“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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane established his reputation as one of contemporary crime fiction’s masters with the Kenzie-Gennaro series of private eye novels, the first of which, A Drink Before the War, was published in 1994. Since then, Lehane has published standalone thrillers – Mystic River (2001) and Shutter Island (2003) – and most recently concluded an epic historical trilogy featuring Prohibition-era gangster Joe Coughlin.
  Lehane’s latest novel, Before We Fell (Little, Brown) offers his take on yet another crime fiction sub-genre, domestic noir. ‘On a Tuesday in May,’ the Prologue begins, ‘in her thirty-seventh year, Rachel shot her husband dead.’ No surprises there, given that domestic noir generally involves terrorised women triumphing over vicious, controlling men. ‘He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face,’ Lehane continues, acknowledging the sub-genre’s conventions, ‘as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.’ The first of many twists swiftly follows, however, when Rachel realises that the last words her husband says to her are ‘I love you,’ and that Rachel, if asked whether she loved her husband even as she pulled the trigger, would have answered yes.
  The central appeal of domestic noir, of course, is that it explores the terrifying prospect of the person who is supposed to be your nearest and dearest being unmasked as your worst enemy, an enemy, more often than not, with murder on their mind. The temptation, from a writer’s point of view, is to lean too heavily on the readers’ expectations, and eventually reveal the predatorial character – there being little else by way of convincing motive to explain such a dramatic volte-face – as a grotesque sociopath. Despite working within domestic noir’s parameters, however, Lehane refuses the easy option at every turn. Rachel’s husband, Brian Delacroix, is as genuinely likeable and charismatic as his feelings for Rachel are genuinely those of a loving husband, a characterisation that regularly wrongfoots the reader anticipating Brian’s taking of axe to the bathroom door whilst yodelling ‘Heeeeere’s Brian!’
  That said, Since We Fell is Rachel Child’s story, and Lehane devotes the first third of the novel to exploring her complex character. Raised by her mother, Rachel becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the father who abandoned her at an early age, an identity her mother, poisoned by bitterness, deliberately withholds. A journalist by trade, Rachel nevertheless finds herself stymied at every turn; and when she commissions a private detective, Brian Delacroix, to continue the search, he is no more successful.
  A decade later, with a failed marriage behind her, and sacked after an on-air nervous breakdown when broadcasting live from Haiti, Rachel has become a shut-in, an agoraphobe deeply scarred with the horrors she witnessed in Haiti. Enter Brian Delacroix, beaming his crooked smile and exuding an irrepressible can-do attitude, lacking only a white charger as sets about freeing the princess from her self-imposed exile in her lonely tower, where she struggles to write a memoir. Roughly a third of the way in, and with story still patiently meandering down the byways of Rachel’s formative experiences, it’s tempting to believe that Lehane is describing his own experience of writing Since We Fell when Rachel observes that her story-telling is ‘a more free-flowing approach than she ever would have allowed herself as a journalist … something that, at the moment, spoke in cadence more than structure.’
  Then Rachel, on a rare outing, sees Brian in Boston when he is pretending to be in London, and the story very swiftly accelerates into a plot with more twists and turns than the Monaco grand prix, to the extent that you can believe Lehane is now having fun with Raymond Chandler’s advice on dealing with those occasional sticky moments when the action flags, which is to have a man come through the door with a gun already in his hand.
  What transpires, as Rachel runs for her life whilst trying to get to the root of Brian’s deceit, might seem improbable were it not for that meticulously crafted build-up. There are no grotesques here, no facile cliff-hangers, no red herrings so obviously stale they’re stinking up the joint. Since We Fell is a deliciously old-fashioned melodrama about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, a brilliantly unconventional domestic noir that confirms Dennis Lehane’s mastery of the crime narrative in all its varied forms. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Event: TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS at the Belfast Book Festival

I’m hugely looking forward to getting up to Belfast for the Book Festival on June 10th, where I’ll be hosting a conversation between three of the finest Irish crime writers out there, and who – no coincidence – contributed to TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS (New Island Books). To wit:
BBF17: TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS - NEW STORIES BY IRISH CRIME WRITERS

Saturday 10 June at 2pm
£6 | £4
at the Crescent Arts Centre


Irish crime writers have long been established on the international stage as bestsellers and award winners. Now, for the first time ever, the best in contemporary Irish crime novelists have been brought together in one volume. Author, editor and journalist Declan Burke will be leading the conversation on Irish crime writing with Louise Phillips, Julie Parsons and Stuart Neville.

Declan Burke is a writer, editor, journalist and critic. He has published six crime novels. He edited Trouble Is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers in 2016.

Louise Phillips is an author of four bestselling psychological crime thrillers, each shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Her second novel, The Doll’s House, won the award. She is currently working on her latest novel, Dark Day In May.

Julie Parsons was born in New Zealand but has lived most of her adult life in Ireland. She was a radio and television producer with RTÉ for many years until the publication of her first novel, Mary, Mary in 1998. Her subsequent novels, including The Hourglass (2005) and I Saw You (2008) were all published internationally and translated into many languages.

Stuart Neville’s crime fiction has won numerous awards, including the LA Times Book Prize. Stuart also writes under the pen name Haylen Beck, whose debut novel, Here and Gone is due to be published this summer and is in development for the screen.
  To book tickets, clickety-click here ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Irish Times’ Crime Fiction Column

The wandering daughter job has been a staple of the private eye genre since Dashiell Hammett coined the phrase in 1929, but John Connolly’s A Game of Ghosts (Hodder & Stoughton, €17.99) offers a neat twist on the convention of the private eye quest when private investigator Charlie Parker is commissioned to track down fellow gumshoe Jaycob Eklund, who has likely wandered into harm’s way due to a long-standing fascination with the paranormal. As its title suggests, the 17th novel in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is more directly engaged with the supernatural than some of his more recent offerings: before he went missing, we discover, Eklund was investigating the Brethren, an ancient family that preys on the unwary from beyond the grave; meanwhile, Parker’s daughter Sam, a fascinating character who is long overdue her own novel, grows increasingly aware of the role she is fated to play in her father’s epic battle with evil. What follows is an absorbing tale of sin, punishment, atonement and redemption, the language as precisely measured and slowly beaten out as a eulogy delivered to the rhythm of a muffled drum, as Connolly lures us yet again into those shadows where he has created, as all great storytellers do, a world that is uniquely his own.
  JS Monroe’s Find Me (Head of Zeus, €18.45) opens with Jarleth Costello seeing his ex-girlfriend Rosa at a Tube station, even though Rosa – officially, at least – took her own life five years previously. Jarleth frequently experiences bereavement hallucinations, but this time Rosa’s appearance coincides with Jarleth being watched and followed. Is he succumbing to paranoia? And if Rosa were still alive, as Jarleth has always believed, why would the former Cambridge student have faked her death? JS Monroe has previously published five spy novels as Jon Stock, but Find Me is a conspiracy thriller in which amateur sleuth Jarleth is plunged into a world of spooks and covert black-ops as he pursues the truth of Rosa’s disappearance. The tale proceeds via the parallel narratives of Jarleth’s investigation and diary entries, as Jarleth stumbles across a journal Rosa left behind, an encrypted document which can only be decrypted one entry at a time. It’s a conceit designed to maintain narrative suspense, but it’s one which grows increasingly implausible, as is the motive the reader is given for Rosa’s reappearance in Jarleth’s life. John le Carré and Len Deighton are referenced throughout, but Find Me, though an entertaining page-turner, falls well short of such standards.
  Sabine Durrant’s fifth novel, Lie With Me (Mulholland Books, €17.99), is a comi-tragedy centring on Paul Morris, once a best-selling author now reduced to mooching off friends and family. Wangling his way into a Greek holiday on the Ionian island of Pyros with some old Cambridge acquaintances, Paul’s vanity comes back to haunt him when he finds himself at the centre of an investigation into the murder of a young female tourist some ten years previously. Paul Morris might easily be a Patricia Highsmith creation, even if Sabine Durrant very deliberately renders her anti-hero a rather charmless Tom Ripley, a libidinous sociopath who lacks any redeeming features other than the callous honesty of his internal monologues, such as when Paul observes that ‘The selfish response to events was so much more straightforward than the morally correct.’ The Greek setting is beautifully detailed, the large cast of characters neatly sketched in, and the plot is fiendishly deceptive as it gradually undermines the readers’ expectations. A slow-burning tale, Lie With Me is a blackly humorous and surprisingly affecting psychological thriller.
  Set in Naples, Laurent Gaudé’s Hell’s Gate (Gallic, €12.75) opens in 2004 with Filippo Scalfaro De Nittis scheming to avenge the death of his father, Matteo, by stabbing gangster Toto Cullaccio. Filippo seems prone to grandiose pronouncements (‘I’ve come back from the dead. I have memories of hell and fears of the world ending.’) until the story flashes back to 1980, when we discover that Filippo, then six years old, was shot dead when caught in the cross-fire of a gangsters’ shoot-out as his father Matteo brought him to school. Hell’s Gate is the revenge thriller reimagined as an existential meditation, and one that owes a considerable debt to Dante and Homer, as the bereaved Matteo descends among the shades of the Underworld and harrows hell in a self-sacrificing bid to restore his son to life. Despite giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘criminal underworld’, Hell’s Gate is by no means a conventional crime novel, with Gaudé focusing his energies on creating a claustrophobically intense contemporary myth that brilliantly evokes the madness of grief.
  Jo Nesbo’s The Thirst (Harvill Secker, €14.99) is the 11th novel to feature Oslo police detective Harry Hole, although Harry is no longer a detective, instead lecturing at Oslo’s police academy. When lawyer Elise Hermansen is murdered by a man she has just met on Tinder, however, the details are particularly gruesome – the man employed a set of spring-loaded steel teeth to bite out his victim’s throat – and soon Harry is commissioned to set up an independent investigative unit to hunt down what appears to be a deranged vampirist with a raging thirst for human blood. Despite being a collection of fictional detective tropes – the genius loner maverick who has resents authority and struggles with addiction – Harry Hole is enjoyably sardonic company as he unravels the mystery of ‘the vampire killer’, albeit that his efforts are hugely helped by the fact that the killer is an old foe who simply can’t help leaving clues to help Harry’s investigation along. Leaving very few serial killer clichés unturned (‘At last we meet again, Harry’), The Thirst is a polished pot-boiler that will likely delight Jo Nesbo fans but leave anyone encountering Harry Hole (‘the most mythologised murder detective in the Oslo Police’) for the first time wondering what all the fuss is about. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Freelance Book Editor

Struggling to finish the first draft of your novel? Not sure why all the elements of your story aren’t combining as well as they should? Anxious that your finished novel is as polished as it can be before you send it out to agents and editors eagerly anticipating your game-changing debut?

The good news, such as it is, is that everyone struggles with their first draft, and no one ever believes their book is as polished as they want it to be.

I’m here to help. From the overall structure of your novel to line-edits focusing on the nitty-gritty of grammar and punctuation, from storytelling to voice and character development, I will help you to put it right.

Author and Editor:

I am the author of six novels, three of which were shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. In 2011, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL won the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ Award for comedy crime fiction.

With John Connolly, I am the co-editor of BOOKS TO DIE FOR (2012), a collection of essays on the greatest crime and mystery novels written by the greatest living crime and mystery authors. The book won the non-fiction crime Anthony, Macavity and Agatha awards in 2013.

In 2011, I edited DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, a collection of essays, memoir and short stories written by Irish crime writers about the current wave of Irish crime writing.

I am the editor of TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS (2016), a collection of new short fiction from Ireland’s leading crime writers.

My short stories and critical essays have appeared in the collections SHADOWING THE DETECTIVES (2010), UNCAGE ME (2009), THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES (2011), THE QUIET QUARTER: TEN YEARS OF GREAT IRISH WRITING (2009), SILVER THREADS OF HOPE (2012) and NEW PLANET CABARET (2013), among others.

Additional Information:

I currently review fiction and non-fiction for the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, and RTE’s Arena programme. I regularly host crime-writing courses and tutorials at the Irish Writers Centre. In the past I have worked as a proofreader for the legal publisher Thomson Round Hall.

Contact:

If you require the services of a freelance book editor who is patient and understanding, insightful and meticulous, please feel free to drop me a line at dbrodb[at]gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Launch: THE THERAPY HOUSE by Julie Parsons

It has been far too long since Julie Parsons last published a novel, so I’m delighted to see that her latest, THE THERAPY HOUSE, will be published by New Island Books early next month. To wit:

New Island Books
requests the pleasure of your company to celebrate the launch of The Therapy House by Julie Parsons on
Tuesday, May 2nd at 7.00pm
in DLR LexIcon
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin
  To mark the publication of her first novel in nearly ten years, Julie will be in conversation with fellow writer and journalist Declan Hughes.

  Please note: this is a seated event. Please arrive not later than 6.45pm for a 7pm start. Tickets are free but booking is essential via Eventbrite.

  ‘Julie Parsons takes the psychological suspense thriller to places it rarely dares to go ...’ The New York Times
On Sundays peace was restored. He would lie down, dream and remember. He would enjoy. And later on the bell would ring. He would get up and walk downstairs. He would open the front door. And his life would come to an end ...

Garda Inspector Michael McLoughlin is trying to enjoy his retirement – doing a bit of PI work on the side, meeting up with former colleagues, fixing up a grand old house in a genteel Dublin suburb near the sea.

Then he discovers the body of his neighbour, a retired judge – brutally murdered, shot through the back of the neck, his face mutilated beyond recognition. McLoughlin finds himself drawn into the murky past of the murdered judge, which leads him back to his own father’s killing, decades earlier, by the IRA. In seeking the truth behind both crimes, a web of deceit, blackmail and fragile reputations comes to light, as McLoughlin’s investigation reveals the explosive circumstances linking both crimes – and dark secrets are discovered which would destroy the judge’s legendary family name.
  Bestselling author Julie Parsons (Mary, Mary, I Saw You, The Hourglass) is back with a powerful, compelling, and darkly chilling novel of violence, shame and deceit.

Friday, April 28, 2017

News: Adrian McKinty Takes Home An Edgar

Well, he did and he didn’t – Adrian McKinty’s RAIN DOGS (Serpent’s Tail) won the Edgar for Best Original Paperback at last night’s award ceremony in New York, but McKinty himself was absent and very likely, as Sean Duffy might have it, across the sheugh. Which sounds more painful than it really is. Anyway, the heartiest of congrats to Adrian McKinty, the latest Irish winner of an Edgar award, for this fully deserved recognition of his Sean Duffy series …
  For a review of RAIN DOGS, clickety-click here

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Irish Times’ Crime Fiction Column

Ali Land’s Good Me, Bad Me (Penguin Michael Joseph, €14.99) opens with teenager Milly entering a foster home, having survived the horrors perpetrated by her mother, Ruth. Scheduled to testify against Ruth, good Milly understands that her mother is a monster who must pay for her crimes; but as the bullying at her new school reaches a crisis point, bad Milly finds herself wondering about the extent to which her mother’s perverted nurturing has poisoned her nature. Land’s debut is a genuinely unsettling tale that brings to mind Megan Abbott’s novels and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, as Land – previously a child and adolescent mental health nurse – delivers a bracing take on a disturbed teenager’s perception of good and evil. References to Peter Pan and The Lord of the Flies recur throughout, emphasising the extent to which Milly is a lost innocent abroad in a world where young adolescents engineer their own reality, a bleak and pitiless society where might is right and a flair for cruelty confers authority. A novel of complex motivations that will test readers’ capacity for empathy, Good Me, Bad Me is already a strong contender for debut of the year.
  Constance Kopp, whom Amy Stewart first introduced in Girl Waits with Gun (2015), is one of the most aptly monikered protagonists in crime fiction, not least because the real-life Kopp was New Jersey’s first lady deputy sheriff. Set in 1915, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Scribe, €14.99) opens with Constance allowing a conman, the self-styled Baron von Matthesius, to escape from prison, a lapse which provides critics of the newly established role of female deputy with plenty of ammunition, but could also result in Constance’s boss, Sheriff Heath, going to prison. Suspended from normal duties, but determined to put things right, Constance sets out to track down the Baron. Constance Kopp should be a fascinating character as she embarks on her twin battles with male prejudice and the criminals of New Jersey, particularly as Amy Stewart’s meticulous research provides the reader with a wealth of period detail. Despite being rooted in real events, however, the plot is a plodding affair, and matters aren’t helped by Stewart’s staid prose (“The two of them sat in the sheriff’s office looking about as unhappy to be with one another as two men ever have.”) and too many minor characters devoting far too much time to remarking upon the novelty of a female deputy sheriff.
  Julia Crouch’s fifth novel, Her Husband’s Lover (Headline, €17.99), is a delightfully lurid slice of domestic noir, which opens with Louisa Williams fleeing from her ‘grade A, one-hundred-per-cent, undiluted bastard’ husband Sam in a dramatic car-chase that ends with a fatal collision in which Sam kills himself and their two children. The tragic scenario is compounded when Louisa emerges from her rehabilitation to discover that Sam’s vengeful mistress, Sophie, is pregnant and determined to destroy what is left of Louisa’s life. Julia Crouch coined the term ‘domestic noir’ to describe crime fiction’s latest sub-genre, and this latest offering is unlikely to disappoint fans, being a full-throttle romp through the paranoid delusions of a cast of grotesques, each more repellent than the last. The tone errs on the shrill side as the story strives to establish each of its narrators as unreliable, with the characters deliberately pitched as too perfect / too obsessed / too evil to ring entirely true, but it’s a hugely addictive read as Julia Crouch, having set up an apparently open-and-shut case of domestic abuse, gleefully rips to shreds both the characters’ pretensions and the reader’s expectations.
  E.O. Chirovici’s The Book of Mirrors begins with literary editor Peter Katz receiving a partial manuscript from Richard Flynn, which documents the murder of Princeton psychologist Professor Joseph Wieder but only hints at the identity of his killer. When Katz tries to contact Flynn, however, he discovers that the author has died without revealing the whereabouts of the full manuscript, leading Katz to commission freelance journalist John Keller to uncover the truth … A prolific author in his native Romanian, The Book of Mirrors is E.O. Chirovici’s first novel written in English, an intriguing Russian doll of a narrative which passes the mystery of Professor Wieder’s murder on to a number of investigators. The prose is stolidly functional, but Chirovici’s story nevertheless offers an intriguing whydunit underpinned by a treatise on memory, as a number of witnesses create a cat’s-cradle of conflicting testimony designed to keep the reader guessing to the very end. That said, even the most generous reader will likely baulk at one character’s suggestion that the story is reminiscent of Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Chirovici’s invoking of ‘the great French writer’ and his remembrance of things past is at best ill-advised.
  Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail, €15.99) is the sixth in Adrian McKinty’s increasingly impressive series to feature Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective working for the RUC during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. The mystery begins with a bizarre murder, when drug dealer Francis Deauville is shot to death with a crossbow, but when Duffy starts to wonder why an ‘independent’ drug dealer who has been paying protection to the paramilitaries has been assassinated in such an exotic fashion, he finds himself assailed on all sides. Persecuted by Internal Affairs and fending off IRA attacks, Duffy digs deep into Northern Ireland’s recent past to uncover a tale of collusion and unsolved murder. The plot is as tortuously twisting as McKinty’s readers have come to expect but it’s the tone that proves the novel’s most enjoyable aspect, as Duffy delivers a first-person tale of cheerfully grim fatalism and Proddy-Taig banter, the story chock-a-block with cultural references, from NWA and Kylie Minogue to Miami Vice and The Myth of Sisyphus. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Patricia Gibney

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?

Misery by Stephen King.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

No time for pleasures – guilty or otherwise. Most of my reading is crime and thrillers, detective based. But I do like the occasional short story.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Two really – getting my agent, Ger Nichol was, for me, the first validation of my writing. Then, of course, signing a four-book deal with Bookouture.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
Every Dead Thing by John Connolly. For an Irish-based novel, Disappeared by Anthony J. Quinn.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?

Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. It’s not set in Ireland, but Jax lives in Enfield, just down the road! For an Irish-based novel, Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips.

Worst thing about being a writer?
For me it’s finding the discipline to edit my own work.

Best thing about being a writer?
I get to make things up. I can use my imagination and be creative.

The pitch for your book is …
When a woman’s body is found in Ragmullin cathedral, and hours later a man’s body is found hanging from a tree, DI Lottie Parker is called in to lead the investigation. The trail leads her to a former children’s home with a dark connection to her own family history. As she begins to link the current victims to unsolved murders decades old, two teenage boys go missing. She must close in on the killer before they strike again, but in doing so is she putting her own children in terrifying danger? Lottie is about to come face to face with a twisted soul who has a very warped idea of justice.

Who is on your shoulder as you write?

My husband, Aidan, who died almost eight years ago after a short illness, aged just 49. He has been with me in spirit every tap of the keyboard. Missed but cherished.

Who are you reading right now?
Robert Dugoni. My writing has been compared to his and I must admit I hadn’t read any of his work. So I’m catching up now. I didn’t realise he was a US bestseller!

God appears and says you can only write or read. Which would it be?

Write, of course. (However, I might need to be able to read a little in order to edit what I’ve written).

The three best words to describe your own writing …

Dark. Mysterious. Gripping. (I took those words from a review). Though my editor calls it ‘creepy’.

THE MISSING ONES by Patricia Gibney is published by Bookouture.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: THE PIGEON TUNNEL by John le Carré

Despite half a century in the public eye as the author of 23 bestselling novels, John le Carré is still hiding in plain sight. Second nature for an old spook, of course – but when we speak of the legendary John le Carré, the ex-MI6 intelligence officer and subsequently the author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the Smiley Trilogy, A Perfect Spy and The Tailor of Panama, it’s wise to remember that a ‘legend’ is the name given to a spy’s background and biography.
  Le Carré, interrogating his own memory, doesn’t exactly confine himself to name, rank and serial number in The Pigeon Tunnel (Penguin Viking), but seasoned fans may be disappointed by the lack of new revelations (with eight of the 38 chapters previously published in newspapers, journals and magazines, there is much that may also be familiar). Last year’s biography of le Carré by Adam Sisman was a much more informative affair, particularly on le Carré’s career as a spy, although it’s only fair to point out, as the subtitle suggests, that this book wasn’t conceived as a conventional memoir. “These are true stories told from memory,” he tells us early on, “to which you are entitled to ask, what is truth, and what is memory to the creative writer? […] To the creative writer, fact is raw material, not his taskmaster but his instrument, and his job is to make it sing.”
  Indeed, much of this book is taken up with this idea of transforming raw material – some of the most absorbing chapters are those where le Carré allows readers a glimpse into the formative stages of his books, taking them on the journeys he embarked on himself for the purpose of research. The stand-out chapters in this regard are those he titles ‘The Theatre of the Real’, recounting his experience of travelling to the Middle East before writing The Little Drummer Girl, during which he danced with Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, visited an Israeli military prison in the Negev Desert, and agonised over the political direction the novel should take.
  Yasser Arafat isn’t the only famous name to pop up in these pages – the chapter on le Carré drinking with Richard Burton on the Dublin set of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is darkly hilarious, while the chapter titled ‘Alec Guinness’ is a touching tribute to the actor who played George Smiley in the BBC’s classic 1979 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
  Where The Pigeon Tunnel truly scores, however, is when le Carré moves in the latter stages from the public to the personal, to write about his fraught relationship with Ronnie Cornwell, “conman, fantasist, occasional jailbird, and my father,” a man who “rubbed shoulders with the Kray Twins” and may well have been physically violent with the young David (whose mother, Olive, ran away from Ronnie when David was a child). At his father’s funeral, le Carré tells us, he was comforted by a stalwart member of ‘Ronnie’s Court’: “We was all bent, son. But your dad was very, very bent indeed.”
  Again, some of the material may already be familiar to le Carré’s fans (particularly those who have read the novels A Perfect Spy and Single and Single), but there’s a poignant quality to some of the later chapters here, as the author struggles to come to terms with his father’s legacy: “Graham Greene tells us that childhood is the credit balance of the writer. By that measure at least, I was born a millionaire.”
  It is certainly not a comprehensive account, but The Pigeon Tunnel is consistently entertaining as David Cornwell / John le Carré attempts to make sense of a life simultaneously lived out in public and in the shadows. “As a maker of fictions,” says the old spy and veteran puppet-master, “I invent versions of myself, never the real thing, if it exists.” ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: THE HORSEMAN by Tim Pears

Opening in rural Devon in 1911, The Horseman (Bloomsbury) is a bildungsroman centring on Leo Sercombe, a young schoolboy who lives on the estate of Lord Prideaux. The son of a carter, and old enough now to help with the horses, Leo is attuned to nature’s rhythms and knowledgeable enough on the Bible to recognise the prelapsarian potential of his surroundings. “He might have been the first human upon the earth,” Leo muses as he walks home from school, “striding through the garden. He doubted whether there were any places so beautiful in all the planets known or unknown to man, or to God.”
  Previously the winner of the Hawthornden Prize and the Lannan Literary Award, Tim Pears has built his reputation on novels that employ the family dynamic to explore social issues. The Horseman, his ninth novel and the first in a proposed trilogy, situates the Sercombe family in an apparently idyllic and self-contained world in which the horrors of WWI are unimaginable and history-making events (Home Rule, the miners’ strikes, ‘the Vandals and Goths’ of the suffragette movement) are little more than vague rumours. Rural Devon is a place where ‘things’ll carry on one way or another,’ as Albert Sercombe reassures his wife, but Leo’s fall from grace, precipitated by the passion for horses he shares with the haughty young Charlotte Prideaux, is the inevitable consequence of Leo transgressing against the social structure of his time and place.
  While the bare bones of the plot are evocative of Hardy, The Horseman is a novel in which plot is little more than a skeletal structure that allows Tim Pears to flesh out a vibrant, vividly detailed Devon. Leo, our guide, has a gift for observation, and is a rudimentary philosopher to boot. Thus, when he watches a hare approach him across a field, Leo is drawn to the conclusion that, “each species of animal had its own peculiarities of vision. This world we surveyed was not was it was but as it was seen, in many different guises.”
  The story proceeds by way of chapters divided into the months of the year, each month devoted to an important event on the farm: the ploughing, the sowing and reaping, the threshing; foals being born, pigs slaughtered. Unsentimental in tone, the story is richly descriptive as Pears sketches in the detail of a community’s symbiotic relationship to the land, as man imposes his will on chaotic nature: “No two fields among them were of like size or configuration. No tracks ran straight but dipped and wove around the tumps and hummocks of land. […] Streams meandered in no discernible direction, cutting deep narrow gullies here, trickling over gravel beds there. Erratic walkways crisscrossed the estate. The boy’s father Albert told him that when God created this corner of the world He’d just helped himself to a well-earned tipple.”
  Pears is at his best, however, in charting Leo’s abiding love for horses, an instinctive devotion handed down from generation to generation. “He gazed upon the sets of waggon harness […] Plough strings, cart saddles, cobble trees and swingletrees, each hung on wooden pegs in its allotted place. These were the icons of beauty to the boy.” As young as he is, Leo is sure of his destiny: “He knew that he would work with horses all his life […]. He doubted whether one life was long enough to know all there was to know of horses.” The timeless nature of man’s relationship with the horse is confirmed when Leo watches his father “ride the mower … like one of those Canaanites who lived in the valley land and had chariots of iron.” When Leo finally races a full-grown horse, he is transported: “The boy did not know that such exhilaration existed, save for in the last days when young men shall see visions ...”
  Seeded with deliciously archaic fragments of language (‘dawcock’, ‘zart’, ‘guddled’, ‘gatfer’), The Horseman is itself an exhilarating vision, a bittersweet elegy for the innocent certainties of an agrarian world before the industrialised horrors of the 20th century come crashing down. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Event: Readers’ Day at Airfield Estate

I’m very much looking forward to the Readers’ Day event at Airfield Estate, Dundrum, which takes place on March 18th, when I’ll be hosting a conversation – i.e., trying to get a word in edgeways – between Jane Casey (right), Alex Marwood and Sam Blake, who will (all going to plan) be delivering the low-down skinny on why their books are so page-turningly addictive.
  The day’s events begin at 10am, with the crime contingent onstage from 2pm-3pm. For details of all the day’s events, including how to book your tickets, clickety-click here

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Crime Fiction Workshop: ‘Mystery and Suspense with Declan Burke’

*taps mike*
‘Hello? Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me?’
  Apologies for the radio silence in recent weeks, folks, but – as mentioned below – I’m up to the proverbial oxters in a new book, which is proceeding with all the measured calm of a herd of parched pachyderms scenting a waterhole in the deepest Kalahari. Anyhoo, I break said silence in order to mention that I’ll be hosting a crime fiction workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre on March 11th, titled ‘Mystery and Suspense with Declan Burke’, with the details as follows:

Starts: Saturday 11th, March 2017
Time: 10.30am – 4.30pm
Duration: 1 day
Cost: €80/€70 Members


All great crime fiction stems from the fact that character is mystery. From whodunits to psychological thrillers, via private eyes and police procedurals, we’ll uncover the crucial elements that make for a memorable crime/mystery novel. Embracing plot, character, style, language, setting, tone and the authorial voice, this course employs classic and contemporary crime writing to illustrate the way forward for authors seeking to hone their craft and maximise the impact of their writing.
  Declan Burke is an award-winning author of six novels, and the editor / co-editor of two non-fiction titles on crime writing. He is the editor of the short story anthology Trouble is Our Business (New Island).

  For all the details, clickety-click here

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: THE LAST FOUR DAYS OF PADDY BUCKLEY by Jeremy Massey

“Life is just a dream from which we all awaken,” claims the eponymous narrator in the prologue to The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley (Riverhead), and Paddy Buckley knows of what he speaks: an undertaker given to philosophical musing, Paddy is speaking to us from beyond the grave.
  It’s an ambitious opening, especially as this is Jeremy Massey’s debut offering, but the story quickly delivers on its early promise. Paddy is a widower still mourning the loss of his wife Eva, who died suddenly whilst seven months pregnant; when Paddy calls on the beautiful Lucy Wright, to make the funeral arrangements for her husband Michael, he is stunned when the traditional pieties lead to an amorous encounter. Distraught at his unethical behaviour, Paddy is even more shocked when Lucy dies immediately afterwards, of an angina attack, leaving Paddy to break the bad news to Lucy’s daughter Brigid when she arrives at the family home. Worse again, Brigid is more beautiful than Lucy, and Paddy finds himself falling for the doubly bereaved daughter.
  With his blackly humorous farce underway, Massey piles on the comi-tragedy: driving home from work in the early hours, an exhausted and distracted Paddy knocks down a pedestrian. No ordinary pedestrian, either: Paddy has run over and killed Donal Cullen, beloved brother of Dublin’s most notorious criminal, Vincent Cullen. And it’s only a matter of time, of course, before Paddy gets the call to make the funeral arrangements for Donal …
  In a remarkably assured debut novel, Jeremy Massey delivers a hugely entertaining take on the Irish noir novel. Steeped in death, and narrated by the disembodied voice of Paddy Buckley, the novel is nevertheless a rollicking tale of life’s absurdities, as the guilt-ridden Paddy twists and turns in a desperate bid to outrun the fate he has already told us awaits him. Persuasively blending crime and comedy is no easy matter, but Massey strikes exactly the right tone: the scene in which Paddy explains the embalming process to a creepily attentive Vincent Cullen, for example, is both darkly hilarious and spine-chillingly unsettling.
  This is largely due to Massey’s talent for crafting well-rounded characters – Paddy, our flawed hero, is sympathetically drawn, a good man who finds himself the butt of Fate’s sick sense of humour. Vincent Cullen, for his part, is initially every inch the intimidating bruiser we might expect from a crime fiction villain, but it’s in his other facets – the thoughtful strategist, the loving father, the grieving brother – that Vincent truly comes to life. Even the minor characters (including an unusual hybrid guard-dog) are expertly sketched in.
  Unsurprisingly, given Jeremy Massey’s background, the ‘privilege of being an undertaker’ is beautifully detailed, with Paddy offering an intriguing insight into mindset of those men and women who are death’s attendants on a daily basis. Indeed, the most poignant scene in the novel occurs when Paddy and his associates carry away a corpse from a dormitory housing down-and-outs, their progress mutely observed by terrified old men wondering if it will be their turn next.
  Ultimately, and despite the fatalistic tone established in the prologue, The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley is a comic tour-de-force that blends high farce and slapstick (the high-speed chase involving a hearse is priceless) into a classic noir tale of a man doomed and damned before the story ever begins, its frantic pace underpinned with sobering observations on mortality that linger long after the tale concludes. It’s a heady combination, one that establishes Jeremy Massey as a unique voice in the new generation of Irish authors as a comic novelist of the first order. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: SPOOK STREET by Mick Herron

Welcome to Slough House, ‘the administrative oubliette of the intelligence service,’ where the ‘slow horses’ – aka those British spies who are damaged, broken or simply useless – are put out to grass. Slough House provides the hub for Mick Herron’s ‘Jackson Lamb’ spy novels, of which Spook Street (John Murray) is the fourth, a series that is by some distance the most impressive new body of work in spy fiction.
  The novel opens at London’s Westacres shopping centre, where a bomb explodes and ‘something like the sun bloomed in all the wrong places.’ Meanwhile, David Cartwright, a legendary Cold War spymaster and the grandfather of ‘slow horse’ River Cartwright, is targeted for assassination. When River goes AWOL in France to investigate why the senile David was targeted, Slough House commander Jackson Lamb finds himself embroiled in a plot rooted in a post-Glasnost scheme to breed the ultimate ‘sleeper’ – the fanatical terrorist who believes he’s working for the other side.
  In synopsis it sounds like a typically modern spy novel, with its technological horrors and war-on-terror paranoia, but the Jackson Lamb novels are deliciously irreverent throwbacks. The tone is set by Herron’s characterisation of Jackson Lamb, a belching, farting, swearing sloth of a man who favours low cunning over high-minded principles.
  Herron, steeped in the genre, enjoys poking fun at his literary antecedents. ‘Bond never had this trouble,’ River Cartwright observes when he finds himself lost in France and struggling to communicate with a waitress. ‘Bond, though, would have been talking to a waitress twenty years younger, with inviting cleavage.’ There’s also a neat nod to John le Carré, when Louise Guy, another ‘slow horse’, notes that a Slough House operation ‘was like a circus would be if circuses involved fewer clowns.’
  A lesser writer might baulk at invoking le Carré, for fear of inviting odious comparisons, but Mick Herron is fully entitled to his indulgence (which extends to inventing his own vocabulary, as did le Carré: the novel is thronged with ‘weasels’ ‘stoats’, ‘slow horses’, and ‘vampires’). He is superb at evoking the le Carré-esque air of ennui, cynicism and self-loathing which permeates an intelligence service on its uppers, but which remains – the alternative being too awful to contemplate – duty bound to keep calm and carry on. Even so, the reader steeped in spy fiction may discover that Herron’s beautifully detailed characters more closely resemble the grubby, penny-pinching creations of Len Deighton, those put-upon civil servants charged with defending the realm despite a complete absence of the noble impulse.
  Either way, Spook Street is an absorbing tale peppered with fascinatingly flawed (and in some cases plain awful) characters, while the downbeat tone, and the paralysing self-doubt that afflicts many of the protagonists, is entirely apt for our turbulent times. Herron has a flair for the incongruously unsettling: in the midst of some office banter, during which two characters practise enhanced interrogation techniques, one of them declares that, ‘Blowing up forty-two kids in a shopping centre is murder. Waterboarding a suspected terrorist to death, that’s housekeeping.’
  That said, Herron also leavens the mood with flashes of mordant humour (‘The Dogs sniffed out all manner of heresies, from the sale of secrets to injudicious sexual encounters: the honeytrap was older than chess, but stupidity was even older.’), while the hilariously repellent Jackson Lamb – the anti-Smiley – is a constant source of politically incorrect one-liners.
  Most importantly, Mick Herron possesses that intangible gift given to all great writers, the ability to persuade the reader that he or she alone is privy to an intimate conversation. Here Herron draws his readers so fully into the world of Slough House that the incautious might find themselves slipping between the pages and transformed from reader to spook. Which wouldn’t be entirely surprising; as Jackson Lamb points out, ‘Spooks love their stories: it’s why they’re spooks.’ ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy New Year

A belated Happy New Year to All Three Regular Readers, the more eagled-eyed of whom will be aware that posts have been at a premium over the last month or so. That’s due in part to my annual hibernation during the festive season, but mainly because I’ve started work on a new book, which is still in the honeymoon period (i.e., that all-too-brief window in time when you can kid yourself that all will be not only well, but perfect), and thus soaking up much of what I laughingly refer to as my ‘free time’. No doubt the hell-bound handcart will be drawing up, tumbril-like, at my front door any day now; but for now, I’m afraid, posts are likely to continue in sporadic and erratic fashion. In the meantime, and as always, if any author wishes to draw my attention to a forthcoming tome, just drop me a line and we’ll take it from there …

Publication: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty publishes the sixth offering in the increasingly impressive and award-winning series featuring RUC DI Sean Duffy, with yet another title – POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY (Serpent’s Tail) – culled from the lyrics of Tom Waits. To wit:
Belfast 1988: a man has been shot in the back with an arrow. It ain’t Injuns and it isn’t Robin Hood. But uncovering exactly who has done it will take Detective Inspector Sean Duffy down his most dangerous road yet, a road that leads to a lonely clearing on the high bog where three masked gunmen will force Duffy to dig his own grave.
  Hunted by forces unknown, threatened by Internal Affairs and with his relationship on the rocks, Duffy will need all his wits to get out of this investigation in one piece.
  POLICE AT THE STATION will be published on January 5th. For more on Adrian McKinty, clickety-click here

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Publications: Irish Crime Fiction 2017

Herewith be a brief list of Irish crime fiction titles published / to be published in 2017, a list I’ll be updating on a regular basis. To wit:

POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty (January 5)

LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey (March 9)
BLOOD TIDE by Claire McGowan (March 23)
HEADBANGER / SAD BASTARD by Hugo Hamilton (March 23)

A GAME OF GHOSTS by John Connolly (April 6)
HERE AND GONE by Haylen Beck (April 6)

BAD BLOOD by Brian McGilloway (May 18)

WOLF ON A STRING by Benjamin Black (June 6)
UNTITLED NOVEL by Stephen Burke (June 15)
ONE BAD TURN by Sinead Crowley (June 29)

CANDYLAND by Jax Miller (July 13)

CARDINAL WITNESS by Conor Fitzgerald (August 15)

SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Jo Spain (September 21)

INISHOWEN BOOK 3 by Andrea Carter (October 5)

  NB: Publication dates are given according to Amazon UK, and are subject to change.