Winged with Death – a reader’s impression
A guest post by Mark Lynch
Finally got around to reading Winged with Death. Took it to the south coast with me, read it there, overlooking the Romney Marsh and the Channel. Peaceful place. Quintessentially English, steeped with ghosts in mist, the Kentish Downs shrouded in tall trees, a bleak damp depth of history about all that flatland before the sea comes paddling in onto the scalloped shores. Could’ve been any time in the last hundred years really. A slowness of time there, adrift.
So I’d been wondering about the new novel, the change in direction (if it is a change; I’m not so sure; more a natural progression from where you’ve been before). How would your characteristic voice translate into a non-crime scenario? Would the voice hold up, be an entity of its own, or would the habitual John Baker-isms from the Sam Turner and Stone Lewis books slip in, feel like wry intruders smirking as they wandered through an unfamiliar landscape?
What can I say? The voice held, the truths and lies of the narrator were there on the page. (Maybe one or two John Baker-ism’s did slip in, but I think they were few and very far between, and quite possibly as much my manufacture from reading your blog as they were yours.)
But the prose is almost uniformly a dream, and I loved it.
I think Winged with Death is an achingly good book. At times simply beautiful. The descriptions and ruminations on the passage of time chocked me with emotion. There’s a sense of depth there, a real sense of deep and leviathan-like mystery – but not the mystery of the crime novel; more the true dictionary definition, of vast questions, relating to who we are, and what we are, and all those other things we hurt our heads and strain our hearts with.
Before I’d started the book, I’d been expecting the theme to be of motion, but of course time’s impossible to disentangle from the dance of movement. It all tied in so wonderfully well with the central metaphor of the tango, a dance like so many others I’d only known performed by folk with painted shark grins and eyes dazzling like splintered marbles on COME DANCING. The sense of leading a dance and being led in one was a wonderful metaphor for the whole of the book. It’s a fleet narrative, the steps falling into place seemingly effortlessly; and the descriptions of the dance moves, all so wonderful — at times I’d to read them twice, forcing myself away from the narrative, just so I could enjoy the felicity and economy in the writing.
There’s far too much in this deceptively shy little book to go into here. But I was especially struck by the narrator’s commentary about home being somewhere out there in the world, that learning the world is your home is a part of the human experience and an aspect of growing up we come to learn. It chimes with my own rather less well-formed thoughts on a similar subject. I’ve always thought we’re refugees of our childhood (and I think that’s true of artists and creatives especially), but now, having read Raymond’s thoughts, I’m wondering if that’s me looking at the same notion from a different angle. With a bit more thinking on my part, maybe I’d probably have come to his conclusions. I hope so, I think. I’m still pondering what it might mean.
I’ll stop here. There’s only so many compliments a guy can pass to another guy without it becoming embarrassing. And it’d be churlish to start looking for bugs in the book to swat your way in the interest of balance. Screw that. You’ve a real talent, John. I’m deeply envious. Please continue to use it.
Thanks for the read.