Book Review: Man Standing Behind by Pablo D’Stair

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.

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Review by Tom Leins

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The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Chris Rhatigan

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Chris Rhatigan, the man behind All Due Respect — contemporary fiction’s finest purveyors of lowlife literature. 

For those readers unfamiliar with All Due Respect, can you tell us a little bit about the press’s origins and how it has evolved in recent years?

All Due Respect publishes lowlife literature. It began as a website featuring one short story a month. The book publishing side started in 2014 and since then we’ve done around 60 titles. ADR occupies a niche genre: we exclusively publish crime fiction told from the perspectives of criminals.

What was the first book you published, and how was the response?

God, I had to look this up. Our first book was you don’t exist, a double feature of novelettes by myself and Pablo D’Stair. (Pablo is a legit genius and everyone needs to read his series about small-time grifter Trevor English.) Our most successful early titles were Rob Pierce’s Uncle Dust and Mike Monson’s Tussinland.

I’m going to hit you with a tough question nice and early: if you have to select one book which best typifies the ethos behind ADR, which one would it be?

I’ll go with The Sin Tax by Preston Lang. It’s about a guy who works at a bodega and gets blackmailed into doing shady shit. Lang writes about lowlife characters in this spare and beautiful prose style and as soon as I saw this manuscript I knew I had to have it.

This year alone, you have published/are publishing a number of books by British authors – including work from England, Scotland and Wales – how do British submissions differ from US submissions?

When I was first becoming interested in crime fiction I was reading plenty of UK authors—Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Paul Brazill, Nigel Bird—so this feels like a natural progression for ADR. British writers tend to be funnier and take themselves less seriously than Americans, which I appreciate.

I’ve read and edited plenty of books by British authors but there are still expressions, words, grammatical constructions, and slang that go over my head. Luckily I have Nigel Bird on board to straighten me out!

Looking back at the ADR catalogue, is there a book that you wish more people connected with?

If I had to pick a book that’s superior but hasn’t received enough attention, I’d go with Jake Hinkson’s short story collection, The Deepening Shade. Hinkson is a legend and every story in this book is a well-crafted gem.

And is there a book that you wish there was a sequel to?

I enjoyed the protagonist Joey Hidalgo in Paul Heatley’s Fatboy. But for reasons that are obvious once you read the book, I don’t think we’ll be seeing that character again any time soon!

You have published books about grifters, hitmen, thieves, ex-cons and other undesirables – is there any kind of criminal character that you feel has been under-represented to date?

There’s this Charles Willeford book, Honey Gal (also released as The Black Mass of Brother Springer) which is about an everyday guy in Florida who leaves his secure job and his wife with no direction. He gets a job through this crooked monk in which he takes over as the preacher of an African-American congregation in Jacksonville. I love this premise—the guy’s scam just involves working a mundane job that he isn’t qualified for.

So that’s what I like and will always try to do with ADR—small-time crooks shoplifting and scamming their way to mediocrity. Then, of course, their small crimes snowball and everything comes crashing down.

Publishing activity aside, you have written a number of books yourself over the years. Presumably ADR swallows up a lot of the time that would otherwise be devoted to writing? Is that tough?

Yeah, fuck. I was never someone who wrote every day, but I liked to get into a flow and write at least a few times a week. It’s difficult to just pick it up now and then and get anything going. I haven’t finished anything of my own in a couple of years now. Whenever I have time to work, it’s always editing and publishing these days. I’m hoping to take off a few months at some point and write because I miss it.

Last question: where do you hope All Due Respect will be in five years’ time?

Honestly, still in existence. It’s difficult for independent publishers to survive even for as long as ADR has already, especially because we target a niche audience. Five years from now would be almost a decade, which would be a good run.

BIO: Chris Rhatigan is a freelance fiction editor and the publisher of All Due Respect Books.