#10 – Strike For Death, John Creasey BOOK REVIEW

January 25, 2018
krauserpua

Who would have thought I’d lose interest in video games? At the time of writing I just finished my 11th book of the year, in less than four weeks. I don’t normally read so fast but this little winter project of mine must be speaking to something deep in my core because all I want to do is read new books. I haven’t touched Assassins Creed Origins in nearly a week, and that’s odd. My guess is momentum for Project High Value Man has been building up quietly and now I’ve settled myself into a comfy chair next to my bookcase, it’s keeping me there. Interesting.

Regular readers have likely observed that I’m not a fan of bandwagon jumping, nor of downloading my thoughts from the internet, media, or academia. When that Jordan Peterson interview went viral I did indeed watch it. What I didn’t do was immediately put up a click-bait YouTube video about it. Just as I never posted a video about how Conor MacGregor might win his superfarce superfight with Floyd Mayweather. Like most red-blooded males, I had an idea how the fight would go but I also found it distasteful to hop aboard the bandwagon.

It’s what women do. And the lower classes.

It’s declasse.

snobs

“Did you see that Stefan Molyneaux response video to the Peterson interview, Jeeves?”

 

While I’d like to believe I’m some kind of free-thinking iconoclast, I suspect the reality is simply that my personality type is contrarian and I will instinctively act against what I perceive is the herd instinct [1]. The downside of this is I fail to ride trends and my marketing reach is considerably lower than it could be. The upside is also that I fail to ride trends. So I knew not to get involved in the speculative mania of crypto currency [2] or follow the latest game-nonsense-of-the-month [3]

My unwillingness to listen to my betters [4] means that from an early age I reached my own determinations of what is or is not the case and would hold to that no matter what the ‘public mind’ was. Sometimes I’d be spectacularly wrong and embarrass myself but mostly it meant I could see things way in advance while everyone else is running around like fools [5]. If you think this is a good thing, you’d called it ‘being sigma’.

Bukowski

What has that got to do with reading books?

Simply put, I judge books on their merits as I see them rather than what I’m supposed to believe. I don’t read book reviews in the magazines, I treat reputation as the loosest of preliminary guides, and I don’t buy a book just because it’s advertised on the London Underground and Metro newspaper tells me everyone is reading it [6]. This has led me to a (mildly) controversial conclusion about fiction:

The best writers are usually in genre fiction, not prize-winning literature

Genre writers need to tell a story. They need to sell books. To do that, they must grip you in the first few pages and maintain dramatic momentum to the end. You have to finish the book thinking “I want to read more of his stuff”. In contrast, literature writers are mostly trying to get invited to the right parties, full of dull-witted chattering classes who don’t actually read their books [7]. When I was a teenager and I found literature boring, I figured I simply wasn’t savvy enough to appreciate it. Now I’m older, I realise much of it is just the Emperor’s new clothes.

This brings me to John Creasey.

creasey

Here’s one I wrote last week…

I greatly admire this man primarily because he was so prolific. He wrote six hundred novels under twenty-eight different pseudonyms over forty-three years. That’s averaging over one novel a month, consistently. It’s quite staggering really. Most absurdly prolific artists are just rubbish [8] but I’ve read ten or more Creasey books and they are good. You’d never guess they were rushed.

I’m always impressed by men who can maintain a prolific output without suffering a drop in quality. That’s talent and professionalism. It inspires me to work harder. I see no reason to adopt the archetype of a writer popular in the public imagination as a man who patiently and slowly labours over every word and rewrites chapters many times until finally, ten years later, his lone novel is published. Nope, that’s bollocks. Rarely are such books any better than the one-month-turnaround genre fiction. Why?

Because prolific writing is its own apprenticeship. People learn by doing. They learn by getting busy, putting skin in the game, and then reflecting on the lessons that reality has taught them [9]. Anyway, let’s turn our minds to this book in particular.

Strike For Death blue

Creasey was a crime writer who created a few similar characters and then cranked out books according to a formula. He had police procedurals featuring Inspector West and Commander Gideon, and also a more hard-boiled series featuring The Toff, an upper-class fixer and sometimes private detective. Those are the three series I dipped into. He’s got others I haven’t yet tried.

What I like most about the Inspector West series is the image of 1950s England that it presents. It’s a country with strong collective spirit rebuilding after the war and not yet suffering the onslaught of mass immigration. The Brits still have a stiff upper lip but the war is too recent for them to have gone soft. The Soviet Union is a new menace and constantly meddling in UK affairs. West is a rising star in Scotland Yard. Unlike modern police procedurals, Creasey doesn’t do any post-modern bullshit with “complex” flawed characters. West is a hero. He’s a modest family man with good judgement, strong moral code, and a commitment to correct procedure. He’s not a haunted alcoholic like the hard-boiled detectives, he’s not a rebellious rule-breaker like Dirty Harry, nor is he a pompous virtue-signalling psychiatrist like Alex Delaware.

I like stories where protagonists are men with a real life worth having, and a commitment to doing the right thing. There’s not a lot of melodramatic flourish in the West stories. He doesn’t leap from moving trains, or quick-draw to shoot down a gang of thugs, nor does he disarm a bomb one second before the presidential motorcade arrives. He’s just a solid copper doing the right thing, with a little flair.

This realness to his character, where if he’s working late he phones the wife to tell her not to wait up, brings the story to life [10]

Strike For Death

She looks like a Croat I fucked

This maturity and realness spreads into the subject of Strike For Death. I’m sure you’re thinking it’s a vulgar potboiler, to judge from the lurid cover. Nope. The story is that a big car factory is rolling out a new model that will pull in lots of export orders. The union is agitating for a ten percent pay rise and as tempers flair, there’s a murder. Scotland Yard is brought in to solve the case, which rapidly evolves into additional violent incidents.

As a narrative experiment, Creasey seems determined to keep almost the full book on factory premises. There are brief interludes where West returns to the Yard, and one key scene in the factory owner’s house, but for the most part it’s all on-site. Creasey pulls that off well and makes the factory one of the characters.

I liked how he handles the industrial dispute. This is not a simple case of good vs evil, either on the side of the owners or the union. Creasey takes care to present both the chief shop steward Michael Grannett and the board CEO Sir Ian Munro as sympathetic characters who have a sincere commitment to their ideological positions yet also somewhat bull-headed and prone to dismissing opposing points of view. Grannett is doing his best to protect the interests of his workers and Munro is trying to keep the factory profitable in tough times. The conflict is due to a balance of conflicting and shared interests, rather than a simple white hat vs black hat.

Nothing annoys me more than when a writer decides the bad guy’s motivation is simply “because he wants to do bad stuff”.

Books reflect the spirit of the times. In 1958 England was a different place with different concerns. Balance of payments was a big problem and thus foreign currency earnings through exports were a big deal (this is part of the book’s high stakes), workplace agitation by KGB-backed shop stewards was a massive problem [11]. The UK economy was heavily nationalised in 1958 and regulation stifled everything.

It’s almost quaint to see what types of crimes were the focus of fiction, and what type of criminals committed them. In this case there’s a murder of a young worker by someone on the factory staff. The entire case is local and the motive is one of the big three : greed, jealousy, revenge. There are no ISIS terrorists setting off bombs on busses, no Muslim immigrants setting up child-rape gangs in provincial cities, no Yardies hacking each other with machetes over failed drug deals.

This was a time of East End riff-raff robbing a post office, of a wife poisoning her husband, or a jealous teenager stabbing a love rival.

Honest times.

crime

The good old days when criminal and victim alike wore suits

There’ll be an announcement very soon about a small project I’m working on. Thanks to those of you who took me up on the Winter Memoir Challenge. There are now SIX books in the works, that I’ve been told of. Two guys have already sent me significant first draft manuscripts for my review. I’m starting to think 2018 may be the a bountiful year for daygame literature.

[1] I play video games this way too. The very last thing I do is the main quest line, and any time an NPC tells me “you must…” I immediately try to kill him.
[2] Here’s a rule of thumb. Anytime you’re told “this time it’s different” or “it’s a new type of economy now”, get out.
[3] I’m old enough to remember when people took HookingUpSmart seriously, and I’m waiting for people to give up on the Dark Triad fairy story. I’ve been told that Instagram and Seeking Arrangement are the “new game”. This time it’s different.
[4] Or to take a telling, as some friends have told me
[5] For example I’ve been saying for years that Obama is the worst president in history, a stooge for the Chicago mob, a vain fruity narcissist of middling IQ, raised and groomed by Saudi Arabia as a Manchurian candidate, not even a US citizen, and that he’s neck-deep in the worst political corruption in US history and will likely go to jail for it. Right after his election I stated he was a classical Mussolini-style fascist in how he worked with Wall Street in corporate America. I wasn’t the only person saying this, but it was considered the lunatic fringe by the gatekeepers of the narrative.
[6] Speaking of which, I finally watched The Girl On The Train movie last night. Absolute shit. In contrast I thought Get Out was brilliant and absolutely NOT the movie the critics said it was.
[7] That might be a slight exaggeration.
[8] Such as Spanish film director Jess Franco or his Italian equivalent Joe D’Amato.
[9] I consider my own memoir series to be my writing apprenticeship.
[10] Incidentally, this is how daily soap dramas like Eastenders should’ve been. Instead of revelling in door-slamming dysfunction of mongs, they could’ve shown real people trying to do the right thing. Still, that would subvert the cultural Marxist agenda so it was never going to happen.
[11] And didn’t stop for a long time. For example , KGB agents were everywhere in the 1984 miner’s strike in an attempt to bring down the Government and also behind the CND’s attempt to unilaterally disarm the UK.

2 Comments

  1. How high do you rate “Ten little niggers” from your very English Agatha Christie? [Excellent book. I also liked the Mario Bava adaptation “Five Dolls For An August Moon”. K.]

  2. What about technical books?
    Do you have a favourite list too? [Daygame Infinite, Daygame Mastery, Daygame Nitro. K.]

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