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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Things That Get On My Tits # 1,249 (Vol. III): ‘It Was All …’

Further to Dave White’s post on blogs, wherein he lists the usual crap you can find on most blogs, he neglected to mention the ‘Totally Random Rant’, in which someone – your humble host, say – goes off at a tangent that has nothing to do with anything, really. To wit: today I came across the latest in what seems to be the latest and most irritating cliché of any kind of writing, the descriptive sentence that begins with, “It was all …”.
  I’ve probably been guilty of this myself, by the way.
  Anyway, rather than describe a kitchen properly, for example, a writer will say, “It was all chrome and black marble.” Now, it patently wasn’t – if the kitchen was ‘all’ black marble and chrome, no one would be able to get into it, seeing as how the entire kitchen would be composed of black marble and chrome. In effect, you’d have a cuboid of black marble and chrome where your kitchen is supposed to be. That’s helping nobody, but especially not the reader who has just visualised said cuboid.
  I’m being a pedant, obviously, but it never fails to set my teeth on edge. Any other takers?
  The place I saw it today, funnily enough, was in the otherwise balls-achingly brilliant BLOOD’S A ROVER. Every time you read a James Ellroy you think, well, at least he won’t be able to top that. And then he does. Damn his beautiful eyes.

Alors! C’est Ken Bruen!

“Two Grand Prix are awarded each year,” says Peter Rozovsky over at Detectives Beyond Borders, in his post about Ken Bruen (right) winning the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere 2009 for PRIEST, “one to the best crime novel, and one to the best international crime novel in France. They’ve been awarded since 1948, which suggests the French got onto this international crime fiction thing before many of the rest of us.”
  The post-WWII period being when Cahiers du Cinema dubbed film noir, well, film noir, Mr Rozovsky may have a point. And, of course, Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, first published in 1841, is regarded as the ur-text when it comes to crime fiction. Can it be mere (and retrospective) coincidence that the story is set in Paris?
  Erm, yes. But that’s not the point. The point is that, with two novels out this year, including TOWER, the collaboration with Reed Farrel Coleman (and a rumour that the chaps are going to collab on a musical next (!)), two movies of his novels in the pipeline, and a French gong in his back pocket, 2010 will probably be the year in which Ken Bruen ascends into heaven in a flaming chariot.
  All kidding aside, and leaving all else aside, Ken Bruen’s annus mirabilis will please no end of people, but chiefly, I’d imagine, the legion of wannabe aspiring scribes (yours truly included) whom Ken Bruen has so generously and selflessly lent a hand to over the years. I don’t know if I really believe in karma, but if it doesn’t exist, then it’s a beautiful symmetry / coincidence that good fortune has showered Ken so extensively in 2009. Allez, Mr Bruen, et bon chance, mon ami.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS by William Boyd

A chance meeting in a London restaurant gives climatologist Adam Kindred the opportunity to become a Good Samaritan, when his distracted new acquaintance, Dr Wang, leaves his briefcase behind. On delivering the briefcase, however, Adam discovers Dr Wang knifed and dying. Moments later he is running for his life; within hours, pursued by Dr Wang’s killer, he is the subject of a nation-wide manhunt and embroiled in the corruption behind a multi-billion dollar scandal.
  William Boyd is a much-decorated writer, winning the Whitbread Award in 1981 for ‘A Good Man in Africa’, and the Costa Award in 2006 for ‘Restless’, along with numerous other prizes, and securing a pair of shortlist nominations for Booker and IMPAC for ‘An Ice-Cream War’ and ‘Any Human Heart’, respectively. A prolific screenwriter and film director, he has always maintained a sharp distinction between his film work and that of his novels, but ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ offers a propulsive, cinematic narrative. Certainly the novel, despite its deceptively sedate pace, has the page-turning quality of a genre novel, which suggests that Boyd was aiming yet again for crossover appeal – ‘Restless’, for example, bore all the hallmarks of the spy thriller.
  To the crime fiction fan, and particularly those familiar with the work of David Goodis and Gil Brewer, Adam Kindred’s plight will be a familiar one. Intelligent, urbane and highly educated, he nevertheless finds himself skulking in the shadows and reduced to a primitive quality of living as, in a desperate bid to render himself anonymous, he foregoes the props of contemporary life – credit cards, mobile phones, cash, etc. – to live rough in the very heart of London. The theme touches on the alienation intrinsic to the modern city, of our inability, whether willing or not, to successfully interact with those around us. Boyd’s protagonists invariably explore how a quintessential Englishness contends with an unfamiliar landscape, be that Africa, Los Angeles or the Philippines, but here the homeless Kindred (the name is ironically instructive) is a stranger in a land that should not be strange at all, and is yet utterly, and horrifyingly, foreign.
  Kindred’s exploration of his underground world is fascinating in itself, but Boyd surrounds him with a host of characters, some malevolent, others benign, most simply thoughtlessly callous in their own pursuit of whatever it will take to make it through the day. As the characters gradually flesh out, there is a suspicion that Boyd is simply toying with the genre tropes, as a policewoman, a company CEO, a prostitute, a lord and a killer-for-hire all emerge to engage with Kindred on some level. But even the minor characters get their full due here, and some of the main players, such as the prostitute who drugs her son with a ‘happy-mix’ of rum and pills before going out on the game for the night, are simply heart-breaking.
  The style is equally pleasing. There are few of the conventional cliff-hanger endings to chapters, and Boyd’s prose is for the most part resolutely deadpan, eschewing tension-building pyrotechnics for a faith in his readers’ ability to empathise with his characters. He does, on occasion, digress into purple prose, which can be irritating, especially when offered by characters who wouldn’t have access to such language, such as an illiterate prostitute or an ex-solider hitman, but these are few and forgivable lapses, as are the occasional deus ex machina plot-twists that rely too heavily on coincidence.
  Those caveats aside, ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ is a powerful, brooding novel of ideas with the compulsive readability of a straightforward thriller. Sturm und Drang, indeed. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All Of These Kids Are Doing Their Own Thing

Funny how these kinds of things come in clusters. This week, friends and family are bustin’ out all over with creative stuff – the pic above is swiped from Niall Fennessy’s new blog, The Life in My Days, which details his work as a wedding photographer. He’s won awards for other kinds of photography too – well worth checking out.
  And while we’re on the subject of photography, my sister, Kathy, is no mean snapper too. To wit:

  Leaving the photos behind, it’s on to writing – long a friend of this blog, and a good friend of yours truly, Claire Coughlan graduates from the UCD MA Writing Class of 2009 this week, and the class is marking the occasion with the publication of A CURIOUS IMPULSE. The official launch takes place at 5.30pm on Wednesday, October 7th, with a wine reception at the Clarence Hotel (there’s posh). The authors include Claire, Susan Stairs, Jennifer McGrath, Jamie O’Connell, and the delightfully named Mariad Whisker. “The stories, poems and memoirs in this volume display uniformly an impressive maturity of insight and control of language,” says Kevin Power, author of the rather fine BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, while author James Ryan will be doing the introduction honours. All are welcome, folks …
  Shay Bagnall, another mate, is also a writer – his first novel, a crime tome, has attracted an agent, and is currently out under consideration – but his contribution above is as a combo ukulele / movie-maker genius. Not sure what THE BIG O is doing in there lurking in the background, but roll it there anyway, Collette ...
  Finally, and speaking of THE BIG O, my brother Gavin (right) has finally succumbed to the Dark Side (aka script-writing) and yesterday submitted to the Irish Film Board the script he has adapted from THE BIG O. Polite mutterings of approval have been heard emanating from the IFB in the wake of exploratory submissions, so you never know … Keep your fingers crossed, people – Lily needs new shoes. No, seriously she’s already outgrown her first proper pair of shoes. Looks like a weekend’s overtime down the salt-mines beckons for yours truly …

Monday, October 5, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Stuart Neville

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?
AMERICAN TABLOID by James Ellroy. It’s just the sheer scale of the thing, the ambition of it. It’s a tie for my favourite novel of all time with Tom Wolfe’s BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I collect old movie novelisations. The cinema in Armagh closed when I was a kid, so the only way I could experience things like ET or Raiders of the Lost Ark was by reading them in book form. Even today, I search charity shops for hidden gems. Some novelisations are very good (Poltergeist by James Kahn, Fort Apache: The Bronx by Heywood Gould) and some of them are bloody awful. Freebie and the Bean, for instance, is possibly the worst book ever written. While the source material for that was pretty poor, the novelisation of Dirty Harry had a great story to work from, and it was still bloody awful.

Most satisfying writing moment?
The first time I actually managed to type the last words of a full honest-to-God novel. It didn’t matter that it turned out to be not very good; I had proven that I could actually climb that mountain, and that was a huge step forward psychologically.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I think I’d have to say Bateman’s DIVORCING JACK, simply because he blazed a trail for Northern Irish crime writers.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I recently read Gerard Brennan’s THE WEE ROCKETS. I think it’d make a really good TV serial with its urban setting and big cast of characters.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is that panicky feeling when you’ve invested a huge chunk of your life in something and you don’t know if it was any good or not. Conversely, the best thing is finding out you hadn’t wasted your time after all, and someone thinks it’s worth reading. The second best thing was a couple of days ago when a pretty checkout girl in the supermarket asked me in a hushed tone if I was “that author from the papers”. That was pretty good.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Belfast cop Jack Lennon starts digging into an apparent Republican feud when he realises his former lover Marie McKenna and their daughter Ellen were somehow involved and are now missing. As he delves deeper he discovers it might not have been the feud the authorities claimed, but when he challenges his superiors, he is told to leave it alone. When someone starts picking off survivors of the feud, Lennon knows he must act.

Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading AFTERMATH by Ruth Dudley Edwards. It’s an account of the Omagh bombing, and how the families of the victims fought for justice through the civil courts when the criminal system let them down. Some of it is so harrowing it’s very painful to read, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to write. I’ll be on a panel with Ruth at this year’s Bouchercon inIndianapolis, which will be interesting.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
This is kind of a Catch 22; I couldn’t write if I didn’t read, so I think I’d have to choose the egg over the chicken. Or something.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Hard, fast, brutal.

Stuart Neville’s THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is published in the U.S. by Soho Crime

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In The Name Of The Father

Rosita Boland had a rather poignant interview with John Connolly (right) in yesterday’s Irish Times to mark the publication of THE GATES, in which Connolly touched on the death of his father, and how the loss has impacted on his writing. To wit:
When Connolly left Dublin Corporation to study English at Trinity College, he had money in the bank, and a renewed vigour for education. On a summer student job in the US soon after, he called home one evening from New York and discovered his father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He flew home the next day, and his father died soon afterwards. The cancer he died from has since become a recurrent symbolic motif in Connolly’s work: people’s bodies being horribly consumed by something they cannot control. “I think because of what happened to my father and the way he died, I have an absolute loathing and fear of that disease. I just think it’s so insidious and so appalling. It occurs in the books again and again. ‘The Cancer Cowboy Rides’ [a story in NOCTURNES] is the most explicit version of it, but again and again, with people in my books, there is this image of cancer or of being eaten from the inside.”
  Recurrent also in the books is the theme of fathers – fatherhood, absent fathers, dead fathers, men who don’t know whether they want to be fathers. “I think all young men are trying to prove something to their dads,” he says carefully. “I think his whole idea was he worked so that at some point, he didn’t have to work any more, and that work was a kind of chore he got through as a prelude to retirement, when he could do all the things that he planned on doing. And then you know, work kind of had the last laugh, because he died while he was still working.
  “He was not impressed by me wanting to be a writer, or to be a journalist. And I suppose part of me becoming a journalist and part of me going to college and doing something like English was a kind of way of saying to him, well actually, what you want is not what I want. The awful thing is, having done all that, had he seen what I do now, he would have been immensely proud.” Earlier, he said his father had a distrust of the “kind of freelance existence” that journalism and a career as a writer offered. It’s not hard to see where the roots of Connolly’s drive and work ethic came from.
  For the rest, clickety-click here