MAN STANDING BEHIND
Author: Pablo D’Stair
Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)
Release Date: May 2019 (first published 2011)
At the outset of Man Standing Behind, protagonist Roger is apprehended by a gunman while withdrawing money from a cash-point. It isn’t Roger’s money that the interloper wants, however, it’s his company – and the reluctant Roger soon becomes complicit in a series of seemingly random crimes perpetrated by his new associate. As the night unfolds, the affable gunman takes Roger on a twisted tour of the city, meeting his friends, enemies and lovers. Realising that one wrong move could mean a bullet in the head, Roger chokes down his nausea and accompanies the stranger on his increasingly bloody mission.
I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there who would cut off one of their fingers for a blurb from an author of the stature of Bret Easton Ellis, who has praised Pablo D’Stair’s knack for creating a ‘languid kind of suspense’. Ellis’s name is a slightly misleading indicator, as this book contains little that resembles his own lurid, transgressive storytelling style! That eye-catching blurb is just one of the many oddities that this quirky novella coughs up.
The low-key everyman noir set-up means that Man Standing Behind fits snugly into All Due Respect’s back catalogue, but the existential tone marks it out as something quite different. Unlike a number of ADR books – which hinge on memorable moments of extreme violence – D’Stair seems to purposely bleed the drama out of his major plot points. Significant developments are tossed out casually, in a matter-of-fact tone – so much so that I ended up re-reading passages to check that I hadn’t lost the narrative thread altogether!
Roger’s deteriorating physical and mental wellbeing is convincingly rendered throughout, and while the unbroken, chapter-free style helps to maintain the eye-rubbing nocturnal vibe, the result can be disorientating.
Man Standing Behind is interesting and enigmatic, and D’Stair has a unique way with words, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. That said, I’m intrigued by ADR’s planned reissues of D’Stair’s other books in 2020, some of which focus on a petty con artist called Trevor English. I’m not sure whether these other books have the same tone as this one, but a mixture of downbeat existentialism and petty cons could prove to be a potent mix. Consider me intrigued.
Review by Tom Leins