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He Died With His Eyes Open - Derek Raymond, James Sallis “Every day you amass knowledge in a frantic race against death that death must win. You want to find out everything in the time you have; yet in the end you wonder why you bothered, it'll all be lost. I keep trying to explain this to anyone who will listen.”

Robert Cook as Derek Raymond

This is the first book of four in the Factory series of detective novels with the nameless Sergeant of the Department of Unexplained Deaths as the protagonist. This department, not a popular department, but a department that is available for the unsavory cases; the nonglamorous cases; the cases that could be a minefield for an upward bound career. The battered body of Charles Locksley Alwin Staniland represents just such a case. It is not unusual to find a 51 year old alcoholic dead, but to find one bludgeoned, tortured, with bones broken before the final shattering hammer blow to the skull is unusual. Even more suspicious to find him alongside the roadway in a brazen, all be it, stupid attempt to convince the police he was the victim of a hit and run.

The French movie based on the book

When the nameless Sergeant arrives at Staniland’s apartment he is not surprised to find it to be spartan, anything of monetary value long since having been sold or stolen, but there is something left that proves to be not only a break in the case, but also an audio legacy to the life of Charles Staniland. He was a writer by trade and as we see this case unfold we find out he was a damn good writer, but when he was too soused to write he would pick up the tape recorder and explain his life.

“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.”

Listening to the tapes is like falling down a rabbit hole, the more he listens, the more he feels like he knows Staniland, and the more the case becomes personal. He could no more stop investigating this case than he could stop breathing. In the tapes, Staniland is obsessed with his poisonous relationship with a woman named Barbara/Babsie. He investigates other things, but he knows the “heart” of the case revolves around Staniland’s fixation on this woman.

”I realize I can’t satisfy Barbara in bed. I don’t believe anybody can. It’s a strange form of love, to be compelled to convert the woman you love into a human being. She hates my love, she says; it’s servile; she just wants to kick it to pieces.”

When the nameless detective finally meets Barbara he has already went through many stages of being repelled and attracted to her, as if he had already spent months in a relationship with her. Still once he meets her:

”I realized now what Staniland had been through with her. She was tall and blonde with good legs, an even better bottom and big tits, but not grotesque. It wasn’t just her face with the bright pointed teeth and the lazy eyelids; it was the flat disinterest with which she looked at men, as if she didn’t give a tinker’s damn either way.”

Charlotte Rampling plays Barbara in the French movie.

The nameless detective feels a kinship with Staniland. ”Where I identified with with Staniland, what I had inherited from him, was the question why.”

What shall we be,
When we aren’t what we are?

He was also friends with a sculptor, a man he deeply respected and would have loved to be more like. The artist part of his soul resonates with Staniland’s more philosophical musings.

”When he was broke he never came into the pub: ‘A true communist is no scrounger,’ he said. I had just decided to go to police school then, and I remember that when I told him so he looked at me for a time and remarked: ‘Yes, but perhaps you could have been an artist, too.’
I dared not tell him, though I told him most things, that I didn’t have the courage for that.”

Derek Raymond

Derek Raymond is not really Derek Raymond, but actually a man by the name of Robert William Arthur Cook and is credited with being the founder of the English Noir Novel. In a review published in The Observer, Jane McLoughlin compared the quality of its writing to that of Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, and Joseph Conrad. I got to say I expected to like this book as my GR friends Tfitoby and Mike Sullivan were reassuring with their excellent reviews, but I did not expect to find such depth in a hardboiled novel. There is gut wrenching angst expressed so vividly. Love/lust and all the tribulations that come from tragic, unnatural attractions to a human being that is incapable of reciprocating that love are explored in gritty detail. Will the nameless detective survive his immersion into the sordid life of Staniland or will he find himself another victim of the Jim Thompsonesque characters that populate this novel? You’ll have to read it and find out.