Tag Archives: New Writing North

Turning Blue – Benjamin Myers

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The first in a detective series marketed as folk crime, Turning Blue is a slight departure for Myers.  He’s never written outright crime before.  However, this is definitely not a police procedural, it is more rural crime noir with flawed but decent heroes at its heart.

Obsessive and antisocial Detective Brindle and ex-hedonist journalist Mace form an unlikely alliance to uncover why a local teenager has mysteriously disappeared.  They expose so much more than a run of the mill missing persons case.  In a work where art often imitates recent real life news stories and police investigations which have shocked the British public, Brindle and Mace wade through sleaze, establishment corruption and cover ups involving the police, close knit silent communities, a grotesque character who seems to be a mash up of Jimmy Saville, Jonathan King and Stewart Hall and a revolting, disturbing loner pig farmer whose behaviour as the story progresses goes from the bizarre and creepy to alarming and sinister.  His pathetic existence invades every page cultivating a feeling of unease from the beginning.

It’s easy to compare Ben Myers’ writing to the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Derek Raymond or James Ellroy – I’ve done it myself before.  Here’s another comparison: There’s a touch of the David Peace Red Riding about Myers’ latest offering; hard Northern men, institutional corruption, sleaze and violence in small, overlooked communities.  Such comparisons are useful to allow those who’ve never come across his books to get a flavour of what to expect, but also slightly erroneous.  Ben Myers’ writing is difficult to define or pigeon hole.  He seems unsure himself of how this new book should be described.  But does it matter?  Do I need to compare it to other work?  Do I need to identify it as writing of a particular genre?  I don’t think so.

Myers has his own style, he is an exciting writer of extraordinary  talent with an ability to weave heart-breaking tales about marginalised communities and individuals with brutal, bleak and stomach-wrenching stories into the evocative tapestry of a landscape setting.  This creates a dichotomy for the reader; admiration for the perceptive descriptions and economy of writing mixed with feelings of revulsion at the violence and horror. Myers has never been for the faint-hearted or easily offended and Turning Blue is no different to its two predecessors in that respect.  It is visceral.  Human beings can be sick, we just don’t like admitting it to ourselves and Myers continues to make no apology for holding the mirror steady so we can’t avoid the myriad of vileness and the depths some of us can stoop to.  This is what I love; honesty in fiction.  I’m pretty sure the stuff Myers writes about in Turning Blue does/has happened, no matter how uncomfortable that makes me feel.

The outdoors is the scaffolding on which Myers overlays the plots of all his recent fiction and Turning Blue continues that trend.  The countryside sometimes feels like an afterthought in some “nature” writing, but Myers has always used it to represent emotion and propel a plot onwards.  In Pig Iron the landscape provided solace and refuge (and there is a lovely nod to John John Wisdom’s green cathedral with its mention in Turning Blue), in Beastings it was a menacing means of escape, in this book, the Yorkshire countryside is brooding, an irritant obstructing the investigation.  It is harsh and bleak, wet or snowbound and difficult to navigate if you are not from the “Hamlet”.  You know the ancient sod and dirt will triumphantly remain long after these characters are dead and buried.  It is the constant.

I am continually excited and blown away by Myers’ awesome writing.  I swallowed down this book with the thirst of the seriously dehydrated.  I suggest you all get the drinks in as soon as you can because Myers is the landlord serving up intoxicating fiction.

Thanks to Ben and Moth Publishing for sending me a review copy and the lovely tin of moss, wire and plastic pig.

Other Ben Myers stuff to read on here:

Q&A with Ben Myers author of Pig Iron

Beastings by Benjamin Myers

Pig Iron – Benjamin Myers

Life! Death! Prizes! – Stephen May

Sometimes you need a book that rattles on at a pace, with an engaging plot and characters you feel for.  After Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (as much as I liked it, it was hard work to read), Life! Death! Prizes! was a breath of fresh air.  It is a heart-breaking, yet heart-warming tale of a young man’s love for his brother while dealing (not very well) with the grief of losing their mother.   In the aftermath of a mugging gone wrong, Billy tries to pick up the pieces and look after 6-year-old Oscar as best he can.

It is a darkly amusing book, easy to read because of its short chunks and on the surface quite straightforward, but there is something deeper going on.  Life! Death! Prizes! is firmly rooted in middle England; In Essex commuter-belt-land, where middle class snobbery rubs shoulders with the less fortunate and slightly unsavoury (ooh sounds like here – no, really!) – or does it?  As I read the book I had to keep reminding myself of the first person narrative and that information about Aiden Jebb, the suspected murderer, and the unpleasant types he hangs out with, we learn from Billy, and Billy is a bit unreliable as a narrator of Aiden Jebb’s back story, mainly because his head is in bits.

Billy, bless him, doesn’t realise how his grief is affecting his mind.  As the book progresses we notice his slow deterioration into a torpor which almost brings him to a standstill.  The house is a state, his and Oscar’s routine is shot, he either stares into space, watches films, plays a world-domination computer game or looks for porn on the web. He can’t sleep, but refuses to seek help, because he doesn’t think there’s really anything wrong.  He also obsesses over “trauma porn” magazines the likes of which everyone picks up in the doctor’s surgery.  He reads them to remind himself that there are other people worse off than Oscar and him.  This is another means of denying and ignoring his own grief.

We, the readers, are aware of what is happening to Billy and how he is going to completely bugger things up if he’s not careful, but Billy himself is in denial.  That’s what I think is very clever about the way Stephen May has written this book; the reader knows something about the character that he doesn’t know about himself.

I chuckled a lot at Billy’s sense of humour and straightforward talking, I felt his anger but I also wanted to mother the two of them, I cared about their welfare.  As I said at the end of my review for Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers, when you care for a character, you know the writer has reached you.  This book, like Pig Iron, is also shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize and will be showcased by New Writing North’s campaign, Read Regional.  In my opinion, Stephen May is another writer to watch.  This is his 2nd book, but I can imagine more good reads in the future.

As an aside, I also liked the fact that my home town got a mention – albeit with regards to a lunatic solicitor who butchered his family!