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.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shiny-Shiny, Shiny Books Of Leather

The lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton were kind enough to send us a copy of Stephen Leather’s latest, DEAD MEN, and we really couldn't resist the headline. Quoth the blurb elves:
Former SAS trooper turned undercover cop Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd knows there are no easy solutions in the war against terrorism. But when a killer starts to target pardoned IRA terrorists, Shepherd has to put his life on the line to protect his former enemies. Whilst he is undercover in Belfast, a grief-stricken Saudi whose two sons died under torture in the name of the War On Terror is planning to avenge their deaths by striking out at two people close to Shepherd. As the Muslim assassin closes in on his prey, Shepherd realises that the only way to save lives is to become a killer himself.
Yes, yes – but is it any good? Quoth the Daily Express:
“There’s a new breed of British crime writer giving the genre a much-needed shake-up – and Stephen Leather is at the forefront … the sheer impetus of his storytelling is damned hard to resist.”
So there you have it, the book that finally lends the lie to the old saw that DEAD MEN tell no tales …

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fright And The City

The Bookseller last week hosted a rather nice interview with twinkly-eyed rogue Darren Shan (right), aka DB Shan, in which he talked with Alison Flood about demons, gore, morality and crime fiction in advance of the publication of PROCESSION OF THE DEAD, the first of the ‘City’ trilogy. To wit:
The Road to Darkness

In an urban fantasy novel by one Darren O’Shaughnessy, Orion’s Simon Spanton—the book’s first editor—appears as a corpse and has his extracted guts used as a divining tool to predict the future stock market performance of his company.
  Gruesome? Gory? Unsurprising when you realise this is the work of Darren Shan, who in his million-selling, 19-strong range of books for children variously dismembers families, dives into a world of guts and splatters characters with vomit. PROCESSION OF THE DEAD (Harper Voyager, March) is his first novel for adults, originally published by Orion in 1999 as AYUMARCA and now reworked and repackaged under the name D.B. Shan.
  Shan makes a naughty schoolboy chuckle when Spanton’s name arises. “In my children’s books I often kill off people I know—loads of my friends get torn to pieces,” he says, reclining on a smart leather couch in his London crash pad (home is Limerick in Ireland).   “It’s a mark of respect—I never kill off anyone I don’t like, so I thought it would be nice to go back, put Simon in there and kill him off.” His publicist Helen Johnstone, he adds, will probably be killed off at some stage.
  The addition of Spanton is not the only change Shan has made to the original novel. Written when he was 21, it was the first book he ever had published, and it sold only “a couple of thousand” copies despite positive reviews. Apart from changing the name of the book (“no one could actually pronounce it”), he has cut it back by around 100 pages and filtered in elements of the modern world to bring it up to date.
  “I never felt that it was finished before,” he says. “I didn’t change the structure very much, as I didn’t want to go back and rewrite it completely. I just cut out things that didn’t need to be there. Back then, in my mid to late 20s, I was learning to express myself, I was saying more than I needed to say. These days I write more than I need and edit down, edit down, edit down.”
  The cuts really show. PROCESSION OF THE DEAD rattles along at a breakneck pace, following the story of wannabe gangster Capac Raimi as he learns about life in the City, crosses paths with the all-powerful Cardinal, delves into the mysteries of the Incan priests who control more than meets the eye—and slowly comes to realise that he has entirely forgotten his own past. Shan describes it as a cross between “The Godfather” and the Coen Brothers.
  PROCESSION OF THE DEAD is published under the name D B Shan to avoid alienating Shan’s large fan-base, but also to prevent his younger readers from picking it up. “One of the interesting things about this book will be how many readers follow across,” he says. “I don’t want 11–12-year-olds but I do want 14–15-year-olds to . . .”—he thinks for a second—”to follow me down the road of utter darkness.”

Gore and morality

  Shan always knew he wanted to be a writer, and after finishing an English and sociology degree at Roehampton University, he wrote while working for a television cable company in Limerick for two years, before quitting to see if he could make his dreams come true.
  “I knew there was a good chance I might not get published, and I was drawing the dole for two years, but it was what I wanted to do.” First written was AYUMARCA, then the idea for his first children’s book, CIRQUE DU FREAK, arrived fully formed in Shan’s head. His agent Christopher Little loved it but initially struggled to sell it, as publishers thought it was too dark. HarperCollins took a chance—and eight years later sales through BookScan of Darren Shan’s books total 1.8 million.
  Shan is still surprised there has not been more outcry about the gore, but says that despite the blood and guts, the books are actually very moral. “In LORD LOSS, in chapter two, a kid walks in and his family has been torn apart by demons: his dad is hanging upside down with his head chopped off, his mum is cut in two with a demon behind her moving her around like a puppet. It’s a really gory scene that I thought would get the book banned everywhere. But what it’s about is a kid dealing with loss, losing his parents. Good fantasy, especially for children, is about real life. It gets children to reflect on these things. Kids don’t want lessons, they don’t want to be told what to do if their mother dies in a car accident—snore—but reading an adventure book, they get close to the character, and if the character loses someone, they think about it.”
  Shan works a few years in advance, so is currently up to 2012 in terms of his children’s books and 2010 for his adult titles; sequels HELL’S HORIZON and CITY OF SNAKES will follow PROCESSION OF THE DEAD in 2009 and 2010. He’s keen to write more adult books, and the ideas are lining up thick and fast. “The trouble I’ve always had is getting the publisher to release the books quickly enough. I’d written up to book nine [in The Saga of Darren Shan] by the time they published CIRQUE DU FREAK.”
  He spends around two years writing each book and has four titles on the go at once, doing eight drafts of each book. Working with long series means he can go back and sow the seeds for a future event if he desires: “If I come up with an idea in book seven, I can go back and put a hint about what’s to come in book two,” he says. “It’s quite a chaotic way of writing—like juggling—but it’s just the way my mind works.
  “When I do my first draft in my head, I’m thinking everything’s brilliant—this is going to be ULYSSES for the 21st century. Then I leave it for a year, and because I’ve put it aside for so long I can say ‘rubbish, rubbish, rubbish’. When you’re writing a book, you’ve got to get beyond that precious stage, and see it as the reader’s seeing it.” – Alison Flood
This interview was first published in The Bookseller

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER by David Park

Who’d be a publisher? Having to shout equally loud about all the books you publish, it becomes impossible for browsers to tell the good from the bad. Maybe there should be a key - a winking eye on the spine, say - to tell us what’s not really worth bothering with. The thought occurred as I was reading David Park’s new novel THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, a book worthy of the highest praise; and yet I know I would never have heard of it, let alone bought it, if I hadn’t noticed that the book launch was taking place in my home city of Belfast, Park being a fellow Northern Irishman - and that in optimistic preparation, my local Waterstone’s had a couple of hundred copies stacked high everywhere I looked. I don’t know whether this is cheering, because I did discover it, or depressing, because of all the others I haven’t.
  I don’t know whether THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER is cheering or depressing either: it’s solemn of outlook all right, but such a rare pleasure to read that it sent shivers of delight right up through me from the pages. It takes a situation ripe with emotional possibilities and does it every justice.
  The setting is Northern Ireland, home of long memories and extended news bulletins, where at present there is momentum for a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to help draw a line under decades of conflict. Where other writers might feel that the move from violence to politics robs the subject of power, Park’s stroke of brilliance is to recognise that it is these moments of change - where attention has moved on but the story is not yet over - which offer the most dramatic potential, and in the book the Commission has been established. Some people want to forgive and forget, perhaps because their status now is one they don’t want to lose; others want to remember and still demand justice. Overlooking them all are the British and Irish politicians who most of all want to feel the hand of history on their shoulder, and will permit principles to erode in order to keep the process on track.
  The first two-thirds of the book moves unhurriedly, with 60-page portraits of four men: Henry Stanfield, the Truth Commissioner; Francis Gilroy, former IRA man and now Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly; James Fenton, retired detective who will be able to provide some unwelcome facts to the Commission; and Danny, a young Irishman in America who is about to make a commitment to his girlfriend. Where these scenes excel is in filling in the truth of the men: Stanfield’s adulterous past, estranged daughter and weakness for younger women; Gilroy’s embarrassment at his lack of cultural knowledge which leads him to surreptitiously read Philip Larkin poems, and his new understanding of the fear of sudden murder which he himself once instilled in others; Fenton’s need to drive across Europe “where he’s unknown and no more visible than a grain of sand on the world’s shore” to atone for his past; Danny’s mistaken belief that his only worries are for the future. Stanfield in particular is a fascinating character, a perfect example of the type of person who comes to hate their old homeland after being away - Belfast is a place of “self-consoling mythology” - and who has some unwelcome observations to make about the political process:
Now the world doesn’t care any more because there are bigger wars and better terrors and all that remains is this final tidying up … He has even met a few individuals already who clearly have become emotionally dependent on their grief, who have jerry-built a kind of lop-sided, self-pitying life out of it and are unwilling to risk having even that taken from them, in exchange for their day in the sun.
  These sections are written with beautiful poise and elegance, and although the sinuous style seemed a little similar from character to character, it can only be to Park’s credit that I found myself each time unwilling to leave the man whose life had been laid out before me, and keen to hear more of his story. The characters are fully fleshed, struggling to maintain their sense of self even as they understand that their place is ultimately in someone else’s story, with their “inability to resist or stop the flow.”
  Although urgently political in background, the stories at the heart of THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER are human ones, stories of exertion of and submission to power, and of “the curse of memory.” In the last third the pace picks up and the story becomes almost a thriller - well, I was pretty thrilled anyway - without sacrificing its grounded sincerity. All this is surrounded by a linked introduction and coda which opens the book on a note of high drama and ends it with something approaching serenity.
  Truth is a relative concept, and personal, and perhaps I am swayed by my knowledge of the places and processes described in the book, like an excited local pointing out his street on a TV drama. For me, nonetheless, the truth is that David Park has written what looks like the first essential novel of 2008. – John Self

This review is republished with the kind permission of Asylum

Thursday, February 21, 2008

“Alibis? We Don’t Need No Stinking Alibis!”

They did it for John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, and now the good folk at Belfast’s premier crime fiction outlet No Alibis are giving Paul Charles’ THE DUST OF DEATH the plush limited edition treatment. Quoth the Belfast Telegraph:
A novel by crime writer Paul Charles which first appeared in the shops as a £15.99 hardback is going back on the shelves – as a £150 leather-bound limited edition.
  The new-look THE DUST OF DEATH, in which the author introduces good cop Starrett, is the work of Belfast bookbinder Liam McLaughlin, with illustrations by Anne M Anderson [above, right] for Edel Torr Editions.
  Only 75 copies of the limited edition, printed by Nicholson & Bass, are going on offer at the No Alibis Bookshop in Botanic Avenue tomorrow.
  There is a waiting list for the books and they are expected to sell out quickly.
  “I’m deeply flattered by this gesture,” said show business agent-turned-writer Charles, originally from Magherafelt, who now lives in Camden with his wife Catherine.
  “It’s all about David Torrans of Edel Torr and his love of books and the special edition is definitely aimed at collectors.”
The launch takes place today, Thursday 21, at 6pm, No Alibis, Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Oh, and the Telly also reports that Paul is currently polishing off his 13th novel, a Christy Kennedy title called THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND O SILENCE. All together now: “There’s a kind of plush / All over the world …”

The Future Is Bright, The Future Is THE BLUE ORANGE

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: It’s been a week of minor landmarks, people, what with Crime Always Pays being nominated for Best Specialist Blog at the Irish Blog Awards just as the witless witterings of the elves propelled the blog past the humble figure of 40,000 page impressions since it kicked off in April, 2007. The Grand Vizier also acquired a new editor at Harcourt, the very well spoken of Thomas Bouman, and finished the latest draft of the sequel to THE BIG O, which is currently labouring under the unlikely working title of THE BLUE ORANGE.
  It’s a time of taking stock at CAP Towers, then, and not least because the Grand Vizier and Mrs Vizier (right) are due to be delivered Baby Vizier in roughly three weeks time. Which means that we’re all feeling unduly optimistic about life in general here at Crime Always Pays. We’re feeling mostly pleased about the current draft of THE BLUE ORANGE, which is an unusual state of affairs at Chez Vizier. We’re disappointed Stacia Decker has left Harcourt, naturally, but we’re very much looking forward to working with Thomas Bouman. We’re also looking forward to proving wrong Sarah Weinman’s gloomy prognosis for the writers Stacia signed to Harcourt, on the basis that the novels we’ve read of Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks and John McFetridge are top class examples of modern crime fiction (we’ve yet to read James Sallis, but according to a Ken Bruen-shaped birdie, “With Jim Sallis, CYPRUS GROVE is a masterpiece and his Lou Griffin series is awesome, not to even mention his biography of Chester Himes.”). We’re also pretty sure, given her unstinting support for crime and mystery fiction, that no one will be happier to see Sarah Weinman proved wrong than Sarah herself.
  So where to now? With the Grand Vizier in unusually honest mode, he has pronounced himself entirely unsure. To date THE BIG O has been a grand adventure, going from its humble beginnings as a co-published novel with the tiny but perfectly formed Irish publisher Hag’s Head Press, under the guiding hand of Marsha Swan, to Harcourt making real the Grand Vizier’s life-long dream, that of having a book published in the U.S., the spiritual home of hardboiled crime. Which is wonderful in itself, but as Lou Reed once croaked, a baby is the beginning of a great adventure. Will writing even matter as much when Baby Vizier arrives? Will it matter at all? Is it possible that the Grand Vizier will come to resent his compulsion to write on the basis that it will eat into the time he can spend with Baby Vizier? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …
  One thing we do know is that the Grand Vizier will not be spending as much time at CAP Towers as of yore. So the elves would like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to all crime writers, their agents and publicists to take advantage of all that potential blank space by forwarding suggestions for guest blogging posts to the Minister for Propaganda Elf, c/o dbrodb(at), putting ‘I can do better than that rubbish’ in the subject line (Crime Always Pays offers precisely three molecules of publicity oxygen, but hey, we can’t all be The Rap Sheet).
  Finally, we’d like to offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has played their part in bringing us to this point, and we sincerely hope you stay on board to ride the train all the way to the end of the line. Oh, and apologies for all the sentimental guff – normal service will be resumed forthwith. The future, after all, is blue-ish orange …

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out Of Aifric

Here at CAP Towers, the elves are always on the look-out for new Irish crime writers, not least because new writers save the elves the trouble of generating fresh material themselves, the lazy midget buggers. So it’s three cheers, two stools and a lusty huzzah for Aifric Campbell (right), whose THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER will be published on April 24. How do we love thee, Aifric? Let us count the ways … Gorgeous? Check. Smarter than us? Check. Writing superior crime fiction? Check. Operating a state-of-the-art interweb thingy? Check. Did her greyhound win the Irish Derby when Aifric was 15? Check. Quoth the blurb elves:
Jay Hamilton lives a comfortable life in fashionable west London, listening to the minor and major dysfunctions of the over-privileged clients who frequent his psychoanalysis practice. But the darker recesses of his own psyche would not stand up to close examination: his brother Richard, a genius professor of mathematical linguistics, was apparently killed by rent boys in Los Angeles and Jay was the first on the scene. Author Dana Flynn is determined to scratch beneath the surface while researching a biography she intends to write about Richard, and finds that Jay’s professional life is as precarious as his personal relationships – he uses his clients’ case studies as material for his fiction writing. Such is Jay’s hunger for recognition as a creative force that he exploits the vulnerables he counsels, and a decision not to intervene when a troubled patient steals a baby causes his past to unravel.
Lovely, lovely, lovely. But is it any good? “This gripping psychological drama hooks the reader into a compelling labyrinth of sibling rivalry and stealthy passion. It is an intellectual novel of ideas written with real verve and style,” says Patricia Duncker, while Stevie Davies largely concurs: “A profoundly original new writer. THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER leads us on a dark and thrilling quest through murderous spaces of the mind, in a prose of startling and inventive beauty.”
So there you have it. Aifric Campbell. THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER. Sorry, Ms ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards, but it looks like we found ourselves a new stalkee …

A hat-tip to Karen Meek at Euro Crime for the inside dope.

Another Day, Another €40,000

At some point today, barring the complete collapse of the interweb, the statcounter at the bottom of this page will hit the 40,000 mark, which as far as we know means that Crime Always Pays has had 40,000 page impressions since the day it kicked off last April, when it was launched to coincide with the publication by Hag’s Head Press of our humble offering, THE BIG O. A relatively modest achievement, we’re sure you’ll agree, but that’s no reason not to thank everyone who has ever visited CAP Towers, even if it was just to blow raspberries (Ray Banks, we know where you live).
  We’d also like to thank those who have contributed to the blog in some shape or form, particularly reviewer par excellence Claire Coughlan and Chico ‘Chicovich’ Morientes, who has played a huge part in maintaining the blog when the Grand Vizier was indisposed (i.e., disporting himself shamelessly in sunnier climes). We’d also like to thank contributors who have come on board in recent weeks under the ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ banner, especially as they are quality writers – Adrian McKinty, KT McCaffrey, Brian McGilloway and Bernd Kochanowski, take a bow.
  Meanwhile, the statcounter would very probably be closer to 400 page impressions than 40,000 if it wasn’t for the generous support of the network of crime and mystery fiction blogs and websites out there. In no particular order, we’d like to thank The Rap Sheet, It’s A Crime!, Euro Crime, Petrona, Detectives Beyond Borders, International Crime, Pulp Pusher, Shots Magazine, International Noir, Reviewing the Evidence, AustCrimeFiction, the Crime Carnival crew, Crime Scraps, Spinetingler Magazine, CrimeSpree Magazine, the Book Witch and Cormac Millar. Last but by no means least, it’s a humble hat-tip to Critical Mick, the original and the best Irish crime fiction web resource. If we’ve left anyone out, we’re very sorry; rest assured we will be punishing the elves for their sloth forthwith.
  This is a wonderful time to be Irish and writing about crime fiction. In the first six months of 2008 alone, we will see new novels from John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Aifric Campbell, Declan Hughes, DB Shan, Sam Millar, KT McCaffrey, Derek Landy, David Park, Ronan O’Brien, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman, Eoin Colfer, Siobhan Dowd and Benjamin Black (John McFetridge, Liam Durcan, Michael Haskins and Tony Black, meanwhile, qualify under FIFA’s ‘grandparent’ ruling). In addition to those names, we’ve had published in the last six months novels by Ronan Bennett, Ingrid Black, Sylvester Young, Julie Parsons, John Creed, Cora Harrison, Adrian McKinty, Garbhan Downey, Paul Charles, Eoin McNamee, Neville Thompson, Tana French, Andrew Nugent, Sean Moncrieff, Patricia Rainsford and Arlene Hunt.
  When we began Crime Always Pays, we wondered where all the material would come from. Today we have no idea where the time will come from to do justice to all the quality Irish crime fiction that’s out there. Long may you all run.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THEFT: A LOVE STORY by Peter Carey

Peter Carey understands that crime is a means and not an end in itself. THE ILLYWHACKER tells the story of Herbert Badgery, ‘self-admitted liar, trickster, and confidence man’; JACK MAGGS explores what might have happened to Dickens’ banished convict Magwitch; THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin, but instead fictionalises the infamous Australian outlaws; MY LIFE AS A FAKE concerns itself with literary hoax, while THEFT: A LOVE STORY engages with hoaxing and fakery in the world of modern art. But is Carey, twice a winner of the Man Booker Prize, a crime fiction author?
  Well, yes and no. ‘Yes’ because he is quite obviously obsessed, albeit not exclusively, with the criminal mind. ‘No’ because you won’t find Peter Carey’s novels reviewed in some ‘Crime / Mystery Round-Up’ ghetto tucked away in the corner of a newspaper once a month, an afterthought to the other works of fiction deemed worthy of review. That is not to say that Carey’s novels, in that patronising phrase gaining currency, ‘transcend the genre’. But Carey himself, as an author, name and now virtually a brand, has. This should be a cause for celebration for writers of all genres and none.
  THEFT is typically Carey, in that it’s an exercise in debunking myths, not only of its subject matter, the hysterically pretentious modern art world, but of the craft of writing itself. The story is told in twinned narrative voices, those of Butcher Bones and his ‘idiot savant’ brother Slow Bones, and while both offer a refreshingly earthy and distinctively Aussie take on the art world, it’s Slow Bones who steals the show. Reminiscent in his interior monologues of Patrick McCabe’s THE BUTCHER BOY, which in its turn owes a debt to Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, the childlike Slow Bones is by turns crude, perceptive, insightful and potentially homicidal. A pawn in the hands of his ambitious artist brother Butcher, and Butcher’s ruthless lover and art authenticator Marlene, Slow Bones is a deranged angel, his infantile yearnings the only hope for morality in a world in which all reference points, including the quality of the art that sells for millions, are by definition subjective. Carey can’t resist the occasional poetic flourish, but for the most part THEFT reads like it could have been written by (an admittedly giddy) David Goodis or Gil Brewer. Says Butcher:
I have told this bloody story so often. I am accustomed to the expression on my listeners’ faces and I know there must be some essential detail I omit. Most likely that detail is my character, a flaw passed from Blue Bones’ rotten sperm to my own corrupted clay. For I can never have anyone really feel why her confession so thrilled me, why I devoured her slippery soft-muscled mouth in the dancing light of country barbecue near the Shinjuku railway station.
  So she was a crook!
  Oh the horror! Fuck me dead!
  The real charm here is the way in which Carey addresses some pertinent questions to anyone who loves books. Who decides what is art and what is not? Is anyone truly entitled to claim the role of ‘authenticator’? Can a novel be considered literary if its story is told in (deliciously) profane vernacular? Carey, clearly one of the most gifted wordsmiths of his generation, could easily have told the story of THEFT in any style he chose, from hardboiled prose to a baroque parody of the language used by those who inhabit the rarefied atmosphere of modern art. That he chose not only to puncture the bubble of self-aggrandizing, mutual deception that characterises the art world, but does so in a manner akin to Pollock spattering bullshit all over its ostensibly pristine canvas, the whole shot through with crime fiction tropes, suggests that the gap between what is considered literary and genre fiction may well need to be radically reassessed in the near future.
  For the two to be given equal footing will require the majority of crime writers to improve their prose, and for the majority of literary writers to hone their story-telling – or at least try to remember that the fundamental point of any book is the story it tells. For now, though, the likes of Peter Carey on the one hand and James Lee Burke on the other, both superb and popular stylists who revel in the possibilities of a good story, are close enough to shake hands if they so choose. It may take a bit of work, but there’s no good reason why other writers shouldn’t be able to slip into the wake created by their momentum and produce work that acknowledges its debts and roots but is not confined to any particular genre, or none. – Declan Burke

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,043: Twenty Major

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?
I don’t know exactly. I suppose something by Elmore Leonard or Joseph Wambaugh. They have this brilliant ability to tell the crime story but to combine it with such humour and pathos without being clich├ęd in any way. I had thought maybe something by James Ellroy but I don’t want to think about that man’s mind. It scares me.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Football biographies. Ex-players, ex-managers etc. I like the way that no matter who the ghost-writer is he makes the footballer sound exactly like every other footballer. Especially when he’s trying to make him sound different. Other than that I’ll read anything really. Apart from chick-lit or any kind of romantic fiction.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing the first draft of THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK. Writing a blog is easy because you only do 500 or a 1000 words on any post. There doesn’t have to be continuity, there’s no need for fact checking, you don’t have to go back and figure out what someone said in chapter 4 to see if it makes sense compared to what you’ve just made them say, it can be random and pointless. Unless you’re Dan Brown, writing a book is very different. The first draft was finished on a Friday. I’d set that day as the deadline and I knew the story was coming to an end. I think I drank about 5 pots of coffee that day but because you know you’re on the finishing straight you can just keep going. I even wrote ‘The End’. Even though with all the editing and further drafts it was nowhere near. It was a nice moment though.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE THIRD POLICEMAN by Flann O’Brien. A piece of surreal genius.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
It’s hard to say. It’d be nice if it were something that was typically Irish and could be filmed here. You’d look at the John Connolly books in terms of their stories but the setting is the USA. Oh, wait, isn’t this the question where everyone answers ‘Mine!’? It would be nice to see some film companies take a chance with Irish books though. There are some excellent stories and characters out there, I suppose it just means someone taking a bit of a risk.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best - working on your own schedule, mostly, multiple coffee breaks, knowing that in some very small way you’ve left your mark on the world. I like the idea of somebody finding my book in old old cardboard box, years after I’m dead, and sitting down and enjoying it. Or thinking ‘Man, this is terrible. I think I’ll write a book. If this fucker can do it anyone can!’. Either way works for me. Worst - being easily distracted, that bit in the middle of the book where you’re completely stuck and filled with self-doubt, hangovers.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Twenty and Jimmy the Bollix owe a favour to somebody. At the end of the first book a meeting is set up. The second book deals with this meeting with a Dublin gangster who is calling in his marker. After that I kind of know where it’s going but I don’t want to say too much at the moment. It will mean a trip outside Dublin, to sunnier climes. And I don’t mean Brittas Bay. Basically they’ll be asked to do something that will prove very hard to do for all kinds of reasons. It may not be 100% crime based but there’ll certainly be a lot of petty crime in it.
Who are you reading right now?
Elmore Leonard – UP IN HONEY’S ROOM. Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ring’ series. Boris Starling – VISIBILITY.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Absolutely fucking ludicrous.

Twenty Major’s THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK is published by Hodder Headline Ireland.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: IN THE WOODS by Tana French

IN THE WOODS is an astonishing primeur, fuller and more zaftig than most of its kind. Praised by reviewers, its nomination for the Edgar Awards was only a surprise because French’s major contribution to her obligation as an American citizen was her birth in Vermont.
  The book is often described as a psycho thriller, which it not wrong but nevertheless give a wrong impression: it is much more than that. On the first 400 of its never boring 600 pages, IN THE WOODS reads like a crossbreed of a classical whodunit and James Ellroy’s THE BLACK DAHLIA.
  The corpse of a young girl is found on an altar stone on an archaeological excavation site. She had been clubbed and suffocated and an object was inserted into her vagina to suggest a rape ...
  There seems to be no plausible motives to explain the murder and still several lines of investigation are followed. The father of the girl is a chairman of a citizens’ action committee that wants to prevent the construction of a motorway which would destroy the site of the excavation. Much money is at stake and he receives anonymous and threatening telephone calls. The family itself seems strange, somewhat deranged, as if there is something wrong ... but the detectives cannot put their finger on it. And then there is the excavation site, an archaeological treasure situated on an old pagan sanctuary, sacrificed by politicians to build the motorway at exactly that place.
  Substantial investigational police work is done, several tracks are followed, a lot of working days are deployed, but all this without any results.
  The small village where the crime happened had been the scene of a crime once before. At that time three children, all 12 years old, two boys and one girl, played as they usually did in a small wood. At the end of the day two of them were missing and never found. The third stood at a tree, scratching with his finger nails at the bark with his shoes filled with blood. What happened he doesn’t know and will never know: he has suffered a total blackout. Adam Ryan was the name of the boy; now he is Rob Ryan and he is one of the detectives who try to solve the case of the murdered girl.
  His partner, Cassie, a young woman, together maintain a very close and deep platonic friendship. She knows his secret, which accompanies the investigation, hinders it, advances it.
  The coexistence of the personal relationship of Cassie and Rob and the unfathomable secret, which plagues Rob and threatens to destroy him, lends a very intensive atmosphere to the book.
  And then, on the last 200 pages, as the case is about to be solved, French whirls and shuffles the different strands of the plot and creates a emotional cauldron with a satisfying solution.
  It is a daring book. A lesser writer would have abbreviated the lush text, reined in the narrative flow and dealt with the end in a more conventional manner. However, this is multilayered, moves stylistically from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases.
I never knew and never will whether either Cassie or I was a great detective, though I suspect not, but I know this: we made a team worthy of bard-songs and history books. This was our last and greatest dance together, danced in a tiny interview room with darkness outside and rain falling soft and relentless on the roof, for no audience but the doomed and the dead.”
Reviewed by Bernd Kochanowski and republished with the kind permission of International Crime.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “Bruen covers and makes manifest many tenets of human pathology. He keeps the reader wanting to cover one eye and peek through thin spaces to see what happens next, since there will inevitably be someone getting a shot to the face, a sloppy, bloody mix-up, or the classic narrow escape that turns into being much more devastating than anyone could have anticipated,” says Francesca Camilla at Pop Matters of AMERICAN SKIN. Over at Revish, Mack Lundy has been reading PRIEST: “Ken Bruen writes clean, spare prose without anything that could be considered filler. He is the master of the one word paragraph … PRIEST is a dark look at contemporary Ireland, the Church, and society. It is a compelling read.” Alan in Belfast likes David Park’s latest, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER: “It’s a great book. A book of this time and of this place,” says he, pithily. Equally pithy but no less direct is Lois Peterson’s verdict on WHAT WAS LOST at LP Words: “What can I say but ‘Brilliant’ in craft, theme, story.” S.J. Hollis at I Must Write That Down likes Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: “It reads like a damn good crack!fic and the one-liners are worth the cover-price alone. Skulduggery is simply a fantastic character.” Over at The Times, Nicolette Jones is very impressed by Siobhan Dowd’s BOG CHILD: “This book is sometimes funny, despite the seriousness of its subject. It is also psychologically and historically convincing, showing the impact of politics on domestic life. The work of an outstanding writer, it is preoccupied with the preciousness of life and the finality of death.” Over at the Irish Times, Margrit Cruickshank agrees: “In Dowd’s handling of complicated plot strands, her lyrical prose, her humanity and her humour, we recognise a talent which was been very sadly cut short.” They’re still coming in for Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME: “Donovan’s disturbing novel brilliantly describes the pleasures of being alone and the simultaneous perils of loneliness … the shocking contrast between nature’s calm and humankind’s capacity for violence is superbly realised,” says Ian Critchley at the Sunday Times. Back to Mack Lundy at Revish for his thoughts on Declan Hughes’ THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD: “If you like classic-style private investigator stories, on the edge of being hard-boiled, with good, witty writing, I highly recommend THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD … There is blood, violence, and swearing using at least one word we don’t use often in the US.” Hmmm, must be ‘feck’ … Nicola at Back To Books likes DB Shan’s PROCESSION OF THE DEAD: “This is a dark fantasy, set in a violent world and fortunately, the first in a series. I hope I don’t have to wait too long to read the next one! Highly recommended!” Finally, a couple of big-ups for Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, to wit: “IN THE WOODS by Tana French is set in my favourite virtually-visited country, the land of magic, great literature and outstanding beverages, Ireland … This book will be in my top ten of the year. Beautiful writing and good character development,” says Mary Saums at Femmes Fatales. But we’ll leave the last word to Bernd Kochanowski at International Crime: “It is a daring book. A lesser writer would have abbreviated the lush text, reined in the narrative flow and dealt with the end in a more conventional manner. However, this is multilayered, moves stylistically from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases.” Just like Bernd himself, as it just so serendipitously happens …

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Brian McGilloway On the Essence of Crime Fiction

A Grand Vizier writes: The motives behind ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ are twofold. First, the idea is to give guest bloggers the few molecules of oxygen of publicity Crime Always Pays can provide. Secondly, even we’re sick of listening only to ourselves, and we reckon some new voices will provide fresh perspectives on crime fiction in general, and Irish crime fiction in particular. And so, with minimum fanfare – a tiny tootle there, please, maestro – here’s Brian McGilloway (right) on the nexus between real and fictionalised crime.

‘The Obligation To Tell the Truth’

“This past week in Strabane, a 27-year-old man was abducted, taken just over the border, shot twice in the chest, and left to die outside a small Catholic church. The man’s murder caused outrage and rumour in equal measure in the local area.
  “Twenty miles away, a man, having served eight years of a 16-year sentence for the rape of a 91-year-old woman, who died two weeks later of a heart attack, perhaps precipitated by her ordeal, was released from prison and moved into a small farmhouse near a community with a number of lone, aged females. Those in the surrounding area have no control over who has moved into their midst. Some argue that the man has served his sentence. Others argue that his seeming lack of remorse and refusal to comply with police procedures make him unsafe in such a community.
  “These two events have, unsurprisingly, featured highly in our local media this past week. However, on a more personal level, in recent days, over a dozen of my colleagues have smiled knowingly at me and said; ‘That’s the plot of your next book taken care of then, eh?’
  “Whilst the comment was, for the most part, intended in a good-humoured way, and I’m not in the least egotistical enough to see a link between the two things, it did set me thinking. Firstly, I found the recent shooting both shocking and deeply frightening. Strabane/Lifford is a small, fairly tight-knit community. Murders happening in large cities are somehow more anonymous, although none the less horrible for that. In a small community though, it’s perfectly possible that the man who pulled the trigger that killed the 27-year-old Strabane man, or who raped a 91-year-old spinster, could be standing behind my wife and children in the corner shop, could be the person who drives the bus into town, offers you the Sign of Peace in Church. Someone who thought little of taking another person’s life in such a brutal and violent manner.
  “Secondly, the quip about the Devlin books also gave me pause for thought. As I started drafting book four, THE RISING, I found myself questioning the use of violence and crime in the books I write and those I read. In a time when Hollywood seems preoccupied with violence as the new pornography, is there something deeply flawed in using crime for entertainment?
  “But that, to my mind, disregards the purpose of crime fiction. I wrote my first novel around the time of the birth of my first son. I am convinced that that event was at least a catalyst in my writing. Nothing creates an awareness of the threats of the world quite as much as a new-born child. Particularly in post-Troubles Ireland, where a mixture of the Ceasefire and increased affluence has, paradoxically, seemed to create more criminal activity. And as the cases of this week show, all too often justice is not done, or those who commit crimes not necessarily brought to justice in a manner most people would like.
  “Yet crime fiction allows that to happen, imposing some form of morality and order on a world that seems increasingly lacking in both. Our detectives in books achieve clearance rates massively above the average in Ireland. And perhaps offer us some vicarious hope that good will always triumph. The books themselves allow us to safely face our fears, safe in the knowledge that some form of resolution will be imposed in a manner unlike real life, much as the ancient Greeks experienced catharsis watching dramatic tragedies.
  “Whilst I wouldn’t claim that crime fiction necessarily matches Greek Tragedy, its purpose and its appeal in raising difficult issues to a wide reading public far outstrips most literary novels. James Lee Burke [right] argues that it is the artist’s obligation to ‘tell the truth about the period he lives in and to expose those who exploit their fellow man.’ I believe few genres are as well placed to do this in modern Ireland than the crime novel and so, as I started writing THE RISING today, I did so not with a voyeuristic use of violence but a dedication to deal truthfully with issues that affect myself, my children, and those who live in Ireland in 2008. In this I believe I am no different from any other writer named in this blog over the past year.
  “And I am proud to be among their ranks.” – Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE will be published on April 4

Sunday, February 17, 2008

All Hands On Decker

The rather foxy Stacia Decker (right) was the editor of CAP’s Grand Vizier, Declan Burke, for the five minutes or so between when she signed his humble offering THE BIG O for Harcourt and the merger between Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin. Sadly, Stacia became a casualty of said merger, as Sarah Weinman reports. To wit:
On Friday, Publishers Weekly reported that four editors at the now-combined Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had been laid off, a move anticipated for quite some time after Riverdeep, Houghton Mifflin’s parent company, bought out Harcourt late last year and the two similar but distinct trade devisions were merged together. Later that day Publishers Marketplace cited who they were: Webb Younce, Jane Rosenman and Anton Mueller on the Houghton side, and Stacia Decker on the Harcourt side.
  The Houghton layoffs are bad news on the literary fiction and non-fiction front - authors who count any of the three editors as theirs include Mary Sharratt, Laleh Khadivi, Jonathan Miles, Elinor Lipman, Nicole Mones, Jenefer Shute, Timothy Egan, Mark Slouka, Anchee Min, Jonathan Chait, Taylor Antrim, Steven Sherrill and Colum McCann – but Decker’s dismissal is a huge blow for the mystery genre.
  Not only was Decker tasked with editing most of the books Otto Penzler acquired for his eponymous imprint, an author stable that includes John Harvey, Thomas Perry, Andrew Klavan, Joe Gores and Joyce Carol Oates, but she acquired many excellent and interesting writers treading on the side of noir, such as Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, John McFetridge, James Sallis and Declan Burke, as well as Inger Wolfe. No wonder Spinetingler Magazine recently voted her as “Best Editor” in their inaugural awards given out a few weeks ago.
  What Decker’s leaving means for those authors, as well as Penzler’s imprint, remains to be seen, but I’m not feeling a lot of optimism at this point for an imprint that took care to publishing quality crime fiction exclusively in hardcover and trade paperback. I do feel optimism, however, for Decker, who not only has good editorial taste but some very shrewd instincts that will serve her well at her next editorial job. She’ll also, I hope, continue writing, as her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Nerve, South Dakota Review, Small Spiral Notebook, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Faultline, among other publications. But once again, this news shows the dark side of publisher consolidation, a side that probably won’t lighten up anytime soon.
All of which is quite doomy and gloomy, but we believe cream always rises to the top and that Stacia will be beating off potential suitors before you can say ‘all hands on Decker’. You go, girl ...