I just loved this book. It’s brash, trashy and fabulous! From the very first page I found it very easy to slip in to the world of pop, rock, journalists and writers. The marvellous thing about this novel is that it really does give the reader a great sense of place and I was simply transported back to the early nineties. Not only was I transported, but I actually felt that I could smell the places as well as feel them in my mind. The writing is simple, yet effective, and there are some really stunning sentences that almost catch your breath…
Cathi Unsworth is a journalist who worked for Melody Maker for some years. With Cathi’s writing I did sometimes feel that her novel had the same kind of staccato, edgy writing that I used to read in that particular music paper. I wouldn’t say the ending was particularly shocking or unexpected, but it was well worth reading just for the nostalgia value alone! I certainly look forward to seeing where Ms.Unsworth goes with her next novel.
Reviewed by: C.S.
Fresh Blood Questionnaire
1.) What type of crime writing would you say you write?
Noir, or as Derek Raymond put it, ‘the black novel’. It’s
not just a cracking crime caper, it’s a way of looking into the
dark recesses of our society, peeling back the carpet and braving whatever’s
under there that we don’t like to speak about. And, scarier still,
looking into my own closet of curiosities and facing head on some of the
disasters of my past – and I don’t just mean the fashion disasters.
That’s why I used the epigraph from The Hidden Files about
going down the dark staircase to meet with yourself in the sub-basement
2.) What type of crime do you prefer? Series or standalone?
As dear Oscar said, there are only two types of book, good and bad, and I don’t mind which of these formats it is so long as the writing is brilliant. I do like the cunning form of series that James Ellroy pioneered, the secret history, in which one or two characters stay on from one novel to the next as the series moves forward in time. I think Jake Arnott and David Peace used this device very well in their own exposés of the dirty British Isles. But equally, I do love a good melancholy, fucked up central character like Jack Taylor in Ken Bruen’s Irish series, and indeed the delightful Sergeant Brant in his London one! But I don’t think I would want to write a serial character myself. I think you might end up frustrated by it and doing it more for your publisher than yourself after about the 15th story. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in a bad relationship with my own alter ego…
3.) Have you always had ideas to write a crime novel?
I always had ideas, but I never thought I had experienced enough of life to write anything convincing until I had at least passed 30. So I spent my late 20s and early 30s reading all the best crime fiction I could lay my hands on it the hope its genius would rub off on me.
4.) What influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?
There are two people who I really owe it all to – Derek Raymond
and Ken Bruen. I met Derek, or to use his real name, Robin, when I was
25 and a music journalist. My favourite band Gallon Drunk made a record
with him of his book I Was Dora Suarez and he and it totally
changed my world. I had loved the dark, foggy London of Sherlock Holmes
as a child, but, wrapped up in the hepcat swing of popular beat music
as I was since I started writing for Sounds at the age of 19, I hadn’t
read much in the way of thrillers since. Dora Suarez showed me
what a crime book could do and Robin fixed in my head what a crime writer
should be. That was it, I was hooked. Crime fiction became the new rock’n’roll,
and just as well, with bloody jolly old Britpop on the horizon. Robin
was such an inspiring person – there didn’t seem to be any
kind of age gap between himself, who was in his 60s, and me and Gallon
Drunk who were in our 20s. I was gutted when he died, only a year after
I’d met him. I didn’t think I would meet anyone like him again.
But I did – I met Ken Bruen when I was doing the books page at Bizarre.
I loved his books the same way I loved Robin’s – here was
another writer looking from the gutter up, who took in the theatre of
the street and cared about those who dwelt there – and was also
fucking funny and totally believable. I became great friends with Ken,
and after a few years he said to me: “Right, you’ve met all
your heroes, now it’s time you wrote a book.” He gave me a
list of rules to stick to – Ken’s Kommandments – and
off I went. I worked with a Sacred Heart Ken gave me on my desk and a
portrait of Derek Raymond my friend Mark Reeve drew looking down from
the wall. How could I let either of them down?
5.) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
That is so hard to answer. But for the overall impact of audacity, inventiveness, language and simply ripping your head clean off, I guess my Magnum opus would be Ellroy’s LA Quartet.
6.) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire?
I think you may have gathered from the above rantings that yes, I do. And this question is easy to answer! In alphabetical order (it’s the only way to ensure fairness): Peter Ackroyd, Jake Arnott, Nelson Algren, Desmond Barry, Ken Bruen, Mikhail Bulgakov, James M Cain, Cormac McCarthy, Harry Crews, Joolz Denby, Jon Dos Passos, James Ellroy, Patrick Hamilton, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, William Hjortsberg, Joe R Lansdale, Lydia Lunch, Hilary Mantel, Patrick McCabe, David Peace, Derek Raymond, Jim Thompson, Martyn Waites, Charles Willeford, John Williams, Mary Woronov… that’s right, they’re not all strictly ‘crime’ authors but somehow they are all tapped in to the same kind of truths that I want to read about.
7.) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
LA Confidential without a shadow of a doubt. It is rapidly taking over Goodfellas as my comfort film.
8.) Without giving away the story, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The Pick Up by Charles Willeford. It can never be beaten.
9) You were a feature writer for the Melody Maker and that kind of gritty writing shows in your book. Do you think that experience gave you a good basis to write The Not Knowing?
Well, unlike a lot of books that are set in the world of popular culture,
at least I do know what I am talking about. With Melody Maker
I did get to see a lot of the world, meet a lot of fantastic people and
see some brilliant bands in action. As a direct influence, the voice of
Luther Lang in The Not Knowing is actually the voice of Danny
Barnes, who played the banjo in one of my favourite bands, The Bad Livers
(Hayseed Dixie are a really amateur update of what they did 15 years ago
and 15 times better). He had this totally beguiling Texan accent that
sounded like woodsmoke and whiskey and Johnny Cash. Like Diana in the
book, I could have listened to that voice all day.
10.) Where do you see crime fiction going next?
I think that at the moment, Britain and Ireland are producing the most interesting stuff, and it’s from people who were inspired by James Ellroy, and a lot of times, Derek Raymond too. I would hope it would continue in the vein of people like Jake Arnott, David Peace, Ken Bruen, Martyn Waites, Joolz Denby and myself, who have taken that inspiration and run with it, creating secret histories and giving a voice to those who usually never get heard.