Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Crossroads, Kojak and The Wood

It's been a week of books about tv and pulpy horror. Steve Cole kindly sent me a copy of the massive Goodies book, Super Chaps Three, which I'm currently making my way through while simultaneously watching the series from the start. And then Johnny Mains, horror geek extraordinaire, sent me a big envelope stuffed full of the kind of cheap, trashy books I love. Finally, a slight tidy up of my 'office' pushed a Mac Hulke Crossroads novel which Paul Magrs gave me at Christmas to the top of the To Be Read pile.

First though I read Kojak: Reqiuem for a Cop from Johnny's parcel of mental paperbacks. It's not a tv series I ever cared much for, and I wasn't expecting more than a straight copy of the tv script , but instead the book is written as a kind of hardboiled first person narrative. Kojak talks like Sam Spade at times as he investigates the murder of an old friend, full of stylised threats of violence and evocative sketches of the city, playing the unconventional, rebellious loner card to the full and leaving a trail of battered bodies in his wake. At times it even reminded me of Chester Himes' Coffin Ed books. Actually, that's perhaps pushing it a bit far. There is something reminiscent of Himes, but it's be wild hyperbole to claim that this was as good as Himes' fantastic crime novels. And there's an unpleasant homophobia at play throughout which leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Still, as novelisations of tv scripts go, there's a lot more effort been put into this than a reader thirty years later has any reason to expect.

Crossroads: A Warm Breeze on the other hand is exactly what I would have imagined a Mac Hulke penned Crossroads novel would be like. Astonishingly bonkers source material (in one section Meg and former motel manager Kevin crash their plain in what is effectively a hidden valley and there discover a house where nothing has changed since World War I!) combined with Hulke's fantastic prose style and desire to inject left wing rhetoric into everything he wrote, make for the sort of book you just have to read to the end in one go.

It's enormously funny, full of asides and sly nods from Hulke, but with a definite air of the sinister about it. The waitress Josefina's belief that the English postal service are censoring her husband's mail in the manner of Franco and the way she checks under the stamps on the envelopes for the smuggled out truth, combines this mix of the witty and the worrying perfectly, but the book is littered with examples of Hulke's subtle layering of jokes and social commentary.

Elsewhere, poison pen letters accusing Meg of murder arrive in the same week that a figure in the dark attempts to assault various female members of the motel staff, and a Spanish couple who work in the kitchens find themselves the victims of racism and intimidation. And yet this juxtaposition of the comic and the creepy never feels forced or imbalanced, even at the end where it all goes a bit 'Twin Peaks' of all things!

Hulke's simply a good writer, incapable of writing rubbish and as a result 'A Warm Breeze' is a bit of a mini-triumph.

Another good writer playing his trade at the less well thought of end of the fiction marker is Guy N Smith, legendary author of 'Night of the Crabs' and other creepy, slightly minging horror novels.

Big admission up front - I'm not very knowledgeable about horror novels. Even as a kid, although I read King, Herbert and a couple of other big name horror writers, I wasn't what you would call much of a fan. It always seemed a bit predictable and backwards and needlessly gory - give me a spaceship over a graveyard, any day.

The Wood doesn't start particularly promisingly either, to be honest. Unpleasantly voyeuristic rape scene combined with spooky wood outside little village sums up the brutal end of 70s horror for me.

As it turns out though, this is a strangely dream-like book, with very well imagined overlapping realities and a lovely turn of phrase - 'His instinct surfaced, defied surrealism' is not, for instance, a line you'd expect in a producton line horror novel, at least in my mind. Smith actually has a very distinctive voice (which he uses to better effect for internal monologue than dialogue, if I'm being honest - the dialogue is the weakest part of the book for me) frequently utilising sentences witha fairly uncommon structure ('Starting to panic as an awful realisation dawned on him: life sentence.', 'Blank, terror stricken stares; the boy starting to sob.') to excellent effect. But it's the manner in which the various time periods overlap and integrate into one another which brought it home to me that horror novels needn't all be yawn-inducing clowns, plagues of unlikely killer insects or repulsively misogynistic rape fantasies. Really, I went into this expecting to give up half way through, but I ended up ripping through it, and I intend to move onto more Smith books in the near future.

That's this week's reading then - two tv novelisations and a cheapy horror paperback. And every one of them more enjoyable than the latest weighty, worthy, pompous Salman Rushdie tome.


  1. Now, you've got me wanting to read Crossroads novels too...


  2. I think there are three in total - Paul gave me this one, I bought the first one and I just came across the third on ebay, so looks like I'll need to stick in a bid.

  3. Cav - you should read them, definitely!
    Stuart - there are four! A New Beginning, A Warm Breeze, Something old Something New and A Time for Living

  4. My search for A Time for Living starts now then!