Fighting spirit

Sue Wilson enters the shady world of female wrestling with crime novelist Liza Cody, and takes a

glance at a couple of other recent detective novels by women.

Ifyou fancy something decidedly different to read. you could do far worse than reach for Liza Cody’s latest novel, Bucket Nut. Introducing Eva Wylie. a large, stroppy, muscular. security guard-cum-female wrestler known as the London Lassassin, it‘s a lively account of her misadventures as she blunders headlong into serious trouble with the various shady outfits she runs messages for, gives shelter to an on-the-run blonde waifwho robs her blind. and tries to figure out a way to find her sister, separated from her in care as a child. Eva lives on the edge and on her wits, in a caravan on the site where she works. no electricity or running water, only two guard dogs for company much of the time and that‘s a step up after several stretches of homelessness.

Best known for her detective series featuring private eye Anna Lee, Cody was looking for a change with Bucket Nut. ‘Anna is a very decent person, and to be frank I got a bit restricted by that decency.‘ she explains. ‘I had to keep my distance from her, and I wanted to do something rather gross, something I could get up to my elbows in, and that would make me laugh while I was writing it.’

The idea for Eva was born by chance when Cody l


Liza Cody: I saw this huge women wearing black leather, and just tumed round and followed her’

was out shopping in London one day ‘I was in the Charing Cross road and I saw this huge women wearing black leather. one of those women you do a double-take on, and I turned round and followed her I was just so struck by her appearance. everybody was looking at her. it just made me wonder what it must be like to be her. And then I saw Klondyke Kate when she had a match in my area, and it seemed to me totally wonderful that

‘I wanted to do something rather gross, something I could get up to my elbows in, and which would make me laugh while I was writing it’

someone could find a niche like that for

themselves she isn‘t the prettiest person in the world, and so she‘s decided to be a villain; the more boos she gets, the better she‘s done. All these people who‘ve been screaming the most extraordinary insults at her during the fight come up to her afterwards to get her autograph. ask how her kid is. It just struck me as a terrific way to cope with appearances, although there‘s the irony as

well, that she‘s living on her looks just as much as if she were a Page Three girl or a model. All these liberal people say that looks don‘t matter. it‘s what you‘re like inside. but they ignore the fact that what you’re like inside frequently depends on how people treat you, and ifyou're ugly you get treated badly, no two ways about it.‘

Though a thoroughly enjoyable and refreshing read, the novel does have its darker side. It‘s a bleak, violent world Eva inhabits, and there‘s a slight, sad sense that underneath her bolshy independence there‘s a suppressed desire for a bit more friendly company sometimes. This downbeat element mirrors the state ofother crime writing by women, much ofwhich seems to have lost its sparkle and enthusiasm since the first exuberant outpouring of feisty feminist detectives ten or so years ago. Sara Paretsky‘s new novel, Guardian Angel. the latest and last (for the time being, at least) in the VI Warshawski series. labours under an atmosphere ofweary despondency, ending on a note of near-despair with the feeling that the big bad world is getting uncontrollably bigger and badder every day. The bastards haven‘t yet ground down Scots-born Val McDiarmid however; her fourth novel Dead Bear fizzes with the confident energy of the early Paretsky books as it follows Manchester-based tough cookie PI Kate Brannigan through a complicated case involving a legendary rock star on the slide, his murdered ex-junkie ex-girlfriend/muse and his enjoyably nasty. backbiting entourage.

‘I think a lot ofit is just because we're older.‘ says Cody of the malaise currently affecting some female crime authors. ‘We‘ve seen too many things come around a second time in terms of feminism; it seems as if the battle should be won and it isn‘t. I imagine it‘s only temporary. though. these things go in moods you just get a bit pissed offafter twenty or thirty years.‘

Bucket Nut is publihsed by Charm & Windus at £14. 99, Guardian Angel by Hamish Hamilton at £14. 99 and Dead Heat by Victor (iollancz at £13. 99

:— Brodsky Beat

Watermark is the consummate travel diary. It tells stories, pokes fun, meditates, scampers off on tangents and dwells fondly on the local architecture, in a style by turns colloquial and erudite. It is the journal we’d all like to bring back from abroad. It is also the latest work from the 1987 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His name is Joseph Brodsky. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972, the 42-year-old poet-essayist hurled himself into the language and literature of America, his adopted home. His spoken English is flawed, butwhen his pen touches paper the Lresults can be sublime. Free of the “The List 5— 18 June 1992

ail Joseph Brodsky: ‘all our lmportantdecisions

are made, oddly enough, on the basis of aesthetics’

nostalgia that chokes so many emigrés, his writing probes questions of existence with bristling honesty: ‘Poetry and essays both have the one-night-stand denomination. There

is no long interplay and they are direct.’

Twenty years ago, Brodsky tumbled into an affair with Venice. Since then, like a reluctant lover, he has tiptoed back to the city with the ‘lrequency of a bad dream’. He goes there to drink in the architectural flourishes, the play of light on the water, the sartorial panache of the locals. ‘More than any place, Venice has the tremendous ability to generate gossip and metaphysics,’ he says.

Watermark is Brodsky’s ode to Venice. A sparse 124 pages, it has the sweep of a 19th century Russian novel. Warning the reader not to expect a plot, Brodsky pushes us into the intellectual labyrinth unlocked by the exquisite beauty of Venice. Once inside, there is no turning back; you scurry along feverishly, grasping at the shafts of light that stream in from time to time. You meet Susan Sontag, and Ezra

Pound’s tedious widow, then suddenly Brodsky is floating off into a matter-ol-fact discourse on the aesthetic needs of the human eye. Beauty is a companion and a muse to Brodsky. ‘Even though we don’t like to admit it, all our important decisions are made, oddly enough, on the basis of aesthetics. How else do you select your mistress? Form is content.’ In Watermark, the two are intertwined, propelled by Brodsky’s robust and graceful imagination. It is a whirlwind trip. Fragments and snapshots of Venice, Greek history, poetry and philosophy mingle together in the aftermath. Brodsky says that ‘the vulgarity of the human heart is infinite’ and that ‘the vector of all writing is to battle against that.’ His book Is a lively contribution to the war chest. (Carl Honoré) Watermark is published by Hamish Hamilton at £12.99