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Book Review: Nightmare in the Street by Derek Raymond

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Serpent's Tail continue to reissue the back catalogue of British crime writer Derek Raymond with the previously unpublished Nightmare in the Street.  Not much is revealed of the state Raymond's typescript was in when it was discovered after his death in 1994 but, after reading the novel, I reckon a bit of editorial help was still on the way, but as Raymond once said in introducing one of his works, "The tragedy of help is that it never arrives."

I am always wary of recommending the boy Raymond to other readers – he can be hard work, is often gruesome and gory and always troubling. But I like his work because, I guess, I subscribe to the rather black worldview to which he showed such unwavering commitment through his writing life.

Nightmare in the Street stays true to that vision, and is not an easy read; let's take a look at a typical piece of Raymond prose:

But when she had gone he had this mortal blackness in him and was left with all the frightful trouble of his soul. It twisted in him as he lay on the beg, as sharp as what you die of. What could he do but clutch at the bedrails like a madman and beg for revenge and death?

And there's a lot of this in Nightmare.

Readers of Raymond's greatest works, The Factory Series, will immediately recognise and feel at home in the company of Kleber as he muses his dark way through the barely realised streets of Paris. That was something of a disappointment. Raymond spent much of his life in France, but the evocative visions of London's dirty streets, forgotten estates and murderous boozers that are such a feature of the Factory novels barely feature here.

We are in the Sebastapol section of the city and are regularly informed that it's a dump peopled by the poor and the criminal but the city never comes to life.  For this is a very lonely book; it's you and Kleber and Kleber's thoughts for much of the time – the odd villain drifts through, is brutalised and limps on, but there are few other characters to share the metaphysical load as the we join our lonely hero freshly suspended from the police on a journey for vengeance.

The nameless Detective Sergeant from the Poland Street Factory home of the Department of Unexplained Deaths is reborn in the shape of Kleber – another deeply moral man disgusted by the corruption of the world around him and with plenty of his own demons with which to converse.

Nightmare reads like much of the rest of Raymond's work – it's almost a collection of scenes rather than a novel with a dynamic plot – but you come to Raymond for the writing of those scenes and for his vision which remained intact to the end.

Having chased my Raymond obsession around second-hand shops for years, it's a treat to have something new from the man but I was left disappointed and would recommend this one initially only to completists, towards the end it becomes almost a distilled essence of Raymond, and that's quite tough to stomach, we're round the corner from Kafka and moving in next door to Conrad.

The reappearing Factory series is the best place to start and even I, a confirmed fan, found myself wearying of the unrelenting and unleavened gloom towards the end of Raymond's final work.

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