Jeff Noon

The mean streets of 1960s Soho: Bent, by Joe Thomas, and other crime fiction reviewed

Also reviewed are Brian De Palma’s Are Snakes Necessary?, Sophie Hannah’s Haven’t They Grown and Sishi Yokomizo’s The Inugami Curse

Brian De Palma brings his film director’s eye to Are Snakes Necessary? (Hard Case, £16.99), written in collaboration with the author Susan Lehman. The novel merges fierce political satire with the tale of a corrupt senator happy to cheat on his wife, despite her suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The latest object of his lust is a young videographer hired to record his campaign. Of course, things go from bad to worse and the senator is forced to call in a fixer to sort out the trouble. Terrible consequences ensue, all the way from Washington to Las Vegas to Paris. A globe-trotting sleaze-fest.

The story is pushed forward by the three drives of classic noir — sex, money and power, with the first two only seen as stepping stones on the way to the third. Everyone is either corrupt or on their way to being so. The book is giddy on its own pastiche. Yes, this is a film-maker’s novel, with the many short chapters acting like scenes in a movie and the characters painted in deft strokes, one or two emotions at a time. In truth, there is only one goal: to survive in the swamp pit. In which case, this might well be the best ever user’s manual on swamp survival.

Joe Thomas also deals with corrupt figures of authority, but in a very British setting. His novel Bent (Arcadia, £9.99) examines the true life story of Harold Challenor, SAS commando turned notorious detective sergeant in the Met. In the second world war he parachuted behind enemy lines to perform remarkable feats of bravery. But civvy street found him embedded in a very different
battlefield, the grimy backstreets and side alleys of 1960s Soho. He became a highly controversial figure, dealing with gangs, strip-club owners and racketeers, and inevitably getting dragged down to their level.

Told in sparse, energetic, fragmented prose, this is a crooked copper story that hits hard.

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