“In the dying hours of the year, in a foul and ill-lit alleyway, a raddled roué, staggering out of a den of vice, was set upon by a ruffian. The ruffian biffed the roué upon the bonce, and kicked him on the shins, just above his spats, and thumped him in the stomach, and the roué crumpled to the ground, winded and helpless in the noisome filth. Then the ruffian stamped his big black boot upon the roué’s biffed bonce, and spat upon his person, and stalked off down the alleyway into the night. And soon thereafter came the pealing of bells, ringing in the new year, and from a clump of dark trees in the park, the hooting of an owl.”
Thus begins Pebblehead’s paperback potboiler The Ruffian Biffo, His Book, surely the most relentlessly violent novel ever published. Its four hundred pages consist of little more than descriptions of the ruffian Biffo biffing and kicking and punching and thumping a series of victims, from the raddled roué staggering from a den of vice to a preening fop on a roister doister, a dandy in the doorway of a bordello, a macaroni on horseback and a pantalooned magnifico on his way to un ballo en maschera.
Interspersed with these almost identical scenes, Pebblehead makes a few half-witted attempts to probe the interior life of his ruffianly protagonist. Biffo, we are told, is variously “a card-carrying communist”, “devoted to his dear old mum”, and “a wizard at the loom”. To be fair, there is one lengthy and anomalous passage (pp. 103-149) where Biffo weaves a blanket for his mother, a blanket emblazoned with a hammer-and-sickle and a daringly avant-garde portrait of Stalin.
In an interview, Pebblehead did not claim, as one might have expected him to, that this scene – beautifully written and astonishing in its detail of blanket-weaving and communist ideology – is the “heart of the novel”. In fact he was quite shameless in his insistence that Biffo’s biffings and kickings and punchings and thumpings are what the book is “about”, adding that he only threw in the other material because he had a head cold and drank too many beakers of Lemsip.
It is difficult to know what to make of the book, but like all Pebblehead’s paperback potboilers, it is a bestseller. Apparently, he plans to follow it up with a spin-off about the raddled roué, following his debauches in the weeks leading up to the fateful encounter with Biffo. “I am hoping,” announced the writer from his chalet o’ prose, “That the next book will prove to be the most relentlessly debauched novel ever published. After that I shall move on to a mawkish and vapid heist ‘n’ espionage romantic science fiction teenage detective blockbuster, with vampires.”