Derek Raymond is generally acknowledged as the godfather of Brit Grit, based on his ruthlessly dark novels like I was Dora Suarez, but there’s a sheer delight in this earlier work that doesn’t seem to get the same love, maybe because it’s not as hard-boiled. Admittedly, the narrative is a bit elliptical. The central dodgy heist doesn’t really get going until late in the novel.
But the chief difficulty for readers both contemporary and modern is probably what I like best about it: the language.
I love how they call each other ‘morrie’ and I love the wealth of rhyming slang and sly jokes that fill its pages. Wonderful bits like:
“…those two gaffs have more ears stuck around the walls than a Cocteau film”
“Only one thing to do about all that slag–there’s a brick there, so I pick it up and hurl. Bang through the window. No slag hit, but all smothered in glass, and that followed by two fireballs flung with the master’s hand and lo! sylphidewise one falls with a dying fall flop almost on to a bird’s espresso-bongo hairdo.”
“It was nice the way she said cash like a civilised girl and not the reddies or something; though she was in the morrie world she was somehow not quite of it, which made me fonder of her than almost anything else–when I say Christice was loyal I mean she had values of some kind, though daughter to pompoons.”
“Pushing our way through now against the va-et-vient, Marchmare and I gain this haven, to be rewarded at once by the sight of Messrs. Copewood and Cream, purveyors of shooters, etc., to the trade, who, with their followers, queen it from a table near the bar, where they feed steak to a snarling hound and rack their ganglia over the race-page of the linens. A quick butchers shows up Old Bill three-handed, also a particularly nasty female grass–and if looks were acid baths the two she collects from us would reduce her to gristle quicker than Mrs. Durand-Deacon.”
“‘You Englishmen,’ said Herr Wurter. ‘You are all the same. Wherever you are you behave as if you were at home and your word was law.'”
Sure, it’s not for everybody, but it’s a real treat if you love a real wild spin in somebody else’s garrulous mind. And if you get lost, my edition anyway had a glossary so you could find that ‘vera’ means ‘gin’ and ‘slags’ (not quite in the current sense) mean the opposite of ‘morries’ who are all right.
“I wonder what it is we must deplore that turned us into morries evermore?”