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 bunch of oddments.

One is that they work with each other without killing each other. Child is what we might call "normal." Maybe. Hawthorn? Definitely different. Gay. 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.

Who can we compare them to? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Laurel and Hardy? Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon? No: more like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid --- as seen in the movie of the same name? Always going at each other. Hawthorn visits the hospital where their "client" almost dies after being shot, sees him on the table before he went into surgery. Later, he and Child go through his wallet.

    "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.

Or maybe they are more the Blues Brothers. Talking about the car that the victim claims may have carried the characters who shot him.

    "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."



Hawthorn & Child runs eight chapters. Or angles. Or sets. Or situations. Or mise en scènes. Wait, no, that's the movies. But this is very movie-like, the scenes drifting into each other, sometimes quite random. Some scenes are cogent, and quite good. "Goo Book" was good enough to appear on its own as a story in The New Yorker. It's a chiller: small-time crook gets involved with the dangerous Mr. Big of London. Drives for him, gets more and more involved. How, I wonder, can a writer get us so that we worry so about a small-time thug, wanting him to get 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, smiles --- they leave notes for each other, in a notebook. Never talk about what they write.

Some of these are complete neat stories; others fantasies of nut cases that come under the scrutiny of Hawthorn and Child. Most start out with a bang (man trapped under car that is falling from its jack: is he going to just die there, alone in a deserted garage?). Others are stories that might as well be coming at us from outer space.

One of the more cogent acquaints us with a twenty-year-old girl who is crazy about modern art. It's called "Rothko Eggs."

Cath is daughter of Hawthorn and Child's overseer, Mark Rivers. We get to see the two detectives through his eyes as he describes them to Cath, "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. And disgusting. One passage about a suicide (she cooks herself atop her stove as she hangs herself) makes both Hawthorn and Child vomit. Me too. Almost.

    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 top sports venues of Europe. He sees ghosts. Sometimes when he is refereeing, he sees ghosts who are not necessarily in the game. Hawthorn sends one of the photographs to this ghost seer lover. They then break up. See how strange it gets?

There is another vomit-inducing backdrop tale that might have been thrown just to juice up the book at one of its laggardly points. I'd give it a number two ... just there behind the droopy cake. A guy on vacation craps in a swimming pool, then tries to drown himself in the same pool. In the same crappy pool. They have a hard time getting him to let go of the bars below water level just to surface. We find ourselves hoping that they'll just leave him alone, that Ridgway might just leave it be. A third is about a nut-case who seems to be ready to kill a baby by tossing it over the banisters. (At least I think that's what happening. With Ridgway, you can never be sure of the facts, you just have to make do. Like detectives do. You just have to explicate.)

This is Child trying to talk the guy into handing the baby over to him:

    He paused. He stopped. He held her in mid-air.


    "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."

Sometimes it's just a phrase that works the magic. Hawthorn: "It was a bakery. They used to have tiered wedding cakes in the window. Edible bride, edible groom." Or, this play on his name:

    "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.

Then: "The telephone rings. It's the one who isn't Child."

Hawthorn's father:

    "How's work?"

    It's all right.

    "Still with Child?"

    "Still with Child, yes."

    His father laughed. Hawthorn smiled and nodded.

Ambivalence is Ridgway's hole card.

--- Richard Saturday
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