All the devils are here | David Seabrook

Reading this is like getting into a taxi for a short journey home, with a chatty driver who’s and a mine of interesting random information, but after a while you realise that from listening to his monologue you now have no idea where you are, and he has started ranting on about some pretty weird stuff, Nazis and Dickens and Carry On films, and it’s late and it’s dark and you start to wonder whether you will see home again because you seem to have been abducted by a deranged local history obsessive, who also knows happens to know every detail of every murder in Kent ever and wants to tell you about all of them, and you are starting to feel really scared about where this is going to end. And then he just suddenly pulls over, shoves you out, and speeds off into the night.

Like that.    

Ostensibly a hybrid psychogeography-true crime scrapbook-inglorious history of coastal Kent in three parts, documenting the seamy world of end-of-the-road Broadstairs, Margate and Deal. A few local A-listers – Charles Dickens, T S Eliot, Oswald Mosley, Charles Hawtrey – are accompanied by a fine supporting cast of murderers, frauds and showbiz has-beens, and an impressive crowd of oiks, cranks, prostitutes, con-men, bent coppers, gossipy old queens, traitors and drunks. Seabrook is fascinated by the clandestine, the damaged, the treacherous, the tawdry, the repressed, the sham. And Kent’s dead-end seaside towns supply him with a wealth of material.  

Somehow this slim volume is far greater than the sum of its parts though. Past, present, history, myth, fiction and conjecture merge, disorientatingly. And your growing sense of unease at the increasingly dark subject matter is heightened by the increasingly questionable author/narrator. Just who is he*, and why is he telling me all this stuff? He writes as a sleaze-hungry tabloid reporter, then literary detective, cultural critic, art historian, flaneur, WW2 nerd, and wistful memoirist. ‘The Wasteland’ meets the ‘News of the World’.

But at the end he’s just some bloke sitting alone in a pub, wondering if he can pull.  

* Post(humous) script – David Seabrook lived in Canterbury until his sudden, untimely and possibly dubious demise in 2009. (The flat he lived and died in was just by Canterbury West train station which is about 20 minutes walk from my house). His body lay undiscovered for a considerable time because no-one missed him. After ‘All the devils are here’ he had started going deeper into true crime / gangland / unsolved murder / police corruption material, hence suspicions about the cause of his death at the age of 48. Nothing was proved.

We don’t know what to make of the characters in ‘All the devils are here’ – even / especially those we thought we knew. Everyone has a secret life, an alter ego, and it ends them, and we try and put the pieces together after and fail because they are too much to comprehend.

He was a character in that book himself, and disappeared into the dark web of his own creation.

You couldn’t make it up.