I read this one for the Cannonball Run Bingo, category: “This is the End.” It is the last book in the Factory Series.
I first came across Derek Raymond’s work on a list of unheralded dystopias. He had written his A State of Denmark in the late-60s in response to British politics of that time. I liked his voice as a write but couldn’t connect with the main character and so I set the book aside.
A few months later, I discovered the “Backlisted” podcast, where a few British gents go through old books and give their thoughts on the work and the writer. I enjoyed their episode on Raymond Chandler*, so I figured I’d check out the one on Raymond and A State of Denmark, not caring much that the ending would be spoiled for me. As they talked about Raymond’s work, they brought up his Factory series novels, which he began over a decade later, saying that his writing had improved. I noticed in my (very long) Amazon Wish List that I had the first book in the series buried on there for the last few years so I decided to try.
What I discovered was unlike anything I’d ever read in a mystery series. Raymond’s nameless detective works at the bottom rung of the police investigation ladder, looking into horrible murders involving London’s underclass. He sees himself as a true champion of these; finding justice for them in a city and state that would just as soon ignore their deaths. These books are not political in a partisan sense but they are dogmatic in how they view justice. The neo-manichean nameless detective might as well be an Old Testament prophet with a badge and an English accent.
This one is far from my favorite in the series. The assailant is a Jack the Ripper type and I’ve never been a fan of gruesome murders centered around the bloodied bodies of women. There’s also too much “getting in the mind of a serial killer”, another genre I don’t enjoy (this was a lot more fun when the detective got into the “mind” of the person who’s death he was investigating in book one of the series He Died With His Eyes Open.). But make no mistake, it’s always fun to see the nameless detective in action, giving the middle finger to the powers of the world in a way we wish we all could. A decent Factory book is better than 95% of the other crime novels I read.
The series is best summed up in this rumination from the third book in the series, How the Dead Live…
What maddened me sometime with my work at A14 was I could not get justice for these people until they were dead. These university dropouts, 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, drug’s, folk of every age, color and past, they all had the despair in common the made them gabble out their raging dreams in any shelter they could find…In the day, you could see them, white, faded, and stained dafter such nights in winter; I saw them at the morning round up…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 still the politicians blag serenely on, as though poverty, since they have no policy for it, didn’t exist.
I will miss this series.
*Random fact: “Derek Raymond” is a pseudonym for Robin Cook. Cook used “Raymond” as a last name in honor of Chandler.