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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “IN THE WOODS by Tana French complements an evening by the fire perfectly. Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her brilliant debut,” reckon the folk at Amazon’s Kindle Blog. “French does a great job of ramping up the tension … I had seriously mixed feelings about the ending (though it was entirely suitable), but I read the whole thing in one sitting so it gets a B+,” says Word Nerdy. Meanwhile, Sarah Weinman confers her not-inconsiderable imprimatur thusly: “It could stand to be cut by 100 pages, yes, but it’s clear to me [Tana French] has plenty of talent to burn and refine in subsequent novels.” Onward to Claire Kilroy’s TENDERWIRE: “Claire Kilroy’s writing is dramatic and lyrical by turns and the exotic features are just colourful background for a good and substantial yarn,” says Alice Fordham at The Times … Staying with The Times: “It is the rich characterisation that makes [I PREDICT A RIOT] worthwhile, in particular a litigious prostitute and a carrot-cake-induced coma victim,” says John Cooper … “Another new series of note comes from Brian McGilloway, the first novel being the wonderful BORDERLANDS. How good to have a setting with a difference and a policeman whose major priority in his personal life is his family and not seeing the bottom of a bottle of spirits,” reckons Crime Fic at It’s A Crime!Shadrach Anki likes Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: “The title character is a walking, talking, fire-throwing skeleton. You don’t get much spiffier than that, seriously. When you throw in snappy dialogue, fast-paced action, and more magic than you can shake a stick at, it only gets better.” Lovely … “The fact that everything is just slightly over the top, and the cast of characters are all such complete losers, is what makes this book so darkly funny … The body count is reminiscent of HAMLET, but the plot twists are more like a Coen brothers movie. Not for the squeamish, the sensitive or the literal, this book would be great for fans of Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino,” says Rainbird at Ketchikan Public Library of the Ken Bruen /Jason Starr collaboration SLIDE … Ready for the obligatory John Connolly hup-yas? “THE UNQUIET is so literary in themes it cries for the author to be the next Jonathan Lethem inductee into the hallowed halls of literature that appeals to the masses,” says Ruth Jordan at Central Crime Zone. “There is something about the way that Connolly writes without giving way to the usual horrors. His stories are undeniably dark but he has created a brooding darkness implicated more by what his characters represent than what they actually do,” reckons Adam Shardlow at A Walk in the Dark Woods. Meanwhile, Sally Roddom at Reviewer’s Choice like’s Andrew Pepper’s THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE: “He has succeeded in conjuring up in my mind the time, place and history of the story. If you like historical mysteries, and don’t mind gore, then this book is worth a read.” Bicko at the Review Column goes for an overview of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, to wit: “As with the Harry Potter series, one thing I noticed was that as the series progressed, the themes of the books become more and more mature. Having read the entire series, I can safely say that the unique setting would draw the interests of both the young and old into the very possible scenario that we are not the smartest beings on this planet.” Donna Mansfield at Living With Books includes Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD in her 2007 Top 10: “McKinty is an extraordinary writer mixing scenes of violence, keen observation of Ireland today and lyrical soul-searching as Michael questions his life and years in exile.” Back to Sarah Weinman, via the ECW Press, for her verdict on John McFetridge’s DIRTY SWEET: “McFetridge describes a Toronto of opportunists, seedy deals, and double-crosses not unlike Elmore Leonard’s Detroit of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles, but his books are distinctly rooted in his home city’s rhythms and flavours.” Finally, they’re still coming in for Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black. First, CHRISTINE FALLS, via Faith McLellan: “A broodingly atmospheric period piece and a credit to its author, John Banville, who needn’t have used a pseudonym,” snooty-snoots William Grimes at the New York Times. “Quirke … is an endearing sleuth, not least because of his jaded eye and damaged soul. His struggles … are particularly poignant. Unique and deeply atmospheric,” says Cath Staincliffe at Tangled Web Reviews of THE SILVER SWAN. And Tom Adair of The Scotsman comes down on the side of big-up, just about, thusly: “You sense that Banville / Black found it easy and wrote it quickly, wrote it with relish – one of the reasons you enjoy it, despite a nagging feeling of hunger for something meatier on the inside.” Nothing worse than a heap of relish and no meat to spread it on, eh?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books Of The Year # 8: TWO-WAY SPLIT by Allan Guthrie

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation, by which we hope to make some friends for 2008. To wit:
TWO-WAY SPLIT by Allan Guthrie
“The holdall sat on the bed like an ugly brown bag of conscience.” Fans of classic crime writing will get a kick or five out of TWO-WAY SPLIT, and we’re talking classic: Allan Guthrie’s multi-character exploration of Edinburgh’s underbelly marries the spare, laconic prose of James M. Cain with the psychological grotesqueries of Jim Thompson at his most lurid. And yet this is by no means a period piece. Guthrie’s unhurried, deadpan style is timeless even as it evokes the changing face of modern Edinburgh, as seen through the eyes of the novel’s most sympathetic character, Pearce – although sympathetic is a relative term, given that Pearce has been recently released from prison after serving a ten-stretch for premeditated murder. The most delicious aspect of the tale is its refusal to indulge in the sturm und drang of hyperbolic gore, despite being couched in the narrative of a revenge fantasy. Instead, and while it fairly bristles with the frisson of potential violence at every turn, Guthrie cranks up the tension notch by notch by the simple expedient of having his characters grow ever more quietly desperate as the pages turn. The result is a gut-knotting finale that unfurls with the inevitability of all great tragedy and the best nasty sex – it’ll leave you devastated, hollowed out, aching to cry and craving more. – Declan Burke

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Waltz To The Music Of Chancer

We’re loving The Chancer (right), people. Relatively new to the realms of lit crit, he is delicate in his appraisals, Solomon-like in his judgements. Here’s The Chancer on Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black:
“Let’s get this right again: Booker Prize winner John Banville, distressed by his poor sales, decides to pen a series of crime novels under a pseudonym – hello Benjamin Black – on the understanding that the people who would never, ever buy a John Banville book might accidentally pick one up, resulting in the Tesco-friendly best-seller every highbrow author secretly craves. And it works! Not only that, Banville’s new Black book, THE SILVER SWAN, got better all-round reviews than his last couple of ‘proper’ novels – AND you can actually read the bleedin’ thing, for a change. The Chancer Inquires: Can a pseudonym kill off the real author? Very Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF, like. Word has it that Banville is set to receive one of the literary community’s highest honours – a mammoth interview in The Paris Review. Trust us: It’s a big deal. While we’re at it, The Chancer wants Roddy Doyle to stick with the kids’ books – ‘Rover Saves Christmas’ gets better with every read. Best Irish Christmas story EVER? Absolutely. Beats the shite out of ‘The Dead’, for starters.”
Get off that fence, sir, you’ll get splinters up your wazoo. Having divested himself of his opinion, The Chancer then links to a nifty little interview from back in May at LA Weekly, ‘John Banville Takes on Benjamin Black: Still killing women’, where Benny Blanco gets into the Benjamin Black nitty-gritty with Nathan Ihara, to wit:
NI: But let’s talk about the book — what led you to write in such a drastically different style?
BB: “At the time I thought it was an exercise because I had finished the John Banville novel THE SEA and I started to read Georges Simenon. I was having lunch with the political philosopher John [N.] Gray, and he put me on to him. So I started to read and I was really blown away by this extraordinary writer. I had never known this kind of thing was possible, to create such work in that kind of simple — well, apparently simple — direct style. So it wasn’t any more serious than that. But looking back I think it was very much a transition. It was a way of breaking free from the books I had been writing for the last 20 years, these first-person narratives of obsessed half-demented men going on and on and on and on. I had to break out of that. And I see now in retrospect that CHRISTINE FALLS was part of that process. Because it’s a completely different process than writing as John Banville. It’s completely action driven, and it’s dialogue driven, and it’s character driven. Which none of my Banville books are – I’m not sure what drives them.”
Hmmmm, sounds to us like a case for quirky ol’ Quirke. Any clues to get him started, gentle readers?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Books Of The Year # 7: THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD By Adrian McKinty

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation, by which we hope to make some friends for 2008. To wit:
The concluding part of Adrian McKinty’s ‘Dead’ trilogy, following on from DEAD I WELL MAY BE and THE DEAD YARD, THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD finds the seemingly indestructible Michael Forsythe back on home ground in Ireland for the first time since he left Belfast in 1991. It’s not what you might call a happy homecoming, however; the daughter of his former lover, the flame-haired Bridget, has gone missing in Belfast, and Bridget needs Michael to help track her down. Among the many snags in this scenario is that Michael has spent the last decade living in an FBI witness protection programme designed to keep him off Bridget’s radar, given that his final revenge killing was that of her husband-to-be and Bridget has since assumed control of a criminal empire. Arriving into Dublin on June 16 – Bloomsday, honouring the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses – Michael has 24 hours to find Bridget’s daughter and thus cancel out his debt of blood, or face the fatal consequences. McKinty is a rare writer, one who can combine the conventionally muscular prose of crime fiction with a lyrical flair for language, and the blend is a compelling one. Forsythe is himself a fascinating character, brusque and blunt in his public exchanges, lethal when trapped in a tight spot (of which there are many in this furiously-plotted tale, which loosely follows the path laid down by both Leopold Bloom and Odysseus), yet possessed of a poet’s soul during his interior monologues. The violence is graphically etched into the page, as if stamped there by the force of its authenticity, but McKinty never forgets that his first priority is to entertain, leavening the bleakness with flashes of mordant humour. If there’s a disappointment it’s that this is being touted as the final Forsythe novel, and one hopes otherwise; but if THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is the last we’ll see of this Irish rogue cannon, then the pathos-drenched finale is fittingly poignant. – Declan Burke
This review was first published on Euro Crime

Sunday, December 23, 2007

God Rest Ye, Merry Ladies And Gentlemen …

’Tis the season to be jolly. And lazy. And, given that the CAP elves (right) have deserted en masse for the North Pole, the double-jobbing traitors, the Grand Vizier has no choice but to shut down the Crime Always Pays operation for a few days, possibly even a week, all depending on how quickly the elves recover from their post-Christmas Day immersion in the vat of their Patented Elf-Wonking Juice (©). Anyhoo, on behalf of the elves, HR Pufnstuf and Mrs Vizier, the Grand Vizier would like to wish everyone a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year, and we’ll see you all back here early in 2008. Take good care, people …

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Books Of The Year # 6: BORDERLANDS By Brian McGilloway

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation, which is mainly designed to give the impression that we have proper writers as friends. Or, indeed, any friends at all. To wit:
BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway
Small but perfectly formed, this little gem of a book is the debut of Brian McGilloway, an author I am sure is set for great success. The Borderlands are the area between Northern Ireland and Eire. As the book opens, the body of a teenage girl has been found in this modern no-man’s land, and two police detectives from either side of the border must decide who is to take the case. Because the girl turns out to live in Lifford, Inspector Ben Devlin of the Garda is the winner of this grim award, with his opposite number from the north, Jim Hendry, the loser. What follows over the next couple of hundred pages of this slight but telling book is a focused police procedural set during the next few days of Christmas and the New Year: an investigation hampered by weather, holidays and the need for co-ordination between the Northern and Southern administrations as witnesses, suspects and evidence turn up in the towns, hamlets and countryside on either side of the twisting border. McGilloway weaves together a complex set of characters and motives, his canvas expanding as another victim is found, as drugs seem to be involved, as Devlin’s own superior and colleagues come under suspicion, and as his own slightly tense domestic life is destabilised by an aggressive neighbour and by an old flame. Although Devlin strays from the straight and narrow both in running the investigation and in his marriage, he is essentially a good man whose innate honesty and doggedness take him further and further into an increasingly tangled web. As with many of the best crime-fiction novels, the strengths of this book lie both in its convincing portrayal of place, and in the shadows of the past, into which Devlin and his junior partner Caroline Williams have to travel in order to make connections, and hence sense, of the present. My only complaint is that a map would have helped the reader to understand the geography of the investigation, the sensitive areas in which Devlin has to clear certain aspects with Hendry, the rather taunting northern detective, and the strangely surreal area in which the events play out. Nevertheless, the author barely puts a foot wrong in this confident book. Major and minor characters are portrayed with an efficient ease that makes them real people; their personal difficulties as well as their significance to the plot combine to make a compelling whole. The final couple of chapters perhaps stray from the solid believability of the rest of the book. Although by the last quarter of the book it is relatively easy to work out who is responsible for the deaths and why, the author keeps the reader guessing as to the identity of the “who” right to the end. Once this is revealed, it is evident that there are one or two holes in the plot, but really, that doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of this excellent and well-written book.- Maxine Clarke
This review was first published on Euro Crime. Maxine Clarke inhabits Petrona.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Those crazy maverick kids over at Maverick House have come up with another maverick idea – they’re offering the chance to nab their entire 2007 catalogue for gratis, free, zip and zilch. Quoth the blurb elves:
Maverick House Publishers has commissioned a special online survey to establish the reading habits of visitors to this website. The results of this survey will be used to improve the website and the range and quality of non-fiction books in our catalogue. The survey should take no longer than 5 minutes to complete.
One lucky participant will win copies of our entire 2007 list (13 books).*
Any information submitted will be treated confidentially and will not be shared with any other party company or agency.
Click here to take the 2007 Reader Survey.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holt The Back Page

It can’t be easy being Adrian ‘Squinty’ McKinty (right). A good-looking cove, very much in the ‘craggily indented coastline’ kinda way, he’s also the author of fine cerebral thrillers, in particular the ‘Dead’ trilogy, the third part of which, THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD, get its mass-market paperback release today, December 21. But that’s not all. For lo! Yon McKinty is currently working on a new standalone, which has already been sold to Holt, the gist of which runneth thusly:
“A big, badass revenge thriller that travels from the slums of Castro’s Havana to an elite Hollywood party town in the Rocky Mountains, following a daughter’s single-minded pursuit of her father’s killer.”
Lumme! Holt also publishes Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, aka Lord Lucan, but that’s not Squint’s fault and it’d be unfair to blame him retrospectively. So when can we expect to see the new McKinty offering? Erm, when it’s ready, apparently. Like, which would you prefer, to get it fast or get it good, eh? What’s that? You want it fast and good? Righty-o, we’ll get out the cattle prod so …

This Little Piggy Went Belatedly To Market

We’re a week late and more than a few dollars short, so it’s a heartfelt wea culpa to the good people at Material Witness, who are hosting this round of the Crime Carnival. Quoth Mr & Mrs Witness:
“Imagine a gentle, relaxed stroll through an atmospheric European Christmas market – perhaps in Austria or southern Germany. Snow is falling silently, the band is knocking out Silent Night, the cider is spiced and warm, almost as good as those tempting little pastries. Well, what we’re going to do with this leg of the Carnival is a little both. A little of Satan’s shopping mall as well as a leisurely tour around the Salzburg winter fair side of the blogosphere, and stop to sample the very best it has to offer from some of the marvellous writing talent in the ether …”
Sounds delightful, and it is. Get thee hence to Material Witness post-haste and partake of their crime fiction equivalent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Spare not the reindeer, James …

Books Of The Year # 5: 12:23: PARIS. 31st AUGUST, 1997 by Eoin McNamee

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation, which is mainly designed to give the impression that we have proper writers as friends. To wit:
12:23: PARIS. 31st AUGUST, 1997 by Eoin McNamee
Given that Eoin McNamee inhabits the more literary end of the crime-writing spectrum, it comes as a very pleasant surprise to discover that his fin-de-siècle-in-retrospect thriller about the death of the former Princess of Wales in a Parisian automobile crash is written with the tropes of the hard-boiled crime novel very much in mind. The taut, often monosyllabic prose creates a relentless momentum as a variety of seedy characters (‘Bennett was like something exhumed by lamplight.’) arrive in Paris to inhabit the shadows and watch over the paparazzi-lit spectacle of ‘Spencer’ and ‘the Arab’, who are rumoured to be getting engaged as a result of Diana’s falling pregnant, a development unlikely to be well-received at the highest levels of the British establishment. Or are the hawks gathering because of Diana’s on-going campaign against landmines? Could it be true that she plans to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian cause? One of the pleasures of 12:23 is the realism McNamee brings to a tale that is as seductively plausible as The Day of the Jackal, while also playing up to the coarsened clichés of crime fiction: ‘Harper … crouched over, feeling like a fictional detective, a gone-to-seed aphorist in a cheap suit.’ … ‘Terse changes seemed to be in order. It was important that dialogue was clipped, utilitarian.’ An intimate tale that gets up close and personal with its bottom-feeding low-lives to the extent that it’s almost possible to smell their sweat and taste their cheap perfumes, it also has the capacity to open out into a kind of continent-vaulting international thriller, with McNamee making a number of non-specific references to a sense of over-arching collaboration in the supposed plot to murder the erstwhile princess, a plot in which the paparazzi are as guilty as specially-trained special forces operatives, and where the public greed which the paparazzi feeds is condemned as implicit in her destruction. ‘He knew the kinds of people who got swept up in the wake of people like Spencer. The cultists, the stalkers and loners and pale compulsives, out there on the margins, a citizenry of lost.’ Whether or not you buy into the Parisian grassy knoll theory McNamee offers here, this is a muscular tale of intrigue, deception, double- and triple-dealing. It’s also a masterclass in observational prose, and a compelling page-turner to boot.- Declan Burke
This review originally appeared on Euro Crime

Thursday, December 20, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 972: Stuart McBride

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?
A TOUCH OF FROST by R.D. Wingfield – in fact, anything by Wingfield, the man was a master of twisty multiple plotlines and brilliant characterisation. It’s a sin more people haven’t read him.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t think I’ve got any guilty reading secrets. Well, except for Allan Guthrie. His stuff makes me feel dirty and in need of a TCP bath. I suppose the nearest I get to it is when sometimes I’ll dip into a book that I just know is going to be crap, just for the twisted delight of hurling abuse at the printed page, its author and whoever ‘edited’ it. I don’t finish those books, I just like to wind myself up from time to time, makes me feel better about whatever it is I’m writing.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Probably when something finally clicks in the spider-infested basement of my brain and I suddenly realise why I stuck all that unplanned stuff into the book nine chapters ago and everything now makes sense. Tends to be short lived, but it’s nice when it happens.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’m going to go with THE KILLING KIND by John Connolly. Mr Pud and his hairy fingers were a great creation.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Pretty much any of the Connolly ones. I’d worry that someone would screw them up, though.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is not having to get dressed to go to work. The worst part is never getting away from work – it’s always there, festering away in the back of your head.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
FLESH HOUSE basically goes like this: nasty stuff happens. Abduction. People run around a lot. PANIC. Cannibalism. Kermit the Frog’s sex life. Partial nudity. More cannibalism. And some of the darkest stuff I’ve ever written. It actually gave one of my test readers the screaming nightmares – so you know it’s going to be good, wholesome family fun.
Who are you reading right now?
I just finished BURIAL GROUND, by that little eldrich pixie John ‘Spanky’ Rickards. In it he gets his revenge for me making him a bondage-obsessed constable with Grampian Police in my last book BROKEN SKIN. Short people can be so vindictive ...
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Beard! Monkey! Fish!

Stuart McBride’s BROKEN SKIN is released in paperback on January 2. FLESH HOUSE will be published in May.

Maybe The People Would Be The Times*

It’s people power, folks. Maxine at Petrona brings us the news that lunatics with impeccable taste have taken over at the reading asylum known as The Times’ book group. Quoth Maxine:
Tana French’s IN THE WOODS will be the next title to be read by the Times book group. Alyson Rudd, editor of the group, writes: “This is a real treat for Christmas. IN THE WOODS is a classic murder mystery with plenty of twists and macabre detail.” She continues: “This is Tana French’s debut and is startlingly accomplished. Many detective stories are described as “superior” to differentiate them from the many lazy and predictable thrillers out there — but this really is. French writes beautifully and is far from lazy when it comes to sprinkling clues and red herrings and developing the characters.”
In other words, IN THE WOODS is a Ruddy good read. That lazy enough for ya?

* A free copy of IN THE WOODS to the first person to get in touch and let us know the album this header comes from. Ray Banks? You’re barred.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

La Hart Is A Lonely Hunter

The latest offering in the Irish Independent’s series on 20 contemporary female Irish writers throws up another modern crime classic, Josephine Hart’s DAMAGE. Quoth the Indo’s Books Editor, John Spain:
DAMAGE by Josephine Hart
This is a novel about sexual obsession. Stephen is a successful doctor and politician in London, a sophisticated man with a dutiful wife and grown up children. He has reached middle-age, having lived a correct but passionless life. All that changes when he meets his son’s intended fiancée, Anna, an impulsive and secretive young woman emotionally crippled by her past. Instantly, they are attracted to each other and begin a voracious sexual relationship. In spite of the damage it may do if his son finds out, Stephen is gripped by a compulsion to possess Anna that overpowers him. Anna has unlocked the violent reality behind his carefully created facade. This book is a chilling exploration of physical passion and psychological darkness. It is a story of obsessive behaviour which knows no bounds, fast paced and sometimes explicit. “Damaged people are dangerous,” says Anna. “They know they can survive.” DAMAGE sold over one million copies worldwide when first published and was made into a major film directed by Louis Malle, starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. Born and educated in Ireland, Josephine Hart now lives in London and is the author of five novels. She is married to Maurice Saatchi, the co-founder of one of Britain's most successful advertising companies.
As always, the indefatigable CAP elves continue their Quixotic campaign to persuade the Indo to run a series of 20 contemporary crime novels, none of which are in the first flush of publishing, the full list of which runneth thusly:
1. QUINN by Seamus Smyth
2. THE GUARDS by Ken Bruen
3. DEAD I WELL MAY BE by Adrian McKinty
5. EVERY DEAD THING by John Connolly
7. LITTLE CRIMINALS by Gene Kerrigan
8. DIVORCING JACK by Colin Bateman
9. THE GUILTY HEART by Julie Parsons
10. BOGMAIL by Patrick McGinley
11. DEATH THE PALE RIDER by Vincent Banville
12. THE BUTCHER BOY by Patrick McCabe
13. THE THIRD POLICEMAN by Flann O’Brien
14. IN THE FOREST by Edna O’Brien
15. THE COLOUR OF BLOOD by Brian Moore
16. REVENGE by KT McCaffrey
17. THE ASSASSIN by Liam O’Flaherty
18. RESURRECTION MAN by Eoin McNamee
19. DEATH CALL by TS O’Rourke
20. A CARRA KING by John Brady
The Big Question: what blatantly glaring omission has made the elves the laughing stock of all right-thinking crime aficionados? Ye olde comment boxe is open, people …

Books Of The Year # 4: JULIUS WINSOME by Gerard Donovan

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation, designed to save us the hassle of buying them actual pressies. To wit:
JULIUS WINSOME by Gerard Donovan
Julius Winsome lives alone in the northern Maine woods, with only his dog Hobbes to keep him company. When Hobbes is shot to death by an unknown hunter, the mild-mannered Julius takes down the rifle his grandfather brought home from the trenches of WWI and sets out to wreak revenge. The simple plot outline, however, is a stark framework upon which Gerard Donovan stretches a compelling tale. Its telling is drum-skin tight and yet layered with a fierce hatred, poignant grief, an almost unbearable loneliness and a powerful desire to restore the cosmic balance that has been tilted imperceptibly out of kilter by the unwarranted killing of Hobbes – a voracious reader, Julius is a connoisseur of arcane Shakespearian phrases, and particularly those that hark back to a more primitive form of mediaeval, and perhaps even primordial, justice. Despite the elegiac tone, this is a real page-turner. Julius Winsome is as fascinating a character as has emerged from mainstream fiction for some time, an entirely realistic borderline psychopath who garners the reader’s sympathy even as he questions his own motives and the extent to which he is prepared to pursue his deranged logic. Donovan’s prose is masterfully controlled, restrained and elegantly simple but devastating in its execution, the overall effect putting this reader in mind of Tom Ripley reimagined by Cormac McCarthy.- Declan Burke
This review is republished with the kind permission of It’s A Crime!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 1,098: Patricia Rainsford

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?
Hard choice but probably DARKNESS, TAKE MY HAND, by Dennis Lehane.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
To be honest I watch TV for guilty pleasure – would you be shocked if I told you I watch Charmed sometimes?
Most satisfying writing moment?
Always when I get to the place where the writing starts to have a momentum of its own.
The best Irish crime novel is ...?
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Just like in life – the worst thing is being misunderstood. The best – being understood.
The pitch for your next novel is ...?
“War, huh, yeah – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again ...”
Who are you reading right now?
Lillian Hellman.
The three best words to describe your own writing are ...?
Too embarrassing, sorry! (That’s three words - will it do?)

Patricia Rainsford’s A SECRET PLACE is released in paperback on February 28

The Embiggened O # 948: January No Longer The Cruellest Month – Official!

Lawksamussy! It’s been a roller-coaster year for our humble offering THE BIG O and no mistake, with all sorts of nice people being all sorts of nice about us. The latest hup-ya comes courtesy of the wunnerful folks at January Magazine, who’ve been kind enough to include us in their ‘Best Books of 2007: Crime Fiction’ round-up. To wit:
THE BIG O by Declan Burke (Hag’s Head) 288 pages
Irish wordsmith Burke took a huge gamble on his second crime novel (after EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, 2003), splitting the costs of publishing it with Dublin indie house Hag’s Head Press -- “a 50-50 costs and profits deal,” as the author describes the negotiation. Fortunately, that gamble appears to have paid off, with American house Harcourt agreeing to release Burke’s book in the States next fall and THE BIG O being shortlisted for one of the inaugural Spinetingler Awards. Although Burke has done a yeoman’s job of publicizing his work, it takes more than self-promotion to make a success -- and unquestionably, THE BIG O is a big ol’ success, a tale fuelled by the mischievous spirits of Donald E. Westlake, Elmore Leonard and even Carl Hiaasen, but not slavishly imitating any of their works. The premise is simple: Frank is an incompetent plastic surgeon who wants to make a few extra bucks off his ex-wife, Madge, while she’s still covered by his insurance policy. The idea is to have her professionally kidnapped, then collect the insurance payoff and live a little happier ever after than he had expected to before, with a younger girlfriend. But as with most comic capers, when things go wrong, they go wrong in a fucked-up-royal way. Turns out that the guy tapped to snatch the aforementioned Madge is Ray Brogan, a painter who baby-sits people for kidnap gangs. Coincidentally, Ray has fallen recently for Karen, a motorcycle-riding bank robber in her spare time, who also happens -- get this -- to be the aforementioned Frank’s office assistant. Further contributing to the delightful confusion in THE BIG O is that the lovely Karen’s former partner, the style-challenged Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan, has just been released from prison and is determined to get his money, gun and motorbike back from Karen. Naturally, every fool inhabiting these pages decides that he or she can get a larger piece of the action by scamming the scammers at their own game. So, do I have to point out the screeching, smoking wheels to make it clear that a train wreck is in the offing? Author Burke must keep a lot of balls in the air for this tale to work, but he makes it look easy, switching points of view frequently and maintaining a high level of tension that should have been harder to pull off than it seems. I’m not usually a fan of comic crime fiction, preferring the darker variety. But THE BIG O kept me reading at speed -- and laughing the whole damn time. -- J. Kingston Pierce
Mmmm, lovely. Just goes to show what can be achieved with a little gentle persuasion via a length of rubber hose

Books Of The Year # 3: SATURDAY’S CHILD, by Ray Banks*

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation to fill a gap between some interesting stuff. To wit:
Still on parole after his release from Strangeways, and half-committed to running a PI operation from the back of the Manchester gym run by his buddy Paulo, Cal Innes finds himself trapped between a rock and a rockier place when local hood Morris Tiernan asks him to track down a dealer who has done a bunk with a bag of swag from one of Tiernan’s illegal gambling dens. Problems enough for Cal, whose conditions of parole naturally preclude him from associating with the criminal fraternity, but when Tiernan’s psychotic son Mo takes a personal interest in Cal’s case, things quickly spiral out of control. Laced with pitch-black humour, SATURDAY’S CHILD finds us in the kind of territory Ted Lewis carved out in JACK’S RETURN HOME (aka GET CARTER) – literally, as the action moves to Newcastle – with boxing fan Cal more than punching above his weight in such illustrious company. But while SATURDAY’S CHILD is a masterclass in generating story via character, and deserves to be lauded as one of Britain’s finest examples of gritty noir, it’s Banks’ flair for character that allows him to sidestep the conventions of the genre. Utterly compelling, Innes is a flawed hero who confounds the classic trope of the tarnished knight – Banks, in concentrating on the flawed aspect of his protagonist, takes Cal beyond the horizon and into a whole new realm. Cal isn’t simply a good guy doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, as is often the case. His flaws set the paradigm of the story, spilling out off the margins and resonating long after the final page is turned. The conventional flawed hero will generally find redemption, no matter how poisoned it is, a redemption that allows him to accommodate his various and occasionally homicidal flaws, content in the knowledge that his unique talents are required if society is to sleep peacefully at night. But in pushing his painfully realistic creation to the limit, and beyond, of what is acceptable in a fictional hero of the crime novel, Banks poses tough questions about our willingness to swallow the sugar-coated pill of traditional crime narrative resolution, querying our desire to believe in tough guy equivalents of tooth fairies. If it’s simple answers that you require of your crime fiction, pat resolutions and happy-ever-afters, SATURDAY’S CHILD will prove a harrowing experience. This Saturday’s child doesn’t just work hard for a living; he’s working hard just to live. Bleakly, desperately funny, Ray Banks offers us a glimpse of what Samuel Beckett might have read like had he turned his hand to crime fiction.- Declan Burke
* Yep, we know it came out last year. We're slow readers, okay?

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “It’s possible that Banville is the best writer at work in the genre at the moment, in terms of artfulness at least. His prose is simply brilliant, gorgeous and evocative and poetic. The sentences he writes stun, the descriptions of the people and the city seem lovingly penned,” says Fiona Walker of Benny Blanco's THE SILVER SWAN over at Euro Crime. “Grubby, creepy, sexy and dark, THE SILVER SWAN marks John Banville’s arrival as an unlikely new voice on the crime scene, rather than a snooty one-off visitor slumming it,” reckons Claire Sutherland at Perth Now. Over at the Daily Telegraph, Susanna Yager agrees: “Benjamin Black, John Banville’s crime alter ego, has followed up the acclaimed CHRISTINE FALLS with THE SILVER SWAN, another beautifully written but bleak tale featuring the melancholy pathologist, Quirke.” As does Joanna Hines at Time Out: “Black / Banville is unable to suppress his delight in observation and description, the need to stay and explore the endless present moment, and that is both the glory and the downfall of this valiant effort to fit in with a particular genre … This novel will probably appeal more to Banville’s existing fans than to anyone expecting the undemanding promise held out by crime fiction.” Hmm, snooty. No such quibbles from Jake Kerridge, also at the Daily Telegraph: “If CHRISTINE FALLS was an angrier book, [THE SILVER SWAN] is sadder. Black ensures that the familiar satisfactions of unravelling a mystery plot lead us to a very unsatisfying fact: that despicable crimes stem as easily from the most humdrum emotions of ordinary people as from the machinations of the power-hungry.” Meanwhile, here’s a late one for CHRISTINE FALLS: “A stylish, atmospheric thriller that is both beautifully written and solidly plotted … this elegantly crafted book with its haunting story is deeply satisfying,” raves Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, via Mystery Books Reviews. Onward to Claire Kilroy’s most recent offering: “TENDERWIRE is a carefully-balanced book, constructed with as much skill and precision as the instrument at the centre of it, and as haunting as the strains of its music,” says Hags, Harlots and Heroines, via Faye L. Booth They’re still tumbling in for IN THE WOODS, to wit: “Just finished IN THE WOODS by Tana French and loved it. A great atmospheric mystery ...” says Janey at Book Crossing. “Brilliant! I enjoyed this book more than any I have read for quite a while. It is very well written and the story builds up beautifully. An astonishing first novel. It is very atmospheric and weaves a web of intrigue. The characters are believable and the whole book is excellent,” reckons one of the Bailiff Bridge Library Crime Readers’ Group. Oline H. Cogdill at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel includes IN THE WOODS in her ‘Best of 2007 debuts’ round-up: “An intelligent, atmospheric thriller blends the gothic novel with the modern mystery.” Spookily, the Baltimore Sun agrees virtually word-for-word: “Beautifully written, this intelligent thriller is laden with an atmosphere that blends shades of the gothic novel with the modern mystery.” On to Ronan Bennett’s latest: “ZUGZWANG is a novel worth a few days of your time, and if you love the game of chess, you won’t be able to get enough of this text that profiles the somewhat bizarre traits of a few well known chess players,” says iGoChess. There’s a double whammy for Andrew Nugent from Jill at Murder By The Book: “THE FOUR COURTS MURDER is written in the wry, elegant style of Cyril Hare and Edmund Crispin; SECOND BURIAL FOR A BLACK PRINCE is a more serious and affecting work, exploring the murder of a member of London’s Nigerian community with sensitivity, power, and astonishing insights into a little-known culture.” Mmm, lovely … LitMs at the Stinging Fly discussion board likes Mia Gallagher’s HELLFIRE quite a lot, to wit: “An amazing book – from its sprawling dark mythology to its spot-on Dublin skanger speak. A vivid, audacious, messy masterpiece … a brave and rare achievement.” Finally, Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME is still generating raves, and from all points on the globe. First to the Caribbean: “The writing is sparse yet superb. The characters are heavy yet approachable. The story is quick yet involved. The result is an enthralling expose on the fall of an ostensibly normal man who is doomed by his inability to allow emotions or morality to impact fundamental decisions,” says a reader’s review at ttgapers, while Brienne Burnett, at The Program in Oz, is also impressed: “As a novel JULIUS WINSOME is constructed and written extremely well, with each chapter journeying you through Julius’s mental states which alternate from grief to anger to detached madness … The story ends like it begins, mysterious and quaint. It really is a lovely piece of writing.” It most certainly is that, ma’am …

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Books Of The Year # 2: THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR by Gene Kerrigan

Being the continuing stooooooory of our ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation to fill a gap between some interesting stuff. To wit:
THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, by Gene Kerrigan.
This is a wonderful book, superbly well written. The promise of Kerrigan’s previous book, LITTLE CRIMINALS, is more than fulfilled in this elegiac novel of corruption in Ireland. The book begins by describing various apparently unconnected events; one in Galway, where Garda Joe Mills is called on to try to stop a desperate man jumping from a pub roof; and a couple of others in Dublin, where Detective Inspector Harry Synnott investigates a rape accusation made against the son of a rich local lawyer, where a desperate woman threatens to stab a tourist with a syringe full of blood for cash, and where businessman Joshua Boyce is planning a raid on a jeweller’s shop. As these stories play out, weaving in and out of each other, corruption small and large is all-pervasive. Whether trapped in poverty, addicted to drugs, desperate to keep a family together or wanting to preserve a pleasant lifestyle, everyone is on the take, selling each other out, hiding unsavoury truths or aiming to stay on top of the organised crime heap. Almost the only character with integrity is Harry, who has been moved from several police stations previously because he has blown the whistle on past cases of police “stitch-ups”, much to the disgust of many of his erstwhile and present colleagues. But is all what it seems? Is Harry really a hero, or is he part of the tapestry of deceit that threads through the narrative? The answers to these questions become clearer after he meets up with John Grace, a main character in Kerrigan’s previous book, LITTLE CRIMINALS. Grace is taking early retirement and goes through his files of old cases with Harry. In this scene, we begin to get the true picture of Harry’s moral perspective. Remembering his old friend, a priest, one night, “Synnott listened to the city sounds, the chugging noise of traffic mixed in with occasional catcalls and burst of laughter. As he drifted towards sleep, individual voices, each with its own energy and purpose, blended into a muffled chorus, a refrain both solemn and threatening.” I loved everything about this book. THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR is truly bleak, at times violent and disturbing, but always brilliant. The way in which the plots overlap and sometimes merge in a horridly inevitable cause and effect is masterly. Although I applaud the lack of sentimentality, I was glad that the reader is left with a spark of optimism in the shape of at least two police officers who know how to do the right thing.- Maxine Clarke
This review was first published on Euro Crime. Maxine Clarke blogs at Petrona.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Books Of The Year # 1: CROSS, by Ken Bruen

We’re always the last to know. Like, couldn’t someone have mentioned, even in passing, that it’s coming up to Christmas? Now here’s us with nary a child in the house washed and no sign of a ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation to fill a gap. Bah blummin’ humbug, etc. Anyhoo, here’s the first of our Books of the Year – Seamus Smyth on Ken Bruen’s CROSS. To wit:
“Like all gifted writers, Ken Bruen is big on atmosphere. He wallops you with it on page one – not with a character wearing a cross, but with a cross wearing him – and never lets up. And try this for characterisation: “I didn’t enquire how the barman knew my order. I was afraid he’d tell me … You sit behind a pint like that, a pure gift, with the Jameson already weaving its dark magic on your eyes, you can believe that Iraq is indeed on the other side of the world, that winter isn’t coming, that the Galway light will always hold that beautiful fascination and that priests are our protectors, not predators. You won’t have the illusion for very long, but the moment is priceless.” Bruen stalks Galway with the eye of a jackal, scouring the city’s ever-changing cultural and social scene and rancid underbelly, and weaves it into a thought-provoking sleuth yarn which is an indictment on modern-day Ireland. And he’s very visual. You see everything. The ‘half-crouch young people adopt’, the tree in the centre of McSwiggan’s pub reassuring us that the ‘country still has a sense of the absurd’. Bruen adds to the genre a voice that’s as challenging and unsettling as it is original. No genre-writing for this guy. He writes as if he’s sitting over a beer talking to a mate. It’s as subtle a piece of crime-writing as you’re likely to get. Nothing’s forced. It’s a masterclass in pace. Many writers are compared to writers who spawned their own sub-genre. Not Bruen. He’s spawning his own for others to aspire to. How many of us can claim that?”- Seamus Smyth
Seamus Smyth is the author of QUINN.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE SILVER SWAN by Benjamin Black

Incurably curious pathologist Quirke is back, in John Banville’s second novel written as Benjamin Black. It’s two years since the events of CHRISTINE FALLS, and Quirke has given up the drink. He and his daughter aren’t on good terms, his step-father’s suffered a severe stroke, and his step-brother’s lonely and mourning the death of his wife. A bleak picture in ’50s Dublin, then. Things threaten to become even more interesting when Billy Hunt, an old school-friend Quirke barely remembers, calls him and asks a favour: his wife has been found drowned, a suspected suicide, and could Quirke please see that an autopsy is not performed – Billy can’t bear the thought of his wife’s body under the pathologist’s scalpel. Quirke, being Quirke, agrees but does one anyway after he notices a suspicious mark on the dead woman’s skin. It seems he is right to be suspicious, but all that he finds only begs more questions, questions Quirke begins to worry away at, slowly picking his way through a puzzle of drugs, messy finances, and adultery, to reveal the answer. It’s possible that Banville is the best writer at work in the genre at the moment, in terms of artfulness at least. His prose is simply brilliant, gorgeous and evocative and poetic. The sentences he writes stun, the descriptions of the people and the city seem lovingly penned. However, there are moments when you get the sense he’s working on autopilot with these books. Every now and then, a clunker, which would never happen in a book written under the real name. I read somewhere that he writes them very quickly, and if you were to compare the writing here to the writing in, for example, THE SEA, I can certainly believe that. If his writing is this good when he’s not even really trying, if he were to spend the time on a crime novel that he spends on a normal piece of fiction, imagine the result! Quirke is a stunning character, too. Troubled, determined, dogged, melancholy, tee-total here, Banville furnishes him with dimension and makes him fascinating with absolute ease. The characterisation of Quirke alone is reason enough to read the series. As would be the atmosphere of the novel: vaguely sordid, repressed, a little desperate, dark, with everything seeming sinister. The only area where Banville is less than brilliant is the plotting. CHRISTINE FALLS was a little too predictable in this department, though with a brilliant end. The plot of THE SILVER SWAN is actually quite simple, but Banville moves it along at a perfect pace and this time ensures that there’s enough the reader doesn’t know to keep them interested in that department. There are no great shocks (there are, after all, only about three scenarios which could prove to be the truth), but it’s all developed excellently. There’s no punch at the end as there was with the last novel, but the whole thing is more satisfying over all. I can’t wait for the next, apparently called THE LEMUR, and to be serialised in The New York Times.- Fiona Walker

This review is republished by the kind permission of Euro Crime

“I Say, I Say, Essay – Have You Heard The One About Irish Crime Fiction Writing?”

Crimes and Misdemeanours
How the Celtic Tiger kick-started the burgeoning genre of Irish crime-writing, by Bert Wright

Murder, kidnapping, extortion, robbery, conspiracy, fraud, racketeering – sounds like Tony Soprano’s rap-sheet but it’s not. It’s the strapline from a promotional poster in a bookstore window display – 3 for 2 on selected True Crime and Crime Fiction titles, Take your pick! Little bit tabloid, perhaps, but what does it tell us? First, it tells us that in commercial terms, crime pays; and second, it assumes a crossover between the fiction and non-fiction sides of those death-dealing mean streets. This is interesting for in the past, I suspect, many people who read Agatha Christie or Patricia Highsmith found the real life stuff a little too déclassé to be caught dead reading on a bus or a beach. No longer! Sales of both genres are buoyant, according to industry insiders.
  Should we be surprised? No, check out the bestsellers and what you’ll find are thriller writers dominating the fiction charts and here in Ireland, certainly, true crime titles featured prominently in the non-fiction charts. Of the world’s bestselling brand authors, a huge percentage would be crime writers. If you’re reading this on an airplane or in an airport terminal look around and see if someone within a twenty-feet radius isn’t reading John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, or Michael Connelly. See what I mean? As one writer recently suggested, “today, suspense, not sex, is the engine that drives popular fiction.”
  At a time when most of what we wear, watch, and listen to derives from American popular culture it would be foolish to expect reading habits to be different but here in the land of saints, scholars and skinny lattes there is one essential difference. Not only do we have our own distinctive crime genre now, we also have the mise-en-scène to contextualise it. As Ken Bruen (right), one of our most highly-rated crime writers wrote: “I didn’t want to write about Ireland until we got mean streets. We sure got ’em now.”
  Some would say there’s no more crime than before, just more sensational crime reporting. This is not what most people think. Most of us instinctually believe that crime is not just more widespread but more vicious. With George Orwell we’d share the view – expressed in “The Decline of the English Murder” - that murder ain’t what it used to be, by which he meant that “the old domestic poisoning dramas, product of a stable society” had given way to the casual violence born of “the dance-halls and the false values of the American film.” (Orwell could be impossibly quaint when the humour was on him.)
  And arguably something similar has happened here. Thirty to forty years ago, crime in Ireland might involve an ageing farmer murdered over an inheritance dispute, sweet nothings in the ballroom of romance turning to violence in a country lane. Now we have teenage drug barons plugged in cold blood on quiet suburban streets, headless torsos fished out of canals, contract killings as an extension of the services sector, and most notoriously, a fearless crime reporter executed in her car at a busy intersection.
  Sociological extrapolations are risky, of course, but would it be a stretch to suggest that the combustible mixture of windfall economics, easy money and the ancient impulse to acquire lots of it, by whatever means, has fuelled the crime explosion? Surely not, and the explosion of Irish crime writing has followed as naturally as a gumshoe trailing a hot lead. Suddenly Irish crime writing is hip and edgy and everyone wants a piece of the action.
  Most readers could name-check established writers such as John Connolly, Paul Carson, or Julie Parsons, but scan the innumerable Irish crime websites and you’ll find listed seventy to a hundred active crime writers! Admittedly, they cheat by stretching the genus – Edna O’Brien, William Trevor, Hugo Hamilton, crime writers? – but nevertheless, it’s clear that many writers have raised a finger and tacked into the prevailing wind that’s currently powering the crime boom.
  Among the most interesting recruits are John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) and Declan Hughes. Hughes, a successful playwright and screenwriter, recently parlayed his fascination with American crime heavyweights such as Chandler, Macdonald and Hammett into a new career as a crime writer. “I’d always wanted to write crime, and then one day I was sent a series of crime novels a production company wanted me to adapt, and I thought: I can do better myself.” A three-book contract with London publisher John Murray soon followed and after a warm critical reception, Hughes’ Ed Loy series, set in his native South Dublin, looks set to propel its creator onto the international stage.
  But it’s the spectacle of John Banville, Booker Prize winner and perhaps the most self-consciously literary of Irish writers, parking his tank-sized reputation right in front of the precinct house that has generated screeds of newsprint as critics attempt to make sense of the writer’s curve-ball career move. (Conveniently, it’s forgotten that Banville has form, his 1989 novel THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, having brilliantly dramatised the celebrated Malcolm Macarthur murder case.)
  The resentment and conspicuous lack of fraternity, however, has been amusing to witness. In a faux-Wildean flourish, one crime website declared “Blandville’s” novel “as boring as a dog’s ass.”* In fact, CHRISTINE FALLS, his first novel under the Benjamin Black pseudonym, is a masterly exercise in period noir, evoking the sounds, smells and manners of 1950s’ Dublin with the acuity and panache which is conspicuously missing from too much genre fiction.
  But there is a darker side to all of this that raises questions about the way we view the New Ireland. Anatomising the frequently grim reality of Irish criminality has been the task of a coterie of journalists and writers for the past decade or more. The most successful of the true crime writers, Paul Williams of The Sunday World, more or less invented the genre with THE GENERAL (O’Brien Press, 1995.) Since then, through the efforts of Williams and other writers – Paul Reynolds, Michael Sheridan, Gene Kerrigan and Niamh O’Connor – Ireland has become a country intimately acquainted with the misdeeds of its most heinous criminals, from John Gilligan to The Scissor Sisters. (The craic in the book-biz, incidentally, is that these are the most-robbed books in history with weaselly gurriers frequently spotted browsing the crime section to see whether they’ve been name-checked in the latest bestseller.)
  But free-sampling aside, who actually buys crime books, propelling them time after time into the upper reaches of the charts? (To date THE GENERAL has sold a massive 130,000 copies.) A vast cross-sectional demographic is the answer, but why? Wherein, one wonders, lies the enduring appeal of crime writing? Well, of course, the fascination with dark deeds is older than Sophocles and Shakespeare but a contemporary slant suggests that we read these books to sublimate our very real fear of ever being involved in such terrifying situations ourselves. Or, simply put, we tell each other horror stories to ward off the bogeyman. Declan Hughes (right) puts it even more simply. “What’s not to like?” he asks. “I love the very stuff of crime fiction: the smoking gun, the hard drinking, the femme fatale, the merciless gangster, the chase through the night-time streets.”
  Equally interesting (and more disturbing to contemplate) is the possibility that we freely accept burgeoning crime as the price of economic success. There’s an ambivalence at work; nobody wants to experience violent crime first-hand but having your own mean streets, now that’s pretty cool. Add to the mix white-collar and lifestyle crime, financial corruption and recreational cocaine use, and you begin to see how Ireland has, in a perverse sense, come of age. We got the lattes, the land cruisers, and the lap dancers, so why wouldn’t we read about the really nasty side of the affluence deal?
  “It’s part of the tradition too,” declares Declan Hughes. “The hardboiled novel always depended on boomtowns where money was to be made and corners to be cut: twenties San Francisco for Hammett, forties LA for Chandler.” And now, early twenty-first century Dublin for a whole host of Irish crime writers, he might have added.- Bert Wright

This article was first published in Connections Magazine

* Yup, that was us. And we’d like to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise to dogs’ asses everywhere. Wea woofy culpa, or words to that effect.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 1,097: John McFetridge

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?
SWAG – or really anything by Elmore Leonard.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I read all over the place and I don't feel guilty about any of it.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When the ending to DIRTY SWEET presented itself. Up till that moment I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Now it’s closer to just no idea.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE WHORE MOTHER by Shaun Herron – despite the title (and it not being technically a crime novel. Also the story ‘Black Hoodie’ in Roddy Doyle’s THE DEPORTEES).
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Could I make this an Irish-Canadian novel and say Brian Moore’s THE REVOLUTION SCRIPT?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is when a scene is really working, when all the parts come together and it reads exactly like I want it to. The worst part is when a scene isn’t working.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
A late-’70's rock band, The High, reunite to play the casino nostalgia circuit – and rob a few along the way (I tried out some characters in flash fiction on
Who are you reading right now?
Mario Puzo and Linwood Barclay.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Sex. Violence. Profanity.

John McFetridge’s EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE will be published in July 2008. DIRTY SWEET is available at a good bookstore near you.

But How Strange The Change From Major To Major Major

Wonderful world, beautiful people. Any novel that features the characters Jimmy the Bollix, Stinking Pete, Lucky Luciano and Dirty Dave has our name on a copy, particularly when said novel – THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK – emanates from the warped mind of Twenty ‘Major Major’ Major, the bon viveur, surreal genius, bloggaire extraordinaire and erudite wordsmith who doesn’t like to show off, which is why his blogging vocabulary is mostly limited to an anagram of the word ‘cnut’. Quoth the blurb elves:
When Twenty gets an early morning wake-up call from Detective Larry O’Rourke it seems like any other day. But when he discovers that his friend, record-shop owner Tom O’Farrell, has been murdered and that his dying act was scrawl the number ‘60’ in blood on his chest and dial Twenty’s number into his phone, he begins to think something might be out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, time is running out for the people of Dublin. A plan has been hatched that is more sinister than seeing your granny tongue-kiss with an 18-year-old and it all seems to centre around ‘Folkapalooza’, a massive free concert due to take place in the Phoenix Park. Soon Twenty and his pals from Ron’s bar find themselves plummeted into the crazy world of concert promotions, assassins, iPod-based defence systems, mad taxi drivers, office espionage and devious minds. A combination that will test their friendships, and their ability to cope with hangovers, to the limit. What does the number ‘60’ signify? Who is the ginger albino and who is he working for? Can Twenty, Jimmy the Bollix, Stinking Pete, Dirty Dave and the rest solve the puzzle before it’s too late or will Dublin succumb to the dastardly mastermind behind it all?
Erm, given that said dastardly mastermind is very probably one Twenty Major, it matters not a whit. But it’s still not too late, people – the book isn’t published until February, so we can still get this filth banned. The petition is officially open in the comments box …

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We Need To Talk About Kevin. Again

And now for something slightly different, people. Kevin McCarthy is an Irish writer on the verge of a big breakthrough – he’s already had stories published with Thuglit and Plots With Guns – and has just completed his first novel, PEELER, ‘a murder mystery / lit crime novel set during in West Cork during the War of Independence’. We herewith and hencely bring you chapter the first of PEELER, with our commendations. To wit:

Kevin McCarthy

Chapter 1
Word of the body had come from the wife of a shopkeeper in Ballycarleton. It was a rumour only, she had told the young RIC constable as he collected the barracks’ newspapers from the rear of her husband’s newsagents. But she hadn’t the heart not to hand it on. Imagine, she had said. Some poor soul lying alone in the gorse and the heather, in the wind and rain of late autumn. Unclaimed. A young woman, she had told the constable, her hand resting on his forearm, speaking quickly, in a breathless whisper, eyes darting left and right lest someone should see her speaking to a Peeler. Just a rumour, mind. Passed by the friend of a cousin who grazed sheep in the hills.
  The same hills where they were now searching. Eleven cold, wet men in the open back of a Crossley tender. Acting Sergeant Seán O’Keefe of the Royal Irish Constabulary bumped shoulders with a private from his escort of eight Essex regiment soldiers out of Bandon. With him from the barracks were Constables Logan and Keane, O’Keefe only bringing the recently sworn in Keane because it was he who had taken the tip on the body from the newsagent’s wife.
  The Crossley’s engine strained, gears grinding as it climbed a rutted boreen used by farmers and their livestock. O’Keefe scanned the landscape for any sign of the body. The squaddies scanned the sky for rain through the chicken wire mesh that shrouded the back of the Crossley. The chicken wire kept out grenades but not the weather.
  The soldiers, O’Keefe knew, resented being there; dragged away from a warm fire to run escort for three Peelers searching for a body that probably didn’t exist. They smoked, cupping cigarettes in down turned hands, their Lee-Enfield rifles resting between their knees. O’Keefe considered ordering a pair of the men to stand watch to the front and rear of the lorry bed, arms at the ready, but didn’t have the heart. He wasn’t sure the soldiers would obey a Peeler’s order anyway.
  Fifty-five policemen killed in the previous four months in Ireland. Forty-nine disarmed and countless others wounded, shot at and beaten. West Cork had been the worst affected in the country. The constabulary needed army escorts to move around the county and the Army relied on the constabulary for local intelligence, but neither was willing to cede authority until something went sour. Until someone was killed on patrol or a shop was looted and torched, when suddenly it was the other lot who had been in charge. O’Keefe remained silent.
  Hills of deep green—mottled with rusty patches of dying bracken, clumps of spiny gorse and rock and studded with mountain-grazing sheep—rose gently on both sides of the boreen. Halfway up the hill to the west were the abandoned remains of a small cottage, most of the structure’s rotting thatched roof collapsed inwards.
  ‘There! Down from the cottage, there.’
  O’Keefe saw it a second after Keane did. Rumour become truth, some two hundred yards up the hill to the west, to the left of the ruin. The sheer, fleshy whiteness of it. The black, rifling attention of feeding crows.
  The soldiers followed Keane’s pointed finger, one or two taking up their rifles, assuming the young constable had spotted a sniper or party of ambushers. O’Keefe reached over into the cab, tapped the Crossley driver’s shoulder and the tender squeaked to a halt. The men jumped off the tailgate, leaping the low ditch at the edge of the narrow track, fanning out in rough, defensive positions.
  O’Keefe followed them down from the lorry and paused behind it, studying the landscape. It was an odd place to dump a body, he thought, even if it was left as bait for an ambush. The only places an attack could come from were the ruined cottage or the hilltop, where there was a ruck of wind-worn boulders that could act as a firing position. He would be exposed while he did his examinations of the scene, but O’Keefe had seen far better ambush sites: bodies laid at bends in roads bordered by high blackthorn hedges and dry-stone walls; bodies left in front of derelict buildings, darkened windows nesting snipers. This felt different. He waved over the Essex lance corporal in charge of the escort. The man came slowly, ducking low in the ditch but in no hurry. He was a hard-looking man, a tracery of fine white scarring on one side of his face. O’Keefe guessed this wasn’t his first war.
  ‘The boulders there, and the ruins….’ O’Keefe pointed. ‘Can you send a few lads up to clear them? Maybe leave two in wide positions and a couple with the Lewis gun on the tender. Doesn’t feel like an ambush, but…’—he felt a fool saying it—‘better safe than sorry.’
  The lance corporal looked as if he might disagree, then shrugged and bellowed four names. The men received their orders and began to trudge up the hill while the corporal set his remaining squad in positions facing north and south, up and down the boreen, with two men manning the Lewis machine gun on the Crossley’s bonnet.
  A breeze cooled the damp wool of O’Keefe’s bottle green uniform. Gooseflesh dimpled his back. Constable Keane jogged over and squatted beside him, gently setting an oiled leather camera case on the grass at the ditch’s rim.
  ‘Will we head up, Sergeant?’
  ‘No,’ O’Keefe said. ‘Wait til those boys clear the area. The body’s not going anywhere.’
  Keane nodded, rummaging in his trouser pocket for a tattered paper bag of sweets. He held it out to O’Keefe who shook his head.
  ‘Queer spot to leave it, all the same,’ the young constable said, palming sweets into his mouth and returning the bag to his pocket. ‘Have to lug the yoke a fair stretch to get it up there. And left in full view of the whole valley.’
  ‘No sense plugging someone if others can’t learn from it.’
O’Keefe watched as the Essex scouts disappeared into the derelict cottage halfway up the hill. Moments later they re-emerged, signalling an all clear and O’Keefe continued to track them as they climbed towards the boulders at the hilltop, the soldiers moving in a loose group of four instead of spreading out and working around from each side of the crest. They ambled, upright, Enfields held loosely at their hips. Like Sunday hillwalkers, O’Keefe thought. Too young to have fought in the war or they’d know better. ‘Where’s Logan?’ he said.
  Keane nodded back towards the Crossley. Constable Logan was leaning up against the lorry’s bonnet, pipe stem wedged in his mouth under the cover of a thick, white moustache. O’Keefe didn’t need to see his mouth to know that he was yarning. It was what Logan did. The man could talk paint off walls.
  O’Keefe could hardly believe the old constable hadn’t taken a bullet since the Troubles had started. Logan was from a different age of policing in Ireland. A time when a constable stopped for an auld natter with the people he served. For a hand or two of cards with the bachelor farmer, a short whisky on a cold night patrol, a mug of tea and a look-in at the dairyman’s newborn calf.
  Now, O’Keefe reflected, we police travel in packs and kick in the dairymen’s doors, hunt down their sons while their sons are hunting us. Logan had taught O’Keefe a lot of what had been good about the job in the days before the killing had started. He decided to leave him where he was, hoping that Logan would hear the shooting, if there was any, over the sound of his own voice.
  The four Essexes reappeared from behind the boulders and again signalled an all clear.
  ‘Right so, Constable.’ O’Keefe rose stiffly from the ditch.
  Keane picked up the camera case and took long strides up the hill, boots pressing a wake in the damp grass for O’Keefe to follow. As they climbed, O’Keefe took note of the ascent and estimated the distance from the Crossley to the body. The grade of the hillside was enough to make a reasonably fit man break into a sweat. A fitter man than himself, he thought, the scar on his face tensing in spasm with the effort of the climb. He rubbed it with his palm. Like the lance corporal, O’Keefe had his own curio from the war; a dark, pink rope of knotted tissue, from under his right eye to his neck. It played up under physical or mental strain. He had covered enough of it as he could with a thick brown moustache.
  ‘Fair climb, Sergeant.’ Keane was only twenty-two years old, a Donegal lad six months in the police. He had sharp blue eyes, sandy blond hair under his peaked uniform cap and the wispy beginnings of his own de rigueur RIC moustache. He was an athletic, handsome, if shorter, version of the thousands of men who had clamoured to join the RIC for generations. When the IRA had begun shooting RIC men, recruitment to the constabulary had understandably dropped. Out of necessity, age-old standards for height, girth, reading, writing and arithmetic had been relaxed, allowing men under five foot nine, such as Keane, to enlist.
  ‘It is,’ O’Keefe answered. ‘You’d reckon more than one to do the job—to haul it up there.’
  ‘And a motor,’ Keane said, ‘or cart and ass to get the body up the boreen. Sure, the village there…,’ the constable turned back from his climbing and pointed south-eastwards, ‘must be a mile or more away.’
  O’Keefe stopped and looked. The hamlet was clearly visible from where they stood on the hill. ‘Drumdoolin,’ he said. ‘Two of our lads were killed just outside it on cycle patrol last summer. O’Rourke and Cotton—good cons, God rest them.’ Con. RIC slang for constable. O’Keefe had heard that con was short for convict in America. He enjoyed the irony. ‘They boarded up Drumdoolin barracks shortly after. Divvied up the men between Bandon barracks and ourselves. IRA burned the shell of it last Easter.’
  Keane shook his head but didn’t appear surprised. It was all in the run of things for new RIC men and the rabble of Black and Tans brought in from across the water. Barrack mates shot in the face from behind stone walls, their guns and ammunition taken while they lay twitching and bleeding out on the road. Barrack mates kidnapped from dance halls and executed by moonlight, their bodies dumped in bog holes or left on the wet cobbles of town squares as a warning to prospective recruits to the constabulary. Keane would never have known West Cork when it wasn’t a place hated and feared by policemen.
  ‘You think the body had anything to do with the village?’ Keane said, turning back and continuing to climb.
  O’Keefe shrugged and followed. ‘If it did, we’ll probably never find out. Sure, murder’s as common as rain round here these days. And no one knows anything about it, even when they do.’
  They reached the body and several crows flapped and rose from it, angry at the intrusion. Even then, O’Keefe thought one had refused to flee its roost at the body’s mid-section. Only as he moved closer could he see that it was no crow covering the young girl’s hips and thighs.
  Keane blessed himself. ‘Jesus wept. Look at her…’ He swallowed. ‘Are those…feathers?’
  The young constable turned then and vomited into a scrag of heather.

© Kevin McCarthy, 2007

Kevin McCarthy is represented by the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency. Enquiries to: Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, Rosney Mews, Upper Glenageary Road, Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland.