...the latest issue of the London Review of Books includes my piece on Dennis Wheatley. Unfortunately, it is behind a subscription paywall, which means that non-subscribers have to go out and buy a copy.
Leaving Jo’s flat, I return to my car. My satnav takes me to the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The theory is the killer took the long route from the flat to where he dumped the body to avoid the CCTV cameras. Perhaps he also wanted to avoid the 50p toll.
I don’t have 50p and try tossing 30p and a White Company button into the bucket. It doesn’t work.
There is now an angry queue behind me. Isn’t it interesting that you can snatch a young woman’s life away from her in the most violent, painful, frightening way possible, take away her future children, her future Christmases, take away everything she loves, and yet there are elaborate systems in place to ensure you do not cross a bridge for only 30 pence?
Finally, a man in a taxi jumps out, and runs to me brandishing a 50p piece.
‘Not all men are monsters,’ he says, grinning. Maybe not. But one monster is all it takes.
Poignant, sensitive, heart-breaking. Or, to take some of the milder remarks from the comments thread, "Shameful, inept, morbid, irrelevant, patronising", "insensitive, lazy, snobbish" and "unbelievably ill conceived".
First Penguin edition, 1966; cover design by C/F/F/G.
A minor by-product of the Cold War was the emergence of brainwashing as a device, or a theme, of literature - the somewhat hyperbolic assumption being that modern psychological techniques made it possible to alter or erase memories, beliefs, an entire personality. O'Brien's interrogation of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) was an early instance; in Nigel Dennis's Cards of Identity (1955), the members of the Identity Club have the unnerving hobby of picking up passers by and turning them into servants (more on that in a week or two). Other treatments were less concerned with the philosophical implications: an early variation on the theme crops up in Operation Pax (1951), one of Michael Innes's more thrillerish adventures, in which the villain has perfected a means - chemical, I think - of reducing nations to a state of passive subservience; Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate (1959) revolved around the brainwashing of a platoon of GIs by North Korea, with one of them being turned into a sleeper assassin; and Len Deighton's The IPCRESS File (1962): the title is derived from a supposed acronym for Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS, and the brainwashing of the narrator is the book's climax. In The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), published after Ian Fleming's death, Bond is brainwashed into trying to assassinate M; but the vogue was already fading.
The Dog It Was that Died was published in 1962, the year of The IPCRESS File and the first film adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate. The protagonist is "Roger Farrar", a mildly overweight academic living in Dublin and researching the innocuous topic of the Irish use of the English language; but from the start it's clear that this isn't his real name, that he is on the run from something sinister back in England. In his previous life, Farrar worked at the Institute for Human Relations in Leeds, ostensibly an anodyne academic institution, in fact a government-backed centre for developing techniques to terrorise and control whole populations - brainwashing on the grand scale; now his employer, a fat functionary called Bosenwhite, wants him back.
I bought the book for its cover, not expecting much from the story, but really it's very good. True, the book's grand surprise, saved up for the last page - just who is Bosenwhite's agent in Dublin? - turns out to be no surprise at all; the details of the Institute's work kept too vague to makes Farrar's moral revulsion seem understandable. But many aspects of the book are briliantly done: Farrar's confusion and frustration as he feels his way into the arts of evasion and deceptions; the quaint pace and politeness of Dublin life, presented as an attractive alternative to English utilitarianism; the way Bosenwhite's bureaucratic good manners elide into chuckling sadism; a climactic brainwashing scene. I think I detect the influence of Michael Innes in the way the story combines ingenuity, whimsicality and existential anxiety; but it lacks the silliness and bagginess that often disfigure Innes.
The cover is a little mystifying, but still brilliant. C/F/F/G was Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, which only existed under that name for a few months - Gill went off to America, and in the early Seventies the rest of the gang became the design house Pentagram.
Copies aren't that rare - a decent one should set you back less than a fiver. Mine cost a pound, but that was years ago.
Tom died at 2.15 yesterday afternoon. I don't know what to say about that fact, except that I'm sad. Today's Independent carries an obituary by Charles Darwent and a personal appreciation by Tom Sutcliffe; I gather an obituary by Kevin Jackson will be in tomorrow's Guardian. [UPDATE: Kevin's elegant, gentle obituary is here.]
Tom Sutcliffe mentions a weekly column Tom L. wrote purporting to be the diary of the administrator of a regional arts centre: when I was sub-editing on the Independent arts page, "Coales' Notes" - Tom's heteronym was Gordon Coales - was a highlight of my week; Cocklecarrot absurdity merged into real anguish as Gordon's marriage failed, his faith in art waned. Quite early on he wrote to Peter Brooke, just appointed secretary of state for National Heritage:
"As I understand it, you are someone who has previously had little connection with the world of the arts. I would strongly recommend that you keep it that way. The accepted formula for the relationship between government and the arts - 'arm's length' - does not come anywhere near to conveying the very great distance that a wise man should maintain between himself and the creative process. I would suggest then that you confine your activities to closing down theatres and facilitating the export of irreplaceable national treasures to any country that will have them. There will always be a warm welcome for you at the Wormwood Centre should you be in the area, when I hope we will be able to discuss matters of no cultural import whatsoever, such as cardboard, soil types, and the age of steam."
The column ran from some time in 1992 until early 1994, ending before the joke had run out of steam. It would be wonderful if some publisher issued an anthology of Tom's best writing, including Coales' Notes in its entirety; in the meantime, the Independent website carries a fair selection, as well as Tom's criticism. Si monumentum, and all that.