A man of little consequence is found brutally murdered and the Detective Sergeant of the Department of Unexplained Deaths is given the case. It seems Staniland, the victim, was a writer, and has left a number of cassette tapes behind detailing the final weeks of his life, notably a woman he's obsessed with named Barbara and a man he calls the Laughing Cavalier. Will the Sergeant follow the same road to madness as Staniland in his quest to find the truth?
He Died With His Eyes Open kicks off a series of gritty Margaret Thatcher-era London mysteries and introduces their central character, the nameless Sergeant. The Factory, which lends it's name to the series, is concrete industrial building where the Department of Unexplained Deaths has its headquarters.
He Died With His Eyes Open is a bleak tale of hopelessness and obsession. If Jim Thompson tried his hand at writing The Big Sleep, it might wind up looking something like this. It's so bleak it reminded me of Hennig Mankell's Kurt Wallander series.
The central character, The Sergeant, is the last good cop in a corrupt system, spurning publicity and promotion in favor of getting the job done, seeing lesser cops move up the ladder time and time again. Once Charles Staniland's case is dropped in his lap, he refuses to let it go, walking the same dark roads as Charles as he pieces things together.
Raymond's London is a dirty place full of povery and desperation and the characters are products of the setting. Barbara, Harvey, The Knack, and most of the others all carry the weight of possible poverty on their backs. Bowman, the Sergeant's superior, is an ambitious younger cop that doesn't understand the Sergeant in the slightest.
As the Sergeant delved deeper into Staniland's final days, things started spiraling out of control. The ending was one for the ages.
Four out of five stars. I can't wait to read more of Derek Raymond's Factory series.