“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, May 25, 2013

Review: PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: AN ADVENTURE by Artemis Cooper

If Artemis Cooper’s book was a novel rather than a biography, you’d never believe the story.
  Born in London in 1915, Patrick Leigh Fermor - Paddy to family and his legions of friends - was arguably the greatest travel writer working in the English language in the 20th century. Insatiably curious about other cultures, his ornately elegant writing style reflected his fascination with languages, and particularly their etymology. Fluent as a speaker and reader in eight languages, Fermor was a cultural magpie, delighting in the shiny, the rare and the unique.
  But Paddy Fermor was no donnish wordsmith. He was a decorated war hero for orchestrating the abduction of a German general from the island of Crete in 1944. He took part in the last cavalry charge to take place on the European mainland. A renowned ladies’ man, he had a prolonged affair with a Hungarian countess, and yet, craving solitude, was often to be found holed up in remote monasteries. He wrote a novel as well as his travel books, found himself the subject of a blood feud vendetta on Crete, swam the Bosphorus in his sixties as a homage to Lord Byron, and lived the life of the renaissance man to the full.
  When he died last year Paddy Fermor was mourned equally in England and Greece, although the most common reaction to the news of his death was, ‘Has he finished the third volume?’
  Born into a reasonably prosperous middleclass family, Paddy was expected to achieve a respectable education and become an engineer, lawyer or doctor. Instead the young boy found himself expelled from a number of schools, as his fizzing imagination and irrepressible spirit refused to conform to rules and regulations. A magnet for trouble, he was a sponge for poetry and literature, for history, geography and philosophy. At the age of 18, living a dissolute ‘miniature Rake’s Progress’ in London as he waited to join the army at Sandhurst, he was struck by a fantastic notion: he would walk across Europe, from England all the way to his beloved Greece.
  Setting out in December 1933, Fermor tramped across the continent against a backdrop of rising Fascism, walking through Holland and Germany, down through Hungary and Romania, and on through the Balkans to Constantinople. In the first book recounting his travels, A Time of Gifts (1977), Paddy tells how he would sleep in a hayrick one night, a castle the next, as he marched from Holland to Hungary. The second instalment, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), follows on as Paddy walks deep into the Balkans, and the third instalment - well, we wait still.
  Long before A Time of Gifts was published, however, Fermor had established himself as the pre-eminent travel writer of his generation, with his debut The Traveller’s Tree (1950) an insightful account of Caribbean cultures, and the twinned Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) both fabulous accounts of life in the Greek Peloponnese. His feeling for the Greek character was honed by his wartime experiences as a SOE operative, when he parachuted onto Crete and spent years behind German lines liaising with the local resistance groups, or andartes, an experience that culminated in the storied account of how Paddy led the abduction of General Kreipe in 1944, at the time a propaganda coup for the Allies. Dirk Bogarde played Paddy in the film made about the abduction, Ill Met By Moonlight (1957).
  Artemis Cooper is a family friend of Paddy Fermor, and knew him as a young girl. If the book reads in large parts as a breathless Boy’s Own adventure tale - indeed, it is subtitled ‘An Adventure’ - she can hardly be faulted, given the extent to which Fermor spent his life constantly in search of the next challenge, the next curiosity. By the same token, the book is more biography than it is hagiography. The fabled account of how Fermor took part in the last cavalry charge on European soil, for example, is here presented more as a story about how a precocious teenager took advantage of his gracious host while in Hungary, and stole a horse so that he could gallop along at the ragtag end of the charge. Fermor’s womanising is not glossed over, and neither are the consequences, particularly in terms of how it impacted on his long-suffering life partner, the Honourable Joan Rayner (there’s also an extensive quote from a funny but revolting letter from Fermor about the latest invasion of pubic lice).
  Cooper also digs into the legend of Fermor’s time on Crete, raising questions about the practicality of the famous abduction of General Kreipe, especially given the German penchant for ruthless reprisals against the Cretan population. She also details how Fermor wasn’t universally revered among the Cretans, due to the fact that he had accidentally shot and killed one of the andartes during the war. On a return visit long after the war, she writes, Paddy would be received with great celebration in a village, while those who maintained the blood vendetta waited beyond the village borders, guns cocked.
  The man who emerges from the pages of Cooper’s biography is without doubt a fascinating one, a flawed, brilliant throwback to the warrior poets of yore, a man of letters and a man of action. It’s a page-turning story right to the end, although it’s arguable that Fermor is such a ripe figure for biography, his life so dense with incident and adventure, with contrast and contradiction, that simply listing the bewildering number of his various accomplishments soaks up all Cooper’s time and effort. Beautifully researched, particularly in terms of the way Cooper points up the discrepancies between Fermor’s actual experiences and the poetic way in which he renders his memories, this biography is a solid addition to the canon of work which exists on Fermor. It may not provide very much in the way of startling new revelations for Fermor fans, but it’s an outstanding introduction to the man’s life and writing for those who have yet to make his acquaintance. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Norn Iron In The Soul

There’s a very interesting interview with Adrian McKinty in the Wall Street Journal, in which McKinty speaks about the influence of his childhood and growing up in Northern Ireland on his new series of novels, ‘the Troubles Trilogy’. To wit:
“Imagine if you had a bombing like [the Boston Marathon attack] every week for 30 years,” says Mr. McKinty, 45. The novelist grew up during ‘the Troubles,’ the euphemism commonly used to describe the decades of bloody sectarian violence that ravaged Northern Ireland throughout his childhood in the 1970s and ’80s. “That’s what it was like back home. I was born the year the Troubles began, in 1968. That world of violence was all I knew—people murdered, maimed, kneecapped, bombed. I don’t remember a time without a major atrocity of some kind every week.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, May 23, 2013

“Publish Or I’m Damned.”

So spake Karlsson, a hero-of-sorts of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, a novel published by Liberties Press in 2011. Ironically, given that the tale incorporates a writer’s struggle to get published, Karlsson and AZC had been rejected by a whole slew of publishers – to the point where I was roughly six weeks away from self-publishing the story – before Sean O’Keeffe of Liberties Press stepped in.
  The novel, described as a cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien by John Banville, was subsequently shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in 2011, and won the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ award for comic crime novels at Crimefest in 2012.
  So it’s entirely apt, I think, that yours truly, Sean O’Keeffe and Liberties Press’ marketing manager Alice Dawson will be talking about the tricky path to publication at the Dublin Writers Festival later this month. To wit:
Publish and Be Famed
You’ve slaved away over your keyboard for months, if not years. You’ve researched and imagined, reworked and revised and now, at last, your book is finished. But what happens now? Who guides you down the path to publication? How is your book designed, edited, marketed and promoted? In association with the Dublin Book Festival, Dublin Writers Festival brings together Declan Burke, author of the Harry Rigby Mysteries and one of the most innovative voices in Irish crime fiction, with key personnel from his publishers, Liberties Press, to look at the process of publishing a novel from first idea to the printed page. For anyone interested in unpacking the mysteries of publishing, this event is a must.

Venue: Smock Alley Theatre
Date: Friday May 24th
Time: 1:05 pm
Tickets: €10 / €8
  For all the details, clickety-click here.
  The full programme for the Dublin Writers Festival can be found here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: COLD SPRING by Patrick McGinley

‘No one lives in Leaca anymore,’ begins Patrick McGinley’s provocative novel, but even in 1948, the year in which the novel is set, Leaca was dying on its knees. Scrubbed bare by sea and wind, gutted by emigration, the tiny Donegal village had always taken pride in its sense of community – until the day their venerable elder, Paddy Canty, is discovered strangled to death. When the gardaí fail to apprehend the killer, the men of the village take the law into their own hands.
  Cold Spring, then, is framed as a revenge thriller, although it is considerably more complex than such novels tend to be. For one, the reader is as ignorant as to the identity and motive of the killer as are the villagers are, which makes Cold Spring a pleasingly intricate blend of ‘whodunit’ and ‘whydunit’. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Patrick McGinley asks penetrating questions about the nature of justice, and the reader’s complicity in creating fiction’s illusion of justice, as the villagers plot to avenge their murdered neighbour.
  McGinley’s Bogmail (1978) is one of the few Irish crime novels to bear comparison with Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (1967), but Bogmail’s whimsical and absurdist treatment of the genre has been replaced here with a gimlet-eyed obsession with truth and righteousness. Can murder ever be justified? The novel’s arc incorporates a kind of Socratic dialogue between the avengers’ ringleader, Muriris, and the unbiddable Tom Barron, fleshing out the arguments with references to an Old Testament-style eye-for-an-eye retribution, the difficulties faced by the State-sanctioned executioner Albert Pierrepoint, folk memories of the murder of an absentee landlord’s feckless agent, and a rather radical interpretation of Brehon law.
  If Cold Spring is to some extent a novel of ideas and simultaneously a vigorous interrogation of the genre, it’s also a lament of sorts, a paean to a time, place
and people that no longer exist. The recently arrived Englishman Nick and his partner Sharon – a failing writer and successful artist, respectively – are our eyes and ears, reporting back on the hauntingly stark beauty of mountain, lake, bog and shore. On one level, McGinley convincingly paints a portrait of a long-lost idyll derived from Rockwell Kent and John Hinde, but this particular vision of a quasi-mystical Ireland has been poisoned by insularity, history and hubris.
  Don’t be fooled by rural Donegal setting: the fatalistic tone is one of pure noir. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Independent.

  Over at the Irish Times, COLD SPRING was reviewed by George O’Brien.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Chris Allen

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?
A STUDY IN SCARLET by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and then every other Holmes/Watson excursion). I just love the style of his writing, the way in which he captured the time - the courtesy, the camaraderie, the thoroughness and dedication. This story really set up the principle characters, their partnership and the tone of the series that he maintained so well throughout the many years that he created these stories. I’m a huge fan and would love to write the way that he did. Sadly, I can only aspire to that standard ... but, I live in hope!

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
The character I would most like to have been is Dr John Watson. Far from being Sherlock’s sidekick as was portrayed in old movies and some treatments on television, Watson was a medical man with an outstanding military service record. He had enough wit to be Sherlock’s loyal intellectual companion, along with sufficient brawn to be his protector at the appropriate time. I would have loved being involved in the solving of those now iconic cases, and all the insight they provided into the human condition.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
There’s a great local writer here, a Canadian/Australian named Tara Moss who writes great contemporary crime fiction from a decidedly female perspective. Very strong. Great stories. I really enjoy them.

Most satisfying writing moment?
After writing my first book, DEFENDER, over a period of ten years - which I began on my return from East Timor in 2000 - the most satisfying moment was completing my second book, HUNTER, in just six months on a deadline for my publisher. I guess it was just great to prove to myself that I was able to churn out the story as fast as my clumsy two-fingered-typing style could achieve. By that stage, the story was so much in my head that I had to get Alex Morgan’s latest adventure onto the page.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
In all honesty, I am yet to knowingly read an Irish crime author. That said, the one that I currently have on my TBR list is Borderlands by Brian McGilloway. I’ve always been intrigued by the contemporary history of Ireland, North & South, and so I am looking forward to discovering McGilloway’s work.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst: The uncertainty of if/when all the hard work will actually pay off. Best: Those rare days when you can really feel that all the hard work and sacrifice is starting to pay off.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Alex Morgan has taken on gunrunners in DEFENDER and fugitive war criminals in HUNTER. Now in AVENGER he’s taking Intrepid’s first female agent into the centre of hell as together they bring to justice the masterminds of a global human trafficking cartel.

Who are you reading right now?
I find it really hard to read other action novels when I’m writing one. So I actually prefer to watch movies in my down time – sometimes it’ll be classic war movies like A Bridge Too Far or The Eagle Has Landed; sometimes it’ll be my favourite Bond action sequences, the new Hawaii-50, or the latest contemporary take on Holmes & Watson such as the BBC’s Sherlock or the US treatment Elementary. That said, I do enjoy returning to a story or two from Arthur Conan Doyle’s collected works or when I really needed inspiration I turn to Ian Fleming time and time again.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. As long as others can read my stories, then I’ll be content just getting them out of the lumber room, my mind, and onto a page.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Contemporary. Action. Realism.

Chris Allen’s HUNTER is published by Momentum.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memories Are Made Of This

It isn’t due until August, but I’m already looking forward to the latest offering from Conor Fitzgerald, whose police procedurals are set in Rome and feature Commissioner Alec Blume. Blume is an American-born naturalised Italian policeman, which gives him an outsider’s eye and an insider’s cynicism, and Fitzgerald’s tersely lyrical style is deliciously readable.
  The forthcoming tome, THE MEMORY KEY (Bloomsbury Publishing), will be Blume’s fourth outing, and the blurb elves have been busy:
On a freezing November night Commissioner Alec Blume is called to the scene of a shooting.
  The victim is Sofia Fontana, the sole witness to a previous killing. Blume’s enquiries lead from a professor with a passion for the art of memory to a hospitalised ex-terrorist whose injuries have left her mind innocently blank; from present day Rome’s criminal underclass, to a murderous train station bombing in central Italy several decades ago.
  Against the advice of his bosses and his own better judgement, Blume is drawn ever deeper into the case, which looks set to derail his troubled relationship with Caterina ...