The Malachite Press was formed back in 1960. They started out doing reprints with lurid covers of some of the greats: Blackwood, Machen, Nolan, Shrike, before moving into publishing the dark imaginings of contemporary writers who crawled out of the counter-cultural explosion that would come, perhaps erroneously, to define that decade. Malachite Press moved into a form of hard-edged Albionic literature, dealing with myths both ancient and contemporary, rural, urban, and suburban. The stories at first were from a hippy utopian perspective (something we all had known would turn sour), before branching out into stuff that married their traditional focus with the burgeoning youth cults that had appeared across the violent streets of Britain.
As a late teen, I read stories of skinhead gangs ripped apart and reconstituted by urban demons, creating patchwork-monsters of Spurs and West Ham fans stitched together into lumbering beasts that terrorised the towpaths of the Lea Valley. I read trashy tales of bikers who rode literally out of hell. Hippy communes that morphed into weed-stinking fascist prisons of the mind.
They had an occult-detective series that I loved, following the adventures of a grim and war-damaged investigator named Vincent Harrier. Set in the bombed out remains of late-forties and early-fifties London, the Harrier books were clearly in the tradition of John Silence and Carnacki, but there was something different about them that I loved. Perhaps it was that they were set in a world I felt I recognised – I was born in the fifties myself and though I had never experienced it first-hand, I had seen some of the damage that remained from the war. Via the stories of my family, I felt like I had almost experienced it myself. I always had the belief, never fully thought out but more felt as an instinctive truth, that London had a kind of ancestral memory that percolated through the blood of all who lived, worked, and died here. It was something to do with the history of the place; and I was keenly aware that we made the place and the place made us. The Vincent Harrier books from Malachite, with their distinctive black and white covers of urban decay and occult imagery seamlessly merged, understood this.
The writer of the series, Michael Ashman, waded through the genres of crime and the fantastic, and ended up creating under-appreciated and swiftly forgotten works that I felt were vital to the city.
My very favourite of the series was titled Saxifraga x Urbium, the third book to feature Harrier. The cover showed blitz rubble colonised with the London Pride of the book’s title, with the figures of a woman and toddler, hand-in-hand in eerie silhouette, their faces hidden in a dusty haze as they walked calmly away from the scene.