Derek Raymond has fallen out of fashion of late, which is odd because his brutal, hard-boiled police procedurals from the late 1980s and early 90s should appeal to enthusiasts of ice-cold Nordic noir. Like his other books, ‘Nightmare…’ is the emotional equivalent of blunt force trauma. Its piercing prose and dagger-like dialogue seize your attention: not a word is wasted as we watch the unrelenting annihilation of a human soul.
This slim novel is a stand-alone crime-thriller and was probably written before Raymond’s well-known Factory series, although it wasn’t published until after his death. Presumably Raymond himself didn’t intend ‘Nightmare…’ to be published – its themes of cynical corruption, sudden and extreme violence and wrenchingly bitter insight are all delivered with shocking competence in the Factory books, and ‘Nightmare’ doesn’t really bring anything new to the party. Kleber, the protagonist in this novel, feels very much like a forerunner of the anonymous hard-hearted sergeant who first appears in ‘He Died with His Eyes Open’. Having said that, this is a completely compulsive read in its own right and – unlike the Factory books – takes chances with exploring the possibility of love and redemption, even for a man as miserable as Kleber.
The first half sets up an horrific chain of events when Kleber’s temper and self-righteousness get the better of him. An unconventional and uncompromising police detective who stalks the backstreets of Paris, equally at home with low-lives as with his fellow officers, Kleber’s one saving grace is his relationship with his wife. Things get murderously violent in a series of entirely predictable but utterly stunning set pieces, leaving Kleber with his life (and sanity) in tatters.
Then, unusually, Raymond explores the internal, emotional aspects of this situation in a series of dreams and hallucinations. As the only things which have ever mattered to Kleber are torn away from him, he if flayed to the core and exposed in ultimate misery. Honestly, if you can’t take emotionally gruelling moments then don’t pick this up: it is nothing but a grindhouse from beginning to end. Well, almost. It differs from the Factory series in one other important way – and that is all in the final resolution which genuinely surprised me.
You will find few other novels quite so noir as this. There are quotable moments on every single page; bitter-bleak reflections on the human condition. It is short by modern standards but its impact is huge. Steer clear if you are prone to melancholia…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Available as a paperback from Amazon
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