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Thursday, 04 June 2009

Tim Willcocks

Hell, is not only others.

Translated by Steve Novak


Hell, is not only others.

Is our society only able to produce monsters? Or rather, is it the very essence of being human that both embodies absolute evil and any inclination toward it, which certain established rules, religion in particular, try vainly to erase?

Tim Willocks, as a psychiatrist, can’t help but ask himself those kind of questions.

Did he become a novelist in order to find some element of response to the question? Or simply to show the terrifying conclusions that, as a practitioner he comes to every day. Maybe also words themselves, the keys to his medical practice, needed to exist in their own right, set aside from any therapy, set out on paper.

Bad City Blues Tim WillocksLouisiana was chosen by this British author as the location of his first novel “Bad City Blues”, published in 1991. It’s where Cicero Grimes, a psychiatrist (wasn’t therapy mentioned?), his brother Luther are going to cross paths with, and confront, Clarence Jefferson, a cop that would sell hardened criminals as sweet lambs. ‘Confront’ is in fact too weak a word for the fights to the death that will succeed each other at a devlish pace (but everything’s diabolical in Tim Willocks’s novels).

Thus “Bad City Blues” seems to be loaded with all the violence, the sleaze, the perversity that a human brain can conceive. At the same time this hysterical outburst of passions plunges us right into the heart of these humans, even if, at first glance, they seem to have lost any notion of the compassion or empathy that marks mankind as human.

The narrative doesn’t have a major role in this novel since the author’s main focus is describing the many ramblings and exploring the very depths of certain characters. And if the writer had changed his pen for a brush, the resulting work would certainly have been similar to Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Last Judgement”.

ImageSo, with this first book, Tim Willocks joins some other famous noir novel writers in their attempt to describe absolute evil. As the great British novelist, Robin Cook, author of  “I was Dora Suares” said, "I people my books with wasters who do not understand why they have to slide down the slippery slope, without even a groan". Willocks’s characters are quite similar. They also resemble the characters of another great English novelist, David Peace. "Starting with his first novel, Peace stood as the writer of innermost horror, of characters haunted by hellish visions, in a pitiless society, a throwback (insofar as there was ever a departure?) to barbarous times." These words from Stéphanie Benson (1) are a very good description of Tim Willocks’s universe which follows in the same vein for his next two books “Green River” (L'odeur de la Haine) and “Bloodstained Kings” (Les Rois Écarlates) where we encounter Cicero Grimes again. And the triad that is the leitmotiv of his tales: religion, sex, and violence. One of the portagonists, Lenna Parillaud, explained it this way "The only remedy to sin was punishment". To atone for your sins, for the sins of others, mental and physical flagellation is the lot for this psychologist’s characters, and it’s not hard to imagine that during his practice he must have met some patients racked by such demons (and here we are still dealing with a religious lexicon). But after all, isn’t one of the essential functions of the noir novel writer to bear witness to the torments and burdens of mankind ?

La Religion Willocks“The Religion”, his last book was just published by Sonatine. It recounts the amazing confrontation in 1565 for the rock of Malta that occurred between the army of Suleiman the Magnificent and the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Through the eyes of Matthias Tanhauser – whose  first name is not an accidental choice since he is a hero worthy of Alexander Dumas – the reader will be mystified by the apocalyptic descriptions of the slaughter perpetrated in the name of God or Allah. In the foreground of this landscape the reader follows the extraordinary adventures of this man who suffered a thousand hardships for the beautiful eyes of a countess. At first glance the message seems quite simplistic: happiness for a man lies in a beautiful woman and a great battle, but the real focus is elsewhere and Matthias, poised between the Orient and the Occident, between Islamic and Christian worlds, is a perfect witness of fanaticism taken by all sides. Willocks is as much at ease in long battle scenes, using his pen like a camera, aiming for all angles, as for Tanhauser’s introspective moments when the verbal torrent eases up and words develop a poetic sensitivity.

Here Tim Willocks seems to get away from crime novels, but throughout this 850 page historical fresco, many themes touched upon in his earlier novels are revisited, the most important being the immense significance of religion that dictates many of our actions and is often the source of the woes of mankind.

"You kill one man, you are a criminal. You kill millions, you are a conqueror. You kill them all, you are God." said Jean Rostand. And what is it when you are a noir crime writer?

1.    La langue étrange de David Peace ou l'exilé du Yorkshire, Stéphanie Benson, 2009 - (The Strange Language of David Peace or the exiled from Yorkshire, Stéphanie Benson, 2009)
  • Bad city blues, 1991; Points Seuil 2007 (filmed in 1999 – Director: Michael Stevens ; Screenplay: Tim Willocks)
  • Green River 1994, L'odeur de la haine, Plon 1995
  • Bloodstained Kings, 1995; Les rois écarlates, Points Seuil 2009
  • The Religion,  Arrow 2007; La religion, Sonatine 2009
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