And I don’t know if Marshall being an Australian this qualifies as Other People’s Pulp, but I thought I’d do a post on the subject just in case.
After all, the theme of the novels fits the theme of this blog, so…
I found out about the existence of Yellowthread Street through Bish’s Beat, the blog of crime novelist Paul Bishop, and the idea of an Ed McBain-like police procedural set in Hong Kong before the handover intrigued me quite a lot.
So I got me the first book in the series – which is called Yellowthread Street, and was published in 1975.
And I was blown away.
I know, I know, talk is cheap.
You don’t believe me?
As Detective Inspector Phil Auden went through the door of the Yellowthread Street Police Station in the district of Hong Bay and the day shift left, night fell, seven Jumbo jets carrying a total of two thousand tourists, businessmen, wives and others landed in procession at Kai tak airport, an American destroyer disembarked eight hundred bored, thirsty, lustful, belligerent sailor for forty-eight hours shore leave, and the Chinese Communists across the border took it into their heads to turn the water off.
Constable Sun looked up from his desk and said, ‘They’ve turned the water off.’
‘Shit!’ said Detective Inspector Auden.
Four streets away from the Yellowthread Street Police Station where Detective Inspector Auden said ‘Shit!’ and Constable Sun shrugged, a man named Chen went back to his room in Cuttlefish Lane near the fish markets with an axe and used it to halve his wife and quarter her boyfriend.
Bill Spencer said, ‘When was that?’
‘Just now,’ Constable Sun said, ‘my brother rang me to ask if I could get him some.’
‘How are you supposed to get him water?’ Auden asked.
‘Hey,’ Spencer said to Auden, ‘Inspector Feiffer left a message he got a tip on the rickshaw basher. He’s gone down to the harbour.’
‘Does he want me?’
… and this is page 3 on my copy of the book – this is how the novel begins.
My copy is very very used and abused – it was a library copy, and the Avon County Library decided to give it away, and donated it to the Salvation Army (I guess), and they sold it to me for 30p, or roughly 50 eurocents plus mailing expenses.
And I don’t know about you – but please go and read those lines again…
I don’t know about you, I was saying, but back when I started writing my own stuff the serious author types told me you don’t go and write a story in a style like that.
It’s against the rules, or something.
And yet, ever since I first read that novel – and I must have read it five times – I’ve been telling me that’s exactly the way you write a story, especially a story of crime and alienation set in an exotic locale.
And screw the serious writers, if you please.
The hard bit is being able to write like that.
The style of Marshall is sprawling, apparently chaotic and very cinematic – it’s easy to visualize each page as a sequence of shots in a movie.
And yet the reader never gets lost, the action never gets so complicated it becomes hard to follow, every single word on the page is absolutely necessary, there’s no waste, no excess.
It’s hard as hell, writing like that.
And the Yellowthread Street novels feature a large cast of characters, normally involved in multiple investigations and in a number of personal matters.
And in the end everything falls in its place neatly – if not painlessly for the characters involved.
Pulling this sort of feat is the mark of a first class author.
The Yellowthread Street series comprises sixteen novels – I have two others, and I plan on catching the rest.
One has to study carefully used books offers, because there’s not many reprints, and no ebooks – and it’s a damn shame.
There was also a 1990 TV series based on thebooks – and they tell me it was pretty sucky, but I’d like to see a few episodes anyway.