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, July 26, 2008

On Log-Rolling And Blog-Rolling

One of the truly great things about blogging – the greatest, actually – is that it lets you be Holden Caulfield once in a while. In THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, Holden muses on how great it would be to be able to ring up an author whose book you’d just finished, just to shoot the breeze – so long as the guy wasn’t a phoney, of course.
  A few months back I read the first page of John McFetridge’s EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE and closed the book, went downstairs and told my wife that this guy McFetridge is the real deal. I didn’t know at the time that Elmore Leonard liked his stuff, or that Sarah Weinman had compared him to ‘Elmore Leonard meets James Ellroy’. I just knew.
  So I read the book and dropped him a line. He’s published in the U.S. by Harcourt, as THE BIG O will be come September. We got on well by email, so well that we’re doing a road-trip from Toronto to Baltimore for this year’s Bouchercon. So the danger is that we’re getting into log-rolling territory when I tell you that his debut, DIRTY SWEET, and his as-yet-unpublished GO ROUND, are some of the best crime novels I’ve ever read.
  I finished GO ROUND last night, and for those of you who’ve read McFetridge, the good news is that it’s the best of his first two novels condensed and streamlined into a stunning piece of fiction that put me in mind of George Pelecanos’ early Washington DC novels.
  Do I care about the log-rolling? Nope. My conscience is clear in that I read the guy’s book before I knew him. And what am I going to say – that his books aren’t great, just because I know him and someone might think I’m biased?
  Bullshit. John McFetridge is a star ascending and a terrific writer. End of story.
  The same applies to Adrian McKinty, who must have missed out on the Mystery Readers’ Journal ‘Irish Mysteries’ issue because he was relocating from Denver to Oz. His is a glaring absence from what’s virtually a Who’s Who of Irish crime fiction, because he offers a rare blend, that of a literary style with a convincingly brutal thuggishness.
  As with John McFetridge, I contacted Adrian McKinty after reading DEAD I WELL MAY BE, which seemed to me to represent a new departure for Irish crime fiction. Apart from being a brilliant writer, he’s a sound bloke with a good attitude, and his subsequent novels have delivered on the promise of his debut. He’s also written a number of excellent posts for Crime Always Pays.
  Should I pretend I don’t like McKinty’s novels because he is, at this stage, a mate? Should I refrain from telling you that his upcoming FIFTY GRAND is his most challenging, ambitious novel yet? No. And even if I should, I won’t. What’s the point in having a blog about books and writing if you can’t tell the world about great books and great writers?
  Mind you, with McKinty, it’s fairly common knowledge that he’s the good stuff. His newest fan is Peter Rozovsky over at Detectives Beyond Borders, who offers this pithy summation of DEAD I WELL MAY BE: “Michael’s grim, sometimes hellish journey through the last two thirds of the book may evoke for the literary-minded any number of the world’s great epics. Think of the book as Dirty Harry meets Dante if you must.”
  ‘Dirty Harry meets Dante’. Beautiful. We said Parker written by Cormac McCarthy, but what do we know?
  Finally, it’s a swift jaunt to Scotland for our latest Tony Black extravaganza. Tony doesn’t fit into the mould here, because we haven’t read his debut PAYING FOR IT yet, although it’s due a perusal in the next week or so. On the other hand, Tony Black seems to be a sound bloke who was unusually generous with his time and effort when I was trying to get some web oxygen for THE BIG O. And it’d be disgracefully churlish not to return the favour, to wit:
“Assuming (and hoping) that this is the first of many featuring the tortured Gus Dury, we’ve NEVER seen a series character so richly and honestly drawn from the get-go. The emotional punches connect solidly … as the pains of being a father and the pains of being a son are laid bare. The debut of the year.” – Thug Lit

“Tony Black’s first novel hits the ground running, combining a sympathetic ear for the surreal dialogue of the dispossessed with a portrait of a city painted in the blackest of humour.” – Cathi Unsworth, The Observer
  Nice. The vid below, you won’t be surprised to learn, is Tony Black’s book-trailer for PAYING FOR IT, and it’s a rather attractive example of said form. If the book was written with the same quality of care, craft and love that went into the promo, we’re very probably going to love it. Roll it there, Collette …

Friday, July 25, 2008

“Deer Dairy …”

As some of you already know, the time has come to address the proof-edits / corrections on the sequel to THE BIG O (said tome pictured right, behind the buffoon singing I’ve Never Been To Me), which will be called CRIME ALWAYS PAYS. It’s a delicate business, in that by the time I come to make the final edits I’ve already read the entire story through about 10 times, and probably more. Plus there’s the whole issue of moral outrage to be overcome, which generally runs along the lines of, “The fuck’re you talking about, it was perfect when I gave it to you!”
  Yesterday was the first day of said edits, given that the occasionally cruel Mrs Viz has taken the Princess Lilyput away for a few days’ well-earned rest, and for reasons best known to my super-ego I’ve decided to keep a diary of how the editing process is going. To wit:
Day 1: Thursday, July 24
6am: Scheduled rise at 6am actually happens at 7.30am, the 90-minute difference being the time it took to roll the weight of reading through that bloody story again off my chest and kick-starting the respiratory process all over again.
7.30am: Sip coffee, smoke cigarettes. Answer some emails. Post review of THE LEMUR to the blog. More cigarettes and coffee. More emails.
9am: Head into town to attend a preview screening of the new X-Files movie. First hour is interesting, the last half-hour sucks.
12.30pm: Have coffee with script-writing brother, who also reviews movies. Chat idly about how hard it is to find the time to do any real writing these days.
2pm: Meet up with Neville Thompson. A good guy. Chat wanders around to how hard it is to find the time to do any real writing these days.
4pm: Do a bit of actual work, aka reviewing some movies for radio station.
4:15pm: Leave radio station and head for home.
5:30pm: Home. Absence of holidaying wife and child depressing. Coffee. Cigarettes. Emails. Write blog post on Colin Bateman being terrorised by albinos and the politically correct brigade.
6:30pm: Read a goodly chunk of John McFetridge’s GO ROUND. Get utterly depressed when comparing it to the toxic chaos of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS.
8pm: Watch BBC documentary on travel writer Eric Newby. Inane presenter insists on getting in the way of Hindu Kush scenery.
9pm: Head for the desk all fired up to start proofing edits.
9:05pm: Have a quick trawl through the various crime fiction blogs and websites. Coffee. Cigarettes.
10:55pm: Play a few games of Hearts.
11:15pm: Watch back-to-back episodes of Family Guy. Firmly resolve to start proofing edits the following morning at 6am.
11:50: Head for bed. Absence of wife and child depressing.

Day 2: Friday, July 25
6am: Actually rise on time. Get to desk. Coffee. Cigarettes. Emails.
6:20am: Write blog post on the Mystery Readers’ Journal ‘Irish Mysteries’ special issue.
7:45am: Have bright idea about keeping a proof-edits diary.
8:59am: Head for town for preview movie screening, trying to work out which is the more depressing – the absence of wife and child, how good a writer John McFetridge is, or the utter disinterest in revisiting CRIME ALWAYS PAYS.
3:01pm: Get back to the desk and conclude it’s a perfect storm of all three.
3:02pm: To be continued …

If You’re Irish, Come Into The Parlour. And Get A Cap In Yo Ass

The Mystery Readers’ Journal goes forty shades of green for its summer issue, as ever-radiant editor Janet Rudolph brings together a veritable Who’s Who of Irish crime fiction to celebrate the current boom in dubh noir (three of the usual suspects pictured, right – yours truly, Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley-Edwards, and Declan Hughes). The magazine is for the most part subscription, but there’s a few free tasters available web-side, among them Glenn Harper’s ‘Ordinary Decent Criminals: Irish Noir Fiction in the 21st Century’, which kicks off with a few names unfamiliar to yours truly. To wit:
“There are a couple of literary thrillers from the last decades of the 20th century worth mentioning in passing because they approach noir in distinctive ways. M.S. Power’s CHILDREN OF THE NORTH is an intense, complex trilogy on the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland, in a dark, Graham Greene vein and with a rich sense of both tragedy and comedy. Another novel on the Troubles, THE PSALM KILLER by Christopher Petit, has an eerie quality of being both a documentary novel about the convoluted politics of Northern Ireland and a brutal thriller that has some common ground with SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It’s also worth mentioning a few noir-ish late 20th-century Irish novels that aren’t exactly crime novels: Hugo Hamilton’s HEADBANGER and SAD BASTARD (featuring a cop and a noir atmosphere as well as considerable black comedy) and Seamus Smyth’s QUINN (featuring a career criminal and a lot of even blacker comedy).”
  Glenn? I love you like a mother from another brother, etc., but I have no idea of how Hugo Hamilton’s Pat Coyne tales, and that of Seamus Smyth’s QUINN, ‘aren’t exactly crime novels’. Hamilton, you could argue, offers a crude but quixotic protagonist raging against the world at large, and one who could just as easily be a middle-management figure as an Irish police detective tilting at the windmills of Irish justice or lack of same. But QUINN (1999), a first-person account of a killer-for-hire, is one of the defining Irish crime fiction novels of the current outpouring. Jump here for Ken Bruen’s verdict.
  Anyhoo, Tana French also features on the freebie list, and here ponders on why Irish writers took so long to embrace crime writing:
“Ireland had a deep, passionate resistance to bringing its problems out in the open. Maybe because of centuries of living under British rule, this country had an intense culture of secrecy: whatever you say, say nothing. Anything shameful or dangerous belonged tightly under wraps, unmentioned. To write about a murder, even a fictional one, would have gone very strongly against the grain. That mentality comes through even in one of the few pieces of Irish crime writing I can think of from before about 1990: John B. Keane’s powerful play The Field, in which a couple of local men kill an outsider for trying to buy a field that they feel belongs to them, and the community covers up the murder. Even the absence of crime writing can tell you a lot about a place.”
  Aye, sure we were all too busy slaughtering each other and starving to death to bother our collective arse writing about it. But lo! No more! For yea, verily, the full list of the MRJ’s contents runneth thusly:
• Shadows of Guilt: Ireland in the 1950s by John Banville, aka Benjamin Black
• Distance Lends Perspective by Colin Bateman
• Billy Boyle Goes to Ireland by James R. Benn
• An Irish Heroine by Rhys Bowen
• Crime Pays—On the Page by Declan Burke
• No, Not the Blarney Stone by Ken Bruen
• An Irishman's Lot by Doug M. Cummings
• The Importance of Being Irish by David Dickinson
• When Irish Writing Roots Are Showing... by Carole Nelson Douglas
• Where Fact Meets Fiction by Garbhan Downey
• Killing the Peace Process by Ruth Dudley Edwards
• The Roots of Murder by Tana French
• Rachel O'Reilly's Murder by Jenny Friel
• Josephine Tey and Nuala Anne McGrail by Father Andrew M. Greeley
• Finding Mythic Ireland by Lyn Hamilton
• Foxes, Cabbages & the Ancient Laws of Ireland by Cora Harrison
• Stumbling on a Body in the Bog by Erin Hart
• How the Irish Created My Civilization by Jeremiah Healy
• I Owe My Life to an Irish Criminal by Eoin Hennigan
• Irish Soul by Tobsha Learner
• A Literary Tour of One Dublin Author by Stephen Leather
• The Irish in P.I. Frank Johnson's Debut Outing by Ed Lynskey
• Casting a Cold Eye on the Gloss of Modern Ireland by K.T. McCaffrey
• Irish Connection by John McEvoy
• Patrolling the Border by Brian McGilloway
• The Absence of Death by Cormac Millar
• Writing and Ireland by Pat Mullan
• The Elusive Irishman by Teagan Oliver
• An Arresting Tale by Ralph Robb
• The Irish in Me by Les Roberts
• Balancing the Book by ZoĆ« Sharp
• Lark and the Quaker Connection by Sheila Simonson
• Interwoven Irish by Therese Szymanski
• Irish Crime Writing: Truth Sells Better Than Fiction by Neville Thompson
• Sister Fidelma, 7th-Century Supersleuth by Peter Tremayne
Hmmm, colour us impressed. Meanwhile, the Macavity Award nominees have been announced, and John Connolly and – oh yes! – the ever-radiant Tana French are among the front-runners. To wit:
Best Novel
SOUL PATCH by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House)
THE UNQUIET by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton*/Atria)
BLOOD OF PARADISE by David Corbett (Ballantine Mortalis)
WATER LIKE A STONE by Deborah Crombie (HarperCollins)
WHAT THE DEAD KNOW by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Best First Mystery
IN THE WOODS by Tana French (Hodder & Stoughton*/Viking)
HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill (William Morrow)
THE SPELLMAN FILES by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)
STEALING THE DRAGON by Tim Maleeny (Midnight Ink)
  So there you have it. Irish crime fiction – we finally pulled our heads out of the sand and thumbs out of our asses and started talking about what’s really happening in modern Ireland. Sure aren’t we only marvellous all the same?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

He’ll Be Having A Go At The Lilies Next

It’s not often we find cause to be envious of The Artist Formerly Known As Bateman (right). Handsome, successful and well-adjusted, we have no need of his talent, fame and chiselled, windswept features. But every once in a while even TAFKAB does something that takes our breath away. This week: TAFKAB tells the BBC to do one. Quoth the Belfast Telegraph:
Award-winning author Colin Bateman has launched an expletive-fuelled tirade against politically-correct BBC chiefs for carrying out a “witch-hunt” against him.
  In a bizarre episode, which could be straight off the pages of one of the Ulsterman’s own comic novels, the Beeb blasted Bateman for being offensive to albinos.
  Now Bangor-born Bateman — the creator of the hit Belfast telly detective show Murphy’s Law — has responded by telling them to, “Get a f****** life!”
  TAFKAB’s crime, apparently, is that Mo, one of the characters from his YA series, has albinism, and that other characters in the novel remark upon her unusual pigmentation.
  As gritty realism goes, it’s not quite The Wire. It does, however, reflect the real world.
  Now, Mo isn’t some token background character. She’s the hero. She does hero stuff. She’s a powerful role model. She doesn’t use her albinism as some kind of super-power, but neither does she allow her condition to prevent her from doing all the kinds of things people who don’t have albinism do, and then some.
  So why the witch-hunt?
  A quiet day at the news desk? Lazy journalism? Political correctness run amok? All three combined?
  And where does it all end? At what point do we censor Shakespeare for his depiction of Jews in The Merchant of Venice? Or get all tabloid on his ass for depicting Richard III with a hump? Or suggesting that it’s even remotely cool for a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl to elope, and then commit suicide?
  Or, as the venerable TAFKAB says: “If a bank robber is an Apache, I want to be able to say he’s an Apache without getting a tomahawk in the brain from the f****** political correctness police.”
  Amen, brother.

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

Benjamin Black’s first two novels, CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN, were set for the most part in 1950s Dublin and featured a pathologist, Quirke, as a variation on a staple of the crime fiction protagonist, the reluctant private investigator. Languid and graceful in style, morbidly claustrophobic in atmosphere, the crime novels are written to a very high standard, as you might expect of John Banville, Benjamin Black’s more literary alter-ego, even if events tend to unfold at a pace that is unusually sedate for the genre.
  THE LEMUR is a different affair entirely, and not only because it is set in New York in the present day. First published in serial form in the New York Times magazine, it is notable, at 132 pages, for its brevity. Its protagonist, John Glass, is a once-famous journalist who has abandoned his principles to the extent that he has accepted a million-dollar commission from his father-in-law, ‘Big’ Bill Mullholland, to write the ex-CIA operative’s biography. Glass employs a researcher, whom he nicknames ‘The Lemur’, to dig into Mulholland’s past, an unwise move that results in blackmail, extortion and murder.
  It’s a conventional set-up, but the joy of THE LEMUR is watching John Banville wriggle around in what can often be a strait-jacketed genre. “The police station, if that was what to call it – headquarters? precinct house? – looked just as it would have in the movies,” he writes with an deceptively jaunty air of disregard for detail, before following up with the observation that “ … if viewed from above, all this apparently random toing and froing would resolve itself into a series of patterns … as in a Busby Berkeley musical,” and describing the police captain as having “the face of an El Greco martyr, with deep brown, suffering eyes and a nose like a finely honed stone ax-head.”
  The tale, while straightforward by the standards of the more complex contemporary crime narratives, benefits from the brevity imposed by its serialisation. It’s no more than a novella, but each relatively short chapter contains its fair share of twists and surprises, albeit stealthily delivered, the story emerging as sinuously as the smoke from Glass’s beloved cigarettes.
  There are caveats, of course. Crime fiction aficionados will very probably anticipate the final twist long before the big reveal at the end, and the constraints of time and space mean that events are too quickly forced to be entirely believable. The biggest issue you may have with THE LEMUR, however, is that it is just too short. Easily read in one sitting, it offers an all-too-brief glimpse into a world peopled with exquisitely detailed characters, particularly as Banville’s sense of mischief is palpable and infectious.
  Even if you are a die-hard fan of the genre, this offering is worth reading for the simple joy of reading John Banville in playful mood. And if you haven’t read crime fiction before, THE LEMUR might well be the perfect place to start. – Declan Burke

This review was first published by the Sunday Business Post

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Books Wanted. Only Brilliance Need Apply

A quick question for any Italian readers out there. Yesterday I came across the following line in Michele Giuttari’s A DEATH IN TUSCANY: “A five-thousand-lire phone card was used for the call.” The novel was originally published in 2005, three years after Italy converted to the euro, so is this a blatant mistake or is it the case that in Italy ‘lire’ is still used as slang, much in the same way that ‘quid’ is still used as slang in euro-friendly Ireland? I’m just curious.
  As for the novel itself: I gave it 223 pages and then packed it in, which is the second time this week I’ve finished a book early, albeit for wildly different reasons. For a story written by a former Florence police chief, the tale offers no particularly interesting insights into how the Italian police go about their business. Neither is the story especially interesting or unusual; in fact, it’s pretty standard fare. And despite the exotic location of Florence and its hinterland, Giuttari gives us little sense of the natural or man-made beauties of the locale.
  John McFetridge left a comment somewhere on these pages to the effect that I should skip A DEATH IN TUSCANY and read Michael Dibdin instead, although it arrived too late – I was already 100 pages or so in at that stage. But he’s right. Michael Dibdin, perhaps because he was seeing Italy with a foreigner’s eye, offers a more richly textured setting, and his protagonist, Aurelio Zen, is rather more complex and interesting than Michele Giuttari’s central character, Michele Ferrara.
  (Incidentally, Glenn Harper over at International Noir has an fascinating theory on Giuttari’s inter-textuality, to wit: “I have to mention as well that [Giuttari] evidently persecuted a pair of journalists with an alternate view of a real case that is part of his plot in his first novel, A FLORENTINE DEATH, jailing one and kicking the other out of the country for the crime of contradicting the cop’s theory of the Monster of Florence case, in both his police work and his own book on the case.” According to Glenn, the Monster of Florence case has a bearing on the outcome of A DEATH IN TUSCANY).
  It’s probably only fair to mention at this point that A DEATH IN TUSCANY probably suffered in the reading because yours truly has pretty much decided that brilliance is the order of the day from here on in. Life is too short to be reading average books at the best of times, but with time so short these days, only brilliance – as a minimum – will do it from now on. Up until now I’ve always had it on my conscience if I didn’t finish a book to the bitter end, even if I wasn’t enjoying it, perhaps out of some kind of perverted sympathy with the author, given all the work he or she has put into the novel. But no more.
  I’ll take genius, I’ll take unusual, I’ll take challenging, I’ll take glorious failures. But spare me the rising tide of bland read-a-likes seeping onto the bookshelves of the world like so much literary porridge.
  Take John McFetridge (right), for example. Desperate for a jump-start after putting away A DEATH IN TUSCANY, I turned to GO ROUND, his third and yet-to-be-published novel set in Toronto. Bang! A propulsive narrative. Fascinating characters. Believable dialogue. A setting depicted with real vim and love. A hefty dollop of piss-and-vinegar to season. The result? A masterclass in storytelling and a vibrant, relevant rendition of the one story the entire world is dealing with. And I’m still only on page 97.
  Of course, demanding brilliance and genius of the books I read raises the bar all over, but especially in terms of what I manage to grind out of the white page myself. Am I entitled to demand brilliance in my reading when I can’t deliver it in my own writing? No. Am I deliberately offering a hostage to fortune in order to get my small but perfectly formed ass in gear for the redrafting projects I’ve planned for the next six months? Yes. Will it result in brilliance? Erm, probably not.
  Which writes me into a corner and / or makes me a hypocrite. Bummer. Aha, but can I do hypocrisy brilliantly? Only time, that endlessly prevaricating doity rat, will tell …

A GONZO NOIR: The Slightly Psychedelic Review

Author, blogger and part-time Evil Genius Gerard Brennan (right) has been doing terrific things for Northern Ireland crime fiction in the few months since CSNI kicked off, although he’s obviously a rather strange chap, given that he’s been a fan of our internet novel, A GONZO NOIR, ever since we started publishing to the web. Yesterday he published a long and enthusiastic review of the finished article, with which we are well pleased, with our favourite bit running thusly:
“So all in all, A GONZO NOIR is a slightly psychedelic trip into the workings of Declan Burke’s rather odd mind. The characters leap off the screen and the ending twists again and again with more enthusiasm than Chubby Checker and the Fat Boys ever mustered.”
Nice. Meanwhile, in our list of thanks to people who had given A GONZO NOIR some oxygen over the last few months, we neglected to mention the good folk at Fantasy Book Spot. Wea culpa, folks, and much obliged for the big-ups …

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Dark Knight

It’s always darkest before the dawn, and even though The Dark Knight offers a few slivers of hope by the end, this is a very bleak movie indeed. In a nutshell, Bruce Wayne / Batman (Christian Bale) is fighting to rid Gotham City of the Mob by targeting money launderers, and is so successful that The Joker (Heath Ledger) takes it upon himself to kill the Caped Crusader. Behind the cartoonish superhero posturing, however, is a very serious meditation on America’s approach to the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – Batman engages in the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of a suspect from Hong Kong, and isn’t averse to torturing a prisoner when the occasion demands. There’s also a fascinating double-act between Batman and Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), aka ‘the White Knight’, who distrusts Batman’s vigilante approach and wants to fight crime in a clear and transparent fashion. The director, Christopher Nolan, has crafted a thoughtful and often philosophical movie, but he hasn’t neglected to include a number of powerful action sequences, most of which – the lumbering and unconvincing Bat-bike apart – are expertly executed via Steadicam. Bale’s bass growl when voicing Batman is still an unnecessary irritation, but The Dark Knight is much more concerned with exploring the psychology behind Bruce Wayne than his alter ego, and here Bale is in superb form. Surrounded by an excellent cast – Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine all shine, particularly Caine – he is magnificently intense and introspective, offering an unusually realistic portrayal of a superhero beset by self-doubt. The star of the piece, however, is Heath Ledger as The Joker. Combining the expected range of tics and quirks of the clownish psychotic with a pathos-laden performance that offers real depth to the character, Ledger burns where Bale smoulders, leaving a scorching reminder of what his talent might have achieved. – Declan Burke

This review was first published in TV Now magazine

Around The Web In 80 Seconds*

Confused? You might well be … Ken Bruen has just released the latest Jack Taylor novel, SANCTUARY, and yet ye olde google search for ‘Ken Bruen Sanctuary’ throws up the news, courtesy of Crime Spree Cinema, that ‘John Stockwell has signed on to direct Sanctuary, a film that is based on Irish novelist John Connelly’s book BAD MEN.’ Quoth MysterLynch:
“For those of you that are not familiar with Connolly’s work, he manages to show both the darkest aspects of man as well as the finest points of humanity in a style that is graphic yet often poetic. I can honestly say I think he is one of the finest fiction writers alive today and should be read by all.”
  No arguments here. Claire Coughlan, on the other hand, is in combative form – a stalwart reviewer for Crime Always Pays, she gets in touch to vent about Tana French’s THE LIKENESS thusly:
“Is it my imagination, or do American reviewers seem to give an awful lot of the plot away? Sheesh, leave something for the readers to find out themselves. Check out this review in the NY Times ... I have a problem with reviewers in general going into the minutiae of the plot – it kinda ruins elements of the story.”
  Certainly there’s a fine line between offering the reader enough plot to intrigue, and blatant plot-spoilers. My own issue with Janet Maslin’s review of THE LIKENESS is that it compares the novel – approvingly – with Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY, which was The Most Boring Novel I’ve Ever Read, Ever. But that’s just me …
  Elsewhere, Charles Fernyhough reviewed Irvine Welsh’s CRIME for the Sunday Independent, and had this to say:
“Welsh’s readers will recognise his trademark melange of registers, from high-flown lyricism, through foul-mouthed demotic to bland therapy-speak: the taut dialogue buzzes with snappy ventriloquism. Welsh is one of our most interesting writers on the minutiae of human consciousness, and little happens here that the reader does not end up feeling vividly for himself.”
  Over at The Scotsman, CAP’s Man of the Week, Tony Black, waxes lyrical about why Edinburgh is the perfect city for a crime fiction setting, to wit:
“If you were putting together a template for what might be the best city for a crime novel, I think Edinburgh might fit the bill. It’s got that schizophrenic heart. There is rich Edinburgh and poor Edinburgh, there are ornate buildings and sink estates. Inevitably these two worlds must collide, which creates perfect conflict for the crime novelist. It’s the city of TRAINSPOTTING, but it’s also the city of MISS JEAN BRODIE.”
  Finally, the harsh-but-fair dominatrix known to her adoring public as Maxine Clarke reports from Harrogate, and sounds a little peeved at the excessive analysis of what constitutes crime fiction:
“The more I read and hear people trying to shoehorn “crime fiction” into various psychological and sociological analyses, the more irrelevant the genre-definition game seems to be. Good books are good books, and don’t need to be discussed in a certain context, which could end up turning into a straightjacket.”
  Well said, ma’am. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, there’s only two kinds of writing – good writing and bad writing. The rest is marketing. Peace, out.

* Providing you don’t click any of the links, obviously.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Ken Bruen on PAYING FOR IT

Galway’s adopted son and sometime sex-god Tony Black (right) drops us a line to give us a sneaky and ultra-exclusive peek at the Emperor of Galway Ken Bruen’s full review of PAYING FOR IT, the entirety of which runneth thusly:
PAYING FOR IT might just be the most aptly titled novel of the year.
  Rarely has a title worked on so many levels.
  Gus lives in an Edinburgh far from any tourist brochure of this genteel city.
  Nothing gentle here.
  Gus is fucked, in every way which hurts, bumped from his job as a reporter, losing his beloved wife to divorce and a more-than-lethal obsession with a whisky bottle.
  He agrees to investigate the death of the son of his surrogate father-figure, his own father and Gus being embroiled in a very love / hate battle.
  And phew, does he ever buy into trouble – his previous blunders, smacking politicians in the mouth, are about to pale when he begins to dig into this case.
  East European gangsters will be breathing down his neck in a very forceful way.
  And nothing is quite as it seems.
  The last fifty pages contain shock on shock.
  The writing is a joy, in your face, with that wondrous dead-pan humour that only the Celts really grasp.
  The narrative blasts off the page like a triple malt.
  We can only pray that Gus is already preparing his next outing.
  This is one adrenalin-pumped novel that is as moving and compassionate as it is stylishly written. – Ken Bruen
Nice. Meanwhile, it’s still not too late to enter our freebie giveaway competition this week (see below), featuring – yep, you guessed it – Tony Black’s PAYING FOR IT, in which, ironically enough, you get the book … without paying for it!!! Oh, how we laughed. And then we stopped.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Tony Black has his hotly anticipated debut novel PAYING FOR IT published tomorrow (jump here for a first chapter sample), and the good folk at Preface, out of Random House UK, have been kind enough to give us three copies to give to you. Yes, YOU! First, the blurb elves:
Gus Dury once had a high-flying career as a journalist and a wife he adored. But now he is living on the edge, a drink away from Edinburgh’s down-and-outs, drifting from bar to bar, trying not to sign divorce papers. But the road takes an unexpected turn when a friend asks him to investigate the brutal torture and killing of his son, and Gus becomes embroiled in a much bigger story of political corruption and illegal people-trafficking. Seedy doss-houses, bleak wastelands and sudden violence contrast with the cobbled streets and cool bistros of fashionable Edinburgh, as the puzzle unravels to a truly shocking ending.
Lovely. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question. Is Tony Black:
(a) Benjamin Black’s son;
(b) Ingrid Black’s brother;
(c) A third cousin, twice removed, to that guy Black who sang Wonderful Life;
(d) Not related to anyone in the world anywhere – he’s actually an orphan who needs to sell all the books he can in order to scrape together the cash to find his long-lost family. Sob.
Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address, using (at) rather than @ to confuse the spam-munchkins, by noon on Wednesday, July 23. Et bon chance, mes amis

Mi Casa, Su Casa – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty (right) keeps on telling us that he’s not going to start blogging seriously until later this year – his latest post is entitled ‘A Portrait of the Artist with a Spray Can’ – because he doesn’t have the time right now. Happily, he does find the time to write the occasional piece for Crime Always Pays, the latest of which concerns itself with Jim Thompson’s hinterland of Oklahoma. To wit:


A terrific new voice in American noir, Victor Gischler, sets his novels in rural Oklahoma. Now, I don’t know Victor, but I like his books (one of his titles is SHOTGUN OPERA, which tells you a lot about the fellow’s panache) and I don’t know a lot about Oklahoma either, except that from about the age of 15 onwards I always wanted to go there.
  You probably think it was because of the musical. No. In fact the musical was a deterrent. When I was a kid, every Sunday afternoon my father used to play ‘Surrey With The Fringe on Top’ in waltz time on the piano. That’ll cure you of any love of Rodgers or Hammerstein or Howard Keel. When I’d think about Oklahoma! I’d get a feeling of existential dread.
  I read THE GRAPES OF WRATH around then too, which is about Okies heading west, but obviously I was too young to really get that book as I remember becoming turned on by the ending, something that’s not supposed to happen.
  Nah, it wasn’t Broadway and it wasn’t John Steinbeck; what had gotten me into Oklahoma was Jim Thompson (right). Like a lot of kids I’d done the progression from fantasy to science fiction to detective books to noir. But where Raymond Chandler wrote about the lives of the rich and famous, and Hammett gave us the stylish and the cool, Jim Thompson wrote about blue collar scuzzballs pulling scams on one another in hell-hole one horse towns all across west Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle.
  Jim Thompson’s sad sack characters were defeated before they even started the book. Their schemes were distinctly small time: ripping off a gas station here, or a drug store there for sums like twenty bucks or even a few quarters. These weren’t sly confidence men, or brilliant detectives or cool-under-pressure gumshoes, these were skeevy bums with three day old beards in patched clothes, who smelled bad. They were hobo criminals, low-lives, grifters.
  Grifters: I hadn’t heard the word before reading Jim Thompson’s novel of the same name but I quickly got the idea. If you’ve seen The Sting or even Stephen Frears’ movie version, you’ll have acquired an inflated notion of the grift. A grifter isn’t about the big con, the big gesture, the big score. He’s small time and he knows it. A grifter is self made. He was born poor, he has no skills, no family, no luck, but he (or quite often she) his two important talents: he’s just a little bit smarter than the average guy and he has absolutely no qualms about taking your money.
  Thompson’s grifters, thieves and sharks, sometimes became sociopaths, most famously in THE KILLER INSIDE ME, which I won’t spoil if you haven’t read, but let’s just say that the sheriff isn’t exactly Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men (and the fact that Thompson’s father was a disgraced Oklahoma county sheriff, gives the story an added frisson).
  Thompson’s books were exciting, edgy and cool and made me long for America. Right after I’d gotten off the boat - actually an Aer Lingus DC-10 - and started work as a ridiculously under-qualified bouncer in the Bronx (I’m 5’ 10” and back then about 158 pounds) I began planning my Oklahoma trip.
  Once I’d saved enough my wife and I drove out from New York.
  We pulled an all-day shift until we got to Tennessee and then spent some time in Cormac McCarthy’s (and Quentin Tarantino’s!) Knoxville. Then it was the usual Graceland, Beale Street tour before jumping the Big Muddy and heading straight for Anadarko, my Mecca of all things America.
  Anadarko wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
  There are few Native Americans in Jim Thompson’s books but Anadarko is a majority Indian town. It’s a rough place, with a lot of bars and a lot of drunks. I grew up in Victoria Estate in Carrickfergus which had more than it’s fair share of wife beaters, violent nutcases and alcoholics, but Anadarko might give Carrick a run for its money. Locals call it Dodge or Darko or The Bad. As a town Anadarko didn’t really know what to do with itself. It once had oil, but it didn’t have it anymore and what it did have seemed to be pubs, fast food restaurants and more pubs.
  I expect it’s changed a bit since I was there in the ’90s; it’s probably filled now with Apache and Kiowa heritage centres and the like. But back then you could see where Thompson was coming from.
  On our trip we discovered that the great American poet John Berryman was also from Anadarko. Inversing me, Berryman was obsessed by Ireland and came to Dublin looking for inspiration; unfortunately the inspiration didn’t stick and only a couple of years later he committed suicide by jumping off the Minneapolis Washington Avenue Bridge. Berryman once wrote a poem for my wife’s aunt Amy, Dream Song 113, which contains the line: “The body’s foul, cried god, once, twice, & bound it—for many years I hid it from him successfully—I’m not clear how he found it,” which sums up carnality in Thompson’s books pretty well. In Thompson’s world relations between men and women are complicated, distrustful, poisoned, and sex is grubby, hurried, desperate, yet somehow very, very important.
  Berryman’s stock has risen since his death, Thompson’s rose, fell, rose again and fell again. He’s probably better known through his screenplays (The Killing, Paths of Glory) and the movies made from his books – The Getaway, The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, Coup de Torchon – but his best books are better than any of the films. You can read all of them in about two weeks, none are very long and some are distinctly more interesting than others. Memorable ones for me are SAVAGE NIGHT, POP. 1280, THE KILLER INSIDE ME and THE GRIFTERS.
  And if you’re going to make a pilgrimage to Anadarko, it’s an easy drive from Oklahoma City. Unless you’re going there in a surrey, when it might take a little longer. – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND will be published by Holt later this year. Meanwhile, THE DEAD YARD gets the ‘wee review’ treatment from Gerard Brennan over at Crime Scene Northern Ireland

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A GONZO NOIR: An Internet Novel # 13 – Yea, Verily, It Is Accomplished

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “Herewith be the final instalment of Declan Burke’s internet novel, A GONZO NOIR (right), and thank blummery for that, it was all getting a bit ludicrous at this stage. Anyhoo, many thanks to those of you who have stayed the course, and particularly those who have left comments on the various sections – hi, Ann and Gerard. Thanks too to Claire, Gavin and Adrian for taking the time to read and support it, and to Bill Crider, Sinead Gleeson and The Rap Sheet for giving it some oxygen. What happens with the story now we have no idea, but we kind of like the idea of simply cutting it adrift to float around the blogosphere under its own steam, just to see where it might end up. Does the blogosphere have a black hole that sucks in orphaned blogs only to recycle them in a parallel dimension? We can only hope and pray.
  “In the meantime, it is done, over, finito. Make of it what you will. Peace, out.”

The story so far: Failed author Declan Burke (right), embittered but still passably handsome, wakes up one morning to find a stranger in his back garden. The stranger introduces himself as Karlsson, a hospital porter who assists old people who want to die and the hero of a first draft of a novel Burke wrote some five years previously. Now calling himself Billy, he suggests a redraft of the story that includes blowing up the hospital where he works. Intrigued, Burke agrees to a collaboration, but things do not go swimmingly …
  For the reasons we’re publishing a novel to the interweb, go here.
  If you want to skip all that malarkey, the novel starts here.
  If you’re one of the 34,014 readers who have been following the story, the latest update can be found here.
  Now read on …

Mais Oui, MONSIEUR: Some Lawrence Durrell-related Flummery

I mentioned in passing last week that I’d started Lawrence Durrell’s MONSIEUR as something of a non-reviewing, non-crime fiction, non-pressing-reason-to-read-it extravagance. Durrell was at one point regarded as the second coming of Joyce, and he’s a wonderful stylist, a writer of rare elegance – in his obituary, the New York Times selected this passage from CLEA as an example of the ‘quality of his descriptive gift’:
The whole quarter lay drowsing in the umbrageous violet of approaching nightfall. A sky of palpitating velours which was cut into by the stark flare of a thousand electric light bulbs. It lay over Tatwig Street, that night, like a velvet rind. Only the lighted tips of the minarets rose above it on their slender invisible stalks – appeared hanging suspended in the sky; trembling slightly with the haze as if about to expand their hoods like cobras. Drifting idly down those remembered streets once more I drank in (forever keepsakes of the Arab town) the smell of crushed chrysanthemums, ordure, scents, strawberries, human sweat and roasting pigeons.
  Nice. I try to treat myself to a new Durrell at least once a year, mainly because you need that kind of break to allow yourself to forget how agonizingly ambiguous and self-consciously post-modern Durrell was in his fiction (his travel-writing-cum-memoirs are delivered with a far straighter bat). MONSIEUR is delivered in a glancing, elliptical, self-deprecating way and becomes something of a literary version of the Russian doll, in which succeeding sections are revealed as the thoughts of the author who has written the previous section, until you get the point where what’s fact and fiction are so blurred as to be indistinguishable. It’s an interesting idea, in that the author is very loudly calling attention to the writer abnegating his authorship. A portrait of the artist as a self-effacing narcissist, if you will. The effect means that you get three or four different perspectives on the characters you’ve met in the early stages, whom you presumed were first-person narrators, so that even as you penetrate to the heart of the story you feel like you’re being drawn back out, the better to see the big picture. It’s a terrific technique.
  Anyway, intoxicated by the prevailing spirit of meta-narrative japery, I decided to pack the book in with ten pages to go, so I’ve no idea who – if any – of the ‘authors’ was the real author of the various sections.
  “But wasn’t Lawrence Durrell the real author?” I hear you cry.
  Erm, probably. But only in a glancing, elliptical, self-deprecating way.
  Funnily enough, the only other book I’ve been tempted to put away before finishing right to the end was the biography / memoir MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS, by Lawrence Durrell’s brother, Gerald. Mind you, that was because I was enjoying the book so much that I preferred to leave off before the inevitable moment when the Durrell family would have to leave idyllic, sunny Corfu and return to dreary, damp London, leaving them there (in my imagination at least) forever happy and ridiculously post-Edwardian beneath the azure Corfian skies.
  Happily, Durrell G went on to publish another two volumes of his Corfu memoirs, of which I have one left to read. Durrell L, who features in Durrell G’s books, went on to publish (among other things) the dazzlingly brilliant PROSPERO’S CELL, a memoir of his own time on Corfu, a quartet of novels set in Alexandria, and a quintet – or ‘quincunx’ – of novels set in Avignon, of which latter series I have four left to read. I imagine I’ll enjoy the Durrell G more than all the Durrell Ls combined, but that’s the hell of getting hooked on a writer – you have to see it out to the bitter end.
  Ah, reading. Do you think they’ll have books in heaven?

“Oi! Where’s My Blummin’ Comment?”

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “It appears that a number of people are having trouble leaving comments on Crime Always Pays, which is something of a bummer for all involved, and especially when it comes to the free books competition, when the only way you can win a free book is to leave a comment. Rest assured that the Grand Viz (right) filters out only those comments that are (a) spam marketing and (b) designed to incite hatred. Otherwise the comment policy is that if it makes it as far as the Grand Viz, it goes in. If you – yes, YOU! – have encountered difficulties leaving a comment in the last couple of months, or if you’ve left a comment only to wait in vain for it to appear, then it’s the software that’s the issue, not your comment and / or the lazy Comment Moderating Elf.
  “Some adjustments have been made, so hopefully the issue has been resolved. If it’s not, then we’ll have to think seriously about moving to another blogging platform. The whole point of blogging, after all, is to open up a channel of communication with like-minded people, and if the communication is all one-way then I might as well go out into a field and shout down a well. Which is fun, certainly, but nowhere as much fun as blogging. Besides, of all the CAP regulars, only Josh Schrank, as far as we know, lives down a well. Peace, out.”