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Paul Johnston: ‘an inventive spin on the detective genre'

Body Politic

Paul Johnston (Hodder & Stoughton) *‘kt

The future, a big screen Bobby De Niro once mused, is not what it used to be. Fettes-schooled Johnston’s first novel finds Edinburgh in the year 2020, an independent city state governed according to a rigid utilitarian philosophy known as The Enlighten- ment. It has become a Disneyesque tartan theme park for tourists where citizens are kept out of sight but under the watchful eye of the police. Ration books are de rigueur and only music of an uplifting nature IS allowed. Cue one Quintillian Dalrymple, a free thinking ex-copper demoted to park keeper but part-time gumshoe With as much appetite for the illegal blues and contraband whisky as Inspector Morse shows for Shcubert and a pint. He needs the props There’s a killer at work With a penchant for removing victims' organs without so much as checking their donor cards. An inventive spin on the detective genre. (RE)

84 THE “ST 27 Jun—10 Jul 1997

Hope Glen Duncan (Viking £10.99) ***

Gabriel Jones is in a mess. Haunted by his early sexual awakening with another minor - the parentaIIy-abused Katherine he is unable to function fully in his adult relationships. Hence the tarnished memories of his one true love, Alicia Louise Swan. In search of an answer to his torment he looks to Daniel, his best friend, always ready with a joint and judicious advice. For gratification he turns to prostitute Hope, not so much a tart with a heart as someone who has 'that look of knowing what the world is like'. While the narrative is interjected with lengthy musings on time, death, history and the war between love and pornography, the tale never loses its sting or momentum. Yet, there are more questions posed than answers given. Just who exactly is Hope? Will Gabriel ever find peace? Will Daniel talk sense for more than five minutes? (BD)

Going Down

Jennifer Belle (Virago V £9.99) * * *

Capitalising on the world's prurient/ voyeuristic fascination with sex, Going Down is a suitably crotch-grabbing title. But behind the froth lies a strong and sassy debut. Bennington Bloom is a gambolling nineteen-year-old, desperate to finance her NYU acting classes. She finds aid in the upper echelons of the world's oldest profession. Bennington treats us to a candid but very funny dissection of the minutiae and mundanity of call- girldom. But, bubbling underneath all this self-depreciating humour and all- embracing NY lifestyle, is a poignant cloud of sadness. The weird, down-on- luck characters and a classic dysfunctional family coupled with a daddy complex all conspire to make this a classic NY novel ala Tama Janowitz or Jay Mclnerney. But Belle manages to sneak in superior twists that elevate this to a league of its very own. No wonder Madame Madonna has chosen to make her directorial debut after snapping up the film rights to this sure-fire hit. (AD)

Jennifer Belle: ‘strong and sassy debut'


The Blind Owl

Sadegh Hedeyat (Rebel Inc Classics £6.99) ****

Helen And Desire

Alexander Trocchi (Rebel Inc Classics £6.99) **

Horror and pleasure are indivisible. The Blind Owl, a remarkable account of a young man's descent into madness and physical decrepitude was written

by Iranian Sadegh Hedeyat prior to his

suicide in 1951. The novel’s unnamed narrator, trapped in an un- consummated marriage and disgusted at his family and society, seeks deliverance in an haze of opium - a narcotic substitute for his desire to find peace through annihilation. Instead, his trance-like states produce a taunting, mutant caricature of reality, described in prose that is at once feverish and sardonic, ridiculous

Junk fiction: Alexander Trocchi

and perceptive. Endowed with a poetic rigour throughout, the compulsive power of this strange story lifts it above the cult cul-de—sac.

The revolt against civilisation and the allure of the exotic finds a more unlikely . spokesperson in Helen Smith the teenage heroine of Helen And Desire - who recounts her sexual odyssey across Europe, Asia and the Orient. Unlikely, because, as the narrator of one of Trocchi's soft-porn novels, Helen is stubbornly anti- intellectual. She is at first tenacious and adventure-bound, exploiting her sexual charisma to escape the Australian outback and shape her own identity. Eventually though, she finds affirmation in the opposite - the erasure of personality against the backdrop of a hashish and honey-fed hareem. While Trocchi paid lip-service to the conventions in these books, penned to support his heroin habit, his philosophical imprint is still discernible. But, in contrast to his great portraits of modern discontent Young Adam and Cain’s Book, the novelty of Helen’s choice soon wears thin. The work, like Helen's character, smacks of suffocated

achievement. (Deirdre Molloy)

Jack London: A Life

Alex Kershaw (HarperCollins £20) * *t *

The life of Jack London, author of Call Of The Wi/d, White Fang and John Barleycorn, could have been lifted from a rather depraved schoolboy's adventure yarn. A working class, alcoholic teenager around the docks of San Francisco in the late 19th century, he entered the Klondike goldrush (from which he drew much of his inspiration), worked on a sealing boat and, with his second wrfe, sailed from California to the South Sea Islands. Alex Kershaw obviously loves his subject, but has not let this get in the way of objective assessment. While London’s womanising and alcoholism are dealt wath in a far from prurient manner, Kershaw also acknowledges the writer’s belief in white, Anglo- Saxon supremacy despite his life-long socialism. This, like all London’s failings, is not forgiven, but understood within its context. (TD)


Quite Ugly One Morning

Christopher Brookmyre

(Abacus £6.99) at it * *

Debut novel from Glasgow-born, Edinburgh-biding journalist Brookmyre. A triple-pronged satire, this scorches the NHS, police procedurel and society’s slavering fascrnation wrth Violence in

one quality witfest opening with the words, ’Jesus fuck'. Lauded by publications as diverse as Nursing Times, Quite Ug/y. . . investigates the death of Ponsonby, a revered Edinburgh medic, found dismembered, and emitting a rather strange smell. (SM)

Please Kill Me

Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain (Abacus £8.99) * * a: 1%

Scary thought: people born in 1976, the year punk attained commercral fever pitch, are now 21-year-olds, their youth a merry-go-round of the Spice Girls and alcopops. Perhaps they should study 'the uncensored oral histOry of punk', a frank and funny doorstop of soundbites from The Factory on, featuring the good, the bad and the, sadly, deceased. (SM)

Sid Vicious: among the sadly deceased who feature in Please Kill Me