Monday, 9 March 2009

Little Dog's Day - Jack Trevor Story

This is markedly different to Story’s earlier work. Whilst it retains a sense of humour and writing that is as sharp and as tight as ever, it is the work of a man whose view of the world has been forever altered. The story involves a dystopian near future and the adventures of those trying to escape. The characters are less sharply drawn (although a damn sight sharper still than most authors manage) and where there was once a sympathetic hearing for everyone there is now an almost paranoid fear of authority figures.

You need to know the story behind this. In 1969, Story was arrested for driving through a set of broken traffic lights on a deserted street. He was badly treated physically, denied his asthma medication, and later convicted for offences he had not committed on perjured evidence presented by the police. He never fully recovered either physically or mentally. It took another twenty years for him to get back to the top of his writing form.

Little Dog’s Day was written not long after this terrible experience and it shows in this book – dedicated to the police officers involved. Whereas previously his worst portrayal of the police had been as bumbling amateurs (and Story wrote a lot work for books and television involving the police), more normally as decent folk doing the best they could in the circumstances life handed them, we now find them firmly in the authoritarian camp, complicit in the brutal and often violent behaviour seen as necessary to keep the populace in order.

None of this has prevented Story from producing an excellent book. He still manages to smile, and still recognises that humour is by far the most effective weapon against the kind of pomposity that, if unchecked, leads swiftly to authoritarianism and fascism. But the humour is darker, the style more fragmented, and one closes the book feeling a little sadder for the world.

Story was bewildered and frightened by Thatcherism. What he would have made of the world today is anybody’s guess. That he managed to continue writing at all after what happened to him is remarkable. That he managed to keep his sense of humour alive is a wonder. That he continued to write great books is a fact that books like Little Dog’s Day prove unequivocally.