OK, 4 stars for a good story, well put together, compellingly written and some great characters. Lets get that over with. Well done Eliot Parker, nice book.
This wasn’t what really intrigued me though.
This dark and twisty police procedural goes to some unexpected places. I don’t mean the succession of murders, the possible witnesses disappearing, their mutilated bodies to be found later in suitcases – that’s stuff one expects in a story like this, and the author does it just fine.
Likewise the hardbitten “good cop” whose personal life is on the skids and who isn’t too bothered about breaking some rules along the way – that’s quite a cliché of police procedurals of too.
Even the corrupt cops, the bad apples in the barrel, who our good cop must root out – that’s a situation familiar from the genre, and there are some of these – shockingly inserted in the narrative sometimes – driving the plot of this novel.
But in this novel I’m seeing something darker.
From a sissy European perspective, the problem in this force isn’t just the presence of a couple of singular psychopaths or fallen angels to drive the plot. No, the apple barrel here is pretty rotten all the way through. (I’ve definitely read that storyline before, but only in newspapers, not in fiction. It happens, in Europe too, though it’s not the stuff that police procedurals tend to go for.)
And here our “good cop” – the one we’re supposed to be rooting for, seems troublingly corrupt herself. She’s also rather too broken to be working in that role. She is on the edge of being invalided from the force because of work-related damage; she realistically isn’t up to the job physically and she’s putting herself and others at risk because of it. She’s not really up to it emotionally either, feisty though she is. Her judgment is self-evidently clouded and as she stumbles through other cases, preoccupied with a personal one about her missing delinquent brother, which she isn’t even supposed to be investigating, her mistakes are dangeous ones.
Sometimes she’s in trouble for it, like when she tries to cut an illegal deal with an imprisoned suspect in exchange for some information about her brother – wrecking the underlying case for the cops who are supposed to be dealing with it. Other times it doesn’t even put her in trouble – she beats up a shackled suspect to get information from him, while another cop looks on – and reading this account I didn’t even pick up a sense of raised eyebrow. It’s done pretty dead-pan, no sense of judgment. I was pretty much left thinking – and I’ll be relieved if the author corrects me – that this was all supposed to be vaguely all right. The guy had her brother’s credit card after all. He probably deserved it. All in a day’s work.
It’s America of course.
It’s Cleveland, Ohio. So what if a suspect gets beaten up? That’s small fry in a city famous for killings by police. Real people I mean.
Tamir Rice, 12 years old, 2014
Antonio Levison 33 years old 2017
Jeffrey Findlay, 30 years old 2017
Bret Luengo, 33 years old 2018
Thomas Yatsko, 21 years old 2018
Mark Shepperd, 27 years old, 2019
Arthur Keith, 19 years old, 2020
Desmond Franklin, 22 years old,2020
Trayvon Johnson, 20 years old, 2021
Innes Lee Cooper, 25 years old, 21
That’s the same Cleveland police force as our feisty and fictional heroine here. But the list above isn’t fiction. And none of the cops who killed them went to jail. Almost none were even charged. Most of them are still working in the force.
You know what I think about America. I may have to stop reading American novels. Guess we have to be grateful that our good cop just beat the suspect up, and didn’t shoot him. Or kneel on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds. She’s not all bad, after all.
Dead No More, by Pete Adams and Alejandro’s Lie by Bob van Laerhoven
Both of the books I have read this week feature disfigured women. They are – let me make clear at the outset – very different books. Dead No More, by British author Pete Adams, is an eccentric and fanciful crime story, cut through with family drama and surreal comedy. Alejandro’s Lie, by Flemish author Bob van Laerhoven, is a serious, heavyweight political thriller. I would struggle to make any comparison between them, except in this one feature. Perhaps it was this that brought the parallel to such sharpness in my mind. Juliet and Beatriz – sharing nothing in narrative style or genre or personality, but both beautiful, disfigured women at the beating heart of the novels they inhabit.
Juliet is already disfigured at the start of Dead No More – the victim of historic injury, sustained in an horrendous accident which has killed her parents. We are told that this disfigurement “troubled others when they first met Juliet, and she was mercilessly ribbed by her school friends, not that she had many of those; scarred people were convenient pariahs, still, even in these politically correct times.”
What is unusual is that this the novel does not stop there. It does not render this disfigured young woman as a tragic victim. Her disfigurement does not exclude her from an active part in the drama, does not condemn her to sacrifice. “Juliet had developed a strength that was her armour; a thick skin would be too cruel a description… but her superior intelligence defied the appearance of the crushed and repaired skull; there was strength in this girl”. And she is not only strong and a survivor: she is also tender and feminine. She has a lover who appreciates her in an uncomplicated way, she is a major player in the drama and gets through the book rather triumphantly and without major mishap.
All credit to you, Pete Adams. Juliet is by no means the only powerful woman in Dead No More, but even in a strong ensemble, she remains impressive. You have done well with Juliet.
Alejandro’s Lie, by Bob van Laerhoven is an altogether more challenging book but it takes a more conventional line with its disfigured female. Like Juliet, Beatriz is a major player in the book though not quite its lead. This is a book full of men, in which Beatriz is the only woman of any significance – unless one counts a teenage girl who is something of a pawn in the story.
At the opening of the book Beatriz is still beautiful – a questing, independent woman who has escaped from a sterile, crushing marriage. Her ex-husband is a powerful figure in the brutal corrupt Junta in which the book is set, and Beatriz is now toying – perhaps as something of a privileged dilettante – with the resistance movement that is challenging it. Through that engagement, she falls in with Alejandro – a musician who has recently been released from ten years of political imprisonment in a notorious jail. He is a character positioned in a role that requires him to be courageous, loyal, strong – but actually he is none of these. One knows throughout the book, and with growing clarity, that Beatriz is the stronger character, and that Alejandro is somehow not worthy of her. And Beatriz – though she does not want to – knows this too.
Yet Alejandro loves her. He is attracted to her beauty.
Feminine beauty is essentially fragile, ephemeral, like a flower. To belong to ‘the fair sex’ is to be on a trajectory where one’s value diminishes every day as the finite currency of youth is spent. For most women the loss of beauty is less abrupt than it proves to be for Beatriz, and the crash course towards extinction that this triggers is less dramatic. But the journey is familiar. Even at the start of the book, before her disfigurement, Beatriz is on the cusp of this disaster. She senses this, as she first contemplates the possibility of a sexual liaison with Alejandro, worrying that she may already be too old to be valued by him. She reminds herself that “she was thirty-two, past it by Terreno’s macho-standards, and shouldn’t want to spoil the contact with the man in her living room, whom she found interesting”. And Alejandro, too, can sense it. Even at the very moment of desire, he notices her “girlish suppleness matured poignantly by small imperfections here and there”. Yes. Poignant.
Her more radical disfigurement, towards the end of the book, arises from an act of torture that a more courageous man could perhaps have halted. “On the floor, Beatriz turned her head and looked straight at Alejandro. It took a few seconds before Alejandro realized that she was not looking at him. He followed her gaze to the counter where Ricardo had carelessly left his rifle. Alejandro only had to take two steps to get it. Her head turned with short jerks on the stone floor. Now she looked at him, with eyes telling everything: please, grab the gun, shoot…” In one of the most excruciating scenes I have ever read in any novel, Alejandro does not do so. He runs away.
Beatriz is left damaged and no longer beautiful, confronting a different life from the one she took for granted. She still has the uneasy love of Alejandro, for what little it is worth, but her disfigurement destroys her as a woman. Throughout the story she has been strong, but now she is stronger. What one suspects however, is that this is not the strength that comes – as it has with Juliet – from the survival of adversity. It is the tragic strength that comes from having nothing to lose. Without beauty, she is devalued. She becomes expendable, to the story, to the reader, even to herself. Perhaps she is even a bit of an embarrassment. Perhaps, just perhaps, the heroic conclusion which the author offers is a bit of a conventional cop out?
Why, meneer van Laerhoven, why? Are you not an author who problematizes conventions rather than bows to them? Did you not notice what you were doing?
You protest. I hear you protest. Not fair! Did I not make Beatriz, at the end, the true hero of the novel? Was her sacrifice not brave, admirable, honorable? Of course it was. In rather the same way, through all my growing up, the lot of the sympathetic lesbian character (a woman as much an afront to femininity as an ugly one) was to be tragic, heroic and ultimately sacrificed. In that role – dead by the end of the novel – she could be rendered acceptable. So it is, perhaps, with the woman no longer beautiful.
But forgive me. This whole meditation is an outrageous abuse of two interesting books. I take one tiny bone out of the skeleton of each of them, and I run around like an excited spaniel, shaking these two bones and tossing them up in the air and catching them again, as if nothing else mattered. Forget the above.
Both books, in their very different ways, were impressive and moving. Dead No More did not make me think very hard – indeed the reading of it required me, I felt, to suspend most critical thought processes. The plot is very silly. The characters, although beautifully drawn, are mostly a bit preposterous. In a few weeks I will probably have forgotten how the narrative worked out, I will simply remember the eccentric feel of the book, its wanton celebration of diversity, some tender sentiments, and a handful of glorious surreal moments when I laughed out loud. Amnesic or otherwise, I will probably recall some pleasure.
Alejandro’s Lie I will remember forever and possibly wish that I didn’t. It’s a perfectly crafted story and I will remember, I fear, its exquisitely uncompromising detail. It is a book that – Bob van Laerhoven’s trademark – worms itself into the reader’s mind and robs one of compromise. It never made me laugh. It never gave me that sense of triumph that I wanted. There was the moment by moment, page-turning distraction of the thriller plot – What would happen next? How would it end up? But ultimately, behind all that excitement, it was like looking into a well, searching for water at the bottom, wanting a glint of reflected sky, my own face even. Were you teasing me, meneer van Laerhoven, when you ended the book thus: “For an eternity, the lightning clarified everything”? I did not see lightning reflected in any water. As I peered into the well, I never found the bottom of the darkness.
I gave this book to an elderly friend (I’m great on birthday presents – book about assisted dying? Just the ticket, happy birthday!) She told me off. She said it was a very depressing gift, this book about death. Whatever was I thinking of?
I felt aggrieved. Hadn’t she been giving me books about death for the last thirty years? Many of them are celebrated on these pages even! I thought we liked books about death! We do dark fiction – dancing with death is our trademark party trick …. And don’t we love to dance?
Certainly the dark-fiction genres that this blog works to celebrate are choc-a-bloc with death. The inevitable murdered woman at the core of the detective thriller (sexy; if only I could look that sexy!) the many victims of war and crime, (bang bang bang, how exciting and instantly forgetable!), the heroic guy giving up his life to save someone else (shed a little tear), death at the hands of dragons or wizards (way to go!!!), dystopian fiction with its global deaths from war or climate change or pandemic (oops…)
So why on earth should my friend get in a twist about this little novel about more ordinary deaths? It’s not as if we didn’t know, she and I. We’re going to die. We’re not likely to make it, either of us, into any of the thrilling kinds of death listed above, so no one will write novels about us, but we are cast iron certain to feature in a some other sort of death, from age or disease or absent-mindedly crashing our car while out buying groceries. Comes to us all, even, I assume, to the survivors who feature in the books I blog about. (I’ll draw a veil over Jesus – I did review the New Testament once, and his case is disputed, but anyway, all the rest of the people in the books I write about – they may survive till the end of the the narrative but they’re still going to end up dead. ) Even that heroically rescued maiden, all flowing locks and fresh complexion, she’s not going to end where the book ends, on that note of triumph, as she is snatched from the jaws of death by her hero. No. The jaws of death are still chomping in the background, and thanks to all your narrative heroism, she’s going to get wrinkles and a bad back and breast cancer and you’re going to be visiting her in a hospice one day while the drugs drip through and someone tries to deal with her constipation or incontinence…
Those other, uncelebrated deaths are what this book is about. It’s a book about ordinary people, not particularly heroic, entirely recognisable from anyone’s life experience, with lives as interesting as mine and my friend’s, (give or take a little bit), who are confronted with the thing they always knew but didn’t want to think about. I’m going to die. They just don’t want to risk it getting nasty – isn’t the avoidance of a nasty death a reasonable topic for dark fiction? They don’t want to die in pain, or lonely or frightened, too weak to make a decision about anything. They are feisty people, they want to die as they have lived, they want to take the matter in hand. That’s a great topic for a dark book. Dark books aren’t about people who just wait with their eyes closed.
I liked how they thought about it. I liked the business-like team that were working to make available what these characters might choose. I liked the pragmatisim. I liked the various, convoluted ways everyone reached their points of decision. Which might or might not be what we expect. But I do know what my own decision is. Please Mr Kregas, put me on the mailing list. When the time comes, I want to take a cruise. Me and my friend together maybe. That’s a death I could live with.
I’ve crossed paths with this delicious author a few times in my trek through the darker corners of storytelling. Racy pacey fighting books, realistic crime with a suspiciously transgressive sense of justice, some decidedly dodgy horror stories. So Ronin Cleans His Room Like a Ninja, hey? I was expecting to meet some relative of the cool kid sidekick from Her Name is Mercie, probably armed with a similarly oversized rifle-thingy and ready to ‘clean up’ his room the way Nicholas Angel cleans up Sandford in Hot Fuzz or Bart cleans up Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles. There will be broken furniture, I thought, and broken glass…. There will be a explosions…. There will probably be blood….
But no, my friends. Mr Roy has moved into yet darker more dangerous territory this time: the world of small boys’ bedrooms where they leave their clothes on the floor, don’t do their homework, and give a bit too much cheek to their despairing parents.
To this scary landscape Mr Roy brings his usual fighting spirit, humor and energy. And also a coach, in the form of a comfortable looking uncle, not entirely unlike Eddie in the Razor Trilogy, (which this author or may not also have written). (OK, OK, not in the least bit like Eddie in the Razor Trilogy, but I’m scraping the barrel for some continuity here…)
Anyway, if you want continuity you will have to find it yourself, but rest assured that by the end of this little novel, the bedroom is tidy, the homework is done, the small Ninja has learnt a good few life lessons, and is well on the way to turning into just the same kind of self-directed, clean living, responsible MFER as his nice Uncle Razor. Oops, I mean his uncle Max.
This is a great book for boys of a certain age (four to forty-four maybe?) who don’t quite know what it is to grow up – to be their own person, to be strong, to be self reliant – and who might just imagine that it would be much more cool to turn into the local bad boy and trash their world, leaving someone else to clear up the mess. I must remember to give a copy of this book to my nephew. OK, so he already knows these lessons very well and got them the hard way, but I’m pretty sure he’d appreciate the uncle in this book.
This is the second in Russ Colchamiro’s Angela Hardwicke series. She’s a private investigator in Eternity – the world responsible for maintaining and building the rest of the universe.
The first book in the series, Crackle and Fire, struck me as the author’s attempt to process the terrifying shit-show that was America in 2020 – a universe of overblown imperial ambitions, a crazy narcissist sacrificing the planet unconcerned about anyone in it, everything burning, imminent armageddon, high level talks breaking down, the climate collapsing… I guess things are calmer now (he wrote it before the latest American disasters) and we’d like to forget about all that, so this is a much more intimate, introspective, domestic scale of story.
Perhaps “America looks in the mirror and sees a once-high-achieving teenager who has lost part of her soul. Is it too late to get it back”?
Science fiction is always about here and now, of course, underneath the hype. But this book seems to take that truth rather literally. This ‘cosmic’ place seems more or less indistinguishable from any other US city where you might find a private investigator – there’s mean streets, corrupt developers, dodgy builders, train stations plastered with graffiti, students worrying about their grades, pompous art critics at gala dinners, money-grabbing businessmen… True, the university students are designing galaxies and behind the corruption there’s sinister technology that you can’t yet buy at the Apple Store – but really, the sci-fi setting doesn’t do much work here.
Angela is billed as the best PI in town, but personally I’d never hire her – way too much personal baggage and neurosis! In the first book she was all over the place because she’d lost custody of her child due to her overwork and substance misuse (that old trope of detective fiction…) and for my taste she seemed a bit too easily distracted by the frisson of encounters with other sexy women. In this one she’s got her kid back and there’s lots of weighty underlining of her proper maternal credentials (Come back motherhood and apple pie!) but motherhood has gone a bit wrong and she can’t encounter the sulky teenage victim of the current crime without getting triggered into whole chapters of anxst about her own troubled girlhood and reproductive mishaps, and she’s chosen a side-kick whom she also feels obliged to mother. And to make matters worse, her long-lost baby-papa has turned up from nowhere, and wants to get involved in the parenting of her kid, and quite frankly keeping up with a career with all this going on is really a bit much for the poor woman.
I’m not sure I’m convinced by Mr Colchamiro’s attempt to inject a bit of optimism into this exercise in social realism, but hey, it’s only a novel really. So thank goodness for the arrival of a splendid older lady with great personal style and a can-do approach to disability. Otherwise we’d all be going down the cosmic plug-hole, and that would never do…
De Gevallene, September 2021
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I wrote this review as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. The views expressed in it are my own and my rating is independent.
The publisher kindly provided an advance copy of this book as part of a book tour. The rating above and the thoughts below are all my own.
I’m not generally known as a sensitive soul who gives thought to authors’ feelings. I tell you – I’m only interested in their writing. I like my fiction dark, chock-full of suffering and evil, just like the world. So thank you authors, I am interested in that stuff. I like to think about it. I’m trying to find my way through it, to make sense of it. Your writing is useful to me. But I don’t generally worry whether the author suffers. That’s their lookout, I’ve got problems enough of my own.
Here’s a book that broke me though.
Most of the book is a series of short stories. At the end there are some poems. It’s a slow burn at first, because the author can really write and for a while that deceives you. He puts you in each moment with seductive intensity . The stories are varied, full of voices and colours, vivid places, different lives. Men mostly: it’s a boys’ book. Not misogynist, but women appear almost exclusively as lost objects of desire or comfort, as fruit that has gone sour, as humiliation. It’s all beautifully observed, wryly funny sometimes. Moments of real life, skewered.
But after a while you start feeling the weight of its darkness. There’s the dull darkness of men whose lives never shone, never got lit up, who maybe thought for a moment there was brightness ahead, but found they were wrong – there is plenty of that. Also the darkness of sudden extinction, of disrespect for life, of casual criminal killing – even more of that. But some of it explodes with yet sharper darkness. War stories. I think this author has probably been a soldier.
He writes with chilling passion. Real passion. That’s a fashionable word of course – everyone has to be passionate these days. You’d never get a job as the person who interfaces the cutting edge between corporate composition and future-proofed transition (empties the waste paper baskets) if you don’t declare yourself to be passionate about it. But no, I mean something more old fashioned. I mean passion like THE Passion. Like Christ on the cross. Feeling every second. Knowing, every second, that it has come to this, and it’s going to get worse. Your friends have betrayed you. You never had a wife or kids and you won’t now. There are nails through your hands and feet and an unsurvivable wound in your side. You thought you could save the world. You were wrong. You trusted someone – god perhaps – and they abandoned you. This is all you ended up with. Vinegar on a stick. Thorns in your hair. Soldiers down below, laughing at you. Your eyes drying out and burning.
In the end it got to me. Somewhere between the last few stories and the first few poems. (Why did I have to read the poems? Didn’t I see the warning signs?)
As I thought how to review this book, I discovered it had broken me. I wanted to say something sharp and rather clever. It’s a brilliant book, and they’re the best to be mean about: a book this good deserves a bit of excoriation.
Instead I found myself thinking about the author’s pain. Worrying about where these stories came from, what hurt had so blinded him to the possibility of comfort. I wanted to put an arm around him. Give him a hug and make him some hot chocolate. Find a nice girl who would adore him and never let him down. Put a log on the fire and something silly on TV. Point him to a job in some gentle NGO, maybe Scandinavian, with a well filled budget for corporate healthcare and trauma counselling. Somewhere where his kids can grow up safe and he can grow old and fat and happy, with no one carrying a gun. Whatever it was that wounded him, I wanted to help him to forget.
I tell you, this is seriously not healthy, this thinking about the author.
So, yes, I do suggest you take the time to read this book. The stories are brilliantly well written and the poems (though please understand I don’t do poems) are probably pretty talented too. But I’m warning you, don’t think about the author. No good will come of it. If you feel the need, let me reassure you. He may be a perfectly happy chap really. Smart enough to make a living out of the dodgy proclivities of people like you and me, who like our stories dark; grinning while he knocks out another couple of pitch black fables, amused to be extinguishing a bit more joy, while all the time he’s waiting to get down to the pub with his mates, or planning a cosy night in with his missus. Tell yourself that. Don’t think about him, he doesn’t matter. Just read the stories. You might like them.
With his publication of Central City Indy Perro proved himself as an exceptional and intriguing author of modern cop-noir. As I wrote in my review of that novel, “This is genre fiction, and some of the components were standard (but the same could be said of Jane Austen and nobody slags her off for it). The familiarity of the genre makes it sustaining, and in the gaps between predictable components there is space for interesting questions and a lot of unexpected characters. In this case, the questions were complex – reflections on how we come to be who we are, how we know what we know, how we question the world and how so much of what we need to know is in the questions we don’t ask. It’s an intelligent book.” I was delighted to learn that he is on the verge of publishing a sequel – Journeyman – and further books set in the same city later.
He is an elusive author – there appears to be only one image of him, anywhere on the web and even there he is looking down, his face a little obscured by a hat… His official biography sounds a little like a character in his novel and I wanted more. Who is he really? And what is his relationship to the world he summons up in Central City?
I was flattered when he agreed to visit the Hard Hat Book Site for an interview and I thought I might catch him off-guard with some critical questions. But all of his references describe him as a “recovering academic” and I found he was more than a match for my examination.
Ah, Mr Perro – do come in. Welcome to my building site. Please, come this way. Molly! Please get Mr Perro a hard hat and help him fasten it. NO! Not so tight! Stop that Molly! No! No! My apologies, Mr Perro, she’s on a program… Let me loosen it a little, no harm done. Sit down, you’ll feel better in a moment.
Thank you for having me. It’s good to see Molly again.
Yes, I’m employing some of your characters now – the ones you don’t need any more. Some of them are a bit disgruntled – loyal service…. took big risks for you… unfair dismissal – that sort of thing. Bruno wanted to… um…. question you about it. I notice you’ve memorialised them on your website: is that a guilty conscience? Did you feel bad when you killed them?
For better or worse, I can’t say I’m troubled by a guilty conscience. I certainly feel no remorse over killing the figments of my imagination, and I hope to move back and forth in time as I develop Central City, the setting. Bruno, Petey V, and others, several of whom appear in Journeyman, have a place in the history of the city.
Ah, so you will go back in time and bring them back to life! An interesting tactic – reparation by time travel. I will let them know there may be better times ahead.
Yes, I hope to tell more of their stories as I gain a clearer sense of what’s at stake, the controlling idea, of the backgrounds I’ve developed.
Were any of these victims based on people you know? Can we have names? Relationships?
No characters are based on people I know. On occasion, I’ve taken elements from people I knew, but the characters are embodiments of ideas more than representations of life.
I was hoping for a few personal morsels! That seems a bit of a trademark with you: a bit guarded about your personal life.
I don’t think of myself as guarded. In truth, I feel like an open book, as it were. In my experience, however, nobody cares that much about me as a person. People care about themselves, their histories, thoughts, and feelings, and to be fair, I care more about their histories, thoughts, and feelings than I care about my own, so it works out.
But you’re clearly working under a false identity. My private investigators have been digitally stalking you, and they’ve come back with virtually nothing. Who are you really?
Who am I? You might be asking the wrong person.
So is your whole life a lie? Can we rely on the biography you choose to give us?
My life is more of a search for the truth than it is a lie, but perhaps those two aren’t as mutually exclusive as I might once have thought.
Well I did detect truth in Central City – about human nature, anyway. ‘We are not all just one thing.’ I’m certainly several. But you? You seem to know a lot about the criminal underworld. Prostitution. Racketeering. Your depictions seem compelling – how did you learn that stuff? Academic research? Really? You mention getting ‘into and out of trouble’ as a teenager….
The environment of Central City is a fictional version of the environment of my teenage years. That, certainly, is why I wrote the novel and felt drawn to the setting of a midwestern city.
I do read crime novels and love noir films, and I’ve been influenced by the work of Samuel Fuller, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Terrence Malick, Cormac McCarthy, and Chester Himes, to name a few. Terrence Malick never made a noir film, but I find compelling his use of setting to shape the ideas of a story in such a way that the viewer is forced to renegotiate assumptions about narrative and meaning. Although I draw from the work of my predecessors, I want to subvert some noir tropes that irritate me, particularly the simplistic depiction of criminality and the caricaturizing of working-class neighbourhoods.
Hmm. Very analytic.
I don’t apologize for my intellectual predilections, but I’m not trying to impress anyone or impress anything upon anyone.
But of course! The one thing everyone tells me is you’re a “recovering academic”. So how bad did it get for you? (Don’t hold back. You’re amongst friends. I’m a member of AA myself – on the “ten step path to recovering ignorance”). So, what was it for you? Ten units of philosophy before you could face the day? Driving an argument with levels of literary criticism ten times over the limit?
In academia, I had no one with whom I could connect. Talking about ideas wasn’t enough; I needed a clear path to using the ideas that I found deeply meaningful.
In my moments of clarity, I know that I didn’t respond well to the alienation I felt. The stakes are so low in an academic environment, which is a direct and unambiguous reflection of the value of such an artificial approach to thinking.
Oh, I’m sorry! And the recovery process… Any relapses? Do you miss it terribly? Any tips for fellow addicts?
I still take my morning coffee with a dollop of continental philosophy, but I don’t miss a thing about being attached to a university. My goal, and the purpose of my recovery process, is to breathe life into ideas, to give them form and function to which people can relate.
So, writing novels is your new drug of choice perhaps? Did you just slip into it by chance or was there a pusher involved?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write novels. I went to graduate school to study ideas that I would use in novels. I felt, by the time I went back to college, that I’d had ample life experience. A wiser man might’ve seen the writing on the wall for my academic career, but at one time I thought I could do both.
So how does it compare, writing and academia?
Writing blows the university out of the water. I don’t need to teach. My earnings depend on my competency, and I can do and say what I want. What’s not to like?
Well, I liked Central City (you may have seen my review). But I gather there’s another one now. Journeyman? I know, I know…. you thought I can just write one book and give up any time, but then found you needed another… Usual story. One of my informants brought evidence that you were planning eight now. How long before you transfer to Authors Anonymous?
Like all worthwhile addictions, when you can quit, you don’t want to, and when you want to quit, you can’t.
My outline is for eight novels with Kane Kulpa and Vincent Bayonne as the main protagonists, and I’ve ideas/outlines for a handful of novels set in Central City but with thematic narratives (music, art, Vietnam, and basketball). I’m well aware this is ambitious, but it’s also the business model of independent publishing. I’m not sure how I would’ve developed Central City without a sense of the broader narrative, and the interconnectedness of the ideas jives with my sense of purpose as a writer. We’ll see how it goes.
I have a wiretap of you talking to some blogger, where you claim that Central City was about how we’re shaped by the past . But wasn’t it more about secrets, the unsaid things, the way truth is the silent eye of the storm, where nothing is said at all?
You might be right that I have no idea what my novels are about. I’m certainly open to that possibility.
Well I’m not leading you – I’ve got your police statements, I’m reading from those… You were telling us all the way through that the important things are the things you don’t tell us. So what was it? Was it something about how you got there, to Central City?
There’s a line in Journeyman about how there are no secrets, only information. I’m not a secretive guy (I don’t think), but there’s always a burden to information, a responsibility. Honesty takes work, and the work of honesty means laboring beneath the weight of the past. If we can’t bear the weight of the past, we’ll have no future.
OK. I guess that’s as much as I can expect to get on THAT subject. Journeyman then. “Not out yet” they tell me. I tried threatening your agent for a black-market copy but he didn’t crack. Tough character, that Henry Roi. So what can you tell me about it? You have the right to remain silent of course, but what’s it about, REALLY?
Journeyman picks up in January of 1993, three weeks after the conclusion of Central City. Detective Bayonne investigates the death of the Mayor’s son, and Kane needs to consolidate his influence in the underworld.
OK, we’re almost there. I just have two questions that I ask all my subjects. First (and this is just a personal enquiry), do you do any martial arts? I’m interested in plotting the relationship between martial arts and dark fiction writing : these days you can do degrees in things like that, but I won’t go into it, I’m mindful of your problems.
This sounds like an interesting study! I look forward to learning more about it when you’ve completed your research.
Slippery answer as ever! So finally (the moral high ground question) but don’t give me any nonsense, I want your true opinion: If you could tweak the human DNA to insert one drive or principle that would modify the human psyche – something that humans would instinctively feel obliged to follow – what would that be?
I recently read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, and I’m developing a novel about the influence of genetics on human identity. As my novels, I hope, attest, I like humanity as it is and take no responsibility whatsoever for what humanity is or isn’t. I’m not a technician. Give me a monkey wrench, and I’ll give you a story. I can’t fix your car or alter your chromosomes.
Well, after that, what can I say? Oh dear, Molly never brought you any tea. She’s discovered feminism I’m afraid – she’s not been the same since. So, any final words before you leave us? Any messages for your characters? Or my readers?
I have two websites where readers can engage my work. At https://centralcitybooks.com readers can explore the characters and setting of Central City and find short stories that explore the histories and exploits of Detective Vincent Bayonne, Kane Kulpa, and the rest of the antiheroes and villains from my novels.
Https://indyperro.com is for those interested in what I’m doing beyond Central City. Readers can learn more about me, the novels that have influenced my work, other artists who are doing interesting things, and events where I’ll be participating. Everyone is welcome to visit these sites, join my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook @authorindyperro and twitter @IndyPerro.
Well thank you. Safe journey back to Central City. It’s quite a trek I’m afraid. But look on the bright side: those nasty marks on your neck will have faded before you get there.
Thanks again for welcoming me to the land of the fallen.
I’d also recommend you read his novel, Central City, but if you are too tight fisted to take me at my word that it’s a book worth buying, you can even download a couple of chapters on his website for free – but don’t worry, once you read those, you’ll want to buy the book anyway, so you’d better start saving up now for the $2.76 it will cost you. (Or you could just skip your next cup of coffee-house coffee, I suppose… )
Bob Van Laerhoven is a veritable Pied Piper, probably in the pay of the devil. His writing mesmerises. He takes us by the hand, dances around us, amuses us even – such sharp, clever, dialogue, such captivating sentences. Yet all the while, he is leading us away from safety, towards some destination that we did not have to visit, step by step, twisting us round, till our heads spin and we don’t know the way back.
And suddenly there we are, struggling for breath, drowning, like one of his characters, in a dark cold river after incalculable treachery.
These stories have a dizzying, disorienting quality. They are set in real cities, against a backdrop of real events – real wars, real atrocities, a probably-real ashram even – and the people feel real as well, too real for comfort. To that extent. these stories have solidity, a grip at the end of their handshake (yes, it might break your arm…) Yet they are surreal too: psychotic glimpes through a dark kaleidoscope, drug-addled sometimes, always at racing speed. Heart Fever. It’s not a reference to love, clearly, but something more literal – the delirious, feverish quality of a heart in the throes of disease.
So why, Mr Van Laerhoven, why? Did I ask to know what kind of soldier kills a baby? Did I volunteer to enter your nightmare, to roll in your mire of guilt, lust, revenge, drugs, violence, betrayal? Did you think I wanted to know about your sordid ashram, the miserable sexual troubles of your antihero, his inadequacy both as lover and as friend?
Harf harf harf! (That’s Flemish laughter, out of respect for the author). Of course I did. I’ve met this piper before; I know his tunes. I tell you: don’t worry, I can handle them, I can keep myself safe. So play, Pied Piper, play: no one makes music quite like yours. I’m listening, I’m following, I’m enjoying the headlong dance. What better company than all these other rats? What better town than Hamelin? What’s that? A river….?
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Bob Van Laerhoven has published more than 40 books in Holland and Belgium. His literary work has been published in French, English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese… Heart Fever, discussed above, having already been translated into German, Spanish and Italian, has recently been translated into Brazilian Portuguese. Three times finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for best mystery novel of the year with the novels Djinn, The Finger of God, and Return to Hiroshima. Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Baudelaire’s Revenge, which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense.”
Well, one of my parents was a dragon, too, so I feel for Dahlia Nite: it is difficult living in the wrong dimension, and having to hide one’s scales and superpowers. One gets misunderstood. I also share her problem with compassion: it’s a curse. The need to save the world as well – another curse. I feel that occasionally too, but then I ask myself, why not leave extinction to take its course? It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the human race needs to be rescued, but honestly, why? Dahlia seems to think they are worth it, but that’s the young for you – all high ideals and sense of possibility – when she’s my age (she’s not even a millennium yet) and she has to wear cardigans instead of sexy bustiers, and nothing can stop the scales showing through her human clothes, she may see things differently. (Though personally I kept my nerve, even in my youth. I never intervened when the dinosaurs expired – I didn’t lift a finger. If it had been her, she’d have probably have launched in and they’d be stomping around even now.)
I’m letting myself ramble on, to defer the moment when I have to admit that I liked this documentary. I liked it a lot in fact. I found it refreshing – so well observed, so honest. I liked the way one could smell everything – human authors who are just making it up about dragon half-breeds often forget about that, because humans smell almost nothing and when they smell anything at all they tend to dislike it or (worse) feel embarrassed. (That’s probably why they hate sex so much). I also liked the meticulous documentation of the conflict we feel – yes we are lonely sometimes, we long for home, we search for connection. But we’re not averse to ripping out a heart. We also have fierce dreams and we’re not sentimental. And now you come to mention it (oh no, that was me…. Dragons aren’t good listeners) we don’t make very good parents. Though of course the truth is (don’t mention this to humans, they are mysteriously gooey about their immature offspring) we just don’t have very good children. (It’s the way they seem determined to eat us alive. It isn’t nice.)
So Ms Schneider does good PR for the dragon half-breed type. (I’m trying not to mention the name she gives us, because – confession time – I only borrowed the audiobook so I have no idea how she spelt it. Lyrekin? Lirricken? The name we’re really called can’t be spelt with a human alphabet, so I guess she had to think of something). And maybe our time is about to come: have you noticed how ‘feisty’ has become a term of admiration for a woman, and badass L…n are getting everywhere? Books, films, adverts even. Slick clothes, sexy manners… It’s not like the other day, when the L..n in Mr Shakespeare’s play got very nastily put down. (Don’t worry, it was all a show: Kate ate Petruccio after the final curtain. I’m not telling you how she killed him, but she let me have a bit of his skin.)
It would be pretty much impossible I think, for anyone, human or dragon, male or female, to read this book and not lust after Dahlia. Which is only natural, and I don’t think Ms Schneider would mind. I’m definitely not Dahlia’s type so there wouldn’t be any awkwardness about her lusting back. And the glorious murders – no spoilers here, but there are several good ones. You’d think it was inventive if it weren’t a documentary. Ms Schneider wants us to enjoy those too, and I have to say I did.
Good book, Ms Schneider. Well observed. Well put together. I’m glad this exposition has several volumes – just like an old fashioned encyclopaedia, I always liked those and they burnt so well. I shall look forward to the others when they find their way to me.
OK, read it as a horror story if you like and thrill at that: it works well. Bassoff writes beautifully. He’s good at atmospherics. Read it as magical realism, as bizarro fantasy. The eerily perfect surface of the town of Angels and Hope sends the invisible fingers that creep up your spine. The descent into horror territory is surreal, explicit, unforgiving and remorseless. Great dark book.
But none of that is as dark as its subtext – the underbelly beneath the grinning plastic surface of contemporary America. About evangelical communities in love with a pussy-grabbing leader defending police brutality with a lie on his lips and a bible in his pudgy hands. About nice patriotic educated people whose version of Jesus doesn’t suffer little children to come unto him, but bombs them or puts them in cages. It’s a book about capitalism – wealth that turns a blind eye to its origin. About corruption. A book about the glorification of the shiny and superficial. The lie of Walt Disney.
Yes. It’s a book about the pus and poison that lies beneath middle-class America.
The heart of the book is in this passage:
The screaming continued, and they weren’t roller coaster screams. Some of the bystanders covered their ears with their hands. Others turned and walked away. “Somebody is in trouble!” Hardy shouted. “How the hell do I get in?” “There’s no sense in trying.” “Better to walk away, I think.” “These things can’t be prevented.” “We should get back to the rides. What if more paying customers arrive?”
I’m interested in the criminal justice system in America. I write to Senators and Representatives a lot. The people who make laws that imprison the poor for twenty, forty, sixty years, stealing their lives. Rich people in big white houses, who feel it is their smug Christian duty to throw away forgiveness, condemn their brothers, and demonstrate their own superiority by protecting the death sentence. I write sometimes to one charismatically ‘liberalising’ Commissioner of the Department of Corrections of a southern state, a man who goes all dewy eyed about how he accompanies each death row prisoner on his final walk and offers to pray with him, as the white-coated state officials inject him with lethal fluid. That Commissioner clearly wants you to feel that this sanctimonious participation in a dance of death shows what a great guy he is, what a pure, brave, high thinking Christian fellow. (You know who you are, Commissioner. You should read this book.)
“Do you think God watches? Hardy had asked. Do you think he cares? I hope not, she’d said. I hope that, after all of these centuries, God is tired. I hope that he’s given up.”
Bassoff clearly thinks so.
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This review was undertaken as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. The views expressed in it are entirely my own. (You can share them if you like).