the m john harrison blog

Tag: crime

Friday is not my house
I’m coming round yours midnight
& steal the cats I love so much.
You can have your same old problem
Get one-up on those detectives
In the workplace, it won’t
Keep me off the case
Or cure the actors of acting.

who is anyone kidding here

Or knows which way up anything is. You need a lot of bolts & sometimes even that’s not enough. There’s no certainty this is the neck or that, even if it is, it’ll hold the head on. Just the usual sounds of the floor being up, probably in the wrong room, & a cheerful sense of applied despair. All morning connecting three feet of pipe to nothing. Fucked ducting. Defibrillators, dessicant dehumidifiers & now something like a lobster the size of a kiddy but without a shell, stuffed in there for reasons no right minded person could entertain. You’re late, you brought the wrong tools & you’re supposed to think of this as the chassis? Then shouts from near a stream (they sound like they come out of the Brueghel in the middle distance) & your mother’s voice from, really, a long time ago, asking what’s the story & advising you put that arm down. You’re in the wrong house again, Jack, & it’s rain later.



As the weeks pass next door’s clock strikes louder & louder. Other people’s cancer & knee operations sharpen themselves into a clear narrative. Meanwhile the dogs poke their dignified noses through the hedge & you meet a very old woman cheerfully jogging up hill. “Just getting my legs going!” It’s even more interesting than the animal noises at night. No release–no relief–is necessary: but in that case–those cases–there would always be the woods. You tell yourself, “The valley is not uncanny.” & it’s true, isn’t it? Off to the nearest town then & buy things. In the street you almost tread on something. That bruise on your arm is new.

the things you read

When did I become a helpless fan of Thomas H Cook’s crime novels? 1992? 1993? I can’t remember. Neither can I remember why. No rationales, no excuses. It was the right time in my life for the battered Frank Clemons and his weirdly metaphysical understanding of his own and others’ motivations. Lines like this helped: “He wanted to begin something, but he did not know what … He didn’t know what he was waiting for, but only that when it came, it would be wrapped in something else…” (Flesh and Blood, 1989.) By 1996, UK publishing seemed to have lost interest in Cook and I drifted away too. Somehow, Colin Harrison’s books began to fill the same slot for me. (I don’t understand that either.) But now I’m loading myself up with all that good Frank Clemons stuff again, this time via Kindle.

defensive postures

Plot is a list of boxes you tick in case the customer notices you haven’t. You wouldn’t want to be caught out. It would be awful to hear a single below-the-liner say, voice rank with sarcasm & faked-up outrage, “In this day? Surely not that, in this day & age of CCTV? & didn’t she have a mobile? & sober on a Saturday night, I don’t think so, do you?” So there’s always a smartphone, some emails, some binge drinking & a security camera the data from which is available or not available. All you need is, “Apparently there’s just the one tape & they record over it,” & the box is ticked. Plot-patches–responses to some change in the culture at large, applied years ago to make the latest crock seem up-to-date–have become the plot. The story is constrained by fixes applied in advance; it lurches from one defensive posture to the next. “Wait a minute! Surely, in this day & age, she’d call him out on that broody bullshit schtick of his? Better get that into dialogue!” “Have we covered the religious aspect? Better get a vicar in. Better make him posh.” If the world portrayed seems mad, awkward, oblique to the one it’s supposed to be set in (ie, ours), that’s because it was constructed by a professional’s view not of what the world is, but of what a script is: every character, every scene, every piece of dialogue has been decided not by appeal to the world outside but to the requirements & anxieties of the medium itself. (“What’s her motive here? Better get it into dialogue!”) I wouldn’t even call it lazy: talented, well-paid, energetic people have gone to a great deal of trouble to make it so formally rigid & so irrelevant to anything but the terraced awareness of professionals. Their mounting panic is codified. The stories themselves become a cry for help, which can be heard in every twist & turn, every shred of dialogue: Let us out of the editorial suite & into somewhere real!


narrative structure

An old black cat on the garden wall. A few fine flakes of snow, more like paper ash, start then stop. Start again, stop again. I wonder if an idea can be written one way, then if it can be written another: after this examination the idea seems like rubbish anyway and I close the file, but don’t, for the moment, bin it. Instead I email a friend, “I wish someone had shot the monomyth through the bathroom door & was now standing trial for it in front of the Pryce jury,” then feel ashamed of myself and add: “I’m sorry, that was glib and unpleasant.” Then I bin the email and reopen the file. The cat has reached the end of the wall. He looks over the edge, sits down as if to give it some thought. Paper ash snow in his coat. I’m guilty on all counts this morning. I even had sugar on the porridge. Later I’ll make up for it somehow.

i’ll wait here

The man in my garden stares up & points. “There’s something wrong in there.” I look down out of the window at him & tell him there’s no one in here but me. “That’s not quite right,” the man in my garden says: “I’m in there too.” He claims he is the thief of death who takes from people their mortality, leaving them suspended & abjectly juvenile forever. “I’m afraid you’re not quite right in yourself,” he tells me now: “If I can see that, you can see that too.” I say that we all need to grow up, I say I appreciate his metaphor: but I wonder how he got into my garden. “You’re too fat to have come over the fence. In addition, it’s my experience that mortality is brought home to the individual through unavoidable circumstance, not education.” How, I ask him, can he steal that from anyone? “Speaking of the unavoidable, go back in your room, have a look,” he suggests, “I’ll wait here.”

in the crime quarter

He worked out of a small office the only feature of which was the clarity and interest of the screen saver images. They were beachscapes exotic & hard to place, with a sharp, travelogue quality. He had the screen positioned so it was impossible to ignore these glimpses as they dissolved softly into one another; while to the client he presented the city as a surf of buildings & people & consumer goods. The motives that powered it were tidal. Unpredictable winds played against masses of water, currents too complex to understand. Crimes were whipped off the crest of events like spray. “A great wave,” he would explain, “composed of the billion actions of the very citizens it curls so threateningly above!” It was the perfected experience of art, he said, in the perfect space–art as an aspect of architectonic and thence, with perfect logic, of lifestyle. His clientele were not so sure. These carefully groomed & dressed art tourists would look across the desk at him with a kind of puzzled distaste, & wonder if they were in the process of making a mistake. They understood their own inauthenticity: they weren’t, at the outset anyway, so certain about his. The women had come for the sensorium porn. The men, though they would pretend to enjoy “seeing the world from a different point of view”, were only interested in donkey crime.

i said i can’t do it

A child several houses away, shouting, “I said I can’t do it! I said I can’t do it! I said I can’t do it!” over & over again. At first it was part of a game with another child, with a pause for laughter between each iteration. Then the other child dropped out & it took on values & momentum of its own, on & on, real meaning, real confusion & rage. After two or three minutes I realised it wasn’t even her own rage, any more than the sentence itself. It was the rage of some significant adult, overheard in god knows what circumstances.