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, August 25, 2012

The Selfless Gene

I’m delighted to see Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE shortlisted for this year’s CWA Gold Dagger, not least because, in his day job as a journalist, Gene’s long been waging a kind of sniper’s war on behalf of working stiffs against the not-so-great and not-terribly-good from the back page of the Sunday Independent. He’s also a bloody good crime novelist.
  I reviewed THE RAGE in the Irish Times when it was published last year, with the gist running thusly:
THE RAGE (Harvill Secker, £11.99) is the fourth novel from journalist Gene Kerrigan, a serial chronicler of Dublin’s criminal underworld who was last year shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger, and was the winner of the Irish Book Awards’ crime fiction prize, for his previous offering, DARK TIMES IN THE CITY (2009). THE RAGE essentially blends two stories, that of Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey, who is investigating the apparent suicide of a banker of dubious morality, and that of Vincent Naylor, a low-level criminal recently released from prison with plans to move up in the world. That the men will eventually cross paths is inevitable, although it’s Kerrigan’s quality of gritty realism that renders THE RAGE an enjoyable page-turner as Tidey negotiates the blind alleys of a labyrinth constructed by officious judges, corrupt lawyers, and even his own superiors. Largely recession-proof (“Bob Tidey was in the law and order business, and whatever else went belly-up there’d always be hard men and chancers and a need for someone to manners on them.”), Tidey is an empathic character, pragmatic rather than idealistic, but what makes THE RAGE a compulsive document of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is Tidey’s growing awareness that the moral anarchy that reigns at all levels of Irish society means that the old rules no longer apply, especially when it comes to enforcing a crude approximation of law and order, by any means necessary.
  A month or so previous to that review being published, I interviewed Stuart Neville, and asked him in passing if he’d read anything he’d like to recommend. Did the perspicacious Stuart go straight for THE RAGE? Yes he did
  For all the Dagger nominees, clickety-click here. And the best of luck to all involved …

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cry Havoc, And Let Slip The Hound Of Slaughter

And so was launched the good ship SS SLAUGHTER’S HOUND at Hodges Figgis last night, the pic above coming courtesy of the good folk at Portnoy Publishing. I have to say I was a little bit stunned - and delighted, naturally - at the turnout. As I said on the night, there’s a kind of double terror that comes with launching a book, the first being that no one will turn up, the second being that people will actually turn up, so that you have no choice but to go ahead and read out loud. But the marvellous support and goodwill in Hodges Figgis made all the nerves worthwhile.
  Heartfelt thanks to everyone who came along, it was truly wonderful to see you all. And thanks too to everyone who got in touch to say they couldn’t make it, but who passed on their good wishes. We’re hugely grateful to Liam and Steven, for taking care of us so well at Hodges Figgis, and I’d like to personally thank the good folk at Liberties Press, but particularly Caroline and Alice, who made the night run like clockwork.
  I need to run off out into the real world to start earning a living again now, so I’ll keep this one short. Next stop Belfast, next Thursday, August 30th, for the launch of BOOKS TO DIE FOR, SLAUGHTER’S HOUND and John Connolly’s THE WRATH OF ANGELS. It might well be epic …

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Horses And Hounds

The fine detail has yet to be finessed, but it appears that I will be appearing at the Electric Picnic music festival on Saturday week with one Ken Griffin.
  Said Ken Griffin, as all Three Regular Readers will be aware, was kind enough to allow me to use some lyrics from Rollerskate Skinny ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ album. It’s an album I’ve loved ever since I first heard it way back in the mid-1990s, a ground-breaking and earth-shattering piece of work from four Dublin lads that is my perennial contender for Best Irish Album of All Time - and yes, I’m very fond of ‘Astral Weeks’, too.
  ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ was hugely influential for me, and was as important an experience in my becoming a writer as any book or author. At the time I was harbouring ambitions of being a writer, or of writing a novel, at least, but the books I most loved reading were the hardboiled American crime novels.
  And then along came ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’. It was a revelation. The fact that you were born Irish didn’t necessarily mean you had to sound Irish; in fact, you could, if you so wished, sound like nothing that had gone before.
  In retrospect, ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ was perhaps not as unique as it sounded at the time. It stands up, though, and sounds as fresh today as it did fifteen years or so ago.
  Fast-forward to when I was writing SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, and getting badly stuck. By accident, with no preconceived plan, I slipped ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ into the CD player one day. It was a cathartic experience, as if a crack had been hammered in the dam. So much so that ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ became integral to the plot, and the characterisation. If the book ends up with a tenth of that album’s energy, attitude and originality, I’ll be very happy indeed.
  Having quoted some of the lyrics, however, I now needed to get in touch with Ken Griffin and see if he’d allow me to use them, and how much he might charge if he did. When I tracked him down, the answer came back immediately: Yes, and no charge.
  I was incredibly pleased. Not just that I was allowed use the lyrics, but that Ken Griffin, who now lives in New York and fronts the band Favourite Sons, was a very rare kind of humble genius.
  And then, this morning, when I set out to write this piece, the whole deal became just a little bit more complex. Using the search function to track down a quote or two I’d used in SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, I discovered that I gave a talk about my debut novel, EIGHT BALL BOOGIE, way back in 2003, during the course of which I credited Rollerskate Skinny’s ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ with being a major influence on my becoming a writer.
  Further, I discovered an outtake from ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which suggests that I’d been playing ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ quite a lot during the writing of that book too. For those familiar with the story, Karlsson takes his long-suffering girlfriend Cassie for a midnight drive out to the back of Benbulben, where they climb up to a cave at the top of a valley reputed to be one of the places used by the star-crossed lovers Diarmuid and Grainne. Karlsson carries with him a portable stereo. Now read on:
  I suggest that the valley opens out as if its steep walls were curtains parted by the invisible hands of a damsel distressed in her tower. Cassie is unimpressed. She studies her broken nail. ‘Whatever, K. Let’s just get this over with. And it better be fucking worth it.’
  I shrug, roll a joint. We smoke it. I roll another, then move further back into the cave and set up the stereo on a flat rock. Rollerskate Skinny’s Horsedrawn Wishes is ready to go. I engage the superbass, jack the volume up to 11 and press play.
  The acoustics provided by a cave forty feet high by thirty feet across really have to be heard to be believed. Hermits didn’t live in caves for the central heating. The music booms out past Cassie into the long narrow valley and she jerks, her shoulders stiffening. The valley walls bounce the sounds back into the middle, and there they clash like invisible mediaeval armies. The clanking crash of amour crushed, the whinnies of terrified steeds, the grinding of axe on shield. Bellows, oaths, yodelled screams. This is only the opening track, Swingboat Yawning.
  I sit on the flat boulder beside Cassie. Her eyes are closed. A tear hangs poised at the corner of each. This may or may not be joy made manifest. This may or may not be despair unrestrained. I spark the second jay as Cradle Burns kicks in. It gallops away down the valley like the Four Horsemen startled. Already, far out to sea, the horizon lightens. Somewhere down there in the hazy grey porridge of dawn farmers are waking to discover their nightmares are real.
  One Thousand Couples ignites behind us. It hesitates, gathering momentum like a rocket boosting its afterburners. It explodes. The entire valley rumbles. Cassie shouts something in my ear. I cannot hear her, but she seems happy and so I nod. Speed to my Side begins with a primitive arregligious chanting. My circuits spark, spit and fritz. I trip out. I am gone, streaming past the fading stars, moving at a tangent to time.
  When Bell Jars Away fades into silence, Cassie leans in and engages me in a long, luscious kiss. She opens her eyes, then draws back in mock protest. ‘Hey, you kept your eyes open.’
  I nod. ‘I will never again sacrifice even one opportunity to look upon your face.’
  Her eyes widen. She smiles, lazy and slow. Her eyebrows flicker. More than anything else, my words appear to have aroused her curiosity. I feel a pang in my chest, but this only reminds me of how much I have already purged.
  So there you have it. If you’re around at Electric Picnic on Saturday, September 1st, be sure to drop by the Literary Tent, where I’ll be pretty much stalking the great Ken Griffin, and Ken will be playing some acoustic numbers from ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’, and whatever else takes his fancy. In the meantime, here’s the very fine ‘Speed to my Side’ to give you an idea of what Rollerskate Skinny were all about. Roll it there, Collette …

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bipolar Exploration

I thoroughly enjoyed Alex Barclay’s BLOOD LOSS when I read it a couple of months ago, and was more than happy to say so in an Irish Times review. I’m by no means the only reader to have been impressed with Barclay’s deft handling of her heroine’s bipolar condition.
  Katie Binns reviewed BLOOD LOSS for the Sunday Times’ Culture section last weekend (no link), and had this to say:
This is the third novel in the [Ren] Bryce series. Ren is an engaging character - bipolar, unmedicated and shrink-free - whose wry observations and comical musings are leavened by occasional bouts of self-doubt and relationship disasters […] Barclay’s brilliant and authoritative depiction of bipolar confronts stereotypes about the disease. She describes mania and depression like old friends […] A gripping plot, stylish dialogue, convincing characterisation and the subtlety of the relationships between the main characters combine to make BLOOD LOSS worthwhile reading. - Katie Binns
  All of which is very nice indeed, and suggests that Ren Bryce is going to be around for the long haul …

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog

A trumpet-parp please, maestro. The launch isn’t until Wednesday, but SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is officially published today, August 20th, by the ever-lovely Liberties Press. What say the blurb elves?
‘I glanced up but he’d already jumped, a dark blur plummeting, wings folded against the drag like some starving hawk out of the noon sun, some angel betrayed. He punched through the cab’s roof so hard he sent metal shearing into the petrol tank. All it took was one spark. Boom …’

Harry Rigby is right there, an eye-witness when Finn Hamilton walks out into the big nothing nine stories up, but no one wants to believe Finn is just the latest statistic in Ireland’s silent epidemic. Not Finn’s mother, Saoirse Hamilton, whose property empire is crumbling around her; and not Finn’s pregnant fiancĂ©, Maria, or his sister Grainne; and especially not Detective Tohill, the cop who believes Rigby is a stone-cold killer, a slaughter’s hound with a taste for blood …

Welcome to Harry Rigby’s Sligo, where death comes dropping slow.

Studded with shards of black humour and mordant wit, SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is a gripping noir from one of the most innovative voices in Irish crime fiction.

“Everything you could want - action, suspense, character and setting, all floating on the easy lyricism of a fine writer at the top of his game.” - Lee Child

“SLAUGHTER’S HOUND has everything you want from noir but what makes it special is the writing: taut, honed and vivid … a sheer pleasure.” - Tana French
  So there you have it. If you’re in the general vicinity of Dublin on Wednesday evening, please feel free to come along to the launch. It takes place at 6.30pm in Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, and I’d love to see you there.
  Meanwhile, for a snifter of Chapter One, clickety-click here

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pulp Fiction, High Art

I had a piece published in the Irish Examiner yesterday on the topic of ‘Pulp Fiction, High Art’, which concerns itself with how contemporary Irish crime novels are deriving their inspiration from classical works - Brian McGilloway’s THE NAMELESS DEAD embracing Greek mythology, for example, or Casey Hill’s TORN taking its cue from Dante’s THE DIVINE COMEDY.
  Herewith be a flavour:
Brian McGilloway’s current novel, THE NAMELESS DEAD, finds Inspector Ben Devlin investigating the remains of bodies that have been uncovered on an island that is situated halfway between the Republic and Northern Ireland on the River Foyle.
  McGilloway, the Head of English at St Columb’s College in Derry, found himself drawn to Greek mythology for inspiration.
  “THE NAMELESS DEAD concerns an island in the centre of a river where the unbaptised are buried,” he says, “leaving them in both a geographical and symbolic limbo. The Greek myths are perfect for dealing with death and the boundaries between the living and the dead. The idea of an island to which the dead had to be brought by boat so obviously lent itself to the figure of Charon, the ferryman. And, as Devlin’s odyssey in this story required him to look for guidance from one who had crossed the river, it made sense he would seek direction from some one like the blind prophet Tiresias. I suppose the inspiration comes mostly from the idea of someone who lives among the dead. Tiresias, who is trapped in Hades in the Greek myths, is here resident in an old people’s home.”
  Meanwhile, Kevin Hill, one half of the Casey Hill writing partnership, has this to say:
“You could argue that today’s pulp fiction is tomorrow’s literature,” says Kevin Hill, “and while this is not strictly true for all literature it brings up some important aspects: time and opinion.” […] “The high art versus low art and literary fiction versus commercial fiction argument has been around for centuries, since reading novels became more than just the preserve of the upper classes,” says Kevin. “Today books are as much about entertainment as education and art. So the question of high art versus pulp fiction is ultimately a question of enlightenment versus entertainment. Perhaps the real trick is to enlighten and entertain at the same time.”
  Kevin makes some interesting points, I think. The novel was considered something of a rascal when it first appeared 400 or so years ago, a disreputable form of storytelling suitable for those who weren’t quite capable of absorbing the more elevated forms.
  Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the novel has ascended to its lofty place in the pantheon, where it is touted as a far more cerebral form of storytelling than film, say.
  That may well be a class thing, as Kevin suggests. It’s the middle- and upper-classes, after all, who have had access to education, historically speaking, and are thus funnelled into a system in which they are brainwashed into believing that one kind of storytelling is superior to another.
  When the novel first appeared, education and access to literature was a privilege rather than a right. Thus the literary genre still clings to that affectation of superiority, whereas the crime and sci-fi genres - any of the popular genres, really - are more recent developments, and were born into, and were the product of, a more democratic age.
  The same is true of film, probably. Critics and audiences tend to take a film on its merits, rather than judge it according to its genre roots. Again, film is very much a product of the 20th century.
  Anyway, for the rest of that Examiner feature, including Ken Bruen’s remedy for any crime writer suffering ‘notions of literary affectation’, clickety-click here