A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I Was Dora Suarez is the fourth book in Derek Raymond’s Factory series. They’re excellent noirish police procedurals which follow an unnamed detective who works with low-profile murders on London’s seedy side. This particular installment is the one that stands out as Raymond’s greatest, or most infamous achievement. The first few scenes are often counted among the most violent and stomach turning in popular fiction.
Those first chapters put us into the head of a psychopathic killer as he commits three murders—an old woman named Carstairs, her young lodger Dora Suarez, and a sleazy nightclub owner called Roatta. It’s not just what the killer does that’s disturbing, it’s also the compelling psychological realism with which Raymond portrays the vile acts. It just gets under you’re skin. (I had read a few reviews before starting and figured I had a pretty good sense of what was coming when I opened to page one. But it didn’t help. I actually had to close the book and take a breather about 20 pages into it.)
Thankfully, as the book continues it goes beyond being a mere shocker. The extreme violence has a payoff in the equally extreme compassion and empathy of the nameless detective. He treats the victims, each of whom were basically alone and loveless, almost like they were family. This is especially true of Dora Suarez, whose intimate journals provide the only clues he has to go on. In the end the detective turns the case into a very personal, very emotional quest for justice, and a quest to give Suarez the voice and the meaning she never found in life. The reason that quest has such pull and validity, such moral power for the reader is because we’ve been through the harrowing ordeal of the opening chapters. I think it ends up nicely justifying the novel’s sensational nature.
No, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you like the idea of a detective who fights for forgotten and unloved victims but don’t think you can take the violence, try the first in this series, He Died With His Eyes Open. It’s not as disturbing, but nearly as good as Dora. If you’ve got a strong enough stomach, though, don’t hesitate to start with the fourth book. It’s a great piece of genre writing, as much about the nature of good and evil as it is the old detective formula.
Review by Matthew