Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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, August 4, 2017

Review: HERE AND GONE by Haylen Beck

An award-winning author of crime thrillers set in Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville publishes his eighth novel, Here and Gone (Harvill Secker), under the open pseudonym of Haylen Beck. The story begins with Audra Kinney on the run from her abusive husband, Patrick; when Audra is pulled over for a routine traffic stop near the small town of Silver Water in Arizona, she is arrested on a trumped-up charge of marijuana possession and separated from her children, Sean and Louise. Held overnight until charges can be brought, the distressed Audra asks the arresting officer, Sheriff Whiteside, where her children are:
Whiteside held her gaze.
‘What children?’ he asked.
  It’s a variation on every parent’s worst nightmare, not least because the reader subsequently learns of an internet forum on the ‘dark web’, wherein a number of men are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘the goods’, ‘a pair in good condition’ who will provide the ‘entertainment’ for an evening’s depravity.
  With the reader aware that the clock is ticking, the scene is set for an adrenaline-fuelled tale of gritty heroism, as Audra – helpless in Sheriff Whiteside’s custody, suspected of murdering her children by the FBI, and already convicted by the court of public opinion – struggles to overcome impossible odds in a desperate bid to save her children.
  It’s a high-concept tale to rival Neville’s debut, The Twelve (2009), in which an ex-paramilitary, haunted by the ghosts of those he was ordered to murder, sets out to avenge their deaths. While Here and Gone is equally absorbing, the new nom-de-plume and the Arizona setting aren’t the only radical departures for Neville. In a sense, he has had to reconfigure his entire mindset vis-à-vis the crime genre, in the process illuminating the essential difference between the hardboiled crime novels originating in the US and the mystery novels of those – the recent Scandi noir phenomenon included – from this side of the pond. Where Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey and most of the other amateur sleuths of the UK’s Golden Age of mystery writing were happy to collaborate when necessary with the local police force, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op and Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe frequently found themselves at odds with the establishment and at the rough end of a brutal justice meted out by corrupt police forces shoring up a rotten system, a state of affairs that reached its apotheosis in Jim Thompson’s first-person account of the deranged deputy sheriff Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me.
  Hailing from a former colony, Irish crime writers get to have their cake and eat it too, presenting the police as agents of oppression and terror when it suits, but also culturally attuned to tapping into the classic British perception of PC Plod as the flat-footed but utterly dependable avatar for law, order and justice.
  It was in utilising the latter perception that the Belfast-based Stuart Neville established a considerable international reputation on the basis of a series of loosely linked police procedurals set in Northern Ireland, in which the protagonist, most recently DCI Serena Flanagan and previously DI Jack Lennon, were diligent professionals who – their personal demons notwithstanding – did their best to protect and serve the civilian population. In Haylen Beck’s Arizona-set Here and Gone, however, the police are not only mistrusted as the corrupt representatives of system of law and order heavily weighted towards the rich and privileged, but are to be feared for proactively seeking out the vulnerable in order to facilitate a monstrous appetite.
  The result is a novel that combines the propulsive narrative drive of Lee Child with Michael Connelly’s deceptively understated muscular prose, a thriller that also blends into its potent mix a strong flavour of both the domestic and rural noir sub-genres, the former as a consequence of Audra Kinney’s intensely emotional quest to be reunited with her children, the latter courtesy of Neville / Beck’s beautifully detailed descriptions of the remote and parched Arizona landscape. All told, Here and Gone is, even allowing for the inevitable hyperbole, not only a genuinely chilling and thrilling read, but a fascinating snapshot of Irish crime fiction’s ability to straddle the classic strands of US and British crime fiction. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Event: Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan (right) is not only one of the good guys, but the good guy from whom – pace Wodehouse – aspiring good guys might take a correspondence course. ‘Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan’ is neither a correspondence course nor a set of guidelines in being a good guy, or doll, but it should prove both instructive and illuminating vis-à-vis the fiendishly difficult business of writing crime fiction. To wit:
‘Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan’
Starts: Thur 28 Sept 2017
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Duration: 8 Weeks
Venue: Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast
Cost: €88/£80

Maverick police detectives, hardnosed gumshoes or crime-solving cats. Anything goes. Do you have a criminal mind, but too much sense to break the law? You might be in luck. CSNI (Crime Scene Northern Ireland) is an introduction to writing crime fiction. An eight-week course that explores the wide range of subgenres within crime fiction where you can learn about the so-called rules of writing a crime novel, and break them.

Gerard Brennan recently earned his PhD in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast. His publishing credits include UNDERCOVER (2014), WEE ROCKETS (2012) and THE POINT (2011); winner of the Spinetingler Award for Best Novella in 2012.
  For all the details, including how to book a place, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Irk of the Week # 326: The Decoupling of Couple Of

I’m currently reading a novel called [REDACTED] by [REDACTED], which is a very fine novel indeed, despite the author having – as seems to be the fashion – a bizarre abhorrence of using the words ‘couple’ and ‘of’ in conjunction. One such example:
They’re just a couple stupid little girls.
  Now, the first time you stumble (and stumble you do) across this, you might well assume it’s a typo, and let it slide. But when it reoccurs four or five times in the course of a single novel (otherwise typo-free), you may assume it’s a stylistic tic, and start to wonder why said tic has become so prevalent.
  Because the thing is, it simply doesn’t scan, and not least because anyone saying that line is making a conscious decision to omit the word ‘of’.
  Try saying ‘They’re just a couple stupid little girls’ aloud; then try it using ‘couple of’, ‘couple a’ or even ‘coupla’.
  If you can’t hear the difference, I apologise – it’s very likely the sound my grinding teeth drowning out the nuance.
  Of course, the line could also be written thusly:
They’re just a couple stupid little girls.
  Because the reader already knows there are two girls under discussion, we don’t really need the ‘a couple’ at all; and anyway, you’ve got that lovely plural built in there at the end, just to be doubly sure.
  Next week’s Irk: the epidemic of authors forcing characters to ‘fire up’ their computers, laptops, et al, instead of simply allowing said characters to switch on, or turn on, their computers, laptops, et al, thus costing the benighted denizens of Characterland a small fortune as they rush to invest in flame-retardant technology.

Publication: LITTLE BIRD by Sharon Dempsey

Published last week, Sharon Dempsey’s debut thriller, LITTLE BIRD (Bloodhound), is a serial killer novel set in Northern Ireland. Quoth the blurb elves:
Forensic psychologist, Declan Wells, is dealing with the aftermath of a car bomb during the Troubles in Belfast, which has left him in a wheelchair. But that is only the start of his problems.
  Welsh detective Anna Cole is running away from a dead-end relationship and the guilt of her mother’s death. She hopes secondment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland will provide a distraction.
  There is a killer on the streets targeting young women and leaving behind macabre mementoes to taunt the police.
  Can Declan and Anna work together to catch the deranged killer before he strikes again?
  And is it ever possible to leave the past behind you?
  Dominique Jeannerod interviews Sharon over at the International Crime Fiction Research Group. For more, clickety-click here

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey

Jane Casey’s seventh novel to feature London-based police detective Maeve Kerrigan, Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins) finds Maeve newly promoted to detective sergeant, although her latest case proves a baptism of fire in the new role. When Chloe Emery, an unusually naïve 18-year-old, returns home from a weekend away to discover a bloodbath in the family home, all the signs point to the frenzied murder of Chloe’s mother, Kate – all, that is, but the fact that there is no corpse.
  It’s a variation of sorts on the classic locked-room mystery, a police procedural into which Casey – previously a winner of the Irish Crime Novel of the Year – blends religious fanaticism and patriarchal sexism. As Maeve and her colleagues interview Kate Emery’s neighbours, among them Gareth Selhurst, a preacher in the Church of the Modern Apostles, she uncovers horrors that lurk behind the most respectable of middle-class suburban facades. ‘Yes, I do,’ states Maeve without hesitation when Selhurst asks if she believes in evil, as Casey unapologetically etches the classic battle-lines of crime fiction into her plot.
  That unequivocal reply, as she faces down the ranting, patriarchal Selhurst, confirms what the reader will likely know: promotion is good for a woman. Maeve Kerrigan is here noticeably more confident than the reticent character plagued by self-doubt we encountered in earlier novels, a woman who was, in public, as hardboiled and pithy as any of her colleagues (chief among them her irascible partner Josh Derwent), but who revealed her insecurities by way of asides to the reader. Her new position may make the private Maeve feel a little giddy (‘One step up the ladder and the view was giving me vertigo.’), but her private and public selves are much more in synch, perhaps because Maeve, finally, has allowed herself to believe that she has earned, and deserves, her new responsibilities.
  Not that Maeve is likely to get carried away with Pollyanna-ish ideals about good inevitably triumphing over evil. Maeve’s unhesitating acknowledgement that evil exists isn’t rooted in any theological argument, but in the bitter experience of policing London’s streets, where even in the plusher suburbs a woman such as Kate Emery isn’t safe from the savage (male) predators who hide in plain sight among her apparently law-abiding neighbours. When Derwent tells her that she wants to make everything right, that she wants to believe in happy endings, Maeve retorts that there’s no such thing, that ‘There’s just life.’
  It’s an answer that might be construed as cynical or pragmatic, particularly in the context of a genre that generally delivers the ideal of justice as a substitute for a happy ever after. It’s a theme Casey develops as Maeve Kerrigan’s investigation develops, and the focus moves from the discovery of Kate Emery’s killer to the protecting of her orphaned daughter, Chloe. The 18-year-old Chloe – technically an adult, but mentally and emotionally much younger – has become prey for the neighbourhood’s predators, because, as Maeve tells Derwent, “no one ever taught Chloe the rules […] That your body is public property, if you’re young and female. That men will take advantage of you, if they can.” The Maeve Kerrigan novels have always had a feminist sub-text; here, in tandem with Maeve’s promotion, that sub-text is brought to the fore, as Maeve uses her new powers to go to war on Chloe’s behalf.
  The result is a complex tale that delivers a superior police procedural. Maeve Kerrigan remains one of the most likeably self-deprecating detectives on contemporary crime fiction’s beat, and Let the Dead Speak, which fairly crackles with the sublimated sexual tension between Maeve and Josh, is the most polished of the Maeve Kerrigan series to date. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Publication: ENDGAME by Casey Hill

ENDGAME is the eighth novel from Casey Hill – aka Melissa Hill and her husband Kevin – to feature Reilly Steel, the Dublin-based forensic investigator. Quoth the blurb elves:
When the body of a teenage boy is found beaten to death in his own bedroom, and a girl attending a party held at his house reports an attempted sexual attack the night before, the Dublin police immediately suspect both incidents are related. But when a sweep of the crime scene throws up some truly puzzling forensic evidence, CSI Reilly Steel wonders if those initial suspicions are correct. As the investigation deepens, and her GFU team begins to delve into the online lives of both teenage victims, even more questions are raised. Can Reilly help the investigators discover the truth about what actually happened on the night of the party?
  For a review of Casey Hill’s TORN, clickety-click here