FFB: The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Was she asking for it?
Was she asking nice?
If she was asking for it,
Did she ask you twice?
Hole – Asking For It

2018-01-07 15.32.47It seems redundant to call this a lean novel from Spark — her novels are singularly lean. I always feel as if they have been sanded fine. I’ve been on a kick since the winter break before and after seeing The International Style of Muriel Spark exhibit with Miss Wendy at the National Library in Edinburgh, which I highly recommend you see. I loved it in the nosy way writers always want to peek at the process of others, but also damn, the woman had style — and chops. I feel like I need to cut my own prose to the bone like her or I’m just dithering too much. But you can’t miss anything: you have to absorb every clue. The thing is you don’t always realise what is a clue. You have to become hyper-vigilant and note everything which leads to a kind of madness rather like the heroine of this book.

coverThe Driver’s Seat is a great example of this. There is not one word in excess. This is a crazy book, off-putting to many I’m sure (I looked at some of the contemporary reviews) but both brilliant and searingly insightful. The blurb on the back (and what a marvelous cover, Penguin) from David Lodge calls it not only a ‘tour de force’ but ‘a crime story turned inside out’ which is a great description. Within the first few pages, you know that Lise is going to die. With mordant zeal, the narrator points out the clues that will be put together at the end of the investigation.

Many of them will puzzle the police forces. They’re both vivid and seemingly inexplicable. Like the clothing captured well in this cover: ‘the necessary dress’ as she calls it. the colours are so garish the porter of her building laughs at her.

She says, ‘Are you going to join a circus? Then again she throws back her head, looking down through half-closed lids at Lise’s clothes, and gives out the high, hacking cough-like ancestral laughter of the streets, holding her breasts in her hands to spare them the shake-up. Lise says with quiet dignity, ‘You are insolent.’

How marvelous is that? This whole world is at a slant, Lise’s particular slant, from her model of efficiency modular flat to the sudden and violent reaction to being informed that the dress she’s trying on is ‘stain resistant’ (‘I won’t be insulted!’). The alternation between helpless laughing and crying quickly leads to the deduction that the ‘months of illness’ that punctuate her sixteen years at the same job are definitely related to her mental health.

Now, here’s where it might get a little spoilery if you don’t want to know more about it than the fact that she’s doomed. She heads off on her holiday telling people she’s meeting a boy-friend though she doesn’t seem to know who and constantly lies about what she has done and plans to do. Even the narrator draws back at times, shying away from true omniscience at the most interesting junctures yet with chilling suggestions that have to be carefully sifted.

Lise is lifting the corners of her carefully packed things, as if in absent-minded accompaniment to some thought, who knows what?

The narrator seems uncertain what’s really going on, yet knows a great deal of facts –they’re just impossible to explain.  The novel reads like an assemblage of facts that took some time to put together, yet still don’t add up. Lise buys all the items used in her murder, deliberately and particularly. She even urges her befuddled killer to murder her: ‘She told me precisely what to do.’

Was she asking for it?
Was she asking nice?

I suspect that like many of us, Spark may have heard one too many times about a ‘girl who was asking for it’ and wondered what sort of woman would ask to be killed, really. A mad woman, an insanely driven woman who is both consumed by lust and gravely puritanical — and utterly deranged. Asking for it?

I have bookmarked the Liz Taylor film version, but I dunno…

I admire her hugely. Check out all the FFB over at Patti Abbott’s blog including Evan Lewis’ post on Bill Crider’s celebration of life.

Spark Satire

Out Now: Madonna of the Wasps 5 #WiHM

41r0rlouarlWhat better way to wrap up Women in Horror Month? The final chapter of The Blood Red Experiment is out now! Read the exciting conclusion of Madonna of the Wasps and all the gialli in this collection. The breakneck pace whips along to the unexpected end — how will all the threads be brought together? It’s a mystery!

Buy it here.

Out Now: Madonna of the Wasps 3

Blood Red Experiment 3Yes, one last story published in 2017. It’s the latest issue of The Blood Red Experiment that includes the third chapter of my neo-giallo ‘The Madonna of the Wasps‘.

In the first chapter ‘Love’ we met a killer wielding an ancient bone knife. In the second chapter ‘Frost’ the young artist Mira faced the most frightening night of her life.

In the third chapter we learn who the mysterious ‘Swan’ is: who can inspire such a blood-thirsty cult?

Chaucer & the Art of the Grift

chaucer-art-grift-750-b
Over at Empty Mirror magazine I’m featured with my essay on Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and David Maurer’s The Big Con, which (among other things) inspired The Sting. Check it out and take a look around: they feature a lot of smart, offbeat and interesting pieces that include fiction, non-fiction and art.

Interdisciplinarity #FTW!

Out Now: The Blood Red Experiment

Click the cover to buy!

Inspired by the genius of Hitchcock and his films, latin luminaries such as Argento and Bava directed macabre murder-mystery thrillers, that combined the suspense with scenes of outrageous violence, stylish cinematography, and groovy soundtracks. This genre became known in their native Italy as giallo.

Giallo is Italian for yellow, inspired by the lurid covers of thrillers, in the way that pulp fiction was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper of the crime stories, or Film Noir came from the chiaroscuro of the German Expressionist lighting.

We at TBRE want to bring gialli-inspired stories by some of the best crime writers on the scene today to a wider audience, giving birth to a new literary movement in crime writing, NeoGiallo, and drag this much maligned genre screaming and slashing its way into the 21st Century.

Features the first instalment of novellas by Richard GodwinTom LeinsK. A. LaityKevin BergMark CooperJack Bates, and James Shaffer; edited by Jason Michel & Craig Douglas.

BONUS: Today only get Hard-Boiled Witch: Abra Cadavra for free! Click on the image below.

Free – Hard-Boiled Witch: Abra Cadavra!

Free now through Saturday on your local Amazon while I’m working on episode 5:

HBW 4 Abra Cadavra

When a new burlesque club opens in Dundee, the owner calls on Hecate Sidlaw to deal with some strange attacks — by a skeleton! She and her familiar Henry need to get to the bottom of the magical threats, if she can get him away from the performers long enough to investigate. Looks like they need someone with expertise in calaveras…

Enter the dark streets and weird magic of HARD-BOILED WITCH and your life will never be quite the same.

This 28-page ebook single is the fourth in the series from the author of WHITE RABBIT, UNQUIET DREAMS, DREAM BOOK, OWL STRETCHING, and the CHASTITY FLAME thriller series.

“Laity has been proving for quite some time now that her noir prose ranks right up there with the likes of Meg Abbott, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Sara Paretsky.”
~ Vincent Zandri

Many thanks to Bertie for mailing me my series notebook >_< which I forgot!

Midwestern Mysteries & Me

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.15.06 AM

I’m in the current issue of Mystery Readers Journal talking about my roots in the Midwest. Thanks are due to the fine hostess, Janet Rudolph. Although I’ve not lived in my home state in ages, something of that heritage remains. Pick up a copy!