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, October 22, 2011

On Being Caught In A Compromising Position, Again

As of last Thursday morning, and ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL’s short-list nomination in the Ireland AM Crime Fiction section of the Irish Book Awards, I find myself in a rather more compromised position than usual. The reason is that I’ve been shortlisted alongside some very good writers and books; worse, I’ve positively reviewed some of said tomes in the recent past.
  This, of course, amounts to a kind of retrospective version of shooting myself in the foot. What to do, what to do …?
  I could, of course, come out and say that I was lying through my teeth when I gave, say, Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND a big-up recently, or Casey Hill’s TABOO earlier this year; or claim, for that matter, that Benjamin Black’s A DEATH IN SUMMER is not, as I suggested a couple of months ago, the finest of John Banville’s Quirke novels to date.
  That’s one option, certainly.
  I could also go the route of claiming the moral high ground, and insist that it’s ridiculous to pit very different kinds of novels against one another in a competition, and instead suggest a more straightforwardly barbaric test, in which we put all six writers into a cage for a marathon smack-down session, and let the best man or woman win. Of course, that wouldn’t fly, because Casey Hill is comprised of a wife-and-husband team, so they’d have an unfair advantage.
  Another option, and the preferable one, is to simply confirm that the short-list for the Crime Fiction Award represents pretty stuff competition: “The Group of Death, in more ways than one,” as Eoin Purcell observed on Thursday morning. It’s also fair to say, I think, that were the list to be comprised of an entirely different six Irish crime titles published this year, it would also be a very strong shortlist. If I were Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan, Niamh O’Connor, Brian McGilloway, Conor Fitzgerald or Eoin Colfer, for example, I think I’d feel entitled to be very disappointed at not making the list.
  It sounds perverse, but the fact that such writers didn’t make it is part of the joy of being there. Because this is a very, very good time for Irish crime writing, with a very high quality of work being produced by some very interesting writers; it’s the oldest cliché in the book, I know, but it really is lovely just to be nominated, given the number of excellent titles that were published this year alone.
  Naturally, having been nominated, I’d now like to see ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL win the award, and as much for Liberties Press as for myself, or the book. If we don’t, it’ll be disappointing, of course; but as we used to say back in the days when I played football, there’s never any shame in being beaten by a better team.
  And so, rather than sneak around pretending that the other short-listed titles don’t exist, and hoping that AZC wins the award by default, I’d much prefer to go on celebrating said titles. To wit:
My take on A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black (you’ll need to scroll down a little);

A Q&A with wife-and-husband writing team Casey Hill;

Some very nice reviews of Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND can be found here;

I have yet to read William Ryan’s THE BLOODY MEADOW, but the reviews suggest I should get the finger out and do so, especially as I thoroughly enjoyed his debut;

And I haven’t read Jane Casey’s THE RECKONING yet, but I have no reason to doubt that it’s as good as her previous offering, THE BURNING, which I thought was a cracker.
  So there you have it, folks: a fine body of books, and every one of them deserving of your vote. If you’re in the mood to exercise your suffrage, clickety-click here

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Bloody Valentine

I had a very pleasant experience a couple of weeks ago, when I sat down with Val McDermid (right) to interview her for the Irish Examiner on the publication of her latest opus, THE RETRIBUTION. Fair to say, I think, that Val’s reputation for not suffering fools gladly goes before her, but maybe she was in particularly mellow mode that day, because she certainly suffered this particular fool at length, especially when I broached the hoary old chestnut of her being ‘a blood-thirsty lesbian’. The piece opens a lot like this:
Val McDermid’s perspective as a woman is key to her ability to write crime fiction, but the genre is more than it seems, she tells Declan Burke.

VAL McDERMID writes crime novels about serial killers. She’s also a lesbian. You conflate those facts to call her a “blood-thirsty lesbian” at your peril, however, as her fellow author Ian Rankin discovered when a throwaway remark led to one of crime fiction’s most notorious literary spats.
  “Well, the ‘blood-thirsty lesbian’ bit, that was the headline in The Times,” says McDermid, who gets a steely gleam in her eye when the topic is raised.
  “But what Ian actually said was that the most graphic and violent of novels were being written by women, and of those the most violent were written by lesbians. I mean,” she shrugs, “it was a row that was entirely confected by the media. There was no falling-out between Ian and I. Ian was at my wedding, and we’ve been friends for long enough to know we’re capable of having differing opinions from our pals.
  “I do think his statement was wrong,” she says, warming to the theme. “But what it led onto was a wider discussion that seemed to indicate that there was something inappropriate about women writing violent crime fiction, which is something I take extreme exception to.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL Being Short-Listed For The Irish Book Awards

Strange days, indeed. As all Three Regular Readers (right) will be aware, I posted a piece a couple of weeks back about how difficult it was going to be to scrape onto the short-list for the Irish Book Awards, given that the competition this year is a right royal buggery. If I’m entirely honest, I wrote that piece for myself - I was getting a bit carried away with the reviews that were coming in (see left), and was starting to believe that maybe I was entitled to a short-list nomination. Except then I copped myself on, had a good hard look at all the other Irish crime titles published this year, and conceded that I’d be very fortunate indeed to make any kind of short-list.
  But lo! The day has come, and there’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL nestling snugly on said list. Which is all kinds of wonderful, not least because a year or so ago I was planning to self-publish AZC, this on the basis that I couldn’t get a publisher to touch it with a barge-pole, and the only love was coming from the readers of this very blog.
  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not losing the run of myself - a short-list nomination is exactly what it is, and no more. But there’s a wealth of truth in the hoary old cliché about how it’s lovely just to be nominated, and I’m certainly buzzing on that right now. And not just for myself, or for the book itself, but for everyone who believed in it despite all the negative vibes (and there’s a very good chance that that means you, yes, YOU!); and I’m especially delighted for Liberties Press, and particularly Sean O’Keeffe, who was imaginative and brave enough to publish AZC.
  Where do we go from here? Well, we’re off to the Irish Book Awards event on November 17th, for starters, and that should be a ton of fun, not least because I’ll get to hook up with all the other nominees (and I’ll be giving you the full short-list in due course, because the actual award is opened up to public voting once the short-lists are announced, as I understand it). Anyway, for now I’m just pleased as punch to be right here, right now, enjoying the moment and high on the improbability of it all. See you all back in the real world, tomorrow …

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Putting The Boot Into The Booker Prize

I like to think that Dan Kavanagh got mouldy drunk on Guinness somewhere in London last night. It’s been many years since I’ve read Julian Barnes, who last night won the 2011 Man Booker prize for his latest novel - or novella - THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, and while I vaguely remember liking both FLAUBERT’S PARROT and A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10½ CHAPTERS, I don’t remember an awful lot more about them. Which probably says a lot more about me than it does about Julian Barnes and his novels.
  On the other hand, I do remember hugely enjoying PUTTING THE BOOT IN, a crime novel Barnes published under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, not least because said Dan Kavanagh’s official biography made him out to be something of a rogue, and one who hailed from my home patch of County Sligo into the bargain. Anyway, I did a short write-up of PUTTING THE BOOT IN - which is only one of the Dan Kavanagh novels; there were four in total, as far as I know - back in 2008, which you can find roundabout here.
  So there you have it - a Booker Prize winner with a rather decent half-canon of crime novels under his belt, as announced by Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 and a thriller writer who chaired the judging panel. A cunning black ops sortie by the crime fraternity? Have we shuffled another step closer to the day when a fully-fledged crime writer scoops the establishment’s glittering prize? You’d hope not, or at least I’d hope not - but it is starting to look like an inevitability …

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

But Really, What’s THE POINT?

The first thing to say about Gerard Brennan’s THE POINT is that the cover is an absolute cracker - menace a-plenty in a beautifully retro style. The second thing to say is - well, over to the Pulp Press blurb elves:
Small time crook Paul Morgan is a bad influence on his brother, Brian. When Paul crosses one thug too many, the cider-fuelled duo flee Belfast for Warrenpoint, the sleepy seaside resort of their childhood memories. For Brian, a new life in the Point means going straight and falling in love with Rachel, while Paul graduates to carjacking by unusual means and ‘borrowing’ firearms from his new boss. Brian can’t help being dragged into his brother’s bungling schemes but Rachel can be violently persuasive herself . . . and she isn’t the only one who wants to see an end to Paul’s criminal career.
  Now, given that Brennan is the blogmeister behind Crime Scene Northern Ireland, or CSNI to you, from which vantage point he’s cast a cold eye over huge swathes of Irish crime writing over the last few years, there’s a lot of pressure on for him to deliver the goods. The good news is, from the sounds of things, he’s done exactly that. To wit:
“Gerard Brennan is a master of gritty violence.” - Colin Bateman

“A Coen Brothers dream, via Belfast ... Gerard Brennan grabs the mantle of the new mystery prince of Northern Ireland ...” - Ken Bruen

“THE POINT is the real deal - the writing is razor sharp, the characters engaging, the ending a blast. From start to finish it’s true Northern Noir, crafted with style and wit.” - Brian McGilloway

“Gerard Brennan’s THE POINT is terrific. Scorchingly funny, black humour at its finest and the most inventive car theft ever!” - Arlene Hunt

“THE POINT is top stuff. Engaging from the start, the characters are loveable, the story is strong and the pace never lets up.” - Adrian McKinty
  So there you have it: if it’s good enough for Bateman, Bruen, Hunt and McKinty, it’s good enough for us. So - Gerard Brennan, THE POINT. You know what to do, people
  Oh, and if you’re roundabout Derry way this evening, Tuesday, October 18th, you can catch Gerard wittering on about the Booker Prize in the company of Kate Newman and the very fine novelist, Garbhan Downey, at the Central Library. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do Go Back To Rockville

If you’re in or around Dublin this coming Wednesday, October 19th, you could do a lot worse than wander by the Gutter Bookshop at 6.30pm. For lo! Arlene Hunt will be launching her latest tome, THE CHOSEN. Quoth the blurb elves:
On a hot summer’s day in the sleepy American town of Rockville, Jessie Conway, a teacher at the local high school, notices a car driving slowly around the school grounds. Twenty minutes later Jessie is fighting for her life and Rockville is plunged into living nightmare after a gun-toting student unleashes bloody mayhem.
  For Jessie the horror is just beginning. Traumatized and hounded by the media she retreats to her home and tries to rebuild her shattered life.
  Caleb Switch watches the developments in Rockville with interest. A skilled and diligent killer, his recent selections have disappointed him, offering challenge to a man of his predilections. Jessie Conway interests him: for she is no ordinary woman and a fine choice for a less than ordinary man.
  As Jessie struggles to hold onto her marriage and her sanity she has no idea that she has become The Chosen.
  As all Three Regular Readers will know, Arlene Hunt has built a strong reputation on the back of her ‘QuicK Investigations’ novels, but THE CHOSEN - as the blurb suggests - is something of a departure, being a standalone set in the US, and a particularly remote part of the US at that. For an excerpt from THE CHOSEN, feel free to clickety-click here

Sunday, October 16, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Gerry Boyle

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?
Anything and everything by Raymond Chandler. I keep FAREWELL, MY LOVELY and THE LONG GOODBYE within arm’s reach in the study and flip them open to a random page for inspiration. I’ll do it right now: THE LONG GOODBYE, Chapter 39, pg 186: “The inquest was a flop. The coroner sailed into it before the medical evidence was complete, for fear the publicity would die on him. He needn’t have worried. The death of a writer—even a loud writer—is not news for long, and that summer there was too much to compete.”

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
[John D. MacDonald’s] Travis McGee. He’s the second-generation Marlowe, sitting on the bridge of the Busted Flush, Boodles in hand. Nobody hit harder or observed human nature more closely. McGee was a great knight errant, which is, after all, what we’re creating here most of the time.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Jack Higgins, especially the early ones. I know what he’s doing, I know what’s coming, but I can’t look away. Sit down, open to page one, don’t look up until the book is done, except to carry the book to the fridge to get another Smithwicks.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing the first paragraph, when you know you’ve shoved the boulder over the cliff.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Tough one. I’d have to say I was terribly impressed by Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE. Every word was charged, like the thing was written in a single high-velocity blast. Between that book and COLLUSION I picture him not sitting down to write again, but reloading. Five in the magazine, one in the chamber.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Tough one. Of late, I’ve been revisiting Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor (even better second time through). I’d love to see a director and actor bring Taylor to life on the screen and not just the reckless destruction (self and otherwise), but the true root of it. The appeal of Taylor isn’t just his cynical but unswayable code of honor but the dark mystery behind it.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The blank screen. Full of promise but at the same time terrifying.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Young Brandon Blake thinks becoming a cop will be his ticket to a world of right and wrong, good and evil. Turns out to be true but they’re all jumbled up. Friend or foe? Perp or victim? Pull the trigger or hold your fire? You’ve got two seconds to answer the question: Who can you trust? Answer wrong and the game’s over. That was the pitch. Book is PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
You sure that wouldn’t be the Devil? I’d have to say the writing. Going without would gnaw at me and numbing that ache would lead me to very bad habits.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Lyrical, spare, honest. At least that’s the goal. Oh, that blank screen. No getting away with anything ...

Gerry Boyle’s PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE is available on Kindle.