Review: I Was Dora Suarez (Factory #4), Derek Raymond

Book Reviews

Cover depicts a bloody hand against the wallI WAS DORA SUAREZ was published in 1990 and written by Derek Raymond (1931 to 1994). It is the fourth book in the Factory series that follows the nameless detective in Unexplained Deaths. The stories are set in 1980’s London under Margaret Thatcher’s rule. I WAS DORA SUAREZ gained the author some notoriety because of the heinous nature of the crimes perpetrated by the villain who is a masochistic serial killer. The entire series is dark but this book goes beyond dark to something akin to horror.

“I write about what people do to each other,” – Robin Cook aka Derek Raymond

The novel opens into madness with the killing of Dora Suarez and the 86 year-old widow who took her in, Betty Carstairs. A nightclub owner is shot to death a few hours later. The crime scene of Suarez/Carstairs is “one of the most appalling sights I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen all of it” says our narrator, the junior detective who only goes by “sergeant.” The detective is brought back to A14 after he was fired for assaulting another police officer related to the Mardy case. The “axe murderer” case gets under his skin like no other case before it. 

Who is Dora Suarez? She was a prostitute and a nightclub singer at the seedy Parallel Club. She was young and pretty. Her life, as described in her hidden journals, were filled with sadness. She was battling an illness and was already dying before she was axed to death. Most of the book moves at a brisk, real-time pace to find the killer. The nameless detective teams up with another police officer to grill suspects tied to the nightclub but almost all are tight-lipped about the identity of the killer. With the help from a Fleet Street journalist, the detectives track down the killer and the story races to the finish line.

After reading four books in this series, you understand the focus the author had for people in desperate, dire situations.  The themes of good vs. evil, death, love, innocence are pervasive. The tone is beyond bleak. It’s tragedy. It can get overwhelming for one person to have to fight against a decaying society. The poorest in society will always be underrepresented when it comes to justice. That’s why Unexplained Deaths only deals with crimes of people who are not important. The sympathetic detective is always trying so hard to right the scales and find balance. Using Dora’s words, he propels himself into the darkness to save her and to set her spirit free.

In Derek Raymond’s world, there are monsters and we get up close and personal with them, too. The poor are preyed upon by those with power, especially when their most vulnerable. They are targets for: murder, corruption, blackmail. The underlying humanity and compassion in the Factory series are what makes them stand out. It’s unfortunate that the gruesome quality of the crimes will be off-putting to some readers, despite its realistic depiction of the ugliness of life. Anyway, my grade is an A for the compelling voice, well drawn characters and brisk plotting. I don’t mind reading books that push against my comfort level like this one did. But I only ever read one of these every ten years or so. Overall, this was a compelling, insightful yet disturbing reading experience. Source: bought this one

Further reading:

Resurrecting Derek Raymond…aka the first Robin Cook at The L.A. Times

Review of I Was Dora Suarez by Cathi Unsworth – The Rap Sheet

The Author

I love reading crime fiction.

9 Comments

  1. Keishon – Thanks for the thoughtful (as ever!) review. Like you, I’m willing to push my personal comfort zone when I read, but I always hesitate before doing it. And I only go in this near-horror direction once in a great while. It sounds like there are some interesting psychological issues at work here, and I may read it at some point. But I think my envelope zone needs a rest for the moment…

  2. This is quite simply one of the finest British crime novels ever written – easily on a par with Ted Lewis’ GBH, with which it shares an incredibly dark and bleak world view.

      • I hope you enjoy it. It’s a strange novel, but a hypnotic one. The rhythm of the present and past tense chapters is stunning.

        • That’s the reason why I read and the book will be here on Tuesday. Also, someone mentioned Christopher Petit’s books as being worth tracking down, too. Of course they are OOP (Robinson and The Hard Shoulder). I didn’t buy those but put them on my wishlist.

          • Ah, I’ll have to try and grab one of his, then. Not heard his name before (probably because he’s out of circulation). Yeah, there are a lot of neglected classics that are sadly OOP. Another out of print classic I managed to track down recently is Burden of Proof by James Barlow (which was made into the film Villain with Richard Burton). Read it many years ago but lost my copy and wanted to read it again. Great book.

  3. I was waiting for this review, because I remember that this was the bleakest of the books … from reviews and my husband’s take. You have definitely convinced me that the series is worth reading. It is interesting reading about novels set in the Thatcher years because we are watching G.B.H., an old TV series set in that time. It is horrifying (that is not the right word but I cannot come up with a better one), although laced with humor.

    Thanks for this review.

    • Yes, the books set around the Thatcher years were enlightening reads for me. Derek Raymond was a brilliant writer. I’d be curious to know what you thought of his books when you read them, TracyK.

  4. Pingback: Classic crime in the blogosphere: April 2013 | Past Offences

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