“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, November 22, 2013

Irish Crime Fiction: A Festival


UPDATE: Ahead of ‘Irish Crime Fiction: A Festival’, which begins today at Trinity College in Dublin, I found myself last night fondly remembering the symposium at NYU in 2011 in the company of some of Irish crime writing’s finest. The details remain hazy, possibly because I found myself caught up in an Alan Glynn novel …

For all the details on the Trinity College festival, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: ECHOLAND by Joe Joyce

Set in Dublin in early 1940, as the Wehrmacht blitzkriegs its way through France, Echoland by Joe Joyce (Liberties Press, €13.99) is a thoughtful blend of spy novel and historical thriller. In the midst of the flap, young soldier Paul Duggan finds himself promoted to G2, the army’s intelligence division, to investigate the possibility that an apparently respectable German citizen is in fact a spy plotting a future invasion of Ireland. Struggling to come to terms with his new responsibilities, the callow Duggan is further undermined when his uncle, the politician Timmy Monaghan, prevails upon him to use his new position to discover the whereabouts of Timmy’s daughter, who has gone missing, presumed abducted. Joyce, who published a pair of critically acclaimed thrillers in the early 1990s, deftly charts Duggan’s path through the personal and the political, although it’s Joyce’s evocation of the tumult of the time, and the uncertainty of not knowing if the Germans would eventually invade – or the British, for that matter – that is particularly effective. Duggan at first appears to be an unusually passive character for the hero of a spy thriller, but it’s a canny ploy by Joyce. As the impressionable Duggan goes about his business of soaking up information from hawks, doves, spies and politicians, it’s left to the readers to make up their own minds about the thorny issue of Ireland’s neutrality during ‘the Emergency’. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Making A Killing

I interviewed Jeffrey Deaver (right) earlier this year, although for a variety of reasons the piece was only published last month. It runs like this:

“You may as well,” says author Jeffrey Deaver when I ask him if it’s okay to record our conversation. “It’s all going back to GCHG, and to the NSA and CIA anyway. Especially with this book.”
  The comment is delivered with Deaver’s dust-dry sense of humour, and sounds rather strange in the plush environs of the Merrion Hotel’s reception rooms, but he makes a valid point. The Kill Room is a very timely novel indeed – ‘oddly prescient’ is how Deaver describes it – which engages with some very contemporary headlines.
  “It deals with targeted killings,” says Deaver, “and only last month we had President Obama giving a press conference in which he talked about the killing of American citizens. It deals with data-mining, and we’ve just had this big scandal about [Edward] Snowden releasing that information. And there’s a whistle-blower, which is, again, Snowden. But I don’t want readers to think that Jeffrey Deaver is or has become a political writer. It’s the only political book I’ve ever written. It just happened that all these things came together at the same time.”
  Indeed, Deaver is at pains to stress that the political is not the personal in his novel.
  “I fall back on the adage that has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway,” he says. “Hemingway said, if you want to send a message, use Western Union. Meaning, it’s not the author’s job to give his or her own personal views in a novel, but it is the author’s job to raise the questions. I feel that even my kind of entertaining thrillers, which is the point of what I do, enhance the experience if you bring in issues that transcend the crime itself.
  “My goal is to entertain,” he continues. “I’ll do whatever I can to get readers to turn pages, so they lose sleep at night, they show up for work late. If somebody closes a Deaver book and says only, ‘I found that interesting,’ then I’ve failed. What I want them to do is close a book and say, ‘Oh my God, I survived that book!’
  The Kill Room is the 10th Lincoln Rhyme novel, and Jeffrey Deaver’s 30th in total. It opens with the targeted killing of an American citizen in the Bahamas, a murder that New York-based forensic scientist Lincoln Rhyme is commissioned to investigate on the basis that the ‘kill order’ was issued in New York state. Complicating matters, as always, is the fact that Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic who very rarely leaves his customised apartment.
  “Lots of internal reversals, cliffhangers, some esoteric information about, and surprise endings, plural,” is how the author describes his recipe for ‘a Deaver novel’, but back in 1997, with eight novels already published, Deaver was looking to offer the reader yet another twist in terms of character.
  “I thought,” he says, ‘How about we do Sherlock Holmes? We haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes for a while.’ That sounds quite egotistical, and I wouldn’t want to take on Arthur Conan Doyle – I mean, he was a spiritualist, so he might come back to haunt me (laughs). But I wanted a character who was a cerebral man, a thinker. Holmes could fight if he had to, or go somewhere in disguise. I wanted someone who had no choice but to out-think his opponent. That was what I was trying to do in The Bone Collector. I never imagined that Lincoln would become as popular as he has.”
  The Bone Collector was adapted into a successful movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, but for Deaver the novel is the most persuasive storytelling form.
  “I do believe that as an emotional experience,” he says, “reading fiction is the highest form of entertainment – I’m not going to use the word ‘art’, but I’ll say ‘entertainment’. That’s because it requires active participation on the part of the reader, as opposed to a film or a video game, where you tend to be more passive. Even in video games where you’re participating in a shoot-’em-up, it’s not really intellectually or emotionally engaging. So with that element of the book as an experience, we start from higher ground right away.”
  He chose the thriller form because it is, as John Connolly has suggested in the past, a kind of Trojan Horse that allows an author to smuggle virtually any kind of subject matter into the public domain – such as the political ambiguities of The Kill Room – in the disguise of popular fiction.
  “Well, John is absolutely right. Crime fiction permits and even urges us authors to consolidate as many different strains of conflict as we can, which is what storytelling is all about.” The fact that the crime novel is rooted in modern realities also makes it, he says, ‘a touch more compelling’ than other kinds of fiction.
  “Lord of the Rings is probably my favourite book ever,” he says, “but you have to buy into a whole lot of disbelief for that book. I mean, if you’re on the subway in New York City, do you really believe an orc is going to come in with scimitar and slice your head off? No. I love Stephen King, but do I really believe there’s a ghost in my closet? No. I do enjoy those books, but in a crime novel, if you answer the door and a cop holds up his badge, you let him in – and then you realise he’s wearing cloth gloves, and holding a knife in his other hand. That could happen.”
  Jeffrey Deaver is today an award-winning author who invariably tops the bestseller lists. For a writer who might be expected to rest on his laurels, however, he is still refreshingly ambitious. Despite being a writer who specialises in cerebral characters, he took on the challenge of writing Carte Blanche (2011), about the thriller genre’s most celebrated action-hero, James Bond. Meanwhile, his next novel, The October List, which will be published in October, is a standalone thriller which radically reworks the conventions of the genre and which Deaver describes as his most complex plot yet.
  Why is he still so determined to challenge himself?
  “I’m worried that some day I’ll wake up and discover that everyone has realised I’m a fake and a fraud,” he says.
  Perhaps that’s why he’s notorious for ‘micro-managing’ his books, taking eight months to sketch out an outline of 150-200 pages for a 400-page book.
  “I’m a pretty sloppy writer,” he shrugs. “I get the ideas down, I bang them out. My first drafts are messy, they’re too long, I always put in a lot more research than I need. I used to panic about that. I’d read something I’d written and go, ‘Where did this crap come from?’ And then I learned to say, ‘But at least you recognise it’s crap. That’s the good thing.’”

  The Kill Room by Jeffrey Deaver is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

  This interview was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Ita Ryan

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?
CROOKED HOUSE, or any one of about ten other Agatha Christies. She was the mistress of the twist. Another favourite is DEATH COMES AS THE END. That managed the difficult feat of getting the reader to look forward optimistically to the future while perched on a rock above the Nile in approximately 2000BC.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sarah Kenny from the Quick Investigations series by Arlene Hunt. I’ve always loved Wexford St. It’s my favourite part of Dublin, with great bars and slapdash little caf├ęs and flower sellers and unlikely charity shops. It’s lively and happening – just this side of seedy. Imagine the fun of perching a floor or two above it in an old-fashioned office and having dodgy characters appear and tell you implausible tales. Mind you, if a quarter of what happens to Sarah happened to me I’d have a nervous breakdown within a week.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Janet Evanovich. Georgette Heyer. P.G. Wodehouse. Terry Pratchett. I also enjoy children’s books. My kids are getting to the age now where I can read my collection of children’s fiction to them. I’m enjoying that very much.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I re-read something a month or two later and it still makes me laugh, or cry.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
There are so many to choose from, but everyone should read MY LADY JUDGE, the first in the series of Mara novels by Cora Harrison. It transports you back to early 16th-century Ireland, depicting a happy community in the Burren living under traditional Brehon law. It was a pivotal time, with the looming threat of advances from the East. The history books tell us what happened next. All the same, you’ll find yourself hoping that maybe they’re wrong.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR. It has it all going on: tension, bleakness, disintegration. It should be filmed in the incredible light you get on a sunny winter’s day in Ireland, and pervaded by the sound of the sea.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is the editing. I do a lot of revising myself before handing over to my editor. I hate it. It’s totally worth doing, though. The best thing is getting a tweet or a message from someone who enjoyed the book. That’s like magic. This guy in Australia live-tweeted IT CAN BE DANGEROUS. Very entertaining.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Cynthia’s had a rough day. And now she’s found Nathan’s body. This could impact negatively on her performance review. Not to mention that the police are bound to suspect her, seeing as how she has no alibi and was cutting code right outside his office when he was murdered. Explaining that techies rarely interact with managers for long enough to kill them isn’t going to sort the problem. There’s only one thing to do before she’s arrested - find the killer herself. How hard can it be? She has a hotline to Nathan’s devilishly handsome son, enthusiastic friends and a lifetime’s expertise in armchair detection. Cynthia’s exploits soon reach the ears of the enigmatic Superintendent in charge of the case. She can handle that, but then she attracts the murderer’s attention ... (I must admit, that’s the pitch for my current book. My next book is currently just a tiny glint in Cynthia’s eye. But it’ll be brilliant.)

Who are you reading right now?
I’m re-reading Gamma, Helm, Johnson and Vlissides’ classic work DESIGN PATTERNS: ELEMENTS OF RE-USABLE OBJECT-ORIENTED SOFTWARE. I’m suffering from jet lag at the moment, and it helps me sleep.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d put up a good fight, but it’d have to be read. I couldn’t possibly do without books.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Funny, fast whodunit.

Ita Ryan’s IT CAN BE DANGEROUS is published by Kells Bay Books.