“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 20, 2015

Local Heroes: Seamus Smyth

I was going to write a Local Heroes post about Seamus Smyth, author of the brilliant QUINN, akin to the piece I wrote about Philip Davison recently, but then I stumbled across this from Ken Bruen, from waaaaay back in 2007. Take it away, Ken:
“Life sucks, yadda-yadda, so what else is new? But sometimes it sucks on a level that you want to scream, “Ah for fucksakes!” Being a crime writer always means registering low on the literary barometer but being an Irish crime writer? Just shoot yourself – unless you’re plugged into the usual mafia circle of same tired old names.
  “Seamus Smyth wrote a blistering debut titled QUINN back in 1999 and what should have been a major lift-off to a glittering career came to zilch. If he were writing in the UK or USA, he’d be mega. QUINN is a kick-in-the-face wondrous blitz of a novel. No tip-toeing Mr Nice Guy here: this is a first-person narrative of a psycho who operates in the Dublin underworld, the kind of novel Paul Williams would, ahem, kill to have written.
  “The hero, Gerd Quinn, is straight from the tradition of Goodis through Thompson to the wry, sly humour of a Willeford. The writing is a dream, a style all Smyth’s own. He uses his anti-hero to pay homage to the noir genre and yet subvert it in a way only a true dark Irish craftsman could. It’s the kind of novel you read and think, ‘Just bloody mighty’, and immediately watch out for his next. But this is not just a great crime novel, it’s one hell of a novel, full stop. QUINN should be THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE for this decade, it’s that good and fresh and innovative.
  “Let’s remedy one case of criminal neglect and get Seamus Smyth up where he belongs, right at the top of the genre, and allow a rare and unique talent to do what he was born to do - write the provocative novels this country deserves. Gerd Quinn states, ‘There’s no malice in what I do …’, which makes it one of the most ironic opening lines of any novel in light of what’s coming down the Smyth pike. QUINN is not only vital, it’s damn essential.” ~ Ken Bruen
  For all the details on QUINN, clickety-click here

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: STUMPED by Rob Kitchin

The latest Irish Times crime fiction column includes a review of Rob Kitchin’s STUMPED, which ran a lot like this:
Billed as a ‘screwball noir’ and set during the concluding days of an Irish election campaign, Rob Kitchin’s Stumped (280 Steps, €11.99) is a comic crime caper that opens with Grant, an English academic based at Maynooth University, being presented with an ultimatum: return an unspecified package stolen from a Dublin gang lord, or see his friend Sinead returned to him in severed pieces. Enlisting the help of the wheelchair-bound Mary and her camp friend Declan, the hapless, bumbling Grant sets out to do the right thing, aided and abetted by venial politicians, low-life thugs, tabloid journalists, a rockabilly cop and a veritable platoon of drag queen farmers. Kitchin – an English academic based at Maynooth University – offers a delightfully preposterous tale in this, his fourth novel, even if the story is neither bleak enough to qualify as true noir and lacks the snappy, crackling dialogue we associate with classic screwball comedy. That said, Kitchin maintains a cracking pace and generates plenty of humour by switching rapidly between the perspectives of a swarming host of outlandish characters, very few of whom are anywhere near as clever or competent as they believe themselves to be. ~ Declan Burke
  For the rest of the column, which includes the current offerings from Paula Hawkins, Harri Nykänen and Celeste Ng, clickety-click here

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: DEATH SENTENCES, edited by Otto Penzler

The physical book may be under threat from the digital revolution and its e-books, according to perceived wisdom, but book collectors and bibliophiles are in far more immediate danger of being wiped out.
  At least, that’s the recurring theme in Death Sentences (Head of Zeus), a collection of short stories edited by Otto Penzler and written by 16 crime and mystery authors who are, according to Ian Rankin’s Introduction, ‘masters of their craft’. Jeffrey Deaver, John Connolly, Nelson DeMille, Laura Lippman, CJ Box and Anne Perry are just some of the household names who contribute to a collection in which each offering revolves around books.
  Overall it’s an amusing conceit. We tend to imagine that book lovers, librarians and bibliophiles of all stripes are quiet, gentle folk, likely to live to a grand old age and slip away in their sleep, preferably in a comfortable armchair in a well-lit bay window, a blanket across the knees, a good book still clutched in their gnarled hands.
  In Death Sentences, however, book lovers are bludgeoned to death by their precious tomes, crushed by falling bookshelves, shoved down library stairs whilst holding a tottering pile of research volumes, or blown to bits by a bomb smuggled into their private library. When they’re not the actual murder weapon itself, books provide one or more elements of the crime writers’ beloved triumvirate of means, motive and opportunity.
  Indeed, some of the authors play the concept for wry comedy. William Link’s pulpy throwback to the hardboiled days of the Black Mask magazine, ‘Death Leaves a Bookmark’, features a police detective called Columbo. Nelson DeMille’s The Book Case – one of two stories that features falling bookshelves as the murder weapon – offers a jaunty tone of murder investigation in a crime fiction bookstore, in which the sardonic police detective, John Corey, notes the bestselling writers on display, “such as Brad Meltzer, James Patterson, David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille, and others who make more money writing about what I do than I make doing what I do.”
  Other writers take a more serious approach. Set in London in 1938, Peter Blauner’s ‘The Final Testament’ is narrated by Sigmund Freud, and tells of how Freud is approached by a Nazi agent who wants to blackmail Freud into putting his name to a piece of black propaganda about the Jewish people. As it happens, a number of the stories here incorporate the Nazis. Set in the American northwest, CJ Box’s story ‘Pronghorns of the Third Reich’ is as bizarre as its title suggests, and true into the bargain (Box even provides photographic evidence of his claim). Thomas H. Cook’s affecting tale ‘What’s In A Name?’ offers an alternative history of the 20th Century, and features an aspiring but ultimately unpublished author with a very potent name. Meanwhile, ‘The Book of Ghosts’ by Reed Farrel Coleman, which tells the tale of the morally conflicted Holocaust survivor Jacob Weisen, is one of the finest of the collection.
  Given that the vast majority of authors are readers so deranged by books that they are themselves maddened into writing, the stories also offer fascinating glimpse of the authors’ personal obsessions. Laura Lippman’s beautifully quirky ‘The Book Thing’ takes her series private eye Tess Monaghan (and Tess’s baby daughter Carla Scout) into the colourful world of children’s bookshops, where she is commissioned to investigate a very unusual crime. Anne Perry’s ‘The Scroll’ is as influenced by the horror genre as it is by crime and mystery, and centres on a mysterious and ancient vellum scroll that hides a dark secret in its Aramaic script. Where many of the stories revolve around valuable and precious books, David Bell’s ‘Rides a Stranger’ concerns itself with a tattered old Western paperback. The Mickey Spillane story ‘It’s in the Book’, finished here by Max Allan Collins, sees the imperishable Mike Hammer in pursuit of a dead Mafia don’s old ledger, its secrets a threat to the President of the United States.
  There are two Irish contributions to the collection. In the first, Ken Bruen – whose protagonists are invariably well-read – brings his unique style to bear on New York and a young Irish-American man’s bitter relationship with his father, a former NYPD cop. When the father dies and unexpectedly bequeaths his son The Book of Virtue, the son is forced to reassess what he knew of his father, and his own life’s direction.
  By contrast with Bruen’s brusque style, John Connolly’s ‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository’ is an elegantly wrought tale of the rather dull Mr Berger, who late one evening witnesses a young woman step in front of a speeding train – and yet can find no trace of her remains on the railway track. The story’s supernatural elements quickly segue into a hugely entertaining tale of fictional characters interacting with reality as Mr Berger pursues the ‘ghost’. (I should declare an interest here by saying that I have in the past co-edited a book with John Connolly; the fact that ‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository’ won last year’s Edgar Award for Best Short Story is testament to its quality).
  Ultimately, the most vulnerable victim in the collection – the plethora of murdered booksellers, readers and bibliophiles notwithstanding – is the physical book itself. Whether the writers make explicit their concerns about the e-book revolution, as Laura Lippman does, or contextualise the veneration of the physical book – or vellum parchment, say, or a hand-stitched volume written by Hernando Cortez – the message remains the same: the book, regardless of the story it tells, is a valuable artefact in its own right, and e-books, even if they tell the exact same story, lack cultural heft, physically and metaphorically.
  The mood is summed up by Andrew Taylor’s ‘The Long Sonata of the Dead’, a beautifully written tale set for the most part amid the labyrinthine stacks of the London Library. “It’s the real, printed book that matters,” our hero, a writer, tells us; as a result, and though his subsequent actions are rather less than savoury, it’s very hard to consider him entirely immoral. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Photo Essay: Charlie Parker’s Portland

Richard Edwards recently compiled a rather beautiful photo essay of Portland, Maine, according to locations mentioned in John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels. It’s a terrific idea, and it’d be great to see it catch on. Quoth Richard:
“There are dozens of reasons why you should pick up a Charlie Parker novel; character, story, tension, surprises abound, but for me, a key element is a feeling of realism that you can sense throughout the writing. An author needs authority, hence the title, and it’s important to be able to trace some believability in what you’re reading, no matter how fantastic the story line, and John Connolly does this expertly, tying the story into living, breathing locations, peppered with believable local characters.”
  For the photo essay, clickety-click here …

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reviews: THE LOST AND THE BLIND by Declan Burke

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, I do try to keep the self-promotion bumf to a minimum here at CAP Towers, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I indulge myself yet again. I was trying for something a little different when I wrote THE LOST AND THE BLIND (Severn House), and the early reviews across various platforms seem to be quite positive about the result. To wit:
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist

“There’s much, much more, and readers with the patience to watch as Burke (Crime Always Pays, 2014, etc.) peels back layer after layer will be rewarded with an unholy Chinese box of a thriller. Make that an Irish-German box.” – Kirkus Reviews

“In “The Lost and the Blind,” Declan Burke weaves plot twist after plot twist together to create a thriller full of mystery and intrigue. If you think you can predict endings, you won’t this time. The first few chapters keep you dizzy with questions as the story starts to unfold. If not for Burke’s ability to create a spellbinding tale, you might be tempted to put the book down. You are never quite sure what happened, who to trust, or what’s truly going on in Delphi Island until the end. The only promise is that Burke keeps you turning the page with his style of writing, deft dialogue, and cast of characters. Not many authors are capable of successfully pulling off such a complex plot, but Burke does and makes it seem effortless.” – Library Thing

“This book has great elements of crime, thriller and mystery, with an intricate plot that keeps you on your toes up to the final pages. This is the first Declan Burke book I’ve read and it won’t be the last.” – Romancrimeblogger, Amazon
  If that piques your interest, you’ll find THE LOST AND THE BLIND here

One to Watch: DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH by Andrea Carter

We have a while to wait yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for Andrea Carter’s debut novel, DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH (Constable), which will be published in October and set on Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula. Quoth the blurb elves:
When a skeleton is discovered, wrapped in a blanket, in the hidden crypt of a deconsecrated church, everyone is convinced the bones must be those of Conor Devitt, a local man who went missing on his wedding day six years previously. But the post mortem reveals otherwise.
  Solicitor Ben O’Keeffe is acting for the owners of the church, and although an unwelcome face from her past makes her reluctant to get involved initially, when Conor’s brother dies in strange circumstances shortly after coming to see her, she finds herself drawn in to the mystery. Whose is the skeleton in the crypt and how did it get there? Is Conor Devitt still alive, and if so is there a link? What happened on the morning of his wedding to make him disappear?
  Negotiating between the official investigation, headed up by the handsome but surly Sergeant Tom Molloy, and obstructive locals with secrets of their own, Ben unravels layers of personal and political history to get to the truth of what happened six years before.
  For more on Andrea Carter, clickety-click here