I Didn’t Say That Did I –July 2010. Book Reviews.

Long Time Dead by Tony Black.

In Tony Black’s Long Time Dead , journalist turned reluctant private investigator Gus Dury is in the gutter again but he’s still looking at the stars, albeit through the bottom of a bottle of whisky.

Long Time Dead starts off with Gus waking up in hospital, after a particularly prolific drinking session, and being told that he’s close to knocking on heaven’s door. Gus, of course, ignores the doctor’s advice and immediately checks out of the hospital. After a little arm-twisting, he decides to help out his best friend, Hod, and investigate the suspicious death by hanging of a famous actress’ son.

While sniffing around, Gus finds a rancid trail that leads from the top end of Edinburgh society down into its murky sewers. And back again.

Punch-drunk and booze addled, Gus’ shoulders have more chips than Harry Ramsden and he just can’t stop kicking against the pricks in his puke encrusted Doc Martins.

Gus isn’t for everyone, of course, and his scatter shot bile can be wide of the mark – a man wearing eyeliner, how shocking Gus!- but when he’s on target you’re with him all the way.

LONG TIME DEAD is another urban classic from Tony Black and fans of the previous Gus Dury books – Paying For It, Gutted & Loss – won’t be disappointed.

Ritual in the Dark By Colin Wilson

“Not since Dickens has a British fiction-writer dealt with murder in a book of such size and seriousness” – SUNDAY EXPRESS

Yes, well, I’m not too sure about that but Colin Wilson’s Ritual In The Dark is a cracking read and certainly a very. very British book.

I first got ‘into Colin Wilson– as I did many writers, artists  and filmmakers- via music.

In my later teens, one of my favourite bands was The Fall. The Fall‘s lead singer, okay dictator, was ,and remarkably still is, Mark E Smith.

Like me, Mark E Smith was an over-read, working class, Northern lad with no higher education  and who had left school at sixteen, blessed and cursed with an over ripe imagination.

The Fall, of course, were named after Alber Camus‘ best book but their previous name was The Outsiders, after another Camus book – which I first heard of via The Cure‘s first single. But there was another The Outsider, I discovered after reading a  MES interview. And one that wasn’t written by some namby-pamby Continental intellectual but by ‘an over-read, working class, Northern lad with no higher education  and who had left school at sixteen, blessed and cursed with an over ripe imagination.’

And so I started to immerse myself deeply in the weird and frightening world of Colin Wilson.Of course, I avoided The Outsider for a long time -philosophy, that great waste of the tax payers’ money- but I’d heard that he wrote dark crime stories,including one,The Killer, which is partly set in my home town of Hartlepool.

Hartlepool library, in fact, had lots of his books and you could usually find them in charity shops, which is where I found Ritual In The Dark.

So, ‘Ritual’ is that now over egged pudding, a serial killer story. A ‘modern day’ Jack The Ripper tale -which would be called a period piece now. It’s  a kind of British Crime and Punishment which takes place in a sexually and socially repressed 1950’s Britain and a vividly drawn Soho. Written in 1949 but published in 1960 it is distinctly  pre- The Beatles (pre -rebellious youth) and post WW2.

It is also a distinctly British exploration of existential extremes featuring a murderer who kills as a creative act, a positive rebellion against the supposed unimportance of his existence. Bit a twat, then.

Post war angst in a world where ‘we’ve never had it so good’ isn’t good enough.

Let’s see what dark fiction Cameron’s Britain can throw up!

Rat Pack Confidential

Shawn Levy (2008)

Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey & the Last Great Showbiz Party’

The Rat Pack were formerly known as the Clan until they turned up at a Noel Coward gig in Las Vegas looking so rough that Lauren Bacall said they looked “like a goddamn rat pack”.

The Rat Pack were, of course, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
Levy’s exhilarating spiked cocktail kicks off in Las Vegas in January 1960 when Sinatra summons a group of friends there to make a movie. It was a time when Frank and his Pack pretty much owned the world of showbiz and defined what stardom was all about.
In Rat Pack Confidential we go on a bar crawl with stars,starlets, mobsters, corrupt politicos – even the President of the United States is a major player and far from saintly. It’s a booze up that turns into a monster hangover after just four adrenalin, ego and drink pumped years.
But it’s not just a biography of five famous men. It’s a biography of Vegas – its neon brightness casting sordid shadows, its murky corners – and of an era; an era burning out.

Most biographies- especially showbiz biographies- are as flat as week old champagne but Levy’s prose sparkles and fizzes and is damn well intoxicating. He pulls no punches in showing the Rat Pack’s unpleasant sides – the picture he paints shows their spiritual impotence as much as their cultural importance.

I reread this book last year, a decade since I’d last read it, and I loved it just as much on the second reading.

Ring a ding ding!

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