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, June 22, 2012

Review: THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald

Commissario Alec Blume returns for a third time in Conor Fitzgerald’s THE NAMESAKE (Bloomsbury, £11.99). Blume is American-born, but has lived in Italy since his teens, which gives him an unusual take on the country: he retains his outsider’s eye for Italy’s beauty and foibles, while at the same time he is embedded enough to be fully aware of its social and cultural intricacies.
  The novel opens with the apparent kidnapping of a teenage girl, and Fitzgerald sets the tone with his very first line: ‘Before we begin,’ said the magistrate, ‘I want you all to know that there is no chance of a happy ending to this story.’
  Shortly afterwards, an insurance agent is found murdered - an insurance agent who has the great misfortune to have the same name as a magistrate who is investigating a high-ranking member of the Ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia.
  Blume’s own investigations into the case, alongside his subordinate and lover, Caterina, are hampered when he is contacted by one of the many shadowy Italian secret service agencies. It appears that the Ndrangheta is investigating Agazio Curmaci, a Calabrian operating in Germany, and is doing so in tandem with the German secret service. Blume is asked to travel to the south of Italy with a rogue Italian agent who is tracking Curmaci, and who may well be intent on personal vengeance.
  THE NAMESAKE is as much an exploration of the social, cultural and political factors that led to the rise of the Ndrangheta as it is a conventional police procedural, and it is dense with detail about an organisation that is far more secretive than the mafia, yet has vast power and reach. For example, the book suggests that in 2008, when the credit crunch struck Italy with surprising speed, it was to the cash-based organisation the Ndrangheta that the authorities turned for the liquidity required to keep the economy on an even keel.
  There’s a playful quality to the form of this novel, as evolves from a police procedural into something of a spy novel when Blume joins an undercover agent as he penetrates the Calabrian heartland. This may well offend those crime and mystery purists who don’t believe in genre cross-fertilisation, but it works very well in context, particularly as Blume himself is very much a secretive, taciturn and self-possessed operator.
  Exquisitely written in a quietly elegant style, and dotted with nuggets of coal-black humour, THE NAMESAKE is a bold blend of genre conventions that confirms Fitzgerald’s growing reputation as an author whose novels comfortably straddle the increasingly fine line between crime and literary fiction. - Declan Burke

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ford’s Focus

I was in a bit of a bind going in to interview Richard Ford last month. His new novel, CANADA, is reminiscent of his early (and very good) novels, A PIECE OF MY HEART and THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK, in that it draws heavily on crime fiction scenarios. In fact, CANADA opens with these lines:
“First I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later …”
  Richard Ford, however, is regarded as a literary author. He’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner. How would he take it if I talked about CANADA as a crime - and thus a genre - novel?
  The answer is that he wasn’t best pleased, although a longer and more accurate answer is that while Richard Ford clearly does not consider CANADA a crime novel, he was gracious and thoughtful in rejecting my suggestion that it was. He’s a very charming guy, actually.
  Anyway, herewith be the interview, which was first published in the Irish Examiner:
IT’S not every day a Pulitzer Prize-winning author makes you coffee. Then again, Richard Ford confounds expectations at every turn.
  Hailed as one of the greatest writers of his generation, Ford has a patrician, almost forbiddingly severe appearance, not unlike that of the actor Christopher Plummer.
  In person, in the private rooms overlooking the tranquil inner sanctum of the quad at Trinity College, where Ford has been a visiting professor teaching on the masters programme in creative writing for the last five years, he is warmly hospitable, bustling around making coffee and apologising, in an accent with a charming Southern twang, for the fact that the coffee comes in “little old lady cups”.
  Indeed, so polite and friendly is this literary titan that it almost feels as if I’m insulting him by suggesting that his latest novel, CANADA, is the longest, most elegant noir novel I’ve ever read.
  Literary novelists don’t usually like to be described as crime authors. But how else to describe a book that begins: “First I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later …”?
  “It was certainly deliberate to try to emphasise the incidents in the book,” he says. “Which is to say, a bank robbery, a kidnapping, an abandonment and then a murder. I didn’t want to write a standard, meditative literary novel, although it is meditative in some ways, but I really did want to write a novel full of incident. Noir? I don’t know about that. But insofar as noir books do advertise that quality of fatalism, in that they often forecast what’s going to happen — yeah, I wanted to do that.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Get Busy Dying

A trumpet-parp please, maestro …
  I’ll be writing about BOOKS TO DIE FOR in greater detail over the next couple of months, but for now I just want to put the word out there: this tasty little confection, edited by John Connolly and I, and about which I am very excited, is due on an Irish / UK / Australian / South African shelf near you on August 30th, and will be debuting on October 2nd, at the Cleveland Bouchercon, in North America. Quoth the blurb elves:
With so many mystery novels to choose from and so many new titles appearing each year, where should the reader start? What are the classics of the genre? Which are the hidden gems?

In the most ambitious anthology of its kind yet attempted, the world’s leading mystery writers have come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that often reveal as much about themselves and their work as they do about the books that they love, more than 120 authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Christie to Child and Poe to PD James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlow to Peter Wimsey, BOOKS TO DIE FOR brings together the cream of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought . . . I want more!
  So there you have it. If you want to take a wander over to the BOOKS TO DIE FOR website, there’s a section there where you can nominate the novel you think is absolutely indispensable for the great crime fiction canon. Or you could simply drop a note into the comment box below. As always, we’re open for business …

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Towering Achievement

You won’t have noticed, I’m sure, but yours truly and family (typical wife-and-child pose, right) were away last week, soaking up the exotic delights and occasional sightings of sunshine in North Donegal, and very enjoyable it all was too. Hopefully I’ll get time to do a little work on behalf of the Donegal tourist board in the next couple of days, but for now allow me to point you in the direction of some very fine theatre that will be available in Dublin over the next week or so. Joe Joyce gets in touch with this to say:
“My play The Tower is being performed next week as part of the Dublin James Joyce Festival in The New Theatre in Temple Bar. I’d be grateful if you could forward this email to (and/or tweet) anyone who might be interested in what James Joyce and Oliver St John Gogarty (aka Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan) would have to say to each other now, with a century and more of hindsight.
  “Tom Hickey and Bosco Hogan, directed by Caroline FitzGerald, will be reprising their respective roles as Joyce and Gogarty at lunchtimes, 1pm, from Monday to Friday (18th to 22nd June) and on Saturday (23rd June) at 12.00 noon.”
  As it happens, I reviewed The Tower twice for the Sunday Times over the last decade or so, which means I’m in a position to recommend the experience whole-heartedly. To wit:
The Tower
The ghosts of James Joyce (Tom Hickey) and Oliver St. John Gogarty (Bosco Hogan) return to haunt the Martello Tower in Sandycove, there to bicker about art, their sundered friendship and their respective legacies. Joe Joyce’s two-hander is a tragi-comic piece that occasionally diverts into the realms of the surreal, such as when the terse Joyce and the loquacious Gogarty duet on a croaky version of The Beatles’ Help!. The overall tone is one of bitterness and regret, however: the prissily self-righteous Joyce greets Gogarty as ‘Oliver St. Jesus Gogarty’, and bemoans the latter’s ‘witless witticisms’, while Gogarty berates Joyce for being a parasite who fed on the misery of others, with an insatiable appetite for ‘drink, whores and depravity’. Hickey and Hogan are here reprising their roles from previous productions, and the director, Caroline FitzGerald, is content to allow the pair plough their well-worn furrows. It’s a wise decision, as both actors are comfortable in the skins of their characters, but also highly attuned to the nuances of one another’s performance. The result is that, despite the sedate pace and frequent digressions into deft wordplay, the production crackles with tension as both men strive to establish retrospective vindication of their actions. - Declan Burke
  There’s more information about the play and the other events in the festival at

Sunday, June 17, 2012

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