Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Trevor English Series Is the Definition of Noir

By Chris Rhatigan

In 2011, Pablo D'Stair released five novella about petty con man Trevor English as a serial. Each day a chapter was published at a blog, culminating in the release of all five books. These were stunning little paperbacks that, unfortunately, are not in print today. (Though you can see some of their covers below.)

However, what is in print and available for Kindle is Trevor English, which presents the five parts as a single book.

Somehow, this book has been ignored despite it being one of the most original works of fiction that I've encountered.

I re-read them recently and found them just as engrossing as the first time I read them.

The thing that jumped out at me immediately is the style. Here's a sentence from the first page of this letter to Norman Court, the first book in the series:

"I'd taken a large bite, was taking a drink to help me swallow it, when some guy sat down right at my table, nodded at me, smiling and it wasn't until I'd mashed the swallow down, caught my breath and was saying Can I help you? I realized it was the guy I'd stolen his wallet about two days before."

Most crime writers prefer short, punchy sentences. As you can see, Pablo D'Stair does not. He uses this to great effect with Trevor English--the reader becomes trapped in the narrator's paranoid, narrow voice. The entire series is told in his rambling thoughts.

Then there's the character himself. D'Stair tells you next to nothing about Trevor English's past. All you see is his present. He is driven by an innate desire to grift. He never thinks about it; it's just what he does. But grifting, although central to his character, steadily erodes his sense of self (if he had a sense of self to begin with). He burns through identities one after the other, with no concept of being any of these particular identities. (And his "real" identity sounds like a fake name.)

Here's the last paragraph of the second book, Mister Trot from Tin Street. Trevor's burning time at an airport, slowly making his escape after a failed con.

"Spent as long as I felt like on a bench out in the passenger pick-up area, smoking, making slow progress down my coffee. Every once in awhile I'd think I recognized somebody--the girl, some guy. Nobody. Every now and again, someone'd look at me like they might've been thinking I was somebody, too, quickly able to discern I wasn't. They'd look away and I'd be glad about that."


Then there's the banality of the events across the entire series. In an age where every crime book is "fast-paced" and "action-packed," Trevor English lacks almost any physical action. (D'Stair has described his style as "slow-burn noir.") Trevor blackmails people into giving him small amounts of cash. He wanders from bland nowhere town to bland nowhere town, occasionally working shitty low-wage jobs and always looking for an angle. All he wants is to make enough dough to buy cigarettes and booze and rent a cheap motel room--and he seems almost incapable of having larger ambitions than this. (The banality is wonderfully captured in the covers of the original five novella--which D'Stair did himself--Trevor with a bag, Trevor at a pay phone...)

Trevor is given a gun in the first book and told to use it to kill a man. And he carries that gun for the entirety of the five books and never uses it. Take that, Chandler!

Yet the series has plenty of suspense. Watching Trevor work on his schemes that inevitably fail in one way or another is a sheer joy. And watching Trevor trying to elude the police and various PIs is equally enjoyable.

The thing that Trevor bizarrely, naively never realizes is that the mark is often playing him too. He's a grifter who trusts people almost in the way a child would.

Despite all this, these books were trashed on Goodreads because people suck. Whatever. Read them for yourself and find out. The ebook including all five novella is $7.

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