Watching the detectives …

Hawthorn and Childby Keith Ridgway

hawthorn This is one of those strange novels that is not quite what it seems; at times it insinuates itself into your being so that you almost feel part of the story, at others you’re left outside the action observing from afar, and sometimes you can’t get your head around it at all.

Since its publication in 2012, it has been championed around the blogosphere, notably by John Self, but also Simon Savidge, and Will Rycroft amongst many others. It appeared in all of aboves’ year-end best of lists. After John Self’s repeated urging us all to read it, I gave in and bought a copy some months ago – later deciding to make it my first read of 2013.

Describing it is not easy though. If I said it’s an existential drama about the lives of two police detectives told through a series of mostly linked short stories about characters that come into and out of their lives, I’d be doing it a disservice in trying to categorise it at all. I can say that although it features policemen, it is not a crime novel, but a novel in which crimes happen, and  I really enjoyed much of the writing right from the start…

He dreamed he was sleeping, and Child was driving. Driving but not moving. He was sleeping on the passenger seat and Child wrestled with the wheel, but the car was still. It was the city that was moving. It was dark. The city rushed past them like words on a screen, and he would have read them but they went too fast. He was filled with sorrow. It trickled through him and filled his eyes. He wept and he didn’t know why, and he was embarrassed by it but he could not stop. He cried so much that his face disappeared. He dreamed that the siren was on, and it was so loud that it woke him.

It’s the early hours of the morning and they are on their way to a seemingly random shooting; a young man thinks he has been shot from a vintage car. Hawthorn is still half asleep through their investigations but seems to perk up once the victim mentions the car. He and Child banter about it…

– He saw what he thought he saw.
– He’s been completely consistent.
– And vague. A low dark car. With running boards. A lovely car.
– Silver door handles.
– Silver door handles.
– It’s no more vague that descriptions we get from people who don’t know cars. We explicate.
– We what?
– Explicate?
– I don’t think that’s the right word, Hawthorn.
– We put them together.
– Extrapolate?
– Yeah.
– We work it out. But. You know. I’m not sure we have a model book that goes back to … whenever. If he insists on it the CPS will have a bit of a problem.
They wandered through the corridors. Hawthorn assumed Child knew where he was going.
– What it is, said Child, is that you don’t want to go back to Mishazzo.
Hawthorn looked at him.
– What?
– It’s a hallucination, or whatever. Rivers has it tied up. You want a loose thread so that we’re not back following that idiot all day long. Looking at windows. Going slowly insane.

It seems that Hawthorn is determined to hang on to something more interesting than surveillance which for 99.9% of the time must be the most boring thing in the world to do.  We’ll find out more about Mishazzo later, when one chapter is told through the eyes of his scared to death driver. Meanwhile having introduced the two detectives, Ridgway lets them go their own ways for most of the book, popping in and out of stories, sometimes not present at all.

Hawthorn is perhaps the more interesting of the two cops, at least initially. He’s always has his notebook at the ready, like Columbo, and takes notes – but Hawthorn doesn’t recall why he wrote the particular words down that he did. He’s also gay and in How to have fun with a fat man we cut between three Hawthorn story threads – the thrill of policing a riot, a gay orgy (not for the prudish), and the tension at a family meal with his father.

In a later chapter, Rothko Eggs, we get to know Child a bit more through his daughter who lives with her mother. Modern art is teenager Catherine’s raison d’etre, and she struggles to find people to share her passion with, until first proper boyfriend Stuart comes along. Her father tries but gets them mixed up. This was my personal favourite episode.

In between these two, it seems that all of life is present – a football referee who sees ghosts, a particularly nasty suspected suicide, a story about a society of wolves, a man who obsessed with watching people die – from the twin towers to racing drivers. It’s an eclectic mix.

On a first reading, I freely admit I didn’t get it all, not always being sure if a particular strand was significant, or if it was an interlude. I did like the way that certain characters popped in and out of the narrative along with the titular detectives. I enjoyed the style of the dialogue – very direct, no unnecessary he said, she saids. Contrasting with the snappy dialogue was the observational nature of much of the descriptive text which adds to the pervading air of mystery.

This is a novel that would benefit from a second read. The fact that I’m even contemplating it, although not immediately, recognises that it is, in words  from a song in The Sound of Music (sic) ‘something good’. The only down side for me was the cover which, although clever, I rather dislike! (8.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Hawthorn and Childby Keith Ridgway.

Spotlight on ***** Books #2

It’s time to introduce you to another pair of the books I have particularly enjoyed this year getting five out of five stars each. A full list of my five star books can be found on my Librarything site – there’s a link to your right.

socrates fortlowFirst in the spotlight this time is Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley.

Like Michael Connelly’s Hieronymous ‘Harry’ Bosch and John Connolly’s Charlie Parker, Mosley’s protagonist Socrates Fortlow has a name to live up to, and like them, he certainly does.

Socrates is not a young man; he’s survived twenty seven years in jail for murder, and he now aims to spend his days trying to be helpful, to do good and not to be violent any more to help atone for his wrong-doing. However that violence is always still simmering underneath, and he’s not afraid to use it in self-defence or defence of his friends. He tries hard to make ends meet, finds a job, and mentors young Darryl who would otherwise be in a gang, and he’s a good peacemaker – even if he has to administer a punch or two to get it!

This is a series of short stories, some previously published in other sources. They only betray this by each having a few similar sentences to establish Socrates’ situation at the outset, but they all entwine and work beautifully as a chronological cycle of tales too. Socrates is a classic hard man with a soft centre, a good friend to those who know him well and a sympathetic hero with real depth. The first book I’d read by Mosley and an absolutely fantastic one.

the digSecond this time is The Dig by John Preston. An absolutely superb novel of the story of the Sutton Hoo discovery just before WWII. In a sleepy town in Suffolk, Mrs Pretty, a widow, finally decides to have some tumuli on her land excavated. She gets in a local self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown, who painstakingly digs away and reveals the sandy remains of a wooden ship – only the nails remain. But in step the men from the British Museum to take over the dig … but all rivalries eventually get put aside when they discover gold!

Each section of the story of this momentous dig is told from the changing main character of the time’s point of view, going from Mrs Pretty to Basil Brown and so on through the few months of the dig. The local museum man is understandably reluctant to hand over the dig to the experts from London who depart as soon as the treasures are found leaving Basil to wind things up again.

We all know the results from the amazing gold on display to this day in the British Museum, but the human story behind those involved in the dig is less well known, and for all the lack of big drama is compelling none the less. I recently found out that the aunt of the author John Preston, who writes for the Telegraph, was involved in the dig and she was the first person to find strike gold; the personal interest in the story was obviously a big factor in the writing of the novel.

What made this novel for me is that I went to visit the site maybe 15 yrs ago, and was treated to a fantastic talk by a volunteer and the dig itself was still live – the ship may have been discovered, but in the neighbouring field, they were trying to find out more about the way of life of the Anglo-Saxons who lived there.

A lovely gentle novel about gentlemen archaeologists and country life.

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Source: Own copies. To explore these books further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley, Serpent’s Tail paperback.
The Dig by John Preston, Penguin paperback.