"Chaplin's character represents for me the spirit of Eros, the very definition of a poet - the love-seeking, freedom-seeking spirit," says Ferlinghetti "A poet, by definition, has to be an enemy of the State. His hero is Charlie Chaplin, and it is from the Chaplin film that City Lights takes its name. He studied at the Sorbonne on the GI Bill and made his way back to the States, determined to write and support writers. The founder of San Francisco's famous City Lights book store and publisher to the Beat movement, he took on the US censorship laws in one of the century's most momentous obscenity trials, winning Ginsberg the right to howl and helping to put the whole Beat charabanc on the road. Born in Yonkers, New York in 1919, Ferlinghetti spent the war skippering US sub-chasers. Yup, I don't get much sleep right now, that's what it amounts to." At 79, American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still unstoppable. "Just imagine! A whole poem, all at once! Travelling always gets the mind going.
"It came to me in the middle of the night, in Prague last week," he explains, slipping me two pages of thick pointy handwriting. "Here's my latest piece of propaganda," whispers Lawrence Ferlinghetti excitedly, riffling through his shoulderbag to peel out a sheaf of yellow photocopies. The subtlety with which he pursues his preoccupation will disconcert, or even annoy, readers who take pleasure in the conventions of crime and mystery for their own sake and demand no further satisfaction. But anyone can recognise the force with which Jones renders the urban landscape, and appreciate those flavours of the city that can elude writers who take a more head-on approach..
Indeed, Jones is interested precisely in the disparity between the outer shells his characters inhabit and the inner lives they seek to suppress, the inner lives which have the power to destroy themselves and others. They are handled efficiently but neutrally, with detachment - interspersed with black wit - signalling that they form only the outer shell of a narrative which draws its real life from elsewhere. The minutiae of police procedure, the pressures of police work, the habits of a paedophile ring - all these feature prominently in a book which moves from mystery to investigation to solution. He borrows generously from crime and mystery fiction but he borrows without commitment in The Eros Hunter (Abacus pounds 9.99). They stick in the memory, by turns hilarious and monstrous, pathetic and frightening, wreaking havoc wherever they pass.Russell Celyn Jones takes a far more oblique approach. Both are put to their best use in giving us a villainous pair of bodybuilders with shrunken brains and shrinking testicles. He has a fine eye for urban sleaze - particularly as seen through the eye of the CCTV camera - and an ear for the turn of contemporary speech.