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, June 22, 2013

Spare Not The Corpses, James

Irish crime fiction fans will be spoiled for choice next Tuesday evening, June 25th, when two of the biggest names in international crime writing arrive into Dublin.
  Peter James (right) will be appearing at Hodges Figgis in the company of Irish writers Niamh O’Connor and Mark O’Sullivan, where the trio will be reading from their own work and chatting about crime writing in general. Peter has just published the latest Roy Grace novel, DEAD MAN’S TIME, while Niamh will publish WORSE CAN HAPPEN in August. Mark, an award-winning children’s author, recently published his crime fiction debut, CROCODILE TEARS. The event kicks off at Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street at 6.30pm.
  Meanwhile, as I mentioned last week, Jeffrey Deaver will be appearing at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, where he will be discussing his new Lincoln Rhyme novel, THE KILL ROOM, with John Connolly. I’ve read THE KILL ROOM in the interim, and it’s a fascinating piece of work. Jeffrey also contributed a terrific piece on John D. MacDonald’s THE EXECUTIONERS to BOOKS TO DIE FOR, which John edited, so that should be a cracking conversation on the crime novel. For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Hunger Games

Those of you being remorselessly gnawed by the economic downturn might find Ed O’Loughlin’s latest offering, ALL YOU CAN EAT, a little (koff) close to the bone – it’s a zombie novel that functions as a satire on / allegory for the world we live in now, at least here in Ireland. Quoth the blurb elves:
They have no remorse or loyalty. They’re insatiable. They don’t hear what you say to them while they’re eating you alive. And then there’s the flesh-eating zombies ...
  A dark and pulpy satire of our dog-eat-dog society by Booker-nominated author Ed O’Loughlin.
  Ed O’Loughlin’s debut novel, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and his second, TOP LOADER, was an anarchic comedy about a Middle East conflict set in the future.
  For ALL YOU CAN EAT, Ed is offering to sell off the naming rights of various characters. “With e-books, you can change names – and everything else – as you go along, even after they are published, which offers interesting formal opportunities,” says O’Loughlin. For more on what sounds like an intriguing e-publishing development, clickety-click here

Thursday, June 20, 2013

She Is The Law

The latest in Cora Harrison’s ‘Burren Mysteries’ series is LAWS IN CONFLICT (Severn House), which features the sixteenth century Brehon judge, Mara, and is now available in paperback. Quoth the blurb elves:
February, 1512. Mara, Brehon of the Burren, judge and lawgiver, has been invited to the magnificent city state of Galway, which is ruled by English laws and a royal charter originally granted by Richard III. Mara wonders whether she can use her legal knowledge to save the life of a man from the Burren who has been caught stealing a meat pie, but events soon take an even more dramatic turn when the mayor’s son is charged with a heinous crime. Sure there is more to the case than meets the eye, Mara investigates ...
  Here’s hoping that has whetted your appetite, because there’s another Burren Mysteries novel due later this year, THE CROSS OF VENGEANCE, which sounds utterly fascinating. To wit:
When Mara attends mass at Kilnaboy Church, it is just another duty in her busy life as Brehon of the Burren, responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the kingdom. The church holds an important relic: a piece of the true cross itself, housed inside a round tower and heralded by the huge two-armed stone cross on the church gable. Hence, on this special day, the church is packed with locals, as well as pilgrims from all over Europe. But when fire attacks the tower where the precious relic is housed, and Mara then discovers that one of the pilgrims is a disciple of Martin Luther and a hater of such sacred relics, a Spanish priest threatens the might of the Inquisition and a German traveller takes refuge in the church. However, the next morning, a naked body is found dead, spread-eagled in the shape of a cross, on top of one of the tombs on the hill behind the church. Was it one of the true pilgrims who killed him? Or perhaps the priest of the parish, helped by his grave digger? Or was it even the innkeeper, whose business has been ruined now that the relic, which attracted visitors from all over Europe, has been destroyed? Once again, it is Mara’s task, along with that of her law-school pupils, to investigate and uphold the power of the law ...
  THE CROSS OF VENGEANCE will be published in September. Will it be the novel that finally puts Cora Harrison on the radar of those good people who compile the shortlist for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Between A Rock Guitarist And A Hard Place

There’s a very nice series running over at NPR Books called ‘Crime and the City’, about ‘fictional detectives and the places they live’. The latest destination is Belfast, with NPR being given a tour by ‘the former rock guitarist’ Stuart Neville (right, pictured in No Alibis bookstore). To wit:
While Belfast is no longer the burned-out city that it once was, The Troubles still overshadow the city’s story. “We have this kind of strange, contradictory feeling about The Troubles,” Neville says. “We’re ashamed of it, kind of proud of it at the same time.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  While you’re at it, here’s the John Banville / Benjamin Black tour of Dublin, from 2011 …

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: THE POLKA DOT GIRL by Darragh McManus

Hera City, the setting for Darragh McManus’s The Polka Dot Girl, is a very unusual place. On the surface it resembles countless cities to be found in American-influenced hardboiled detective fiction, being sleazy at its heart and increasingly affluent the further you move out into the suburbs. Its lower social reaches teem with crooks and cops, prostitutes, drunks and drug addicts, all of whom are preyed upon by the corrupt politicians and wealthy business folk who gaze down on the city from their position of privilege like so many vultures anticipating their next feast. So far, so conventional – but what gives this novel a notable twist is that Hera City is entirely populated by women.
  The story is told by Hera City Police Department detective Eugenie ‘Genie’ Auf der Maur, who investigates the murder of Madeleine Greenhill, a young woman found floating in Hera City’s docks wearing a polka dot dress. Ambitious and conscientious, Genie is in her second year as a detective and keen to prove herself, not least because Madeleine Greenhill is the only daughter of Hera City’s most feared woman, the matriarch Misericordiae ‘Misery’ Greenhill.
  Struggling to compensate for her inexperience and lack of self-confidence, Genie initially finds herself grasping after shadows in Hera City’s labyrinth. Surviving an assassin’s attempted hit has the perverse effect of steadying Genie’s nerves, however, not least because it tips her off that Maddy Greenhill’s death was not a straightforward tragedy of a young woman in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a more sinister affair engineered by a powerful cabal with secrets to hide.
  It’s an intriguing set-up, and Genie makes for a very charming narrator. The book’s cover blurb suggests that we can anticipate ‘Sam Spade in lipstick and a dress’ but Genie, by her own admission an extremely petite example of a HCPD detective, is a much more vulnerable and sensitive character than Dashiell Hammett’s Spade or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, both of whom are strong influences on her hardboiled patter.
  Indeed, McManus and Genie establish their hardboiled credentials early in the story, as Genie leaves the Greenhill mansion after informing Misery of her daughter’s murder. “I drove straight home,” Genie tells us, “listening to a jazz station on the car radio. Sure, it’s a clich√© – the wiped-out cop, in the middle of the night, driving through the dark streets with clarinets and cymbals in her ears, a smoke in her mouth and a fresh murder on her hands. All it was missing was the rain. But hey, I never said I was original. Besides, I’m a sucker for the classic stuff.”
  That ‘classic stuff’ extends to the way in which The Polka Dot Girl mirrors the narrative arc of much of hardboiled detective fiction, as Genie pulls on the thread of a street-level murder only to find that the unravelling runs all the way up to the highest echelons of society, laying bare its greed, corruption and immorality.
  This, despite the quirky setting of Hera City, is familiar territory for the crime fiction aficionado, and if you’re willing to buy into Genie’s knowing self-awareness of her place in crime writing mythology, then The Polka Dot Girl is an enjoyably offbeat take on the post-modern mystery novel. It’s overtly old-fashioned, and not only in the way it taps into the roots of the contemporary hardboiled crime genre. McManus litters the story with references to classical Greek tragedy and mythology: the obligatory femme fatale is called Cassandra, while geographical locations are given names such as Pasipha√ę Prospect and Hecate Point. At the heart of the tale lies a religious cult which worships the moon goddess and appears to be derived from the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece, a cult in which only women were indoctrinated.
  It all makes for very pleasant meta-fiction cross-pollination, but what Darragh McManus is trying to achieve with his plethora of classical references and his women-only city is never made explicit. Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky are probably the best known of the authors who have adapted the hardboiled private detective voice, and created feminist heroines who take on men – and more importantly, perhaps, a historically male-dominated genre – to succeed on their own terms. McManus adapts the same tone – albeit one that’s painfully self-aware of its fictional history – to a woman-only narrative, but Genie’s investigation of the prevailing culture ultimately reveals that the female of the species is no more or less deadly than the male. Meanwhile, and despite the unique setting, the patriarchal origins of the language remain the same: the detectives are still known as ‘Dicks’, a prostitute’s client remains a ‘John’. A crucial plot-point requires a prostitute to be beaten almost to death by a group of (female) clients, only to find herself somehow pregnant when she emerges from the subsequent coma.
  It’s arguable that McManus, who has a palpable affection for the tropes of the classic hardboiled novel, is simply retaining the linguistic conventions – fans of Black Mask-era pulp fiction, for example, will be delighted to find a hired killer referred to as a ‘gunsel’. It’s also true that McManus, in his career to date, has been more engaged with playing with the genre’s tropes than reinventing the wheel – his debut Cold! Steel!! Justice!!! (2010), published under the pseudonym Alexander O’Hara, was a spoof of Mickey Spillane-style masculinity, while Even Flow (2012) featured a trio of vigilantes waging war on society’s homophobes and misogynists.
  All told, there’s a nagging sense throughout that McManus has missed a trick by not recalibrating his narrator’s voice and language in order to make the most of Hera City’s unique setting. That said, The Polka Dot Girl is a very interesting addition to the growing canon of Irish crime writing which confirms Darragh McManus’s promise. - Declan Burke

Monday, June 17, 2013

Craic In The USSR

I had an interview with William Ryan published in the Irish Examiner last weekend, to mark the publication of his third Alexei Korolev novel, THE TWELFTH DEPARTMENT (Mantle). It opened up like this:
Of all the writers in the new wave of Irish crime fiction, William Ryan has a strong claim on offering the most interesting setting. THE TWELFTH DEPARTMENT is the third novel in a series featuring Captain Alexei Korolev, a police detective operating in Moscow during the 1930s, a period dominated by Stalin and overshadowed by the Great Terror.
  “Crime fiction is all about truth and justice and morality, and these are all things that were manipulated in the Soviet Union,” says Ryan. “They didn’t necessarily mean what you thought they meant. Back then they had the concept of ‘bourgeoisie morality’ – you know, what we now consider to be a valid morality would have been frowned upon in Stalin’s Russia. Right and wrong were all subordinate to the political will. So when you have a detective who is basically looking for truth and justice, these are things that don’t really exist in the way we understand them.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, June 16, 2013


It’s Bloomsday today, as you probably know, that one day in the year when everyone cheerfully admits to being unable to read ULYSSES, although they quite like DUBLINERS, and as for FINNEGANS WAKE, well, it’s mad, Ted, and if the man couldn’t be bothered punctuating his own titles, why should I waste my time reading it, etc.
  So happy Bloomsday, folks, and enjoy your grilled kidneys. For those of you interested in Chief Justice Adrian Hardiman’s take on why ULYSSES has a murder mystery at its heart, clickety-click here
  As always, my favourite bit about Bloomsday is the opportunity to run, yet again, Donald Clarke’s masterful short movie, aka “Pitch ‘n’ Putt with Beckett and Joyce”. Roll it there, Collette