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LITTLE MOSCOW: BIG PRAISE

18-07-2007

Little Moscow

Mick Scully's Little Moscow - a collection of short stories published by Birmingham's very own Tindal Street Press - has had oodles of favourable mentions in these pages. And here's another one, from Laurence Inman.

I’ve just read Little Moscow by Mick Scully.

I read it in one sitting, which is quite unusual for me. I also don’t usually like the noir genre very much, for reasons I’ll expand on later.

But Little Moscow breached my resistance immediately. It is a very skilfully composed piece of literature.

The fifteen stories which make up the collection all feature characters who have a link with a pub called The Little Moscow.

It’s a canal-side pub, but not the sort which serves decent food and exotic drinks to braying hedge-fund managers (whatever they might be) sitting together amiably at tables in the sun outside.

The sun doesn’t shine at all in The Little Moscow, because it can only be reached down some dingy stone steps. Darkness seeps into the minds and hearts of its regulars, who are, to a man, villains, thieves, murderers, rogues, con-men, rascals, ne’er-do-wells, a bit tasty, a bit moody….and all the other synonyms we (and they) use to conceal the implacable fact of their unwillingness and/or failure to engage with the straight world.

Into this world other people come and go: coppers, (of varying levels of competence and probity,) conceptual artists with macabre ideas, distraught wives and girlfriends of villains, a man made desperate by redundancy from the Rover, a psychotic medical student, Chinese gangsters, an ex-soldier tattooist and others.

Some of the stories overlap, or continue on from the end of another, or expand on some small detail in a previous one. The last story, for instance, ties up the first one, very cleverly.

The effect is to make you think you are in a self-contained universe, with its own time-scale, rules and conventions. It’s as if you are eavesdropping on one scene and seeing fragments of another out of the corner of your eye, which you join later to get the full picture.

This strikes me as a really smart technique, and one I might well nick myself someday.

I’ve had a cyber-chat with the author and he says he had no literary model in mind for it. Alan Mahar at the launch last month (down by the canal in Fazeley Street,) said he was reminded of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Now, that’s high praise.

He’s also never been to Prague, but that didn’t stop him setting a story there. It seemed quite accurate to me, because I have never been to Prague either, but even if I had I think I would still have been convinced.

That may be the first thing you have to understand before you become a writer: reality is one thing and literature something completely other. It sounds so simple and yet many feted writers de nos jours seem not to have an inkling of its implications. Look at Carl Philips.

Mick Scully tells me he has not met any real criminals either.

He’s lucky. I have met many criminals and I have no fear of generalising when I say they are not the witty, charming people we are used to seeing in telly programmes like Hustle. You definitely wouldn’t invite them round for dinner and guffaw at tales of their lawless exploits.

They are young, dull, inarticulate, impulsive, self-deluding and nearly always dependent on some disgusting substance.

They waste the precious days of their existence in institutions and make the lives of those closest to them a dreary hell.

I once worked in Winson Green Prison (the old one, not the playschool it is now) and the Discipline Officer there, a man called Shirley, (I swear this true,) told me he thought anyone convicted of any offence three times should be summarily shot.

My younger self recoiled at this, and still does, although I’d make an exception for the turdy scrote who nicked my DVD player and my penny jar and who should be stung up by his little toes for five years, then shot in the face. Three times. With very slow bullets.

Anyway, back to the point.

The hardest thing to do in crime fiction is get the dialogue right. To see how not to do it watch a few episodes of The Bill or the vastly over-rated Prime Suspect.

As soon as crooks and cops start explaining things to each other which they must know as part of their daily routine since day one on the job, I switch off. It is insulting.

The best example of how to do it on TV was the brilliant Law and Order in 1978, written by G.F.Newman (a genius) and directed by Les Blair.

Most crime fiction, in fact, is escapist. It appeals to people, usually men, who are drawn to an imaginary world where none of the rules, demands and drudgery of ordinary life apply.

Mick Scully’s book can easily stand beside Newman’s TV scripts and his novels. I don’t think I could praise it any higher.

Mick Scully will be reading extracts from Little Moscow next Thursday (July 26) at Prowler in Birmingham. For more details click here

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