Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eric Brown

Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, and his novel Helix Wars was shortlisted for the 2012 Philip K. Dick award. He has published sixty books, and his latest include the crime novel Murder Take Three, and the short story collection Microcosms, with Tony Ballantyne. His novel Binary System is due out in Autumn. He has also written a dozen books for children and over a hundred and forty short stories. He writes a regular science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper and lives in Cockburnspath, Scotland.

Recently I asked Brown about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished the 1984 crime-suspense novel Cul-de-Sac by John Wainwright, a tour de force of psychological realism and a captivating study of dogged detective work. It’s set in the eighties in West Yorkshire, England, and begins with the diary entry of John Duxbury, the successful owner of a print works. The unreliable narrator charts his unhappiness, his failed marriage, and the eventual death of his wife. The viewpoint then switches to several other characters involved as either witnesses to the death, or investigating the events surrounding it, as it becomes clear that his wife’s fall from a cliff was more than just the accident it first appeared to be. The detective, Harry Harker, solves the crime by applying acute psychological analysis to the case, and lays bare the psyche of the suspect, John Duxbury. What is amazing about the novel is this gradual unravelling, in the final chapters, of Duxbury’s fragile character, and the depth of the detective’s sympathy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the master of the psychological crime novel, George Simeon, called Cul-de-Sac ‘An unforgettable novel’… Born in 1921, Wainwright was a police constable for twenty years before becoming a full-time novelist in 1965. In just thirty years he wrote a remarkable eighty-plus novels, many of them of a high quality. It’s perhaps because of his prolificacy, and the fact that he shunned publicity and lived not in literary London but in Leeds, Yorkshire, that he is little regarded these days. It’s a great shame. A re-evaluation of his considerable ability is long overdue.

At the moment I’m reading William Cooper’s Scenes from Metropolitan Life, published in 1982. It’s the follow-up to his ground-breaking 1950 novel Scenes from Provincial Life, about the life and loves of schoolteacher Joe Lunn in a lightly-fictionalised city of Leicester. In Metropolitan…, Joe has moved to London and is working as a civil servant; the novel follows his life at work in a government acquisitions department, and his courting of the love of his life, Myrtle. It’s a gently humorous novel, full of sly, witty asides and wry observations of the human condition. Cooper wrote two further novels about Joe Lunn, Scenes from Married Life and Scenes from Later Life, neither of which were as popular or as well reviewed as the first book of the series, which ushered in the age of kitchen-sink realism to British fiction, and influenced other ‘Angry Young Men’ writers such as Kingsley Amis, John Braine, and Alan Sillitoe, among others. William Cooper was the pseudonym of Harry Summerfield Hoff, who wrote three novels under his own name before the war, and in 1950 began writing as Cooper and penned a further eight novels under that pen-name… I’m reading a lot of books written or set in the fifties at the moment as a way of researching the age, as my Langham and Dupré mystery novels are set in that decade. It’s one of the best ways of researching the period, of understanding the social mores and manners of the time – quite apart from eavesdropping on the dialogue of the fifties.
Visit Eric Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder Take Three.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Take Three.

--Marshal Zeringue