Paul Anderson, review of Jon E Lewis (ed), Red Handed (Allison and Busby, £11.95), Tribune
“Most fictional crime is about the establishment defending society as it is,” writes Jon E Lewis in his introduction to Red Handed, “but there is an alternative tradition which uses the crime story not as a blunt instrument of reaction but as a means of probing and exposing the injustices of society.” This anthology of short stories is an introduction to that alternative tradition, and very good it is too. Lewis has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre – as readers of his regular column in Tribune already know – and he has chosen his examples of radical crime writing with great skill and taste.
The oldest story here is Jack London’s allegory of class society, “To Kill a Man”, first published in 1913; the most recent are unpublished pieces from Joan Smith, the British feminist novelist, and Gordon DeMarco, who contributes a short adventure of the left-wing San Francisco private eye, Riley Kovachs.
There’s a chilling story of domestic violence from Chester Himes, the black American novelist, which manages in four pages what lesser writers often take a book to fail to achieve. A similarly brief tale of racial murder from William E. Chambers, another American, is almost as good.
But my favourite has got to be Karen Wilson’s of as a Pistol”, with its Californian private-eye narrator Wiggins, in the Marlowe mould: “She was in my arms before I could say ‘Mary Astor’. Her hot slender fingers caressed the back of my neck. I felt flushed, the blood pounding in my head, as Beverly pulled me toward her. That kiss sealed my fate.” The key difference is that Wiggins is no macho tough, guy. She’s a lesbian.