Tfitoby's Reviews > He Died With His Eyes Open

He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond
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's review
Jan 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: black-as-night, lit, favourites

He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a feeling about this one, I desperately wanted (needed?) to read the book from the second I heard about it, yet when I finally bought a copy I allowed it to sit on my shelf for at least two months. I'm glad I did, it's an incredible piece of noir writing and to have devoured it instantly would've have been a massive disservice to Derek Raymond.

Part way through I was reminded of Ross Macdonald's famous quote about Raymond Chandler, how "he was a slumming angel" and that term really feels like an apt description for the victim in this novel, the protagonist of this novel and the writer of this novel.

Raymond dropped out of the famous Eton public school and followed a career path that resembled Charles Bukowski more than any number of sub-royal upper class Brits that he might have considered his peers. He moved to France and lived on the margins of society in both England and France and it is this dual experience and knowledge that imbues the two main characters with such insight and purpose.

Our nameless hero taking a journey in to the downward spiralling life of Charlie Staniland via his words - written and spoken on to casettes - and then literally in to the life he had chosen to lead as he comes face to face with the filth, cretins, lowlifes (and also the decent hardworking people who had fallen through the cracks of Thatchers Britain.) It's a journey that almost goes beyond noir, it's black, it's bleak and it's truly powerful stuff. As the Evening Standard is quoted on the cover of this version, Raymond is "unafraid to face the reality of man's evil" and it is this fearlessness that puts the novel in to the literary category of crime writing, takes it that step further in to greatness.

The lead character is from the old school pulp noir territory, down these dark oppressive roads a man must walk, not because he chooses to but because he must type stuff. A loner because he chooses to be, taking chances with his life to ensure justice for those who otherwise wouldn't receive it yet with a worldview that never quite reaches the depths of despair no matter what the situation.

Having grown up in England I may have a greater appreciation for some of this stuff than those who didn't, there are aspects that are very much part of "Little England" that may not be so easily understood by others but that aside this is still a fabulous piece of work that should be appreciated by all of us with a penchant for the darkest of noirs and who enjoy taking a journey in to the depths of human depravity with a hardboiled hero at our side.

For me this is David Goodis (at his very best) territory but with a British slant on it, take this wonderful piece of description for example: "both armies were attended by secretaries who wittered blondely away at each other across tepid gin and tonics," the cynical worldview we expect from a Marlowe or a Spade delivered with an accurate dig at the very British way of serving alcohol.

A remarkable work from a very talented man, it makes you care for somebody whose name you never hear mentioned, his clear affection towards the drunken mess of a man at the centre of the mystery is evident and if you don't care for Charlie Staniland or his life you will at least care that there is somebody out there desperate to bring his killers to justice.

“I have taken a terrible beating from the truth and feel tamed, wise and desperate, as if I had taken a short route to wisdom through a mirror, and cut myself badly on it as I passed through.” 

For those of you who look forward to movie adaptations there was a French movie in 1985 called On ne meurt que deux fois starring Charlotte Rampling which I am yet to see and a quick look on imdb suggests that a new TV series is in the works based on the five book sequence, so something to look forward to.


Further viewing suggestions:

               This Is England                                       I.D.                                       Meantime

Further reading suggestions:

The Red Riding Quartet by David Peace

Originally posted at blahblahblahgay
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Reading Progress

January 25, 2012 – Shelved
April 23, 2012 – Started Reading
April 23, 2012 –
page 26
April 24, 2012 –
page 83
April 24, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Michael I'm keen to know what this book is like, I almost added it to the current Pulp Fiction poll

Tfitoby Knowledge Lost wrote: "I'm keen to know what this book is like, I almost added it to the current Pulp Fiction poll"

26 pages in and i'm fully enamoured. i have this feeling, in fact i sort of had the feeling when i discovered the book, that it's going to be a 5 star book. i hope i'm not disappointed but i can't see it being average with the way Raymond is writing so far.

Jeffrey Keeten Looking forward to your assessment.

message 4: by Mark (new)

Mark Great review. This series is highly rated by the cognoscenti, and it's on my to-read shelf.

Tfitoby Thanks mark. It really is very good so far, although i'm only 2 books in. I hope you enjoy it.

Jeffrey Keeten Ok you got me. It is on the queue for next month's budget. It sounds terrific. Where the hell have I been?

Tfitoby It's funny Jeffrey, there seems to be an awareness of the book/series but few people seem to have read it. Go forth and enjoy and I apologise for the dent in your budget.

I think your should find hard covers quite easily though. I got one by accident infact.

message 8: by Mohammed (last edited Aug 26, 2012 07:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohammed Somehow i didn't know this author was brit, noir is so American in my reads of the field. Also I'm. Wondering how I missed a film with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. They are huge favourite of mine. I see you mentioned This is England but the best film like this by the director that I loved to bits is Dead man' shoes.

Tfitoby Dead Mans Shoes is the one with the retarded brother right? I've seen it but didn't love it as much as you. The three movie recommendations are all set in the same time period and mileau as the book. Meantime features them both when they were very young and was originally just a British TV movie. Mike Leigh is a fantastic director so its well worth finding if you can.

Mohammed Tfitoby wrote: "Dead Mans Shoes is the one with the retarded brother right? I've seen it but didn't love it as much as you. The three movie recommendations are all set in the same time period and mileau as the boo..."

I liked dead man's shoes so much because it was so noir lead character. I'm a recent fan of hardcore indy brit Films. They are so down to earth quality when you are sick of Hollywood blockbusters. I will look up that director, film. I usually follow good director more than genre.

message 11: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 I like the fact that you've added further reading and further watching suggestions.... ah to be so well rounded!

Tfitoby Thanks! Im a former film geek and graduate so i have to find a use for the knowledge somehow.

message 13: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Well i appreciate the suggestions

Tfitoby I stand by all of them. Even watching the red riding trilogy is well worth the effort.

Tfitoby Alberto wrote: "I finally read it and enjoyed it a lot. This Is England came to mind while reading it too. I understand your appeal for the book. I know London a little bit having visited the city myself lots of t..."

Alberto my friend you're most welcome, I'm so happy that more people are reading this fantastic book. I found a copy of Off Side this week so hopefully you've already repaid the recommendation!

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