29/07/2010

'To Hell in a Handcart' - Part 3: doesn't even make any bloody sense

So, this will be the last of my posts about 'To Hell in a Handcart'. This one will start with the end.

Gods in the machine
Usually, you don't want a deus ex machina saving your character at the end of your story, since it's not really creative and can feel like a cheat to your readers. Unless you're Charlie Kaufmann and you really know what you're doing, you shouldn't include one of those. Littlejohn doesn't. He includes four.



Here they are:
  1. Roberta Peel has erased the details of Ilie Popescu from the Met police database after he's arrested for bag snatching. Just toward the end of the story, the local Acting Detective Chief Inspector, Colin Marsden (good sort, goes by the book - not happy that Peel has taken over his investigation) receives a phone call from the man who entered the details who has - just as luck would have it - just got back from holiday in Ibiza and is puzzled to see them gone.
  2. Something's afoot - they need to access the Interpol database, but none of them have clearance. Just as luck would have it, Marsden's brother knows a man who can do it for them. (Plus, I know I did coincidences in Part I, but these two are the sons of the old copper Mickey saved from accusations of racism from Fromby and Peel years before).
  3. Just as they're working out that Ilie Popescu has lied about his name and identity and is wanted by German police, Seamus Milne, King of the Pikeys, turns up at the police station with the kid who stole the taxi Popescu had stolen to drive to Mickey's house. This allows the police to track him with CCTV and spot he's being followed by baddies.
  4. In court, Mickey learns that Ilie Popescu had been shot four times, which the reader already knew. What we didn't know is that Mickey only shot twice. Turns out Mickey only shot him in the arm, but he was killed by two shots fired by the Russian mafia with the same calibre of gun just seconds later without anyone noticing and without forensics checking to see if all the bullets were the same aside from their calibre.
Woah. All those things were lucky. You might want to quibble about a couple of them being a deus ex machina. Go for your life, I don't mind.

The plot doesn't make much sense anyway
Toward the end of the novel, after his house is burgled, Mickey sends Andi and the kids off to stay with family in Zero Beach, Florida. If they have family in Florida and can go there readily and driving anywhere in the UK is so very hellish, why would Mickey bother with Goblin's?

The police are obsessed with racism and political correctness, and we're shown that any officer who wants to stand a chance in hell of promotion must show themselves to be excessively concerned with such things (even if they do slip up and still call people 'pikeys'). The justice system, we are told, has been skewed in favour of the villain rather than victim. What about my rights, eh? Eh?

So why is it necessary for there to be Marxist plotters at all? Why are we supposed to be scared of the prospect of Roberta Peel becoming Chief Commissioner when the police is already a politically correct nightmare?

What is it with right wing vigilante wank fantasies?
This is a bit of a minor point. Still, it annoys me. Now it will annoy you, because you will have to endure me moaning.

Vigilante fantasies always seem to miss out details about how the real world works that might scupper the dream. The Death Wish films show muggers announcing - from yards away - that they are going to mug Charles Bronson, usually as they pull a knife. It doesn't seem to occur to Michael Winner that they might want to wait until they're in range and already taken their victim off guard with some innocent question or remark before they show their weapon, and say something that isn't effectively, "I am about to commit acts of violence upon your person. If you are in possession of a weapon, such as a small handgun, now is the time to prepare yourself to use it before I get any closer."

In 'To Hell in a Handcart', Mickey just happens to be cleaning his guns when Ilie Popescu arrives. My, what a coincidence. It would actually create a better, more suspenseful scene if he'd been in bed when he hears the door kicked in and has to rush to the gun box, fumbling his keys as the bad man comes up the stairs. But that would mean that Mickey is shown to be vulnerable, and we can't have the hero be vulnerable in a vigilante wank fantasy.

Mickey is not vulnerable, he's a hard geezer.  Earlier, he 'thought about chinning him [a security guard dressed as an elf] but decided against it. He was too tired for a start.' In the real world, anyone who says they would have chinned someone but there's some excuse why they didn't is probably just a git who's lying even to themselves. This, possibly more than anything else in the whole novel, makes me hate Mickey and think he's a prick.

Mickey has his guns out and is angry when Popescu turns up because when he arrives home from Goblin's, his house has been burgled by gypsies - sorry, dirty fucking pikey scum - who nick Andi's jewellery, smear shit on the walls, piss on a picture of Mickey's daughter and kill his cat. This is in return for an earlier incident, where we learn Mickey had chased off a gang of gypsies - sorry, thieving dids - with his police revolver.

Despite having seen the gun and being despicable pantomime villains, we're given no indication that the burglars have tried to steal it. Sure the guns will be locked in a box, but it would only take a 'thank god, they didn't find the guns', or for Mickey to find the box has been battered where they've tried to pry it open to let us know that he's at least wise to the possibility - but Littlejohn doesn't give us that. That suggests to me that the idea that a gun might be a nice thing for a burglar to steal hasn't even occurred to him.

But - you bloody lefties! You have no idea what it's like in the real world!

Littlejohn doesn't really understand left wing politics
Littlejohn apparently spent much of his earlier career working with unions, so you'd expect him to be able to create a believable representation of left wing politics, especially as he hates the lefties so much. The trouble is, he doesn't.

The details of Peel and Fromby's plot are left incredibly vague, and we don't even know what the end result is supposed to look like. There are vague statements about ridding the force of the forces of conservatism, but that seems to be it.  The only reason we know they're supposed to be far left is because of Roberta's interesting use of a bust of Karl Marx.

There is a scene that made me laugh in the novel - but for entirely the wrong reasons. Roberta Peel is giving a seminar. Instead of actually explaining why it might be a good idea for a police force not to refer to black people as 'spades' or rough up prisoners or instantly suspect someone for something because of their ethnicity, she gives some wishy-washy strawman version of anti-racism and ends up getting everyone to chant, "I AM A RACIST!" like robot drones. Because that's what anti-racism is. Jesus.

The Home Secretary arrives at the seminar and tells Roberta she's a shoe-in for promotion because he admires:
...your crime management initiatives, your inclusivity strategies, your anti-sexism and anti-racism programmes, your pioneering bridge-building with the gay community, your zero-tolerance of motoring offences when you were at county.
Now, I can't claim to have read Das Kapital, but I have read The Communist Manifesto and I'm pretty sure it doesn't mention speed cameras.

What Littlejohn has done here is take some vaguely left-wing things and something else he doesn't like and mash it all together as a loony left wing plot without properly explaining them. We're clearly supposed to find these things sinister in and of themselves. Well, bridge-building with the gay community aside - that's enough to put the shits up anyone, wuurgh, coodermaykiddapp - what exactly is wrong with those things on their own?

Before these things existed, the police force is shown by Littlejohn to actually be racist, sexist, exclusive and homophobic. We have the guy who beats up prisoners and calls black people spades, who is saved by Mickey. We have Mickey, while talking to the policeman who's arrived after his house is burgled even saying that in his day they'd have steamed into the travellers' camp and beaten a confession out of them.

He also chucks about racial epithets even when talking about his own wife's family, blarts,""don't give me multi-fucking culturalism. The only culture these fucking pikeys have is thieving. Whose side are you on, son?", has men 'down as an iron' (iron hoof - poof, see) and is one of those blokes who thinks it's hilarious to call women 'petal' if he knows they don't like it, and to say things like "I suppose a fuck's out of the question," hur-hur-hur. See? Prick.

Why, it's almost as if Littlejohn hankers after a racist, sexist homophobic police force who beat people up instead of properly investigating.

He's given himself three good opportunities to give an accurate representation of left wing ideals and explain why they're bad - in a confrontation with Toynbee, at the above seminar, and in Ricky's interview with Georgia Claye. Toynbee gives an explanation of the project he's involved in, but the situation is too absurd to be taken seriously. The seminar is just funny, and the Georgia Claye interview ends up not with her making an argument that gets defeated, but with her making a fool of herself and shitting her knickers.

In the end, it's left up to Everton Gibbs to explain what's wrong with it all. This speech is supposed to be the grand 'conscience of the novel' speaking and is pretty obviously supposed to be referring to anti-racism and positive discrimination generally. He says:
You people are as bad as the real racist scum. At least with them we know what we're dealing with. With you? You patronize us, make allowances for us we don't need. It's just one big game to you people, using black people, racism, as a stepping stone up your ladder, with your quotas and committees and your fancy - what was it? - Romaphobia. We don't need your help. We don't want your help. I despise you. No, that's not true, I pity you. I really pity you. May God forgive you one day, because I never will.
Good speech - ruined by two things.

The first is that it's made in the context of Trevor Gibbs being allowed to get away with slashing someone with a knife. The rest is about how they should have let him be convicted as it might have knocked him straight. As incarceration, arrest and stop and search figures consistently show - there's not a whole heck of a lot of letting black people off because they're black going on.

The second is that it is so incredibly ironic that a speech about how white anti-racists use black people has been written by a white man using his black character to give his point more weight.  (He also manages this a lot in his column, every time he mentions how a black mate of his finds some racist joke or other funny or something).

But this isn't what 'a distinguished black man' thinks about anti-racism in the police. It's what Richard Littlejohn thinks about anti-racism in the police. Now I don't have a distinguished black man I've invented to argue the point for me, but I'm pretty sure  there are at least some black people who support anti-racism measures.

Anyway, Littlejohn could write a Friday the 13th script and still have someone explain to some liberals why they're worse than the real Jason.

The book just doesn't work anyway
While I was reading this novel about how the police can't do anything because they're strangled by political correctness, the system is skewed in favour of the bad guys and you can't even protect your own home, Channel 4 News reported that the officer who clouted Ian Tomlinson across the back of the legs with is truncheon and shoved him to the floor for the heinous crime of walking with his back turned and his hands in his pockets - an act that probably killed him - will not be charged with anything.

This was on the fifth anniversary of Jean Charles De Menezes being shot several times in the head by armed officers shown to have lied in their accounts of the event, who still didn't face charges for anything. As Septicisle points out, there is no shortage of similar incidents in recent memory. It's not as if the police don't look after their own.

It is also the same year that Munir Hussain, who had previously been imprisoned for his part in an attack on a man who broke into his house that left a cricket bat broken and the man so badly brain damaged that he couldn't appear in court, had his sentenced reduced to a suspended one, so he walked free (probably rightly).

All the fear of Eastern Europeans turning London into Dawn of the Gypsy Dead looks out of place, too. Eastern European countries have been part of the EU for years now, and Romanians have been allowed to come to the UK since 2007. Contrary to this novel, you can walk about in London without once bumping into a gypsy gang. I've lived here all my life and I think I've maybe come across one, back in the 80s. The popular stereotype of the Eastern European now is that they'll take all our manual jobs with their superior work ethic (even the tabloids seem to have stopped trying to pretend the gypsies are taking over since Eastern Europeans started to return to their home country).

From 2010, 'To Hell in a Handcart' looks a little far fetched.

Littlejohn apparently wrote the novel in the wake of the Tony Martin case, which he saw as a great injustice. Martin was charged with murder for shooting a sixteen year old burglar in the back with an illegal shotgun as he was running away. He thought Martin was a man of 'unblemished character' (except he'd had his shotgun licence revoked years before for firing at a car). After 'To Hell in a Handcart' was written, Martin had his sentence reduced to manslaughter and was released. Shortly after that, he began attending NF meetings and urging people to vote for the BNP. It's not easy to know what Littlejohn says about this, as he rarely mentions Martin now.

In any case, as an examination of the Martin case, the book fails. Littlejohn has removed all the things that made it complicated. Whereas Martin had had his gun licence revoked for shooting at a car, Mickey is a fully trained ex-armed police officer; where Martin shot Fred Barras in the back as he was running away, Mickey shoots Popescu as he has smashed into his house and is coming toward him; whereas Barras was sixteen years old, Popescu has just pretended to be sixteen on his asylum application and is really in his twenties; and in the worst copout possible, whereas Martin killed Barras, it turns out that somebody else killed Popescu after all.

Not even in Littlejohn's Britain, where lorry drivers get arrested for eating Yorkies, would Mickey get convicted of murder for that.

The exciting conclusion
As I said in Part I, writing this has felt a bit cruel. I thought it would be amusing to look at the book from ten years in the future, see how well his warnings stood up and squeeze a blog post out of it.

I hadn't expected the novel to be quite as bad as it was, but I wanted to give an honest summary of what I thought. A commenter on my last post said that I'd destroyed the novel - but I hope I haven't. I think it did that itself. There's a reason it's been out of print for years, and that's not because the Guardianistas have censored him for saying what everyone thinks. WIth that in mind, it makes me feel a little guilty for bringing attention to it - but, fuck it. He mentions it on his own website and talks about how quick selling it was without mentioning the lack of second printing.

The point is that it's just an awful novel. The very idea of writing a 'hard-hitting' novel about a serious issue like this as a bawdy farce isn't exactly a great one. That's not to say that you can't get good humour out of a serious situation, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' or 'Slaughterhouse 5' prove you can. But the broad 'Heffer's Bottom' style humour in 'To Hell in a Handcart' distracts from the seriousness of the case, and the seriousness of the case distracts from the humour. 'Catch-22' might work as a funny novel about war, but 'Carry On Up The Lancet Report Into Civilian Deaths In Iraq' probably wouldn’t. Maybe someone could do it, but that someone isn't Richard Littlejohn.

I suppose the saddest thing about the whole thing is that there's a hint that Littlejohn comes close to actually getting it. Ricky doesn't much like his audience and thinks his shows sometimes sound like 'a fucking NF rally', and yet finds himself rolling in dough when he spouts reactionary stuff that it's unclear whether he believes and carries on regardless. That may not be a million miles from what Littlejohn does too.

This interview from around the time 'To Hell in a Handcart' has this to say:
'I don't often write about race,' he now says, 'because all sorts of people crawl out of the woodwork and think you are on their side. They think if I criticise the Commission for Racial Equality I am criticising blacks. Well, I'm not. So I don't want them sending me their British National Party letters and leaflets. I'm not interested. And I don't want them reading my column. I despise them. They can fuck right off.'
He nearly gets it. He's been making an effort not to talk about race for long enough that he felt confident enough to shout a young man in the Question Time audience down for suggesting he's the BNP's favourite columnist, but ten years ago he was obviously scared - and probably was even as he wrote this novel .

But his reaction was to stop writing about race rather than examine his views closely and wonder why the BNP might think he was on their side. He even managed to write a novel about black people being let off crimes for being black and the current set of immigrants being 'gangs of fucking criminals from Kurdistan and Eastern Europe', with the legal system skewed in their favour rather than their victims’ around about the same time.

As for where Littlejohn's political views really lie - I don't think he gives it a moment's thought beyond which position goes down best with his audience and how well his pockets are lined, for the most part (there are exceptions, although they all seem to be a long time ago). He even wrote this novel because the Tony Martin case led to him getting more mail than anything else when he covered it.  I'm pretty sure he'll continue, even though he thinks it's Groundhog Day and his readers are barely illiterate caricatures.

Still, at least he likes Greeks.

Back to part 1:
'To Hell in a Handcart' - Part 1

Back to part 2:
'To Hell in a Handcart' - Part 2: Littlejohn has issues

21 comments:

Mr T said...

Thankyou for the in-depth reviews in all three parts. As with his columns they reveal more about Littlejohn than anything. He has a lot of anger in him but no brain or balls to channel it creatively. He equally hates his audience but, almost begrudgingly, has learned how to placate them. The novel comes across from your reviews as him throwing toys out the pram rather than fashioning a work of art, even a piss-poor one. Yes it destroys itself, but you have destroyed his claims that this novel is anything more that what you've shown it to be. Ironically I think RLJ would disagree and that our failure to 'get' his book would 'prove' his fears are right. A typical paranoid response in my humble opinion, and again one which comes out in his contrived columns week after week.

Don't feel cruel. He's shallow and simplistic and seems to detest people critically forming their own opinions.

Thanks once again for all your work. Now go and treat yourself to a really great book!

ACG said...

i hope you've got a holiday coming up, you deserve one after this.

thank you for putting this together though. as amusing as all the amazon reviews are, it was facinating to read a thorough disection.
one question though...

what do you plan to do with your copy now that this is all over?

dcorney said...

I have read The Communist Manifesto and I'm pretty sure it doesn't mention speed cameras. - lovely! And thanks for the review.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Thanks very much again for liking these posts. I have Littlejohn fatigue right now, so I am going to cleanse my palette with some rubbish action films and a book I might actually like.

As for what I do with my copy - I was going to take out the Post-Its and put it up on the shelf where I can forget it. Might send it to Robin Ince for his bad book club though.

Maybe I could have a competition with the book as a prize - but nobody would enter.

Jon Davis said...

It is interesting, cos all the sex stuff in the book sounds very much like the banter I used to hear at school when I was twelve - when none of us had had any sex, and only about half of us had even started puberty.

It is hard not make comically insulting assumptions about him considering that.

But also, because there seems to be such anger in him, that comes out with such ill thought out ideas and opinions, it does seem as though he has very little self knowledge and ability to analyse his own feelings.

You just get the impression he's a very unhappy man, with no idea why he's unhappy.

ACG said...

and next time, after your well deserved recouperation period and a few good books:

the overton window

( http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-steps-to-writing-successful-suspense-with-glenn-beck/ )

...or maybe not.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Oh, ACG - you bastard! A Glenn Beck novel? Oh god, I think there might be another second hand amazon purchase in my future.

Jesus, Glann Beck wrote a novel? And the lead character is called Noah?

Sounds subtle.

Jack Graham said...

Sincerely, thank you for this highly amusing and insightful tripartite insight into Littlejohn's trite shite.

PS - I can confirm for you that Das Kapital does not mention speed cameras either.

Anthony Z said...

Leave poor, mad Glenn Beck alone. Andrew "I liked To Hell In A Handcart" Roberts has his own tawdry piece of 90s xenophobic crap for you to review, in the form of "the Aachen Memorandum" where a short, fat Englishman not unlike the author, living in a dystopian future where Britain has been abolished, discovers that the EU has been a GERMAN PLOT TO TAKE OVER ENGLAND all along.

It really is excruciatingly bad.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Anthny Z - you are also a bastard. I am now going to be spending all my spare change on second hand editions of crap novels by right wing blowhards. Whonder if Smellyface gave Roberts' one a good review.

At least Frederic Forsyth wrote half decent thrillers. Which mahes his review all the more tragic.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Ha ha - from Andrew Roberts' website:

"'Andrew Roberts has turned his nightmare vision of a Britain under the yoke of a federal Europe superstate into a cracking thriller... 'The Aachen Memorandum' is a rattling good yarn which would make an entertaining movie or mini-series.' Richard Littlejohn The Daily Mail"

Wonder why Andrew Roberts was the goodie judge in To Hell in a Handcart and gave Littlejohn's mucky wank a good review? Ha ha.

the_voice_of_reason said...

There seem to be two massively obvious failings in everything Littlejohn writes.

the first (which I fear is incurable) is that, despite his manifest inadequacies, he genuinely believes himself to be both a great writer and a true satirist. In his mind, his book is not merely the equivalent of Bleadale's "GBH" and Dobbs' "House of Cards" (written, by the way, by a prominent Tory and still given several hours of prime-time by the lefty Marxist BBC), but stands comparison with Thackeray and Swift. That is why he simply cannot grasp that the character of Gene Hunt was so much more believable than any of his puerile "Sweeney" parodies - he cannot recognise charcterisation or satire.

Secondly, it is utterly beyond doubt that hehas never once in his life listened to, and understood, any argument that is either Liberal or left wing. While most of those who are not on the political right read and understand why some people genuinely believe that Marxist gyppo pooves from Rwanda with AIDS are swamping our once-great island, and can find facts to demonstrate how preposterous these arguments usually are, Littlejohn has simply no comprehension at all of people that don't tick his "like" box.

You can point out time and again that, since the coming into force of the Human Rights act, the percentage of prisoners granted parole has dropped (in Scotland at least) from around 55% to below 40%, and that the number of those released on licence has tripled, but you will still be told that the HRA favours criminals more than victims. It is the laziness of Littlejohn and his fellow travellers that is perhaps their distinguishing feature.

Christie Malry said...

This is definitely the most thorough demolition job I've ever seen on To Hell in a Handcart. You've managed to cogently discuss a novel that probably doesn't in all honesty merit the thorough and fair-minded job you've done on it.

Your penultimate comments definitely struck a chord - my flatmate and I both remarked when we trudged through it that although the politics are as appalling as you'd expect, what really stands out is that for all that his job is churning out popular prose, he really can't actually write.

The only problem is that I might now have to get 'Littlejohn's Britain' out of the box it's been in since its presentation as a 'comedy' xmas present...

minifig said...

I wouldn't be so harsh on yourself. I feel these reviews don't come across as an attack. It's more like you found the novel so weakly written and bordering on the insane, that to come out all guns blazing would be rather unfair. I think that counts in your favour.

I wonder whether you'll be the last person to read it? We can always hope, I guess.

Colin said...

These reviews are absolutely brilliant. Well done sir for trawling through what appears to be an appalling book!

Cheers

Paul said...

This bad journalist 'Georgia' character raises a few more questions about his psyche...because doesn't he have a daughter called Georgia who is also a bad journalist?

flaming said...

I thought that too but I think she might be called Georgina now that I think about it.

As dystopian future novels go this one is very strange, it's telling us how horrible the future is and that it needs overthrowing and yet we're meant to side with the characters who are stopping the system from being overthrown? I think this all makes a lot more sense if you don't think of it as a future dystopia but as LJ's idea of what life in the UK is currently like. Except obviously it's a load of rubbish and half these things he describes don't actually happen, so change it all to a "dystopian future" and you can get away with writing whatever bollocks you feel like, no chance of a lawsuit.

The main character was working in the police when Keith Blakelock died? In 1985? It could never have been set that far in the future anyway, it's probably meant to be the present day isn't it.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Hi flaming:

It is Georgina, but the novel was written back in 2001 when she can't have been working for long and I don't think she was a hack quite yet. There's probably someone I don't know about who's name rhymes or something.

I think the novel is supposed to be set either in a dystopian present or at least only one or two years in the future. Littlejohn talks about the price of petrol hitting £10 a gallon and speed limits being reduced to ridiculously slow levels, which haven't happened.

itsintheblood said...

Thanks for doing this. I heard the Nicky Campbell interview, and while I bought Will Self's book, I couldn't even bring myself to steal Littlejohn's.

"Gobshite fantasizes over armed gobshites." seems to be an accurate precis. But what's with the sex-toys?

Rob Miller said...

He probably only likes Greeks (and primarily Greek Cypriots) for the same reason that many racist types do—that is, because of the historical enmity between them and the (much worse) Turks.

Zarathustra said...

Thanks for these posts, and for reading such a turgid pile of shite so I don't have to.