Archive for Len Deighton

Page Seventeen III: Beyond Thunderdome

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2022 by dcairns

The exit came up on his right, and for a moment he considered driving right past it, continuing on to Chamberlain or Lewiston, stopping for lunch, and then turning around and going back. But back where? Home? That was a laugh. If there was a home, it had been here. Even if it had only been four years, it was his.

It was about eight o’clock, very dark and very cold. Except for the faint creaking of the cooling engine and the rustle of the breeze in some nearby trees, there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Ahead, the road in the headlights curved away to the right. I got out the map and tried to find out where I was.

A penetrating drizzle had been leaking through the low cloud since I had joined the A3 at Kingston Vale about 6.45 a.m. Window display men were junking polystyrene Xmas trees and ordering gambolling lambs. On their way to work people were sneaking a look at shop windows to see how much their relatives had paid for the presents they had received.

Speaking of getting killed, let me clarify that Pinto wagons were not the models that notoriously burst into flames upon impact, even a low-speed impact. Those were the Pinto sedans. It took nearly thirty people dying in Pinto fires and over one hundred lawsuits before Ford acknowledged the car’s poorly designed fuel tank and rear end. On the rare occasion I took a girl out on a date, I hastened to assure her that my Pinto was “not the exploding kind.” Usually, my date had no clue about the rash of fatal rear-end Pinto collisions, and my reassurance had the opposite effect of casting an anxious pall over the evening.

But I must relate what a wonderful country it was into which we were now arrived. Were we not assured that all the world is the Lord’s, we might be tempted to think such a wild region the kingdom of the Evil One.

Dirty Car Art by Scott Wade

We got off the Alley and took the 858 into downtown Naples and out to the beach, turned right, and drove along hotel row until we came to the Eden Beach. I drove the long curve of sleek asphalt past the portico and on over into their parking area. A man tending the plantings stopped and stared slack-jawed at the Rolls pickup. It has that effect. The conversion was done clumsily during the Great Depression. Four fat women in shorts were on the big putting green, grimly improving their game. Through big-leafed tropic growth I could see the blue slosh of the swimming pool,and I heard somebody bodysmack into it off the rumbling board. I saw a slice of Gulf horizon, complete with schooner. We went up three broad white steps and through a revolving door into the cool shadows of the lobby. A very pretty lady behind the reception desk smiled at us, frowned at her watch, picked up a phone, punched out two numbers, then spoke in a low voice.

‘Please, mister, can you tell us what kind of a snake that is in the wagon? Is it something they caught here in Arizona? We’re just out from the East, you know, and don’t know all the animals here yet.’

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books I apparently own — this time, with a motoring/travelling theme.

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King; The Army of the Shadows by Eric Ambler, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies; Horse Under Water by Len Deighton; But What I Really Want to Do is Direct: Lessons from a Life Behind the Camera by Ken Kwapis; The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter by Ambrose Bierce; Free Fall in Crimson by John D. MacDonald; The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney.

Extract from novel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2020 by dcairns

I won’t do this too often, I promise. Mostly I’ll just sneak in quiet plugs here and there. But this is a full-on extract from my novel, We Used Dark Forces, which is available from Amazon UK and from Amazon US and from all the other Amazons.

Anne Billson, critic and novelist (Suckers, The Half Man, Cats on Film) said “Like the bastard offspring of Agatha Christie and HP Lovecraft squished through an Ealing comedy mangler and running amok in a Scottish castle at the height of the Blitz. Slapstick surrealism at its most compelling and hilarious. Whitsuntide is an anti-hero for the ages.”

David Quantick, screenwriter (The Thick of It, Veep, TV Burp) said: “We Used Dark Forces is a twisted mixture of dark wit, wry horror and splendidly-applied imagination.”

Wry horror is going to be my speciality, I think. Now for the extract. I think I was inspired here, if I may use that word, by seeing a TV doc years ago about Len Deighton’s nameless spy (later to become Harry Palmer, the blandest name they could think of), where one of the talking heads on offer exaggerated the facelessness of the character somewhat. A seed was planted, and I began to consider blandness as a superpower.

Inspector Graham There has been summoned to Scotland Yard Underground to receive a strange commission from Sir Sheckley Frestle-Mottram. Now read on…

It’s hard to describe Sir Sheckley Frestle-Mottram, let alone sum him up. He’d occupied a senior position at Scotland Yard for some fifty years, yet still had the vigour of a man ten years younger: perhaps ninety or so. He eyed me with, well, an eye, an eye which had seen things I’d never dreamed of, and probably vice versa. You hear of people having a faraway look. Sir Sheckley had the opposite of that. In his presence, I had never felt more in someone’s presence. But the feeling wasn’t mutual.

“Then?” he asked. This rather threw me. Then I surmised it was, perhaps, a stab at my name.

“There, sir,” I corrected him, as respectfully as possible.

“Here?” he asked, which didn’t seem to get us much further.

“Here to see you,” I agreed, then added, a bit uncertainly, “There.”

“Sit down there,” he ordered, or it might have been “Sit down, There.” He nodded at a spot on the rug, but I chose to interpret his nod loosely, and opted for the nearest chair.

“I have a case that’s perfect for you,” he said, flipping open a folder. Then he seemed to forget I was present. Which I’m used to.

“Very gratifying, sir,” I said, hoping to bring things into focus again.

“You needn’t feel flattered,” he snapped. “It isn’t any particular great quality that suits you to this job. Rather, it’s your singular lack of qualities.”

“Sir?”

“Your superiors tell me you’re apt, those of them that remember you exist. Good. I need an apt man who makes as little impression as possible, and you seem to satisfy the latter requirement to a staggering degree. You have no distinguishing traits. No personality. People not only forget you after they meet you, they seem to forget you while they’re meeting you. I’m looking right at you and I can barely see you.”

“Sir?”

“You have a rare talent, Where, you’re a human chameleon. A man of a thousand faces, all of them identical. You’ve heard the expression ‘The best place to hide a leaf is in a forest’? You, sir, are our forest.”

“Sir?”

“We’ve had our eye on you for some time, or at least I think we have. Not my eye, of course, my eye was taken out by a Mahdi spear in ’85. This one’s onyx. No, I mean the great, all-seeing eye of the Yard, which does all our head-hunting. And not like the head-hunters who got mine and shrunk it in ’92, I mean in a benign, caring way. This one’s brass, mostly. Works like a charm. Amazing what the boffins can do nowadays.”

“Sir?” – there didn’t seem to be anything else I could say, you know, and this repeated monosyllable did seem to have the effect of spurring him on. All I could hope for at this stage was to keep the conversation in some kind of motion, in the vague expectation of ending up somewhere comprehensible again.

“My point is that you, sir, are a find. A miracle, a prodigy, no, better than that, a freak of nature. A vacuum in human form, without a shred of charisma or charm or even basic human dignity. When you walk into a room it’s like somebody left. As you approach, you seem to get further away. The more I look at your blank, lifeless features, the more fascinated I become by my blotter.”

“Sir…” I tried to repurpose my word as a sort of remonstrance.

“Have much trouble getting served in bars?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“No. Just you.”

I must admit, he was starting to get on my nerves, partly because there was a nagging ring of truth to his words, as if he were writing my spiritual biography, summing up the way I’d seemed to spend my thirty-two years passing through the world without leaving a ripple.

“You exemplify all the negative qualities, Then,” he was saying. “You name it, you haven’t got it.”

“There,” I corrected. “There!”

“No need to console me, you’re the one with the terrible problem.”

“But there must be millions like me.”

“Yes,” he said, pounding the desk with his hook, “But not exactly like you. Whereas you are exactly like you, to a quite startling degree. You’re like an empty suit of clothes walking around, talking, eating watercress sandwiches — though obviously not as interesting as that would be. But this gives you an advantage over the common man, or should I say, the slightly less common man. You can vanish into a crowd because you are the crowd. Everyone assumes they already know you because you’re like everybody else, more like them than they are. A resemblance without an original. An exact lookalike of nobody special. Where other people have presence, you have absence. If you stood in front of another man, I’d still be able to see him better than you. You’re not a person, you’re not even an outline. You’re the echo of an unspoken thought. The sound of one hand failing to clap.”

Pg. 17, #14

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by dcairns

Cruising on Commonwealth Avenue, Special Officer James Mellon and Sergeant John Driscoll of Homicide heard the dispatcher’s message over their radio. Mellon swung the car round. ‘They’ll want us over there anyway, may as well go now.’ A moment later the order came sending them to 77 Gainsborough Street, too. A few minutes after eight o’clock Officer Mellon walked into Apartment 3F. As he came through the door he found himself in a tiny foyer; directly before him the living-room desk with a lamp, a telephone and the tiny Latvian flag. Mellon’s first impression was of neatness. The very floor gleamed. A policeman was seated near the desk making out his report. Mellon glanced automatically to the left, towards the rear, bedroom section of the apartment. ‘Where’s the body?’ he asked.

*

He was so small that they towered over him and as they crossed the second threshold and came into his home it was they, the two senior policemen, who caught the full impact of that first unforgettable scene.

*

Once partly used as a showroom for new Chrysler cars, the lobby underwent a comprehensive restoration in the late 1970s. the work brought many features back to their original glory, notably the red-veined African marble walls and the elevators’ plush laminated wood interiors. Although an observation level once existed at the base of the spire, there are now no public areas on the upper floors, and visitors must content themselves with admiring Edward Trumbel’s lobby mural depicting diverse images on themes of transportation.

*

An officer searches an abandoned building for clues: in a stairwell he finds the skeleton of a forty-year-old man. A tracking dog returns to its master — with the skull of an adult female in its jaws. The weekly citizen area-sweeps routinely turn up caches of guns and stolen goods. Peaceable burglars panic at road-blocks.

*

Remembering the girl he fell asleep, and when he woke up he went to the telephone, without thinking, and asked the hotel operator to get him Corbett at Ryan’s Gymnasium, and call him back. A moment later the telephone rang. He answered it, and Corbett said, “Hello, is that you, Joe?”

*

Joe chirped. I read Jean’s card. ‘”Jean-Paul Pascal, artist painter”. And good friend to princes,’ I said. Joe nodded.

*

‘But what is the black spot, captain?’ I asked.

*

You know the drill… seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books. Splitscreen image from THE BOSTON STRANGLER.

The Boston Strangler, by Gerald Frank; The China Governess, by Margery Allingham; The AA Essential Guide to New York; by Mick Sinclair; The Killings in Atlanta, by Martin Amis, from the collection The Moronic Inferno; Dear Baby, by William Saroyan; An Expensive Place to Die, by Len Deighton; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson;