I will leave it to more rigorous and measured commentators and critics to assess the legacy of Derek Raymond’s fiction and his place in the crime and mystery canon. I would rather remember my friend Robin.
The good mate who had to change his name, except in France.
Born into the British upper-middle class, educated at Eton, and something of a black sheep in his family circle, Robin Cook (formally, Robert William Arthur Cook), had written a half dozen well-received novels in the 1960s about the London demimonde of petty crooks and class war before his personal life came badly untangled and he flirted with petty criminality himself, eventually being obliged to leave the country and begin a decade of wandering across Europe—through Italy, Spain, and France, principally—during which time survival became more important than writing. He smuggled stolen cars over borders, became foreign minister for a commune in Italy that had seceded from the rest of the country, and toiled in the fields as a manual laborer in rural France. Add to this a failed marriage and semi-abandoned offspring before the pieces of his life finally began coming together again.
His return to writing in the second half of the 1970s saw him pen the first in a series of books featuring a nameless detective who was based around a police station on Poland Street in London’s Soho, He Died with His Eyes Open (1976). However, when it came time to get the book published, he was informed that he could no longer use his own name. During his absence from the bookshelves, an American writer sporting the same moniker, now best known, of course, for medical thrillers, had emerged to considerable success. Thus Robert William Arthur Cook became Derek Raymond, and this is how the world now knows him. Apart from the French public, who were only aware of him as Robin Cook—his American counterpart never was a hit there, and local publishers were willing to issue Cook’s books under his real name. Actually, abetted by the fact that he still lived in France until 1989, in the Dordogne, and that he had become well known as a popular presence in the local literary and crime scene—with his plum British accent, eternal black beret, and skeletal appearance—he quickly established himself as something of a cult figure there, where his sales were quite noteworthy in contrast with those in the United Kingdom and the United States, where he was still something of an unknown.