“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.

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

Friday, October 17, 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

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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Introduction: BOOKS TO DIE FOR, ed. John Connolly and Declan Burke

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that BOOKS TO DIE FOR (Hodder & Stoughton) is being reissued in paperback; last week, the Irish Times was kind enough to carry the book’s Introduction. To wit:
Why does the mystery novel enjoy such enduring appeal? There is no simple answer. It has a distinctive capacity for subtle social commentary; a concern with the disparity between law and justice; and a passion for order, however compromised. Even in the vision of the darkest of mystery writers, it provides us with a glimpse of the world as it might be, a world in which good men and women do not stand idly by and allow the worst aspects of human nature to triumph without opposition. It can touch upon all these aspects of itself while still entertaining the reader – and its provision of entertainment is not the least of its many qualities.
  But the mystery novel has always prized character over plot, which may come as some surprise to its detractors. True, this is not a universal tenet: there are degrees to which mysteries occupy themselves with the identity of the criminal as opposed to, say, the complexities of human motivation. Some, such as the classic puzzle mystery, tend towards the former; others are more concerned with the latter. But the mystery form understands that plot comes out of character, and not just that: it believes that the great mystery is character.
  If we take the view that fiction is an attempt to find the universal in the specific, to take individual human experiences and try to come to some understanding of our common nature through them, then the question at the heart of all novels can be expressed quite simply as ‘Why?’ Why do we do the things that we do? It is asked in Bleak House just as it is asked in The Maltese Falcon. It haunts The Pledge as it does The Chill. But the mystery novel, perhaps more than any other, not only asks this question; it attempts to suggest an answer to it as well.
  But where to start? There are so many from which to choose, even for the knowledgeable reader who has already taken to swimming in mystery’s dark waters, and huge numbers of new titles appear on our bookshelves each week. It is hard to keep up with authors who are alive, and those who are deceased are at risk of being forgotten entirely. There are treasures to be found, and their burial should not be permitted, even if there are some among these authors who might have been surprised to find themselves remembered at all, for they were not writing for the ages.
  And so, quite simply, we decided to give mystery writers from around the world the opportunity to enthuse about their favourite novel, and in doing so we hoped to come up a selection of books that was, if not definitive (which would be a foolish and impossible aim), then heartfelt, and flawless in its inclusions if not its omissions. What we sought from each of the contributors to this volume was passionate advocacy: we wanted them to pick one novel, just one, that they place in the canon. If you found them in a bar some evening, and the talk turned (as it almost inevitably would) to favorite writers, it would be the single book that each writer would press upon you, the book that, if there was time and the stores were still open, they would leave the bar in order to purchase for you, so they could be sure they had done all in their power to ensure it was read by you.
  While this volume is obviously ideal for dipping into when you have a quiet moment, enabling you to read an essay or two before moving on, there is also a pleasure to be had from the slow accumulation of its details. Reading through the book chronologically, as we have done during the editing process, patterns begin to emerge, some anticipated, some less so. There is, of course, the importance of the great Californian crime writers – Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and James M. Cain – to the generations of writers who have followed and, indeed, to each other: so Macdonald’s detective, Lew Archer, takes his name in part from Sam Spade’s murdered partner in The Maltese Falcon, while Chandler builds on Hammett, and then Macdonald builds on Chandler but also finds himself being disparaged by the older author behind his back, adding a further layer of complication to their relationship. But the writer who had the greatest number of advocates was not any of these men: it was the Scottish author Josephine Tey, who is a crucial figure to a high number of the female contributors to this book.
  Or one might take the year 1947: it produces both Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, in which the seeds of what would later come to be called the serial killer novel begin to germinate, and Mickey Spillane’s I, The Jury. Both are examinations of male rage – although Spillane is probably more correctly considered as an expression of it – and both come out of the aftermath of the Second World War, when men who had fought in Europe and Asia returned home to find a changed world, a theme that is also touched on in Margery Allingham’s 1952 novel, The Tiger in the Smoke. The pulp formula in the US also adapted itself to these changes in post-war society, which resulted in the best work of writers such as Jim Thompson, Elliott Chaze and William McGivern, all of whom are considered in essays in this book.
  Finally, it’s interesting to see how often different writers, from Ed McBain to Mary Stewart, Newton Thornburg to Leonardo Padura, assert the view that they are, first and foremost, novelists. The mystery genre provides a structure for their work – the ideal structure – but it is extremely malleable, and constantly open to adaptation: the sheer range of titles and approaches considered here is testament to that.
  To give just one example: there had long been female characters at the heart of hard-boiled novels, most frequently as femmes fatales or adoring secretaries, but even when women were given central roles as detectives, the novels were written, either in whole or in part, by men: Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool (created under the pseudonym A.A. Fair), who made her first appearance in 1939; Dwight W. Babcock’s Hannah Van Doren; Sam Merwin Jr.’s Amy Brewser; Will Oursler and Margaret Scott’s Gale Gallagher (all 1940s); and, perhaps most famously, Forrest and Gloria Fickling’s Honey West in the 1950s.
  But at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, a number of female novelists, among them Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, but also Amanda Cross and, in her pair of Cordelia Gray novels, PD James, found in the hard-boiled mystery novel a means of addressing issues affecting women, including violence (particularly sexual violence), victimization, power imbalances, and gender conflicts. They did so by questioning, altering, and subverting the established traditions in the genre, and, in the process, they created a new type of female writing. The mystery genre accommodated them without diminishing the seriousness of their aims, or hampering the result, and it did so with ease. It is why so many writers, even those who feel themselves to be working outside the genre, have chosen to introduce elements of it into their writing, and why this anthology can accommodate such a range of novelists, from Dickens to Dürrenmatt, and Capote to Crumley.
  But this volume also raises the question of what constitutes a mystery – or, if you prefer, a crime novel. (The terms are often taken as interchangeable, but ‘mystery’ is probably a more flexible, and accurate, description given the variety within the form. Crime may perhaps be considered the catalyst, mystery the consequence.) Genre, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, but one useful formulation may be that, if one can take the crime out of the novel and the novel does not collapse, then it’s probably not a crime novel; but if one removes the crime element and the novel falls apart, then it is. It is interesting, though, to note that just as every great fortune is said to hide a great crime, so too many great novels, regardless of genre, have a crime at their heart. The line between genre fiction and literary fiction (itself a genre, it could be argued) is not as clear as some might like to believe.
  In the end, those who dismiss the genre and its capacity to permit and encourage great writing, and to produce great literature, are guilty not primarily of snobbery – although there may be an element of that – but of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of fiction and genre’s place in it. There is no need to splice genre into the DNA of fiction, literary or otherwise: it is already present. The mystery genre is both a form and a mechanism. It is an instrument to be used. In the hands of a bad writer, it will produce bad work, but great writers can make magic from it. ~ John Connolly and Declan Burke, Dublin, 2012
This piece was first published in the Irish Times.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: Gone Girl (16s)

Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her phenomenally bestselling novel, Gone Girl (16s) opens with Nick Dunne reporting the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), from their family home in North Carthage, Missouri. Signs of a struggle suggest that Amy has been abducted, but Nick’s odd behaviour leads police detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) to make Nick the prime suspect. A conventional tale to open with, Gone Girl very quickly starts to twist, turn and loop-the-loop: Flynn and director David Fincher have modified the novel’s narrative structure but otherwise the movie remains faithful to the source material, embroiling Nick – who is, of course, nowhere as innocent as he pretends – in a wonderfully baroque tale that is part revenge thriller, part lurid psychological dissection, and part ‘domestic noir’. Pike and Affleck are superb in the lead roles, not least because both are required to play ambivalent characters who become increasingly nasty in what amounts to a blizzard of revelations and volte-face turns – the story pulls few punches about the worst aspects of both male and female behaviour – while Dickens, Patrick Fugit and Carrie Coon provide strong support. Overly long for a thriller at 149 minutes, the movie is nevertheless full value for virtually every moment (the last ten minutes or so are unnecessarily tacked on), and Fincher and Flynn further offer a fascinating variety of storytelling techniques – Nick’s first-person voice-over, the flashbacks courtesy of Amy’s diary, the distorting prism of media overkill – to tease out the truth of what really happened to Amy Dunne. It’s not perfect by any means, but Gone Girl is an intensely gripping thriller that offers one of the most fabulously entertaining femme fatales of the past two decades. ***** ~ Declan Burke

This review first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reviews: Gerald Seymour, Louise Phillips, Dominique Manotti, Conor Fitzgerald

Gerald Seymour’s Vagabond (Hodder & Stoughton, €20.85) opens in contemporary Northern Ireland, with MI5 shadowing a dissident Republican group trying to buy weapons from a Russian arms dealer. In France, the former British Army intelligence agent-handler Danny Curnow – call sign ‘Vagabond’ – is now employed driving tourists around the historical sites of the Normandy Landings. When Malachy Riordan leaves Tyrone for Prague in the company of double agent Ralph Exton, Danny gets the call he has dreaded for two decades: come in from the cold, there’s dirty work to be done. Seymour’s multi-stranded narrative of dark deeds and black ops is fuelled by an exhilaratingly bleak cynicism. Here the ambitiously self-serving prosper, and the traditionally noble virtues of loyalty, friendship and patriotism are so many exploitable weaknesses. The pace is funereal and the tone elegiac as the story draws together a number of strands of recent history, with ‘Desperate’ Dan Curnow at the heart of the tale and emblematic of the novel’s overall thrust in his beguiling blend of pragmatism, brutality and unswerving faith in the notion of sacrifice on behalf of the greater good. Seymour, who debuted with Harry’s Game in 1975 (this is his 30th novel in total), tends to be overshadowed by John le Carré as one of the great British post-Cold War novelists, but Vagabond confirms that he deserves to be seated at the top table.
  Louise Phillips’s The Doll’s House, her second novel, won the crime fiction award at the Irish Book Awards in 2013. Last Kiss (Hachette Books Ireland, €14.99) is Phillips’ third novel to feature Dr Kate Pearson, a Dublin-based criminal psychologist who assists the Gardai in investigating their more perplexing murders. Here Dr Pearson attends a bizarre murder scene, in which the male victim is discovered laid out in what appears to be a homage to Tarot card scenario. By then the reader has already met the killer, an unnamed character who offers a first-person insight into her motives. It’s an unusual and deliberately unsettling narrative gambit, as the first-person voice affords the killer a chilling intimacy (“I kill people,” she states in the opening chapter) that somewhat distances the reader from Dr Pearson’s third-person account, and the truth and justice she pursues. Nevertheless, the blend of first- and third-person narratives gives the story tremendous pace as Dr Pearson is dispatched to Paris and Rome in the company of DI Adam O’Connor, their personal and professional lives overlapping as they try to build a profile of the killer from her previous murders. The recurring Tarot card motif and references to archetypal European folktales serve notice that Phillips is engaged in exploring the dark matter of damaged sexual identity, and while the third act veers off into potboiler territory, the abiding impression is of the empathy Phillips evokes on behalf of her anti-heroine, who is as fragile as she is lethal.
  The fifth of French author Dominique Manotti’s novels to be translated into English, Escape (Arcadia Books, €11.99) opens in 1987 with a prison break in Italy. Filippo, a petty criminal, and Carlo, a former leader in the Red Brigades, immediately go their separate ways; but when Carlo is subsequently shot to death during a bank raid, Filippo makes his way to Paris, claims refugee status, and writes a novel about his experience. The book’s blend of fact and fiction makes it a literary sensation in France, where Lisa, an expatriate Italian journalist, and Carlo’s former lover, realises that Carlo’s death was a murder designed to cover up political corruption. “People don’t do politics any more in Italy, they do business, it’s the grand ball of the corruptors and the corrupt,” Lisa tells one of her friends, which gives a flavour of the bracing cynicism that underpins Escape. Translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz, and rooted in the radical Italian politics of the 1960s and 1970s, it’s an unconventional tale more concerned with the unintended consequences of writing a political crime novel than pandering to the genre’s traditional pursuit of justice. Indeed, there may well be an autobiographical aspect to the character of Lisa, as Manotti – who was herself a union activist during the 1960s – charts Lisa’s growing awareness that fiction rather than fact may prove the more effective long-term strategy in ‘the battle to salvage our past’.
  Rome-based police detective Commissario Alec Blume returns for his fifth outing in Conor Fitzgerald’s Bitter Remedy (Bloomsbury, €13.99), although it’s a rather offbeat police procedural, given that Blume – recently a father, and apparently suffering something of a nervous breakdown as a result – is taking a sabbatical in a picturesque mountaintop village in order to study herbal remedies. Approached by a local nightclub owner, Niki, to investigate the whereabouts of one of his employees, the missing Romanian dancer Alina, Blume reluctantly agrees, and finds himself dragged into the sordid world of people-trafficking. The American-born Blume has an outsider’s eye for the quirky detail in Italian culture (and particularly its policing), which is given an added dimension here with Blume out of his jurisdiction and the comfort zone of his beloved Rome. There’s an element of the old-fashioned ‘Golden Age’ mystery investigation at play here, with Blume something of an amateur sleuth bumbling his way around a picture-postcard setting, trying to lay to rest some of his own ghosts even as he excavates some long-buried skeletons. As always, the incorruptible Blume’s attempts to locate the truth is given a blackly comic sheen courtesy of the detective’s spiky, morose personality – the deadpan dialogue is often hilariously abstruse – but the comedy is invariably contrasted with the brutality of the crime being investigated, via the missing Alina’s parallel narrative, which details the harrowing experience of being trafficked into prostitution.

  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Publication: BOOKS TO DIE FOR, ed. John Connolly and Declan Burke

I’m delighted to say that BOOKS TO DIE FOR, originally published in 2012, will be reissued in trade paperback by its UK publishers, Hodder & Stoughton, on September 25th. Quoth the blurb elves:
Winner of the 2013 Agatha, Anthony and the Macavity Awards for Best Crime Non-Fiction.

The world’s greatest mystery writers on the world’s greatest mystery novels.

With so many mystery novels to choose from and so many new titles appearing each year, where should the reader start? What are the classics of the genre? Which are the hidden gems?

In the most ambitious anthology of its kind yet attempted, the world’s leading mystery writers have come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that often reveal as much about themselves and their work work as they do about the books that they love, more than 120 authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Christie to Child and Poe to PD James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlowe to Peter Wimsey, BOOKS TO DIE FOR brings together the cream of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought . . . I want more!
  For more on BOOKS TO DIE FOR, clickety-click here

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French

The same again, runs the advice when it comes to writing a series of commercial bestsellers, just a little different.
  Tana French’s debut novel, In the Woods (2007), won the Edgar, Macavity, Barry and Anthony awards in the United States. An elegantly written police procedural, it has served as a template for her body of work to date. The Likeness (2008), Faithful Place (2010) and Broken Harbour (2012) – the latter won the Irish Book Crime Fiction and the LA Times’ Mystery/Thriller awards – have all featured murder investigations rooted in the warped psychology of small, intensely bonded groups.
  Tana French, of course, gives the ‘just a little different’ advice a unique spin. Rather than a familiar protagonist or detective returning each time, French promotes a minor character from a previous novel to centre-stage. In The Secret Place (Hachette), our narrator is Detective Stephen Moran, whom we first met in Faithful Place as the ambitious young sidekick to the investigating detective, Frank Mackey.
  Now stuck working in Cold Cases, Stephen sees an opportunity for advancement when Holly Mackey, Frank’s daughter, comes to him with a chilling message. A boarder at the exclusive St. Kilda’s, Holly brings Stephen a note she discovered pinned to ‘the Secret Place’, a noticeboard at St. Kilda’s where pupils can anonymously post their thoughts, desires and frustrations. ‘I know who killed him’ says the note: the ‘him’ is Christopher Harper, a popular 16-year-old from nearby St. Colm’s school, who was murdered almost a year previously.
  Taking the note to Detective Antoinette Conway in Murder, Stephen inveigles his way into the investigation – a relatively easy thing to do, given that none of Conway’s colleagues want to work with her – and the pair set off to St. Kilda’s to interview the girls who might have posted the note.
  What follows is a very long day’s journey into night. The story unfolds over the course of an increasingly fraught and tense twelve or so hours, with Stephen’s first-person narration of contemporary developments broken up by third-person accounts from Holly and her friends – Selena, Rebecca and Julia – that recount significant events in the year leading up to the murder of Chris Harper.
  It’s a gripping tale on a number of levels, all of them concerned with the psychology of relationships. Stephen and Conway start out at loggerheads, each suspicious of the other’s motives – Conway has been tainted by her involvement in the initial murder investigation, which yielded nothing but a conviction for possession with intent to sell for one of the St. Kilda’s gardeners – but soon realise that they will need to join forces if they are to penetrate the protective shield thrown up by the fiercely protective teenage girls. The combative odd couple detectives who belatedly and begrudgingly come to respect one another is a standard trope in the crime genre, but what causes most friction between this pair is their shared rough-and-tumble upbringing on hard-knock council estates on Dublin’s Northside, an experience a long way removed from the wealthy privilege of St. Kilda’s and its leafy environs.
  Where the story really scores, however, is the way in which French gets under the skin of her teenage characters. Holly, Julia et al start off as a relatively normal group of friends but quickly draw much closer, and possibly become dangerous to themselves and others (other pupils describe the quartet as witches) as their shared experiences wind so tightly around them as to bind them into a single personality. Feeling their way blind through adolescence, bewildered by the expectations – and particularly those of a sexual nature – of the big, bad world beyond the school walls, crazed by hormones and concerned only for the here and now, Holly and her friends become much more than the sum of their parts as their collective energy seeks an outlet. In its vivid account of the crackling intensity of adolescence, The Secret Place brings to mind recent novels from Megan Abbott and Kevin Power’s Bad Day in Blackrock, but also, as the title might well be alluding to, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
  As always, French offers a sharp contrast between her narrative prose and her characters’ dialogue. Seen through the eyes of Stephen, who regrets not having similar educational opportunities, St. Kilda’s is rendered a fabulous and almost mythical kind of oasis. When Conway, as the pair first arrive at the school, pours scorn on its aspirational ethos, Stephen silently admires ‘[a] portico held up by slim curl-topped columns; a rooftop balustrade, pillars curved delicate as vases. Perfect, it was … every inch.’
  That fragile beauty is rather undermined the way the girls speak, their conversations delivered in the mid-Atlantic ‘OMG whatevs’ hybrid that is, to French’s credit, at times irritatingly pitch-perfect. Meanwhile, the back-and-forth between Conway and Stephen is harshly abrasive, although privately Stephen craves the finer things, a different kind of world than the one he lives in: ‘I love beautiful; always have. I never saw why I should hate what I wish I had. Love it harder. Work your way closer. Clasp your hands around it tighter. Till you find a way to make it yours.’
  It’s a philosophy, offered early in the story, that drops a broad hint about the motive for murder, which may well appear slight to some readers. By then, however, French has so embroiled the reader in the claustrophobically febrile world of her adolescent characters that hard-headed adult logic no longer applies – and besides, a motive for murder only ever needs to make sense to the killer. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Friday, September 12, 2014

News: Andrea Carter To Debut With WHITEWATER CHURCH

Hearty congrats to Andrea Carter, who will publish her debut novel WHITEWATER CHURCH (Constable) next year. Quoth the Bookseller:
Krystyna Green at Constable has acquired world English language rights in WHITEWATER CHURCH by Andrea Carter (right) in a two book deal from Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates.
  WHITEWATER CHURCH is the first of a crime series set in a small town in the beautiful and remote Inishowen Peninsula in Ireland. When a skeleton wrapped in a blanket is found in the secret crypt of a deconsecrated church, local solicitor Ben (Benedicta) O’Keeffe finds herself drawn into the dark secrets of a rural community, as she negotiates between the official investigation and obstructive locals to uncover the truth of what happened.
  Krystyna Green said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be taking Andrea on, especially at this exciting time for the Constable list. As well as publishing our more traditional titles it’s marvellous too we can devote time and energy to pushing forward debut authors with a long and thrilling future ahead of them.”
  Andrea Carter is a barrister living in Dublin. She lived and worked in the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal as a solicitor for a number of years. WHITEWATER CHURCH was one of the winners of the 2013 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair and received an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary Award. Constable will publish in Autumn 2015.
  For more on Andrea Carter, clickety-click here

Monday, September 8, 2014

News: Irish Crime Writing at Mountains To Sea

The Mountains to Sea literary festival takes place this year from Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th of September, and as always it’s something of a smorgasbord. I’m delighted to see that there’s a very strong Irish crime writing presence lined up, three of whom are debutants.
  Lee Child , interviewed by the inimitable Declan Hughes, leads the charge. Lee, who claims his Irishness under a variation on FIFA’s ‘grandparent rule’, will also have a short story in the BELFAST NOIR (Akashic Books) anthology later this year. Elsewhere, the line-up includes Sinead Crowley (CAN ANYBODY HELP ME?), Karen Perry (THE BOY THAT NEVER WAS), Liz Nugent (UNRAVELLING OLIVER) and Jane Casey (THE KILL). In addition to her appearance at the festival, Jane Casey will also host a writing workshop.
  For all the details on the Mountains to Sea programme, and how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Sunday, September 7, 2014

News: Adrian McKinty Wins Australian ‘Ned Kelly’ Award

Hearty congratulations to Adrian McKinty (right), who yesterday won the Australian ‘Ned Kelly’ award for Best Australian Crime Fiction for IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (Serpent’s Tail). The prize was awarded at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Quoth the judges:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
  For more, clickety-click on Adrian’s blog.
  For an interview published on the release of IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE, clickety-click here

Friday, August 29, 2014

Interview: Herman Koch, author of SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL

“I actually find it difficult to write about likeable characters,” says Dutch author Herman Koch, “because really, they can be quite boring.”
  Herman Koch is the author of The Dinner, the phenomenal international best-seller which was first translated into English in 2012. A novel that begins with pleasant, sophisticated adults sitting around a restaurant dinner-table, it gradually strips away the veneer of its characters’ civilised society to reveal nasty and brutish behaviour.
  “Unlikeable characters,” says Herman, “are generally more interesting and more colourful. It’s the reason, I think, why we like gangster movies, or The Sopranos, for example. These people might be murderers, but they’re interesting. We can even sympathise with them in some ways. So that’s the kind of thing I like to explore. I always have some likeable people in my books,” he laughs, “but they’re usually minor characters.”
  His seventh novel in total – he has also published seven collections of short stories – Summer House With Swimming Pool is Herman Koch’s follow-up to The Dinner, and has for its narrator another fascinatingly dislikeable character, Marc Schlosser. A doctor – a general practitioner – for the past 25 years, Marc has grown so bored with his patients’ complaints that he is now utterly indifferent to their pain and suffering.
  “He’s doing very routine work,” says Herman, “not like what a surgeon might do. And I think the status of the doctor in general has diminished a lot in the last 150 or 200 years, and Marc is having problems with that as well, having patients who are well-known, artistic people – actors, writers – who look down on him. So he feels like somebody who is just being used, and this is where his frustration comes from. And with frustration, in the end – not with everybody, but with Marc – comes disgust.”
  Compounding Marc’s disgust for his own and others’ failings is his contempt for humans who try to ignore their animal instincts.
  “I was thinking that we tend, sometimes, when we have our struggles and movements, our campaigns for equal rights for everybody, we forget our biological aspect, and that even the biological aspect now is sometimes a taboo, that it is not politically correct,” says Herman. “In the end, human beings differ from animals because the animal just thinks, ‘Well, now I have to eat, now I have to procreate.’ Or they’re not even conscious that they’re procreating. We as humans are conscious of that, certainly. But maybe in the way we look at each other, in the way a man looks at a woman, it can still be an animal-like look.”
  The story turns, however, not on animal instincts, but a very human sexual deviance, as Marc comes to realise that his 13-year-old daughter Julia is the focus of an adult male’s obsession.
  “When I started the book, I didn’t know how the story would end,” says Herman. “But while I was writing it, Roman Polanski got arrested again, for this case from the 1970s.” In 1977, film director Roman Polanski was arrested in California for the rape of a 13-year-old girl, and subsequently pled guilty to a charge of unlawful sex with a minor. “That’s why I put this film director [the Dutch-born Hollywood director Stanley Forbes] into the novel,” says Herman, “and why his girlfriend is called Emmanuelle, like the wife of Roman Polanski. I thought I would expose all the different facets of a story about a 13-year-old girl who in the eyes of her father is still a small girl, and a 13-year-old girl who herself thinks she is already a woman. It’s to do with a father whose girl is growing up, and what he might do to try to protect her.”
  As was the case with The Dinner, Summer House With Swimming Pool first offers the reader a cast of characters who appear to be sophisticated, tolerant and intelligent. Once Marc Schlosser begins scratching at the surface, however, glimpses of much cruder, illiberal and immoral characters quickly appear. It’s a snapshot, says Herman, of a far larger issue confronting Holland today.
  “I think that what I see sometimes in the Dutch is that they congratulate themselves – or they were congratulating themselves – about their tolerance. You know, we’re so tolerant because we accept people from every part of the world. But there’s also another side to that. The idea of tolerance, I think, comes out of feeling superior. What I feel is that you don’t have the right to say, ‘I tolerate this man from Africa or the Middle East.’ Because why should you? Is he tolerating you? The only way you are superior to this man is in numbers. You can say, ‘Oh, I will tolerate this other guy or this woman, but of course the culture is very primitive. But we can help.’ And then this whole ‘helping’ thing – sometimes an immigrant is not looking for help. He’s just looking for some kind of respect.
  “Lately, in Holland, with all the discussions of culture and religion, it suddenly came out that the Dutch are now voting for this right-wing, anti-foreigner party,” he continues. “The Dutch are saying, ‘Oh, we did all we could, and they’re not even grateful. So now we will tear off this mask of tolerance.’ But I think, deep inside, they were never that liberal at all.”
  In some ways, Herman Koch’s journey as a writer has been the reverse of the Dutch experience. Initially intolerant of all forms of authority, he has grown comfortable with becoming a figure of influence.
  “When you start as a writer, you start as a more rebellious person, more against teachers and adults, your family,” he says. “And then afterwards you become a father yourself, you have your own family, so your perspective changes a lot. You’re no longer this adolescent revolutionary,” he laughs. “You’re more trying to protect what you have. I knew I had to grow up, and as a writer use this experience of being an adult with my own family.”
  A film of The Dinner has already been made in Holland, with a Hollywood version to come starring Cate Blanchett, although Herman – previously an actor and screenwriter himself – has chosen not to be involved in the adaptation. “I think it’s better that the director is completely free to tell the story,” he says.
  Does he have a theory as to why The Dinner was such a tremendous international success?
  “Of course I’ve asked myself that question, because you can have a success in your own country – but then, just because it’s a success in your own country, can it hold the attention of people in other countries?” He shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s a combination of things. Certainly The Dinner touched some sore spot to do with protecting children, but I also think it has to do with going against political correctness. People might say, ‘I’m not allowed to say this aloud, but I can think it at least.’ And when they read that kind of thing, it confirms that there is somebody who also thinks it – maybe the hero, maybe the writer – and that the thought isn’t forbidden. And that might also be a cathartic thing, a liberating experience.” ~ Declan Burke

  Herman Koch’s Summer House With Swimming Pool is published by Atlantic Books.

  This interview was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pre-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 will be published in November. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, August 25, 2014

Publication: THE LAST WITNESS by Glenn Meade

Rooted in the horrific crimes committed during the fall of Yugoslavia, THE LAST WITNESS (Howard Books) is the latest offering from Irish author Glenn Meade. To wit:
After a massacre at a Bosnian prison camp, a young girl is found alone, clutching a diary, so traumatized she can’t even speak. Twenty years later, the last witness to the prison guards’ brutal crimes must hunt down those responsible to learn what happened to her family.
  Twenty years ago, after the fall of Yugoslavia, the world watched in horror as tens of thousands were killed or imprisoned in work camps during an “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia. Carla Lane has little knowledge of what went on halfway around the world when she was a child. She is living a near perfect life in New York City, married and soon to have a family of her own. But when her husband is murdered by a group of Serbian war criminals, strange memories start coming back, and she discovers that she underwent extensive therapy as a girl to suppress her memories. She is given her mother’s diary, which unlocks her childhood memories and reveals that she was, along with her parents and young brother, imprisoned in a war camp outside Sarajevo.
  As her memories come back, it becomes clear that she is the last witness to a brutal massacre in the prison and that her brother may still be alive. She sets out to find her brother, but first she must hunt down the war criminals responsible for destroying her life. But these killers will stop at nothing to protect their anonymity and their deadly pasts ... and are determined to silence the last witness to their crimes.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Publication: THE DEAD PASS by Colin Bateman

It’s with some relief that we note The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman – i.e., Bateman – has been reunited with his first name. For lo! The new Bateman novel, THE DEAD PASS (Hachette), appears under the moniker ‘Colin Bateman’. Better still, it’s a new Dan Starkey story. To wit:
Hired to find the missing son of retired political activist Moira Doherty, Dan Starkey knows his new case is going to be challenging. Billy ‘the Bear’ Doherty isn’t an easy man to find - a criminal with a nasty drug habit, his mum is convinced he’s been murdered.
  But when Moira herself is killed, her body found floating in the waters under Londonderry’s Peace Bridge, Dan finds himself in the middle of a deadly game of cat and mouse.
  Already in unfamiliar territory, Starkey is quickly embroiled in the city’s porn and drug fuelled underworld, where a new generation of gangster terrorist is intent on creating mayhem their predecessors could only dream of ...
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Publication: ECHOBEAT by Joe Joyce

Joe Joyce’s ECHOLAND introduced us to Paul Duggan, an Irish army intelligence officer operating in Dublin during ‘the Emergency’ – known to the rest of the world as WWII – in 1940. ECHOBEAT (Liberties Press) is the sequel:
Christmas, 1940. France is under German control, Britain is in danger and the United States has yet to join the war. Ireland, meanwhile, has succeeded in staying neutral – so far. Reports of a British troop buildup in the North have raised fears that Ireland is facing an invasion by its neighbour. And Germany’s bombing of Dublin early in the new year suggests Berlin is trying to send a message, but the meaning is unclear. Paul Duggan and his colleagues in G2, the intelligence unit of the Irish army, have to decipher Germany’s intentions fast: any miscalculation could be fatal. One man who could answer their questions is Hermann Goertz, the chief German spy in Ireland, who has been on the run for almost a year. Finding him is imperative. Meanwhile, Duggan is also running an undercover operation spying on German fliers interned in Ireland when they’re out on parole. Planned as a routine operation, it turns out to be anything but – and changes Duggan’s life dramatically. Dublin shines through Joyce’s prose as his characters play a diplomatic chess game to keep Ireland out of the war. You won’t be able to put down this thriller until you reach its heart-wrenching finale. Echobeat is the second book in the Echoland series, which features Duggan, his Special Branch friend Peter Gifford, and a cast of political and intelligence operators in Ireland during the treacherous days of the Second World War.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

News: Adrian McKinty Shortlisted for 2014 Ned Kelly Awards

Hearty congrats to Adrian McKinty, the Australia-based Irish crime writer who has been nominated for the 2014 Ned Kelly Awards – Australia’s crime fiction gong – for IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (Serpent’s Tail). It’s the second time McKinty has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly; he was shortlisted last year for the second in the Sean Duffy series, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET. Quoth the judging panel:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
  For more, including the full list of nominees, clickety-click here