Wednesday, October 9, 2013

He Died with His Eyes Open (Derek Raymond, 1984)

This one is really unusual, almost weird. Not too surprising since I picked it up because I remembered the name of Derek Raymond was mentioned by Mark E. Smith in his hilarious autobiography Renegade. So welcome to the wonderful and frightening world of modern British noir!

Begins as yet another police procedural with badly beaten body found in some dark alley of the dodgy part of London. Inspector in charge of the case finds victim's letters and some recorded tapes (ah, good old days!) and starts searching for the bad guys using these recordings.

Kind of. Our nameless sergeant works alone, at his own pace using some pretty unconventional methods. His sense of justice and punishment is also a bit strange so his character resembles more to a classical PI than policeman. So much for the police procedural clich├ęs - which is btw just fine with me.

Letters and recordings also prove not to be much of an evidence. In fact they serve just as a vehicle for telling parallel story about our unfortunate victim. Which is kind of cool since his background is really interested. In fact it is so fascinating that even our nameless detective becomes more interested into the guy's story than the actual crime and begins to form some mental link with him. I think.

This goes on for the better half of the novel and then it gradually gets more and more bizarre. Our hero tracks down and immediately afterwards starts fucking victim's wife. He even moves with her into her apartment because (I guess) at this point he's already connected mentally with her dead ex so this means he can connect to her physically. Not sure again, but they also fall in love. Or something. In any case, he seems to have figured the whole thing (crime and fucking/loving part) out so not much of investigation will follow. There will be shocking and bizarre (not only metaphorically) ending but it is not really unexpected or surprising one. Simply because there's no way that this strange novel could finish in the classical whodunnit style.

So we have two or three stories entwined but the whole thing is anything but mess. Very concise, seems to me that Derek Raymond knew exactly what he was trying to tell and how to convey all those stories. Great storytelling with effortless shifts from hard-boiled violent stuff to more mellow psychological drama. Bleak and depressing at times (Staniland's journey and fate) but masterfully written. Not trying to be clever with tough one-liners but still with fair amount of sharp black humor and slang. Not really character nor action driven but still tense and compelling. It loses some of its charge towards the end, but it is still immensely enjoyable.

Unique and memorable. I think it got under my skin a bit and I will definitely check out other Raymond titles.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
Nameless sergeant. Working for the Unexplained Deaths department - A14 branch, "the most unpopular one"

Location:
London

Body count: 2

Dames:
Barbara/Babsie - Frigid iceberg with gross psychic problems and the mind of a petty criminal.

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Probably refers to the poor Charles but I honestly cannot remember whether his body was found with its eyes actually opened. Doesn't really matter, it's cool sounding title anyway.

Cover
Nice and intriguing one with a great artwork. Also relevant - our hero is Nameless (faceless), he smokes (see cool lines below) and tape recorder plays an important role in the novel.

Cool lines:  
I lit a Palace filter. It tasted revolting; I only smoke them because I hope they might help me give it up.

"Good evening to you,"  he boomed heartily. "My wife tells me you've come about my brother Charles. What has he been up to this time?"
"Well, he's gone and died," I replied.

Nice and gentle way to break the bad news but needs to be said it's still not as nearly as cool as Hoke did it in New Hope for the Dead.

"Well, what about him?"
"Well, he's dead."
"As if I fucking cared," he said. "Who are you, you cunt?"
"I'm a police officer," I said. "And watch your tongue. One more slip like that with it, and I'll tear it out of your head."[The Coolest!]


"Look," he said furiously, when the penny had dropped, "do you want me to come out an round an give you some manners right in the mush?"
"Yes, why not" I said. "If you've got a spare face at home."

"Well, the vehicle wasn't marked." [traffic warden]
"There's a silly reason for that," I said, taking the ticket. It's because a lot of these modern villains can read.

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