He Died with his Eyes Open, by Derek Raymond

He Died with His Eyes Open (Factory 1) is a stunning, shocking novel which manages to transcend the genre of crime fiction in a similar way that, for example, James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler do. I rate Raymond above either Ellroy or Chandler though: his books, like the very best of literature, hold the reader’s attention throughout but continue to provoke thoughts and questions long after you have finished reading.

The book’s narrator is an un-named policeman from “The Factory”, investigating the brutal death of an alcholic writer. While listening to the writer’s diary-like collection of cassette tapes, the policeman finds himself questioning his own life, and increasingly empathising with this intellectual slummer who was uncommonly charitable and yet despised by many of those he came into contact with. By the end of the book, the taped monologues started to affect me, the reader, in a similar way.

There are also some absolutely wonderfully constructed word-portraits in here. It’s almost worth the price of the book just for the single paragraph where Raymond imagines the possible future trajectory of a junkie’s life, through a sort of forced redemption to a dismal yet insignificant conclusion.

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