[Robert Ironside’s associates have staged a surprise birthday party for him.]
The birthday party was over. Mark Sanger had taken his books and gone off to night school. Eve Whitfield was in the kitchen area, cleaning up the last of the dishes. Sergeant Ed Brown was having a final drink with Chief Ironside. As they talked, Ironside’s eyes and his thoughts strayed frequently to Eve – only to be yanked away from her just as frequently, their owner cursing them silently for their misbehaviour….
Eve, like the others, was his responsibility. He was obligated to see that she got the best from life, and the best was certainly not marriage to the likes of him.
She finished the dishes and came out to them, murmuring that she guessed she’d better say goodnight.
observations: Col, of Col’s Criminal Library, is busy logging his massive stacks of books, and back in October this one turned up in one of his tubs in the loft. It caught my attention immediately: I liked the TV series Ironside back in the day, and was that JIM THOMPSON writing the novelization? THE Jim Thompson, artist of the pulp, the quintessential gritty noir man? Apparently it was. So I found a second-hand copy online, and have been busy reading.
The series was broadcast as A Man Called Ironside in the UK (presumably in case we thought it was a historical drama about Oliver Cromwell, or about steel-sided ships) and ran for many reliable years (from 1967, when this book was written) with Robert Ironside solving crimes from his wheelchair with the help of Ed, Eve and Mark. Quincy Jones wrote the theme music, and appeared in one episode as a friend of Mark’s. If you watch early episodes you can catch appearances by many later stars such as Harrison Ford.
The TV tie-in book presumably was just a moneymaker for Thompson, and you can feel him pushing against the constraints of the TV connection. The suggestion above, that Ironside was in love with Officer Eve, is rather startling to series fans: the theme continues and develops throughout the book.
The plot is winding but at the same time minimal, and features a lot of shockingly louche clubs and bars full of lowlifes, and even an ambulance depot. Ironside fights for his life over an open lift shaft. Ed pretends to be drunk for an arcane reason. Really the book is just a collection of remarkably well-imagined scenes, written in lush prose, and strung together in the most vague way. It is highly politically incorrect: I presume Negro and cripple were acceptable words at that time, and I suppose if you start on Jim Thompson’s world where would you end? He uses the word flaming a lot, I’m guessing as a euphemism for a different f-word.
One scene ends with these words: ‘And the sunlight closed around them, and found them good.’ This particular chapter, which looks at the bad behaviour of a young woman, and race relations, is beyond understanding, criticism or discussion really: it stands alone as a monumental, jaw-dropping work of conceptual art.
The book is a curiosity – very recognizable Thompson style, allied to the traditions of the cop show and the TV tie-in book, and nicely short. I’m very glad to have read it, and am suitably grateful to Col for bringing it to my attention (though I’m guessing he hasn’t read it yet himself?). Looked at one way, it is terrible, but somehow it isn’t…
Col also pointed me in the direction of this review at Book Dirt: I waited till I’d read the book and written my review to read it, and found that Kelly Robinson and I had a very similar take on it – the review is well worth reading for more on Thompson and the book, highly recommended.
The picture is a still from the TV series.