Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris. Never been topped.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett or Travis McGee from the great crime series by John D. MacDonald.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Most satisfying writing moment?
When you only have forty minutes to write, but three clean pages come rolling out.
If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST by Stuart Neville. Such a great concept, and beautifully executed.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
IN THE WOODS by Tana French.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is that you have no one to gossip to all day. Best is freedom.
The pitch for your next book is …?
Abbie Kearney hunts down an escaped serial killer as he takes up where he left off.
Who are you reading right now?
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. Masterpiece.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Please don’t ask me that. Jesus. Read.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Clean and vivid.
Stephan Talty’s BLACK IRISH is published by Headline.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Thursday, February 21, 2013
I’m currently reading Mark O’Sullivan’s CROCODILE TEARS (Transworld Ireland) and hugely enjoying the company of Detective Inspector Leo Woods, who is, to put it mildly, no great respecter of reputations. To wit:
Bloody psychiatrists, Leo thought, useless bastards with their talk of drives and complexes dreamed up by that coke-head fiend Freud. Everything was about sex with those clowns. Except sex. Which was about death.Leo Woods is a bleakly, blackly funny character, and has good reason to be, but Mark O’Sullivan has a tasty way with a turn of phrase too:
She felt as though she’d stepped into some ancient mythological world where gods ripped living things to pieces, feasted on them, tossed the bloodied bones aside and returned to their sky, staining it red with dawn. She looked at the distant horizon, barbaric in its roseate beauty.CROCODILE TEARS will be published in April. If there’s a better Irish crime fiction debut published this year, I’ll be very pleasantly surprised.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I was very impressed with Kevin McCarthy’s debut, PEELER, a historical crime fiction novel set during the Irish War of Independence. It featured the RIC’s Sean O’Keefe, who returns in the novel’s sequel, IRREGULARS (New Island), which will be published later this year. To wit:
For my take on PEELERS, clickety-click here.
IRREGULARS is set during the Civil War in 1922 and deals with the search for the missing son of one of Monto’s most powerful brothel owners while Free State and Republican death squads stalk the streets and back lanes of Dublin. Sean O’Keefe, recently demobbed from the RIC, is hired to find the boy amid the tumult and terror of a country at war with itself.For updates, clickety-click on Kevin McCarthy’s blog.
For my take on PEELERS, clickety-click here.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
One day he receives a short manuscript from a writer who lives in the small Brazilian town of Frondosa and calls herself ‘Ariadne’. The manuscript details how Ariadne is trapped in a loveless marriage of her own, by a man who killed her ‘Secret Lover’. Once Ariadne has told her tale, she will commit suicide.
Excited by the concept, the editor asks to see more, and also requests a photograph of the author. More of the manuscript duly arrives, along with a photograph of a beautiful young woman.
Determined to rescue Ariadne from her fate, the editor conspires with his friends. One by one his friends are dispatched to Frondosa as undercover agents to find out what they can discover about Ariadne …
THE SPIES is chock-a-block with references to crime and mystery authors. The most explicit is John Le Carré, as the editor – who announces in the opening line that he is a literary graduate – quotes Le Carré on a number of occasions as he puts into play his ‘Operation Theseus’.
Other crime fiction authors mentioned included Simenon and Chandler, while there are also more oblique references to Edgar Allan Poe.
One crime / mystery author not mentioned explicitly in THE SPIES, oddly enough, is Ian Fleming. This is odd because Fleming’s very first James Bond novel, DR NO, is a modern retelling of the ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ story, relocated to the Caribbean and given a spy novel flavouring.
Having said all that, while Verissimo appears to be quite genuine in his appreciation of the crime and mystery authors mentioned, the book as a whole plays out as a farce. Which is to say, there is definitely homage being paid to individual writers, but THE SPIES reads like a loving spoof of the crime novel.
Overall, the tone of the novel is one of absurd comedy. It opens with the line, “I’m a literature graduate and I drink heavily,” as if one necessarily prompted the other; and that quality of dark humour continues throughout.
The high seriousness with which the editor treats his quest is also quite funny, not least because he refuses to be swayed by any facts. For example, he believes in the beginning that ‘Ariadne’ is a pseudonym taken from Greek mythology, and that the manuscript he has been sent is a piece of string designed to guide him to her through the labyrinth. When it becomes clear that Ariadne is in fact the woman’s real name, he is not at all deterred; he simply recalibrates his quest, decides that it must be fate that her real name is Ariadne, and presses on regardless.
Meanwhile, as the editor – ‘a literature graduate’, no less – is tying himself up in knots over imagined Greek mythology references, the more astute reader will be aware that Ariadne is in fact plagiarising one of the most famous pieces of literature of the 20th century.
It’s reasonable to ask why Verissimo is engaged in this kind of literary cross-pollination, and as far as I can make out, he’s making the double point that literary authors shouldn’t take themselves as seriously as they do, while non-literary authors – or genre authors – should be taken a bit more seriously than they are. Having said that, it’s notable that Verissimo tends to quote and / or reference crime and mystery authors who are regarded as among the finest of their kind – Chandler, Simenon, Le Carré. There are no references here to James Patterson, for example.
In terms of narrative playfulness, Verissimo is also engaged in folding the story back on itself. The editor consciously takes on the part of a fictional creation when he decides to become a spymaster investigating Ariadne; he looks to works of fiction for his inspiration when devising his plans. Here he appears to be asking the readers to decide for themselves as to what is real and what isn’t when it comes to reading fiction, a gambit he makes explicit on page 69:
“If anything should happen to you, who should I contact?”In a sense, Verissimo is here challenging the reader as to how much he or she cares about the characters. If it’s ‘all just a fiction’, why should we care about the characters we encounter in books?
“What could possibly happen to me?” And he added, when he was already halfway out the door, “Isn’t this all just a fiction?”
I hugely enjoyed THE SPIES. At 169 pages it lacks the full impact of a novel, and dedicated fans of the crime / mystery spy thriller may feel cheated by the fact that Verissimo is playing with the conventions of the spy novel rather than writing a straightforward novel. For readers who enjoy a wider range of reading, however, THE SPIES is a real joy. Blending conventions from genre fiction, literary fiction, meta-fiction and Greek mythology, it’s a wonderfully funny commentary on the novel itself, as well as an entertaining tale about the dysfunctional nature of the creative process. – Declan Burke
THE SPIES by Luis Fernando Verissimo is published by Picador.