Monday, 31 August 2009


My obituary of Toni Sailer, the greatest of the pre-television era skiers, Austrian movie star and crooner, coach, teacher, and race chief for the Hahenkamn downhill at Kitzbuehel, is in today's Independent, you can find it here. I encountered Sailer briefly while working for ABC Sports; Kitzbuehel was always a difficult show for me, with persistent small problems with the organisers, and after a day full of small niggling arguments, it would be fun to watch Sailer charm the hell out of anyone he encountered. The nature of Austrian celebrity might have seemed somewhat simple to me; but Sailer's mere presence would double visibly the gemutlichheit in any gathering.

Sunday, 30 August 2009


Douglas Lindsay was first officer on a destroyer sunk by a German U-Boat, a sinking he believes he could have prevented had he stood up to the ship's captain. Since his mother is German, and he is fluent in the language, he is now working for Naval Intelligence as an interrogator, and he is convinced that the Germans are reading Britain's naval signals. Unknown to him, the British are desperate to protect the fact that they have broken the Germans' own, Enigma code, and Lindsay, with his German background (and a cousin who is himself a U-Boat captain) is always under suspicion. But when one of the foremost U-Boat skippers, the man who sunk Lindsay's own ship, is captured, Lindsay is called in for the crucial questioning, and something more than a battle of wits, or wills, ensues.

From this synopsis you will see why reviewers compared Williams' debut novel to Robert Harris' Enigma, and Williams' own background as a documentary producer and author of World War II history reinforced that comparison. (Although, as an aside, I marvel at how Enigma received a pass from British historical nit-pickers, since in reality its Polish villain would not have been allowed anywhere near Bletchley, despite the Poles having given the British an enigma machine and gone some way toward cracking its codes.) Williams' setting, within naval intelligence (where a certain Ian Fleming is an important officer) and indeed within wartime London, is utterly convincing, atmospheric enough to sometimes remind me of Alan Furst.

Williams story rests on two different matters of suspense, the first, will Lindsay get the information he wants, is the weaker of the two, but it is the one that persists, and its solution is rather telegraphed (that is, unencrypted) and somewhat melodramatic; we've seen it in too many cop shows. The stronger element of suspense is the question of where Lindsay's loyalties lie, and as long as Williams is able to perpetuate the ambiguity of his position, the worry that perhaps he is more interested in uncovering British secrets than German ones, the better the story is. This is true because beyond the mystery of codes central to the plot, Lindsay has begun a relationship with Mary Henderson, an academic and the only woman in an analyst's position. This provides a parallel story, because their relationship also revolves around protecting secrets from each other, they both talk in codes, and there are moments when Lindsay becomes the interrogator with his lover, and moments when she realises that he has. This personal story helps pick up the slack when the nature of Lindsay's true loyalty is finally revealed, and really, I felt the book might have been better had it amplified its somewhat tragic wartime end, tragic both in terms of British shipping losses and Lindsay's own relationships, rather than providing a more bittersweet coda set long after the war.

These quibbles are small, because the nature of Williams' challenge was huge. He keeps this book involving, suspenseful and fascinating to the end, and it is a remarkable first novel.

The Interrogator
Andrew Williams
John Murray £6.99 ISBN 9780719523816

NOTE: This review also appears at

Sunday, 16 August 2009

HENRY PORTER'S DYING LIGHT: Welcome To Police State Britain

The Dying Light
Henry Porter
Orion £12.99 ISBN9780752874845

The problem with writing conspiracy novels, even one as gripping as The Dying Light, is that the conspiracy itself is always the strongest point: the ways in which the powerful conspire against you, use the machinery of the state, the inevitable betrayal by someone you trusted, the dark and shrinking corner into which you are inevitably backed. As a result, the weakest bit is often the resolution, the ways in which the intrepid hero/es manage to beat the system, and emerge victorious on the other side.

It's precisely because Henry Porter's portrayal of near-future Britain, in which the roots of the surveillance state which we have watched being planted all around us for the past decade have finally begun to blossom, is so chillingly accurate and believable, that this problem becomes, in narrative terms, almost insurmountable. Porter has been an eloquent and tireless campaigner against the unchecked growth of surveillance, the consolidation of power into the executive, the abuses of police power, and the diminishing of what British 'subjects' used to believe are their common-law rights as 'citizens'. This means that his picture of near-future Britain is not only chilling, but carries the ring of authenticity: it is really only a small step removed from what any of us have encountered at some point, dealing with officialdom and bureaucracy, and it makes Porter's problem of creating a believable fight-back against it all the more difficult.

His hero, David Eyam, the man committed to destroying the system, happens to be, as unlikely as it sounds, a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and he has just been blown up by a terrorist bomb in Colombia. Luckily for the story, Eyam is also incredibly wealthy, as well as being incredibly bright, incredibly well-connected, and relatively attractive. In short, not so much deus ex machina as deus ex Oxonia; hardly extraordinary, just your typical Oxford grad. So too his friend Kate Lockhart, former British intelligence officer turned American lawyer, whose backstory seems contrived primarily to help cast a Kate or Cate or Rachel or Kiera in the movie deal. Both these themes are reinforced by the book's cover image, which shows a woman, cycling through what looks like an Oxford college, looking back over her shoulder in the best gothic novel fashion.

In the end, however, Porter displays the power of the state so convincingly that he needs another insider, a third, more powerful, character to work against it, and here Peter Kilmartin is less a character than another Oxford type: the researcher into ancient history who just happens to be at the center of the government. Along the way you also get one powerful English solicitor, a few nobel members of the House of Lords, and one fatally attractive 'St. James Square' Library librarian without whom the whole thing would fall apart. I must keep my eyes open next time I'm in the London Library.

The plot also requires the presence of an outsider on the villain side, an international businessman even worse than the Rupert Murdoch figure who winds up opposing him; he can order the killings that it seems the British government itself wouldn't. But you never know; Porter's thinly disguised portrayals of Tony Blair and Jack Straw catch each's messianic Stalinism perfectly; they, not the evil outsider, are the book's most chilling villains, to the point you can almost, if not quite, believe one of the PM's PR aides also turning against him.

Some of the state's tactics are familiar from the news, others from fiction. The trigger for the Prime Minister's invoking the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) to assume dictatorial powers, is the spread of algae in the water supply. The process by which this gets blamed on terrorists reflects exactly the 'sexing up' process by which the vague possibility of Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction became an intelligence-backed certainty. It also mirrors the US anthrax scare, which far from being a second terrorist assault post 9/11 has very quietly turned out to be a deliberate leakage from a US germ warfare facility. On the smaller scale, the security services download child porn onto Eyam's computer, a sure way of discrediting him, especially with papers like Murdoch's News Of The World ready to 'name and shame'. This tactic featured in Paul Adam's Enemy Within; where, despite the character's good fortune in being able to prove the computer had been tampered with, his marriage suffered. We never see the same sort of personal angst in Ayem, and the issue is resolved just as neatly by the culprit's confession. But this is one small area that suggests, in real life, such things are not cleaned up so easily, a small metaphor for the greater problem.

Porter, in his afterword, calls this book part of a pair with Brandenburg (2005), which was set around the fall of the Berlin wall, and dealt in part with the apparatus of the East German security state. But I'd liken it more to his overlooked Empire State, which dealt directly with the issue of torture. There Porter was making the same point: that a society's willingness to compromise on its morals, its freedoms, in the name of security, was at heart evil. That, in the end, the victory against the seep of totalitarianism seems unconvincing doesn't it make it any less suspenseful, which is the second triumph of this novel. The first, of course, being the very clear warning signals it sends up for anyone who cares to notice.

NOTE: This review also appears at

Saturday, 15 August 2009


Get Real
Donald E. Westlake
Quercus £18.99 ISBN 9781849161053

When Donald Westlake died on New Year's Eve, he was still as prolific as ever, so Get Real is a fitting coda to his writing career, because although you could see it as just the next book in a long line of books past and books we expected in the future, it does showcase Westlake at his comic best, doing what the youngsters would call 'deconstructing' the genre of so-called 'reality' TV while providing the Dortmunder gang with their most laid-back and funny caper in some time. For Westlake, who always used his language precisely, economically, and simply, a misnomer like 'reality television' is too good a target to pass up. Because, of course, there is nothing 'real' about it, and, as Westlake the writer can't help but remind us, it exists primarily to scrub the writers out of the creative process.

So when the Dortmunder gang gets involved in filming a reality TV show, based on their pulling off a heist, you know that the battle between street-wise thieves and TV-wise thieves can only go one way. The gang sees the potential for a score, which they can pull off while using the show as a cover, and doing the small-time score they've suggested to keep the producers happy. And, for a time, they are happy as clams, especially since the planted characters they've added to reality, one of them there to keep tabs on the gang, have fallen in love, providing them with the story arc they need.

If I need to tell you Westlake has immense fun with all this, you're clearly a stranger either to Dortmunder or to fun. It's hard to tell whose perception of the producers is lower, Dortmunder's or Westlake's, but let's just say that the latter has more fun describing the producers' project which preceded the heist, a reality show set around a floundering fruit stand by a roadside in upstate New York. I'd say 'you couldn't make this stuff up,' only Westlake always did make this stuff up. If you think I'm kidding, read the appreciation I wrote back in January, you can find it here. And ask yourself who else would have his thieves stealing a Chevy Gazpacho?

At times Dortmunder has been the criminal with the raining cloud hanging over his head. Without giving too much away, let's just say it's a pleasure to watch him and Andy Kelp walk away into the sunset, with Dortmunder one last time surrendering to what he is, a thief. 'Oh all right', he says. It was the way it should end, and I find it immeasurably sad to think I will never have another new Dortmunder to read.

NOTE (1): this is a slightly revised version of a review which also appears at
NOTE (2): the book pictured above is the US edition, whose cover reflects the book better than its UK equivalent...

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Back in 2000 I was having lots of those millennial best conversations. I recall moaning about Waterstones failing to find space for William Faulkner among their 100 best novelists of the 20th century, and countering that slip by noting how few British writers my top 100 contained (since Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, Heaney and Beckett are Irish, and Eliot American).

As the millennium began, I felt comfortable with the idea that the artistic artist apex of the twentieth century came either when the Miles Davis quintet included John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly on saxes, or when the Coltrane quintet recorded with Roland Kirk, live at the Village Vanguard. Although the abstract expressionist artists, and indeed the beat writers, were more heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and the original stars of be-bop, and I was convinced that one night you might have found Kline or Pollock or Rothko or DeKooning tapping toes in the audience, alongside Burroughs, Ginsburg, Mailer, Paul Blackburn, and thus squash any claims Paris had to being the century's hub.

As the first decade of the new millennium reaches its close, it has become apparent to me that I was overlooking someone, Thelonius Monk, a feeling reinforced by listening to my birthday present from last March, the 29 November 1957 Carnegie Hall concert by the Monk Quartet with John Coltrane. The problem with Monk, when you're thinking in terms of lines of influence and development, is that he is so unique, completely idiosyncratic, that you dismiss him from the kind of widescale evaluations, in the same way that Ives, perhaps, might get sidelined in a ranking of 20th century composers. With Miles Davis you can point to three or four totally different types of music that grew out of what he did at different times; with Coltrane you can see a whole line of players following him. But Monk is doing his thing; it was influential, yes, but it was always Monk.

Sometimes I listen to Monk and think that his approach to every note, tangential, off-time, out of its academic place, is the perfect correlative to the atomic world, to non-Euclidian geometry, to particle physics, to quantum mechanics. I know that sounds pretentious, but it's true: it's as if Monk developed his music not out of logical progression from the music that came before, but from interpretation of the way the world was changing around the music. It is precisely the same feeling I see in the best of the abstract expressionist painters. The beauty of his pairing with Coltrane is to hear that most exciting and creative of sax players fitting within the Monk framework, which is never at right angles to anything, Monk as Kline perhaps, and Coltrane as Pollock, I don't know. Bud Powell is quoted in the album's notes as saying 'if I had Tatum's technique and Monk's mind, there would be no other piano players. Wait. Forget Tatum. If I had MY technique and Monk's mind, there would be no other piano players.' It's the mind.

You get a good picture of where Monk was in the years before this concert from the superb value 4-album collection on Avid, particularly on Monk Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington, in a trio with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, where you can see his approach breaking down some of Ellington's greatest modern music. Sonny Rollins plays on two of the other three albums, though Max Roach on drums steals Brilliant Corners, and Ernie Henry's alto is fine too. The earliest album was 1952's Thelonious Monk, another trio with Art Blakey on drums (and Roach on a couple of tracks). Monk returned the favour in 1958, joining Blakey's Jazz Messengers on a record which gives you two more versions each of 'Evidence' and 'Blue Monk', both of which he plays at Carnegie Hall. Johnny Griffin on tenor would go on to play with Monk, and the fit is already obvious. I've always figured the Coltrane Village Vanguard disc for my desert island, but now I'm not so sure. At any rate, it's easy to imagine the cream of the New York scene making it to Carnegie Hall, to see that post-Thanksgiving show where the artistic elite could meet to say reet.

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hal
l (Blue Note 2005)
Thelonious Monk: Four Classic Albums (Avid Jazz 2008)
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Atlantic 2002)

IRRESISTIBLE TURNTABLES: the rest of July's playlist:

Larry Murray, Sweet Country Suite (Fallout Records) a reissue of a 1970s solo album by one of Hearts & Flowers. I saw this album once in a record shop in Glasgow in January 1973, and didn't buy it because I didn't want to lug it around Europe. I had never even seen another copy until I came across this disc in a shop on Berwick St. It's country rock when that still meant something, a little rougher-edged than the great Hearts & Flowers albums (both available on one CD) but without as many memorable songs. It has Buddy Emmons on steel guitar, JD Souther and the guys who were Swampwater (and became the mark-two Burritos) and best of all Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews and Venetta Fields, the Blackberries, singing backup.

Huckleberries, Incahoots (Huck 2005) I came across these guys busking on the High Street in Guildford, and they had Nate dancing in a matter of seconds. They do all sorts of string music, remind me a little of Canada's Stringband, but it's a glorious mix of bluegrass/folk/world that never has a soft centre, like so many celtic bands these days. They're at

Tarika, Soul Makassar (Sakay 2004) This band from Madagascar features the exquisite Rasoanaivo Hanitrarivo writing and singing songs of great quality, but the track that really hooked me, in much the same way Third World grabbed me more than other reggae bands years ago, is a sweet version of 'Be My Baby', called here 'Malalako'.

Budapest Quartet, Mozart: Six Hayden Quartets and Six String Quintets (Columbia Legends 2003) This one's another kick in the pants for those who say government is the problem, since they are all recordings made in the 40s and 50s by the Library of Congress, so we owe Unlce Sam a vote of thanks for this and the Monk/Coltrane. It would be easy to link the 'Dissonant' quartet with modern jazz, and I'm sure it's been done before, but when you listen to these players approaching Mozart, you hear all sorts of possibilities. This is the kind of disc you can listen to when you wake up, while you work, while you read, while you think, and when you go to bed. And then start over again. The desert island is going to need more shelves.

Monday, 10 August 2009


My obituary of the Reverend Ike is in today's Independent, you can find it here. Just a couple of small facts got cut: it was the small size of the marquee on his first converted movie theatre church in Harlem that was the reason his billing was shortened to Rev. Ike, and the 'Blessing Plan' might well have been the inspiration for the kind of holy investmens that scheme Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker ran, and which landed Jim in jail. And the headline, of course, wasn't mine; 'worshipped wealth' is tooo blunt an exaggeration, Ike's mission, while never far removed from the dollar signs, was more nuanced than that.

I remember watching Ike in the early 1970s, when I worked on the road teaching speed reading and saw a lot of motel TV. He was certainly the most entertaining of TV evangelists, and because his pitch was so blatant you never felt yourself submersed in the ooze of hypocricy. And of course what I called the 'Superfly' era was not kind, satorially speaking, to most of us, not just Ike.

His interview with Clayton Riley is amazing, at least the bits of it I encountered: Ike basically concedes that his whole faith-healing mission was a scam, except, of course that it worked because people believed it would. His career in a nut-shell, except, of course, very few of his followers got as rich as he did.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


I'm always puzzled by the use of the public pseudonym, by which I mean one the author makes no intent to hide behind, as opposed to the more common use of pseudonyms to hide identities from the public eye for any number of reasons. Richard Stark and Tucker Coe became public pseduonyms, but not until after the 'secret' of their being Donald Westlake had already become common knowledge, which is a different thing.

It's interesting to speculate on why writers choose the nominal cover of an acknowledged alias. Some are producing work they see as substantially different from their previous, established image: Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine, for example. It's as much a branding tool as anything else. Sometimes a writer with a 'mainstream' literary reputation wants to keep what he or she feels are genre books separate from their recognised oeuvre; though I'd argue that it's much harder to draw a clear line separating John Banville as Benjamin Black or Joyce Carol Oates as Rosamund Smith than either writer might want to accept. Then there are starnger cases. The apotheosis of the false dichotomy came when Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland published his first novel, an unthrilling 'thriller', using a deliberately public pseudonym, Sam Bourne, presumably chosen carefully for its Ludlum associations. Because of his media stature under his own name, this ensured maximum publicity, favourable reviews, and yet no slur upon his previously existing journalistic brand.

But Max Allan Collins, as a brand, covers so much and such varied ground I wondered why he needed to use the Patrick Culhane pseudonym for Black Hats, in which he brings Wyatt Earp (and Bat Masterson) face to face with Al Capone in the New York City of the prohibition era. Max is so prolific, and selling so well under his own name, that I suspect he did it so the Culhane books would not be subsumed in his Collins work. Because, to me, Max's best novels are the Nathan Heller historical crime books (I've lamented their relative lack of publication in this country many times before), and I also have a fondness for his Elliott Ness novels, a sort of spin-off of Heller. Black Hats has been followed by another Culhane historical novel, Red Sky In Morning, and I suspect that, in an ideal world, these books and the Heller and Ness ones would fall neatly under one name. Of course, I could be completely wrong too: often there turn out to be perfectly practical and simple reasons for such things, and my speculation may be unwarranted.

It is, however, affectionate speculation, because it's one thing to write, as Collins does in the Heller books, about crimes that remain unsolved, or less than satisfactorily solved, where Heller can come up with his own solution, and quite another thing indeed to write a book where the audience is aware (or should be) not only that both Earp and Capone will survive their showdown, but that Capone will also move to Chicago, and achieve his notoriety. In fact, Collins solves this problem quite cleverly, though it becomes pretty obvious what is going on, and the scenario is, in the end a familiar one, not least from other period pieces from the same era, like The Sting. Nor is using the aging Earp that much of an innovation; for example Matt Braun wrote about Bill Tilghman, who was still a lawman in Oklahoma in his 70s. But what makes Collins' book a success is its set-up, the way he contrives the conflict, and especially the conceit of giving Doc Holliday a son, and putting him on one side of the battle, and making him Earp's primary motivation.

Much of the novel tells another story in flashback, Collins' version of the OK Corral, and again, this works because he doesn't approach the material directly. That has been done very well already in Loren Estleman's Bloody Season, while Robert B Parker in Gunman's Rhapsody gave it his own fascinating spin, where the Earps echoed the private eye ethos of Spenser and his crew. In fact Parker approached it from the other side too, doing a Spenser novels as re-writes of westerns. But by making the big show backstory, Collins leaves himself leeway to follow his Earp deeper, and in what is otherwise a fast-paced straight-forward tale, the reminiscence and the interior portrait of Earp punctuate it with surprising and satisfying depth. In fact, Collins' Earp has many of the same qualities as his Ness: ramrod straight but not quite as pure or unyielding as TV mythology; it's interesting that both characters have been played on film by Kevin Costner, the epitome of the one-dimensional figure of tortured nobility. Costner is not one for ambiguity, but Collins wants his Earp to have just enough of it to make things, and him, interesting.

Collins' Heller books are always filtered through the detective's perceptions, here, Culhane is free to speculate, not about history, but about character, and motivation, and this is what Collins does very well indeed. The Earp story is one I've studied over the years, and what Collins has to say at no point jars what I understand from it, and adds some very subtle shading. It's also a story that has enjoyed, encouraged, and justified constant retelling, and this one is a first-rate addition to the canon—and as usual one with a useful bibliography if you wish to pursue the Earp story further. A diverting and enjoyable book.

Black Hats
Max Allan Collins writing as Patrick Culhane
Harper Collins (2008) £6.99 ISBN 9780060892548

Friday, 7 August 2009


Streets Of Fire was published in 1989, in the middle of Thomas Cook’s series of police procedurals featuring the ever-more-depressive Frank Clemons, and it shares some of that tone. But it’s a very different sort of novel, because rather than being set in the New York of the present, it’s set in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, as the civil rights movement is gathering momentum and the streets of that city seethe with frustration and fear. When the body of a young black girl is dug up in a park in the Negro section of town, no one is too concerned, except for detective Ben Wellman--a loner on the force and soon to be even more alone as he works a case no one wants him to work.

Cook himself is dismissive of the book today (‘what do you want to look at that old thing for?’ he said) but it is interesting to look at it in light of where he’s gone since. Its weak point is the police procedural plot, which becomes far too involved and mechanical in its resolution. You can almost feel the same sort of frustration Cook says he felt with the Clemons books; at one point he felt he couldn’t 'write any worse' than he was doing in that series.

More interesting is the social setting of the civil rights movement itself, and the deeply engrained ethos of prejudice which determines life in Birmingham. It’s interesting because Cook is a transplanted southerner, and the easy thing to say is that he is writing from a ‘northern’ standpoint. But that wouldn’t be true, because what he is working at is a sense in which the oppressed and the oppressor collude, in some ways, in maintaining their status; it is that unpleasant reality against which Wellman winds up butting his head more than once. He is also particularly sensitive to the way in which Wellman’s own attitudes to the racial issue are opened up, and changed: subtly, gradually, somewhat reluctantly, as he investigates.

Cook’s later novels can be divided into those set in the north and those set in the south, but this one seems to come before the tones of those two kinds of books began to pull apart. If anything, the actual social conflict is used as background, visible more for the internal pressures it places on the police department, and on Wellman, than as an event in itself. At times it has the feel of fantasy, as if no one really believes their world will be changed by this protest. It’s not piece of reportage about the civil rights movement; in fact its best line may be when one cop complains about the tripartite menaces of ‘communists, socialists, and journalists’. But it is very good at evoking the internal pressure of justice, the increasing force of an idea whose time has come on those who realise that is the case.

But the real focus of the book is Wellman, and more than being a depressive cop in the Frank Clemons mode, he is also the prototype for any number of Cook’s lonely heroes. They are usually men who, for whatever reason, exist detached from the world. Cook at one point describes Wellman as he ‘curls into his aloneness like a bed‘, and when he says ‘But Ben had kept his distance in this, as in almost everything else,’ he conveys the sense that Wellman may indeed be a misnomer. What the book does is hold out hope for Ben’s wellness through his engagement with the changing world, and that, to me is interesting because it is precisely in engagement that Cook usually offers his characters redemption, or meaning, or whatever it is they are seeking. Streets Of Fire may not be one of Cooks’s best novels, and it lacks the slow-burning layering of his best writing, but it is a book that grips the reader, a good attempt at putting an early version of the classic Cook hero into a historically familiar situation, and if it is less than a total success it is a very interesting one, whether or not you’ve immersed yourself in his later oeuvre.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


My May (!?!) American Eye column (admittedly not filed until the first week of June!) is finally up at Shots--you can find it here. It marked my introduction to John Shannon, but since it's gone up I've learned that at least two of the Jack Liffey series, The Orange Curtain and Streets On Fire were in fact published in Britain, by Orion, so how they slipped under my radar I've no idea. It does mean he should be slightly easier for you to find in this country. But uncovering such work is what the American Eye column was intended to do! My thanks to Michele Slung for pointing me in Shannon's direction.


Through the courtesy of Atlantic Books, I have six copies of The Best Game Ever, a book about the 1958 NFL championship game between the NY Giants and Baltimore Colts that went to sudden death overtime and helped put the NFL on America's radar, written by Mark Bowden, author of. among other things, Black Hawk Down. To win one, you'll have to be on facebook, and join the Mike Carlson Appreciation Society (no I didn't start it, as you'll see from the mispellings in its mission statement) and answer a trivia question about that game...

I'll probably write about the book later on for this site, if not somewhere else...

Monday, 3 August 2009


My obituary of the Beat poet Harold Norse appears in today's Independent, you can find it here. I probably should have found a better way to describe Naked Lunch, which is one of the great American novels, but I've written an essay on its 50th anniversary, and that will appear here soon.

It's difficult to trace Norse's life without making him sound like a literary Zelig, but if you look at you'll find a series of photos which suggest that he was an object of desire for generations of poets. My experience of Norse's writing was less intimate, but I recall that Penguin poets volume, which I picked up when I first visited England in 1972, and it was one of my favourites; I carried it around with me while hitching through the Highlands in a very cold January 1973--Norse indeed.