“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 10, 2014

A Dark And Stormy Night

Eoin McNamee’s (right) BLUE IS THE NIGHT (Faber) is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and I hugely enjoyed interviewing him when the book appeared. The interview, which appeared in the Irish Examiner, ran a lot like this:
Sitting down to interview Eoin McNamee, you anticipate a serious conversation with a serious man. Born in 1961 and raised in Kilkeel, Co. Down, and now living in Sligo, McNamee is a prize-winning author and a member of Aosdana who has written critically acclaimed novels about historical figures as diverse as the Shankill Butchers and Diana, the former Princess of Wales.
  Yet the man who bandies about notions such as evil, madness and Calvinist pre-determination in the context of the noir novel has a disarming smile that undercuts most of his pronouncements, laughing delightedly at any perceived absurdity that crops up in relation to his latest novel, Blue is the Night, which is as dark a slice of gothic noir as has ever been carved out of Irish history.
  Blue is the Night is the final novel in a loose trilogy that began in 2001 with The Blue Tango (which was longlisted for the Booker Prize) and continued with Orchid Blue in 2010. The trilogy is woven around Sir Lancelot Curran, whose career took him from lawyer to judge and on to Attorney General and Member of Parliament, but Blue is the Night investigates the brutal murder of Curran’s daughter, Patricia, outside their home in Whiteabbey in 1952. It focuses on Lance Curran’s wife, Doris, and his right-hand man and political fixer, Harry Ferguson.
  The book is by no means a straightforward crime fiction investigation, however.
  “I always like to quote Francis Bacon,” says Eoin, “who said that the job of all art is to deepen the mystery. This book is about the mystery of Patricia Curran, and what really happened to her, and by extension the mystery she inherited from her family, her father and her mother.
  “I started out originally, perhaps, to find out who killed Patricia Curran,” he continues, “but the book became about something other than that. It became more about ‘What is mystery?’ What is it that drives these stories, that drives people’s compulsion towards these stories?”
  One possible answer is a fascination with transgression, the idea of flirting with evil itself.
  “I keep coming back, when I talk about this book,” says Eoin, “to what Gordon Burns said about covering the Fred and Rosemary West trial. He said he could never again write the books he’d written before that trial, because he felt the presence of evil in that courtroom. There is an atmosphere of spiritual harm around the Currans, and that’s really what I’m interested in.”
  One strand of Blue is the Night finds Lance Curran prosecuting Robert Taylor, a Protestant man accused of murdering a Catholic woman. If wrong had a human form, observes Ferguson of Taylor. Is McNamee himself arguing for the existence of evil?
  “There was just something about the character of Taylor,” Eoin says, “something of the malicious imp that’s almost outside the human. Then there’s this kind of man-boy persona that he has – at one stage he’s almost like a character out of an Eastern European piece of folklore. An imp, ancient malice personified.”
  References to old European folktales, and the proto-fairytales of Charles Perrault, resurface throughout.
  “It comes up in this book, the idea of the forest, and in the old folktales the forest represents the darkness of the mind and also the concealment of malice, the concealment of evil,” says Eoin. “At one point Patricia Curran talks about the wolves of the forest, the kind of thing you read in East European folktales. And Ferguson talks about his time at Nuremburg, of driving through the trees to get there … Things like that appeal to me. It kind of reminds me of the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer – evil and demons at play.”
  One on level the novel is about the timelessness of evil and how it reappears in different guises in all cultures throughout history. McNamee refers to the ‘ancient malice’ represented by the mummy Takabuti that Ferguson sees in a Belfast museum, and the novel also stretches back in time to late Victorian London, and Jack the Ripper.
  “For every book there’s a little something, a nuance that gets you going,” says Eoin, “and I came across the fact that Doris Curran had been brought up in Broadmoor [when it was known as the Criminal Lunatic Asylum], and also that she had been there at the same time as Thomas Cutbush, the Jack the Ripper suspect. And when I read his admission notes to Broadmoor, they described his hair colour, height, complexion, whatever. And then his eyes: ‘Dark blue, very sharp’. And I thought, ‘That’s it.’ That’s the book right there, Doris and Cutbush and that psychic connection they have.’”
  Another writer might have drawn a straight line between Doris Curran growing up in Broadmoor and the fact that she was committed to Holywell mental institution in 1953, the year after her daughter was stabbed to death.
  “No, it’s not that simple,” says Eoin. “I mean, the implication in the book is that Doris was ‘interfered’ with as a child in some way by Thomas Cutbush, but whether that’s a physical act or a psychic act is not made explicit. But just to be brought into such a commanding presence of evil can be sufficient. Again, it comes back to that word malice – about malice spreading out from a moment.”
  As we talk about the way in which Eoin McNamee writes fiction around historical crimes, the conversation touches upon the trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and how much of the public’s interest in the case is prurient.
  “I know,” Eoin agrees, “but I can’t help but be interested in the mind-set of somebody like Pistorius. What kind of rights they imagine they have. What permissions they imagine they have in life.”
  It’s the idea of an elite class allowing themselves certain ‘permissions’ in life that drives ‘the Blue Trilogy’. Lance Curran and Harry Ferguson make for gripping characters precisely because they are self-corrupted.
  “I suppose my own experience of people who are corrupted is that they’re not charmless,” says Eoin with a wry grin. “They’re not unsympathetic, even though they’re corrupt. And that’s what attractive and dangerous about them.”
  In Eoin McNamee’s fiction, even such accomplished rule-breakers as Ferguson and Curran can find themselves at the mercy of Fate.
  “It’s the idea of noir, if you like, being a kind of Calvinist idea of pre-determination – that what happens to you is destined to happen, that there’s a hand on the scales and all you can do is rage against it. The whole essence of the noir ‘hero’ is that you know the universe is stacked against you, and yet you go on and try to defy it. Is that what turns people like Ferguson and Curran? Is that what corrupts them? Because they’re unable to defy Fate?”
  Harry Ferguson is a fictional creation, but the Curran family are historical figures. Is Eoin McNamee entitled to give himself ‘permission’ to use real people’s lives for the purpose of fiction?
  “I did used to worry about the idea of overstepping the moral line,” he says, “but then I decided that I’m not a priest. I don’t have that kind of moral responsibility. But if I have overstepped the line and sinned, then I’ll be answerable to whatever authority you answer to for your sins. If there is one.”

  Blue is the Night by Eoin McNamee is published by Faber & Faber.
  This interview was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Heart Is A Lonesome Hunter

I’m hugely looking forward to chatting with Paul Charles at the Gutter Bookshop on Monday evening, May 12th, when I’ll be hosting a Q&A with Paul to mark the publication of his latest novel, THE LONESOME HEART IS ANGRY. Quoth the blurb elves:
What seems like a routine job for matchmaker Michael Gilmour in a small 1960s Northern Irish town becomes something very much more when events take an unexpected turn. The brothers Kane have an idea for their matches that will set tongues wagging, light the fires of jealousy in more than one heart, and open the door to tragedy. THE LONESOME HEART IS ANGRY explores life in a small town and the darker side of the human condition. It doesn’t shy away from the gossip, the fear, the violence and desperation that can build up inside people and behind closed doors. Set in Castlemartin, home of the Playboys who featured in Paul Charles’ THE LAST DANCE, THE LONESOME HEART IS ANGRY is a gripping novel that will keep you reading until the last page.
  The event kicks off at 6.30pm at the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin. See you there, folks …

Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Edgar Met Johnny

It’s (a slightly belated) three cheers, two stools and a resounding ‘Huzzah!’ for John Connolly (right), who took home a prestigious Edgar Award last weekend for his short story, ‘The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository’. Not too shabby, as they say, not by a long chalk, and CAP Towers was en fete for the weekend after the news filtered through. And while we’re on the subject, John’s current offering, the latest Charlie Parker novel THE WOLF IN WINTER, is a rather fine piece of work too
  Elsewhere, and staying with the topic of awards, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville (along with Gene Kerrigan) have been nominated for Barry Awards. Well, it’s a hearty congratulations to both, again, on the news that they’ve been longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, which will be awarded at the Harrogate Festival in July. Stuart has been nominated for RATLINES, while Adrian’s nomination is for I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET. Both are terrific novels, in my opinion, but the competition is fierce: the longlist also includes Lee Child, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, Cathi Unsworth and Belinda Bauer, among others. The shortlist will be announced on July 1st, by the way, and there’s a public voting system for narrowing down the longlist: if you’re so inclined, you’ll find all the details here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dahl A For Murder

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I will, on the evening of May 19th, be hosting a conversation between Brian McGilloway, Sinead Crowley and Arne Dahl as part of the Dublin Writers’ Festival. It should be a terrific evening, and I’m very much looking forward to it. For all the details, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Arne Dahl – whose latest novel is TO THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN – will be taking to the stage at Smock Alley on May 18th, when he will take part in a public interview chaired by Brian McGilloway. To wit:
“Arne Dahl combines global intrigue with intelligence, suspense and genuine literary quality.” – Lars Kepler

Chairperson: Brian McGilloway

In recent years Swedish crime drama has swept all before it, and now Arne Dahl has become the latest writer to join the likes of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell on bestseller lists across the globe. His Intercrime series, about an elite team of detectives investigating the dark underbelly of Swedish society, has sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide and been made into an award-winning TV series (due to air on TG4 later this year). The English language editions of the first two Intercrime novels were released last year and now Dahl comes to Dublin with the third instalment, TO THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, which finds the Intercrime team disbanded and their leader forced into early retirement. But when a man is blown up in a high-security prison, and a massacre takes place in a dark suburb, the team is urgently reconvened to face a new and terrifying threat.

Date Sunday 18 May // Time 4pm // Venue Smock Alley Theatre // Tickets €12/ €10 concession
  For all the details, including how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Sunday, May 4, 2014

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Lisa Alber

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?
This may sound perverse, but I’d love to channel the darkness that burbles around inside Gillian Flynn. She’s wicked! Have you seen photos of her? Looks like she bakes pies for homeless people. Any of her novels will do: SHARP OBJECTS, DARK PLACES, or GONE GIRL.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Fictional characters go through too many hardships and conflicts before their happy endings. I’m too lazy for all that. There’s gotta be a sidekick out there who lives a charmed life and is only around enough to support the hero. That’s more my speed. Anyone got any ideas for me?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
DA VINCI CODE-type thrillers are my guilty pleasures because I love all that Catholic Church conspiracy stuff. I also like pseudo-scientific symbology stuff that incorporates our greatest myths into the story lines. I just finished a thriller centred around the Amazons. Fun stuff.

Most satisfying writing moment?
The “a-ha.” You know when you’re writing along, maybe it’s not going well, but you’re slapping down the words anyhow (knowing you’ll have a helluva rewrite later), and then somehow, you lose sense of yourself and time and the world around you, and then later you come to and an hour has passed and you can’t remember what you wrote exactly, but you know it’s something grand? Yeah, that. That’s what I love. It’s rare, but the potential is always there. Also, the a-ha moment when you’re writing along and all of a sudden a fantastic idea comes to you out of nowhere -- a plot twist or character revelation -- and you feel so euphoric, the best high ever, that you jump out of your chair and do a little jig that causes your cat to tear out of the room? Yeah, that too.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
I’m still in Irish-crime-novel discovery mode! Some of the obvious recommendations for people like me who aren’t as well-read as they could be are Tana French and Benjamin Black (a.k.a. John Banville) – and you too. Immediate curiosity has me leaning toward checking out Arlene Hunt, Adrian McKinty, Declan Hughes, and Bartholomew Gill (although he’s Irish-American) next.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Benjamin Black’s first mystery, CHRISTINE FALLS, would make a fabulous movie. I picture something stylized, gritty, atmospheric, and filmed in a limited palette (neo-noir Mulholland Drive comes to mind). The way the central mystery about dead Christine slowly circles in on the starring detective’s family baggage is great. Plus, it’s got Catholic Church stuff in it. Like I said above, I can’t get enough of that.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Right now, the worst thing about being a novelist is my need for a day J-O-B. It’s a creative energy sucker, that’s for sure. I struggle to find energy to get the fiction writing in--before work, after work, on weekends. I’m the kind of person who needs long swaths of down time to stay centred and to rejuvenate. The best things are the ‘a-ha’ moments I described above.

The pitch for your next book is ...?
My debut novel, KILMOON, just came out. It’s set in County Clare, the first in a series.

“Family secrets, betrayal, and vengeance from beyond the grave … Merrit Chase is about to meet her long-lost father. Californian Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.”

I’m working on the second novel in the series, for the moment called Grey Man. Things get personal, oh so personal, when a teenage boy dies and disaster hits Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern’s family as a result.

Who are you reading right now?
I’m trying out an author I’ve never read before: James Barney, THE JOSHUA STONE. Another in the realm of guilty pleasures because it features secret government experiments and voodoo science.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I could give up writing if I had to (it’s freaking hard work!), but never reading. Reading goes along with those long swaths of down time I require.

The three best words to describe your own writing are ...?
Atmospheric, multi-layered, and intricate.

KILMOON is Lisa Alber’s debut novel.