I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. And it is of the Kindle ebook entitled ‘Nowhere to Go’ – short crime fiction – by Iain Rowan (Infinity Plus 2011) that I purchased via Amazon.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
One Step Closer
“The bank smelt of floor polish. Ward could taste the pickle from the sandwich he had eaten an hour earlier.”
An hour earlier life had been so different. An hour ago I had not owned, not even ordered this ebook (a general format about which I have previously voiced various public opinions) – now it’s ‘in my hand’ – and I have read the first story – and, so, since an hour ago my life has possibly changed direction. For good. We shall see. And this story is on that theme. How a moment can alter everything. Here being innocently (if fate is innocent) caught in an ostensibly amateurish one-man bank heist – and the decisions to be made, one’s own foolhardinesses to be faced then possibly employed – all in a series of turning-points based on knowledge one may have gained in bits and pieces (often unnoticeably) during one’s whole lifetime – and missed chances that, if taken, may have been disastrous or positively crucial – so may be best not to miss the next chance whatever the considered risk based on whatever the flimsiest experience one may have had of the slightest pivot or technicality – especially if one’s strength of fellow-feeling makes one take that risk to see if it was a risk at all. There is this and so much more in ‘One Step Closer’ that I am left breathless, wondering whether to turn the page…. A story’s human lore and skilful suspense leading to the final pivot… (17 Feb 12 – 11.57 am gmt)
“Towards the end of the pier a solitary figure in yellow oilskins stood motionless beside a fishing rod, watching the arc of an invisible nylon line out into the restless swell.”
I am not an expert on so-called crime fiction (my speciality is usually Weird Fiction), and I’m never any good with plots of whodunnits etc (as my wife will confirm), but I know what I like. This story, in tune with the previous one, is compelling, page-turning, ostensibly straightforward, yet laced with creeping obliquities or striking images that take Rowan’s fiction considerably far above the run-of-the-mill or the workmanlike. I guess this observation of mine exemplifies one of his many writerly strengths: also as based on my previous experience of Rowan fiction. [‘Nemonymous’ published one of his first stories a number of years ago.] ‘The Chain’, a tale of sexual blackmail, seems to illuminate or extend what I said earlier about turning-points and the onward path of fate being or not being ‘innocent’: here demonstrated by a seemingly ‘scripted’ audit trail which is apparent in the story’s structure as well as its plot. Me being me, of course, I scratched my head for a while, till its dawning on me, with a great sigh of satisfaction, what a truly clever story this actually is. But (thankfully) I’m still not 100% clear… (17 Feb 12 – three hours later)
A Walk in the Park
“Killing a man was one thing, that was business, but killing a dog was just cruel.”
Should stories be read more than once to eke out their fullest meaning? This hit-man story, with bluff and counter-bluff of mastermind, perpetrator and victim, is, I’d assume, vintage Rowan (and I note that some of these stories were first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and elsewhere) – and I think we are being taken through a world of goose-chases and of going-through plot-hedges-backwards (cf: the pigeons here and in the previous story, and the earlier sea-gulls), a world that needs investigating just as if the reader has now become a type of fiction detective. But I shall give my views here based on my first readings alone, the sole single-minded way for any real-time reviewing to operate, I suggest. I enjoyed this tale of a tantalisingly recriminatory, motive- or shape-shifting crime-underworld. And I will enjoy it again, before long. I will, I will. One has to, with book-reviewer hit-men now squatting in one’s garden. (17 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)
One of Us
“…nodding his head to a beat which wasn’t that which was coming from the buzzy loudspeakers,…”
Hey, sweethearts, I hope we are all enjoying this review. This story is a linear ‘fictionalised’ monologue couched in perfect English, as compelling as the previous stories, all from the first person point of view of a struggling illegal immigrant in England, working in a burger bar, having been a medical student back in the home country. It is a skilfully believable scenario, despite that apparent contradiction of style or language, with us (or at least one of us) having been exposed to a suspension of disbelief by dint of that counter-‘beat’ to tune each reader’s existence and a ‘mirror’ as a final check to see who we really are, or at least one of us. Another clever story (perhaps even cleverer than it thinks it is!) carrying messages about a crime underworld and the tragic perception of ever-exponential exploitations… (18 Feb 12 – 10.00 a.m. gmt)
And those exponential exploitations are like the earlier scripted chain…? (19 Feb 12 – 7.56 a.m gmt)
Two Nights’ Work
“I think that they saw in me one of their own, another inhabitant of the world measured out by the staggering ticks of the clock above the bar, and the bell beneath it that marked out last orders, the end of the day.”
They keep on coming. Another clever and compelling logica-potentia of a ‘crime’, another seemingly ineluctable concertina of omniscience and half-knowledge, in reader, protagonist, hidden narrator, even the head-lease author himself… A con trick that needed at least ‘one of us’ to know the truth behind the exponential motives, and it’s not always the overt first person singular, I guess. Meanwhile, a valuably puckish portrait of a back-street British pub and its regulars and irregulars… and loveable landlord. (19 Feb 12 – a happy hour later)
“He peed into the hedge, not much coming out, but it was a nervous habit turned good luck totem, so he had to do it.”
I was wondering if the crime in crime fiction, so called as a genre, is immoral or amoral, almost moral? Here we have a rough diamond, a simple-minded, chancing-one’s-arm rogue, but one following the rules of crime as he sees it, with a respectful regard for the rule of law and the sanctity of life, and not really wanting to hurt people beyond a certain benchmark of conscience. More a game than a sin. More luck than judgement. However, the mixed motives and undercurrents of philosophical Ethics here are really quite brilliant, in both pointed and oblique ways. You need a strong nerve, if not a strong bladder. And an imagination to fit. And a healthy acceptance that omniscience is never possible from even the party actively perpetrating, let alone from parties lower down the narrative pecking-order of, or from parties (like most of us) who simply have the easy job of being in passive receipt of, the art of fiction. And a good sense of down-uppance. And the legal niceties of defending one’s own home. “A story. That’s what’s needed. A story.” (19 Feb 12 – another two hours later)
“–then it’s going to be part of the chain of evidence…”
…like the re-positioning of the chairs in an office with its built-in pecking-order, like the trivial insistence on coffee — or like money-laundering with or without counterfeit currency not being a million miles from the Bank of England’s recent Quantitative Easing? This story has a similar ‘sting’ to that in ‘Two Nights’ Work’. A similar tempting of innocent fate as in ‘One Step Closer’. And a parallel tempting out of any ‘acceptable’ amorality of business folk these days and other fat cats (just like that ‘acceptable’ rogue in ‘Easy Job’). But is the story’s ending what it seems? Or is it itself fake? The chain of evidence goes on even after the story has ended, I guess, and whether or what was real and whether or what was plant? I found myself yet again in a compelling page-turner, till I couldn’t turn another page (it seems strange with an ebook talking about its amorphous ipad spinning pages) without hitting a new story head-on. And I’m still not sure who is feeding the book’s complex of motives into the merest mention of the spinning of combinations in a lock or, perhaps, just another man-trap (like that man-trap just beyond a cat-flap): me or the author or, even, the Governor of the Bank of England who puts all that ink on e-banknotes? (19 Feb 12 – another 4 hours later)
“…saying over and over again, she’s all there is, she’s all there is, and the visceral thud, thud of the double bass echoed the beating of my heart.”
Synchronously, yesterday, I real-time reviewed a story (Empty of Words, the Page), one of similar power regarding obsessional love (or lust) with tingling touch and scent: leading to almost another ‘chain letter’ situation where the script is due to repeat itself – in ‘Moths’ gradually becoming less and less unrequited as a passion in parallel with the subject of the passion growing visibly less herself, perhaps, older (but we all grow old over time): another Rowanesquely exponential logica-potentia of a plot, page-turning compulsively almost by itself: and I genuinely became so involved with the scene on the bridge over the river (that onward riparian course of ‘innocent’ fate), I retrospectively did not feel I had been reading anything but actually having experienced the events for real. The sign of masterly writing. And so sparely done. (20 Feb 12)
Chairman of the Bored
“And how this chain of events started is no more important, no more meaningful than how it ended.”
Chairman or chain of events? A spoken soliloquy – his life’s legacy. to those he leaves behind, recorded on old-fashioned tape (recorded over his Dad’s favourite Beatles tracks) – an arguably desperate plea in disguise by a hard nut who tell us that he doesn’t care whom he hurts (in interesting contrast with our ‘Easy Job’ friend) with tales of cruelty and crime he has perpetrated – someone who finds everything makes him bored, even important things of life and death. As in the very first story, one needs to turn this story’s final page into potential blank unknowing… and whether the recorded script will be written again and again to allow a concertina of other performances to replace his own performance in our boring sad deprived unfair world of life and then death, of life and then death, like a beating out of a seemingly endless rhythm of ‘visceral thuds’ towards the final spinning silence… Depends upon whether the chain breaks when he kicks that chair away. (20 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)
The Remains of My Estate
“The only thing worse than an amoral violent parasite, is an amoral violent parasite who thinks that he is funny.”
And like that incessant rhythm of ‘visceral thuds’, here is another soliloquy, but a substantially longer exposition of a broken community and its leeches, not recorded artificially on tape, but a paean of actual narrative pain fictionalised by your onward sweep of a sink estate, drug dealers, debt collectors, now become part of that aforementioned concertina of eventual metaphorical kickings of a chair from beneath you in various attempted methods of mortal escape: but here the chair has a new identity: it is literally the Chairman himself, the Walker, the Strutter of that sink estate — so not your own suicide as such, but the amoral forced killing (kicking away) of that very Walker, a killing to prove that ends justify the means: a culmination from deprivation and child abuse, mixed with a narrative’s deadly humour, yet laced with a golden hope that only the art of fiction can produce from the dross with which it treats. All of which is primed by this whole book’s foregoing preparation of the amoral high ground, its chain of scorched earth policies across which terrains you can seek both self-sacrifice and self-satisfaction with merely a shrug of acceptance: then getting on with your life between watching the dreary TV programmes that keep excessive pain at bay with their own pain and, yes, boredom. (20 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later).
Nowhere to Go
“He hid in his flat, watched TV…”
Not only this collection’s perfect coda as far as its chain of thematic variations is concerned but also, with it being an ebook, it travels beyond your earlier thoughts above about the dreary TV’s slow death that trapped most people like you within its increasingly countless screens ever since the electronic ice-age of the early 1950s onward, here trapping you now (in the noughties-plus) in the persona of a chronic homebird who was once treated officially for paranoia or some such illness but, as you say, aptly, leading you now towards further entrapment within the internet and its relentlessly aspirational connections and summoned virtual flashmobs and irritable bowel syndromes of social networking and flaming discussion forums and self-pimping blogs – tonight watching an unmanned webcam of a dreary city square where there should be no interest in so doing other than the interest that you are watching it for no reason other than for its own sake… leading to these stories’ endemic concertina logica-potentia of exponential persecution in camera obscura where you become the watched you’re watching…. a closing shot that optimises the Rowan world I have lived in for the last few days: spare, yet essentially rich, prose revealing, compelling into existence more about myself than I ever thought I would witness from outside myself as someone else, time and time again. A splendid guest gestalt from the world of electronic books wherein pages are turning forever even when nobody is reading them, or so you assume. Driving yourself round in circles of madness. Leaving the last page blank.
Great examples of crime fiction, too, I am sure. (20 Feb 12 – another 90 minutes later)