He Died with his Eyes Open by Derek Raymond is a modern noir that holds its own even amongst the classic masters. It’s the opening book to Factory Series. But don’t worry, there isn’t an annoying cliffhanger. The story takes place in cold streets of London where a middle aged man is found with his head bashed in. The protagonist, a police detective, has nothing go on besides a collection of tapes the murdered man left behind. They lead him into the underbelly of jolly old England in which he meets some bizarre characters. There is a highly psychological dimension to this book. We get to hear the dead man speak for himself, almost as if he’s pleading from beyond the grave.
It took me a little while to get used to Raymond’s British style. Every noir I’ve read is by American writers. I had to go on youtube and listen to Raymond do a reading in order to understand his rhythm (which was great). This book is hardcore cut-throat noir with an original plot. Raymond’s portrayal of human nature comes from an understanding that can only be obtained by direct experience. In other words, the man has been places. The way his characters behave just can’t be made up.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys gritty crime fiction. Derek Raymond isn’t a huge name; he’s one of those hidden gems waiting to be discovered. I never heard of him until I read this book. It was like walking into a dark room and getting a bat to the face. What a pleasant surprise, indeed.