“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: BELFAST NOIR, edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville

In crime fiction, noir can be a difficult definition to nail down, although most commentators agree that the purest form of noir incorporates an especially bleak and fatalistic tone, stories in which characters are doomed regardless of how they twist and turn in a desperate bid to escape their fate.
  In that sense it could be argued that Belfast Noir, the latest city-based collection of short stories from Akashic Books, arrives a couple of decades too late, now that Belfast is, thankfully, no longer “the most noir place on earth”, as Adrian McKinty, quoting Lee Child, claims in the introduction to this book.
  That said, noir can also represent a broad church within crime fiction’s parameters, as the diversity of the stories in this collection suggests. It’s also true that Belfast Noir is timely, given that the last decade has seen the emergence of a generation of Northern Irish crime writers who are engaged with post-Troubles fiction, with authors such as McKinty and his coeditor, Stuart Neville, plus Claire McGowan, Brian McGilloway, Gerard Brennan, Sam Millar and Garbhan Downey, adding their voices to those who were publishing during the Troubles, such as Eoin McNamee, Eugene McEldowney and Colin Bateman.
  If it’s disappointing but understandable that McKinty and Neville have opted not to contribute stories of their own to the collection, Colin Bateman’s absence is more surprising, not least because his Divorcing Jack, featuring his journalist turned private investigator, Dan Starkey, and published in the mid 1990s, is a seminal novel of Irish crime writing. Bateman’s blend of crime tropes and irreverent humour is present here, however, in a number of contributions.
  Claire McGowan’s Rosie Grant’s Finger is an offbeat comic tale featuring an 18-year-old private eye who cycles around Belfast; Sam Millar’s Out of Time features the wisecracking private eye Karl Kane; Garbhan Downey’s hard-boiled but jocular tale Die Like a Rat is stitched through with cynical one-liners about the newspaper business.
  For the most part the contributing authors play a straight bat. Brian McGilloway’s The Undertaking sets the tone with a tale about an undertaker who is presented with an offer he can’t refuse by former paramilitaries who now police the Belfast streets.
  Arlene Hunt’s Pure Game is set in the grim world of dog-fighting, an allegory of sorts in which strutting hardmen send out ill-treated animals to kill on their behalf.
  Gerard Brennan’s Ligature is a tale of petty crime, teenage rebellion and punitive reprisals, a heartbreaking story offering an intimate snapshot of crime and punishment in Belfast. Wet With Rain by Lee Child, the Jack Reacher author, who qualifies courtesy of a Belfast-born father, offers a take on the cold war involving Troubles-era paramilitaries.
  One of the most interesting contributions is from Steve Cavanagh. The Grey is a courtroom drama that in its very form argues for the normalisation of fiction’s treatment of post-Troubles Belfast, although Cavanagh’s narrator, a lawyer, is fully aware of how the “comforting blanket” of Belfast’s new grey architecture reflects the moral climate.
The editors also take the bold step of commissioning a number of stories from authors who aren’t crime writers.
  The science-fiction writer Ian McDonald contributes The Reservoir, a wedding-day story about dark secrets with a distinctly Gothic flavour. In Poison Lucy Caldwell reminds us that not all “crimes” break the law, even if they do have the power to destroy lives. Glenn Patterson’s Belfast Punk REP is one of the noirest of the stories, harking back to the halcyon days of Northern Ireland’s punk era and vividly illustrating the brutal dangers of not belonging to one or another of Belfast’s self-defining tribes.   Highlights include Ruth Dudley Edwards’ Taking It Serious, an unsettling pen picture of a young man obsessed with the fading glories of the recent past, and one that serves as a rebuttal to McKinty’s optimistic assertion in the introduction that “only the most hardened individuals would feel a return to the grey desolation of the ’70s and ’80s is a sacrifice worth making”. Alex Barclay’s The Reveller is a darkly poetic tale of revenge and self-annihilating redemption that strikes a disturbingly ambiguous note as it concludes the collection.
  Eoin McNamee’s Corpse Flowers is the most fully realised noir of all the contributions: a PSNI investigation into the murder of a young woman told at one remove via snapshots gleaned from a number of visual cues, including CCTV and home-movies, “the difficult-to-piece together recollections, the lyric fragments of the street traffic and retail security cams”.
  Belfast Noir is an uneven collection overall, given that less than half of the stories would qualify as strictly noir. For the less pedantic reader, however, it is a fascinating document of its time and place, and one that showcases the diverse talents of an increasingly impressive generation of Northern Ireland crime writers. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Publications: Irish Crime Fiction 2015

Herewith be a brief list of Irish crime fiction titles to be published in 2015, a list I’ll be updating on a regular basis throughout the year. To wit:

GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty (January 8)

MARKED OFF by Don Cameron (February 9)
TAKEN FOR DEAD by Graham Masterton (February 12)

WHITE CHURCH, BLACK MOUNTAIN by Thomas Paul Burgess (March)
THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh (March 12)
THE LAKE by Sheena Lambert (March 19)

A SONG OF SHADOWS by John Connolly (April 9)
KILLING WAYS by Alex Barclay (April 9)
THE ORGANISED CRIMINAL by Jarlath Gregory (April 9)
I AM IN BLOOD by Joe Murphy (April 30)

A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING by Mark Mulholland (May 8)
THE BONES OF IT by Kelly Creighton (May 15)
THE NIGHT GAME by Frank Golden (May 28)
EVEN THE DEAD by Benjamin Black (May 28)

ONLY WE KNOW by Karen Perry (June 4)
AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey (June 18)
ALOYSIUS TEMPO by Jason Johnson (June 25)
THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND by Stuart Neville (June 26)

ARE YOU WATCHING ME? by Sinead Crowley (July 2nd)
GREEN HELL by Ken Bruen (July 7)
BARLOW BY THE BOOK by John McAllister (July 26)
FREEDOM’S CHILD by Jax Miller (July 30)

PRESERVE THE DEAD by Brian McGilloway (August 6)
HIDE AND SEEK by Jane Casey (August 25)

WITH OUR BLESSING by Jo Spain (September 3)
THE GAME CHANGER by Louise Phillips (September 3)
A DEADLY GAMBLE by Pat Mullan (September TBC)

DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH by Andrea Carter (October 1)

DEAD SECRET by Ava McCarthy (November 19)
THE SILENT DEAD by Claire McGowan (November 19)

  If you’re an Irish crime writer with a book on the way, please feel free to drop me a line (including details on dates, publisher, etc.) if you’d like to be included in the ongoing updates.

  NB: Publication dates are given according to Amazon UK, and are subject to change.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Event: Dennis Lehane at the Irish Writers’ Centre

The great Dennis Lehane (right) will be appearing at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin, on Thursday 28th, in conversation with Declan Hughes. To wit:
Date: Thursday 28 May
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Irish Writers Centre
Fee: €18 / €15 IWC Members

Dennis Lehane, novelist, screenwriter and writer-producer, is set to release his latest novel World Gone By (Little, Brown) and will be joining us at the Centre to talk about this latest endeavour, writing for print and screen and will reveal all about the much discussed Love/Hate US adaptation.
  Dennis Lehane grew up in Boston. His novels have been translated into more than 30 languages and have become international bestsellers and include Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Darkness Take My Hand and Moonlight Mile. His most recent work World Gone By, a psychologically and morally complex novel set in World War II was published March 2015. Three of his novels - Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island - have been adapted into award-winning films.
  Lehane was a staff writer on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire and is a writer-producer on the fourth season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. His film The Drop features James Gandolfini in his last movie role. It has recently been reported in the press that Dennis has been approached to adapt the Irish crime drama Love/Hate for a US cable television network.
  Dennis will be interviewed by writer and playwright Declan Hughes.
  For details of how to book tickets, clickety-click here.
  Dennis will also be appearing at the Listowel Writer’s Festival on Friday, May 29th.
  For a review of WORLD GONE BY, clickety-click here.
  For an interview with Dennis, clickety-click here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Launch: THE BONES OF IT by Kelly Creighton

Kelly Creighton launches THE BONES OF IT (Liberties Press) at Belfast’s No Alibis on June 4th, and Brian McGilloway, for one, is very impressed. To wit:
No Alibis Bookstore is pleased to invite you to the launch of Kelly Creighton’s debut novel, ‘The Bones of It’. This FREE event takes place in store on Thursday 4th June, 6:30pm.

‘A brilliant crime debut, chilling, compulsive and beautifully written. Fans of The Butcher Boy and The Book of Evidence will find much to love in The Bones of It. A hugely impressive addition to the growing body of Irish crime fiction. I look forward to reading much more from Kelly Creighton.’ – Brian McGilloway
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Thursday, May 21, 2015

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Peter James

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Set in my home town of Brighton, it is the book that made me want to become a crime novelist.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Gary Soneji, from the early James Patterson novels. He’s the shrewdest, smartest villain ever created and it would be fun to be evil in a fictional world.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t know if you’d call it a guilty pleasure or rubbernecking! But I love dipping into Vernon Geberth’s massive tome, Practical Homicide, packed with no holds barred crime scene photographs.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I figure out how everything is going to fit together.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
Brian Moore’s Lies Of Silence. It has one of the most brilliant human dilemmas I’ve ever read in a novel.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Brian McGilloway’s Hurt.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing: being stuck in a room, forcing yourself to write. Best thing: shutting out the outside world and writing in peace.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A girl disappears from an underground car park in Brighton. On the same night, the 30-year-old remains of a young woman are unearthed by builders. Has Brighton got its first serial killer in 80 years? Has Roy Grace finally met his match?

Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading Patricia Highsmith and finding her fantastic! I have seen Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley, but never read her novels. She is such a brilliant writer.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. I’ve been a compulsive writer since I could first hold a pen. But I think that would make him a very cruel God indeed to force that choice on someone!

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Character. Research. Plot.

Peter James’ YOU ARE DEAD is published by Macmillan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: WORLD GONE BY by Dennis Lehane

“Before the small war broke them apart,” begins Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By, (Little, Brown) “they all gathered to support the big war.” The story opens in December 1942 in the Versailles Ballroom, Tampa, at a glamorous fundraiser for US troops stationed overseas. Actors, singers and sport stars mingle with financial and political heavyweights, the event organised and choreographed by Joseph ‘Boston Joe’ Coughlin, the Irish-American gangster we first met as a street punk on the make in The Given Day (2008), and who whose bloody and brutal rise to power during Prohibition is detailed in Live By Night (2012).
  By now a largely respectable businessman, albeit one who still has business interests in common with the notorious Meyer Lansky in Cuba, Joe Coughlin is respected and feared by his colleagues and enemies. A man who has always ensured that his associates in ‘the most powerful business syndicate in the Western hemisphere’ earned handsomely from his illicit ventures, and a former gangster who no longer has any power worth killing for, Joe is to all intents and purposes untouchable. So who has put a hit out on Joe Coughlin? And why would anyone want to kill him and disrupt the status quo?
  These questions provide World Gone By, Lehane’s 12th novel, with its narrative spine, as Coughlin tries to discover who his enemies are and second-guess their motives, all the while trying to keep a lid on a race war that is threatening to explode as an ambitious Italian-American faction tries to muscle in on the Tampa turf of ‘the Negro gangster Montooth Dix’. There are thrills and spills aplenty as the story unfolds, but it’s in the flesh Lehane packs onto the bones that the novel truly comes alive. Joe Coughlin is a fascinating creation, a dignified savage who is every bit as vicious when it comes to defending his own interests – including, most notably, the life of his young son Tomas – as he is noble in his aspirations for a better, more rewarding life for those he holds dear.
  He is a complex man, the black sheep scion of “a family tree whose branches had bent over the centuries with the weight of troubadours, publicans, writers, revolutionaries, magistrates, and policemen – liars all.” He is capable of falling in love with another man’s wife (in the process risking abject humiliation for them both) while still fiercely grieving for his dead wife, Tomas’s mother Graciela. He is acutely self-aware of his failings as a man and a father: “No,” he says in the wake of a shoot-out massacre, answering Tomas’s question as to whether he’s ‘a bad guy’, “just not a particularly good one.” Haunted by what appears to be the ghost of a young boy, Joe is unable to decide if he is hallucinating due to stress, experiencing a foreshadowing of his own mortality, or suffering a self-fulfilling prophecy born of years of subsumed guilt over the blood on his hands.
  Ultimately, World Gone By is a novel about the turbulent transition of America’s criminal fraternity from the riotous gangster era, as epitomised by Joe Coughlin and his peers, to the post-WWII years and the more organised crime of the Mafia. Joe Coughlin, the former hot-headed punk who grew up to become a thoughtful strategist, straddles both worlds, although from the beginning Joe, one of the great tragic anti-heroes of contemporary crime fiction, is conscious that his is an untenable position, that fate itself decrees that blood must always be paid back in blood. “Sometimes,” Lehane writes, “when outrage begat outrage with enough frequency, it threatened the fabric of the universe, and the universe pushed back.” ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Event: Liz Nugent and Sinead Crowley at the International Literature Festival

The International Literature Festival Dublin takes place from May 16-24, with Liz Nugent (right) and Sinead Crowley featuring in ‘The Big Book Club Show’ at Smock Alley. To wit:
Ever wondered how to write the perfect thriller? Or perhaps you’re a culture vulture who knows a lot about books? If so, The Big Book Club Show is for you!
  In the first part of the show, Irish Times Digital Editor Hugh Linehan talks to acclaimed thriller writers Liz Nugent (Unravelling Oliver) and Sinéad Crowley (Can Anybody Help Me?), asking how they went about creating characters who do terrible things.
  In part two, The Big Book Club Quiz offers you a chance to test your literary knowledge against a team of experts captained by Hugh Linehan, and a crack book club squad captained by comedian and writer Colm O’Regan. Hosted with irrepressible cheek by Stephen Faloon, manager of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, who likes to award bonus points for clever answers and whisk them away for mistakes, The Big Book Club Show is a fast, fun and competitive night. You might even win a prize!
  ‘The Big Book Club Show’ takes place on May 20; for all the details on how to book tickets, etc., clickety-click here
  Also appearing at the ILF is Alexander McCall Smith, in a public interview on May 21. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: ONLY WE KNOW by Karen Perry

The second offering from the Irish writing partnership of Karen Perry (aka Karen Gillece and Paul Perry), Only We Know (Penguin) opens on a riverbank in Kenya’s Masai Mara in 1982, with Sally arriving moments too late to prevent a tragedy that involves her young sons Luke and Nicky and their friend Katie. The story then moves forward to 2013, when Katie is a journalist in Dublin, Luke a successful businessman, and Nicky a recently married musician living in Nairobi. The trio’s belief that their tragic secret is known only to them is revealed to be a fallacy when Katie receives a bizarre and ominous token in the post, and soon their lives are spiralling out of control as this psychological thriller, which offers alternating viewpoints and subjective interpretations of the truth of what really happened on that fateful day, strips back the layers of deceit that has sustained them in the intervening decades. Only We Know builds handsomely on the promise of The Boy That Never Was (2014), plausibly and hauntingly exploring the extent to which guilt, shame and secrecy can shape, define and eventually destroy lives. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Event: Crimefest In Bristol

UPDATE: Hearty congrats to L.C. Tyler, who won the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ Award at Crimefest yesterday evening, a deserved winner and a very nice man to boot. Nice one, Len …
  For all the Crimefest award winners, clickety-click here

The Bristol Crimefest 2015 kicks off today, May 14th, and for the first time in what seems like aeons I won’t be spending the weekend propping up the bar at the Bristol Marriott Royal sipping on my patented Pimms-and-liquorice. Bristol’s Crimefest is always a very intimate, friendly affair – as Pimms-and-liquorice-fuelled affairs tend to be – and I’m very disappointed to have to miss out this year. On the plus side, and as mentioned before on these pages, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS (Severn House) has been shortlisted for the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ Award, which will be announced along with a number of awards on Saturday night. To wit:
GOLDSBORO LAST LAUGH AWARD

The Goldsboro Last Laugh Award is for the best humorous crime novel first published in the British Isles in 2014. The £500 prize is sponsored by Goldsboro Books, the UK’s largest specialist in signed and/or first edition books. The winner also receives a Bristol Blue Glass vase.

The nominees are:

– Lawrence Block for The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (Orion Publishing Group)
– Declan Burke for Crime Always Pays (Severn House Publishers)
– Christopher Fowler for Bryant & May – The Bleeding Heart (Bantam/Transworld)
– Shane Kuhn for Kill Your Boss (Little, Brown Book Group)
– Chris Pavone for The Accident (Faber & Faber)
– L. C. Tyler for Crooked Herring (Allison & Busby)

Eligible titles were submitted by publishers for the longlist, and a team of British crime fiction reviewers voted to establish the shortlist and the winning title.

CRIMEFEST annually presents a number of awards at its Gala Dinner which in 2015 will be held on Saturday, 16 May.
  The very best of luck to all the nominees, and may the funniest man win.
  For all the details on all of the Crimefest awards, including the eDunnit and Audible awards, clickety-click here

Friday, May 15, 2015

Interview: Dennis Lehane, author of WORLD GONE BY

Dennis Lehane’s (right) WORLD GONE BY (Little, Brown) is the concluding volume of the Joe Coughlin trilogy that began with THE GIVEN DAY (2009) and continued with LIVE BY NIGHT (2012). To mark the publication of WORLD GONE BY, I interviewed Dennis for the Irish Examiner in a feature that appeared last weekend. To wit:
Dennis Lehane is rightly regarded as one America’s great contemporary novelists. His debut novel, A Drink Before The War (1994), featuring the private eye duo Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, was the result, he says, of his being “obsessed with writing about the haves and the have-nots. Mainly the have-nots. I’m obsessed with that battle, if you will, that cultural war. And the place which seemed like a welcome home for those types of obsessions about violence and the social questions, the ills of our time, was crime fiction.
  “I wrote A Drink Before The War so fast that part of me said, ‘Wow, you’ve got a comfort level here that you do not have when you’re trying to write much more overtly literary fiction.’ And then,” he laughs, “I went back to writing overtly literary fiction. But I was thinking more and more about crime fiction, and the next thing I wanted to say, and that became Darkness, Take My Hand [1996]. So that’s why I write these stories – it was a way to write about the things that fascinated me the most in our culture, and the crime fiction genre seemed to be tailor-made.”
  For the rest of the interview, clickety-click here
  Dennis Lehane will be in conversation with Declan Hughes at the Irish Writers’ Centre on May 28th.
  Dennis will also appear at the Listowel Writers’ Festival on May 29th.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Interview: Steve Cavanagh, Author of THE DEFENCE

Steve Cavanagh’s (right) debut novel, THE DEFENCE (Orion), is a legal thriller featuring the New York conman-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn. I interviewed Steve for the Irish Examiner last weekend, and very enjoyable it was too. A sample:
Assuming he’s not autobiographical, is Eddie Flynn modelled on any real-life lawyers?
  “The only real person who was of any influence for Eddie was Clarence Darrow,” says Steve. “Darrow was one of the finest advocates of the last 100 years. He was a man who could turn and win any case. Any case. He was that good. He also swung close to crossing the line into the criminal side of things from time to time, or so legend would have it.”
  As for literary influences, Steve cites a rattlebag of names and styles that includes Michael Connelly, Lee Child, John Mortimer and John Grisham, as you might expect, but also Brendan Behan, Thomas Harris and Spike Milligan. It was Irish author John Connolly, however, who finally got Steve writing his novel.
  “The Charlie Parker series is probably my favourite crime series and the fact that a fellow Irishman could write great American crime thrillers was a big influence. I thought that if John Connolly could do it, I might be able to do it. When I started writing I quickly realised that Connolly is a genius, and I am not – so I had to really work at it.”
  For the rest of the interview, clickety-click here

Monday, May 11, 2015

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Jarlath Gregory

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. It’s a master-class in how to construct a whodunit. The twist ending has largely seeped into popular consciousness, but if you sit down to read the novel again, it’s astonishing to see how deftly Christie sets up and then demolishes the expectations of her readers.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Most of my favourite literary icons are tragic figures, great on the page, but you wouldn’t want to be them. I’ll go for Huckleberry Finn, because he knew how to enjoy himself, chewing on a stalk of grass and getting everyone else to do his chores.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I never feel guilty about my pleasures. Catholic Guilt is dead. I do feel a bit cringey when I read Ngaio Marsh though. When she hit her stride, her writing was great, but the overt snobbery, racism and homophobia which occur in so many of her books are appalling today.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When you go off on an unexpected tangent, and it becomes an integral part of the story.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
The Book of Evidence by John Banville.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu. It’s generally considered a late Gothic Romance rather than a crime novel, but I wrote an essay for The Green Book Vol. 4 arguing that it’s an early murder mystery. The mystery wouldn’t confuse modern readers, but a good director could have great fun with the elements of the plot which were to become tropes of the genre. There are multiple suspects and red herrings you could tease out and build on to keep the viewer guessing, and the atmosphere of gloomy horror would be gorgeous on the big screen.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is the money of course, unless you’re incredibly lucky and can make a living from your writing. Most writers can’t. The best thing is when people tell you how much they enjoy your work.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Sean Vaughan, dwarf detective, solves a series of baffling murders in Trinity College Dublin. It’s Raymond Chandler meets Agatha Christie in a contemporary Dublin setting.

Who are you reading right now?
Tana French. She’s brilliant at creating engaging narrators who draw you into the world of Dublin’s elite Murder Squad. Her novels are very grounded, but she manages to illuminate the horror in everyday life, and the devastating impact of murder on the lives of her characters ring true.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d say, “Piss off, God! You’re not the boss of me.” Then I’d make a more conducive deal with Satan.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Only bleedin’ massive.

Jarlath Gregory’s THE ORGANISED CRIMINAL is published by Liberties Press.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: ACTS OF THE ASSASSINS by Richard Beard

“First, find the body,” Cassius Gallio instructs himself in the first line of Richard Beard’s Acts of the Assassins (Harvill Secker), but as Gallio quickly discovers, this is a missing persons case with a significant difference.
  Gallio is a Speculator – investigator – with the Jerusalem division of the Complex Cases Unit (CCU), an elite department of the Roman military police. The missing body is that of local mystic rabble-rouser Jesus, who was executed by crucifixion only days before. Jesus’ corpse has since gone missing from its tomb, and Gallio – who was charged with overseeing the execution, as a punishment detail for cocking up his investigation into the apparently miraculous resurrection of Lazarus only a few weeks beforehand – can’t afford to allow another stain on his career record.
  A hard-headed veteran, Gallio refuses to believe the rumours being circulated by Jesus’ disciples. “What it can’t possibly be, and what he refuses to contemplate, is died, risen, coming again.” Having witnessed Jesus’ agonies and death on the cross with his own eyes, “Gallio bans all discussion of resurrection as a potential line of enquiry,” and sets out to interrogate the disciples to get at the truth of how they managed to pull off the magnificent trick of stealing Jesus’ body away from a sealed tomb.
  On the basis of its opening 20 pages or so, the second offering Richard Beard’s ‘Messiahs Trilogy’ – the first, Lazarus is Dead, was published in 2011 – is an audacious take on the crime / mystery novel. Beard is clearly a student (or perhaps scholar might be more appropriate) of the crime fiction genre, given that the story begins as a straightforward police procedural investigation but also broadens out to incorporate other sub-genres such as the spy novel (“Jesus has skills, fieldcraft …” muses Gallio on his foe). The serial killer novel also looms large when it is discovered that the disciples, having exiled themselves to various parts of the empire, are being bumped off one by one, murdered by some shadowy killer in a variety of gory deaths, such as beheadings, flayings, stonings and so forth.
  On one level a steely-eyed investigation into the apparent miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, the novel also functions as a metaphysical exploration of faith and belief. Gallio, a proud citizen of the Roman empire, views Jesus, his disciples and their teachings about life after death as superstitions that run contrary to his own unswerving belief in civilisation, science and rationalism.
  These all offer intriguing elements to a hugely readable novel, but arguably the most intoxicating aspect of the story is Beard’s narrative experiment in what he describes as ‘quantum fiction’. Despite the fact that Gallio is investigating the alleged resurrection of Jesus, the story takes place in a contemporary setting, complete with modern weaponry, travel and attitudes towards terrorism. The concept is that, as Gallio observes of Jerusalem, “past and present coexist. Possibly the future too.” The narrative style gives Gallio (and the reader) “a vision of eternity where everything is now, and now is everything,” a perspective that allows the reader to experience ancient history unfolding in the here-and-now (the origin of the great fire that devastated Rome is referred to as ‘Ground Zero’; Jesus’ Second Coming is taken to mean a spectacular terrorist attack at the heart of the empire).
  It’s a thrilling inventive approach, albeit one leavened by Beard’s slyly absurdist sense of humour. “Whatever the destination is,” Gallio declares as he flies to Antioch from Jerusalem via Amsterdam, “there’s always a change at Schipol. The world as it is keeps turning.”
  Meanwhile, Gallio himself will be familiar to fans of the conventional mystery novel, a taciturn loner with commitment issues who is overly fond of the booze, but in the context of the rich tapestry Beard weaves around his protagonist, Gallio’s very ordinariness is something of a relief, a recognisably human (with all the failings that implies) touchstone in a bewildering new landscape.
  “Jesus might be the gentle son of god spreading the wealth and healing the sick,” muses Gallio at one point. “Or he could be an intolerant fucker, good with a knife.” Controversial, thought-provoking, funny and challenging, Acts of the Assassins is a delightfully fantastic and utterly compelling tale. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Event: Poetry Day Ireland

There isn’t generally much call for poetry on Crime Always Pays, but today is Poetry Day Ireland, and Sophie Hannah (right) – best-selling crime novelist, prize-winning poet – will be reading with Paul Perry – one half of crime-writing duo Karen Perry – at Green Street Courthouse in Smithfield at 7pm this very evening. For all the details, clickety-click here.
  Meanwhile, and for the day that’s in it, here’s a couple of poems for your delectation …
Jigsaw

Scatter the pieces on the floor
And put away the box.
Begin again, from memory,
For the pure joy of fingering blind

And the soft fitting together.
Each shape its own thing,
Awkward tongue and teardrop groove,
Only ever snug in its singular place.

Like words, they are, these pieces
Of Arctic Scene With Polar Bear and Seal,
Sifting down out of perfect silence
To settle perfectly blank as snow.


Sorokos

In the Cyclades the light has a brutal purity
Slicing through to the meaning of Pi
So that the world seems hyper-aware,
Self-conscious without ever becoming shy

Like a half-wild cat or empty stage.
They say the Sahara is where it begins,
The sorokos, and grains of sand carried north
To polish the light from within

And set the very molecules a-tremble
In a shimmering dance of rock and sea
That renders the stark and barren reality
An intense, voluptuous dream.

In the islands your itinerary becomes a haiku
Where you relinquish the need for rhyme,
Prismed in the dazzling brilliance of a sliver
Of mirror smashed long before your time.


Bunks

A pirate ship, an upstairs cave,
A reading den or castle sunk,
An indoor treehouse under pixie leaf –
O the possibilities of an upstairs bunk!

The upper an orphanage and menagerie
Of teddies, puppies, tigers and dolls,
The lower a bridge strung with pink fairy lights
To dazzle those ever-lurking trolls.

It was heaven up there and we on the lower
Singing our tuck-in lullabies by night
To those guardian angels who stayed to watch o’er
In the darkest hours before dawn’s early light.

O the possibilities of an upstairs bunk!
And the hope that perhaps tempted fate –
How sad the math of two bunks, one child,
And the vacuum of an impossible weight.

Now and again she would softly sigh
As only a six-year-old can sigh
And wish she had a sister. But Lily –
We tried, my love, O how we tried.

News: Benedict Kiely’s PROXOPERA Republished

The good people over at Crime Fiction Ireland report that Benedict Kiely’s PROXOPERA, a story of that vile invention known as a ‘proxy bomb’ and first published in 1977, has been republished by Turnpike Books. To wit:
When violent men intrude on his home by the lake, Granda Binchey is forced to deliver a bomb while his family are held hostage. As Binchey travels through the countryside he reflects on the past, his family and everything that he values, all that is now threatened.
  Turnpike Books “was founded to publish new editions of a series of books that will build into a history of Northern Ireland’s twentieth-century literature, and a parallel series of the major English short story writers.” For more, clickety-click here

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: THE NIGHT GAME by Frank Golden

Frank Golden’s second novel, The Night Game (Salmon Publishing), is set in a fog-choked New York at winter’s end. It opens with Mary walking home from work one evening, and sensing danger in the air. Oddly, Mary is rather fatalistic about the prospect: “She accepts the reality of something malevolent about to possess her.” When Mary gets home, she discovers that a man has left yet another threatening phone-call on her messaging service, one promising that he will ‘come and get her soon’.
  It’s an appropriately creepy introduction to a novel billed as a psychological intrigue, and Mary’s life quickly begins to spiral down into fear, paranoia and crippling self-doubt. Why does the NYPD cop, Gerry Keaney, behave so bizarrely when he comes to investigate the threatening call? Might Mary’s ex-husband David, whom she left due to ‘mental cruelty’, be trying to terrify her, or has he even worse in mind? Can Mary even trust her friend Sheila, who comes to stay with Mary to help her over this difficult period, but who has sinister secrets of her own to hide?
  These are all potential plot developments in a conventional psychological thriller, but The Night Game is by no means a conventional novel. Frank Golden is also an artist, filmmaker and poet, and the story is told in language that is as rich and dense as the fog that shrouds proceedings throughout. As Mary walks home that first evening, “The sloot bellow of a distant foghorn gutters in the darkness,” and Mary “ … feels the freedom in occlusion, the draped secrecy of befogged streets, the cling and obfuscation of the particle world.”
  This is not, however, language for its own sake. The vividly imagined storytelling is latticed with allusion, metaphor and double meaning, all of which become increasingly apt as Mary’s psychological condition is revealed. She’s an ‘alternate’, a woman with disassociative identity disorder who is entirely conscious of – and indeed, actively encourages the development of – the multiple personalities she inhabits at various stages throughout the story.
  The ‘domestic noir’ sub-genre of psychological thrillers thrives on the emotional intimacy between its protagonists, most notably in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep. In The Night Game, however, Frank Golden offers a fascinating twist on the conventions. Mary is every bit as ambiguously shape-shifting a character as her nemesis, but despite her apparent vulnerability she’s also equally dangerous: here the hunted is as potentially lethal as the hunter, and Mary – who just so happens to keep ‘a malicious little knife’ in her cutlery drawer – has no intention of playing the passive victim.
  The tension derived from Mary’s gradual metamorphosis results in a compelling tale that delves deep beneath the skin of the psychological thriller to explore unusually complex motivations. The story plunges into the dark gore of the human psyche, detailing brutal violence, abusive sex and harrowing self-harm. Indeed, certain passages demand a strong stomach, and there are times when it feels as if Golden is almost daring the reader to glance away, for the sake of decorum, from Mary’s self-torturing agonies.
  There are a number of improbable narrative segues (although such developments, it should be said, are fully in keeping with the nightmarish tone), and Golden’s emphasis on the psychological rather than the thriller means that the story occasionally veers into extended dialogues on therapy and disassociative identity disorder that tend to stall the story’s impetus. For the most part, however, The Night Game is a challenging, transgressive and gripping read, a chilling portrait of one woman’s personal hell. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

News: Tana French and Anthony Quinn Nominated For Awards

Hearty congratulations from all at CAP Towers to Tana French and Anthony Quinn, who have been nominated for Anthony and Theakstons awards, respectively, in the past few days.
  Tana’s THE SECRET PLACE is shortlisted in the Best Novel category for an Agatha Award, which will be announced during the Raleigh Bouchercon weekend, with the shortlist looking a lot like this:
Best Novel
• Lamentation, by Joe Clifford (Oceanview)
• The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking)
• After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
• The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
• Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
  For the rest of the Anthony Award nominees, clickety-click on The Rap Sheet.
  Meanwhile, Anthony Quinn finds himself in stellar company on the longlist for the ‘2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year’ (as always, I take no responsibility for the spelling and / or punctuation associated with award season). It’s an 18-strong longlist, and Anthony’s novel DISAPPEARED is pitted against offerings from the likes of Belinda Bauer, Lee Child, Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Louise Welch and Tom Rob Smith, among others.
  The shortlist will be announced on June 15; for all the nominees, clickety-click on Euro Crime.

Monday, May 4, 2015

One To Watch: PRESERVE THE DEAD by Brian McGilloway

Whether writing about Benedict Devlin or Lucy Black, Brian McGilloway is one of Irish crime writing’s most engaging authors. PRESERVE THE DEAD (Corsair) sees Derry-based PSNI DS Lucy Black return for her third outing, following on from LITTLE GIRL LOST (2011) and HURT (2013). To wit:
Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is visiting her father, a patient in a secure unit in Gransha Hospital on the banks of the River Foyle. He’s been hurt badly in an altercation with another patient, and Lucy is shocked to discover him chained to the bed for safety. But she barely has time to take it all in, before an orderly raises the alarm - a body has been spotted floating in the river below...
  The body of an elderly man in a grey suit is hauled ashore: he is cold dead. He has been dead for several days. In fact a closer examination reveals that he has already been embalmed. A full scale investigation is launched - could this really be the suicide they at first assumed, or is this some kind of sick joke?
  Troubled and exhausted, Lucy goes back to her father’s shell of a house to get some sleep; but there’ll be no rest for her tonight. She’s barely in the front door when a neighbour knocks, in total distress - his wife’s sister has turned up badly beaten. Can she help?
  In Preserve The Dead, Brian McGilloway weaves a pacy, intricate plot, full of tension to the very last page. DS Lucy Black’s third outing since the bestselling Little Girl Lost, confirms her as one of the decade’s most original female detectives: strong, sensitive and ever determined.
  Brian McGilloway’s HURT was a NYT best-seller, so here’s hoping PRESERVE THE DEAD can repeat the trick. The book is published on July 2nd.

Friday, May 1, 2015

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Marnie Riches

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
The Silence of the Lambs should have been by me and not that Thomas Harris. Although, if I’d written it, there would have been some terrible swearing and scenes of a sexual nature in it that didn’t necessarily involve cannibalism or fava beans. But still, what a great baddy! Hannibal Lecter was the first villain I had fallen for since Darth Vader.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Probably Lisbeth Salander, who inspired, in no small part, my heroine, George McKenzie. Salander is whizzy with technology and surly. I’m a luddite and loud-mouth. I don’t do silent and smouldering well at all, which Salander does. It’s that Scandinavian vs Celt/Eastern European Mancunian thing. I come from a long line of big-gobbed tough women. We don’t do poise or studied cool. Plus, Salander always seems to have good hair. I’m a middle-aged woman. My hairline is receding. My appendages are hitting the deck. It’s not nice on any level. Anyway, though George McKenzie is young and kickass like Salander, she is gobby like me (although she has a reassuringly hairy head).

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I read an awful lot of children’s fiction – hardly surprising, since I started out as a children’s author. Children’s fiction is written in a sparing and economical way, which gives an adventure novel a real sense of urgency. Middle-grade is my favourite age banding. I love Eoin Colfer, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and now, Steve Cole.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I’ve spent an entire day, writing one paragraph and trying to get a clever metaphor just right. These are the bits I agonise over, but when I read them back, I think, wow. I can actually write. Then I get the odd one star howler back that says I went off at a tangent or that they had to skip a paragraph because “it got boring”. Those are the clever bits, you one-star-howling berk!!

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
Now, I had to take this under advisement, since I can’t claim to have read widely in the Irish crime genre. My friend and book reviewer, Bookwitch, tells me the best crime novels are Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series. I couldn’t specify one in particular and neither would she.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays. It’s a very funny, very visual crime novel. The tight plotting, great dialogue and intriguing characters are all there. Humour and crime translate well to the big screen, as demonstrated by my favourites, In Bruges and The Guard.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing about being a writer is getting that one star howler of a review. There’s always some smart arse who sussed the killer by page ten, or who really couldn’t get any of your characters and thought the whole thing was tedious beyond belief. You can’t quite believe a story that took you years to write – two, in the case of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – can be dismissed in a short paragraph. That bit SUCKS, as does watching your book slide back in the Amazon rankings into obscurity. On the bright side, the best bit is ... well, most of it. I love working alone, talking to myself aloud about plot points, allowing my characters to become real to me, picking my nose without fear of discovery, sitting in my pyjama bottoms without fear of fashion or hygiene judgement. All the things you get up to when you’re in a small, enclosed space without supervision and with the aid of alcoholic drink ... Then, realising post-publication that people love what I’ve written and totally get my characters and absolutely didn’t sodding work out who the killer was by page ten. Those are the best bits.

The pitch for your next book is …?
In The Girl Who Broke the Rules – book 2 of the George McKenzie series – the heroine, George, gets to hang out with a grade A perv who equals Hannibal Lecter in both his finesse, his intellectual prowess and his aptitude for murder. George, together with Chief Inspector Paul van den Bergen of the Dutch police, must work out who is committing a string of brutal serial killings, where victims are sliced open and emptied of their innards! There’s sex, drugs and shenanigans in Amsterdam’s red light district. It’s Silence of the Lambs meets Trainspotting!

Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading Jo Nesbo’s The Son right now, along with Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream, but I’ve just finished The Farm by Tom Rob Smith which I enjoyed hugely.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. Sometimes, all the naughty just has to come out.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gritty, gripping, intelligent. Well, you could swap intelligent for naughty if you’re, you know, a bit funny about the swearing and the nookie and the violence.

THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE by Marnie Riches is published by Maze.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

One to Watch: BARLOW BY THE BOOK by John McAllister

John McAllister introduced Station Sergeant Barlow in 2011 in THE STATION SERGEANT, and Barlow – as the title suggests – returns in BARLOW BY THE BOOK (Portnoy Publishing). To wit:
Station Sergeant Barlow is back, but if he thought life was going to return to normal after his last case, he couldn't have been more wrong. Barlow’s house is bombed, and he is suspended from duty on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. His problems mount when his schizophrenic wife is released unexpectedly from the mental institution and he learns the truth about her traumatic childhood; while his daughter, Vera, is shot during a robbery. He is under strict orders not to interfere in the ongoing investigations, but shooting Vera has made it personal …
  BARLOW BY THE BOOK will be published in July. For more, clickety-click here