Category Archives: International Noir

Book Review: “I Was Dora Suarez” by Derek Raymond

Dora Suarez

I Was Dora Suarez (Factory 4)

“Don’t you see, the words sometimes take the place of tears?”

What if a true villain, a thoroughly evil psychopath, a man who already possessed a heart of darkness, who already scared evil men witless, then went mad? Fully and irredeemably insane. What depths of depravity, what  inhumane crimes would he be capable of?

In I Was Dora Suarez, the fourth in Derek Raymond’s Factory Novels we find out.

Be warned. This novel is not for the squeamish. This novel made it’s publisher, who had already published the first three Factory Novels, vomit over his desk. Much to the glee of it’s author, who himself was a bit of a mad man.

As with the other Factory Novels, Dora Suarez stars the unnamed, detective sergeant of London Metropolitan Police’s, Department of Unexplained Deaths – The Factory, otherwise known as A14. Unexplained Deaths handles the ‘rough trade’. The investigation of the ugly murders of the average citizen and the dispossessed as opposed to The Department of Serious Crimes – Scotland yard – who get the glamorous investigations.

The novel opens with the brutal murder of Dora Suarez, a seemingly gentle young girl, and the kindly 86 year old widow, Betty Carstairs, who has taken her in. The reader gets a peek inside the mind of the killer and of his methods. “His eyes….bore the stare of someone entirely lost on the earth, and he was the most hideous thing that you prayed you might never see.”

The detective sergeant is on suspension from the police for striking a superior officer. Insubordination comes easy to him, as he isn’t a career ladder climber. He is called back on the job, all is forgiven, to handle this case as the police are short handed.

As the sergeant investigates, he immediately empathizes with the victim, and is deeply effected by the heinous details of the murder. Dora was repeatedly axed, one arm cut off before death as she pleaded with her murderer. As he investigates further it’s discovered that the murderer ejaculated on Dora, and defecated on the scene. He also literally threw Betty through a clock. The sergeant also discovers a diary of sorts that, as he reads, makes him believe that Dora may have known her killer. The diary also reveals her innate gentleness in real life and that she was already dying and he develops an obsessive fondness and sadness for the dead woman . There’s a sadness to Dora’s life, the way that she has been repeatedly beaten down, used by life and the people in it.

During the autopsy, the extent of Dora’s sickness is revealed to be advanced AIDS, but how she contacted it is not immediately apparent. It also becomes clear that the killer ate pieces of Dora post mortem. 

Mean while, barely a mile away, another murder is being investigated by Stevenson, one of the sergeants few friends on the police. Felix Roatta has had his head blown nearly off, and the timing of the two sets of murders, as well as the nearness of the scenes, perks both their interest.

Roatta was a notorious gangster and part owner of the Parallel Club. A photograph is discovered taken at the club on Roatta’s birthday with Dora singing on stage, and a man that the other criminal elements that haunt the club are reluctant to talk about.

As the clubs Greek doorman, and other criminal elements that had ownership interests in the club are detained and questioned, and as the degenerate offerings of the clubs “exclusive” upstairs rooms are revealed, the pure ugliness and subversion of decency make the sergeant and Stevenson more than determined to discover the identity and whereabouts of the murderer who even scares these hardened criminals.

This is where I usually talk about the authors craft. How well he uses literary devices, develops the characters and sense of place. Dialog and narration and all the other component parts of a good story. In the case of Dora Suarez, that would be superficial at best. Akin to criticizing the paints in Michelangelo’s pallet or discussing the merits of the water that Monet used to soak his paper.

Raymond simply defines British Noir and in Dora Suarez created one of the most important pieces of crime fiction of the past fifty years. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, Raymond has taken a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, and made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about. Paul Oliver at Melville House Publishing told me when he provided this review copy, Raymond “Wrote like John Donne if Donne had been taught how to write by Jim Thompson.”

As an entry in the “hardboiled” genre, if bounced on the floor it would chip concrete. In the “Noir” field it is to “black novels” what black holes are to darkness.

As with most of The Factory Novels, it is only superficially a police procedural. And only nominally a mystery. Raymond’s concern, and his protagonists, throughout the series was always more about the victim and what brought them to their fate.

To be sure the dialog is as elegant as Raymond Chandler, and the basic story line as good or even better at uncovering the fault lines of society than Hammett at his best.

The sergeants dialog is hard violent, and insolent, and never approaches the realm of civil discourse whether he is talking to the politically motivated higher ups, the lowly bobbys on the beat who wish to play at being a cop or to the dregs of criminal society, whether they be witnesses or suspects.

In contrast to his violent exterior is  an almost psychotically sacred level of concern for the victim.  In the words of the author, he “describes men and women whom circumstances have pushed too far, people whom existence has bent and deformed. It deals with the question of turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle — the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfillable, and where defeat is certain.”

First published in 1990, I Was Dora Suarez was the fourth of five Factory Novels published and considered the master work of Raymond’s career. Rereleased in September by Melville International Crime and available singly or in a set consisting of the first four novels, with the fifth offered free when it is published in January.

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No one seriously interested crime fiction as literature, noir written as taut, ugly and teetering on the edge of sanity can possibly pass this one by.

 

Article first published as Book Review: I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond on Blogcritics.

 

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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One Man, One Murder by Jakob Arjouni

A Kayankaya Thriller                  

 

To rescue a kidnapped prostitute, Kemal Kayankaya must face some of Germany’s most depraved and dangerous criminals. Fortunately, some of them are his friends. . . .

OneManOneMurderHard-boiled prose, lean, clean dialogue, hard bitten as Sam Spade, cynically cool as Philip Marlowe. Kemal Kayankaya is a worthy successor to the great noir characters and hard boiled detectives of the past. This isn’t a parody or a cheap imitation, Jakob Arjouni has created the real thing. Beautiful!

Jakob Arjouni tells a tale that could have come off of the mean streets of Chandler’s Los Angles or Hammet’s San Francisco, or Chicago or New York or Boston but it takes place in Frankfurt, Germany – the dullest town in Germany, except it isn’t. One Man, One Murder was originally written in 1991 as Ein Mann, ein Mord. Melville International Crime provided me with this Galley of the translation and after reading it, it’s jumped to the top of the list of ‘Best Surprise Book’ of the year. In an original voice, Arjouni tells such a true story and he tells it so well, maintaining tension throughout, dialogue that is  clever, witty, and sad and an atmosphere that James M. Cain would have been proud of.

Kemal Kayankaya is the orphaned son of a Turkish garbage collector, a German Citizen, born and bred. But, because he is of Turkish extraction he encounters suspicion and racism wherever he goes. He meets them with a smart assed attitude and a cynical, jaded tongue.

A piece of dialog while Kemal is trying to rent an office:

“Well then, Mr. Kayankaya, I see you are a private investigator. That’s an interesting name…Kayankaya.” “Not really that interesting. Just Turkish.” I see.” The saccharine content of his smile increases; his eye slits are no wider than a razor’s edge.”Turkish. A Turkish private investigator? What do you know…I hope you don’t mind my asking, but – how come you speak such good German?” “It’s the only language I know. My parents died when I was a child, and I was raised by a German family.” “But – but you are a Turk? I mean —“ “ I have a German passport, if that makes you feel better.”…..”Mind showing it to me?”

And this from when he meets his new client:

“How did you find me? “ He looked startled….”You must have checked the Yellow Pages. But why Kayankaya, why not Muller?” “Because she is Thai, and I thought…” “You thought Thailand and Turkey both start with a ‘T’?” “How could I have known you’re a Turk? On the contrary, I expected – but…”

…They visit exhibitions in New York and go on safaris in Africa: they smoke hashish in Cairo, eat Japanese food, and purpose to teach democracy to Muscovites; they are “international” down to their Parisian underwear – but they are not able to recognize a Turk unless he is carrying a garbage can under his arm and leading a string of ten unwashed brats.

 

This book would have worked so well as just a comic take on the American Hardboiled detective transplanted to Europe in the late 80’s; as a cynical updating of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but Arjouni had loftier goals. And he achieved them in spades. Sam Spades. It is Arjouni’s willingness to confront serious social issues and display them in the light of a hardboiled/noir novel, with an avoidance of clichés, intelligent observation, and dialog that is both realistic and acid-tinged. And to do it all without preaching. He kind of reminds me of the great Walter Mosley in that regard.

 

Another piece of dialog where Kayankaya channels Sam Spade in his violent reaction:

“What’s your name, nigger?”   So, I said to myself, this must be their guy with the communications skills.I took the cigarette out of my mouth and studied its glowing tip for a moment. His beery breath struck my face. I looked at him and said very quietly: “Listen, pig. Another word out of you, and I’ll see to it that you won’t be able to stand up, sit down, or fuck – ever again.”

And then a few seconds later, he switches to the cynical humor:

(Mrs. Steiner, a bureaucratic receptionist who has just refused to serve or speak to Kayankaya because he appears to be a minority gives an explanation and then Kayankaya says…) “If you are not telling me the truth…” “I beg your pardon…” Despite her obvious fear that our argument might turn into a free for all, Mrs. Steiner looked indignant. “ I am a civil servant!”

 

This particular story opens when Kayankaya  takes on a new client, Herr Weidenbusch, who has discovered that love is never roses and springtime when your girlfriend is a Thai immigrant that has been kidnapped by a gang of pimps. This isn’t the first time either, and the simpering Weidenbusch, with his pink eyeglasses and colorful wrist watches, who rebels against his mother at the age of 40 or so, wants to get her back. He has “paid her debt” to the brothel that sponsored her, and paid for a fake passport so that Weidenbusch can marry her, and now they apparently want more. Kayankaya recognizes a name from the place where Sri Dao Rakdee worked.  “The Lady Bump”, a shady bar and house of prostitution in Frankfurt’s “Eros Center’. Slibulsky is a low life, depraved and shady criminal, a degenerate gambler no loyalty and a broken arm. He just blew a fifty thousand mark inheritance at a roulette table and is working off a further debt to the owner of the establishment. He is also a ‘friend’ of Kayankaya. The kind of friend you hope the other guy has. But Slibulsky has his ear to the ground of the Frankfurt underground and soon opens some doors to dark places where Kayankaya seeks Sri Dao.

Along the way Kayankaya encounters deadly crime bosses, indifferent and crooked cops, violent muscle men, a landlord who wants his money, an illegal immigrant ring that sells the hopefuls fake visas and then disposes of them – the hopefuls, not the visas, a miasma of bureaucratic and social injustice and racial prejudice that mirrors Americas own. The air of contemporary Europe’s racial politics and inane nationalism are the maze that Kayankaya navigates in his quest but he is well equipped with a sharp mind, a sharper tongue and meets these challenges with a cynical, smart-assed attitude and an anti-authority front. There are enough seeming dead ends, as almost any detective novel requires, but instead of having them …dead end, Arjouni has them turn into very interesting ‘small mysteries’ or stories inside the story.Jakob Arjouni Arjouni is a consummate professional. His prose are efficient with a minimalists approach that Hemingway would love, but not so minimalist that he doesn’t manage to fully develop the characters without using stock, stereotypes, and he makes them way too real. He also paints scenes both colorful and dark about the underbelly of a city and maintains a pace that lingers just enough in all the right places.

The only criticism I have for this otherwise master work is that it took to damn long to get it translated and released in English. Well, Melville International Crime has fixed that, and thank you very much.

 

 

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

http://the-dirty-lowdown.blogspot.com/

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Crime Always Pays: EIGHTBALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke

Among all of the recent crop of Irish crime novelists, it seems to me that Declan Burke is ideally poised to make the transition to a larger international stage.– John Connolly, author of THE WHISPERERS

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“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and its name is Declan Burke.” – Ken Bruen, author of THE GUARDS

Down in the Old Quarter, two times out of three you flip a double-headed coin, it comes down on its edge.
  ‘Last time, it doesn’t come down at all …’
When the wife of a politician keeping the Government in power is murdered, Sligo journalist Harry Rigby is one of the first on the scene, where he quickly discovers that he’s in out of his depth when it transpires that the woman’s murder is linked to an ex-paramilitary gang’s attempt to seize control of the burgeoning cocaine market in the Irish Northwest. Harry’s ongoing feud with his ex-partner Denise over their young son’s future doesn’t help matters, and then there’s Harry’s ex-con brother Gonzo, back on the streets and mean as a jilted shark …

Crime Always Pays: EIGHTBALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke

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