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He Died with His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond

He Died with His Eyes Open (1984)

by Derek Raymond

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Derek Raymond (aka Robert Cook) has a biography almost as fascinating as his novels. He smuggled oil paintings, got thrown in Spanish prison for badmouthing Franco, drove fast cars, lived with the beat poets in the fifties, was interrogated by Dutch police, and then wrote British noir.
Raymond published five novels in his nameless detective Factory series and these excellent novels are unique in their format and tone. The narrator is a British detective who works unsolved cases, cases no one in the Department of Unexplained Deaths could give a lesser damn about. He spends an enormous amount of time in these cases, delving into the victim's character and lives, trying to understand what happened.

A man is found on the side of the road, beaten with a hammer, stabbed with a knife, and made to suffer a long slow death. Who was he and who hated him so much? Our detective listens to a series of cassette tapes left by the victim in the form of a diary and tries to understand who this man was and who had it in for him. As it says in this diary, "Anyone who conceives of writing as an agreeable stroll toward middle-class lifestyle will never write anything but crap." On the way, he brings Britain of the early eighties alive with punks, mods and rockers, junkies, people living as squatters and on the dole.
There may not be the kind of action here present in most detective novels, but it is a smooth, talented read that is worth reading far more than once. This detective is rude, sarcastic, overbearing and altogether one of the most unique characters ever. ( )
  DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond was originally published in 1984 and this author is considered one of the pioneers of British Noir. The story is set in the gritty underside of London as a nameless Detective hunts for the murderer of a down and out writer who is found at the side of the road but had obviously been beaten and tortured to death. This is the first book in a series of four called The Factory series and all feature the nameless detective who works for the Department of Unexplained Deaths.

The victim left behind a series of cassettes that enabled the detective to dig deep into his life and question all his acquaintances one by one until he was able to zero in on the guilty party. Unfortunately I never quite bought into this story, the cassettes were too convenient, giving the victim a voice and a personality that otherwise would not have been so clearly known.

He Died With His Eyes Open was very well written. The author easily showed the evil that can exist in a person by his sharp, precise writing and descriptions. The main character is a policeman who refuses to compromise but he also refuses to follow the rules and allows his investigation to take some wildly inappropriate turns. I found myself admiring the style of this book much more than the actual substance. I have another of these books on the shelf and will certainly give it a try but I am not ready to commit to the rest of the series at this point. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Jul 18, 2017 |
Extrem Noir literature... One of the darkest noir novels I’ve ever read and also one of the best. Derek Raymond is far beyond noir. There probably isn't even a word for his kind of darkness I think.
I definitely see noir as existentialist literature and this is one of the its primary examples.
Everyone who's a fan of Noir should this book, but be prepared to feel the urge to take a shower and turn on all your houselights after reading them. Ever since the release of Derek Raymond’s Factory Series, five crime novels set in Margaret Thatcher’s London, they’ve been on my must-read list. Finally I got around to reading one of the books. 2013 has been Discovery Year...
I don't know if I could stand to read this book again, but I'll read the following 4 volumes for sure. One of the things that impressed me the most was its remarkable and disturbing physicality.
Raymond's characters penetrated and interfered, putting me in touch with levels of intensity and disintegration that seem to combine literary achievement with a visceral view on things. His characters are both unlikely and horribly real. They live, like his narratives, in places I don't want to visit.
The book is so incredibly melancholic without ever feeling as self-indulgent as you might expect from a book that grieves at length over Death.
Highly recommended. ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
My first novel by Derek Raymond (born Robin Cook in 1931, and who died in London in 1994). The son of a textile magnate, he dropped out of Eton aged sixteen and was employed at various times as a pornographer, organiser of illegal gambling, money launderer, pig-slaughterer and minicab driver.

Much of this work experience is reflected in He Died With His Eyes Open, the first of the Factory novels, nominal police procedurals narrated by the unnamed protagonist, a sergeant at London's Metropolitan Police Department of Unexplained Deaths, also known as A14. A14 handles the lowlife murders, and which are in stark contrast to the headline-grabbing homicides handled by the prestigious Serious Crimes Division, better known as Scotland Yard.

He Died With His Eyes Open was a precursor to the work of David Peace and James Ellroy and, if that makes you sit up and take notice, then you should most certainly read this book. I am now resolved to read the other four Factory novels.

The tale takes place in the London of the mid 1980s, and the brutal killing of Charles Staniland - a middle-aged alcoholic failure - is handed to the sergeant at A14. The detection primarily involves the sergeant listening to cassette tapes made by the victim in which he describes his relationships and his personal reflections on his complex and dysfunctional world. This is not a standard crime novel, and - like the best genre fiction - Derek Raymond pushes the boundaries to create a bleak and surprising study of obsession and evil, that also evokes the matt black darkness of Thatcher's London.

Beautifully written and quietly profound, what more could could anyone want from a crime novel?

4/5 ( )
2 vote nigeyb | Apr 25, 2014 |
In a word: brilliant. The narrative is compelling, the prose like poetry. Raymond wrote as well as Dostoevsky about the criminal mind, the pathos of the victim, and the frustrations of the law enforcer. ( )
  missizicks | Oct 21, 2013 |
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Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
'One eye was shut where he knocked it on leaving the tomb
But the other is staring from behind the cornflakes
On middle-class dining-room sideboards.'

Robin Cook
'The Edencourt', 1952
For Fiona
First words
He was found in the shrubbery in front of the Word of God House in Albatross Road, West Five.
'If you'd like to fetch Mr Staniland for me,'...
'He's collating some incunabula upstairs.'
...the sun came and went in slow yellow bursts of hysteria beyond the heavy window curtains.
The card was signed with a self-conscious squiggle that reminded me of an ageing virgin trying to shake an impertinent finger out of her knickers.
...a new moon rocked over the Thames, attended by a single cloud.
Skeletal Maisie juggling the teacups with the confused haste of the insane...
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The first of the "Factory" series of bleak, atmospheric and subversive crime novels. A boozed-out tramp found under a bush in West London has been systematically butchered. The awesome depths of violent passion that the victim must have inspired fascinates the detective Sergeant put on the case. [Amazon.co.uk]
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When a middle-aged alcoholic is found brutally battered to death on a roadside in West London, the case is assigned to a tough-talking cynic from the Department of Unexplained Deaths. Our narrator must piece together the history of his blighted existence and discover the agents of its cruel end. What he doesn't expect is that digging for the truth will demand plenty of lying and cunning, and that the most terrible of villains wiill also prove to be the most attractive.… (more)

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