Phenomena like the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy are a constant fascination to me. What they seem to show is that no one has any idea at all why some books take off and some don’t. Quality doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it at all. Crap novels become best sellers, wonderful novels become remainders. The big publishers throw money at some of their titles, and they still bomb. Word of mouth is meant to be king, yet everyone I know who has read Fifty Shades etc (or claims to have done so) is lukewarm. How many sold? Twenty million?
Thus I now crave your indulgence as friends, real and virtual, to name two books by two authors you won’t have heard of, and give you tasters of their work. This is done, naturally, with their full permission, and I have absolutely no commercial interest in either of them. One is a friend called Margaret, the other a friend called John. John’s book is a police procedural called No Place for Dinosaurs, and the other a weird and wonderful short novel called only ‘J’.
|Policeman's lot. Kindle cover by Matti Gardner|
John – whose full name, and writing name, is John Morrison – is an ex-detective inspector with a northern police force, whom I met when I ran a writing class/group a couple of years ago. The book was only two or three chapters then, and he read it out to us as he went along. Everybody threw in their two-pennyworth, and I threw in my ‘experience and expertise’.
We all thought that this book was something special (despite some eccentric punctuation, which will soon be fully ironed out.) Its USP to a lifelong fan of police procedurals like me is its extraordinary authenticity. John’s detectives, and his ‘victims’, and his evocation of miserable, early morning crime scenes, the reactions of a pair of parents when told their sixteen year old daughter has been raped and murdered, the social milieu of fellow cops and journalists, the drunken, needy landlord of the all night boozer they frequent – all these things are touchable, feelable, tasteable.
It has the peculiar effect of making time go slowly. Unlike most detective books, it is not telescoped to make it race along. From day to day the investigation sort of grinds. The parents, the police, everyone, is worn down by the complex hopelessness. You can see and feel people falling to pieces. It is not, to put it simply, romantic. Not in any way. It has the ring of awful truth. It feels as though you are an exhausted, hung over policeman, struggling constantly not to go under from the pressures. You understand how awful it must be, sometimes, to be a policeman. And although time goes slowly, the book is truly gripping. You know it happened. And is happening still…
My other book is harder to categorise, and I honestly don’t know how most people will react to it. It tells the story of an art student called J, who takes a job in a café to eke out her existence. She lives in an Edwardian terrace in Liverpool, and her landlady, she realises, is a ‘madame’. The gentlemen go in and out, quiet and respectable, and J watches them. And wonders.
One evening, after work, ‘Chef’ at the café invites her to share a bottle with him. Almost without her knowing why or how, J is full length on her back on the cool steel table, being…well, you name it, J really cannot. She knows she enjoys it, she does not know why, and it is not discussed. Again, there is a weird authenticity. Something inexplicable is happening, and the next night, it happens again – still inexplicably. She does not even know if she likes it, or whether she is doing something ‘wrong.’ At the end of every chapter, a different voice comments on the action, in the third person. And gives us some indication of J’s life before the brothel and steel table, the family life that is possibly so normal it is strange.
|Frank, exotic, and disturbing|
The friend who wrote it is not called Margaret McCann, and she is in fact a well known northern artist. She, like me, is not completely sure about what the book says, or means, and she is afraid some people might find it pornographic. Certainly the sex is extraordinarily frank, and extraordinarily detailed, and (to little old down-country me?) amazingly exotic. Quite honestly, I did not know some of the practices and devices ‘inflicted’ on J by Chef (and later her landlady) existed. Exotic, yes. Erotic? Well, I’m not so sure. And while J herself is brutalised, exploited, prostituted – she never feels that she is a victim, or that Chef and his friends are abusing her. Whether or not it is anything like Fifty Shades, etc, I’m not likely to find out. But if that trilogy is dull, J is not. It is gripping, throat grabbing, and disturbing.
It went the usual dreary round of the ‘profession,’ with agents and publishers making the usual claims about how 'mega' it could be. No one published it, though; you know the story - it's the story, probably, of Shades of Grey. It’s due out now under my imprint Skinback Books, which is a label and a logo intended to act as a focus in an overcrowded world. Any money it might earn goes straight to Margaret McCann.
|The criminal side of crime|
I’ve sorted out some extracts of both these novels, to feature on my website janneedle.com with blurbs and pointers. Have a look. See if you mght agree.
In the meantime, onwards and upwards. I spend so much time in the virtual world these days that I still haven’t finished the sequel to Kicking Off But it won’t be long now.
And a PS from the ‘real’ world. I’ve just read a book called Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. It’s astonishing, and uncategorisable. Except to say that if you love Kate Atkinson (and I do, I do, I do!) you’ll love this too. It kept me up all night.
No Place for Dinosaurs
No Place for Dinosaurs
Review of Kicking Off: http://indieebookreview.wordpress.com/category/thrillercrime/page/2/
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