America may well be the official home of pulp and noir but the United Kingdom, long perceived as the land of Dame Agatha style cozies and stuck-up, Latin-quoting police detectives, also has a grubby underbelly which has produced plenty of gritty crime writing. A new wave of Brit Grit writers are leaving their blood-stained footprints across this septic isle.
The Godfathers of the new Brit Grit must be Ted Lewis, Derek Raymond and Mark Timlin. The next wave features Jake Arnott, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid. Ken Bruen deserves a mention even though he’s Irish, not British, but his influence is strong.
In the last few years, more and more BRIT GRIT writers have been creeping out of the woodwork, through the cracks in the pavement, out of the dark and dingy alleyways.
Scottish crime writer Tony Black, for example, is the author of four novels featuring punch drunk, booze addled Gus Dury, an ex-journalist turned reluctant Private Investigator whose shoulder has more chips than Harry Ramsden. Gus sniffs around the back streets of Edinburgh and follows the rancid trail of crime and corruption right to the top.
They’re gruelling, intense and exciting journeys—not without moments of humour and tenderness. You may feel as if you’d like to give Gus a smack every few pages, but the pit bull proves himself again and again.
Gus Dury may be in the gutter but he’s still looking at the stars, albeit through the bottom of a bottle of whisky. And it’s down to Black’s great writing that when you finish one of his novels you feel battered and bruised but can’t wait for the next round
Pulp mastermind Otto Penzler famously said that noir is about losers and not private investigators. Mr Penzler may or may not have read Tony Black or his fellow-Scot Ray Banks, then. Talk about losers, Banks’ Cal Inness quartet is the real deal. Inness is true loser. He’s a mess. A lush. A man so far in denial he’s in the Suez. In each brilliant tale he bangs his head against as many brick walls as he can. And he feels the pain. So do we. The quartet is as bitter and dark as an Irish coffee and leads to a shocking yet inevitable conclusion.
While I’m on about dark quartets, of course, I should mention David Peace’s intense Red Riding Quartet, dissecting the lives affected by the Yorkshire Ripper with dense prog-rock prose.
And there’s more: There’s Alan Guthrie who gave us the best novel of 2009 with SLAMMER; Nick Quantrill BROKEN DREAMS which looks at a Northern English town that has had its fair share of kickings but still isn’t out for the count; BAD PENNY BLUES is Cathi Unsworth’s ambitious look at the many facets of London in the late fifties and early sixties; Comic genius Charlie Williams and his nightclub bouncer hero Royston Blake help you see life in a way that Paulo Coelho never will!
There are BRIT GRIT publishers too: Caffeine Nights who publish Nick Quantrill and Ian Ayris, amongst others; Newcastle’s Byker Books publish Industrial Strength Fiction such as the Radgepacket—Tales from the Inner Cities anthologies; Brighton-based Pulp Press publish short, punchy novellas with the slogan ‘Turn Off Your T.V. and discover fiction like it used to be.’
(Adapted from a piece written for the programme of the 2010 NoirCon)
ADDENDUM OF WORTHY BRIT GRIT AUTHORS:
There’s even comic BRIT GRIT from Donna Moore and Christopher Brookmyre, BRIT GRIT thrillers from Matt Hilton and surrealist BRIT GRIT from Jason Michel.
BIO: Spinetingler Award nominee Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. His stories have appeared in a number of online and print magazines and even in The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Fiction 2011, edited by BRIT GRIT criminal mastermind Maxim Jakubowski.
His blog is “You Would Say That Wouldn’t You?