The Twofold Comeback

An extract

A few words about the novel, followed by more words taken from the novel.

The obvious extract to feature here would be the opening few paragraphs. And I might do that, at some point in the future. However the novel starts with a prologue written as from the viewpoints of various characters who encounter the story’s protagonist, John Carr, as he makes his way from exile in Africa back to England. The rest of the novel is narrated as from the viewpoint of John Carr, and therefore to showcase the start of the novel might create a wrong impression of its style.

I’ll digress briefly to discuss the relative merits of single and multiple viewpoints in works of fiction. Multiple-viewpoint novels – in which the reader sees through the eyes of more than one of the characters – have become the norm. The main advantage of this technique is that it allows for dramatic or emotional tension: the reader, along with one of the characters, knows something that the other main characters don’t. In crime and spy novels, however, it is often better to restrict the reader to knowing only what the spy, or the detective, or the detective’s sidekick, knows. James Bond; Philip Marlowe; Doctor Watson.  The Twofold Comeback is written from the viewpoint of John Carr: the reader knows only what he knows.

Reproduced below is the opening of the novel’s first chapter; the point at which the reader is first inside the mind of John Carr.

Chapter One: Atlantic Crossing

It would have to look like an accident.

John Carr took another drag on the American cigarette he’d been given by the ship’s cook. He was on the deck of the Venturer and was glad of the warmth of the smoke in his lungs and the nicotine in his veins. He could understand how people had become addicted to tobacco, Before. The ship rolled and pitched among the dark grey waves; ice-cold spray crashed across the side-rail, and he sheltered the glowing tip behind his cupped hand, in the manner of soldiers he’d seen in old films.

There had been no sun for days. The ship’s sails were furled; the batteries were down to critical, and the back-up gas-oil engine thumped relentlessly.

He had made a point of getting to know all of the crew; there were only ten, all of them men from Manchester or Liverpool. He had identified the one whom he thought he might tip overboard: Brett Horley, the second engineer, was the most likely candidate as the stooge placed on board by Billy. Carr assumed, because as yet Horley had made no attempt to kill him and dump his body over the side, that Horley’s task was merely to check that Carr behaved as instructed on arrival in America, and report back.

Deep in thought, Carr massaged the new scar and lump beside his larynx. He would let Brett live, he decided, at least until they were on land. He might not be Billy’s stooge; or there might be two of them among the crew, in which case Carr couldn’t expect to last much longer than Brett Horley. And if Carr found the second engineer dogging his footsteps once they’d disembarked, he could be disposed of then, and less conspicuously than as a man overboard. If, Carr thought, I can bring myself to carry out yet another killing.

He stubbed out the cigarette on the bulkhead he had braced himself against, and staggered unsteadily a few steps across the heaving deck to throw the butt over the rail. The sky had been grey all day and he couldn’t tell if the gathering darkness was due to dusk or another imminent rainstorm.

He could stay on deck; he was already cold to the bone, he couldn’t get colder. He could go below, to his cramped cabin that reverberated with the noise of the ship’s engine, and try to re-read one of the few books on board; he could see if any member of the crew was free to play cards. The wind gusted in a new direction and he inhaled the ship’s choking exhaust.

Things, he concluded, could not be worse. The food was inedible and as unvarying as the throb of the engine. The latrine was caked in excrement. There was barely enough desalinated water to drink: washing was an occasional ordeal in the cramped washroom next to the latrine. At least he, unlike the crew, could shave his face every day. The sea was always rough; he was often sick. The boat appeared to be held together by rust, and in the event of its sinking there was no lifeboat on board.

Not for the first – or even the fiftieth – time, he asked himself why he was here; why was he on his way to America. He answered himself the same way, always: he didn’t care; it was something to do.

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.