“What do you do?” I asked.
“I walk the line.”
“Not,” he said raising an instructive finger, “what line but the line between what forces?”
“Okay,” I said. “The line between what forces?”
“I walk the line between chaos and the man.”
On one level, this is a Black American Holmes & Watson set-up. But it’s subverted from the top. It does, in Mike Moorcock’s phrase, obey and enjoy the genre it works within, but it also twists it up and shines weird new lights on it.
Archibald Lawless has a phone-in part in the excellent Walter Mosley novel TROUBLE IS WHAT I DO, where he’s described as a “radical detective.” He is an anarchist. He is interested in justice.
“An anarchist named Lawless? That’s just too perfect.”
“What if my parents were revolutionists? What if I looked up my name and decided that that’s what I’d become?”
“Your parents were revolutionaries that changed their names?” I asked.
“I am Archibald Lawless,” he said. “I’m sitting here before you. You are looking into my eyes and questioning what you see and what you hear. On the streets you meet Asian men named Brian, Africans named Joe Cramm. But you don’t question their obviously being named for foreign devils. You accept their humiliation. You accept their loss of history. You accept them being severed from long lines of heritage by their names. Why wouldn’t you accept just as simply my liberating appellation?”
Lawless is brilliant. He is impassioned, he thinks deeply about ethics and justice, he is dedicated and tireless. He is also, of course, quite mad, and leaves scorched earth in his meandering wake. You can’t get close to him without being burned. And the poor journalism student who replies to the newspaper ad asking for a “scribe” becomes tied to Lawless’ flaming mast for good.
It’s a woozy little book, lurching from authentic warm human moments to blasts of complete batshittery, which both makes it entertaining and makes the reader share the feeling of complete destabilisation that the narrator experiences upon entering the employ of the world’s greatest radical detective.
If you’re looking for a short read that’s just big angry fun this week, this is the one to pick up.