“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.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Frags To Riches

We interrupt our regular coverage of Irish crime writing to bring you a review of Dave Lordan’s FIRST BOOK OF FRAGS, in part because said Dave Lordan was the man who, live on radio, once described ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL as ‘the Blazing Saddles of crime fiction’. For which I will always be grateful.
  Anyway, on with the FRAGS:
“First Book of Frags is a gallery of cosmic and psychic perversion and violence. Punctuated by moments of intense, incandescent writing, it gives us a marriage of heaven and hell, good and evil, repressive force and hopeless sex. Whether it shows us the success of suicide towns, the unrecorded victims of the Titanic, revolutions in housing estates, cornerboys, destructors, accomplices, violent fire bombings, stew and shit stirrers, animals and porn stars, writers under attack, the people who live permanently in Swedish-based furniture stores, or women speaking to the dead, it is always, allegorically and literally, concerned with an Ireland, a Europe, and a humanity which has lost its way and wandered into nightmare dead ends only partially of its own making. The contemporary resonances of these strange and brief short stories, with their weird and uncanny narrators, equals the political bite of Lordan’s best poetry.” -- Graham Allen.
  For more in the same vein, clickety-click here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Claire For Take-Off

I had a review of Claire McGowan’s THE LOST (Headline) published in the Irish Times last weekend, as part of a crime / mystery column, although I can’t seem to find the link. A pity, that. Anyway, the review ran a lot like this:
Religion and sex collide in The Lost by Claire McGowan (Headline, pb, €19.99), her second novel after 2012’s debut The Fall and the first of a series to feature forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. Opening in London, where the Northern Ireland-born Paula scores a notable success in locating a missing girl, the story moves to Ballyterrin in Northern Ireland, a small Border town that strongly resembles McGowan’s native Newry. Seconded to a newly formed Missing Persons unit, Paula is charged with discovering the whereabouts of two teenagers who have recently disappeared, and her investigation – very little of it officially sanctioned – leads her to suspect that the disappearances may be linked to similar, unsolved cases dating from 1985. In a different setting, The Lost might well have been a straightforward tale of abduction and serial killing, but the Northern Ireland backdrop offers sub-plots incorporating sectarian bigotry, religious and political fundamentalism, and a heavy-handed sexual repression that manifests itself in a number of ugly ways. Not all of the plot strands are resolved in a plausible fashion by the conclusion of the breathless climax, but McGowan’s pacy, direct style ensures that the twists come thick and fast. As for Paula Maguire, she makes for a satisfyingly complex heroine, a quietly determined professional determined to prove herself on her home turf but privately as vulnerable as any of the young women she seeks to find, and her investigation into ‘Ballyterrin’s’ recent history, and her own tortured past, should prove fascinating as the series evolves. – Declan Burke
  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Laurence O’Bryan

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 RAGE by Gene Kerrigan is the most recent novel that I would have liked to have written. It is a modern classic. What I admire most about it is the way Gene makes you want to read on from the first page. He does this by creating interesting characters and situations, which aren't explained, which you must read on to find out about. And on. And on. Gene created an unpredictable plot with an interesting, well crafted setup and an unexpected ending. I like to read pages from this just to freshen up my style every now and again.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
I would like to be Mickey Haller from THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly. Mickey is a seasoned LA trial lawyer. He knows the best and the worst of what Los Angeles is all about. Mickey is a good guy who has been through the mill, backwards and forwards. And he lives to tell the tale.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I am reading FATHERLAND by Robert Harris at the moment and enjoying it. And whenever a new Egyptian-based Wilbur Smith novel comes out I will be first in the queue.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing a novel is a great moment. It has a touch of nostalgia about it, as a chapter in your life closes, but it also has a deep sense of accomplishment to it. I spent three weeks on an edit, seven days a week, recently for THE MANHATTAN PUZZLE, and the moment that finished I felt good, Tired and exhausted and good.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
Aside from THE RAGE, I would recommend EVERY DEAD THING by John Connolly. This breakthrough novel led the way for many to follow. John’s masterpiece is intriguing, novel and gripping. If you missed it, get a copy and try it out.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I’d like to see EVERY DEAD THING made into a movie. I think it would do well and I think the macabre and spectral elements would come across exceptionally well on the big screen.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is people telling you how much they like your writing. The worst thing is the uncertainty about what the future holds. You never know, no matter how well things are going what will happen next. It’s a big dipper ride without a safety bar.

The pitch for your next book is …?
My next novel, THE MANHATTAN PUZZLE, will be out on October 10th 2013. Here is a draft of the blurb:

When Isabel wakes to find Sean Ryan hasn’t come home she doesn’t worry. At first. But when the police turn up on her doorstep wanting to interview him, she has to make a decision. Does she keep faith in him or does she believe the evidence? The symbol Sean and Isabel have been chasing will finally be revealed in Manhattan, as one of the greatest banks in the world faces extinction. Can Isabel uncover the truth before time runs out … or will she too be murdered? A thrilling, high-octane race that will engross fans of Dan Brown, David Baldacci and James Patterson.

Who are you reading right now?
Robert Harris’s FATHERLAND, and Ken Bruen’s THE MAGDALENE MARTYRS.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. I need to write. I need to create. And then I’d ask him, who killed the chauffeur in THE BIG SLEEP [by Raymond Chandler]. If anyone knows, it’ll be him, or her, depending on your point of view.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Driving, entertaining, mysterious (I hope!)

Laurence O’Bryan’s current novel is THE JERUSALEM PUZZLE.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stranded: French, Quinn Shortlisted For Strand’s Critics Awards

Hearty congratulations to Tana French and Anthony Quinn, the Irish writers who picked up nominations in the Strand’s Critics Awards for Best Novel and Best Debut Novel, respectively. The shortlists were announced yesterday, with the gist of the press release looking like this:

Recognizing excellence in the field of mystery fiction, the Critics Awards were judged by a select group of book critics and journalists, from news venues such as The Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Sun Times, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, The Guardian, and several other daily papers.

Best Novel
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam)
Broken Harbour by Tana French (Viking)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte Press)
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow)

Best Debut Novel
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)
The Yard by Alex Grecian (Putnam)
The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown)
Disappeared by Anthony Quinn (Mysterious Press/Open Road)
The 500 by Matthew Quirk (Hachette)

  Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, of course, won the Crime Fiction gong at last year’s Irish Book Awards, and will very probably turn up on quite a few shortlists this year. On the other hand, Anthony Quinn’s DISAPPEARED hasn’t popped up on many radars on this side of the pond, which makes his nomination all the more impressive. The very best of luck to both writers when the winners are announced – at a cocktail party, no less – on July 9th.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bubbling Up Again: Patrick McGinley’s COLD SPRING

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that New Island was republishing Patrick McGinley’s Irish crime fiction classic BOGMAIL, and terrific news it was too. But lo! There’s more! Later this month New Island will publish a new title from McGinley, called (prophetically enough for Ireland in 2013) COLD SPRING, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
“He got down on his hands and knees and reached in under the bed where he kept his toolbox. Careful not to make a sound, he searched desperately for a weapon of defence. Then the bedroom door creaked behind him and he knew he was no longer alone in the room …”
  When one of the few remaining villagers in Leaca is murdered, suspicion falls on the one resident Englishman and outsider, Nick Ambrose.
  As tensions rise and old forms of law threaten to impose summary justice, the easy and rich fabric of life that has sustained the town for so many years unravels and tears with shocking results.
  Set in rural western Ireland in 1948, McGinley’s novel is a gripping and powerful exploration of community, violence and Irish ways.
  For more, clickety-click here

Monday, March 18, 2013

Northern Lights

Colin Bateman and Eoin McNamee were two of the notable exceptions, but for many years Northern Ireland crime novelists steered clear of writing about ‘the Troubles’. Now a new generation of crime writers has begun to engage with that historical period and its violence, among them Claire McGowan, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway and Anthony Quinn. I had a feature on the subject published in the Irish Examiner last Saturday, which opened up like this:

“The riot had taken on a beauty of its own,” begins Adrian McKinty’s novel The Cold Cold Ground, outlining in those few spare words why so many Northern Irish authors have recently turned to writing about the Troubles.
  Published in 2011, the novel was the first of a new series by McKinty, which features a Catholic RUC policeman operating in Belfast in 1981. As the terrible beauty of the opening page’s chaos gives way to the violence surrounding the hunger strikes, and the story broadens out to detail the province-wide paranoia and social unrest, the bombings and the murders, you start to wonder why it has taken so long for Northern Irish crime writers to embrace the Troubles as a setting.
  “I think, ultimately, crime fiction works best as a vicarious experience of crime, with the sense that there will be justice in some form,” says Derry-born author Brian McGilloway. “For many years there was no need to experience it vicariously, as it was happening for real. More than that, though, the idea of justice was a ridiculous one when it so clearly wasn’t happening in real life.”
  McGilloway writes a series of detective novels featuring Inspector Ben Devlin, a Donegal-based Garda who liaises with his counterpart across the border in the PSNI. While the novels have always dealt with post-Troubles scenarios, last year’s offering, The Nameless Dead, found Devlin resurrecting a case from the 1970s.
  Claire McGowan’s debut novel, The Fall (2012), was set in London. Her second offering, The Lost, is set in her native Newry, and concerns itself with a pair of missing girls, whose disappearance mirrors that of two girls who vanished in 1985.
  “I always think about something Ian Rankin said years ago,” she says, “that there was very little northern Irish crime fiction because the pain and violence was all too recent. We weren’t ready then to fictionalise it. I’d imagine people felt worried about engaging too directly with the powerful interests in society. It’s something I still worry about now.”
  Anthony Quinn, whose debut Disappeared was published last year, agrees. “During the Troubles many of us walked a tightrope with the IRA at one end and the British Army and Loyalist paramilitaries at the other. You had to be careful about what you said and wrote. Words could kill. If you said the wrong thing, you might never be seen again. The phrase ‘and whatever you say, say nothing’ was a mantra for survival.”
  McKinty, meanwhile, believes that an entire generation was so traumatised by the experience of the Troubles that it was shocked into silence.
  “No one wants to talk about it in these terms,” he says, “but it’s my belief that the whole of society in Northern Ireland is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A war that lasted 30 years and impacted every walk of life and is still rumbling away in the background is going to leave deep and painful scars.”
  There were crime novelists who explored the consequences of the conflict while the Troubles were ongoing – Colin Bateman and Eoin McNamee spring to mind, along with thriller writers such as Gerald Seymour and Jack Higgins – but in recent years a growing number of younger writers have begun to incorporate their experiences of growing up through the Troubles into their stories.
  “Now, I think, the Troubles can be considered with a degree of distance and can be explored with intelligence and insight rather than being exploited for sensationalist entertainment, which was the case with many of the Troubles books of that period,” suggests McGilloway. “I think that’s what made it off-limits for so long – the sense that you didn’t want to exploit real pain and suffering.”
  Time and distance has also allowed some writers to come to terms with the anomalies of living through what the Chinese proverb euphemistically describes as ‘interesting times’.
  “For my own part, Disappeared allowed me to shine a light upon some deep contradictions in my own experience of the Troubles,” says Quinn. “My family were held at gunpoint by the IRA and our car hijacked in a murder bid on a policeman. We suffered intimidation and abuse. For instance, we were given a bullet by the IRA which was destined for my father if he contacted the police before a certain time. We were cowed into silence. Writing the book allowed me the chance to break this silence as well as explore the contradictory sense of being terrorised by the IRA and at the same time protected and somehow energised by them.”
  Claire McGowan also sees fiction as a means of giving voice to her conflicted childhood.
  “It’s a way of dealing with the past, and showing the wider world how things were for us,” she says. “I was born in 1981 and grew up through some very bad years, and I always struggle to explain to non-Irish friends what it was really like, how frightened we often were as children.”
  “The conspiracy of silence about the Troubles is what attracted me to writing about it in the first place,” says McKinty. “If you’re a writer and you take your job seriously you should be exploring regions that no one wants you to go into. You should be diving deep into the fractures and seeing what it was that made people act that way.”
  It’s possible for writers to play their part in a kind of reconciliation process, argues McGowan, by acknowledging that contemporary Northern Ireland is a compelling setting, and embracing its potential rather than ignoring its past.
  “For me it’s the aspect of living in a post-conflict society, where appalling events are still so fresh in the mind,” she says, “but we’re all supposed to wipe the slate clean and live alongside the perpetrators. What’s most amazing is how many people are willing to do this for the sake of peace.”
  “Even now, post-ceasefire, Northern Ireland is still a place in turmoil, emotionally and politically, as the Union Jack protests demonstrate,” says Quinn. “Swift political changes and inverted values have driven former terrorists into power, and to have this as a backdrop adds great dramatic tension and resonance to your writing, especially when you set individuals on a personal struggle between good and bad.”
  McGilloway also believes the crime novel has an important part to play in the cultural future of Northern Ireland.
  “Fiction has always provided a way to reflect on the concerns of society, and to allow the writer to tease out various scenarios,” he says. “I think the distance that the Peace Process has provided has allowed that to happen much more successfully. There’s a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees when you’re in the centre of things.”
  For Anthony Quinn, writing about the Troubles also provides a perspective on the present that isn’t necessarily politically correct.
  “One of the consequences of breaking this silence and writing about the Troubles,” he says, “and in particular the post-ceasefire society of Northern Ireland, is that it exposes the cracks in the harmonious, peaceful new society dreamed of in the Good Friday Agreement. But I believe Irish readers are now better able to tolerate these flaws.
  “Our politicians lie and dissemble,” he adds, “and historical documents can be subjective and flawed, but at least fiction never pretends to be anything else.”
  For writers, and artists of every kind, there is the not inconsiderable challenge of overcoming the historic resistance to Troubles-set drama.
  “The Troubles are an unpopular topic,” acknowledges McKinty, “but the events of the Troubles are so dark and heroic and perverse and mundane that to me at least they’re almost irresistible. It’s true that my book sales are a tiny fraction of other writers who wisely steer clear of these messy waters but I do think this period needs to be looked at by poets and novelists and film makers. Eventually the public will come round to seeing that too.”

  This feature was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

O Fortuna: Eoin Colfer on THE BIG O

One of the less enjoyable aspects of publishing a new book – or releasing a previously published book in e-format, as is the case with THE BIG O – is asking for blurbs. Not least, of course, because you’re always conscious that you’re putting the writer you’re requesting a blurb from in a difficult position. There’s a decent chance they’ve never heard of you; or they’ve heard of you and think you’re a total plank; or they might like you personally, but not be a fan of your work; and that’s without factoring in that any well-known writer is (a) very busy with the business of being a well-known writer and (b) very probably fending off blurb requests on a daily basis.
  I’ve been very lucky when it comes to receiving blurbs, I have to say. The most recent example comes courtesy of Eoin Colfer, and runs like this:
“If Elmore Leonard met Jim Thompson down a dark alley at midnight they might emerge a week later with thick beards, bloodshot eyes and the manuscript for THE BIG O … raises the bar on its first page and keeps it there until the last word.” – Eoin Colfer
  As you can imagine, I am very pleased indeed with that.
  Okay, that’s the trumpet-blowing over with. Now the hard sell: THE BIG O is available for $4.99 / £4.99 at the links below, and if you have read the book, and feel moved to leave a review on those pages, I’d be very grateful indeed.
  Finally, a very happy St Patrick’s Day to you all. See you on the other side …
THE BIG O by Declan Burke (US)

THE BIG O by Declan Burke (UK)