More and more young Irish women are joining the ranks of established crime fiction greats. What’s that all about? Award-winning Irish crime writers Louise Phillips and Niamh O’Connor [joined by Claire McGowan] will read from their contributions to the new anthology of Irish crime writing, TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS (New Island Press, September 2016). The stories in the collection have a distinctive Irish flavour but show Irish crime writing in the 21st century is now playing in international leagues.For all the details, clickety-click here …
“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, September 24, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
Serena Flanagan appeared as a supporting character in THE FINAL SILENCE (2014), and became the main character in THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND (2015). A tough but sensitive policewoman, one of Serena’s strengths in THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND was her ability to empathise with both the victims of crime and the reasons why the perpetrators grew up to become violent criminals.
In her private life, Serena is married to Alistair, and has two children, Ruth and Eli; the demands of her job often cause friction at home, with Alistair particularly worried that the violence in Serena’s professional life will find its way into their home. This fear becomes a reality when their home is invaded near the end of THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, and Alistair is stabbed whilst the children are downstairs.
As SO SAY THE FALLEN opens, Serena is struggling with another issue: five years previously, she shot dead a gunman who was pointing a gun at her; but the recent death of the gunman’s getaway driver, who survived a crash and lay in a coma for those five years, has hit her hard. Currently in therapy, Serena also finds that her home life is falling apart: Alistair suffers nightly nightmares as he relives his stabbing, and he wants her to step back from the front-line of policing to take a position in administration. Emotionally estranged from her husband, and with her children taking his part due to her irregular hours and absences from the home, Serena is suffering for the sake of her job she defines herself by:
Without the job, Flanagan thought, what do I have left?While Flanagan is the main character, much of the story is told through the eyes of the Reverend Peter McKay, a fascinatingly charismatic but vulnerable man. When we first meet him, McKay is comforting the newly widowed Roberta Garrick, but immediately we understand that McKay’s interest in Roberta is rather more than pastoral:
Her family should have been the answer. But even that seemed to be slipping beyond her reach.
Reverend Peter McKay followed [Roberta], feeling as if she dragged him by a piece of string. Conflicting desires battled within him: the desire for her body, the fear of the room beyond, the need to run. But he walked on regardless, as much by Roberta’s volition as by his own.Is it possible that this mild-mannered man of the cloth, a sensitive and thoughtful man – he is, we learn, still mourning the death of his wife a decade previously – colluded to either induce Harry Garrick to take his own life, or else helped to murder him? What we do know is that his wife’s death caused McKay to begin to lose his faith in God:
McKay seldom thought of God anymore, unless he was writing a sermon or taking a service. Reverend Peter McKay had ceased to believe in God some months ago. Everything since had been play-acting, as much out of pity for the parishioners as desire to keep his job.Faith, or its absence, is a major theme of SO SAY THE FALLEN. The Reverend McKay no longer believes in God, and serves his parishioners out of ‘pity’ for their own delusional faith in God. We quickly discover that Serena Flanagan is also a woman who lacks a faith in God:
No God. No sin. No heaven. No hell.
Reverend Peter McKay knew these things as certainly as he knew his own name.
Flanagan pictured them both, kneeling, eyes closed, mouths moving, talking to nothing but air. Stop it, she told herself. They need their belief now. Don’t belittle it.However, the theme isn’t simply devoted to exposing the consequences of an absence of faith and other religiously-inspired values. Later in the story, giving the sermon at Harry Garrick’s funeral, Reverend McKay talks about Harry’s faith:
‘Because without faith, what do we have left?’Reverend McKay’s complicated attitude towards faith and its absence is mirrored in Flanagan’s own complicated attitude towards faith. Although she professes not to believe in God, Flanagan does pray:
McKay knew the answer to that question. Nothing. Without faith, we have nothing.
If Flanagan did not believe, then why did she pray so often? She rationalised it as a form of self-talk, an internal therapy session. Wasn’t that it? Or were those Sunday mornings spent in [churches] so rooted in the bones of her that deep down she believed this nonsense, even if her higher mind disagreed?At one point, when Reverend McKay is contemplating taking his own life by drowning himself at a remote beach, he is offered solace by another minister:
‘Chaos or faith,’ she said. ‘It’s one or the other. I know which I prefer.’Flanagan empathises with Peter McKay’s plight; they both have much in common, including their absence of faith. Both of them also define themselves according to their professions, or vocations. At Harry Garrick’s funeral, when the Reverend McKay asks ‘Without faith, what do we have left?’, Serena finds herself agonising over her family:
‘It’s not a matter of preference,’ McKay said […] ‘It’s a matter of reality. What’s real and what’s just a story to cling to.’
Without the job, Flanagan thought, what do I have left? […]Serena and McKay talk about the difficulty of separating their personal lives from their professional lives, and the extent to which their jobs aren’t simply jobs, but vocations which require sacrifice. McKay tells Serena:
Oh God, what do I have left?
I am my job. I am my children. What am I without them?
‘Then you are your job, your job is you. Same for me.’Significantly, Serena explains to her family why her job is so important – not just to her, but because it’s an important job, and people depend on her to see justice done. In this, and much else, Serena Flanagan is emblematic of the strong female protagonists who have come to define crime and mystery fiction over the last decade or so, most notably in Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2008), Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL (2012) and Paula Hawkins’ THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2015).
‘And I am my family. I need them, even if they don’t need me.’
His fingers tightened on her wrist, a small pressure. ‘Then the answer lies somewhere between the two. It’s like two sides of an arch. One can’t stand without the other.’
Not all the women characters are positive role models, however. Roberta Garrick is a classic femme fatale, a throwback to the deliciously dark days of noir:
She still wore her silk dressing gown over her nightdress, red hair spilling across her shoulders. A good-looking woman, mid-thirties. If not beautiful, then at least the kind to make men look twice. The kind teenage boys whispered to each other about, tinder for their adolescent fires.Roberta is duplicitous, manipulative, physically aggressive and more than willing to use sex in order to achieve her aims. She is a predator, a sociopath who preys on ‘weak’ men – men ‘weakened’ by their lust for her – in order to gain financial independence. Ultimately we get Roberta’s philosophy on life, a sociopathic amorality that is the purest essence of noir’s classic femme fatales: “Life becomes so much easier when you let go of right and wrong.”
The clash between Roberta’s amorality and Flanagan and McKay’s yearning for certainty provides a fascinating subtext to a novel that is a richly nuanced exploration of faith and vocation. SO SAY THE FALLEN is Stuart Neville’s seventh novel, and he becomes a more sophisticated, intriguing and subtly provocative author with each passing book. ~ Declan Burke
SO SAY THE FALLEN is published by Soho Crime.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Antoinette Conway, the tough, abrasive detective from THE SECRET PLACE, is still on the Murder squad, but only just. She’s partnered up with Stephen Moran now, and that’s going well - but the rest of her working life isn’t. Antoinette doesn’t play well with others, and there’s a vicious running campaign in the squad to get rid of her. She and Stephen pull a case that at first looks like a slam-dunk lovers’ tiff. All she and her partner have to do is track down Lover Boy and bring him in. Then it’ll be back to business as usual, watching from a distance as the real detectives go up against the psychopaths. Except when Antoinette takes a good look at the victim’s face, she realises she’s seen her somewhere before. And suddenly the conviction that there’s a different answer takes her breath away.THE TRESPASSER is published on September 22nd. For a review of THE SECRET PLACE, clickety-click here …
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS (see details above) – if you’re in Dublin on Wednesday 21st, please do drop by the Gutter Bookshop, we’d love to see you there. Here’s the all-important blurbio:
Selected and edited by award-winning crime writer Declan Burke, TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS showcases the absolute best in Irish crime writing today. From originators like Patrick McGinley and Ruth Dudley Edwards to global crime megastars like John Connolly and Eoin Colfer, there can be no doubt as to the serious quality of Irish crime writing in the twenty-first century. An absolute must-have for crime lovers! Featuring stories by: Patrick McGinley, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Colin Bateman, Eoin McNamee, Ken Bruen, Paul Charles, Julie Parsons, John Connolly, Alan Glynn, Adrian McKinty, Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay, Gene Kerrigan, Eoin Colfer, Declan Hughes, Cora Harrison, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Jane Casey, Niamh O Connor, William Ryan, Louise Phillips, Sinead Crowley, and Liz Nugent.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
TRESPASS (Head of Zeus) is the fourth offering in Anthony J. Quinn’s increasingly impressive series featuring Northern Ireland police detective Celcius Daly. Quoth the blurb elves:
Celcius Daly is investigating the abduction of a boy by a group of travellers already under investigation for smuggling and organised crime. As he digs into the child’s background, he discovers a family secret linked to an unsolved crime during the Troubles – the disappearance of a young woman and her baby. Daly’s investigation shakes loose some harrowing truths about the past treatment of travellers and the present day lawlessness of Northern Ireland’s border country.Trespass will be published on November 3rd. For a review of Anthony Quinn’s DISAPPEARED, clickety-click here …
Undergoing an internal investigation over his handling of the search for IRA spy Daniel Hegarty, Daly realises that he has much in common with the beleaguered and outcast travellers and soon finds himself entangled in a vigilante mission, discovering just how far a group of outsiders will go to find their own justice.
Monday, September 19, 2016
It’s an intriguing set-up, but Nugent, who employed multiple narrative voices in her award-winning debut Unravelling Oliver, again deploys conflicting perspectives in Lying in Wait. We hear from Laurence Fitzsimons, an overweight and bullied teen who becomes obsessed with the missing Annie Doyle, particularly when he realises that his father is lying about his whereabouts on the night Annie Doyle disappeared. Meanwhile, Karen Doyle, Annie’s younger sister, refuses to believe that Annie would simply run away. Determined though she is to get to the truth of Annie’s disappearance, there is very little Karen can do when the Garda detectives investigating the case wash their hands of the trouble-making Annie.
The interwoven strands of Lydia, Laurence and Karen’s stories set all three on a collision course in this absorbing psychological thriller. Set in the 1980s, it’s more of a ‘whydunnit’ than a ‘whodunnit’, as Nugent, having initially established Lydia Fitzsimons as a pitiless sociopath, reveals the reasons why Lydia became a controlling, lethal monster. Unravelling Oliver was a brave novel in the way it gradually allowed for an understanding of why and how Oliver became a vicious domestic abuser. Similarly, Lying in Wait delves deep into the childhood of Lydia Fitzsimons to explore the extent to which she is a victim of circumstance, and how her young mind was poisoned by events over which she had no control.
Indeed, one of the most striking ‘characters’ in the novel isn’t a person but Avalon, the stately mansion in south Co. Dublin that formed such an integral part of Lydia’s childhood, a house with much in common with Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley from the novel Rebecca. A brooding presence at the heart of the story, Avalon represents an idealised childhood for Lydia, but it also hides secrets of Lydia at her worst, a bricks-and-mortar manifestation of her malevolent personality that in turn exerts a malign gravity on Lydia’s motivations.
Throughout the novel Lydia presides over her ramshackle, gloomy palace like some deranged wicked queen from an old fairytale, the gothic iconography emphasising the ever-darker twists of the tale as she plots and schemes against what appears to be an inevitable meeting of minds between her son Laurence and Annie Doyle’s sister Karen. Lying in Wait may be set in the 1980s, but it’s a story that feels rooted in a form hundreds of years old, and has all the elements of a precautionary fable found in the classic folktales of Charles Perrault et al.
Liz Nugent’s winning of the Best Crime category at the Irish Book Awards for her debut novel was an impressive achievement, but Lying in Wait is an even more assured affair than Unravelling Oliver. A complex plot rich in subtext allows Nugent to explore female sexuality, the roots of childhood psychosis, and the unacknowledged but very real layers of class distinction in Ireland, all of it wrapped up in an emotionally nuanced tale of betrayal, murder and unbearable loss. It’s a novel that propels Liz Nugent to the first rank of Irish crime writing; where she goes from here will take us all on a very interesting journey. ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.