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Born into a wealthy textile manufacturing family, Robert "Robin" Cook rebelled and lived on the margins of society in Britain, Europe and America, to the point of being associated with the Krays in the early '60s. He turned these experiences into a novel, The Crust on its Uppers, that was well-received by critics but failed to sell. If possible, his life only get more bizarre from there, including working as a grape-picker in France for a decade and becoming the foreign minister of an anarchist city-state in Tuscany. Eventually, all this just became a background for his cult-favorite Factory series of police procedurals, which explored the seedy underbelly of mid-80s London.

He published these books under the name Derek Raymond, not wanting to use the name Robin Cook because of the best-selling American author and the British politician of the same name. The Raymond bit appears an obvious nod to Chandler, but MacDonald might have been more appropriate because his anti-hero policeman owes more to Lew Archer than to Philip Marlowe. The unnamed detective sergeant works in the unglamorous Department of Unexplained Deaths at the Met, despite admonishments from his peers that a man of his ability should really be in the more distinguished Serious Crimes unit. He stays where he is because, like Harry Bosch in Michael Connelly's series, every death should matter to the force and does to him.

In this first installment in the series he takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of why a ne're do well by the name of Charles Staniland was brutally beaten to death. Like an earlier version of the author, Staniland had bounced from odd job to odd job, including driving gypsy cabs, working in French vineyards, and writing. Living one rung above vagrancy, he's the sort of man whose death is no one's priority, except the narrator/detective's, who discovers a cache of writings and tapes in which the dead man reveals himself as a decent sort, hard done by society. It becomes his mission to obtain justice for Staniland:

Where I identified with Staniland, what I had inherited from him, was the question why.

Mind, I had always asked it myself--but this why was not a copper's why. Staniland's question was the question I had once read on a country gravestone erected to a child of six: "Since I was so early done for, I wonder what I was begun for."

Though Staniland had died at the age of fifty-one, he still had the innocence of a child of six. The naive courage, too--the desire to understand everything, whatever the cost.

This fragile sweetness at the core of people--if we allowed that to be kicked, smashed and splintered, then we had no society at all of the kind I had to uphold. I had committed my own sins against it, out of transient weakness.

But I hadn't deliberately murdered it for its pitiful membrane of a little borrowed money, its short-lived protective shell--and that was why, as I drank some more beer and picked up the next of Staniland's tapes, I knew I had to nail the killers.

Not just know them. Nail them.

If Lew Archer had a penchant for getting too involved in the family situations of the cases he was investigating, our nameless detective takes it to a whole 'nother level, virtually becoming Staniland. Obsessive listening to the tapes places Staniland's voice in his own head; he frequents the dives where Staniland used to go out drinking; and he even takes up with Staniland's buxom but brutal mistress. Gradually, but inevitably, he sets himself up to meet the same fate as the dead man.

This is noir at its blackest. And, while critics naturally try to attach the condition of the society against which the story is set to the governance of Margaret Thatcher, what we really have is the underworld that the 1970s had rendered, amply justified disgust with which had brought the Conservatives to power, just as Lew Archer's California had turned to Ronald Reagan. This is the Britain of Life on Mars and our protagonist, like Gene Hunt, has to redeem it for us. He does, but with no comic relief.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Derek Raymond Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Derek Raymond
    -BOOK SITE: The Factory Series (Melville House Press)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: He Died With His Eyes Open
    -Raymond Revuebar : Derek Raymond on the net
    -Derek Raymond (Stop, You're Killing Me!)
    -OBITUARY: Robin Cook (John Williams, 8/02/94, The Independent)
    -A Woefully Underdesigned Webpage on the Topic of Mr. Derek Raymond, alias Mr. Robin Cook, the Author (Jarett Kobek)
    -PROFILE: A writer who went down into darkness (James Sallis, 12/28/2003, Boston Globe)
    -PROFILE: Reviewing Raymond: Robin Cook, aka crime-writer Derek Raymond, prepared the dark path trodden by today's giants of the noir thriller (Sarah Weinman, 10 March 2008, The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Derek Raymond (Bookish)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Death at One's Elbow: Derek Raymond's Factory Novels: Margaret Thatcher is never named in Derek Raymond's Factory novels, but her shadow falls over them. (Charles Taylor, January 5, 2009, The Nation)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Resurrecting Derek Raymond, a.k.a. the first Robin Cook (Richard Rayner, 6/24/13, LA Times)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Visionary Detective (Joyce Carol Oates, 6/20/13, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: CIS: Derek Raymond and The Factory (DAVID PRESTIDGE, SEPTEMBER 26, 2012, Crime Fiction Lover)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Journey to the End of the Night: A Personal Journey Through Noir Writing (Cathi Unsworth, Nude)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Not Everybody Loves Raymond (J. Kingston Pierce, The Rap Sheet)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond (AL Kennedy, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Tony Black, The Rap Sheet))
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (BlahBlahBlahGay
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (PJ Coldren, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Boston Bibliophile)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Nico Vreeland, Chamber Four)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Forgotten Classics)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Ruthless Culture)
    -REVIEW: of I Was Dora Suarez (Factory #4) by Derek Raymond (Keishon, Avid Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of I Was Dora Suarez (BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of I Was Dora Suarez (J. Kingston Pierce, The Rap Sheet)
    -REVIEW: of I Was Dora Suarez (Jonathan Woods, 3AM)
    -REVIEW: of I Was Donna Suarez (Steve Finbow, 3AM)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man Upright by Derek Raymond (Jeff VanderMeer)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man Upright (Nick Pinkerton, L)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man Upright (Helen Burch, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man Upright (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man Upright (Rob Christopher, Chicago Reader)
    -REVIEW: of He Died With His Eyes Open (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Nightmare in the Street by Derek Raymond (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of How The Dead Live by Derek Raymond (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)

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