Hawthorn & Child
Keith Ridgway
(New Directions)
Hawthorn and Child are detectives, working together in London. They don't wear uniforms. But they do have a few oddments. I take that back. They have a lot of oddments.

One is that they work together with each other without killing each other. Child is what we might call "normal." Maybe. Hawthorn? Definitely different. Given to fits of crying. Sometimes can't seem to tell the difference between group sex and breaking up demonstrations with his nightstick. Might get off on hurting others (the text is rather vague on this). Definitely likes hurting himself. Gay.

Who can we compare them to? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Laurel and Hardy? Maybe the Blues Brothers.

One of them goes to visit the hospital where their "client" --- Daniel Field --- almost dies after being shot. Hawthorn tries to talk to him before he's taken into surgery. The car carrying the people who shot him, Field mumbles, was "old-fashioned." But the image on a street CCTV shows a vague outline, too vague to know if it was a car with "running boards."

Hawthorn to Cook:

    "Silver door handles."

    "Silver door handles."

    "It's no more vague than descriptions we get from people who don't know cars. We explicate."

    "We what?"


    "I don't think that's the right word, Hawthorn."

    "We put them together."



Or maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hawthorn and Child go through Field's wallet, find a card.

    "Café Out," [Child] said.


    "Is that a gay thing?"


    "So he's gay?"

    "It's a café. They do nice cakes. I wouldn't assume."

    "Well, did that look like a gay cock to you?"

    Hawthorn looked at Child seriously for a moment, and said nothing. Child chewed and looked back.

§   §   §

Hawthorn & Child is divided up into eight chapters. Or sets. Or situations. Or mise en scènes. Wait, no: that's the movies. But the novel is filmic: scenes drift into each other, sometimes quite randomly. Some sections are cogent, fit. One entitled "Goo Book" was good enough to appear on its own as a story in The New Yorker. The chapter is a chiller, someone getting in over his head. Small-time crook gets involved with the dangerous Mr. Big, the one who can get you anything you need. The kid is chauffeur for him, gets more and more involved.

How, I wonder, can a writer get us to worry about a small-time thug, wanting to be sure that he gets out from under? Is it because of the touches, that he lives with a woman and instead of communicating like the rest of us (words, looks, smile) they leave notes for each other in a notebook on the top shelf, never talk about what they write to each other, or themselves?

Some of the chapters here are complete stories, neat; others seem to be fantasies of nut cases who happen to come under the scrutiny of Hawthorn and Child. Most start out with a bang --- man trapped under car, car falling from jack; is he going to just die there, alone in a deserted garage?

Others are yarns that might be coming at us from Ixneria. One story called "Rothko Eggs" features Cath ... a twenty-year-old who is crazy about modern art. She's daughter of Hawthorn and Child's boss, Mark Rivers. We get to see the two detectives through his eyes, and it becomes a cautionary tale for all of us ... in case we are getting too fond of them, what with their funny dialogue and weeping fits.

Rivers tells her, "They are not nice. Really. And anyway, one of them is married and the other is gay and they're both old enough to be your father. And if your mother and I agree on anything, then we agree that you should never, ever, ever, get involved with a policeman."

§   §   §

Ridgway's stories, even parts of them, can be quite riveting. Some can be quite disgusting, too. In one suicide (there are several sprinkled around here and there) Rivers' ex bakes herself atop her stove in the process of hanging herself. The scene makes both Hawthorn and Child want to vomit. Me too. Then,

    Child went through drawers. Hawthorn wandered back downstairs. She was still there. Still slumped on the worktop like a failed cake.

    There was a gap in the coming and going. Hawthorn was alone with her. He took out his phone and took some photographs. Seven. He took seven photographs.

Hawthorn has a lover who works as a referee in the top sports venues of Europe. (His lover also sees ghosts. Sometimes when he is refereeing, he sees ghosts who are not necessarily in the game. This compromises his referring some.)

Hawthorn sends one of the failed-cake photographs to this ghost-seeing lover. They break up. It gets very odd out there in Ridgway-land.

There another vomit-inducing story that might have been thrown in there so we can stop thinking too highly of this tricky, even endearing author. I'd give it a strong second in the revolting-detail sweepstakes, just behind the droopy cake on the counter. A guy on vacation in the Canaries craps in a swimming pool. He then tries to drown himself in the same crappy pool. Other bathers jump in the pool to save him(!), have a hard time getting him to let go of the bars so he can surface. We find ourselves hoping that they --- or the writer, please --- would just leave him there.

A third case of narrative over-kill comes with a guy named Moss who seems to be ready to murder a baby by tossing her over the banisters in front of Child. (At least we think that's what happening. With Ridgway, you can never be too sure of the facts. You just have to make do. Like with detectives, you just have to explicate.)

§   §   §

Besides being nauseating, Ridgway can be quite a phrase-maker: "It was a bakery. They used to have tiered wedding cakes in the window. Edible bride, edible groom."

His dialogue is nigh-about perfect. This is Child trying to talk Moss --- the would-be baby-killer --- into handing the kid over to him:

    "If I give her to you what will happen?"

    "I told you. I take her out. I hand her over to her mother."

    "What will happen to me?"

    "You have a phone?"


    "Well, I don't know. The negotiating guys will arrive. They'll send in a phone or something. You can talk with them. Demand a flight to Cuba. Or a pizza. Whatever ... Come on Moss. You give me the baby and I'll tell them you have a gun."

    His face was like a shadow.


    "I'll tell them you have a gun. It's what you want, isn't it? Big siege. Days, maybe. Center of attention. With a bit of luck you'll get shot. And you'll be the people's hero and we'll look like trigger-happy shits again."

Ridgway likes word-play, too.

    "And why did he want to see you?"

    "A book. He wanted to pitch a story at me."

    He hesitates, the Child man. The other one looks at him.


    "How's work?"

    "It's all right."

    "Still with Child?"

    "Still with Child, yes."

    His father laughed. Hawthorn smiled and nodded.

§   §   §

Names, dates, facts come muddled, or coded: the stuff that detectives --- and here, the reader --- must sort through.

Early on in the book, Child says, "We start investigating what people imagine."

In the last, he reports, "It's a set-up."

Hawthorn: "What is?"

"Every single fucking thing."

§   §   §

Wait. I take it back. It's not the Blues Brothers; certainly not Butch Cassidy and Sundance.

It's Estragon and Vladimir in "Waiting for Godot."

    ESTRAGON: Well? Shall we go?

    VLADIMIR: Pull on your trousers.

    ESTRAGON: What?

    VLADIMIR: Pull on your trousers.

    ESTRAGON: You want me to pull off my trousers?

    VLADIMIR: Pull ON your trousers.

    ESTRAGON: (realizing his trousers are down). True.

    He pulls up his trousers.

    VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?

    ESTRAGON: Yes, let's go.

    They do not move.

§   §   §

Ambivalence is Beckett's hole card.

Ridgway's too.

In Europe, the subtitle to Hawthorn & Child was "A Set of Misunderstandings."

And when Ridgway published "Goo Book" in The New Yorker, he also wrote an on-line column for the magazine about writing. (He didn't explain the title. I'm still working on it. Goo.)

He said,

    I do no research. Given that I've just written a book that revolves around two London Met police detectives, this might seem a little foolhardy. I have no real idea what detectives do with their days. So I made some guesses. I suppose that they must investigate things. I tried to imagine what that might be like. I've seen the same films and TV shows that you have. I've read the same sorts of cheap thrillers. And I know that everything is fiction. Absolutely everything. Research is its own slow fiction, a process of reassurance for the author. I don't want reassurance. I like writing out of confusion, panic, a sense of everything being perilously close to collapse. So I try to embrace the fiction of all things.
    --- Lolita Lark
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH