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, April 12, 2008

You Snooze, You Win

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: Gerard Brennan will very probably claim that the pic above has been photo-shopped, but the elves are reliably informed that this is a rare and genuine shot of the Grand Vizier and Princess Lilyput taking a siesta together amidst the plush cushions of the Japanese Gardens, which are overlooked by the western wing of CAP Towers and thus susceptible to a sneaky member of the paparazzi (aka Mrs Grand Vizier) taking a crafty snap. Rest assured that the Grand Vizier’s caffeine-fuelled, 24/7 perusal of the Irish crime fiction ‘scene’, and Lilyput’s feed-parp-read-sleep routine, will resume shortly …

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: WHAT BURNS WITHIN by Sandra Ruttan

What burns within WHAT BURNS WITHIN is Sandra Ruttan. There is, among the six or seven sub-plots, a story about arson, and the title could also refer to personal hells, but what really burns, with a cold intensity, is Ruttan’s seriousness, the clarity of her intent, the laser-like precision she brings to the process of saying that the truth is subjective and the universe is pitilessly indifferent, so let’s roll up our sleeves and do something about it.
  The characters who roll up their sleeves here are RCMP officers Craig, Tain and Ashlyn, who begin the story investigating child abductions and potentially related arsons and rape cases in the Vancouver area. The trio’s complex history is explored as the three main stories weave together, although Ruttan is clever enough to use this material to propel the story forwards rather than rely on flashbacks and digressions that might slow the scintillating pace.
  Short and snappy chapters, terse dialogue, staccato delivery of minimalist description – Ruttan’s style harks back to the classic hardboiled era, although she’s more Horace McCoy than James M. Cain or Dashiell Hammet. McCoy, like Jim Thompson, always had bigger fish to fry, and told more than tales rooted in criminality. As with Thompson, and Ruttan, McCoy was fascinated by conflict, its roots and possible resolutions, and particularly the conflicts of the mind (WHAT BURNS WITHIN also engages with notions of justice and forgiveness, religious extremism and secular self-sacrifice, damaged sexuality and the abuse of power). And yet Ruttan is very much a shower rather than a teller: there are very few internal monologues to be heard in WHAT BURNS WITHIN, the subtleties of the characters’ complex psychologies being drawn out through their interactions with their colleagues. That’s a difficult skill to make invisible, but it’s one of Ruttan’s most effective weapons.
  It’s a war out there. Writers wage war on the credibility of the reader with every weapon they have, and most crime writers do so by having their characters go into battle in a quixotic, unwinnable war against criminality. Sandra Ruttan has gone to war under a banner of honesty, bringing an integrity to the genre that results in a bleakly depicted but ultimately compassionate, fascinating and meticulously researched police procedural that dares to say that we – as a community, city, society or culture – are entitled to believe we can become better people. – Declan Burke

(A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: The Grand Vizier would like it to be known that Sandra Ruttan has previously reviewed THE BIG O, thus raising issues of log-rolling and mutual back-scratching, most of which are discussed at length here.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak

Being a weekly cornucopia of Irish crime fiction-related interweb baloohaha, to wit: Gerard Brennan interviews Adrian McKinty over at CSNI, with McKinty offering the following sage advice to future writers: “The lesson is you can’t rely on the publisher, you have to work all the angles. Writing the book is only half the story, you have to go out there and sell the bloody thing with or without the help of your publisher.” Amen, brother … Meanwhile, Gerard Brennan is subjected to the rubber hose treatment over at Critical Mick, in which he chats about his current writing projects, PIRHANAS and FIREPROOF … John Boyne’s THE MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is sailing your way soon, but over at Inspired Minds he’s talking to Breandáin O’Shea about THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, which is being turned into a movie as you read … Writing in the Sunday Indo, Celia Keenan casts her eye over the Irish Children’s Book of the Year shortlist, but somehow manages to totally overlook The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman (sob) … Yet another competition giving away copies of DB Shan’s PROCESSION OF THE DEAD can be found at SFX, while over at Crime Time UK, Barry Forshaw chats with DB about making the jump from the young adult market to the adult market … Oh, and while you’re faffing about over at Crime Time UK, check out Barry’s interview with GALLOWS LANE author Brian McGilloway … Visit Dublin has all the info for the Dublin Writers Festival, which takes place from June 11 to 15, although the only crime writer we can see on the slate is John Boyne … Via Abe Books comes a decent piece on John Banville turning all Benny Blanco … Congratulations to Catherine O’Flynn, who won the Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year gong for her novel WHAT WAS LOST in the Nibbies … There’s a cracking interview with BLOODSTORM author Sam Millar (hat-tip to CSNI for the nod) in the current issue of the always brilliant Verbal Magazine … And while we’re on the subject: Verbal Mag mainstay, author and bon viveur about town Garbhan Downey launches his latest offering, YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY: LETTERS OF A WOULD-BE MP, at 7.30pm in St. Columb’s Hall in Derry / Londonderry / Slash City tonight. If you get along, give Garbhan a good tickling for us, we hear he likes a good chuckle … Finally, here’s a book-trailer for Sir Kenneth of Bruen’s CROSS, which is worth checking out for the music alone. All together now: “Here come old flattop / He come groovin’ up slowly / He got juju eyeball / He one holy roller …”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My First Book

In which Princess Lilyput, having read THE BIG O in one sitting, and deciding it was sadly lacking in substance and utterly derivative in style, moves on to something a little more demanding: high-contrast pictures of cows, sheep and ducks. Still, just so long as she’s reading, eh?

Whither Quirke?

It’s not that the CAP elves aren’t somersaultingly, pant-wettingly delighted that Benny Blanco (or ‘John Banville writing as Benjamin Black’, as the cover sticker whispers) has a third crime novel on the way – THE LEMUR, currently being serialised in the New York Times, is due in hardback this side of the pond on October 3rd – but they are curious as to where quirky ol’ Quirke has disappeared to. The opening brace in Benny’s oeuvre featured loquacious pathologist Quirke perambulating around 1950s Dublin, with occasional jaunts to Boston for a change of scenery, if not pace, but THE LEMUR is set in contemporary New York, and its main protagonist is John Glass – a surreptitious nod, we’re hoping, to JD Salinger. Anyhoo, quoth the US blurb elves:
John Glass’s life in New York should be plenty comfortable. He’s given up his career as a journalist to write an authorized biography of his father-in-law, communications magnate and former CIA agent Big Bill Mulholland. He works in a big office in Mulholland Tower, rent-free, and goes home (most nights) to his wealthy and well-preserved wife, Wild Bill’s daughter. He misses his old life sometimes, but all in all things have turned out well. But when his shifty young researcher – a man he calls ‘The Lemur’ – turns up some unflattering information about the family, Glass’s whole easy existence is threatened. Then the young man is murdered, and it’s up to Glass to find out what The Lemur knew, and who killed him, before any secrets come out – and before any other bodies appear. Shifting from 1950s Dublin to contemporary New York, the masterful crime writer Benjamin Black returns in this standalone thriller – a story of family secrets so deep, and so dangerous, that anyone might kill to keep them hidden.
Hurrah! Meanwhile, quoth the UK blurb elves:
William ‘Big Bill’ Mulholland is an Irish-American electronics billionaire. An ex-CIA operative, he now heads up the Mulholland Trust, with the help of his daughter Louise. When he gets wind of a hostile biography planned for him by the investigative journalist Wilson Cleaver, he commissions his daughter’s husband, John Glass, to pen the official line. But Glass’ young researcher tries to blackmail him, and Glass is horrified, fearing that his own secrets, as well as the Mulhollands’, are at risk. He slings him off the project, only to hear from the NYPD that the man he has nicknamed ‘the Lemur’ has been found fatally shot ... Silence cannot be bought – even by one of New York’s wealthiest families. Riddled with explosive secrets, THE LEMUR is a brilliant contemporary thriller that sees Benjamin Black at the top of his game.
Hmmmm ... ‘slings’, ‘riddled’, ‘explosive’, ‘fatally’ … Subtle differences in the language, no? Are Benny’s publishers trying to protect his gentle US readers? Or are his UK publishers amping up the content to lure in the more hardboiled UK readers? And where the blummin’ hell is our favourite lugubrious pathologist? Has Big Bill Mulholland bumped off his illegitimate son Quirke? Is Glass – who is hardly as transparent as his name might suggest, if Benny’s Dickens-like play on monikers is anything to go by – the third cousin, twice-removed, of the mysteriously absent Quirke? And is there even a remote possibility that the elves really should get out a little more, or at the very least cease and desist obsessing about the tortuously convoluted lineages Benny famously knocks out of a morning just in time for elevenses? Only time, that notoriously dithering doity rat, will tell …

What Would JC Do?

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: Like all good things, people, ye olde Johne Connollye competitione had to come to an end, and the best we can say about the experience is that we’re not much older and just a smidge wiser, providing you consider that learning there exists out there somewhere ‘a fabulously ugly china figurine of the Guggenheim Bilbao dog riding a motorbike’ amounts to additional wisdom (cheers, Keiron). We also learned that Lisa B may or may not have John Connolly chained up in her basement or attic, and it’s entirely likely the case of Glenfiddich-flogging Josh Schrank was the fink who tipped off the cops about it (boo, etc.). Anyhoo, on with the winners: a trumpet parp please, maestro, for (a) Diane Lawlis, not only for making Jack Daniel’s Pecan Pie, but for shipping internationally; (b) Norby, for the outrageous flattery, and allowing the Grand Vizier understand for one glorious, fleeting moment how it must feel to be John Connolly; and (c) Fiona at the noenic(at) address for displaying local knowledge with the M50 ‘stuck-in-limbo’ gag. To everyone else who entered, we thank you for taking the time and making the effort. Next week: Crime Always Pays runs a competition to spend one night with John Connolly, in Lisa B’s basement / dungeon, with JC facial hair optional. Meanwhile, if the winners would like to contact the Grand Vizier at dbrodb(at) with a snail mail address, a copy of THE REAPERS will be winging its way to you post-haste …

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

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

THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER is neither a thriller nor a whodunit, a detective novel nor a policier, and yet at its heart lies the abduction, torture and murder of a teenage boy, a series of events that still has the power, many years later in the present day, to destroy the lives of four men. Beginning with a taut prologue describing the hours leading up to the boy’s death (“He’s never been anywhere he has never been,” runs the opening line), David Park immediately sets the scene of the post-Troubles landscape in Northern Ireland, an uncharted territory observed with an unflinching eye as the fictional Truth Commission, a conceit borrowed from the South African experience of Truth and Reconciliation, prepares to rake over the coals of 30 years of atrocity and counter-atrocity. Northern Ireland, claims Henry Stanfield, the truth commissioner, is “an old manged, flea-infested dog returning to inspect its own sick,” a place of tawdry but necessary self-delusions: “Hard to lift your head above it in a godforsaken land, he tells himself, where a ship that sank and an alcoholic footballer are considered holy icons.”
  Of the four main characters – Stanfield; Fenton, an ex-RUC officer; Gilroy, once an IRA activist and now a Sinn Fein minister in the Stormont Assembly; and Danny, an Irishman with a shadowy past now living in America – it is Stanfield, as an Englishman drafted in to the reconciliation process and ostensibly an unbiased outsider, who sets the tone. Innocent of any taint accruing from the boy’s disappearance and death, he is nonetheless guilty of the one quality Northern Ireland cannot afford as it considers the possibilities of its future, that of unremitting cynicism. “For a second he thinks of trying to explain that the truth is rarely a case of what will be gained, so much as a case of what might be lost …” [ …] “ … but what he wants to tell her is that the truth can’t be deserved, that if it exists at all, it exists outside the constraints of need or personal desire. That truth rarely makes anything better and often makes it worse.”
  Told in the present tense, the novel should be a more visceral affair than it is, particularly given its subject matter, but Park is a self-consciously literary writer and his formal and occasionally florid delivery has a distancing effect that is too consistent to be anything other than deliberate. Park, himself a native of Northern Ireland, appears to be suggesting that when it comes to the outworkings of the Troubles, in the course of which former terrorists become government ministers, and paramilitary organisations shorn of political respectability descend into a more prosaic criminality, we are all helpless to do anything but observe and hope for the best.
  Someone once observed that anyone who thinks they know the answer to Northern Ireland doesn’t understand the question, and thus Park ends on a hopeful but pragmatic note, which is pleasing in that it is a realistic, unsentimental appraisal of how far Northern Ireland still has to travel before its normality becomes so unremarkable that there is no need of ‘the great post-Troubles novel’. THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER is not that novel, but David Park has done the statelet some service by setting a high standard for those who will follow. – Declan Burke

The Jury Remains Out: THE UNTOUCHABLE by John Banville

Acclaimed as literary novels, they are steeped in crime – but is it kosher to call them Irish crime fiction novels? YOU decide! Or … DON’T! This week: THE UNTOUCHABLE by John Banville.
The author of such exemplary works as ATHENA, Irishman Banville here takes on the juicy challenge of writing a spy novel and handles the assignment with far more grace and intelligence than even the best of that genre’s authors. Double-agent Victor Maskell wakes up one morning to discover that after years of informing on London for Moscow, someone has informed on him. To sort out what has happened, he begins a journal. What follows is the richly detailed account of a man who clearly had convictions but whose behaviour remains an enigma throughout. As he recalls his Irish childhood, complete with pastor father, beloved stepmother, and retarded brother; his emotional entanglements with careless golden boy Nick and his sister, Baby, whom Victor quite oddly marries long before he realizes that he is gay; and his relations with a slew of hedonistic, upper-class Englishmen too incisively characterized to be mere types, Victor remains subtle, crusty, and tantalizingly out of reach. His story is so well told that why he spied and who betrayed him become secondary. Highly recommended. – Library Journal

An icy, detailed portrait of a traitor, and a precise meditation on the nature of belief and betrayal. Banville (ATHENA, 1995, etc.) tends to allow the shimmering intensity of his prose to overcome plot and character. This time out, though, he keeps matters moving along briskly and his prose, while still vigorous, firmly under control. Sir Victor Maskell, an elderly, much-honoured art historian, is revealed in Parliament to have been a spy for the Soviets. Stripped of his knighthood, his various positions and honours, and dying of cancer, Maskell sits down to explain himself. The resulting memoir, ironic, full of lacerating self-knowledge and acidic portraits of his fellow traitors, provides both a lively portrait of art and intelligence circles in Britain from the 1920s to the ’70s and a meditation on the forces that inspire treason. Victor is a suitably complex and tormented figure. (Banville, to his credit, is clearly not interested in making him a particularly sympathetic one.) He is a perpetual outsider: An Irish Protestant, far less self-assured than his elegant Cambridge classmates, ambiguous about his sexuality, and more interested in art history than in the contemporary world, he seems to embrace Marxism more to fit in than to assert some firm belief, and to become a traitor more to please his friends than to assert a cause. This is, of course, well-ploughed ground: Maskell is in some ways decidedly similar to Anthony Blunt, the art historian/spy, and his circle equally recognizable. Still, Maskell’s fierce intelligence, his unblinking consideration of his past, sets this book apart from most fictional explorations of the spy’s mentality. There’s another reason that Maskell is writing his memoirs: He hopes, by doing so, to uncover who it was that turned him in, and why. He does so, in a bitterly ironic and understated climax. A resonant reworking of a seemingly exhausted genre, and a subtle, sad, and deeply moving work. – Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Tony Bailie

The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other writers talk some sense for a change. This week: Tony Bailie (right) on his debut novel, THE LOST CHORD

One CHORD And The Truth

“My publisher Lagan Press described THE LOST CHORD as a novel of music and mystery. Although it was not written as a crime novel it does contain elements of a detective story, where the narrator has to sift through a series of clues to find out what has become of the enigmatic Irish rock star Gino Morgan, who disappeared without trace seven years earlier.
  “Rock music has created its own mythology and the tortured musical genius who rapidly self destructs is a constant theme. Another is the vague suspicion that people like Doors singer Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley may have faked their own deaths in order to disappear from the public spotlight. A more recent example is Richie Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers, whose car was found on the Severn Bridge in Wales but whose body was never found, and who has been ‘spotted’ throughout the world.
  “I tried to make Gino a composite Irish rock star who combined the mysticism of Van Morrison, the precocious musicianship of Rory Gallagher and the self-destructive hedonism and bad-boy charm of Phil Lynott.
  “The story is told from the perspective of busker Manus Brennan who is literally picked up from the side of the road while hitching by Gino and asked to join his band, Duil. Manus is thrust into limelight and for five years lives the debauched lifestyle of a member of a hard-living rock band. However, during that time he witnesses Gino’s gradual decline into a drug-wasted shadow of his former self until one day he simply disappears.
  “Manus is as much in the dark as everyone else about what happened to Gino but constantly faces the suspicion that he and the other remaining band members know more than they are letting on. As the years pass, interest in the fate of Gino fades and Manus finds himself thrust back into obscurity and battling his own demons. Then someone shows him a picture that appears to show Gino, taken six years after he disappeared …” – Tony Bailie

THE LOST CHORD is available from The Lagan Press

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “Enough good crime novels have been set in Ireland that the novelty value has well and truly worn off and any new thriller set here needs to be particularly compelling in order to be successful. Happily, Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE shows just how mature the Irish crime thriller has become … With its own voice and something interesting to say about society in the North, Gallows Lane is an enjoyable and absorbing read,” says Alex Meehan at the Sunday Business Post. Marcel Berlins at The Times agrees: “Brian McGilloway’s BORDERLANDS was one of last year’s most impressive debuts. Does GALLOWS LANE pass the feared “second novel” test? Easily.” Not to be outdone, the Tyrone Herald weighs in thusly: “A ripping yarn that scorches its way through an early heatwave ... McGilloway is carving out a thrilling crime fiction franchise in the Lifford-Strabane area and this second offering does not disappoint.” And then there’s Susanna Yager at The Sunday Telegraph: “Brian McGilloway once again captures the atmosphere of the Irish borderlands in GALLOWS LANE … McGilloway skilfully handles the tangled threads of a conspiracy surrounding an old crime, to make a satisfying mystery with an attractive central character.” Nice … They’re still coming in for David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER: “Park’s multi-strand narrative proves to be an adept device for the deliverance of incommunicable truth,” reckons Jean Hannah Edelstein at The Guardian, while Emer O’Kelly at the Sunday Independent is very impressed: “DAVID Park’s seventh novel is not only powerful and written with a deceptive, elegant clarity; it is also an important commentary on the aftermath of civil war … THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER reads with frightening, chilling truth, another proof that art is the most relentless of all mirrors in society.” A quick one from Charlotte Evans at the New Zealand Herald for Ian Sansom’s THE DELEGATE’S CHOICE: “Sansom writes with a delightful sense of the absurd and pokes gentle fun at the pretentiousness of literary types.” A rather longer one from Brendan Kelly at the Sunday Business Post for Aifric Campbell’s debut: “THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER is an involving, exciting read, filled with well-drawn, credible characters and a plot that surges along with little hesitation and a great deal of style. The novel’s greatest strength, however, lies in Campbell’s acute understanding of the worlds of psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis … This novel belongs to the extraordinary, expanding tradition of story-telling based in the psychotherapeutic milieu.” And now for something completely different: “A dark fantasy novel about a young man who wants to become a powerful gangster, it’s very different in style and tone to my children’s books, but is written in the same straightforward, pacy style,” says IndieLondon about DB Shan’s PROCESSION OF THE DEAD. “This isn’t your ordinary cops-and-robbers mystery, but there is a page-turning yarn here with a startling, satisfying ending,” agrees Bill Sass at the Edmonton Journal Review. “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, [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,” reckons the ever-reliable Alex Meehan at the Sunday Business Post, while Lisa Tuttle at The Times likes it too: “The narrative voice is engagingly cocky, the action races along, and there are some surprises lurking behind the familiar scenario … Many scenes seem recycled from violent crime movies – the massacre in a warehouse, the severed head in a refrigerator – while others are pure Enid Blyton.” Hurrah! Onward to John McFetridge’s EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE: “[McFetridge] has a gift for dialogue and setting . . . [and] is an author to watch. He has a great eye for detail, and Toronto has never looked seedier,” say the good folk at the Toronto Globe & Mail, via Amazon US. Over at Commonsense Media, Matt Berman likes Siobhan Dowd’s THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY: “Aimed at younger readers … this one scores on two counts. The first is the mystery: it’s tightly constructed and solid … The second is Ted, whose quirks are mostly endearing, and whose eventual success is so satisfying … For kids who like their mysteries realistic, this will be a welcome addition to a genre that, right now at least, is not exactly burgeoning.” Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Geraldine Brennan likes Siobhan’s BOG CHILD: “A captivating first love affair, a hilarious red herring and profound truths about politics and family add up to a novel set to win awards in the coming year.” A swift brace of big-ups for KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP: “KT McCaffrey’s sixth Emma Boylan novel is a mystery that reads as quick as a scalded cat, and is as prone to bare its teeth for a sharp hiss. With her sexy style and occasional bulimia, this investigative reporter is welcome at any crime scene,” says the inimitable Critical Mick, while Myles McWeeney at the Irish Independent (no link) is equally impressed: “In the latest of the excellent series featuring Dublin journalist Emma Boylan … KT McCaffrey maintains the suspense throughout, and casts a cold eye on the gloss of modern Ireland.” On we go to Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: “It’s written in a very cinematic way, with exciting chase scenes and fight scenes and inventive visual detail. I am so loath to compare books with Harry Potter, but – yeah, in that respect it does remind me of the HP books. But the other part that made this book fun for me was the dialogue between Stephanie and Skulduggery, which is wall-to-wall deadpan sarcasm,” says one of a Swarm of Beasts. Erica at Book Diva, meanwhile, loves the audio version: “I am listening to what is officially the Best Audiobook Of All Time. Really. The Most Completely Fabulous And Entertaining Thing I Have Ever Heard In My Entire Life Ever, No Exaggeration Or Joking: SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy. Oh. My. Goodness. The story lends itself marvellously to an audio format, and the guy’s voice performing it (who is, curiously, named Rupert Degas) is absolute gold. Better even, his voice is platinum encrusted with diamonds and garnished with beluga caviar and French truffles unearthed by pigs in the french countryside.” Lovely … Just time for a quick pair for Benny Blanco’s THE SILVER SWAN: “A fast-paced, interesting plot, well-defined characters and evocative prose are the architectural underpinnings of THE SILVER SWAN,” reckons Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum at Book Reporter, via Streets of Dublin, while MADReads is also impressed: “Black’s nuanced grasp of human relationships more than made up for these failings. The suspense crescendos to the last page and Black, like the best of crime writers, kept me guessing to the end.” Finally, via the Macmillan US page for AMMUNITION, a quartet of big-ups for Sir Kenneth of Bruen: “It’s always a delight to discover a writer with an utterly distinctive voice…the words that best describe him, besides original, are outrageous and hilarious.” (Washington Post) “Bruen’s furious hard-boiled prose, chopped down to its trademark essence, never fails to astonish.” (Publishers Weekly) “Bruen’s style is clipped, caustic, heartbreaking and often hilarious.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer) and “Irish writer Ken Bruen does the noir thing well. His men are tough, his prose is lean, and there’s not a single drop or morsel of sentimentality to be found therein.” (Entertainment Weekly). ‘Therein’ – now there’s a word you are unlikely to read in a Ken Bruen novel any time soon …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,045: Elizabeth Zelvin

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’d rather amend the question to name crime novels I admire enormously, knowing I could never have written them. I have plenty of candidates: the Reginald Hill’s UNDERWORLD and ON BEULAH HEIGHT, Laurie King’s THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE, Dorothy L. Sayers’s GAUDY NIGHT, Peter Dickinson’s KING AND JOKER, Janet Neel’s DEATH’S BRIGHT ANGEL, Josephine Tey’s BRAT FARRAR. I’d add a few series by American women: Marcia Muller, Margaret Maron, Dana Stabenow, Nevada Barr.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Now, this is embarrassing: Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mysteries. These are cozies in the grand tradition, written after the Golden Age of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Detective Club and before the proliferation of light fare that has made “cozy” a pejorative term in some quarters. Wentworth’s books are perfectly predictable, but they are intelligent and character driven, if you accept that the characters fall into a finite number of types based on now outmoded assumptions about men, women, and society.
Most satisfying writing moment?
That would be the moment when the words tug at my mind, demanding to be released onto the page, and once they’re on the paper, I know I’ve got it. Writers have had different names for it over time: the Muse, inspiration, being a channel, even God or Higher Power. I’ve had it more frequently as a poet than as a novelist. Two of my most powerful poems came to me that way, one the day of my mother’s death and the other the day of my father’s funeral. When it comes during the first draft of a mystery, it feels wonderful, but I still have to sit back down at the computer the next day and keep on slogging.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Ken Bruen’s PRIEST, which is up for an Edgar for Best Novel and is one helluva book. Or maybe CROSS, his new one: the opening, prologue and first chapter, left me breathless. I’ve been a poet myself for thirty years or so, and you can see the poet on every page of Ken’s work. I shied away from it until recently, not only because I don’t read much noir but also because I’d heard his protagonist Jack Taylor was a heavy-duty alcoholic who hated sobriety—the opposite of my protagonist Bruce, who gets into genuine recovery, however reluctantly, and won’t relapse no matter how long the series runs. But when I finally read Ken’s books, I found he knows his stuff about the disease and is no fan of active alcoholism, so my bias in that area didn’t get triggered and I could relax and appreciate the writing.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Oh, Lord, a priest’s head, like the horse’s head in THE GODFATHER? I’m not sure I could handle seeing the movie. I have a horror of beheading that started before it moved from history books about the era of Queen Elizabeth I to the front page of today’s news. Even worse, a crucifixion? Mel Gibson’s already done that one.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Apart from the moments I’ve already mentioned, when the words are flowing right through me—and their aftermath, when I can reread what I’ve written over and over without falling out of love with it—I’d say the best thing is being able to wear sweats and bunny slippers (okay, a sleep tee and flip-flops) all day long. The worst thing—if you don’t count repeated rejection and discouragement and not making a living—is when I don’t know what comes next and I’m afraid I won’t be able to summon it up. Unfortunately, my daily process seems to start with “I can’t!” I’ve been reassured by hearing quite a few very successful writers admit the same. And I could avoid the problem altogether by giving up novels and sticking to short stories, poems, songs, and blog posts. But if I did, “I can’t” would turn into “I couldn’t,” and that would never do.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
My debut mystery, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, will be out from St. Martin’s on April 15. When Bruce wakes up in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day, he knows it's time to change his life. Afraid he’ll die of boredom without the booze, he finds a formula for staying sober: Don't drink, go to meetings, and investigate a murder. A computer geek who loves AA and New York City and the world's most co-dependent addictions counselLor help Bruce find out who's killing homeless alcoholics – including the one with enemies and a big trust fund. And everyone’s invited to my launch party at the Mysterious Bookshop. It’s my birthday as well as Income Tax Day, and my accountant has made me promise to say something clever about death and taxes.
Who are you reading right now?
I just finished PD James’s THE LIGHTHOUSE. It held my interest, but the way the mystery is constructed would never pass muster in a new author’s manuscript today. All that stately prose, the lengthy descriptions of landscape and interiors, the back-story, the “telling, not showing”—reading it transported me back to the Golden Age of mystery.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Edgar winner Julie Smith gave DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER a terrific blurb in which she used the words “snappy dialogue and quirky relationships.” Snappy and quirky work for me—and the third would be “fun.”

Elizabeth Zelvin’s DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER is published on April 15

Sunday, April 6, 2008

BOG Standard

The Grand Vizier being slavishly devoted to the works of the Durrell brothers, Lawrence and Gerald, and still rather peeved that the wonderful Siobhan Dowd (right) was called away too early to the great scriptorium in the sky, he was very pleased indeed to belatedly stumble across a fine piece in The Independent, in which Peter Stanford spoke with some of Siobhan’s peers about her talent and potential. To wit:
In an age when publishers talk endlessly of “cross-over” titles, for both adult and child readers, [Meg] Rosoff sees A SWIFT PURE CRY as part of a much more exclusive field of classics that are genuinely suitable for all ages. “It is one of the very, very few books, ostensibly written for children, that are equally readable and enjoyable for adults. With lots of so-called ‘cross-over’ books, adults can, of course, read them, but not get so much out of them as children will. I would place A SWIFT PURE CRY in the same category as Gerald Durrell’s MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS or TH White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. It is luminous, life-affirming and passionate.” […]
  Reading BOG CHILD now, however, Rosoff feels that it contains – for anyone who knew what Dowd was going through as she wrote it – a reflection of the author’s own struggle for life. “I don’t think you would notice it massively if you weren’t aware of Siobhan’s own story, but it is, for me, clearly a book written by a dying woman. At its most obvious it is about the discovery of a ‘bog child’, the body of a dead girl in a peat bog, and how her voice comes back from beyond the grave. The narrative, as it progresses, is more and more about questions of life and death.”
  There is, in the book, the hope of resurrection and of coming back from the brink, but that was not to be for Dowd. The tragedy of her premature death, all are agreed, is that she still had so many more books in her. “Some writers end up writing the book that has always been inside them and then they are done,” says Rosoff. “With Siobhan, I know she had an inexhaustible supply of story ideas. It is impossible not to feel cheated by her death.”
Those of a mind to support The Siobhan Dowd Trust, which carries on Siobhan’s life’s work, ‘to help disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland discover and experience the joy of reading’, should click on this very link here