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, March 8, 2008

Left Coast Crime II – This Time It’s Personal

The rather fabulous Kelli Stanley (right) is attending Denver’s Left Coast Crime, and has rather fabulously volunteered to blog the experience for us (the first instalment can be found here). To wit:

LCC Day Two: Hotels, Historicals and Harmonicas

OK, so first you’ve got to understand that the LCC conference hotel itself is a rather left-handed form of architecture. It’s actually two hotels, one with a bar (most important feature), a restaurant, a gift shop and eight floors, and another hotel, with thirty odd floors, a sports bar, and a gift shop and three confusing floors of conference rooms. The challenge is how to get from one hotel to the other without getting lost too many times.
  You might think crossing the street would do it, but it’s cold outside. Really cold, especially early in the morning. So if you’re staying at the smaller hotel, like I am, and want to get to your panel, here’s what you do:
  You take a covered walking bridge on the second floor to the conference centre. Then you take an escalator or elevator up one more floor, veer left as though you’ve just had your fourth martini, make a sharp right into the Sisters in Crime hospitality suite for directions or water, walk backwards 50 paces to another escalator, go down one flight, and make a sharp left. You’ll be in a long hall, and you’re supposed to be in one of the rooms to either your right or left. They’re named after Colorado things (Columbine, Vale), and to make matters more(!) confusing, the floor you are now on--which is who knows how many stories below ground--is called the “Terrace” level.
  The Majestic level is one floor below this, and if you just spin around three times, click your heels together and throw salt over your left shoulder, and you might find the book room downstairs, along with more panel rooms. The good thing is that when you inevitably get lost, you can almost always find your way back to one of the bars. Or a gift shop, if you’re so inclined.
  So after experiencing the maze of the conference rooms, I’m even more impressed at the terrific job that Sisters in Crime and the team of volunteers have done here in Denver. Today I got up at the crack of dawn to attend the New Author’s Breakfast, where novelists like the fabulous Bill Cameron (Lost Dog), Toni McGee Causey (Bobbie Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day), J.T. Ellison (All the Pretty Girls), Laura Benedict (Isabella Moon), CJ Lyons (Lifelines) and Ken Isaacson (Silent Counsel) had a chance to talk about their books.
  A bit later, I had a chance to talk about history and the Roman side of Roman Noir in NOX DORMIENDA at an MWA panel with Aileen Baron, Beverle Graves Myers, Frederick Ramsay and the amazing and wonderful Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness, right)). Colorado school children in attendance made the panel extra fun ... the kids asked the best questions! They also queued up at the signing, where I was very happily seated in between the dashing Eric Stone (Grave Imports) and the charming Tasha Alexander (And Only to Deceive).
  In the afternoon, finally had a chance to play the (pawn shop) harmonica. At the end of our Endless Conversation, I warbled a few bars of Oh, Susanna. Never one to turn down a reprise, I played it again for Rhys at the MWA Cocktail Party and chatted with more friends, including Alexandra Sokoloff (The Harrowing), Cornelia Read (The Crazy School), Sophie Littlefield, Terri Thayer (Wild Goose Chase) and Susan Arnout Smith (The Timer Game). Also in attendance was the delightful Margie Lawson, writing teacher and editor extraordinaire. If you’re looking to take an online class and really make a difference in your productivity and awareness when it comes to your own work, Margie is the go-to gal. After the party, I headed out for a massive and delicious dinner with nine friends at Maggiano’s restaurant.
  And still, I had to resist the urge to go into the bar when I came back, full and exhausted ... so strong is the socializing instinct and urge at Left Coast Crime. Hey, after I write this, maybe I’ll go try to get lost again ...
  Day Three tomorrow ... the Lefty Banquet, Hawaiian Costume contest and the NOIR Panel! Jason Starr, Con LeHane, Ken Kuhlken, Cornelia Read and yours truly will be diving dark deep ... I’ll be talking about the noir side of Roman Noir.
LCC Denver in February ain’t hibernation, baby! – Kelli Stanley

Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak

Quoth the Grand Vizier: It’s been a funny old week for ‘Project Grand Vizier’, people. The biggest news came from Hollywood, where the team of monkey-elves that go under the collective name ‘Gavin Burke’ had a movie script under consideration with a rather interesting producer, said script being an adaptation of THE BIG O, yours truly’s humble offering. Now, the producers said “No thanks,” and for reasons far too depressing to get into here. Nonetheless, the GV is quietly pleased that the book – published, lest we forget, on a budget of two elastic bands and a bent paper-clip – has penetrated so far so quickly, and particularly as it won’t even be published in the U.S. for another five months.
  Besides, as Mrs Vizier said after we heard the news, this is probably the best time to hear it, what with Baby Vizier still on course for his or her arrival on Friday 14. Like, who could really give a rat’s fundament about a movie with a Baby Vizier in the offing? An empire waits with bated breath, after all.
  In other THE BIG O-related news, we’ve seen some proposed covers for the U.S. release, and they’re hotter’n the barrel of a two-dollar gun. Meanwhile, Spinetingler Magazine has generously offered to host an excerpt from the novel in the near future, for which we are fawningly grateful.
  In blog-related matters, Crime Always Pays lost out in last week’s Irish Blog Awards to The Voyage in the ‘Best Specialist Blog’, and deservedly so. Sail on, you crazy diamonds. The Grand Vizier attended the awards ceremony with The Panjandrum, aka Chico ‘Chicovich’ Morientes, who was diplomacy personified in his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs & Bi-Lingual Trysts. An abstemious and polite night’s entertainment followed, although the Grand Vizier, who was incognito, was unfortunately set upon by an entire troupe of booze monkeys (headiccus rex) at the end of the evening, which precipitated a lemming-like plummet into rí rá agus ruile buile. Still, it can’t be Mills & Boon every night, right?
  On the books front, Cora Harrison’s MICHAELMAS TRIBUTE arrived this week, the novel being the sequel to MY LADY JUDGE, which was the first in a proposed series about the Brehon judge, Mara. Quoth the blurb elves:
Mara, Brehon of the Burren returns in another wonderful historical tale of murder and intrigue. The Michaelmas Fair is a time for the people of the Burren to gather together, buy and sell their wares, and give tribute to the lord of their clans. This year there’s an undercurrent of anger –the new lord of the MacNamara clan has raised the tribute and his greedy steward, Ragnall MacNamara, is not making himself a popular man. When his body is found in the churchyard, Mara has is called to investigate. Was it revenge, greed or something more sinister? Then another body is discovered, apparently a suicide. But Mara is not convinced and it’s up to her, as the judge and lawgiver, to uncover who the killer is before they strike again ...
MICHAELMAS TRIBUTE is published by Macmillan on May 2nd. As soon as we know more, you’ll be the first to hear.
  Meanwhile, on our travels around the blogosphere, we came across this interesting post at Even A Pencil Has Fear To. After being very complimentary indeed about Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, the postee considers its general reception, to wit:
“To my great surprise, most people found the novel good, but found the ending quite unsatisfying. After thinking about their comments, I decided this feeling of disappointment, of having untied threads, was largely due to the fact the novel was frequently presented as a mystery. Naturally, one of the main conventions of a mystery is that everything is tied up neatly – essentially, we know ‘who done it.’ My copy of the novel, checked out from my local library, was located in the mystery section; it even had a special mystery sticker on it. Yet, the cover jacket clearly denotes the book as a novel, which carries a different set of expectations for the reader.”
Really? What different expectations might they be? That most of the various threads will go untied?
  Anyhoo, one novel that hasn’t a hope in hell of tying up all its threads is Salman Rushdie’s THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE, which is fabulous read that blends Marco Polo’s travels, the Arabian Nights and Italo Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER and / or INVISIBLE CITIES. If there is a better novel published this year, the Grand Vizier will eat his turban.
  Finally, those of you who will be in Dublin tomorrow (Sunday, March 8th) and want to know how Dublin’s mean streets got so blummin’ mean, there’s a discussion on true Irish crime writing at the Rotunda as part of the Dublin Book Festival that features crime reporters-cum-authors Barry Cummins, Niamh O’Connor, Paul Williams and Eamon Dillon. Beautiful people one and all, just trying to make sense of a crazy, mixed-up world …

Friday, March 7, 2008

Crime Is But A Left Coast Form Of Human Endeavour*

The rather fabulous Kelli Stanley (right) is attending Denver’s Left Coast Crime, and has rather fabulously volunteered to blog the experience for us – despite the potentially debilitating effects of high elevation, oxygen depletion and whiskey sours. To wit:

Left Coast Crime – Day One
If crime is a left-handed human endeavour, then for the next few days, Denver is the place to be.
  This is my first Left Coast Crime, and from what I’ve seen, it well-deserves its reputation as one of the best conferences for the mystery spectrum. The energy is tremendous ... writers, readers, librarians, booksellers, panels with wacky names and panels that make you think ... panels on sex and violence and panels on why cozies aren’t always about cats ...
  I flew in on Wednesday to a cold and snow-flurried Denver, adjusting myself to the altitude by dining on beer cheese and buffalo sausage at the Appaloosa Grill. I adjusted myself further by helping to close the hotel bar that night with a group of friends in true crime writer fashion. One whiskey sour will go a looong way at Denver’s mile high elevation.
  There are a lot of new writers at LCC this year, and CJ Lyons, the ITW Debut Author Liaison, launched her novel LIFELINES just three days ago to great reviews. CJ’s terrific Thriller panel was my first to attend, then Rita Lakin’s (her senior citizen Gladdy Gold mysteries are both fun and poignant) and a psychological panel with Laura Benedict (left) talking about her tremendous paranormal thriller, ISABELLA MOON. Then it was time for dinner, visiting Tattered Cover book store and CJ’s signing, followed up by a publisher’s meeting.
  How I started the day, though, was a little unusual. They’re trying something new at LCC this year, similar to Bouchercon 2007’s “Author Showcases”. It’s called the “Endless Conversation”, where writers are thrown together in conversation and can soft-shoe, recite poetry or just pretend to be a mystery version of “The View” for half an hour or so.
  My gig is today (Friday afternoon), and I figured I’d play my harmonica. It’s easier to tote than a piano, though you can’t really play One for My Baby on a Hohner. Problem was, I hadn’t packed it.
  So yesterday, on the first morning of LCC before registration, before the panels, I hotfooted it to a Wedgle’s Pawn Shop and Music on Broadway and 12th street. Yeah, I said pawn shop. They’ve been “serving Denver’s musicians since 1937”, according to their card, and I knew a combo pawn shop / music store was the place for me ... I’m a noir writer! They have every kind of instrument you could think of (and some really cool swords), and I found a blues harp I liked in about five minutes.
  Today I play the harmonica, talk about NOX DORMIENDA, Roman Noir and historical mysteries on an MWA panel, go to an MWA cocktail party and generally have a hell of a good time.
  Where else but Left Coast Crime can you find a harmonica at a pawn shop ... and where else would you need to? – Kelli Stanley

* With apologies to W.R. Burnett.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Phoenix Park Football*

A Minister for Propaganda Elf speaks:
Twenty Major is a blogger. As a result of his blogging, he got a book deal. The first book, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK, got a bit of a kicking in the Irish print media at the weekend, although The Dubliner magazine did him proud (right). So, in the general spirit of inter-textual flummery that seems to be abroad at the moment, we hereby republish Bridget Hourican’s comprehensive review in full. Just click on the pic to read. We thank you for your cooperation.

This review is republished with the kind permission of The Dubliner.

* With apologies to Eamon Dunphy.

The Popcorn Interlude: IN BRUGES

It boasts an Irish writer-director in Oscar-winner Martin McDonagh and Irish talent in the form of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, but it’s a Belgian setting and it’s funded by British moolah – is it strictly correct to call IN BRUGES an Irish crime caper movie? On the basis that we never ask where the wonga is coming from to fund the various Irish writers out there, we’ll say a tentative yes, and give IN BRUGES (jump here for the trailer) the traditional ‘four thumbs aloft’ verdict (above, right). Gleeson and Farrell play a pair of odd couple London-based hitmen ordered to Bruges after a botched hit, during which Farrell’s character accidentally kills a young boy, there to await further instructions from their boss, played by Ralph Fiennes. Lob in an art-house Dutch flick filming dwarves, a drug-dealing femme fatale and a jealous boyfriend, and you have the basis for a knowing romp that isn’t afraid to turn dark and twisted. The finale is a little too neatly tied up, and the convenient coincidences come thick and fast, but there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, a breakneck pace, a superb performance from Gleeson, a beautiful setting expertly captured by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, and some cracking dialogue (“Retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”). Oh, and it also has Townes Van Zandt’s St. John the Gambler on the soundtrack. It wowed ’em at Sundance, and it’ll very probably thrill you too. Wanna see Bren & Col on the red carpet? Roll it there, Collette …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,097: Michael Haskins

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?
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Jerry Healy.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Oh boy, there’s more than one! I don’t know if it would be beginning the first page, or ending the last page. Maybe being happy with what I’ve written when I shut down the computer at the end of the day.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’ve read some good Irish crime novels, but the one that impressed me, and this ain’t suckin’ up, folks, is THE BIG O. Knocked the socks off me!
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst, being stuck at the end of a good paragraph with a blank mind; best, rereading a chapter I’ve finished and realizing it does everything I wanted it to.
The pitch for your next book is …?
CHASIN’ THE WIND is just coming out, so, for that I’d say corruption at the highest levels of government vs justice in the hands of some eclectic Key West characters.
FREE RANGE INSTITUTION, which I am finishing up now, is about drugs and corruption in Key West City government, the DEA, and how it brings murder and mayhem to the tropics.
Who are you reading right now?
I read a few books at a time, it kind of frees my over-active mind. I just finished Jimmy Breslin’s new non-fiction book, THE GOOD RAT. I am rereading Bob Morris’ JAMAICA ME DEAD, another Florida writer, and Christa Faust’s MONEY SHOT.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
The gates of Hell, which would mean I had lived a life of sin, but maybe one worth reading about.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Key West eccentric.

Michael Haskins’ CHASIN’ THE WIND will be published on March 19.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: GARCÍA’S HEART by Liam Durcan

As with Peter Carey’s THEFT, it’s difficult to know if GARCÍA’S HEART should be designated a crime fiction novel. The protagonist, the Canadian neurologist Patrick Lazerenko, travels to The Hague to attend a war crime tribunal in which his former mentor and friend, Hernan García, stands charged with aiding and abetting in the torture of prisoners in Honduras. Hernan took the delinquent Patrick under his wing when the pair met in Montreal, where Hernan, a former cardiac specialist, was running a grocery shop. Channelling the young man’s energy into a more productive course, Hernan is almost exclusively responsible for Patrick’s successful life as a scientist and a businessman. Assailed on all sides by vested interests – both defence and prosecution want him to testify; a journalist who has written a best-selling exposé of Hernan believes Patrick is hiding the truth of what he knew about Hernan’s life in Honduras; Celia, Hernan’s daughter and Patrick’s former lover, has accepted the help of a dubious advocacy group campaigning on Hernan’s behalf, and wants Patrick to row in with their efforts – Patrick investigates not only the facts of the case in order to satisfy himself of Hernan’s innocence, but also the mysteries of how the human mind functions.
  Despite the plethora of crime fiction tropes, however, GARCÍA’S HEART owes more of a debt to Graham Greene than Raymond Chandler. Beautifully written though it is, its elegiac tone lacks the rapid pace that would qualify it as a conventional thriller. Neither, despite Patrick’s role as the seeker after truth, is it a variation on the private investigator novel, as Patrick is a largely passive character, a receptacle of information rather that its conduit.
  Nonetheless, GARCÍA’S HEART is a real page-turner. Durcan has a deliciously light style that wears its learning lightly, offering pithy insights into the human condition that are laced with bone-dry flashes of humour (“It turns out Roberto and Elyse were pretty intimate,” Nina said with the seriousness that weapons-grade gossip demanded.). He also asks some profound questions of the human condition, as in this exchange between Hernan’s lawyer and Patrick:
“I mean, I can see it, you know. The brain determines our mental states, how we feel, and brain function is subject to physical laws; it’s determined.”
“So, where is his free will? How can he be guilty? How can anybody be guilty?”
  In the end, the answers Patrick uncovers to these and other questions are messy, unsatisfactory and inconclusive. Durcan, himself a neurologist, refuses to deal in simplistic notions of good and evil and cause-and-effect, and nor is he overly concerned with the illusion of closure that characterises the crime / mystery genre. Instead he offers a downbeat but perfectly logical denouement that may well leave crime and mystery readers dissatisfied in the short term, but which offers hope to those who believe that a novel concerned with the traditional tropes of crime and criminality can be greater than the sum of its parts. – Declan Burke

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First We Take Manhattan

Benny Blanco (right, in award-winning ‘John Banville’ persona) is quite the toast of our U.S. cousins this week, with Sarah Weinman breaking the news that CHRISTINE FALLS was short-listed in the Los Angeles Book Festival awards in the crime / mystery category and Vanity Fair giving that novel’s sequel, THE SILVER SWAN, the hup-ya in its ‘Hot Type: A monthly overview of great new books’ section. How do they know they’re great books if they’re still new? Because they’re Vanity Fair, people – do try to keep up. Meanwhile, THE SILVER SWAN received not one but - wait for it! - TWO nominations in the Irish Book Awards short-lists announced today (see below). Finally, the latest instalment of Benny’s THE LEMUR, currently being serialised in the New York Times, can be found just about here. Is Benny about to break America John Connolly-style? Only time, that notoriously prevaricating doity rat, will tell.

And The Winner Is … Irish Crime Fiction!

The short-lists for the various categories in the Irish Book Awards have been announced, and there are five – count ’em – Irish crime writers up for a gong. And that’s not five crime writers in the Best Crime Novel category, because the IBA doesn’t do anything so gauche as a dedicated crime fiction award. No indeed. Instead they spread the crime writers over a variety of categories – Eoin Colfer, John Boyne, John Connolly, Benjamin Black and Patrick McCabe were nominated across the board last year. This year’s nominees? A trumpet-parp, please, maestro, for Ronan Bennett (ZUGZWANG), Benjamin Black, twice (THE SILVER SWAN), Eoin Colfer (right) (THE LEGEND OF THE WORST BOY IN THE WORLD), Derek Landy (SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT) and Tana French (IN THE WOODS). The winners will be announced at the Gala Awards Dinner in Dublin’s Mansion House Round Room on April 24, by which time the Grand Vizier is hoping that barring order Tana French has against him will be lifted for the evening.

And If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: Given that Damien Mulley and Sinead Gleeson were kind enough to link to this post, and thus generated a few comments on our behalf, the Grand Vizier has ordered that we re-post the piece to save ourselves the grief of having to scroll down half the page in order to respond. Scrolling down, Jeez … Fairly takes it out of you, doesn’t it?

It was a funny old weekend for Twenty Major (right), even by his usual standards. On Saturday, George Byrne in the Evening Herald (no link) opened his review of Major’s debut novel, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK, by referring to “the postings of Twenty Major, whose rants and observations on Irish society, life and the world in general are generally acknowledged to be leagues ahead of the barely-literate ‘dear diary’ standards of the medium.” The general gist of a broadly positive review (which name-checks Kinky Friedman and Christopher Brookmyre) runs thusly: “Treading a frequently blurred line between comedy, farce, thriller and social commentary, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK (a very Colin Bateman-esque title that ) does possess an infectious energy […] and a few cracking ideas.”
  Also on Saturday, over in the Irish Times (no link; premium content), Colin Murphy opened his review of the novel with something of a damned-with-faint-praise gambit: “THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK by Twenty Major is the worst book I have ever finished.” The very negative review finishes: “The book concludes with an acknowledgments section. The last line, directed at the readers of his blog, is: “Thank you all, you magnificent c***s.” That, really, is all you need to know: either it includes you, or it doesn’t. It is, though, likely to include the twenty-something male sitting across from you on the bus home, who will be chuckling over Twenty’s violent nihilism, toilet truths and use of the word ‘c**t’. He and his mates are going to make this a bestseller.”
  On Saturday night, at the Irish Blog Awards, Twenty Major won three awards, chief among them ‘Best Blog’, the third time in a row he has won the award (congratulations to Sinead Gleeson, by the way, another three-in-a-row winner with The Sigla Blog).
  On Sunday, the Sunday Times (Irish) Culture section (no link) carried a feature by Kathy Foley, herself a blogger, called ‘Blog roll’. The piece opened with Twenty Major as its hook, Foley segueing from Major’s book deal with Hodder Headline / Hachette into a verdict on the novel: “[I]t’s a tepid, flimsily plotted satire filled with half-cocked gags.” The gist of the article is this: “We have few, if any, counterparts to the American blogging elite, whose online dispatches zing with flair, attitude and insight, not to mention – in some cases – intellectual rigour. We simply don’t produce the vibrant and considered style of blogging that dominates the US scene, where there are compelling blogs on every topic imaginable – from architecture to zoology – each with energetic, articulate writing and comments sections brimming with vitality.”
  The first thing to say here is that you could replace ‘blog’ and ‘blogging’ with ‘newspapers / magazines’ and ‘journalism’ in the above quote and it would be just as valid an opinion. The second thing is that Irish blogging is still in its infancy by comparison with America, so like-for-like comparisons are premature if not entirely unfair, particularly given the vast difference in the respective populations.
  Thirdly, most non-internet journalists seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that blogs and blogging are intended as replacements, or poor substitutes, for newspapers and journalism. The reality is that the vast majority of blogs come into being to fill a specialist niche not being catered for in the mainstream media (Crime Always Pays to promote Irish crime fiction is a case in point; The Voyage, the well-deserved winner of the ‘Best Specialist Blog’ award on Saturday night, a category in which Crime Always Pays was nominated, is another). Indeed, in another feature in the Sunday Times’ Culture section, reporting on a new Irish music magazine, State, Mick Heaney says, “The growth of the blogosphere has had a huge impact on music publishing: American sites such as Pitchfork Media are as influential as any print equivalent, and are free … State has responded by setting up a complementary website,, run by the blogger Niall Byrne, aka Nialler9. Whereas the print edition is aimed at older readers, aims to draw in a new, younger audience.”
  A ‘new, younger audience’ … ‘the twenty-something male sitting across from you on the bus home’. There appears to be a generation gap opening up between print / mainstream media and the various incarnations of on-line web presences. It’s almost inevitable that Twenty Major’s novel, springing as it does fully formed from a blog, will suffer a credibility deficit when reviewed in mainstream publications, and not least because it’s a comedy crime caper novel. There are already echoes of the initial reactions to rock ‘n’ roll, when the raw, primal sound of Elvis et al was damned as jungle music made by uppity white trash.
  THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK may not be the literary equivalent of the Sun Sessions but it is nonetheless a pioneer in terms of Irish blog-to-shelf publishing. Another Irish blogger, Fiona McPhillips, has her book TRYING TO CONCEIVE published in April. Sean and Keiran Murphy are soon to publish their BOOK OF SWEET THINGS through the Mercier Press. Eoin Purcell, a commissioning editor at Mercier, has also signed up ‘Grandad’ from the Head Rambles blog to write a novel.
The blog-to-shelf route to publishing means, of course, that all these books will arrive on the shelf with an audience already in place. Many members of that audience will in turn blog about their reaction to the books, spreading a virus-like word-of-mouth. As Colin Murphy notes in the Irish Times, Twenty Major’s book will very probably be an Irish best-seller on the strength of its appeal to a young male demographic, most of whom will be web-literate if not necessarily bloggers themselves. Taken to its logical conclusion, this development means that blog-to-shelf books will have no need of the traditional reviews in print publications.
  In essence, the current media revolution involves a move away from the traditional pulpit-audience lecture to a more democratic peer-to-peer discussion. In an Irish context, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK is the latest manifestation of this trend. Is it so surprising, then, that the novel was panned in the print media on the very weekend when Twenty Major’s peers yet again voted him Ireland’s best blogger?

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes has done a great job with this, his debut novel. THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD introduces us to Ed Loy, a PI who has returned from LA to his native Dublin for his mother’s funeral. Although his plan is to bury his mother and get the hell out of Dodge, he gets caught up in a missing person’s investigation that leads to a cluster of brutal murders. Organised crime, dirty politics, drugs, guns, property development; this noir story gets acquainted with the modern Dirty Ol’ Town and shares a bottle of Jameson with it. Then things get ugly.
  Hughes is a great writer who enjoys taking a minute to stop and take in his settings. At times his prose takes on a poetic quality. Take this gem: “We were standing on the terrace of the Bayview Hotel, watching a bloated old moon hoist itself slowly above the sea.” Gorgeous, right? Well, the novel is full of this kind of stuff, which I enjoyed for the most part. But to be completely honest, I’d have trimmed a few of these instances. At times the pacing was a little bogged down by description, and a harsher edit would have helped this.
  Hughes can also be a teensy bit guilty of superfluous writing. Example: “Tommy was sitting in the porch, rolling up a three-skinner, heating a small block of dope with a cigarette lighter and crumbling the edges into the tobacco.” Another writer might have gone with, “Tommy skinned up in the porch.” But I’m being very picky here. You might argue that I had trouble finding something negative to weigh up my review of this book – and I’d concede the point. My defence? Strong work is hard to critique.
  Happily, these instances take nothing away from an impressively well-constructed plot with some clever twists and a very satisfying denouement. I thought Ed Loy’s character was a real good ‘un. Heroic, but with enough flaws to make him interesting and likeable. I’ll be very interested in how his life develops as this series continues. The second Ed Loy mystery, THE COLOUR OF BLOOD is available now, and I plan to revisit Hughes’ dark and brooding work as soon as I can. – Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan can be found right here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Follow That CAB

The second episode of Dirty Money, TV3’s series on the Criminal Assets Bureau and its war on Irish organised crime, screened last night, CAB being a unique and largely successful Irish experiment in targeting criminals’ assets whether or not it could be proved individuals had broken any actual laws in accumulating them. CAB came into being in the wake of the murder of the Sunday Independent’s investigative reporter Veronica Guerin (and, lest we forget, that of Detective Jerry McCabe), and the series is narrated by Guerin’s then peer and rival, Paul Williams of the Sunday World (the series is loosely based on Williams’ best-selling account of the period, THE UNTOUCHABLES). Marred by excessive Sunday World branding, and a faux hardboiled delivery on Williams’ part, it is nonetheless a fascinating account of a watershed in the Irish public consciousness, not least for its impressive array of talking heads, which includes most of the main players from the time. The first vid we posted had no sound, mainly because we're monkeys when it comes to the techie stuff, but our second attempt (featuring the relevant ministers Ruari Quinn and Nora Owen, and the then Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne) tries to answer John McFetridge's question in the comment box, about how you get the country to care about such matters. You take the Twenty Major approach, if Ruari Quinn is anything to go by ... Roll it there, Collette …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,099: R.S. Downie

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?
Anything by Elmore Leonard. The man is a genius.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Janet Evanovich, Marian Keyes, anonymous estate agents on ‘Rightmove’ selling seaside houses I’m never going to live in.
Most satisfying writing moment?
13 October 2005. Sitting at home contemplating the futility of life, as you do when you’ve managed to fail interviews for several jobs, including your own, and you’re going to have to stop wasting time writing and find something useful to do for the rest of your sorry existence. The agent phoned and said, ‘We think we ought to tell you what’s been going on down here ...’
The best Irish crime novel is …?
STAR OF THE SEA isn’t really a crime novel is it? Oh, sorry – it’s you who asks the questions. STAR OF THE SEA, then.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Colin – no, Bateman’s – BELFAST CONFIDENTIAL. Or anything else involving Dan Starkey that hasn’t been filmed yet.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst – when it all goes wrong you can’t blame another department. Best – you can say you’re working without getting out of bed. Plus ‘I want to buy that book’ becomes ‘I really need to ...’
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Exasperated Legionary medic goes home to Gaul to sort out his family’s debt problems, and manages to make everything significantly worse.
Who are you reading right now?
Sarah Bower, Roland Vernon, White and Folkens’ THE HUMAN BONE MANUAL, and the Book of Amos.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. There’s more CJ Sansom and Simon Scarrow waiting out there, and I’m tired of being the social outcast who hasn’t read LABYRINTH or Lemony Snicket.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Right now, halfway thro’ a novel and realising the great ideas in my head don’t look so great on paper ... the words are ... not very nice. No, those aren’t the words themselves, I mean ... oh, never mind. How can I write a novel when I can’t answer a simple question fluently? Oh. Yes. I remember now, officer. You ask the questions.

R.S. Downie’s RUSO AND THE DEMENTED DOCTOR hits the shelves on March 6.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Yakkity-Yak (or, How Some People) Don’t Talk Back

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: An anomaly has come to the attention of the Grand Vizier, and it’s this: according to the very fine statcounter provided by, well, Statcounter, Crime Always Pays averages an admittedly modest 60 returning visitors per day, and yet the comment-to-visitor ratio languishes at a rather miserable 0.26.*
  Clearly, this means one of two things: (a) the posts are so bloody rubbish they’re not worth commenting on, so we might as well strike tent and start blogging about chick lit instead; or, (b) at least some of the posts are interesting enough to encourage repeat visits but the buggers are just too lazy to type a few words.
  On the very dubious supposition that the problem is (b) rather than (a), allow us to provide a list of suggested comments, just to get you started. To wit:
1. This is rubbish.
2. I haven’t seen as much rubbish in public since the ’76 Winter of Discontent.
3. I think John Connolly / Ken Bruen / Tana French is lovelier than warm pyjamas.
4. Where’s the good stuff?
5. Sorry, I was actually looking for Declan Burke-Kennedy’s site.
Honourable mentions for regular comments go to Ann Giles, Peter Rozovsky, Ray Banks, Sinead Gleeson, Gerard Brennan, Colman Keane, Patricia J. Hale, Uriah Robinson and of course the mighty Critical Mick. You’re all excused duties for the next month or so, thanks very much, with a special mention for Ray Banks, who can take the whole year off. As for the rest of you – you know who you are. Do the right thing, people: comment is free.

* Statistic plucked at random from the Grand Vizier’s fevered imagination.

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “This month we’re giving kudos—and the Tip of the Ice Pick Award—to Ken Bruen … CROSS is perfectly fine, better than fine, as a stand-alone novel, but if this review intrigues you, I strongly recommend buying all the Jack Taylor books and reading them in order. Mystery writing doesn’t get any better than this,” says Bruce Tierney at Book Page (no link). Meanwhile, Eddvick likes SLIDE: “At root a comedic serial killer book … The interest is not in rooting for anybody but in watching them collide with each other in a rocket of a plot.” From the sublime to Benny Blanco: “CHRISTINE FALLS is so very well written and as compelling a detective novel as I have read in years. Really the man is a genius,” reckons Becca at Becca & Bella of Benjamin Black’s debut. Diane Leach at Pop Matters is a tad more reserved: “Reviewing is ultimately a matter of opinion, and I cannot, in fairness, dismiss CHRISTINE FALLS because I disliked it. The plot is well-constructed, rolling along smoothly until it’s tightly balled up, every little thread knotted and tied off.” Pablo at Reading Rebels likes Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY: “My one word label would be awesome because this book was fun, exciting and thrilling. When you start to read this book you just can’t put it down. I would recommend this book to anyone.” David Horspool reviewed David Parks’ THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER in the Sunday Times: “Not the least of the achievements of this impressive, many-layered novel is its combination of the hardest of realities with a measure of poetry and of humanity.” Nice … Shane Hegarty at Present Tense was also impressed: “It’s a big subject, but Parks succeeds in not only keeping it under control, but also in adding something fresh to what might appear to be an already jaded subject … assured and engrossing for the most part – and I’d recommend it.” Over to the Funky Librarian, who liked Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: “It’s a complicated story, as is Harry Potter. But it’s got loads more action than Harry. Some good torture, breaking and entering, and a few beheadings. Overall, a really enjoyable story for fantasy / violence junkies.” Dick Adler at The Rap Sheet loves Ronan Bennett’s latest: “Another reason to love ZUGZWANG is the fact that Bennett – influenced by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins – decided to write this novel as a weekly serial … The rest is history – and great fun.” KT McCaffrey’s latest, THE CAT TRAP, has been getting some early big-ups: “THE CAT TRAP is a classic suspenseful mystery, brimming with malevolent and misplaced motivations and a welcome addition to the crime fiction reader’s bookshelf,” says Crimefic Reader at It’s A Crime. Uriah Robinson at Crime Scraps concurs: “This is a really enjoyable read with enough red herrings to satisfy the most discerning crime fiction addict, and some very topical subject matter … Highly recommended.” But what of Arlene Hunt’s MISSING PRESUMED DEAD, you cry? Cry no more: “While MISSING PRESUMED DEAD is action-packed, it manages to successfully combine a gritty crime storyline with a softer human story,” says Linda McGee at RTE Entertainment. From Arlene Hunt to Twenty Major’s debut: “Treading a frequently blurred line between comedy, farce, thriller and social commentary, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK (a very Colin Bateman-esque title that ) does possess an infectious energy … and a few cracking ideas,” says the Evening Herald’s George Byrne (no link). DB Shan’s reworking of AYUMARCA gets the thumbs up from Alex Meehan at the Sunday Business Post: “The plot is excellent, with many twists and turns, and the Technicolour cast of characters are as entertaining as they are repellent. With PROCESSION OF THE DEAD, O’Shaughnessy [aka DB Shan] has produced a macabre, yet stylish, dark urban fantasy that’s more than worth the cover price for fantasy fans who like their strangeness to have an urban noir feel.” Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life likes Catherine O’Flynn’s Costa-winning WHAT WAS LOST: “That O’Flynn chooses a neat, if somewhat rushed and implausible (?) solution to the central mystery demonstrates that this is not her prime concern. In doing so, however, she delivers a satisfactory ending and a very readable, though extremely thought-provoking debut novel. I look forward to her second.” Finally, a veritable raft of big-ups for Declan Hughes, starting with Mel Odom’s verdict on THE COLOUR OF BLOOD at Book Hound: “Hughes twists and turns characters and events so much that even a close reader has to stay on his toes … And the writing is packed with detail, emotion and history. This is a gifted storyteller at work.” Over at Book Page (no link), Bruce Tierney likes THE DYING BREED (aka THE PRICE OF BLOOD): “Loy is an exceptionally well-drawn character, strong but not unnecessarily violent, introspective without being angst-ridden. The dialogue is spare and edgy, the pacing crisp; Hughes’ sense of local colour, and particularly his ability to impart it to his readers, is absolutely spot on.” Publishers Weekly, via Barnes & Noble, is in agreement: “This intelligent, often brutal thriller will have readers’ hearts racing from start to finish.” At the same link you’ll find Library Journal in big-up mode too: “Hughes’s abilities to craft a ‘Dublin noir’ crime novel and to expand the character of Ed Loy combine to make this a welcome addition to an eminently readable new series. Highly recommended.” Insert your own variation on the ‘All hands on Dec’ punchline here, folks …

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty

The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other writers talk some sense for a change. This week: Adrian McKinty (right) on Philip K. Dick.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – A Metaphysical Detective Story

Like his near contemporary, the poet Philip Larkin, the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick predicted his own death, dreamed about his death and of course wrote about his death. Dick wondered what being alive really felt like and whether death would kill that state of consciousness; sometimes he believed that death was merely a transition between states and other times that it was the final destination. Perhaps he hoped it was the former but knew it was the latter. “I’d rather be a living dog, than a dead science fiction writer,” he once said.
  DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (DADES) is one of his best known novels and it was here that he explored in some depth notions of dying and consciousness and why a good, decent man was trying to track down and murder sentient creatures who just wanted to be left alone.
  Dick’s death obsession began early. Born in Chicago in 1928, his twin sister Jane Charlotte Dick died when he was only a few weeks old. All his life Dick felt Jane’s absence and her loss is frequently referenced in his fiction. Jane was buried in a lonely grave in the bleak Colorado plains town of Fort Morgan with, morbidly, a space left on the headstone for baby Phil. The grave awaited Dick for five decades and when he died in 1982 sure enough the twins were reunited in death. In middle age, after years of amphetamine abuse, Dick even flirted with the idea that in a parallel universe he was the one that had died and Jane had survived – he was already buried in the grim Fort Morgan cemetery, next to Interstate 76, and Jane was the science fiction writer living in California.
  In our universe, after Jane’s death, Dick and his family migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. He went to the same high school as Ursula Le Guin and after a brief period at UC Berkeley he dropped out and quickly began selling science fiction stories to magazines and newspapers.
  Dick’s adult life was fragmented to say the least. He moved often, he was married five times and even though he wrote constantly he was not good at keeping money. His default paranoia was exacerbated by his experiments with drugs, his dealings with local street thugs, and his anti-government activities during the Nixon era.
  DADES was written during the period 1966-1968, probably the two most turbulent years America has experienced since World War II. Assassinations, riots, Vietnam, hippies, drugs, counter-culture, scandals and the Cold War were the context for Dick to write his novel, which is actually a pretty straightforward detective story set in a nightmare future.
  Dick (left) had read Dashiell Hammett and admired his style and it’s not a big stretch to compare DADES with THE MALTESE FALCON. The McGuffins are different but we’re in the same world: missing people, a shot partner, a femme fatale, trouble with the local cops and a bleak cynical universe from which no hope is expected and none is given. Perhaps it’s not even that big of a coincidence that when the movie version of DADES was filmed – as Blade Runner – the cameras rolled on the same set where they shot the Maltese Falcon forty years earlier. Both novels take place in San Francisco and both movies were filmed on the New York streets of Warner Brothers’ Burbank lot.
The plot of DADES is complex but basically we follow the story of Rick Deckard in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco as he tracks down runaway androids, deals with his Virtual Reality-addicted wife, and keeps up the pretence that his electric sheep is in fact real. The latter storyline is the most interesting thematic element of the novel. After World War Terminus, real animals are rare and caring for and protecting any kind of a real creature gives one incredible status. For someone with low self esteem in a job he hates, Deckard hopes to fool everyone, including ultimately himself, about the sheep; perhaps if he pretends hard enough that his sheep is real and that he is a good man these things might actually come true.
  Deckard meets up with the beautiful and deceitful Rachael, who turns out to be an android and later in one extraordinary scene he is taken to a police station where he either has a mental breakdown or else he sees the world for what it really is: everyone in this precinct appears to be an android – it’s the humans that are unusual and in this place it’s Deckard himself who is the fake like his sheep.
  Shaking off this strange vision he pursues the final runaways, becoming more disillusioned than ever as he realizes that cracking this case will bring not happiness but only further existential crises. Where is he going? What is he doing with his life? What are any of us doing with any of our lives? Like Sam Spade at the end of THE MALTESE FALCON, Deckard has no solutions. He wonders what all of it means and comes up with nothing. Following Hammett, Philip K Dick doesn’t give us any answers either except for the vague but possibly deep idea that the meaning of life is to be found in the search for the meaning of life. The best we can do is to strive for the truth, although we are constantly reminded to be wary, for falsity is everywhere: the Maltese Falcon is a fake, the electric sheep is a fake, Deckard is a fake and maybe even brash, confident, hardnosed Sam Spade is a fake.
  Many of Philip K Dick’s books were written hastily under the influence of speed and are of dubious quality, but the books that he took trouble over – DADES, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, A SCANNER DARKLY, FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID – are all well-crafted mystery stories usually with a cop protagonist. Yes, he was a science fiction writer, but also a genre-busting detective novelist too.
  Unfortunately (and unlike Hammett) Dick did not live long enough to see the critics lionize him as an American original. His final years were spent in an increasingly eccentric investigation of the true nature of God and the cosmos. In a March 02 1980 diary entry, Dick predicted that because he was close to uncovering the secrets of the universe, God would pull the plug on this version of Philip K Dick; two years later, on March 02 1982, the plug was literally pulled on a brain-dead Dick as he lay in a hospital in Santa Ana, California.
  Dick’s obituary in the New York Times was a brief three paragraphs long but since then his reputation has grown, first in France, then the UK, and then, belatedly, in the US. Almost a dozen Dick stories and books have become films and Blade Runner is regularly voted the greatest science fiction movie of all time. However, Philip K. Dick still gets a bad rap as a writer. A recent New Yorker piece described his characters as hollow and poorly crafted and his prose as pedestrian at best.
  No one would argue that Dick was a great stylist or an inventor of an American idiom, like Hammett, but he was the purveyor of brilliant concepts and his talent was exceptional. Students of American noir will enjoy Dick’s better novels and will judge him not by his prose but by his gift for originality and his ability to convey extraordinary ideas in even more extraordinary worlds. – Adrian McKinty

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The ever-lovely people at Penguin have offered CAP Towers three copies of R.S. Downie’s RUSO AND THE DEMENTED DOCTOR to give away. Quoth the blurb elves:
Army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso is waiting for the gods to smile on him. But, on a posting to the hostile North of Britannia, he’s in for a long wait. Not least because the locals have a new hero who likes to strap antlers to his head and scare the Romans silly, while Ruso’s slave girl, Tilla, is stubbornly refusing to identify the culprit in a police line-up. But when Ruso is waylaid at the Fort of Coria, where a fellow doctor has confessed to a grisly murder, it’s a case of out of the cauldron and into the fire. With Tilla thrust outside the fort (and into the arms of a former lover), Ruso is landed not only with Doctor Thessalus’ patients but also the tricky task of getting him to retract the confession. Something smells fishy about this murder – and Coria is miles from the sea ... Ruso faces a nightmarish investigation – trailed by the secret police, hunted by the Stag Man and betrayed by Tilla, is it any wonder he’s seeking solace in the rather-too-watery local beer? R. S. Downie’s Ruso is an anti-hero to delight in and murderers at the frontier of the Roman Empire will be quaking in their sandals at his return.
Hail, Ruth! To be in with a chance of winning a copy of RUSO AND THE DEMENTED DOCTOR for gratis, just answer the following question:
When in Rome, should you …
1. Do as the Romans do?
2. Go the to Irish pub?
3. Say, “Here, these thieving buggers just ripped off classical Greece, innit?”
Send your answers to dbrodb(at), putting ‘Be it ever so lovely, there’s no place like Rome’ in the subject line, before noon on Tuesday, March 4. Et bon chance, mes amis …

Being John Connolly Is Probably Its Own Reward

Via Sarah Weinman comes the news that Tana French and Benjamin Black have been short-listed in the Los Angeles Book Festival’s mystery / thriller category, the full list of nominees running thusly:
Ake Edwardson, FROZEN TRACKS
Tana French, IN THE WOODS
Jan Costin Wagner, ICE MOON
IN THE WOODS and CHRISTINE FALLS have had something of a parallel existence for the last six months or so. They’ve also been short-listed for Edgar awards, and both novels expertly create the appropriate atmosphere for their literary-styled incursions into crime fiction. Furthermore, neither has been hailed as an unqualified success: both have elicited mixed reviews, IN THE WOODS for its ambiguous ending, CHRISTINE FALLS for championing style over substance. Nonetheless, the double nomination augurs well for the future of Irish crime fiction, and the CAP elves send bouquets and best wishes to both nominees.
  But here’s the thing. In the 10 months or so since Crime Always Pays has been running, Tana French, Benjamin Black, Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes, Brian McGilloway, Siobhan Dowd and Derek Landy have all been short-listed for various prestigious awards. Meanwhile, one writer remains conspicuous by his absence. Not only does John Connolly (right) write superbly, he also pulls off the very difficult feat of blending crime and horror genres in novels that offer far more than the sum of their parts. He’s also the finest stylist currently working in Irish crime fiction. So where are all the John Connolly nominations, people? Wild conspiracy theories on the back of a used €50 note to the usual address at CAP Towers, Cape Wonga, please.