Mixing high-flown philosophy with sickening violence, Derek Raymond's crime novels have long been neglected. Now, finally, they are being republishedby Paul Barker / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
After many shadowy years as a cult novelist, Derek Raymond may at last be emerging—with the dazed blink of a man stepping out from his favourite pub—into the sunnier uplands of real fame. For Raymond, the only snag is that he’s dead. But to him, that might not have seemed such a drawback. He liked the thought that the Mounties or the marines always arrived too late. Raymond’s great-grandfather took part in the charge of the Light Brigade, but survived. In this, he was luckier than almost everyone in his great-grandson’s black-as-night thrillers.
Raymond, like Webster, was much possessed by death, and saw the skull beneath the skin. The ironies in his writing are always bitter. Good never prevails. In Agatha Christie or PD James, in Chandler or Ross Macdonald, things always turn out all right, finally. But if you read a Raymond novel with that hope, you’ll be disappointed. You may even succumb to nausea, as one distinguished London publisher reportedly did when deciding he couldn’t accept Raymond’s most notorious book, I Was Dora Suarez (1990). In the last years of Raymond’s life—he died in 1994, in his early sixties—he loved to claim to interviewers that the man actually vomited over the manuscript.
Any such interviews usually took place in Soho, in the Coach and Horses pub, now mostly associated with Private Eye and Jeffrey Bernard. Cadaverous, in a stripey shirt and jaunty beret, and with the wasted face of a long-time heavy drinker, Raymond had come back to his native land, after a long exile in France. He became that often mixed blessing, “an old Soho character.” But sitting in bars, talking and listening, was where he did whatever research he needed.
His “Factory” series of thrillers—”factory” being one argot word for a police station—could be loosely defined as police-procedurals. Now at last being republished, they have none of the tedious research-based ramblings through office politics and legal nitpicking that this description implies. They’re a sulphurous mixture of ferocious violence and high-flown philosophy. Dora Suarez dies a death about which the less said the better. The torments end with her killer kissing her decapitated head, thus reversing the gender roles of Salome and John the Baptist. Raymond maintained that the book “in its own way… struggles after the same message as Christ”—by which I think he meant:…