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Derek Raymond's Factory Novels

Used bookstores are used bookstores anywhere you go--even Down Under--and thus it should come as no surprise that one of the coolest books I picked up during my recent trip to Australia wasn't even Australian: Derek Raymond's How the Dead Live. I've read Raymond before, but it's been many years, so I had the wonderful experience of only vaguely remembering the novels, and thus being able to re-read How the Dead Live on the plane home as if for the first time.

Raymond's brilliance in his British version of noir fiction stems from his ability to cross-pollinate the form with a bracing existentialism and dark exploration of memory and sadness. Even today, with the explosion of interesting hybrids by authors like Ken Bruen, Raymond manages to shock and amaze in his mixture of the hardboiled and the lyrical. (Not to mention, a surprising gruff humor.)

Just one excerpt from How the Dead Live to give you a taste:

How the Dead Live 
(Nothing's better in life than a home-made photo of a cherished used book...)

"What maddened me sometimes with my work at A14 was that I could not get any justice for these people until they were dead. These university drop-outs, these mad barefoot beauties that had been turned away from home who staggered down the streets with plastic bags filled with old newspapers against the cold--wrongo's, drugo's, folk of every age, colour, and past, they all had that despair in common that made them gabble out their raging dreams in any shelter they could find. They screamed at each other in Battersea, moaned over their empty cider bottles in Vauxhall, not having the loot for a night in Rowton House, their faces the colour of rotten stucco under the glare of the white lights at Waterloo Bridge and wreathed in the diesel fumes of the forty-ton fruit trucks that pounded up from Kent to Nine Elms all night long. In the days you could see them, white, faded and stained after such nights in winter; I saw them at the morning round-up at the Factory, waiting in various moods to be taken for sentencing at Great Marlboro Street--the thin, crazy faces, strange noses, eyes, hands rendered noble by madness and hunger, the rusty punctures in their arms, their whiplash tongues, and then, later, the flat, sullen grief of their meaningless statements to the magistrate."

And, even with this kind of description interspersed in his narratives, Raymond also delivers snappy dialogue, fast-paced plots, and amazing character studies.

Luckily, Five Star Paperbacks has reissued the Factory novels in nifty trade paperbacks with introductions by stars like Will Self--including the controversial fourth installment, I Was Dora Suarez, which, when first published, pushed the boundaries of graphic depictions of violence (just reissued in November of last year). Go forth and discover Raymond for yourself if you haven't already:

The Devil's Home on Leave
He Died with His Eyes Open
How the Dead Live
I Was Dora Suarez

For more information on Raymond, check out his detailed and fascinating wikipedia entry.

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