“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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

News: Irish Award Winners At Bouchercon 2014

I’m not long returned from whistle-stop tour of Germany, so it’s a belated but hearty congratulations to John Connolly and Adrian McKinty, both of whom scooped awards during last week’s Bouchercon 2014 at Long Beach, California.
  John Connolly won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story, for his rather excellent tale, ‘The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository’. Adrian McKinty, meanwhile, won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original for I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET.
  For more details on the winners in all the categories awarded at Bouchercon, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Launch: THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE by Anthony Quinn

Anthony Quinn will launch his latest novel, THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE (No Exit Press), at No Alibis in Belfast on November 20th. To wit:
We at No Alibis Bookstore wish to invite you to the launch of Anthony Quinn’s upcoming novel THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE. Join Anthony in No Alibis Bookstore on Thursday 20th November at 7pm.

London at the dawn of 1918 and Ireland’s most famous literary figure, WB Yeats, is immersed in supernatural investigations at his Bloomsbury rooms. Haunted by the restless spirit of an Irish girl whose body is mysteriously washed ashore in a coffin, Yeats undertakes a perilous journey back to Ireland with his apprentice ghost-catcher Charles Adams to piece together the killer’s identity. Surrounded by spies, occultists and Irish rebels, the two are led on a gripping journey along Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, through the ruins of its abandoned estates, and into its darkest, most haunted corners. Falling under the spell of dark forces, Yeats and his novice ghost-catcher come dangerously close to crossing the invisible line that divides the living from the dead.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Event: Nordic Noir / Celtic Crime

The Irish Writers’ Centre hosts ‘Nordic Noir / Celtic Crime’ tomorrow evening, Thursday 20th November, at 7pm. The featured speakers are Thomas Enger, Sinéad Crowley (right) & Declan Hughes. To wit:
Join us for a panel discussion with Scandinavian and Irish crime fiction writers for what’s likely to be the final Battle of Clontarf millennial celebrations. Our line-up includes Thomas Enger (Norway) and Arts and Media Correspondent with RTÉ news Sinéad Crowley (Ireland) and Leif Ekle, culture expert, freelance journalist and broadcaster with Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, NRK.

Declan Hughes (Ireland) will chair the panel and up for discussion are the different processes in writing crime fiction and exploring how culture, geographical location and gender influence the process.

Free Event, suggested donation €5
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Launch: BELFAST NOIR, ed. Stuart Neville and Adrian McKinty

BELFAST NOIR (Akashic Books), edited by Stuart Neville and Adrian McKinty, will be launched at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast, on November 22nd. To wit:
An event for crime fiction fans guys, one that is certainly not to be missed!

No Alibis Bookstore invite you to the Crescent Arts Centre on Saturday 22nd November at 6:30pm for the launch of BELFAST NOIR. This FREE event sees a variety of authors come together in a new anthology.

Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book. Brand-new stories by: Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, Garbhan Downey, Lee Child, Alex Barclay, Brian McGilloway, Ian McDonald, Arlene Hunt, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Claire McGowan, Steve Cavanagh, Lucy Caldwell, Sam Millar, and Gerard Brennan.

From the introduction by Adrian McKinty & Stuart Neville:

“Few European cities have had as disturbed and violent a history as Belfast over the last half-century. For much of that time the Troubles (1968–1998) dominated life in Ireland’s second-biggest population centre, and during the darkest days of the conflict—in the 1970s and 1980s—riots, bombings, and indiscriminate shootings were tragically commonplace. The British army patrolled the streets in armoured vehicles and civilians were searched for guns and explosives before they were allowed entry into the shopping district of the city centre . . . Belfast is still a city divided . . .
  “You can see Belfast’s bloodstains up close and personal. This is the city that gave the world its worst ever maritime disaster, and turned it into a tourist attraction; similarly, we are perversely proud of our thousands of murders, our wounds constantly on display. You want noir? How about a painting the size of a house, a portrait of a man known to have murdered at least a dozen human beings in cold blood? Or a similar house-sized gable painting of a zombie marching across a postapocalyptic wasteland with an AK-47 over the legend UVF: Prepared for Peace—Ready for War. As Lee Child has said, Belfast is still ‘the most noir place on earth.’
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, November 17, 2014

News: GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty is on something of a roll at the moment, with a ‘Ned Kelly’ Award for Best Australian Crime Fiction, the publication of BELFAST NOIR, and now the news of the latest Sean Duffy novel, GUN STREET GIRL (Serpent’s Tail), the fourth in the series, which will be published on January 8th. To wit:
Belfast, 1985. Gunrunners on the borders, riots in the cities, The Power of Love on the radio. And somehow, in the middle, Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is hanging on, a Catholic policeman in the hostile Royal Ulster Constabulary. Duffy is initially left cold by the murder of a wealthy couple, shot dead while watching TV. And when their troubled son commits suicide, leaving a note that appears to take responsibility for the deaths, it seems the case is closed. But something doesn't add up, and people keep dying. Soon Duffy is on the trail of a mystery that will pit him against shadowy US intelligence forces, and take him into the white-hot heart of the biggest political scandal of the decade.
  For more, clickety-click here

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

There’s no rest for the wicked, they say, but lately it has been those fictional heroes whose job it is to bring the wicked to justice – James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe – whose literary rest has been disturbed.
  The latest fictional detective to be resurrected is Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who featured in more than 30 novels. By some distance the most popular mystery author of all time, Christie’s final Poirot novel, Curtain, was published in 1975, although Christie – who died the following year – had written that book some three decades previously.
  In Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders (HarperCollins), which is set in 1929, we first encounter Poirot, ‘the retired policeman from the Continent’, in ‘a most enjoyable state of hibernation’. When a terrified young woman called Jennie blunders into a London coffee shop and sits at Poirot’s table, however, his famous little grey cells are energised by Jennie’s bizarre story of her impending murder – and her assertion that nothing must be done to stop it, because only then will justice be done.
  Enter Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, a police detective who stands in for Poirot’s regular sounding-board Arthur Hastings, to narrate the story of Poirot’s latest investigation. It centres on a triple killing at the Bloxham Hotel, in which two women and a man are discovered identically murdered in three separate rooms, each with a monogrammed cufflink in their mouths. Naturally, the heinous crime is much more complicated than it at first appears, and only Poirot has the required acumen to disentangle the strands. Agatha Christie was justifiably celebrated for her intricate plots, and Sophie Hannah has done full justice to that reputation with a story that baffles to the final page.
  Not that everyone is entirely pleased by the bewildering nature of the tale. ‘Next time you’d like me to grasp something at once,’ Catchpool reproves a preening Poirot, ‘open your mouth and tell me facts. Be straightforward about it. You’ll find it saves a lot of bother.’
  Indeed, Sophie Hannah provides a double function in The Monogram Murders. The story is told in Agatha Christie’s style, but it also partly serves as a critique. Poirot is on holiday here, and has taken up residence in a house a whole three hundred yards from his home for the pleasure of looking back to enjoy the view. While the story is a full-blooded Poirot tale, a very English story of murder from the mystery novel’s Golden Age complete with quaint villages, vicarages and rare poisons, and – a clue! – afternoon tea taken at the wrong time, there are occasions, as above, when Hannah, via Catchpool, gently points out some of the flaws in Christie’s story-telling, particularly when it comes to Poirot’s infuriatingly obscure ‘method’, which as often as not delivered crucial clues to the reader about the identity of the murderer very late in the proceedings.
  Christie is also criticised for being too mechanical in her plotting, which makes Sophie Hannah an intriguing choice to write a Poirot novel. Hannah’s own crime novels are largely concerned with the psychology of criminality – the village of Great Holling, where this story has its roots, can be found in the same Culver Valley that provides the setting for Hannah’s books – which adds a frisson to Poirot’s declaration that, ‘We must think not only of the physical facts but of the psychological.’ Ultimately, we discover, The Monogram Murders is a novel in which the mechanics of plot, and Poirot’s reputation as the canniest of detectives, are harnessed for the purpose of exploring that simplest and strangest of all human emotions, love.
  Yet there is much more to The Monogram Murders, as Catchpool the crossword enthusiast discovers to his regret, than the solving of an emotionally charged puzzle. Hannah invests her tale with depth and breadth by investigating the grey areas between sin and crime, as her characters wrestle with Christian morality and the unforeseen consequences of a hypocritical interpretation of the spirit of Christian values (the ostensibly picturesque Great Holling is described as ‘a hell-pit of a village’). Further, the core event of the story offers a scenario that might, seen from different angles, be read as murder, execution or assisted suicide. To muddy the waters even more, Poirot asserts the conventional view that, ‘If a crime has been committed, one must ensure that the criminal is dealt with by the law in an appropriate fashion,’ only to be confounded at a later point by the declaration, ‘We were murderers, not according to the law but according to the truth.’
  In a fascinating act of literary ventriloquism from Hannah, the only real bum note is struck by the portrayal of Catchpool, the quasi-Hastings who faithfully records Poirot’s every utterance. A Scotland Yard detective with a terror of dead bodies, who lacks confidence in his own ability and who undermines his investigation on a number of occasions, the unfortunate Catchpool may well be the most hapless detective ever to grace the pages of a mystery novel. ‘Perhaps,’ he suggests when Poirot makes another brilliant discovery, ‘I’m in the wrong job,’ and it’s very difficult indeed not to agree.
  That said, there are occasions when it’s impossible not to agree with Catchpool, such as when Poirot assembles a host of characters in the Bloxham Hotel’s dining room for the traditional denouement. ‘I must say,’ Catchpool observes, ‘I did not and never would understand why he required such a sizeable audience. It was not a theatrical production. When I solved a crime … I simply presented my conclusions to my boss and then arrested the miscreant in question.’
  Catchpool and Sophie Hannah make a valid point, but then Hercule Poirot, luxuriant moustaches and all, would be nothing without his sense of theatre. Poirot may well be an entirely implausible creation, but his adventures – and The Monogram Murders deserves to take its place among them – are no less enjoyable for all that. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: US by David Nicholls

Longlisted for the Booker Prize even before it was published, Us (Hodder & Stoughton) is David Nicholls’ fourth novel, and arguably his most entertaining. As the story begins, Douglas Petersen appears to be suffering the reverse of the conventional male mid-life crisis. A pedantic biochemist contemplating the imminent departure of his teenage son Albie from the family nest, Douglas is – according to the rules of fiction, at least – a prime candidate to be eyeing up a Maserati and tumbling into an ill-advised affair with a woman half his age. As it happens, Douglas rather likes bumbling along in his comfortable, suburban existence, and is very much looking forward to ‘growing old and dying together’ with his wife, Connie.
  “Douglas,” says Connie, “who in their right mind would look forward to that?”
  The truth of it is that, now their son is reared and on his way to university, Connie is thinking of leaving Douglas. With a typically old-fashioned ‘grand tour’ of Europe’s galleries and museums already planned, Douglas hopes that the family’s final holiday together will reignite old passions for love, art and life itself – but once they get on the road, things very quickly go from bad to worse.
  Readers familiar with David Nicholls’ previous novels – Starter for Ten, The Understudy and One Day – will anticipate an acerbic take on romance and love, and they won’t be disappointed. “This is a love story, after all,” Douglas tells us early on. “Certainly love comes into it.” In fact, it’s three love stories, as Douglas strains to reconnect with Connie in a contemporary storyline while also recounting, in a parallel narrative, how they first met and fell for one another. Between the lines of these stories is lurks another tale, this one of largely unrequited love, as Douglas tells us of his failed attempt to be a proper father to Albie. This is, perhaps, due to his formative experience of a father-son relationship, when he grew up with a stern father, a GP, who ‘issued sympathy with the same reluctance that he prescribed antibiotics.’
  Blending a poignant tone with brilliantly timed deadpan humour, Nicholls leads us on a merrily chaotic dance through Paris, Amsterdam, Venice and Madrid that echoes loudly to the anarchic irreverence of Tom Sharpe, especially when the Douglas is offering his philistine opinion on the arts (“Since the time of the Greeks, had anyone ever left a play saying, ‘I just wished it were longer!’”). His take on the travelogue is refreshing too: “Munich was a strange combination of grandly ceremonial and boisterously beery, like a drunken general …”. It’s a hugely enjoyable blend, not least because it quickly becomes obvious that Douglas’s constant stream of pithy one-liners and off-beat observations serve as a kind of manic distraction from the almost unbearable loss that set the tone for the beginning of Douglas and Connie’s marriage. “Connie and I also had a daughter, Jane,” Douglas tells us, “but she died soon after she was born.”
  Us is a novel of the fine lines and tiny gaps that every family will recognise, those between intimacy and claustrophobia, between familiarity and contempt. Nicholls mines these rich seams and fault-lines for a novel that is by turns heart-breaking and laugh-out-loud funny. “Shouldn’t art be an escape, a laugh, a comfort, a thrill?” asks a plaintive Douglas as Connie drags him along to yet another depressing foreign movie. No, says Connie, and the reader is inclined to agree with her – Us is very much an escape, a laugh, a comfort and a thrill, but it is above all a thought-provoking meditation on how very fragile are the ties that bind. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reviews: Connelly, Downie, Martin, Van Laerhoven, McDermid

The shot was fired a decade ago but Orlando Merced, a mariachi band member, has only now succumbed to his injuries, which means Harry Bosch has a very unusual ‘open-unsolved’ (aka ‘cold case’) investigation to pursue in The Burning Room (Orion, €20.85), Michael Connelly’s 17th novel to feature the veteran LAPD detective. Bosch, already on borrowed time as a working detective courtesy of the DROP programme, is less than a year from retirement as the story opens, but he has lost none of his edge. What appears at first glance to be a depressingly routine drive-by shooting develops, largely due to Bosch’s instincts, into a complex tale of jealousy, arson, robbery and politically motivated murder, as Connelly, in a story that wears its Raymond Chandler influences lightly, links the street-level crimes of Los Angeles with the city’s highest seats of power. Bosch, teamed here with impressive new recruit Lucy Soto, goes about his work with the same quality of unobtrusive directness that Connelly brings to his prose, the deceptively understated approach disguising a pacy, powerful investigation that yields results when least expected.
  Set in Roman Britain as the natives’ festival of Samain approaches, Tabula Rasa (Bloomsbury, €12.99) is Ruth Downie’s sixth novel to feature medicus Gaius Petreius Ruso, who is currently serving with the Twentieth Legion as they build Hadrian’s Wall. When rumours begin to circulate that a dead body has been dumped under the rubble packed into the wall, and the young boy responsible for circulating the rumour goes missing, the already tense relationship between the Romans and the native Britons erupts into hostilities. Ruso’s investigation, which he hopes will defuse the situation, is deftly crafted by Downie, but Tabula Rasa offers far more than the mystery genre’s conventions transplanted to Roman-era Britain. Ruso’s wife Tilla, a native Briton, is as important a character as her husband, and fully capable of conducting her own investigation; despite being compromised in the natives’ eyes as a traitor for her marriage to Ruso, she is sympathetic to their traditions, their ways and their lore (the historical detail, judiciously deployed, is superb). Equally fascinating, however, are the contemporary parallels to be found in the Roman experience of conquering and occupying a foreign territory: their ignorance of the local language and customs, the blinkered arrogance of military power, and the nerve-shredding presence of constant threat.
  Andrew Martin’s Night Train to Jamalpur (Faber & Faber, €11.50) is the ninth to feature Jim Stringer, an Edwardian-era detective working for the London and Southwest Railway. As the title suggests, this outing finds Stringer in India: the year is 1923, and Stringer is investigating the ‘considerable laxity’ – i.e., rampant corruption – in the East Indian Railway Company. Stringer, however, is far more interested in a series of murders committed by an unknown assassin who has been placing poisonous snakes in the First Class carriages of Indian trains. When Stringer travels to Jamalpur and narrowly avoids being killed himself in an apparently botched raid by bandits, he takes a personal interest in the case. The story emerges with all the languid grace of a snake being charmed from its basket as the details of Stringer’s covert investigation are neatly interwoven with a fascinating backdrop of nationalist agitation and Mahatma Ghandi’s campaign for Indian independence, which is gathering pace in the wake of what the English authorities blithely describe as ‘the Amritsar incident’.
  Set in Paris in 1870, as Prussian forces encroach on the city, Bob Van Laerhoven’s Baudelaire’s Revenge (Pegasus Crime, €22.50) finds Commissioner Lefèvre and Inspector Bouveroux investigating a series of bizarre murders that appear to be committed by a killer nursing a grudge against critics of the poet Baudelaire, who died three years previously. While the main narrative of Flemish author Laerhoven’s English-language debut is a conventional one of policemen pursuing a serial killer, albeit one who considers murder ‘an amoral work of art’, the novel also functions as a superb historical tale of an embattled city, as Napoleon III’s France finds itself at war not only with Prussia but also subversive elements in Paris itself. There are also strong gothic horror overtones, courtesy of a manuscript left behind by the killer, in which Baudelaire’s themes of sex and death are writ large. The flamboyantly lurid tone is hugely entertaining, although its excesses are leavened by Laerhoven’s depictions of his competent, dogged investigators, hardened veterans of France’s military adventures in North Africa and men who, for the most part, ‘prefer discretion to good morals’.
  Atrocities, war crimes and massacres form the historical backdrop to Val McDermid’s The Skeleton Road (Little, Brown, €17.99), a contemporary tale rooted in the conflicts that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. A Prologue detailing a murder on Crete segues into the discovery of a skeleton atop a building in Edinburgh, which introduces us to DCI Karen Pirie of the Historic Crimes Unit. Her ‘cold case’ investigation leads her to Oxford and respected academic Professor Maggie Blake, who fell in love with Croatian intelligence officer Dimitar Petrovic during the siege of Dubrovnik; meanwhile, Alan Macanespie of the International Criminal Tribunal is hunting for a vigilante killer who is murdering war criminals who have escaped the legal system. McDermid’s 29th crime novel could easily be characterised, as one character puts it, as ‘a Jacobean revenge tragedy melodrama’, but it’s equally engrossing as a psychological study that explores how ostensibly normal, well-adjusted human beings can descend into savagery. Not content with that, McDermid also shoehorns in a poignant love story, a tale of harrowing loss, and a neatly constructed homage to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night. An enervating read that is bracingly cynical about the genre’s holy grail of ‘justice’, The Skeleton Road is one of McDermid’s finest offerings to date. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Publication: STUMPED by Rob Kitchin

STUMPED (280 Steps) is the latest offering from Rob Kitchin, a screwball noir set in Ireland during the run-up to an election. Quoth the blurb elves:
It is election time in Ireland and a lot more is about to change for Grant, a new arrival from England, and his wheelchair-bound friend Mary, than their political representatives.
  Their friend, Sinead, has been kidnapped, and her brother, Pat, has disappeared. Charged with tracking them down, Grant and Mary are soon caught between a vicious Dublin gangster seeking the return of a valuable package and an ambitious politician determined to protect a secret that might harm his re-election prospects. To make matters worse, when someone they confront is found floating face down in the River Liffey, Inspector McGerrity Black, Dublin’s finest rockabilly cop, is soon hot on their trail.
  With election day looming and Sinead’s fingers turning up on a regular basis they race through County Kildare suburbia, Dublin’s saunas, Manchester’s gay village and rural Mayo, crossing paths with drag queen farmers, corrupt property developers, and sadistic criminal gang members, as they desperately seek a way to save themselves and their friends while all the time staying ahead of the law.
  The exit polls, as it were, augur well. To wit:
“Rob Kitchin joins the ranks of top-notch Irish crime writers: Hughes, Glynn, Bruen, French, and Burke. Intricate, terrifying, and thrillingly propulsive, STUMPED offers readers a vivid portrait of Irish politicians, the media, and the police as they clash with the incomparably villainous Doherty.” – Patti Abbott
  For much more in that vein, clickety-click here

Friday, November 7, 2014

Publication: THE TAKEOVER by Jonathan Dunne

Debut novelist Jonathan Dunne’s THE TAKEOVER (Crime Wave Press) is a contemporary tale set in Dublin. To wit:
Dublin’s underworld is run by the Doherty family, a clan of brothers harder than the Rock of Cashel and darker than a pint of Guinness. The head of the clan, Malcolm Doherty, has infiltrated all levels of public office and rules the city’s criminal landscape without mercy or compassion. Gerald O’Brien is the incorruptible cop on the Dohertys’ trail, obsessive and indefatigable, yet unable to bring them down. Nathan Corbally is a neglected and abused youngster. Raised by a monstrous father, Nathan steals to survive. When he steals a piece of clothing belonging to the Dohertys, he sets of a chain of events that will pit him against the rulers of Ireland’s underworld. Three lives, steeped in violence, are about to clash in a violent grab for absolute power.
  For more, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 6, 2014


It’s off with yours truly to Germany next week, for a brief tour to promote the publication of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL (Nautilus), when I’ll be reading in tandem with the translator of AZC, author Robert Brack, in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin and Dortmund. To wit:
Nov. 13th, 8 p.m.
Festival “Der Krimi ist politisch” (Crime novels are politics)
Buchladen in der Osterstraße, Osterstraße 171, Hamburg

Nov. 14th, 8.30 p.m.
KULT Kinobar, Zum Quellenpark 2, Bad Soden (Frankfurt)

Nov. 17th, 8 p.m.
Festival “Moabiter Kriminale”
Dorotheenstädtische Buchhandlung, Turmstraße 5, Berlin

Nov. 18th, 8 p.m.
Buchhandlung transfer, An der schlanken Mathilde 3, Dortmund
  If the spirit moves you to share this information with your German friends, I will be very grateful indeed …

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Publication: SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH by Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus has published two adult crime titles to date, EVEN FLOW and THE POLKA-DOT GIRL, although he shifts focus a little for SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH (Hot Key Books), a crime fiction YA novel. To wit:
After months of bullying and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels just about ready to end it all. But when he wakes up one morning to find that local beauty and town sweetheart Sláine McAuley actually has, he discovers a new sense of purpose, and becomes determined to find out what happened to her. The town is happy to put it down to suicide, but then one night Aidan gets a message, scratched in ice on his bedroom window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Who is contacting him? And if Sláine didn't end her own life ... who did?
  SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH is published on November 6. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by Liam McIlvanney

Ian Rankin and Val McDermid are probably the best known names in the ‘Tartan Noir’ movement, having long since blazed a trail for a generation of Scottish crime fiction authors such as Tony Black, Malcolm Mackay, Nicola White and Doug Johnstone.
  Very few of the new Scottish crime writers, however, will come under the microscope in the same way as Liam McIlvanney. The Acknowledgements in Where the Dead Men Go (Faber), McIlvanney’s second crime title, opens with a reference to a person ‘who made the whole book possible’, but ‘who would rather not be named’. It’s safe to assume, though, that that person is Liam’s father, William McIlvanney, creator of the imperishable Laidlaw but also a poet and essayist cited by Ian Rankin as the inspiration for Inspector John Rebus, and generally credited as the godfather of ‘Tartan Noir’.
  Opening in Glasgow in 2012, Where the Dead Men Go is a first-person tale told by Gerry Maguire, a newspaper reporter who has returned to his old stomping ground at the failing broadsheet Tribune on Sunday after three years away. Once a crime journalist, now a political correspondent, Maguire initially resents being sent to cover a gangland shooting when the Tribune’s star crime reporter, Martin Moir, can’t be contacted. Shortly afterwards, the reason for Moir’s apparent negligence is made horribly clear when he is discovered in his car at the bottom of a flooded quarry. All the signs point to suicide, according to the police, and it subsequently emerges that Moir had motive enough to take his own life – but Maguire is not convinced, and embarks on his own investigation.
  What follows is a hardboiled thriller laced with a bleak kind of poetry. McIlvanney’s Glasgow is a hardscrabble world, its juxtaposition with the leafier suburbs and its satellite towns only emphasising the stark reality of a city stripped of any illusions about itself. Even the intermittent snowfalls that might prettify another setting are deployed here as a filter of sorts, through which we view Glasgow as a harsh, frigid and unforgiving place.
  The gangland shooting and Moir’s disappearance – the journalist enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the city’s leading gangsters – is just the latest eruption of warfare in a city that has almost become inured to the simmering violence of an ancient conflict. “Glasgow’s civil war ground on,” writes McIlvanney, “a city like a failing state. The regime controlled the centre and the West End, the good suburbs, the arterial routes. East and north were the badlands, the rebel redoubts, where the tribal warlords held their courts and sacrificed to their vengeful gods. The M8 was the city wall, keeping out the barbarian hordes.”
  For all the historical references, however, it’s a very contemporary tale. McIlvanney weaves the imminent referendum vote on Scottish independence into the story, and also incorporates violent sectarianism and political corruption. The decline of journalism is yet another theme, as Maguire cites Woodward & Bernstein, and quotes Thomas Jefferson on the importance of a free press, even as he bemoans his personal failures as a reporter working at a struggling, American-owned Sunday newspaper as readers fall away and budgets are slashed.
  Where the Dead Men Go is on one level a persuasively thrilling crime novel that gets under the skin of Glasgow to an unsettling degree, but it also functions as a compelling document of its time and place, and one written in terse but elegant style. If it is as invidious as it is inevitable to compare Liam McIlvanney with his illustrious father, then the very least to be said is that the comparisons are entirely valid. ~ Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Publication: CRIME ALWAYS PAYS now available in paperback

I’m delighted to announced that my current tome, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS (Severn House), is now available in paperback, which means that you can score the hardback edition for £16.99, the paperback for £11.99, or the e-book for £9.65. Quoth the blurb elves:
Who says crime doesn’t pay? The perpetrators of a botched kidnap make their getaway in this hilarious sequel to THE BIG O.
  Karen and Ray are on their way to the Greek islands to rendezvous with Madge and split the fat bag of cash they conned from her ex-husband Rossi when they kidnapped, well, Madge. But they’ve reckoned without Stephanie Doyle, the cop who can’t decide if she wants to arrest Madge, shoot Rossi, or ride off into the sunset with Ray. And then there’s Melody, the wannabe movie director, who’s pinning all her hopes on Sleeps, the narcoleptic getaway driver who just wants to go back inside and do some soft time.
  A European road-trip screwball noir, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS features cops and robbers, losers and hopers, villains, saints – and a homicidal Siberian wolf called Anna. The Greek islands will never be the same again.
  According to the good people at Publishers Weekly, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is ‘both baffling and entertaining’. For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, October 31, 2014

News: The Crime Fiction Shortlist for the Irish Book Awards

The Irish Book Awards are almost upon us again, and yesterday the various shortlists were announced. The crime fiction shortlist looks like this:
The Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award

Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinéad Crowley
Last Kiss by Louise Phillips
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
The Kill by Jane Casey
The Secret Place by Tana French
Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent
  The very best of luck to all those nominated; the winner will be announced on November 26th. If you’d like to vote for your favourite book, clickety-click here

Monday, October 27, 2014

Publication: BLOOD RED TURNS DOLLAR GREEN, Vol. 3 by Paul O’Brien

Hollywood has already come calling for Paul O’Brien, the Wexford-based author of the ‘Blood Red Turns Dollar Green’ wrestling-noir novels. The phenomenal response to his books, and particularly from the professional wrestling community, is all the more impressive when you realise Paul has self-published his titles. The third in the trilogy, BLOOD RED TURNS DOLLAR GREEN, VOL. 3, has just been published. To wit:
It’s 1984. Twelve years after the New York territory was nearly burned to the ground. Twelve years since a bullet changed everything. Twelve years since Lenny Long saw his family. Twelve years is a long time to think. Twelve years is a long time to plan. Twelve years is just about the perfect amount of time for revenge. Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, Vol. 3 is the final book in the #1 Bestselling crime trilogy.
  For more, clickety-click here

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Publication: THE WAITING GAME by Sheila Bugler

Sheila Bugler’s follow-up to HUNTING SHADOWS is THE WAITING GAME (O’Brien Press), featuring DI Ellen Kelly. To wit:
DI Ellen Kelly is struggling through some difficult changes in her life. Her boss has left, replaced by a more unpredictable DCI. Her career seems to be stalling – again. And her feelings for Jim O’Dwyer feel like they’re spiralling out of her normally tight control.
  Distraction can be very dangerous.
  Someone is out there, stalking the weak, bringing misery and fear, and it’s Ellen’s job to stop it. Could it be that this time, for the first time, Ellen is the one trapped in the web?
  For more, clickety-click here

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Publication: UNDERCOVER by Gerard Brennan

The prolific Gerard Brennan’s latest novel, UNDERCOVER (CreateSpace), is subtitled ‘A Cormac Kelly Thriller’, which suggests the Belfast-set tale is the first in a proposed series. To wit:
When undercover detective Cormac Kelly infiltrates a ruthless gang bent on kidnapping and extortion, he is forced to break cover and shoot his way out of a hostage situation gone bad. Tearing through the dangerous streets of Belfast with a twelve-year-old boy and his seriously injured father in tow, Kelly desperately tries to evade the gang and reconnect the family with the boy’s mother, football agent Lydia Gallagher. But she is in London, unaware of their freedom and being forced by the gang to betray her top client. As Kelly breaks every rule in the book and crosses the line from legit police officer to rogue cop on the run, the role of dapper but deadly ex-spook Stephen Black means the difference between life and death …
  For more, clickety-click here

Monday, October 20, 2014

Publication: CONDEMNED TO DEATH by Cora Harrison

The latest in Cora Harrison’s series of mysteries set in 16th Century Ireland and featuring the Brehon judge Mara, CONDEMNED TO DEATH (Severn House) is published on October 27th. To wit:
When Mara is summoned to the western fringe of the kingdom to see a dead man lying in a boat with no oars, her scholars immediately jump to the conclusion that the man has been found guilty of kin-murder. But Mara notices something odd about the body and soon she has embarked on a full-scale murder investigation . . .
  For more, clickety-click here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reviews: Lehane, Minato, Bateman, Tey, Child

Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone, Baby, Gone were all very fine film adaptations of Dennis Lehane novels, so there’s a kind of inevitability to the fact that Lehane’s latest offering, The Drop (Abacus, €11.95), is published as a tie-in with the cinematic release of the movie of the same name (the book began life as a short story, ‘Animal Rescue’, before Lehane, previously a writer on The Wire, developed the short story for the film’s screenplay). Bob Saginowski works as a barman at a Boston bar which serves as a front for the laundering of illicit cash by Balkan gangsters. A lonely, God-fearing man, Bob’s life of quiet desperation becomes more emotionally involving than he might prefer when he adopts a brutalised puppy and incurs the wrath of the neighbourhood’s resident sociopath. When Bob’s bar is held up at gunpoint not long afterwards, and the Balkan mob demand its money be retrieved regardless of the cost, Bob realises that the time has come when he must step up and make a stand for what matters. Unsurprisingly, given its origins, The Drop is a slim novel but it’s one that bears the unmistakable Lehane imprint. Saginowski is an archetypal Lehane hero, an introspective, put-upon man with deeply held moral principles and a long, slow-burning fuse. The prose lacks the elegance of Lehane’s recent historical epics The Given Day (2008) and Live By Night (2012) but the story compensates with its incident-packed intensity, dialogue-driven narrative and sharply etched characters.
  Kanae Minato’s Confessions (Mulholland Books, €13.40) opens with middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi informing her class of the tragic death of her four-year-old daughter, and of the terrible revenge she has wrought on the two pupils who murdered her child. Moriguichi’s ‘confession’, however, is only the opening salvo: the book is composed of a number of first-person accounts from characters who all have secrets to hide and sins to expiate, including those of both the young killers. The intimate nature of the narrative contributes to a harrowing account of a generation of Japanese teenagers that has lost its way, particularly as Minato eschews sensationalism for a style that favours a crisp, clear-eyed account of the various motives and agendas (the novel is translated with impressive economy by Stephen Snyder). Despite the bleak tone, however, the intimacy of the first-person accounts affords Minato the opportunity to delve deep into each character’s personality, which hugely complicates the reader’s response to the story by giving these ostensibly soulless teenagers an unexpected poignancy.
  Colin Bateman’s Belfast-based Dan Starkey – formerly a journalist, now a private investigator – has been charting the changes in Northern Ireland since he first appeared in Divorcing Jack (1995). The Dead Pass (Headline, €18.99) is Starkey’s 10th outing, and finds him in unfamiliar territory in Derry – or Londonderry, as he insists on calling it – when he is commissioned by concerned mother and former political activist Moira Doherty to find her missing son, Billy. What follows is an old-fashioned gumshoe tale of snooping, beatings and snide quips, shot through with Bateman’s anarchic sense of humour (the story involves dissident Republicanism, a teenage Messiah and soft-core pornography), as Northern Ireland’s ‘Sam Spud’, as one character dubs him, doggedly pursues the trail of justice and truth. Despite all the gags, puns and post-modern re-imagining of the role of the fictional private eye, The Dead Pass is most notable for its sombre undertone, as the investigation wanders up and down Derry’s backstreets and comes to the conclusion that Northern Ireland’s post-Troubles peace is a very fragile construct that could very easily splinter or explode.
  First published in 1952, and the last of Josephine Tey’s novels to feature Inspector Alan Grant, The Singing Sands (Folio Society, €29.99) finds Grant suffering from a breakdown and taking himself off to the Highlands to recuperate on a fishing holiday. Disembarking from the train in Scotland, Grant realises that a man has died in the compartment next to his. When Grant finds himself in possession of the dead man’s newspaper, upon which has been scrawled some intriguing lines of poetry, his policeman’s mind goes into overdrive. Beloved by crime and mystery writers, Tey is regarded as one of the most brilliantly imaginative of the UK’s ‘Golden Age’ of mystery authors. Delivered in a crisp, formal and lyrical style, this reissue from the Folio Society – which is beautifully illustrated by Mark Smith – showcases Tey’s facility for a plot that is as absorbing as it is incredible (the tale turns on the discovery of a very unusual ‘Atlantis’). The Singing Sands is as good a place as any to rediscover (or discover) one of the great mystery writers, although purists may instead point you to the standalone titles The Franchise Affair (1948) or Brat Farrar (1949), both of which are also reissued by the Folio Society.
  Personal (Bantam, €18.99) is Lee Child’s 19th novel to feature the nomadic Jack Reacher, an ex-Military Policeman who wanders the United States dispensing rough justice. When a sniper attempts to assassinate the French president from a distance of 1,400 yards, Reacher and his former colleagues at the CIA come to the same conclusion: the sniper can only be John Kott, an ex-Special Forces operative whom Reacher sent to prison some 15 years previously, and now on the loose. Dispatched to London, Reacher’s mission is to prevent Kott from killing a world leader during the forthcoming G8 Summit – but first Reacher must negotiate the labyrinthine world of London’s criminal gangs. Child employs a laconic tone and dust-dry humour as he delivers yet another convoluted tale in direct and forthright prose, a blend that seems to mock the self-effacing Reacher’s rather implausible invincibility even as the story itself celebrates our need for such heroes.

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.