Christopher Owens selects something from the world of fiction.
Crime fiction is a hugely overpopulated field. Just check out how big the crime section is in your local bookshop.
It's understandable why. The good ones draw you in with a premise, throw in a few red herrings to keep you on the wrong track, before it's all too much for the author and the cliché reveal and end scene. Pure potboiler material. Read 'em and flog 'em.
Nothing wrong with a potboiler here and there, of course. You have that moment where you were absorbed by the story and the plot twists, unable to put it down. And that moment is what keeps you going back to the genre for more.
For me, the best ones are the more troublesome ones. The ones where no one is innocent, no one has qualms about committing acts and those who have no remorse for their actions.
Dashiell Hammett. Jim Thompson. James Ellroy. Eoin McNamee. Frédéric Dard. They have a ring to them.
Reportedly selling more than 200 million copies in France, Dard first came to my attention when David from No Alibis (the best bookshop in Belfast) recommended The King of Fools to me. Thoroughly enjoying it, this was the next one recommended to me.
It's a simple tale: a cop goes undercover in prison to win the trust of a convict who is suspected of being a spy and the two escape from prison, with all the complications that come with the territory. But what makes this book spring into the imagination is the use of imagery and metaphors, as well as a narration that alters between first and third person, both with their own idiosyncrasies.
Another technique of Dard's is to keep you guessing who the cop is (their name is not disclosed in the first chapter, which is first person, remember), and he plays on this by throwing in little red herrings to get the reader doubting their opinion, until a fairly obvious metaphor gives it away. However, the intention behind the metaphor makes the ending a little troubling and thought provoking, which is nice to see considering so many uses of metaphors are heavy handed and serve little purpose to the tale (see A View From the Bridge as an example).
However, the beating heart of the tale is the relationship between the two convicts. Alternately bickering and helping each other escape from prison, it is a relationship depicted in very simple terms but the emotions on show range from suspicion, to jealousy right through to dependence and acceptance. It's moving to see two people in such a desperate situation reacting in such a manner.
Compact enough for the casual reader, and enough thematic elements for the scholarly, The Wicked Go to Hell is a neat little thriller that asks a few questions of its reader and will leave you pondering the implications of its ending long after you've finished it.
Frédéric Dard, 1956, The Wicked Go to Hell. Pushkin Vertigo ISBN-13: 978-1782271963
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.