition as you can get (and thus a splendid addition to my ever-growing Elmore Leonard collection) – was a fortunate eBay find; whereas on, say, AbeBooks at present you'd be hard pressed to find more than two or three copies of the Allen first – and even harder pressed to find one that isn't ex-library. (A little more common – and usually a lot cheaper – is the BCA book club edition... but who in their right mind wants a book club edition? Even one virtually identical to the first edition?) Unlike Gold Coast and Split Images, however, where the Allen editions were the only British hardback editions of each novel, City Primeval was subsequently reissued in hardback in the UK:

In 1987, by Viking/Penguin (who had acquired Leonard's hardback rights in 1984 with LaBrava) – this time complete with its original subtitle. The dust jacket design here is by Bet Ayer, utilising a photograph by Peter Chadwick – one of whose photos also appears on the 1984 Penguin paperback of Swag – and I think I prefer it to the W. H. Allen wrapper; certainly it's more in keeping with the story (the opening chapter in particular). But both jackets are eminently suitable for the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page, where they now reside.

I acquired this copy of the Viking edition from book dealer Alan White some time before I got my hands the W. H. Allen one; it doesn't seem to be quite so scarce as the W. H. Allen edition, but it's not far off: there are just three copies listed on AbeBooks at present (one of those ex-library). All three of those listings, incidentally, misidentify the book as the first edition, although to be fair to the sellers, it's not clear on the copyright page of the Viking edition that it isn't a first edition:

It states, "First published in Great Britain by Viking 1987", which could be taken at least a couple of ways. Whereas the W. H. Allen edition copyright page is relatively unambiguous:

"First British edition, 1981".

The title pages of the two editions are styled according to their jacket designs.

But the main text block in the Viking edition is a straight reprint using the Allen edition's plates:

Same typesetting, same drop cap at the start of each chapter (matching the W. H. Allen titling). Accordingly, both books are the same dimensions and the same extent, but they do have different cases:

Again, I think I prefer the brown arlin of the Viking edition.

In an article on Elmore Leonard in the Winter 1986 edition of Armchair Detective, Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter, made note of how City Primeval was "the closest [Leonard] came to writing a police procedural". (The novel was written shortly after Leonard had spent a month riding with the Detroit Felony Homicide Squad for a Detroit News Magazine feature he'd been commissioned to write: "Squad 7 – Impressions of Murder".) But Sutter went on to point out that what the book actually is is "a Detroit Western", something which Leonard himself makes explicit with that High Noon in Detroit subtitle and via repeated references throughout to standoffs, showdowns and even films like High Noon and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Essentially the novel is one long buildup to a (anti-)climactic showdown between two men: Raymond Cruz, a detective in Squad Seven, Detroit Police Homicide Section, and a violent but charismatic nutter named Clement Mansell – "the Oklahoma Wildman". Clement is another in the long line of memorable Leonard psychopaths (some more charming than others) which includes the likes of Raymond Gidre (Unknown Man No. 89, 1977), Gene Valenzuela (The Hunted, also 1977 – and Clarence Robinson – alias Kamal Rashad – from the same novel for that matter), Roland Crowe (Gold Coast, 1980) and Richard Nobles (LaBrava, 1983).

Raymond for his part might be a cop, but he still shares character traits with Leonard leads like Jack Ryan or Joe LaBrava: basically decent, quietly introspective men not overly prone to violence – except when pushed. And Clement certainly pushes Raymond, especially in regard to Clement's lawyer, Carolyn Wilder, with whom Raymond becomes romantically entangled and on whom Clement latterly fixates, causing Raymond to picture this scene:

Clement comes out with the gun, the gun loaded, the way it was found. He comes out on the porch and stops dead as he hears, "That's far enough—" He sees Cruz on the sidewalk beneath the streetlight. Cruz with his sport-coat open, hands at his sides...

Only to puncture it thus:

You're weird, Raymond said to himself.

Elmore Leonard intended for Raymond Cruz to star in a sequel to City Primeval but had to revise his plans at the eleventh hour when the film rights to the book were sold. (That film, to be titled Hang Tough and with Sam Peckinpah lined up to direct from a Leonard script, was never made, but Raymond did eventually reappear over fifteen years later in Out of Sight – both the book and the film.) The novel which resulted was published a year after City Primeval. It was called Split Images.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Patricia Carlon: Danger in the Dark (Ward Lock, 1962); Book Review, First Edition

NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.

Over the past week or so I've been showcasing a small selection of British first editions of second novels by female authors. Two of those British first editions – the 1956 Cresset Press edition of Patricia Highsmith's The Blunderer and the 1978 Duckworth edition of Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop – are really rather scarce (and ordinarily quite expensive)... but I reckon this final second novel by a female author I'm showcasing is the scarcest one of all.

Patricia Carlon's Danger in the Dark was published in hardback in the UK by Ward Lock in 1962, under a very rarely seen, uncredited dust jacket designed, it is surmised by Jamie Sturgeon in the comments below, by Oliver Brabbins (I've added it to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page). To date, the Ward Lock edition has been the only printing of the novel; in common with the other thirteen novels Carlon published from 1961–1970, originally it wasn't issued in her native Australia, but unlike a good many of those novels, it hasn't been reissued since – in any territory. As a consequence, at time of writing there are no copies of the novel available online (I bought the only one).

I came across Patricia Carlon's name by chance earlier this year and was intrigued. After those fourteen novels in the 1960s, all of which were published in the UK by either Ward Lock or Hodder & Stoughton (under their King Crime banner; by the looks of it no paperback rights were sold in Britain), little was heard of Carlon until the early 1990s, when two of her novels, The Whispering Wall (1969) and The Souvenir (1970), were belatedly published in her home country by the Wakefield Press; a few years after that the Soho Press in America began reissuing her novels as well, bringing her to a whole new audience. Following her death in 2002 it was discovered that Carlon had been deaf since the age of eleven, something that a number of commentators have noted seems to have informed her writing (this 2002 Sydney Morning Herald obituary is the best overview of Carlon's life and work that I've seen).

Danger in the Dark provides perhaps the starkest example of this, in that the novel's young heroine, Ruth Latimer, is (newly) blind. Exiled by her doctor, Gavin Ferrer, to Havenrest, a kind of coastal halfway house for the blind, Ruth stumbles upon the body of a man washed up on the seashore, and is plunged into a nightmare of suspicion, mistrust and murder. Carlon's work has been compared to Alfred Hitchock's in the way she builds suspense, and I can certainly see that here: she ratchets up the tension throughout and only provides release at the end of the penultimate chapter (leaving just enough space in the final chapter for an explanatory confab). For me, though, she lacks the forceful prose and psychological heft of, say, Patricia Highsmith – with whom she's also drawn comparison – although that may well be down to my general disinterest in murder mysteries; by and large I couldn't care less about the identity of the killer in a whodunnit (a curious thing thing for a crime fiction enthusiast to admit, I suppose, but there you go).

Still, Carlon is an interesting writer, and those who revel in this sort of thing will doubtless find much to divert them in Danger in the Dark. And I'm not about to dismiss her on the basis of one novel; this 1999 January Magazine review of Crime of Silence (1965) has aroused my curiosity, as has this 2000 WAG Magazine review of The Price of an Orphan (1964) and The Unquiet Night (1965). Merits further investigation, I feel.