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Acts Two to Four cover the vital years: the first pulp stories for that great hard-boiled academy, Black Mask magazine; the early novels, from The Big Sleep to The Lady in the Lake ; the call from Hollywood to work with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity , and the subsequent wealth and fame; the years of writer's block and then the final flowering with The Long Goodbye.

UNDERWORLD

He doesn't have to write Two very simple rules, a. Alive today he would undoubtedly have directed motion pictures, plays and God knows what. If some people had called his work cheap which some of it is , he wouldn't have cared a rap, because he would know that without some vulgarity there is no complete man. He would have hated refinement because it is always a withdrawal, a shrinking, and he was much too tough to shrink from anything.

Chandler was an excellent critic, particularly keen to see crime writing given its due: "A very large proportion of the surviving literature of the world has been concerned with violent death in some form. And if you have to have significance the demand for which is the inevitable mark of a half-baked culture , it is just possible that the tensions in a novel of murder are the simplest and most complete pattern of the tensions in which we live in this generation.

So let's face it: I didn't get it into the book.

I didn't have it to give. The Raymond Chandler Papers is an extraordinarily slovenly production.

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It lacks proper notes, the index is inadequate and, at 20, it's absurdly overpriced. The writing deserves better.

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But then, doesn't it always? As the body count soars, Cohen begins to realise that the two cases are connected, and that he's been set up by someone very close to home. Nadelson's account of the cross-border trafficking of women for prostitution is convincingly bleak, her Paris is seedy and volatile, her Vienna a decadent wasteland.

Cohen's narrative is by turns despairing and knowingly cynical, but there is something glib and voyeuristic about it all, as if these horrors are being viewed through the tinted glass of an expensive car.

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And Nadelson has him speak a charmless, witless New Yorkese that would like to be hard-boiled but feels a lot closer to trust-fund. Moreover, Nadelson's hold on her hero is far from secure: glad to be back in his New York apartment, tough guy Artie riffles through the party invitations before luxuriating in a hot bath, Ella Fitzgerald playing loud on the stereo. Perhaps the revelation that Cohen is really a Conde Nast fashion editor with boyfriend trouble is being saved for the next book in the series.

O ut of the Dark begins when an eight-year-old boy called David is knocked down by a car outside barrister Trish Maguire's door. As David looks just like her, and has Trish's name and address sewn into the lining of his jacket, the police assume he's Maguire's long-lost son. He's not, but Trish suspects her errant father, Paddy, may be involved. Her trawl through Paddy's ex-lovers leads her to a lawless estate in search of a prostitute called Jeannie Nest, and into confrontation with Mikey Handsome, a brutal loan shark and member of the notorious Handsome crime family.

It emerges that Jeannie Nest had given the evidence that sent Mikey's uncle down for life; she then disappeared into the witness protection programme. When the brutally murdered body of Jeannie Nest is found, Paddy Maguire immediately becomes the prime suspect in the police's investigation. Though far from convinced of her father's innocence, Trish must fight to find the real killer.

Meanwhile, in her other life, Trish faces her trickiest challenge yet, acting as junior to her head of chambers in the defence of a slimy City fraudster. Out of the Dark rattles along at an exhilarating clip, with several thrilling plot twists. There's something enjoyably Dickensian about the theme of the lost boy whose paternity must be established, not to mention wicked old Lil Handsome poring over her money-lending account books in her mouse-infested flat.

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And while Trish Maguire is an engaging heroine, Cooper tells us more about her thoughts, feelings and opinions than we really need to know,. A ftermath , the tenth in Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series, comes garlanded with commendations from Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly, and I'm not about to argue with that illustrious trio. The problem with most serial killer novels is that they're essentially melodramatic cartoons, with a cast of stock characters: the Good Detective, the Innocent Victims, the Wickedest Man in the World.

Peter Robinson evades this problem by beginning at the end: with the death of Terence Payne and the gruesome discovery of five bodies buried in the cellar and back garden of his house. The investigation which then ensues must determine whether Lucy, his wife, was an abused victim herself, or a willing participant in the torture, rape and murder of the missing girls. Brian Masters' book about Rosemary West, She Must Have Known , is acknowledged by Robinson as a source, and there are echoes of the Mary Bell case here, but almost all the violence happens offstage, and the book never basks in the deliriousness of its own evil another common failing of the sub-genre : Aftermath is about humans, not monsters, and is all the more chilling for that.

Refreshing too is Robinson's flair for creating unusually complex, nuanced female characters; indeed, the only man to be treated in such depth is the edgy, subtle, haunted Inspector Banks. A marvellous book. I n the introduction to this densely written, closely argued and timely book of advice to the young would-be radical, Christopher Hitchens acknowledges his credentials as "a grizzled soixante-huitard, or survivor of the last intelligible era of revolutionary upheaval, the one that partly ended in les evenements de quatre-vingt neuf. But then he has always been a deft combination of socialist roundhead and libertarian cavalier, a columnist both for The Nation , the austere house journal of the American Left, and Vanity Fair , where austerity means giving up Cristal for Lent.

Hitchens' delight in flouting the party line most recently over the Afghan War, which he supports reaches a natural conclusion in this volume, when he declares that the Party is over: socialism, the cause in which he has been a "modest combatant" for most of his life, is finished. Elsewhere, he has said that there no longer exists a general socialist critique that can propose an alternative to capitalism; here, he charts his growing preference for libertarianism over excessive statism. But he still believes in class conflict, in the materialist conception of history and in the difference between monopoly capitalism and the free market, so we're hardly talking apostasy.

My feeling is that his centennial study of George Orwell, due next year is crucial to the recent evolution of Hitchens' thought: when he alludes to the distinguished names whose dissent was conducted within and against the "Left", and when he asserts that "the best writing of George Orwell is only intelligible as part of this occluded tradition," it's difficult not to conclude that Hitchens is identifying himself explicitly with his hero. The purpose of letters to a young contrarian is to advocate "the glories of Promethean revolt and the pleasure of sceptical inquiry," and Hitchens stresses repeatedly that the essence of the independent mind lies "not in what it thinks, but how it thinks.

Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. In a passage more than a few newspaper columnists might do well to heed, he states: "To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.

These letters from an ageing contrarian are the condensation of twenty-five years of inspired radical thought; ideal for the restless young, but also as a refresher course for the lapsed, the tamed and the mellowed. J ohn Updike's last book, a mammoth collection of left-handed writing, was called More Matter. It would be amusing then, in a glib, sneery, Dorothy Parkerish sort of way, if Gertrude and Claudius could be dispatched with the two word verdict: 'Less Art. Gertrude and Claudius Are Not Dead Yet is that uninvited and superfluous guest, the prequel, a novelistic imagining of how Claudius murders King Hamlet, his elder brother, assumes the throne himself and, with wicked wit and gifts, posts to incestuous sheets with Queen Gertrude.

And as you might expect, it's the posting to incestuous sheets that really fires up the Ipswich Mass. Laureate of Adultery: 'She stood afire with the wish to have his lips united with hers, so their breaths would each pollute the other's, and the moisture they carried behind their teeth would thrust with their tongues into the other's warm maw. He teaches her the 'Byzantine technique' of fellatio: 'She liked it, this blind suckling, this grubbing at nature's root.

Perhaps wisely, given his source, Updike steers clear of dramatising his material, but the result is simply that we are relentlessly told things we have already imagined. Some of this is well done: Gertrude as proto-feminist, for example: 'I was my father's daughter, and became the wife of a distracted husband, and the mother of a distant son. When do I serve the person I carry within?


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But there is rather too much cod-epic like the following: "All the three years when Horwendil roved, seizing trophies from Koll's hoard and Sela's palace and a dozen more fat ports of Sweathland and Rus, he allowed me as his liege-lord the pick of the plunder. And by the time the novel's timescale and the play's overlap, we're treated to this cocktail-hour exchange:.

But as to little Hamlet, there have been so many sudden changes, and he really did adore his father But we're not listening to this inane prattle; we've long since been transported from late-mediaeval Denmark, far from the imperial court at Elsinore, to the Realm of Pure Bathos.

Updike is, as always, a profligately gifted writer; he is let down, as always, by colossal errors of taste: in this instance,. Gertrude and Claudius might have made an absorbing comic book; as serious fiction, it's ludicrous. I n the aftermath of the horrific September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers, there was much criticism of the US security services for their failure to prevent the al-Qaeda terrorists from carrying out the atrocity.

Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, finally conceded that the Bureau had failed to listen to reports from French intelligence and tip-offs from their own field agents about the activities of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker. The new FBI is to devote itself to the prevention of terrorist attacks. But there is surely a limit to how far any "war against terrorism" can be pursued on the home front. To provide the ultimate in anti-terrorist security, you must police your citizens to such a degree that you risk forfeiting the very thing you wish to safeguard: their freedom.

Any open society must, perhaps by definition, be vulnerable not just to the fanatic's bomb and the assassin's bullet, but to attacks of a more extreme kind.

Resurrection Day is a chilling fictional account of just such an attack on Washington, DC by an al-Qaeda terrorist cell. Written before September 11, it displays an uncanny prescience on the part of its author, Dublin thriller-writer Glenn Meade. It is to be hoped that Meade's gift for prophecy is not complete, for the weapon his terrorists possess is a container of deadly nerve gas called AX, capable of killing around half a million people and plunging the United States into utter chaos. By videotape from his mountain base in Kandahar, Abu Hasim, the leader of al-Qaeda, informs the American President Andrew Booth that all US troops are to be withdrawn from the Middle East, and all Islamic prisoners worldwide are to be released.

Failure to comply with either demand within seven days will result in the nerve gas canister being detonated in the heart of Washington. When Hasim feels the Americans, who have been warned neither to evacuate the citizenry nor to hunt for the gas, are stalling on his demands, Rashid sends a suicide bomber into Washington. And then there is the traitor at the heart of the President's National Security Council, leaking information to al-Qaeda.

And the clock is ticking Resurrection Day has an impressive and unusually subtle geopolitical grasp, stretching from the Russians' less than glorious conduct of the Chechen war and the acute threat posed to the Russian Federation's oil interests by Islamic fundamentalists to the legacy of bitterness and sympathy for the Arab cause left by the Israeli-backed Phalangists' massacre at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. More might have been made of the Saudi connection to al-Qaeda, but Meade's emphasis on the complexity of the global issues is a refreshing contrast to the right-wing bellicosity of Tom Clancy although I wonder whether there is a slight doff of the hat to that doyen of the techno-thriller in that much of the action takes place around Chesapeake Bay, where Clancy has his acre estate.

Resurrection Day has been exhaustively researched, and it shows: technical and procedural details, whether in the White House, the Kremlin or among the FBI operatives, feel utterly convincing. And the strands of a hugely complex plot are drawn together expertly, without recourse to coincidence or lucky guesswork. But at pages, the novel is too long by a third at least. In the acknowledgements, a grateful Meade suggests that the reading public don't appreciate what an editor does.

Well, this reader would like her to have done rather more: the early stages of the book are over-explanatory and repetitive, packed with characters telling each other things we already know. I also had some difficult with the level of the prose. Not that it's bad, just flat and a bit dreary, with no rhythm, no resonance.

You don't go to a thriller in search of fine writing, but Robert Harris with whom Meade has more in common than Clancy, say, or Forsyth has shown that you can make this kind of book work sentence by sentence, not just in terms of the plot. We often say of some screen adaptation, "I'd love to read the book.

Scott Fitzgerald's assertion that there are no second acts in American lives always said more about its author than it did about America, and what it said was: "I cannot write a better novel than The Great Gatsby. Martin Amis, for example, has been struggling for twenty years to emulate his greatest book, Money , and has ended up resembling the ultimate Martin Amis impersonator.