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, August 16, 2008

The Blog Of Revelations

Peter Murphy is a name I think you’ll be hearing a lot of in 2009. His debut novel, JOHN THE REVELATOR, will be published by Faber and Faber in February, but you can get on the bandwagon early by jumping over to his Blog of Revelations, where he’s currently wibbling about the arrival of Richard Price’s LUSH LIFE at the Revelatorium and linking to an interview he conducted with Price for Hot Press back in 2003, which is terrific stuff. Meanwhile, here’s one we prepared earlier

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lest We Forget

On the 10th anniversary of the Omagh bombing, today’s Irish Times’ editorial asks a stark question. To wit:
The revulsion that followed Omagh had within it an element of shame. Why did it take the obscenity of Omagh to create a genuine, shared sense that such vile deeds are utterly beyond the Pale? And given the effect that the reaction to Omagh had on terrorism in Ireland, what might have happened had we reacted earlier?
Excuse me? ‘We’? With due and heartfelt respect to the families of the Omagh dead, I haven’t the slightest intention of taking even one iota of responsibility for the actions of the sadly deluded killers on all sides during the 30 years of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’. I never planted a bomb, I never wanted a bomb planted, and I never cheered when a bomb went off. Peace, out.

Read Read And Weep

Our good friend David Thompson of the Busted Flush Press drops by with yet another suggested blog-post, to wit:
“Have you read Cornelia Read’s ‘Hungry Enough’ from A HELL OF A WOMAN? It happens to be one of my favourites of the collection, and it was just nominated for a Shamus Award! I’ve attached the pdf of the story, and you’re welcome to post it on your blog for everyone to read. :-)”
  Man, but I’m a sucker for those smiley faces …
Hungry Enough
“I absolutely adore driving drunk,” said Kay. “It’s so damn easy.”
The top was down on her little two-seater Mercedes—one of those burnished days, after a week of rain.
  She surprised me by careening right onto Hollywood Boulevard, off Cherokee.
  “Darling girl,” I protested, “the Cahuenga Building went that-a-way. I’m an hour late as it is.”
  The wind was ruining our hair.
  She plucked a strand of platinum from her lipstick. “One tiny stop, Julia. I have a few things for you at the house.”
  Kay’d offered me birthday lunch at Chasen’s, her treat. I held out for Musso and Frank’s so I had the option of walking back to work.
  “You gave me your solemn oath,” I said. “Only reason I agreed to that fifth martini.”
  “Wouldn’t you rather arrive sober than punctual?”
  “I need this job, Kay.”
  “You need a husband, Julia,” she said. “You’re twenty-five years old.”
  “I seem to recall having already suffered through this lecture. Somewhere between cocktails three and four.”
  “Honey,” she said, “it’s practically 1960 and you’re dying on the goddamn vine.”
“I happen to like the vine. Marvelous view. Fee fi fo fum, et cetera, et cetera . . .”
  “Three years in Los Angeles, and what do you have to show for it?”
  I had one ingénue turn on Perry Mason and a succession of glossy headshots to show for it, as Kay knew perfectly well. She, meanwhile, had a rich producer husband.
  “Another Greyhound bus pulls into this town every five minutes,” she continued, “packed to the gills with fresh-faced little mantraps—”
  “—I cannot believe you’re willing to be seen driving this tacky thing,” I said. “Powder blue with white upholstery?”
  “Says she who takes dictation from the man in a powder blue suit,” said Kay. “Promise me you’re not sleeping with him. He wears socks with clocks on them, for chrissakes.”
  “Promise me this color scheme wasn’t your idea.”
  “Of course not. I found it in the driveway last week, complete with jaunty bow over the hood. Another little kiss-and-make-up incentive from Kenneth.”
Kenneth, her rich producer husband, snared last year at a Sunday brunch swim party in Bel-Air. He’d been sunning himself on a raft in the water’s shallow end. Kay sauntered up in a bathing suit and heels, crooked one finger, and said, “Hey you, out of the pool.”
Tuesday morning, his third wife chartered a plane to Reno.
  I caught her eye in the rear-view mirror. “Darling, this car practically shouts divorcée—”
  “—A girl can dream, can’t she?”
  “For chrissake, Kay-Kay,” I said, “If you’re that unhappy, why not leave him?”
  “Because I finally have some leverage, Julia, now that I’ve seen what that plate glass is for.”
  This was an inch-thick slab suspended above their bed on golden cables. Kay had recently discovered her husband lying beneath the transparent platform while baby-oiled young blond men wrestled one another atop it. Defecation earned them bigger tips at the end of the night.
  “Did I tell you,” she said, “that he actually thought I’d go down on him while those appalling creatures moiled around in their own filth?”
  “Whereupon you told him he was out of his ever-loving mind and stalked out of the room,” I replied, leaving out the part about how she showed up at my place that night with a bottle of Seconal, already half-consumed.
  She turned to flash me a grin, then held up her wrist to flash something blue-white, flawless, and far more enduring. “Look what arrived with my breakfast tray, just this morning.”
  “Harry Winston?”
  “Cartier,” she said. “He’s learning.”
  She hauled the wheel left again, shooting us down a palm-tree-lined boulevard.
  I shrugged. “So you’ll put up with it. You’re one of the wives now.”
  “This year,” she said.
  I rolled my eyes. “And whose job it is to swab down the sheet of glass, afterwards?”
  “Search me,” she said, “but I hope to hell it’s that little shit Carstairs.”
  Carstairs was Kenneth’s secretary—a snippy little man who was still quite blond, possibly British, and ten years past earning his keep unclothed. He and Kay loathed one another.
  Trying to get him fired was her primary form of entertainment, after shopping.
  We pulled up to a stoplight. The man in the Cadillac next to us wrenched his neck, getting an eyeful of Kay.
  She ignored him with intent, one sly finger twisting the pearls at her neck. “I’m not ever going to be goddamn famous, now, am I?”
  “’Course you won’t,” I said. “Fame is reserved for those freshfaced little man-traps who can’t go home on the Greyhound.”
  “I’m better looking.”
  “Fairest one of all,” I said. “But you aren’t hungry enough. You never were.”
  “And you’re too goddamn smart.”
  “Have to be,” I said. “I’m a goddamn brunette.”
  “Mere lack of will. Doesn’t mean a life sentence.”
“I prefer that collar and cuffs match, thanks ever so.”
  She stomped on the brakes and swerved right, bringing the car’s powder-blue nose to a halt six inches shy of her driveway’s cast-iron gates.
  A uniformed flunky sprinted forth to swing them wide. Kay checked her makeup in the side mirror, ignoring the man’s salute.
  She punched the gas before he was quite out of the way, spraying his shins with gravel.
  I looked back and waved, mouthing a belated “thank you.”
  “I’m serious about your future,” said Kay. “Had we but known at Barnard you’d end up mooning over some cut-rate detective—”
  “—or that you’d end up playing beard for the man you married?”
  She laughed at that, rich golden peals that trailed behind us till the end of her curving drive.
  “What a monstrous pile it is,” Kay said, cutting her eyes at the Deco-Moorish façade she lived behind.
  She walked away from the Mercedes without bothering to close her door. Someone would take care of it. Someone always did.
  “I’ve got to call my service,” she said, as we walked inside, our heels clicking against marble and echoing back from the domed entry ceiling.
  “Why the hell do you have a service?”
  “Because Carstairs manages to lose every message intended for me.”
  She peeled off her white gloves, tossing them in the general direction of a gilt-slathered side table. I kept mine on.
  “I can’t stay all afternoon, Kay.”
  “Go upstairs to my dressing room,” she said. “I’ve laid out some things for you to try on.”
  “I don’t need your clothes.”
  “I spent the morning with that little woman at Bullock’s, picking out a few ‘delightful frocks’ for delivery here in your size. Allow me that one small pleasure.”
  “And if I should happen to come upon Kenneth, ogling something untoward above your marital bed?”
  “Tiptoe past without making a fuss. I’ll throw in a fur”
  “For chrissake, Kay.”
  “And solemnly swear you won’t have to kiss my ass for a week.”
  “Make it two.”
  “Greedy guts,” she said, as I started up the stairs.
  As it turned out, her husband couldn’t have ogled anything at all.
  There wasn’t much left of his face, after the slab of glass had swung down to catch him under the chin.
  The pair of golden cables at its footboard-end had given out.
  The closer one lay curled along the carpet at my feet. Three of its four strands had been neatly sliced, the last left to fray until it snapped.
  Kenneth wouldn’t have seen it coming, nor would his pack of wrestling boys.   There were four sockets in the ceiling, little brass-lined portholes cut into the plaster. Two were now empty.
  The cables had been severed up in the attic, out of sight.
  I lifted the phone on Kay’s side of the bed, pressed the second line’s unlit button, and dialed GLEnview 7537.
  There was a click before my employer picked up on the third ring, grumbling.
  “Philip?” I said. “I know I should have been back hours ago—”
  “—This is why I never wanted a secretary,” he cut in. “Too much damn trouble.”
  “It gets worse. I’d like to take you up on your offer of a birthday gift, after all.”
  “A little late to have something engraved.”
  “I’m with Kay. We need your help with a bit of a situation.”
  He took down her address when I explained what that situation was.
  “Twenty minutes,” he said. “Promise me you won’t touch anything.”
  “I’m wearing gloves,” I said.
  “That’s my girl.”
  Philip rang off, but I kept the receiver to my ear.
  “Don’t hang up just yet, Carstairs,” I said. “Have Kay wait for me on the terrace. Fix her a drink so she’ll stay put.”
  He exhaled.
  I knew he hadn’t yet called the police. The scent of ammonia was still too heavy in the room.
  “After that,” I said, “Come back up here with fresh rags. You missed a spot on the glass.”
  Philip walked into the library an hour later. I’d sent him upstairs alone.
  “Happy birthday,” he said, “though I’ll hold off on wishing you any returns of the day.”
  The room was all Gothic walnut, excised whole from some down-at-heel peer’s estate—the dozen muddy portraits of faithful dogs and dead grouse included.
  Carstairs made sure there was always a fire in the grate, air conditioning calibrated to offset its heat as needed.
  “Nasty little scene to stumble across, upstairs,” said Philip.
  “Horrible,” I said.
  “Has it hit you yet?” he asked.
  I shook my head.
  He took my hand in both of his. Pressed it a bit too hard.
  “It will,” he said, “and I want you sitting down when it does.”
  He glanced over at Kay, stretched out asleep on a leather sofa.
  “Your friend seems to be bearing up rather well.”
  “I made her take a Seconal.”
  “Only one?”
  “We had gin for lunch.”
  I let him pull me toward the fireplace.
  “You’re shaking.” He put an arm around my waist, lowered me gently into a wing chair, then sat in its mate a few feet away.
  “The boys are gone?” I asked.
  “Carstairs handled it. He’s had some practice.”
  “And you’re sure they won’t say anything?
  “Would you, Julia?”
  I looked at the fire. “Of course not.”
  He nodded. “I’ve told him to phone Kay’s doctor. Then the police. Then her lawyer.”
  My hands got jittery in my lap. “Philip, she didn’t do this.”
  “I’m happy to believe that,” he said. “You may have a bit more trouble convincing the detectives.”
  My gloves felt wet.
  He looked at his watch. “Tell them that the pair of you came by the office before she brought you here. That was a little after two. I gave you the rest of the afternoon off.”
  “A little after two,” I said. “What time did we get here?”
  “You don’t know. You called me the moment you found him, of course. I told you to let me handle it from there.”
  “Kenneth keeps some decent Scotch in that desk, if you’d like.”
  He shook his head. “Tell me how long you’ve known about the state of Kay’s marriage.”
  “A month. Something like that.”
  “And how long had she known, before confiding in you?”
  “Less than an hour. She drove straight to my apartment that night.”
  He thought about that. “Four weeks ago, Sunday?”
  “I suppose it was.”
  “You called in sick the next day.”
  “I apologize for that, Philip.”
  “No need,” he said.
  “We were up all night.” I looked to make sure Kay was still asleep. “She had a miscarriage.”
  “How far along?”
  “Not very. She hadn’t told Kenneth yet.”
  “Did she want the baby?”
  “Even after she walked in on him,” I said. “Maybe more.”
  “She thought it would help?”
  “Women so often do, don’t they?”
  “I’m happy to report I have no personal experience in that arena.”
  “Lucky you,” I said.
  He rose from his chair and walked behind it. “What do you really think—was it Kay, or was it Carstairs?”
  “I’ve already told you what I really think.”
  “So you have,” he said.
  “For God’s sake, Philip, can you imagine Kay with a hacksaw?”
  “I can’t imagine Kay filing her own nails.”
  “And she’s been with me since morning.”
  “I doubt it was done today,” he said. “Could have been any time over the last month.”
  “All the more reason it had to be Carstairs, then.”
  “Not sure I’m following your logic.”
  “Philip, Kay sleeps in that bed—”
  “—Still? You’re sure about that?”
  “I am,” I said. “Yes.”
  “Any proof other than your say-so that she hadn’t set up camp down the hall?” he asked. “Under the circumstances, one might presume she’d have wanted to ix-nay the arbor of connubial bliss with a stout ten-foot pole. Can’t imagine they’re short of alternate quarters, given the size of this place.”
  “Kay takes breakfast in bed every morning. Dry toast, black coffee, and half a grapefruit—broiled. I’m sure someone on staff could verify finding her there.”
  “Even so,” he said, “those last strands looked strong enough to hold, as long as nobody put extra weight on the glass.”
  “But what if they hadn’t been strong enough, despite appearances to the contrary? Philip, there’s no way she could have been certain. The glass might’ve just as easily killed Kay and Kenneth both, while they slept.”
  “I suppose so.”
  He crossed his arms and leaned on the top of his chair, looking at the fire.
  “Kay would have done it this morning, if at all,” I said. “You know I’m right.”
  “And you’ll tell the police she’s been with you since breakfast? Helping out at the office?”
  “She was at Bullock’s,” I said, “choosing dresses for me.”
  “Which left Kenneth free to pursue outside interests for several hours. Safe to say he had Carstairs make the arrangements, without help from the rest of staff. Boys delivered quietly at the service entrance, shuttled upstairs with none the wiser?”
  “Carstairs must have brought the things from Bullock’s upstairs himself,” I said. “He wouldn’t have let anyone else through to Kay’s dressing room.”
  “Ducks in a row for Kay, then,” said Philip. “Unless this was an elaborate suicide, Carstairs takes the rap.”
  It all hit me then—the bulldozed pulp of Kenneth’s face and everything else, straight through to that moment.
  I thought I would be sick, right there on the rug.
  Philip wandered over to Kay, still asleep on the sofa.
  “We’ll make sure the police get a good look at her hands,” he said. “Not a mark on them, and severing that cable must have been a bear.”
  He turned back toward me.
  I peeled off my gloves and raised both hands, turning them slowly for his inspection, front to back.
  Philip tried not to look relieved.
  “I’ll bring Carstairs in here,” he said. “Make sure he’s trussed up and ready to go.”
  He was wrong, of course. The cables had been a cinch to cut, four weeks ago Monday.
  I’d chipped the polish on one fingernail, but the second fresh coat of red had been dry a good hour before Kay woke up, back in my apartment.
  She’d have done the same to keep me from harm: without question, without hesitation and without my knowledge. Kay is my oldest friend, as I am hers. We take care not to burden each other with the onus of gratitude.
  Conscience now clear in that regard, I turned from the fire to watch her sleep—my hands still, my nausea at bay.
  Philip paused in the doorway, one foot across the threshold.
  We both heard the siren in the distance.
  “Wouldn’t hurt the appearance of things if you cried a little,” he said, not looking back. “Plenty of time before they get all the way up the drive.”

© Cornelia Read 2008

A HELL OF A WOMAN is published by the Busted Flush Press

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

This week it’s the turn of Hachette Books Ireland to come up with the goodies and they’re offering three copies of Tana French’s THE LIKENESS for free, gratis and nuffink. First, the blurb elves:
Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to deal with the events of IN THE WOODS. She is out of the Murder Squad and has started a relationship with fellow detective Sam O’Neill but is too badly shaken to commit to Sam or to her career. Then Sam is allocated a new case, that of a young woman stabbed to death just outside Dublin. He calls Cassie to the murder scene and she finds the victim is strangely familiar. In fact, she is Cassie’s double. Not only that, but her ID says she is Lexie Madison, the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective. With no leads, no suspects and no clues, Cassie’s old undercover boss spots the opportunity of a lifetime: to send Cassie undercover in the dead girl’s place. She could pick up information the police would never hear and tempt the killer to finish the job. So Cassie moves into Whitethorn House, poses as a post-grad student, and prepares to enter Lexie’s world.
  Ooooh, spooky. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question.
Is Tana French as cute as:
(a) a button;
(b) a particularly cute button;
(c) a fox;
(d) a fox made out of particularly cute buttons?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins), before noon on Tuesday, August 19. Et bon chance, mes amis

On Crime Fiction And Respectability

When an author references another writer’s novel twice in one book, it’s fair to presume that he or she is drawing attention and inviting comparisons. In THE KILLING CIRCLE, Andrew Pyper twice refers to THE MAGUS, the John Fowles novel which blends a number of genre staples, among them the thriller, the war novel, the supernatural and quasi-scientific propositions.
  Asked at an advanced age what he would change if he could live his life over again, Kingsley Amis thought for a moment and said, “Well, I wouldn’t read THE MAGUS.” I love it, although I know a lot of people hate it. But the point about THE MAGUS is that it’s a literary novel that has a hell of a lot of fun with mashing up genres.
  THE KILLING CIRCLE also blends genres, most obviously those of crime and horror, although, given that its narrator is an aspiring author who lacks the imagination to create a unique story, it’s also intended as a serious meditation on the writing process. In that context, the references to THE MAGUS are presumably intended as reminders to the reader that Andrew Pyper is engaged in a literary activity, despite the genre staples.
  Which brings me to a comment Adrian McKinty – yep, him again – left on a post further down the page, vis-à-vis the consecration of crime fiction as ‘interesting and important’. To wit:
“One thing though about Banville, Rushdie, Chabon etc. writing crime novels is that they would never have ventured into the territory in the first place had not the zeitgeist begun to see crime books not as disposable pulp fiction but actually as interesting and important. When the Library of America started bringing out Chandler, Hammett, Cain and Highsmith in annotated quality hardbacks, it was a sign that the critical community had embraced those writers and no longer despised them. The rising tide began to float the boats of the whole genre.”
  Writing about the inclusion of Rob Smith’s CHILD 44 on the Booker Prize long-list for the LA Times recently, Sarah Weinman made a similar point:
“And yet, if CHILD 44 -- a serial killer novel that takes place in the last years of Stalin’s Russia -- appears at first glance to be a brash upstart, a closer look suggests that its inclusion might not be so unlikely after all. Indeed, this is the most recent example of the blurring of the line between crime fiction and literature, which raises hope that the so-called genre wars are lurching toward, if not an end, then at least a tentative cease-fire.”
  Yes, yes – but is this actually a good thing? Crime writing has always had stylists as fine as anything the literary world can offer, if only the reader has eyes to see, but the idea that respectability is about to be conferred on the genre seems somehow grotesque, and not least because the respectability is to be conferred by the literary types.
  I write crime fiction, but I’m not a crime fiction nut. As I’ve said elsewhere, crime fiction only accounts for about a quarter of my reading, or maybe as much as a third. I read for all kinds of reasons, although mainly because I’d probably go blind if I didn’t. I can read Salman Rushdie and John McFetridge, say, as I did earlier this year, and be equally impressed by both.
  But when I read crime fiction, I read it for the adrenaline buzz of knowing that it is getting under the skin of the world we live in, broaching taboos and creeping down the dark alleyways that we’d prefer weren’t so dark, or there at all, and doing it with an authenticity and immediacy that makes it utterly believable, even if I’d rather it wasn’t true. And as far as I’m concerned, respectability is far more likely to blunt that edge than hone it. To mangle Groucho Marx, I don’t want to be in any club that’d have me.
  Every writer should aspire to be as good as Rushdie, Chandler, Highsmith and Fowles. But that’s not the same thing as aspiring to write a Booker Prize nominee, or to write a novel worthy of the approval of the self-anointed adjudicators of quality.
  I hope for Rob Smith’s sake that he wins the Booker Prize. But I hope for crime fiction’s sake that he doesn’t.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: EIGHT-BALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke

It’s not often I get reviews in a foreign language, mainly because my books haven’t been translated into many foreign languages, but Yvon at Eireann, a blog dedicated to books of Irish and Brittany, has done EIGHT-BALL BOOGIE proud. To wit:

Note: 4.5 / 5

Punchball & skeet-shooting!

This is the first work of this Irish author to be translated into French, and the first which I have read, but in any case this book proves the good health of the Irish detective novel.
  The action takes place in a city of North-West Ireland, a city which wants to be modern; it attracts money and envy. The end of the year and its celebrations are approaching, but for some, Christmas will not be a distribution of gifts, but of beatings and problems of all kinds.
  Right from the first page, we are in the thick of things. It is five in the morning; in her plush house along the coast, Mrs Imelda Sheridan is stabbed to death! Harry, freelance journalist, investigates this death, because the husband of the deceased is a very well-known politician and a deputy of the district. As a representative of a small party, his voice can constantly change the course of certain things. In addition, Harry is charged by Dave Conway, a local businessman, to keep a watch on his wife because he has doubts about her faithfulness.
  To further complicate his life, Denise, the ex-wife of Harry, tells him that Gonzo, his brother who disappeared four years ago, is back in town. On top of all those problems, the investigation led by Harry seems to disturb, but who are the people upset? The men who beat him up do not usually leave their cards on the scene! Even the local police is interested in the visit of Conway to Harry’s office.
  In spite of this busy timetable, Harry finds time to remember his life and the importance of his brother in this life. As orphans, they were dragged around homes and religious institutions, closing ranks in the face of adversity, but the activities of Gonzo became increasingly erratic, destroying most of the affection Harry had for his brother before his sudden disappearance! And now Gonzo is back, unavoidably trailing behind him a stream of problems.
  Harry Rigby, whose official title is ‘research consultant’, is once again an anti-hero in the crime fiction world (which is besides more appealing). Injured by life, living an unhappy childhood, loving a woman he cannot marry anymore, he starts all over again – with another woman who does not love him. His job doesn’t make him richer in money or in spirit, and as icing on the cake, he has a brother who is a source of problems since his childhood. Gonzo, the youngest of the Rigby brothers, comes back suddenly after four years without keeping in touch. An ambiguous but normal situation settles in between the two brothers, with a mix of familial love and profound hatred. But one night takes a tragic turn as booze goes down quite well and Harry is going to finally discover why his brother disappeared during all these years. His ex-wife Denise, who only feels contempt for him, and his son Ben play the part of his family, at least what remains of it. As for Tony Sheridan, he is the classic example of a politician, ready for anything to have power, even if it means to be mixed up in some illegal tricks. Not to forget Joe Baluba, a colourful character who is also unfortunately pathetic because he has been injured by life.
He is going to help Harry, without reservation.
  Many supporting characters make this book very alive. As in any good detective novel (and this one is excellent), you can find a woman, preferably very beautiful, and in this one, you have two of them: Helen Conway, unfaithful wife (is she really?) and Katie Donnelly, independent journalist, who was doing a report on Imelda Sheridan at the time of her murder. An associated buddy of Harry, who is a computer specialist but is also addicted to drugs, and a bar owner who is a childhood friend, complete the
gallery of portraits, along with the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ of the city police force.
  Being a traditional detective novel, it is nevertheless very modern. The disillusioned and realistic author contemplates present-day Ireland and seems to say “Here is what this country became!”. And everything is looked over, from real estate speculation which transforms a traditional city into a urban nightmare to traffics of all kinds, traffics of influence and drugs, with opportunistic politicians passing briskly from one side to the other. Police officers are anything but representatives of law and order, except if it is their own law they represent. And in addition to the peace of mind of the decent people, the local speciality, which consists in paramilitaries of all sides, replaced the worship of heroes by the one of heroin! To spice all that, sprinkle one pinch of blackmail and some sex and you have a very good novel. Not to forget a sense of humour as black as a slowly poured Guinness.
  It is a bitter report of a world where facility, money and power reign supreme and there is something even more terrifying with synthetic drugs and the lucrative industry they created blending with well-established networks mixing avid businessmen and politicians.

  Many thanks to Joelle at Bibliodudolmen for providing the translation.

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Kevin Lewis

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?
THE LADY IN THE LAKE by Raymond Chandler and TIGER IN THE SMOKE by Margery Allingham.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
It’s not crime but definitely Indiana Jones.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing my first crime novel, KAITLYN.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst – the loneliness. Best – Seeing my work in book form ready for the readers.
The pitch for your next book is …?
I wanted to keep writing about what I know best – the sprawling and nasty urban estates, the crime and brutality of the gangs and the harsher realities of London life. My new novel, FALLEN ANGEL is the first novel in a new series featuring DI Stacey Collins – a single mum in her 30s, and a gritty hard-nosed detective in the Metropolitan Police.
Who are you reading right now?
A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write, because then I can read what I’ve written.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Fast. Paced. Thrillers.

Kevin Lewis’ FALLEN ANGEL is published by Penguin Books

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yep, It’s Another ‘Dear Genre’ Letter

I got in touch with Adrian McKinty (right) earlier in the week, asking, for the purposes of a newspaper feature, why he believes there’s such an explosion in Irish crime fiction right now. Being McKinty, he answered the question asked, and then followed it up with a mini-essay on why crime fiction whups every other genre’s metaphorical ass. To wit:

Why is crime fiction so much more interesting than romance, horror, sci-fi and increasingly literary fiction? Here’s my attempt at an answer:

“When I used to work at Barnes and Noble I was punished for minor infractions of the corporate code by being put on the romance fiction information desk. This is a genre written by women of a certain age for women of a certain age. Most of the books resemble that second division musical Brigadoon: dodgy accents, dodgy historicism, dodgy plots. Once you meet the central characters in a romance novel you know how the book is going to finish. A long tease, a few obstacles, happy (or increasingly) unhappy ending.
  “Romance novels are often written by people who don’t understand that what makes Jane Austen good is her story arcs. There are some romanciers who relish wit and ironic humour but these, alas, are the exceptions rather than the rule – you can usually tell the ironic ones by their brilliantly outlandish covers. (Chick-lit is a sub genre of romance novel, with more sex and worse jokes.)

“I have never read a horror novel because I don’t like to be scared and also because of their daunting size. I’ve seen cinder blocks with less heft than most horror fiction texts. I’ve read some of Stephen King’s non-horror books, though. Apparently he wrote a lot of them while drunk in the early mornings. I hope that’s the case. I remember one sentence that had more clauses than a Kris Kringle convention.

“Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein. When I was about 12 I read everything these guys wrote. Asimov alone published 400 books, so that’s no mean feat. Early science fiction wasn’t interested in multi-dimensional characters or exacting prose. The idea was everything. Nothing wrong with that, but sixty years later, pretty much all the ideas have been used or recycled. JG Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick and to some extent William Gibson tried to take science fiction on an inward journey but their path has not been followed by the majority of the genre’s novelists. Space opera, time travel, the future and exoticism still dominate. Character, psychology and prose are not as relevant as the hook, the central premise, the pitch. Sci-Fi today leaves me uninvolved and largely unmoved, but I’d be happy to renew my love if anyone has any suggestions.
  “A sub genre of sci-fi is fantasy. I’m not going to dwell on those books. I grew out of fantasy when I was 13 or 14. The best in the field seems to be Stephen Donaldson, who I worshipped as a kid. My students rave about Robert Jordan and maybe he’s good, I don’t know. If you like that sort of thing good ’elf to ya.

Literary Fiction
“Yeah, don’t get all snooty, you’re a genre too. Lit-fic’s problems are social and philosophical. First the social: there’s a clubby atmosphere in the New York and London literary worlds that pushes depressingly unreadable novels down our throats. Lit-fic people review each other a lot and they all seem to have gone to the same schools, live together in Islington or Brooklyn Heights, and have the same upper-class vaguely lefty view point and tax bracket. They’re all basically nice middle-class white people (although they occasionally let in a dishy foreigner) writing / whingeing about the problems of nice middle class white people.
  Philosophically, literary types are ill at ease. The conventional novel is too dull for them but Joyce already did everything you could with the form, so what can they do? Their books try too hard, shouting “Look at me!” instead of focusing on what the reader wants: good stories and good characters. Their prose is a distillation of what Cyril Connolly called the ‘mandarin style,’: either rip off Henry James or rip off Evelyn Waugh. For me Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, David Park, Ronan Bennett and Zadie Smith are exceptions to this sweeping and probably completely incorrect generalisation. In the U.S., Cormac McCarthy has kept his distance from Brooklyn and that’s why he’s the best writer in country (after Kansas-dwelling James Ellroy).

Crime Fiction
“So what makes crime fiction so great? Its diversity for one thing. If Peter Rozovsky’s website Detective Beyond Borders is to be believed, every country in the world seems to have a flourishing crime fiction genre. Do you want Icelandic private eyes? We’ve got ’em. Are you after American wheelchair-bound lesbian detectives? We can do that too. Even within the regions crime writing can be your guide. The thinly populated west of Ireland for example: Want to know about Sligo? Declan Burke’s your man. A few miles down the coast to Galway and you’re in Ken Bruen country.
  But it’s not just the diversity; I think something bigger is going on as well. Nineteenth century Russia, Elizabethan London, Periclean Athens – all produced exemplars of high art because the artists had to work within the boundaries of harsh censorship. Drawing inside the box allowed authors to become more creative and more interesting. Obviously repressive censorship is bad too, but greater freedom doesn’t necessarily lead to greater artistic triumphs. In today’s London, New York, Paris etc., you can say whatever you like but little of it is worth listening to. Crime writers work within certain conventions and are allowed to be social commentators, psychological explorers and innovators as long as they stick to the basic rules of the crime or mystery story. The box helps the writer and the reader. You’re not going to get many crime novels that forget that plot is important or that characters have to be real and that dialogue has to sound authentic.
  “Crime writers don’t worry about the views of literary London or New York, they don’t feel they have to conform to any house style or clichéd way of rebellion. Crime fiction cuts at the edge of prose, story telling and character. It is the genre for exploring contemporary mores and, I think, the best literary mode for understanding our crazy mixed up world.
  “So, to sum up: like the young Cassius Clay, crime fiction is the prettiest, nimblest and deftest of the Olympians, easily overpowering the lumbering horror and sci-fi athletes, dodging that lady with the romance handbag, and knocking cold that weepy young fogey from Kensington whose father never told him he loved him. Except nobody’s father told them they loved them. Get over it mate, stop gurning and go read THE COLD SIX THOUSAND instead.” – Adrian McKinty

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Heist Of Crime Writers II: The Line-Up

As promised, and only a week or so late, the full list of writers attending the Books 2008 Crime Writing Series has now been posted on-line. Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah, etc. The series takes place over the first weekend in September in Dun Laoghaire, and the main draw, I’d expect, will be a centre-piece interview of John Connolly (right) by Declan Hughes on Saturday, with John also reading excerpts from his 2009 release, THE LOVERS. Mmmmm, exclusive.
  Other than that, there’s three multiple-author panels. On Friday, September 5, Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, Tana French, Alex Barclay and Ruth Dudley Edwards discuss ‘Heroes and Villains: What We Love and Hate about Crime Fiction’, with Paul Johnston moderating.
  Kicking off Saturday’s panels are Gene Kerrigan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt and Declan Burke yakking it up about ‘Forty Shades of Grey: Real Fiction, Real Ireland’, with Mick Halpin asking the questions. Following the John Connolly interview, the series wraps up with ‘Sex & Violence: How Far is Too Far?’, with Declan Hughes quizzing John Connolly, Alex Barclay, Declan Burke, Arlene Hunt and Brian McGilloway about sex and violence, presumably in the context of crime fiction.
  For all the details, jump on over here

The IRA: They’re Not Quite Dead Yet, Apparently

Adrian McKinty suggested over on Detectives Beyond Borders last week that Martin McGuinness’s autobiography, if it ever appears, will be a key text for anyone planning to write the great post-Troubles Northern Ireland novel. In the meantime, Anthony McIntyre’s GOOD FRIDAY: THE DEATH OF IRISH REPUBLICANISM, published last week, is as authentic an IRA voice as you’ll need – not that we’re suggesting, of course, that Martin McGuinness had anything at all to do with the IRA, ever.
  Anyhoo, Liam Clarke wrote about the book yesterday in the Sunday Times, under the headline ‘Why the IRA lost its long and futile battle’, with snippets running thusly:
  “Last week McIntyre trumped him with a tome entitled THE DEATH OF IRISH REPUBLICANISM, published as the Irish and British governments commissioned a report from the International Monitoring Commission (IMC), designed to ascertain if the IRA army council is still in existence. The fact that they need to ask, and need three weeks to consider the evidence and weigh up the reported sightings, speaks for itself …

  “McIntyre, a former IRA commander who served 18 years for murder and then did a PhD in republican history, is right. The Provisional IRA — and the army council that plotted its campaign — is on its death bed. It may thrash around like a headless chicken for a few years, but it is past reviving. If the IRA ever re-emerges, it will be a new organisation with new people …

  “McIntyre paints a picture of a republican leadership who were reformists from the outset, being secretly protected, groomed and eventually steered into Stormont by the British forces they claimed to be fighting. All the while, a supine membership cheered them on from the sidelines, easily fooled by symbolism and rhetoric …

  “To his credit, McIntyre doesn’t dodge this awkward dilemma: “The major question historians will ask is not why the republicans surrendered, but why they fought such a futile long war,” he writes. “It has not been unconditional surrender. And it has been infinitely better than continuing to fight a futile war for the sake of honouring Ireland’s dead, yet producing only more of them. But let us not labour under any illusions that the conditions were good.”
  It’s a terrific piece, and well worth reading in full.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No Country For Grand Men

Crumbs! No sooner had the dust settled on the entirely unnecessary ‘Great Post-Troubles Norn Iron Novel’ baloohaha than Joseph O’Connor, in the context of reviewing Gerard Donovan’s collection of short stories COUNTRY OF THE GRAND, starts banging on about the ‘Great Post-Celtic Tiger Novel’ over at The Guardian, to wit:
“Some of Ireland’s wisest literary commentators have been troubled in recent times by a reticence they perceive among the country’s writers of fiction on the matter of the new prosperity. The novelists have told us nothing – thus runs the argument. An Irish Amis has proved reluctant to appear.
  “Like most debating stances, it obscures as much as it reveals, but its assumptions are more enlightening than its conclusions. Mass-market fiction, the historical novel, the thriller, the crime novel and other incarnations of genre-based storytelling have not been judged worthy of critical notice, no matter their level of engagement with the now deceased Celtic Tiger. Where is our Bret Easton Ellis? Our BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES?”
  In the prevailing spirit of self-biggery-uppery, as modelled by Master Bateman when he voted for I PREDICT A RIOT during the halcyon days of the GTPNIN debate, I’m going to say that blowing up a hospital is a metaphor for deconstructing the Celtic Tiger, and in particular the way Ireland shot its economic boom in the foot (or paw, if you will), because that’s the kind of malarkey the literary types who decide these things seem to like, although I may not be entirely serious in doing so on the basis that novels lauded as ‘the Great [Insert Your Own Pet Obsession Here] Novel’ generally tend to be anything but because they’re too busy trying to disguise the self-aggrandizing promotion of half-baked theories therein. Or is it just me?