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"He Died With His Eyes Open" by Derek Raymond

He Died With His Eyes Open - Derek Raymond, James Sallis

My first novel by Derek Raymond (born Robin Cook in 1931, and who died in London in 1994). The son of a textile magnate, he dropped out of Eton aged sixteen and was employed at various times as a pornographer, organiser of illegal gambling, money launderer, pig-slaughterer and minicab driver. 

Much of this work experience is reflected in He Died With His Eyes Open, the first of the Factory novels, nominal police procedurals narrated by the unnamed protagonist, a sergeant at London's Metropolitan Police Department of Unexplained Deaths, also known as A14. A14 handles the lowlife murders, and which are in stark contrast to the headline-grabbing homicides handled by the prestigious Serious Crimes Division, better known as Scotland Yard.

He Died With His Eyes Open was a precursor to the work of David Peace and James Ellroy and, if that makes you sit up and take notice, then you should most certainly read this book. I am now resolved to read the other four Factory novels.

The tale takes place in the London of the mid 1980s, and the brutal killing of Charles Staniland - a middle-aged alcoholic failure - is handed to the sergeant at A14. The detection primarily involves the sergeant listening to cassette tapes made by the victim in which he describes his relationships and his personal reflections on his complex and dysfunctional world. This is not a standard crime novel, and - like the best genre fiction - Derek Raymond pushes the boundaries to create a bleak and surprising study of obsession and evil, that also evokes the matt black darkness of Thatcher's London. 

Beautifully written and quietly profound, what more could could anyone want from a crime novel?

4/5