Nightmare In The Street, by Derek Raymond

To destroy evil, we must first define it. This seems a good place to start

Nicholas Royle
Wednesday 04 October 2006 00:00
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Derek Raymond's latest posthumous publication appeared originally in French translation. The only one of the crime writer's two dozen novels to be set in France, the country he adopted as his home from 1973, it stands slightly to one side of his much-loved Factory series.

Which is not to say that the author was no longer dipping his pen in the same blood-drenched inkwell. Raymond's insistence on plumbing the depths of man's capacity for evil seems to have become not so much a matter of volition as of pathology. But in Nightmare in the Street, the violence and despair are opposed by a love of extraordinary and redemptive power.

In strange, uneven prose that veers from the awkward to the transcendental, Raymond tells the story of Kleber, a 40-year-old plain-clothes detective who works out of a police station on Boulevard de Sébastopol in Paris. Married to an ex-prostitute, with his best friend a criminal called Mark, Kleber is an anomaly. Insubordination has ruled out promotion; not that advancement interests Kleber, whose disdain for authority leads to his kicking a fellow officer to the floor and punching three of his teeth out.

Readily agreeing to make a dangerous pick-up for Mark, Kleber ends up putting several bullets into three low-lifes, in effect painting a target on his own back in the process. His own life is itself a low priority; all that matters to Kleber is Elenya.

As this plot is noticeably simpler than those of the Factory novels, the reader's attention is drawn to Raymond's language, which is remarkably similar to that used in his London settings. Everyone talks like the Soho villains or East End gangsters Raymond had mixed with in real life.

Beyond superficial differences, it is clear that he had not abandoned his commitment to what he called "the black novel". In his memoir The Hidden Files, he wrote: "The purpose of the black novel at its best has always been to destroy evil by means of defining it."

The original manuscript of Nightmare in the Street was not among Raymond's papers at the American university that keeps his archives; a copy was found by his daughter, after the author's death, in his house in France. Raymond himself judged this book harshly (in The Hidden Files) as "a failure".

Only one other Raymond novel, Sick Transit, remains unpublished in English, having appeared in French translation. An English edition would be most welcome.

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