by Colin Maclnnes,
MacGibbon & Kee, 15s.
Mr. Love and Justice is an attempt at an objective novel, in which implicit values are realised through character and action instead of being expressed directly by their author in first person narrative, as in his previous books. It is about a seaman turned ponce, Frankie Love, and a policeman, Edward Justice, who come into contact through the latter’s duties as a vice detective. It is in the form of a moral antithesis of Love and Justice, with a central paradox by which Edward Justice leaves the police for love of his girl, and Frankie Love defends his profession with his sense of natural justice.
The novel is set in a no-man’s land, somewhat cut off from normal social references. On one side is Edward, his girl, her Dad, and a star-sleuth, and on the other Frankie, his girl, her Mum, and a starponce. But despite this elaborate symmetry a world of ponces and the police is created in terms of the experiences of the characters, and on the ponce’s side of it Mr. MacInnes does not impose any judgements. Frankie, for example, breaks down his own conventional repugnance for ponces when he becomes one, and crosses a barrier of attitudes on the other side of which he has to get used to being disliked. The author is also giving us a very personal and documentary view of London after the Street Offences Act, with his usual flow of acute and lively observation. But through this comes a weight of feeling against the police and their authoritarianism, as a main emphasis of the novel.
The two main characters represent the contrasted values of the book. Frankie has something in common with Mr. MacInnes’s earlier heroes, with a generous, unmoralistic nature, and an integrity of response to experiences which is the essence of his sense of justice. Edward is less likeable. “The profound solitude that lay at the centre of his personality” is in sharp contrast to the vitality at the centre of Frankie’s, and the deep attachments to his girl and the Force which derive from this solitude are ones of self-centred need. His beliefs in Love and Justice are therefore mere moralisings, necessary to reassure his sense of being.
The novel evolves by alternate chapters devoted to Mr. Love and Mr. Justice and their concerns. It is carried at a balanced pace, mostly on a lightly-loaded and responsive dialogue, until the two men come into conflict. But here it loses its poise, and there is some confusion and arbitrariness in the final rush of events when Frankie is arrested, in which Frankie and Ted lose their central emphasis to the details of the events themselves. It recovers its balance when the two become friends in hospital, but the resolution of the plot is too schematic, and not sufficiently related to the attitudes of the two men.
There are two explicit debates in the book, one on justice and one on love. In the first Frankie opposes the Law, because he says a real law is different, something you can respect and live for, like it is on a ship. The community has thrown all its responsibility for justice on to the police, but the police have only authority, and no real sense of justice at all. This feeling underlies the race-riot scenes in Absolute Beginners, and relates to the structure of the books—a viewpoint of minority groups on the edges of both the community and the law.