December will be magic again! A stone groove from Poppycock.
I’ve got a crazy little yarn spun over at Near to the Knuckle called ‘Bonnie & Clyde’: two crazy kids meet and their names convince them it’s kismet. Or at least crime —
Check it out along with all the other fine crime fiction they have like Paul D. Brazill’s forthcoming Supernatural Noir. And consider entering the Black Friday Competition! Find out more at Near to the Knuckle.
Open up your head and give this a listen:
I’m not sure why I always had it stuck in my mind that there were four books in the Ripliad. The fifth and final (thought I have an idea for a sixth, oh estate of esteemed writer) is Ripley Under Water. Released in 1991 more than a decade after The Boy Who Followed Ripley (which deserves a post of its own at some point — so much to dissect there…noting that down for yet another future project I guess: a long consideration of the Ripliad in my abundant free time), the novel has a distinctly different feel to it. No surprise, there. Much had changed in the meantime, especially going back all the way to the original novel in 1955.
Clearly Highsmith loves Ripley just as much thirty five years later. All of her sympathy is with him and concealing his crimes. She allows him to meditate on subjects near to heart (‘Were women masochists? Did that make sense? Child-birth, a stoic tolerance of pain?’). In our world of doxxing and trolling, Ripley Under Water has additional resonances. After making a successful life for himself with all the trappings of wealth he’s always wanted, achieved with really very few murders he thinks, Ripley is suddenly beset by the horror of Americans with wealth, some random facts and a grinding air of self-righteous belligerence.
In short, he has terrible new neighbours. They play loud music, they photograph his house, and they start to blackmail him about his two most important murders. The sanctuary that the little village of Villeperce offers and the fortress of Belle Ombre are besieged by Janice and David Pritchard, who seem to embody every ugly thing about Tom’s homeland — all he has sought to leave behind. His own life is a careful veneer of appearances, so it’s easy to threaten. He cannot comprehend this pair: after they exchange mock blows,
They played little games, Tom saw. And made it up in bed? Unpleasant to contemplate.
Like the toxic fans who stalk celebrities, they pingpong between wanting to befriend him and wanting to expose him. Their insistence on digging up the past unsettles the careful web of lies and deceit that Ripley has built into comfort. They threaten to unravel everything.
Sometimes his imagination was as clear as a remembered experience. And some remembered experiences faded, he supposed, such as that of killing Dickie, Murchison, even the couple of well-fed Mafia members around whose throat he had pulled a garrotte…There was indeed a screen between facts and memory, Tom realised, though he could not have given it a name. He could, of course, he thought a few seconds later, and it was self-preservation.
It’s impossible not to wonder if Highsmith gave herself the same out. She gives him musings that seem to carry the author’s own. Ripley reads Ellman’s excellent biography of Oscar Wilde, which he sums up as,
a man of goodwill, of talent, whose gifts to human pleasure remained considerable, had been attacked and brought low by the vindictiveness of hoi polloi, who had taken sadistic pleasure in watching Oscar brought low.
She then has Tom compare Oscar to Christ, with poetry, then returns to thoughts of his own persecution by the Pritchards (Highsmith has hilariously petty fun with Tom’s wife Héloïse and the other French folks mangling their name). Pritchard has too much money and too much time on his hand and too much bile. He relentlessly hunts the waterways for a body he suspects Tom has discarded.
Perhaps the oddest thing about this book is that Tom, the eternal loner, finally makes use of the friendships he has built as part of his camouflage. Flummoxed by this perverse persecution, he discovers the value of community and almost seems to take an unexpected pleasure in it. Highsmith wraps up this improbable story in a grotesque, bizarre and hilarious way — which I suppose is the only way she could end it. Don’t worry: Tom is still up to his tricks right to the last page.
See all the overlooked books at Patti’s blog.
I suppose it’s hard to make a case for it being ‘forgotten’ but considering the 2014 film likewise faded away without much fanfare, perhaps this novel has been overlooked as well. Yet it’s of a piece with all of Highsmith’s work, which of course means it sinks its hooks into you and you keep turning the pages to find out where it could possibly go.
I woke up with Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ in my head which was my subconscious at work as usual. The love/hate relations of parents and children often figure in her books (no surprise). It’s key to this one and the relationship between the two male characters: the conman Chester MacFarland and the wanna-be poet Rydal Keener. Colette MacFarland is sexual allure and all the problems it causes. She reminds Keener (what a name, eh?) of his adolescent love for his cousin Agnes — a situation that divided his family and set him on the path to reform school, shaming his Harvard professor father.
He notices MacFarland because he strikingly resembles his father, whose funeral he’s recently missed by staying in Athens. Keener helps the pair conceal a body and then they’re friends — maybe. Because maybe Keener’s really after Colette and maybe MacFarland isn’t the father figure he sometimes thinks. Of course Highsmith is delightful in detailing MacFarland’s elaborate Ponsi schemes and his habits to maintain the various faces he shows the world.
When violence comes, like a lot of Highsmith, it’s sudden, brutal and stunning. Things unravel and so quickly, so strangely — the paranoia of the characters is completely understandable. The POV shifts between chapters. Highsmith, as always, masterfully manages to give you all the information from very different slants. It’s genuinely surprising right up to the end when you think, well this is how it has to go. Good stuff.
Check out the other overlooked books at Patti’s blog.
Me yammering on all things noir and writing over at Write with Phil:
Why do you write?
‘It’s fun! There’s a Dylan line about needing a dump truck to unload his head. Writing is my dump truck.’
A troubled, ageing hit man leaves London and returns to his hometown in the north east of England hoping for peace. But the ghosts of his past return to haunt him.
Last Year’s Man is a violent and blackly comic slice of Brit Grit noir. PRE-ORDER NOW! Available 06/22/2018
Praise for LAST YEAR’S MAN:
“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy
I was chuffed to receive a pre-publication ARC of the latest from Mr B. Always a pleasure to read one of my favourite contemporary authors. Rest assured this is exactly the kind of mordantly witty caper you expect. From blood-soaked shenanigans to effortlessly clever banter, there’s everything you’d expect and more. The motif of the hitman haunted by his past gets a fresh angle as disgraced Tommy Bennett returns to Seatown, the northern coastal city where his past awaits him. A wild mix of musical and pop culture references come at you thick and fast. I was chortling by the end of the first page.
But under the laughter there are a few dark threads (as with all great comedy). There’s a serious undercurrent dealing with age and regrets, of finding hope — but don’t let that put you off, crime fans. There’s plenty of mayhem gone wrong, drugs and drink, plus a pale gangster named Drella (who manages to be both ruthless and hen-pecked) and a wealth of murderous mistakes. The Hancock-esque hitman Bennett (he even wears a Homburg!) seems ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just give up the life of crime, but there’s a cockroach persistence to Brazill’s characters, who have the curiosity worthy of a cat to know what will happen next.
Some great lines:
I watched dark clouds spread across the sky like a cancer.
I placed a bottle of London Pride on the grave. My wife hated flowers because of her hay fever.
‘Then the world is your oyster.’ ‘Yeah, but I’m a vegetarian,’ I said.
‘We all have our own double-cross to bear.’
I woke up when someone stabbed me.
The carriage shook like a junkie in rehab and dragged me painfully awake.
The church clock struck thirteen as I crossed the road.
Patsy, the pasty-faced barmaid…
‘Sartre got it wrong, I tell you,’ he said. ‘Hell is IKEA.’
My advice to you is pre-order this and get your London Pride in now for some summer reading. I think I might just read it again. Now where’s that audio book version?