‘Unhook the delicate, crazy lace of flesh, detach the heart with a single cut, unmask the tissue behind the skin, unhinge the ribs, disclose the spine, take down the long dress of muscle from the bones where it hangs erect.’ (He Died With His Eyes Open’)
It’s said that one publisher, reading the manuscript of ‘I Was Dora Suarez’ was so appalled that he vomited. It’s not an unlikely response.
To read the Factory novels of Derek Raymond is to be plunged into a universe so bleak and despairing that no other crime writer comes close.
To describe the books as ‘noir’ is misleading. ‘Noir’ offers the possibility of ‘blanc’ at some point in the narrative. There is no such tentative redemption for the unnamed detective in the Met’s Department of Unexplained Deaths. Indeed, the books don’t provide an ‘explanation’ in the conventional police procedural sense.
Instead, we’re plunged into the minds of the victims, their world and the path they take towards their appalling deaths.
And then, if that were not awful enough, we enter the mind of the killer, his obsessions, his weaknesses, his desires.
He is no Hannibal Lecter, charming and urbane, brilliant and lethal; he is as trapped, weak and helpless to resist as his victims.
Raymond writes as if wielding a baroque scalpel – precise, detailed, accurate to the last spurt and slice and scream, but also fantastical as if trapped in a nightmare from which you try and fail to wake.
The detective is relentless in his desire to understand what lies behind the crimes he investigates, to the point where the insanity of his world infects him towards madness himself.
A man mourning the death of his daughter, his wife in an asylum, he faces a constant battle between vengeance and compassion.
Raymond himself made it clear about the world in which his characters – and us – exist. His books deal with ‘turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle—the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfillable, and where defeat is certain.’ (The Hidden Files)
These are not easy books to read, or to come to terms with. All of them have passages that are almost unbearable to read, especially ‘I Was Dora Suarez’.
But there is never a sense that we are exploring the pornography of violence, brutal acts described to titillate the reader. Raymond’s purpose is to expose the uncaring universe in which we cower.
For anyone drawn to discover just how dark the human psyche can become, the Factory novels take us into the slaughterhouse in which we all hang upside down on the meathook.
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