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.

Friday, March 6, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman

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?
Just one of James Patterson’s, obviously! No, maybe THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS by John Buchan, or Sherlock Holmes ... something that changed things. Too many of today’s crime novels are exactly the same, and if you read them blind … sorry, that’s not possible, unless they’re in Braille, or they’re audio books ... sorry ... you wouldn’t have a clue who wrote them.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
The guy out of ‘Death Wish’. I’m not a man of action at all, I’m a huffer, and I’ll bear a grudge forever. But one day I’ll be pushed too far.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Not who, but what: like many middle-aged men who’ve never fired a shot in anger, except at football, I’m quite fascinated by World War 2, the sheer scale of it and the bravery. I mean – Stalingrad! I would have retreated to Berlin at the first sign of rain.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Never satisfied! I don’t enjoy whatever success that comes along as much as I should. It may just be me or it may be a writerly thing. Maybe JK Rowling sits and worries about her sales in Moldova. But obviously the first book coming out, it really did change my life. And if I’m very lucky, once in every book, I’ll laugh out loud and say that really is funny.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Modesty forbids. (DIVORCING JACK – Ed.)

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Well, not that modest …

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is that you never quite switch off. Except maybe on the five-a-side field. And the inability to enjoy a book or movie without thinking I could do better than that, or I’ll never be as good as that, or examining it with a professional eye. They say in Hollywood, apparently, that nobody ever came out of a movie going, ‘Wow, it came in under budget!’ But I do sometimes! You can know too much about things these days, the innocent pleasures are gone. Best – being able to do this for a living. Making stuff up! The nice things people say. People tend not to cross the street to call you an idiot. And the satisfaction of a plot coming together in the last couple of chapters, even though you’ve worked none of it out in advance.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Modern dance, Nazis, allergies, bodies, sex. Then on to Chapter Two ...

Who are you reading right now?
I read surprisingly little fiction, but I’m currently enjoying a proof of Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I would ask him why, and then demand to know what he’s going to do about the refugee camps in Sudan and Liverpool’s crumbling title challenge.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Profound. Nuanced. Not.

Bateman’s MYSTERY MAN will be published on April 30th

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Writer’s Rooms # 1: Declan Burke

The Guardian used to run a nice feature on writers’ rooms, and Sinead Gleeson has a musician’s variation on it over here, so why can’t we? Herewith be Part the First of Writers’ Rooms, a very probably erratic series about, well, y’know. To wit:
Writers’ Rooms # 1: Declan Burke

“I have a room upstairs, away from the rest of the house. The physical distance is a psychological one too, but I also smoke when I’m writing, and that’s not good for everyone else. In fact, the writers’ room is the de-facto smoking room.

“All the essentials are here: tobacco, cigarette papers, coffee. And a PC. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to write on a typewriter. Or by longhand, for that matter. I write very, very slowly, making heavy use of the cut and delete buttons. I have about eight drafts of the story I’m working on now, and I cut-and-paste from one file into the next, grubbing down the lines and paragraphs as I go. I used to compare it to planing and sanding wood, but right now it feels like stone-rubbing. Is there such a thing as stone-rubbing?

“I like to sit facing a window, even if the blind is down or the curtains closed. Just to know it’s there is good enough. The view is of the back lane of a small housing estate, and beyond that, ploughed fields, trees, a golf course and the kind of steep, forested hill we like to call a mountain in Ireland. It’s a nice view, and it faces west, and in summer the sunsets can be amazing.

“I’ve had the same desk for about ten years. It’s a cheap piece of assembly-pack plywood, but it’s sturdy and it does all I want it to do. I wrote a line for A GONZO NOIR to the effect that I wanted to be buried in a cheaply varnished plywood coffin, and it was the desk I had in mind. All writers should be buried in their favourite desks. Some sooner than others.

“I like to be surrounded by books when I’m writing. I don’t feel any creative force coming off them or anything like it, I just like to know they’re there. Whenever things aren’t going well, which is a lot of the time, I can look on one side and say, ‘Well, at least it’s not as crap as that,’ and on the other and say, ‘Well, it was never going to be as good as that anyway.’ A wall of books is the finest wallpaper anyone can ever have.

“If you look to the left of the picture, the second shelf down is the Chandler shelf. No one else gets a shelf to him or herself. Not Elmore Leonard, not Lawrence Durrell, not Cormac McCarthy, not Kurt Vonnegut. Just Chandler. He’s not perfect, but then neither was Mozart. As Rossi says in the sequel to THE BIG O, ‘Genius isn’t supposed to be perfect, it’s not that kind of gig.’”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Abzorba Da Greek

Not long before he died, Kingsley Amis was asked in an interview what he’d do differently if he could live his life over again. He thought for a while and said, “Well, I wouldn’t read THE MAGUS again.”
  I love THE MAGUS. I know it’s not fashionable anymore, and that no one seems to read John Fowles these days, but I’ve read THE MAGUS three times (maybe four, I’ve started leaving out the last bit), and I’m gearing up to read it again. Which is a bit of a commitment, it being a re-read of 656 pages (554 if you stop where I generally stop: I was marooned; wingless and leaden, as if I had been momentarily surrounded, then abandoned, by a flock of strange winged creatures; emancipated, mysterious, departing, as singing birds pass on overhead; leaving a silence spent with voices. Which seems to me to be an excellent way to end a novel, and the experience of reading a novel, and writing one). Anyway, THE MAGUS is set on a Greek island, and Greek islands are the literary equivalent of cat-nip for yours truly.
  I’m also partial to a good private eye, and fine writing, and Paul Johnston combines all three in A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE, which features Alex Mavros. Quoth Mr & Mrs Kirkus:
Famous for his Quintilian Dalrymple series based in 2020s Edinburgh, the first of which won the John Creasy Memorial Dagger in 1997, Johnston changes location for this thriller, set on a Greek island. Trigono is breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly peaceful. But is there an evil hidden beneath its paradisiacal exterior? Rosa Ozal, a young Turkish-American beauty, has gone missing and the clue to her last known whereabouts is a postcard from Trigono. Alex Mavros is the private detective hired to find her. But when he reaches the island he discovers a community intent on hiding its secrets, and the task of finding any information regarding Rosa is not an easy one. The sudden deaths of a young island couple, found naked in a fishing boat with terror on their faces, make the atmosphere even more sombre. And is there a connection with the dreadful events that took place on Trigono during the Second World War? The plot moves on apace and soon Alex is confronted with a terrifying murderer. This is a high-class thriller, tautly written with the contrast between the idyllic surroundings and the shadow of violent danger adding to the charged atmosphere. Johnston's plotting and characterization are just as adept as they are in his Dalrymple books, and this is a novel to be enjoyed by anyone who loves thrilling prose and action-packed storylines.
  Nice. The good news is that the Mavros trilogy is (are?) being republished in April, with A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE renamed CRYING BLUE MURDER. I prefer the original title, but there you go. THE LAST RED DEATH and THE GOLDEN SILENCE complete the triptych, but neither of them are set on Greek islands (the Peloponnese and Athens, respectively), which is a total bummer.
  Anyone got any suggestions for Greek island novels? The last one I read was the very fine SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD, and I need my fix.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Adrian McKinty is giving away signed copies of his forthcoming opus, FIFTY GRAND, which I’m pleased to say is a terrific novel, arguably his best, and a book you’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming year. If there’s any justice in this world, it’ll win prizes galore and they’ll need aircraft carriers to keep up with the demand. That’s a big ‘if’, I know, and every writer needs a slice of luck and good timing, but someone once said that luck is opportunity meeting preparation, and McKinty’s done the preparation, and then some. I don’t often say this kind of thing, but trust me when I tell you that FIFTY GRAND is among the finest novels I’ve read in the last five years. Not that my opinion generally counts for sweet bugger-all in these here parts, but I think I’m right on this one. Only time, that notoriously doity rat-fink canary, will tell …

McIlhatton, You Blurt, We Need You, Cry A Million Shaking Men

The multi-talented Sir Gerard of Stembridge popped up on Crime Always Pays last week, Sir Gerard being the evil-ish genius co-creator (with Father Ted’s Dermot Morgan) of Scrap Saturday, the classic radio sketch show that lampooned the not-so-great and not-very-good of Irish politics and public life in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But Christ on a moped, bad and all as it was back in the quasi-mediaeval fiefdom of Charles J. Haughey’s reign, things were never as bad as they are now. Any chance of another Scrap Saturday run? That lovely new 4FM must be crying out for original material …
  Anyhoo, Sir Gerard is a veritable renaissance man, turning his hand to radio, movies, plays and novels as the mood takes him. Late last year we had the Hitchcockian home invasion flick ‘Alarm’, and already this year we have the novel COUNTING DOWN, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Meet Joe Power, approaching forty and counting down . . . Counting down the days until he sees his son. Counting down the number of years he spent with his wife before it all fell apart. Counting down the inches he has to lose off his waist to be a babe magnet again. Counting down all the fools who want to tell him to get his act together. Counting the hours until he can take one of his exhilarating night walks and encounter . . . well, who knows what, but one thing is sure, he’ll be the one to come out of it alive. Counting down every moment knowing that one day, it will be his last . . .
  Nice. Now, if only we can persuade Sir Gerard to run for taoiseach, all will be well again. Won’t it?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: WATCHMEN

Regarded by comic-book buffs as the greatest comic of all time, Watchmen, which is based on the Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons graphic novel, is by no means a typical superhero movie. There’s precious little noble posturing from Laurie (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), all of whom are beset by personal demons of the kind you’re more likely to find in more serious fare: alcoholism, depression, a destructive childhood, and the consequences of physics laboratory experiment that leaves you with god-like powers. Well, perhaps the last belongs in comic book fantasia, but even the plight of Dr Manhattan, a being of pure energy, raises interesting questions. Set in a parallel universe, in which Richard Nixon holds on to the presidency well into the 1980s, and the Cold War is rapidly approaching armageddon, Watchmen manages to have its cake and eat it: a character-driven tale that explores the complex, twisted personalities of its superfolk in detail, it also provides a story on an epic scale. At 163 minutes it’s a long movie, but it never feels like it. The characters, particularly those of Dr Manhattan and Rorschach, are fascinating, and raise as many questions as they answer, while the story’s overarching concern – what to do about a poisonously over-populated planet – is a timely one. There are a number of superb action sequences too, and interlude on planet Mars is jaw-droppingly well done. Zack Snyder, who also directed the disappointing graphic novel adaptation 300, proves a steadier hand here, and provides a seamless blend of live action and CGI effects. He’s helped hugely strong performances, especially from Akerman, Crudup and Haley. ****

This review first appeared in TV NOW magazine

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Megan Abbott

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?

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler. Perfectly structured, gains in texture with every read and is filled with luminous strangeness.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

That’s an interesting question because most of my favourite characters are pretty doomed, so I can’t say I’d like to take their place. I’m going with Ned Beaumont, from THE GLASS KEY. Smart, wily, loyal and a survivor. I’d feel okay in his shoes. Except for that touch of tuberculosis. Second choice: Sammy Glick.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Movie star biographies. I tear through them. Or really, really low-grade true crime. The kind that seems to have been published by some private press in a remote town in Idaho. My most recent favourite: Charles Stoker’s cop memoir, THICKER ‘N’ THIEVES, the basis for much of Ellroy’s LA Quartet.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When you know that, as unhappy as you might be with a piece of writing, anything else you do is just going to screw it up even more. So you have to stop. Doesn’t sound very satisfying, does it? And yet, somehow, it is.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Any single sentence by Ken Bruen is a great Irish crime novel, a great crime novel, a great novel. Let’s say PRIEST.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Almost any of them. I think there’s something deeply cinematic about Irish crime fiction. To speak in possibly-annoying generalities, there’s that irresistible combination of high theatre, a tortured national history and lush, theatrical, epic (including epically profane) language. These are the stuff of great movies.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best is the excuse to talk about books with people all the time. The worst is that empty maw at the centre of your soul that you feel staring at the blank computer screen.

The pitch for your next book is …?
BURY ME DEEP: tabloid love and murder in the 1930s. It’s based on the Winnie Ruth Judd murder case, which made headlines around the world. It had it all: booze, drugs, sex, degeneracy—and this sad, sad story at its centre: a lonely young woman who falls victim to her own desires and has to try to fight her way out.

Who are you reading right now?
I recently finished Ace Atkins’s superb and haunting DEVIL’S GARDEN, which is a novel about the famous Fatty Arbuckle case, with a young Dashiell Hammett as one of the Pinkertons on the case. Next up: I just got an advance copy of Hard Case’s reissue of Jason Starr’s FAKE ID.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read, definitely. Some days I wish He would say that!

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Fevery, urgent, compulsive.

Megan Abbott’s BURY ME DEEP will be published in July.