There’s a terrific piece on Stav Sherez’s website entitled ‘Why I Write Crime Fiction’, which a Facebook friend pointed me towards. When you’ve got a spare 15 minutes, take a look – it’s an extraordinary piece, and a singular one, perhaps because it seems to straddle that fine line between truth and fiction. After reading (and re-reading) it, I’m still not sure how much is true; I hope it all is, and I’d love to ask Sherez about it, because I’m also aware how impertinent I sound in assuming that he made it up. Equally there are some elements that just seem too novelistic. They can’t be true – can they?
I still haven’t made up my mind, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Whoever it is about – Stav Sherez or ‘Stav Sherez’ – towards the end the writer says some intriguing things about the importance of crime fiction, many of which I agree with. Sherez ends with this powerful theory about why we consume so much of it:
‘Life is a chaos of signs and clues. We yearn for a narrative to explain the world. Religion used to do it. Elaborate conspiracy theories, aliens, and New Age wishful thinking are what some cling to now. All writing springs from loss and makes its way towards completion. In the crime novel, we find the perfect metaphor for the way we read the signs that surround us and make sense of our existence. Writing gives us back the things that life takes away.’
Big tick from me, and I duly filed Sherez’s name in my mental ‘to be read’ list. A few weeks later I happily found a copy of Eleven Days in my local library. It’s the second in a series featuring London-based police detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller – I would’ve preferred to start with the first, A Dark Redemption (the older I get, the more I have a mania for reading series in their correct order) but you can’t have everything.
The eleven days of the title are those running up to Christmas, and the novel is set in a London permanently blanketed with snow. Carrigan and Miller are pulled into investigating a case of arson, but an unusual one – the building set on fire is a convent, home to ten nuns, all of whom are killed. But then, during the clean-up operation, an eleventh body is also found…
I thought the book was a terrific read, and enjoyed it very much. Sherez’s writing is lyrical, but not excessively so; the depiction of the fire towards the beginning of the novel is extremely well-done, Sherez describing the building as ‘covered in a shawl of flame.’ He’s also very good at describing the city through which Carrigan and Miller pass, one full of Christmas shoppers and revellers oblivious to their investigation. Sherez’s London is multi-layered, with the residents, commuters and tourists on the surface oblivious to the criminality, corruption and darkness that lies beneath them.
The plot is satisfyingly complex and surprising, taking in links to South America, people trafficking and the Albanian Mafia – I was frequently left guessing where it would be heading next. All of these various threads come together at the end, but as with Denise Mina’s Gods and Beasts I liked the fact that some were left unresolved, with the book forming part of a much wider story arc. Sterez paints complex personal lives for both Carrigan and Miller, and I look forward to learning more about them in future books.
In one particularly striking scene, Miller is attacked in an alleyway by two men. One of them presses himself against her, his intent to assault seemingly clear. He unzips his fly – but what happens next is in equal parts surprising and shocking. ‘Suddenly, her right leg was warm and wet. She opened her eyes and looked down to see the short man directing a long stream of piss at her legs. It smelled rank and sour. It seemed to go on for ever. She closed her eyes but she could still feel the hot gush of his urine and hear it splashing against the pavement under her.‘
It is one example (among many) of Sherez’s refusal to take the obvious, predictable path. Eleven Days is a more political novel than one might expect, which sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. Speaking as a reader, such individuality is always a welcome thing to encounter.