RUSSELL JAMES is a British crime-writer known for his hard-hitting, low-life thrillers, mainly set in south-east London. He had an author’s unconventionally unhappy childhood: his father committed suicide, and he was a bright child, physically abused by wicked relations, before being sent to military boarding schools.
His previous novels have gained James major acclaim and have seen him short-listed for many awards. They include Underground, Daylight, Payback, Slaughter Music and Count Me Out. Russell James lives in Cheltenham.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
GQ magazine once wrote a piece on me where they labelled me ‘the great unknown talent of British crime writing’. That was back in 1995. Since when, nothing has changed!
But I have been called worse: the Times Saturday Review once called me ‘something of a cult’, and I’ve never been sure that it wasn’t a typo.
What kind of writer am I, really? Well, don’t ask me – I’m the last person to ask. But I have thought about it. It was after my third book had come out and while I was working on my fourth (Slaughter Music) that I realised something no reviewer had picked up: practically nobody else in Britain was writing crime stories. They were writing detective stories, PI books, police procedurals. They were writing anti crime stories — law enforcement novels. Why? Did they find policemen interesting?
Most of my stories are set among the low life of south-east London. I write of punks and misfits, tough guys and shady dealers. I write of crime. But those who fight crime — police and detectives — hardly appear in my books at all; they are a peripheral presence.
To the criminal, the rules of conduct are set by their peers. Professional criminals (and here I exclude the many amateurs – street corner drug dealers, teen-age burglars, motor freaks, etc.) are not the unpredictable, undisciplined vermin portrayed in the press – they are social anarchists. Criminals do not share our homely values. They have not signed up to the same contract with society. They live by different rules.
And rules there are. One might almost say that in the UAPC (Unofficial Association of Professional Criminals) the guidelines and Code of Practice are as clear as in any recognised professional organisation. For the UAPC, the one cardinal commandment is ‘never betray a fellow member’. But in the supposedly non-criminal world outside, you’ll see examples every day of violence and betrayal: families evicted from their homes; small businesses closed down; people’s jobs stolen. Meanwhile, rewards are handed out freely for fraud, deceit and abuse of power.
I am not saying that if Big Business cleaned up its act, crime elsewhere would disappear – though I would point out that more money is lost through white collar crime than through all other crime put together. I am saying that it is human nature to seize a chance. Think for a moment: if your forefathers had listened to pious exhortations to be content with their lot, you would not be reading this today. You would be huddling in a cold cave somewhere, wishing that some genius would invent fire.
So what does this have to do with my crime stories? Approach and attitude. My stories are not about the inherent tragedy of the human condition; they are vignettes, pivotal moments in the lives of the underclass. Still with me? Well, there you have it: the Russell James philosophy (today’s version, anyway). If you’ve read so far, then in words that have become beloved of blurb writers everywhere … now read on…
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR RUSSELL JAMES
‘A British crime poet of lost souls and grey streets. Relish the darkness’ – Time Out
‘This guy is good! James makes it all come starkly alive, dangerous and fascinating.’ – Hardboiled magazine
‘Something of a cult – He goes looking for trouble where more circumspect writers would back off.’ – Chris Petit, The Times
Books by Russell James published by The Do-Not Press:
Visit Russell’s official website at http://russelljamesbooks.wordpress.com