Masterful murders

Crime liction, it seems, is becoming increasingly respectable. I blame the permissive society mysell. For the iirst time since the heyday oi Chandler and Hammett, the genre is being looked upon as serious literature - not the novels whose covers depict inexplicably underdressed women brandishing Berettas, but books by the likes oi Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmlth, and George V Higgins.

Take Michael Dibdin, lor instance. A teacher oi English at ltallan universities, he returned to Britain, and turned to crime. ‘It is one oi the law kinds oi liction which still have a tradition,‘ he explains. ‘li you open the new Martin Amis or Julian Barnes or Ian McEwan, you don’t really have any expectations about anything in particular, otherthan hopeluly you're going to read a good book. But there's no ieellng that you're plugging into liction oi a certain kind, whereas I suppose in the 19th century there was. With crime liction there still is that sense oi tradition, the possibilities oi various models and so on which you can employ ii you want to.’

Dibdin’s new novel, Vendetta, is traditional crime in several respects.

For a start, it's a locked-room murder mystery. Hideously wealthy Oscar Burolo and his iriends are gunned downl while dining in his Sardinian mansion; their deaths are captured on the video camera which the vain Burolo ensured was always rolling, and their expressions indicated they knew the killer- yet the tow suspects all have cast-iron alibis, and no one else would be able to penetrate the security network without having set oil all the alarms, or being mauled to death by

the lions which Burolo set to wander in

the grounds.

Police detective Aurelio Zen is called in irom Home, and is soon made aware that not only was Burolo possibly the victim oi a vendetta involving local

. criminals, but that he himseli is being

tracked down by a man whose imprisonment he secured two decades previously. The iact that Zen’s colleagues, and a minor but inlluential political party, would not be unduly worried by his demise, does not exactly lacilltate his endeavours.

Vendetta, however, ior all its tight plotting, is as much concerned with the nature oi Italian society as it is with the progress oi the story. ‘My primary purpose is to entertain,’ says Dibdin, ‘but my concept oi entertainment would stretch iairly wide, and there are a lot oi things about Italian society which I lind entertaining -the corruption and the deviousness, the general sense oi things being stretchable and bendable. It’s the same here in Britain, but expressed and perceived in a different way: ltalians perceive their society as being corrupt, and they talk about this quite openly, whereas here it still seems to be the hypocritical stilt upper lip attitude oi don’t talk about it and hope it will go away. ljust lind the Italian way oi going about it more entertaining.’

The crime liction Dibdin himseli enjoys reading also displays this twin allegiance - to producing well-crafted work while addressing social concerns in a manner which has traditionally


been absent irom the genre as practised in Britain, dominated as it is by the murder-at-the-vicarage school oi writers. The writers he admires most are the aiorementioned Higgins and Leonard, and the much-vaunted Sara Paretsky- ‘the ones who connect with the so-called Dirty Realist school oi mainstream liction writers, in the sense that they're writing about poor white Americans. That’s the kind ol writing which I don‘t think exists in this country, because British writing is so class-dominated.

‘The only way the British seem to be able to write about the working-ciass,’ he continues, ‘is either in terms oi ierocious satire, like in Martin Amis, or . . . nothing, oriust plain ignoring them. It’s a side oi British liie which I loathe, this class-consciousness.l don’t loathe it on moral or political grounds, it’s just that it's so disabling, it makes it impossible to do certain things, and it restricts people to predictable hierarchies and modes at behaviour- it‘s impoverishing.’

The eilect at a writer oi Dibdin’s perspicacity, conversely, is likely to be enriching - not only on the genre, but also, as crime iiction’s iniluence

spreads, on mainstream liction too. With Vendetta, ior all its clever plotting and characterisation, one gets the impression that Didbin is onlyjust beginning to realise his potential. (Stuart Bathgate)

Vendetta, by Michael Dibdin, is published by Faber, priced £12.99.


I EIltB Helen Liddell (Century £12.99) Sex, lies and a workers‘ militia Helen Liddell‘s first novel promises to be all the stuff that mini-series are made of. Anne Clarke, a young, beautiful Clydesider, pursues a searing ambition and, raised upon the mighty shoulders of a Scottish mandate, totters upon snakeskin stilettos towards the upper reaches of British political power. Hypnotising the male-dominated political world by the sway of her bullet-like nipples, she glides elegantly, leggily, towards a bi-Iateral destiny with her

square- jawed, rapacious American lover, less credible than Ronald Reagan.

Interspersing tales of probing tongues and clouded eyes with tired lists of designer labels and political cameos, Elite lacks the Scottish realism which Donald Dewar smacks of. No amount of fleeting references to Jimmy Reid and the UCS can give substance to a novel as flimsy as the anti-heroine's silk stockings, and despite Liddell‘s undoubted political experience as ex-Secretary of the

Scottish Labour Party, she finally fails to expose the real political world with its pants down warts and all. (Kathleen Morgan)


I V ior Vendetta Alan Moore & David Lloyd (Titan £9.95) When V for Vendetta‘s early chapters were serialised in the pioneering British comic Warrior, its handling of anarchist themes was well ahead of its time. Eight years on, with the whole tale collected between two covers, it still stands as a landmark in the medium. Lloyd‘s unflashy artwork and the muted, almost drab, colouring hark back to the heyday of British boys‘ comics, contrasting with the stylised American look of Moore‘s other great hit, Watchmen. The story, which rides along like a tightly-plotted detective novel, is laudany literate.

His real features concealed by the wry, imperturbabie smile of a Guy Fawkes mask, V is the nemesis terrorising a fascistic government in late-19905 Britain, striking with a finesse born of meticulous planning. For Moore, Fawkes is a symbol of liberation, not destruction, and VS

bombing of the Houses of

Parliament is only the beginning of the story.

Is it a serious flaw that we are given no hint of the society V strives to bring in to being, when ‘do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law"? Perhaps not; the most thrilling, not to say moving, sequences deal with personal liberation, and say more than a hundred polemical tirades. (Alastair Mabbott)


I The For Hat Vladimir Voinovich (Jonathan Cape £11.95) Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov: however great, none of them were uproarioust funny, so it‘s hardly surprising that light entertainment fans rarely flock to buy Russian literature. But in the case of The Far Hat any fears ofdoing battle with a heavyweight are quite groundless. The book is witty, thought-provoking, and short to boot

Protagonist Yefim is a respected, but second-rate writer, with eleven titles and various government decorations to his name. His novels, which all have one-word titles like Avalanche! and Operation.’, feature ’decent’ people fighting fearlessly

against outrageous odds to carry out noble deeds. When the Writers‘ Union decides to present its members with fur hats according to merit (the best writers get reindeer fawn. the worst rabbit). Yefim is appalled to find that. worse than rabbit, he has been allotted fluffy domestic tomcat. The reason for the snub is Clearly his Jewish origin but. convinced that there must have been a mistake, Yefim embarks on a search for recognition which soon brings him up against the grinding bureaucracy ofthe Communist Party and gets him into very hot water. It's satire, ofcourse, and only occasionally more bitter than sweet. (Miranda France)


l The Irreversible Decline 0i Eddie Sockerhn Weir (Hamish Hamilton £13.99) When naive, bohemian Eddie Socket discovers he has AIDS. there’s noone to tell. His mother is too far away, his father too emotionally distant. his room-mate Polly Plugg is going through a bust-up and his ex-Iover, the man who breaks everyone‘s heart. doesn't believe him. So Eddie goes off wandering. and finally breaks the news to his new lover, a drag queenJ

The List 29June— IZJuIv 199089