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, January 3, 2009

Now That’s What I Call An Irish Crime Writer # 1: The ROCK

Being part the first of what will probably be a very short series on my new heroes for 2009, to wit:
O’Connor, Roger, for many years a prominent character in Irish affairs, son of Roger Conner, the descendant of an opulent London merchant, was born at Connerville, in the County of Cork, in 1762. Possessed of ample means, and having received a good education, he was called to the English Bar in 1784. He more than once suffered imprisonment for being involved in the revolutionary designs of the United Irishmen, and was consigned to Fort George in Scotland, with his brother Arthur, Thomas A. Emmet, Neilson, and others. He was subsequently engaged in several not very creditable transactions. He was proved to have wasted his brother Arthur’s property, which he held in trust, to the extent of £10,000. His residence, Dangan Castle, once the home of the Wellesley family, was burnt down shortly after he had effected an insurance for £5,000, Twice married, he eloped with a married lady. In 1817 he was tried at Trim for complicity in the robbery of the Galway coach and murder of the guard, and was acquitted, although there were grounds for believing that he had planned the affair to secure certain letters, the possession of which was of importance to him. An agent to whom he had paid £700 was robbed of the money before he was clear of O’Connor’s land, by persons who were never discovered. Roger O’Connor has been described as “a hale, hearty, joyous, good-humoured, kindly- looking, broad-faced, honest-minded seeming person - a man in the full vigour of life … His conversational powers were of a high order; his manner was fascinating; his tone of voice sweet and persuasive; his style impressive, full of energy, and apparent candour; his language eloquent, and always appropriate.” In 1822 he published, in London, in two bulky volumes, Chronicles of Eri, being the History of the Gael, Sciot Iber, or Irish People; translated from the Original Manuscripts in the Phoenician Dialect of the Scythian Language. The work is dedicated to his friend Sir Francis Burdett, and is illustrated with numerous maps and plates. A portrait of the author faces the title-page, with the words: “O’Connor Cier-rige, head of his race, and O’Connor, chief of the prostrated people of this nation. Soumis, pas vaincus.” The book is an extraordinary production; as far as the annals are concerned, a piece of gross literary forgery. Roger O’Connor openly advocated the most extreme free-thinking opinions in religion. He died at Kilcrea, County of Cork, 27th January 1834, aged 71, and was buried in the vault of the MacCarthys at Kilcrea.
  Apparently O’Connor adopted the acronym ROCK, for ‘Roger O’Connor, King’. Oh, and the ‘certain letters’ he was alleged to have robbed the Galway mail to secure were love letters that would have incriminated his good friend, Sir Francis Burdett.
  They just don’t make ’em like that anymore, do they?

Friday, January 2, 2009

DARK TIMES IN THE CITY: 2009’s TBR Pile Starts Here

Depressing news at the start of the year, folks – I’m sure you’ve already caught the news that Donald Westlake (right, with Benny Blanco standing) has died. I’m probably only one of thousands of would-be scribblers who were influenced by THE HUNTER, and Point Blank, with Lee Marvin as Parker, remains one of my favourite movies. Peter Rozovsky has penned a rather nice tribute – or tributes – to Westlake’s career right around here.
  But, in the spirit of unbridled optimism currently funnelling through CAP Towers, I’m going to look ahead to the year coming, and the rather splendid array of Irish crime fiction novels on their way down the pike. To wit:
John Connolly, THE LOVERS
Brian McGilloway, BLEED A RIVER DEEP
Adrian McKinty, FIFTY GRAND
Stuart Neville, THE TWELVE
  On top of that little lot, there’s Ken Bruen’s collaboration with Reed Farrel Coleman, TOWER, to look forward to, and a veritable dawn chorus of little birdies assures me that Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay and Tana French are currently wearing their fingers down to the third knuckle as they craft their latest offerings. And, if all the planets align, and Pluto flies up Uranus, etc., there might even be a follow-up to THE BIG O for your perusal.
  I’m sure there’ll be more novels to come, although the bad news for Benny Blanco fans is that Benny is back in John Banville mode. Which means we should see a new Banville novel sometime around September, 2012. Hurrah!
  Over to you, folks – who have I forgotten / left out / maliciously deleted from the list because he or she is so good he or she shames us all?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year Revolutions

Happy New Year, folks. I hope 2009 is everything you – yes, YOU – want it to be.
  As for myself, a year half as good as 2008 would be a very good year indeed. The main reason for that, of course, was the arrival of the Princess Lilyput (right, in full-on Eskimo mode), who put this writing malarkey, and the whole business of living, into perspective. Cyril Connolly once said that the pram in the hall is the enemy of creativity, although the flip side of that equation is that creativity is the enemy of the pram in the hall. And I might be a sap, but I like that there’s a pram in my hall.
  Last year was a terrific year, no doubt. As most of you already know, our humble tome THE BIG O was published in the States, which was the realisation of a life-long dream. It took a hell of a lot of hard work to get to that point, and it was hugely gratifying to see it pay off, even if it then sank like a book-shaped stone. But there’s no shame in that. There’s a lot of books published every year, and very few of them manage to top the New York Times’ best-seller list. THE BIG O gave us a fun ride on the rollercoaster, and I met some brilliant people as a result. And while I could sit here and grouse about the bewildering variety of circumstances that conspired to hole THE BIG O below the waterline, the fact remains that I’d be grousing about a book of mine that went out into the big, bad world and was taken seriously by a large number of people whose opinions and work I’ve respected for some time now. Back when I was a kid with vague ambitions to be a writer, I was totally ignorant of the issues that actually matter to the industry. All I wanted was the respect of my peers. So that, too, was hugely gratifying.
  Looking forward to 2009, I have a follow-up to THE BIG O already in the can, which may or may not see the light of day some time this year. I’m also working on a book of crime fiction essays written by Irish crime writers, which is in prospect a terrific read, and something I’m hoping will reach a shelf near you late in 2009. And, naturally, I’m tap-tap-tapping away on a new book, which I’m hoping to get finished at some stage this year.
  All of that, though, will take place, or not, against the backdrop of potentially the worst recession for generations, which means that my real work – i.e., paying work – will take precedence over writing, blogging and generalised faffing about. And everything this year, given the ridiculous amount of work I put into generalised faffing about last year, will take a back seat to my one and only New Year’s Resolution, which is to spend more time with Lily and Aileen.
  For the first time in many years I did no work at all over the Christmas period. And what I realised was that, as much as I love to read and write, and the two are inseparable, I don’t need them in the same way, or as fundamentally, as I need my little girl. The world of books is a seductive one, and it’s one of my deepest hopes that Lily grows up to love books and appreciate their wonder, but I have no intention of sacrificing the most valuable years of our lives to closeting myself away at a desk while she starts to crawl, and walk, and says her first words, downstairs.
  The writing and publishing of books can, has, and possibly will make me happy. But what I realised over the holidays is that I’m already happy, and I’m happy because of the pram in the hall, and happy in a place where even books don’t reach.
  I’m sure every writer reading this will be thinking I’m a sap, that the hard facts are that we’ll all need to work twice as hard this year than we did last year, because the economy is screwed and fewer and fewer writers are going to make it for the foreseeable future. But the truth is that I am a sap, and that I don’t care: 2009 is the Year of Lily. Peace, out.