Black to the future
PAUL JOHNSTON'S sequel to Body Politic is a futuristic gothic thriller mixing Plato, Robert Johnson and a lethal designer drug. Say hello to a rave new world. Words: Rodger Evans
In Paul Johnston‘s world. it‘s not so much the past bill the future. that is chequered. Fast forward to 2021 and Edinburgh is a nightmarish tartan theme park. a year round festival city living off the tourist dollar — its inhabitants reduced to serf status by a Big Brother bureaucracy that controls all aspects of their life. love and sex included.
What manner of dystopia is this'.’ ‘lt's a crime story not a political tract.‘ says the author. 'but people have picked up on that side. We're talking about corruption and power. These are things that apply to contemporary society as well. but it‘s an extreme view of the future.
‘There‘s an element of Kafka.‘ he adds. ‘though I think it’s more ()rwellian. The general take on history and society is a broad twentieth century view. It's probably the feeling of most people toward politics around the time of the last election. There was a change for a few months at least. but the system doesn't really change. Systems don‘t.’
Johnston disagrees that this is a cynical view. ‘I would describe myself as a sceptic.‘ he explains. ‘In Body Politic l perhaps didn‘t translate my idea into print as I intended. I was trying to give a balanced view. ()kay.
in my scenario certain personal freedoms are conceded. but there are
benefits too — no crime for example. You could see that being a development in ten or twenty years time in most cities.‘
Yet. for all it‘s futurism. The Bone Yard is traditional in many ways. It draws upon the literary Edinburgh of old. the 'dark tenements' of Stevenson and Conan Doyle. not to mention shades of classic American noir. Johnston's tastes are catholic. taking in everyone from Chandler and Hammett to Ellroy and Crumley. ‘I like those writers possessed by this powerful and screwed-up combination of cynicism and romanticism. which I think is mirrored in my protagonist's character.‘
'In my scenario certain personal freedoms are conceded, but there are benefits too - no crime for example. You could see that being a development in ten or twenty years time in most CitiéS.’ Paul Johnston
llU'll'vi' til the dillvll'l Ullltlllll'] B’s-'1'! Pilitlt
Grave on: Paul Johnston’s The Bone Yard
Quintillian Dalrymple is the private investigator in question. a twenty-first century Marlowe with a penchant for the blues (which have been outlawed by the state) and contraband whisky. He also suffers a limited and luckless love life. something that may go sortie way to explaining his liking for Eric Clapton.
'The poor sod!’ sympathises Johnston. ‘But he does enjoy his compulsory sex session once a week. He's not that hard done by. btit I reckon he‘s going to be tearing his hair out by the next book.‘ The virtual soundtrack that accompanies the story is fascinating. Dalrymple‘s love of music allows each of his favourite
blues codgers (Robert Johnson. Elmore James.
Clapton even) to become his muse. his Doctor Watson. casting light on various stages of the murder investigation.
‘Again. this is part homage to American crime writing.‘ he says. ‘It tends to have a much closer symbiosis between different forms of culture. It's less common here. although Ian Rankin does use Rolling Stones' song titles for his books.‘ And where would the blues be without a shot of rye‘.’ ‘The whisky is another good motif from the noir writers of course. but it‘s a vice we've very much made our own in Scotland.’ We’ll drink to that.
The Bone Yard is published on Thu 9 Jul by Hodder 8r Stoughton at £16.99.
Putting debut authors under the microscope. This issue: John Leguizamo.
Who be? John LegUizamo is a 36-year- old actor and comedian With a backgrOund of glorious success on both stage and screen Starring moments have been as the scary Clown in Spawn, Benny Blanco from The Bronx in Car/ito’s Way and the menacing Tybalt in Romeo And Ju/iet. Has the uncanny ability of looking unrecognisable in every role
His debut It’s called Freak A Semi- Demi-OuaSI-Pseudo Autobiography Co-written vvith DaVid Bar Katz, a writer/director and John's neighbour Basically Basrcally, it’s a coming-of-age story of one man growing up in Queens, New York. So there's lots of teen angst, parent-hating and onanism until he gets his first break
First line test ’I've changed my parents' names to Fausto and Lala, to protect the innocent, namely me.’ Supporting cast Fausto, the domineering, dypsomaniacal father, Lala, the mother worn down by her marriage and seeking feminism and clubs; Poochie, the y0unger, pudgier brother.
Laugh ratio Very high. Considering the book is so short — 125 pages of very big writing on very small paper — there is at least a chuckle on each page. Two out of three chuckles are likely to move on into the full belly thing.
Reading time You \Nlll perhaps spend an evening of your life on this. Do not read on the train — conSidering the laugh ratio and the possibility of a moral guardian watching over your shoulder.
The future More films — LegUizamo is set to be the mice of a rat in Eddie Murphy’s remake of Doctor Doo/itt/e, a lowlife hood in Brother's Kiss and an actor alongside Robbie Coltrane in Frogs For Snakes. (Brian Donaldson)
I Freak: A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography is published on Thu 76 Ju/y by Review at [7. 99.
with Dani—id Bar Katz
9—23 Jul 1998 THE lIST 83