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, February 7, 2015

Review: GRIND JOINT by Dana King

The opening of a new casino gives the depressed Pennsylvania town of Penns River a welcome economic boost in Dana King’s Grind Joint (Stark House), even if some of the town’s more upstanding citizens are concerned about the origins of the venture’s start-up capital. When the body of a drug dealer is discovered dumped on the casino’s steps just before its grand opening, it appears that their worst suspicions are confirmed: the casino will serve as a ‘grind joint’, a clearing house for dirty money. When detectives Ben ‘Doc’ Dougherty and Willie Grabek begin their investigation, however, they quickly find themselves stymied when confronted by vested interests that include mobsters, politicians, ex-spooks and certain high-ranking members of their own department. Rooted in the Slavic ethnic heritage of Western Pennsylvania, Dana King’s style – this is his fourth novel – has been compared to the work of the late Elmore Leonard, and it’s easy to see why: Grind Joint is a compelling tale of small-town gangsters and cops rooted in vernacular dialogue, and blackly comic in the way the bad guys’ ambitions easily exceed their abilities. In truth, Grind Joint reads more like a proto-Leonard story, one more reminiscent of George V. Higgins, whose The Friends of Eddie Coyle exerted a major influence on Leonard’s style. There’s a chilly and occasionally unsettling quality of realism to King’s unflinching appraisal of the devastating impact of economic downturn on small-town America, which leads its protagonists to perform increasingly convoluted moral gymnastics. ~ Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Irish Times.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pre-Publication: AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey

Currently shortlisted for an Edgar Award for THE STRANGER YOU KNOW, Jane Casey returns to the fray in June with the latest offering in the increasingly impressive series featuring London-based DC Maeve Kerrigan, AFTER THE FIRE (Ebury Press). Quoth the blurb elves:
After a fire devastates the top floor of a tower block on the Maudling Estate, Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues are called in. Their presence is needed because it’s a sensitive investigation – not because the blaze was caused by arson, or because several residents died, but because a body was found in the car park below the tower. It appears that controversial MP Geoff Armstrong, trapped by the fire, jumped to his death rather than wait for rescue. But what was he doing in the very unglamorous surroundings of the Maudling Estate? And why did he choose to die when rescuers weren’t far away?
  The police can’t assume that Armstrong was the arsonist’s target. As Maeve and Derwent pick through the wreckage, they uncover the secret world of the eleventh floor, where everyone seems to have something to hide. It’s a tough investigation, made harder by Maeve’s private life unravelling. Without her ex-boyfriend Rob’s steady influence, she’s behaving recklessly, in a way that’s likely to harm her – or someone close to her – before long.
  For more, clickety-click here

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pre-Publication: GREEN HELL by Ken Bruen

GREEN HELL (Mysterious Press) will be the 11th Jack Taylor novel in Ken Bruen’s Galway-set series about the irrepressibly post-modern private eye. Quoth the blurb elves:
The award-winning crime writer Ken Bruen, called “the best-kept literary secret in Ireland” by the Independent, is as joyously unapologetic in his writing as he is wickedly poetic, mixing high and low with hypnotic mastery. In the previous book in the series, Purgatory, ex-cop Jack Taylor had finally turned his life around, only to be taunted back into fighting Galway’s corruption by a twisted serial killer named C33.
  In the new novel, Green Hell, Bruen’s dark angel of a protagonist has again hit rock bottom: one of his best friends is dead, the other has stopped speaking to him; he has given up battling his addiction to alcohol and pills; and his firing from the Irish national police, the Guards, is ancient history. But Jack isn’t about to embark on a self-improvement plan. Instead, he has taken up a vigilante case against a respected professor of literature at the University of Galway who has a violent habit his friends in high places are only too happy to ignore. And when Jack rescues a preppy American student on a Rhodes Scholarship from a couple of kid thugs, he also unexpectedly gains a new sidekick, who abandons his thesis on Beckett to write a biography of Galway’s most magnetic rogue.
  Between pub crawls and violent outbursts, Jack’s vengeful plot against the professor soon spirals toward chaos. Enter Emerald, an edgy young Goth who could either be the answer to Jack’s problems, or the last ripped stitch in his undoing. Ireland may be known as a “green Eden,” but in Jack Taylor’s world, the national color has a decidedly lethal sheen.
  GREEN HELL will be published on July 7.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Event: ‘Northern Noir’ in Coleraine with Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway (right) will host a conversation on ‘Northern Noir’ in Coleraine next Wednesday, February 11th, one of a series of crime writing events planned for library venues around Northern Ireland during the next few weeks. To wit:
Libraries NI has put together a strong line-up of authors events for the coming weeks creating that personal connection for the public to meet popular writers which they admire and appreciate.
  Libraries NI has programmed the ‘NI Author Collection’ showcasing home-grown talent and for lovers of crime fiction the ‘Catch a Crime Writer’ series will be running in mid-February. The up and coming events are listed below.
  This is an occasion to find out what’s behind the story, why it was written, how the artistic, creative and psychological process developed? The aim of these events is to inspire the public to read more and consider novels which they would never have read before. Libraries NI trust that people will be encouraged to visit their local library or even visit a new one and meet a favourite author. It’s a real opportunity to discover what inspires writers, hear their fascinating stories or simply get a preview of the author’s latest book, sprinkled with a little author charm!
  A few of the highlights:
Wednesday 11th February at 7:30pm
Coleraine Library
‘Northern Noir’, hosted by Brian McGilloway, and including Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville and Steve Cavanagh

Thursday 26th February at 6:45pm
Belfast Central Library
An audience with Declan Hughes
  The programme also includes Anne Cleeves, Michael Ridpath and Louise Phillips. For all the details, clickety-click here

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review: SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley returns to the agrarian American mid-west setting of her 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres for Some Luck (Mantle) the first book in a proposed ‘Hundred Years Trilogy’ that will span the 20th century. The novel opens in Iowa in 1920, with young farmer Walter Langdon – recently returned from the trenches of WWI – experiencing the blend of joy and terror that comes with being a new father who has just bought his first farm.
  Walter’s pragmatic voice (“Oat straw was also a beautiful colour – paler than gold but more useful.”) is by no means the only one to be heard in Some Luck. The story offers perspectives from Walter’s wife Rosanna and their growing brood of children – Frank, Joe, Mary, Lillian, Henry and Claire – all of whom have distinctive takes on the experience of growing up on a farm in rural America.
  The novel covers the years from 1920 to 1953, and so incorporates major events in recent American history, such as the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, the rise of American Communism, WWII, and the post-WWII development of the Cold War. Rather than deal with these events head-on, however, Jane Smiley tends to refer to them obliquely, or at a tangent (WWII is the exception, given that we follow in Frank’s footsteps as he fights his way from North Africa, across Sicily and into Italy).
  Events such as the Wall Street Crash, for example, merit no more than a couple of lines of conversation between two characters, as they give voice to their fears that the crash might affect produce prices in the Mid-West. The same applies to the Great Depression. While there are references to the ‘Oklahoma Dustbowl’, and times do grow leaner (and a ham-fisted attempt at an armed robbery by desperate men causes some excitement), the Langdons and most of their neighbours escape the worst of the deprivation and poverty – although, as always, prices keep on falling.
  Despite the huge sweep of the story, however, given the backdrop of momentous events, the number of characters who appear and the time-span involved, Some Luck is a very intimate kind of epic, and one that is rooted in the domestic concerns of Walter and Rosanna Langdon.
  Indeed, the recurring motif of the book is the physical manifestation of family domesticity, the house: at various points in the novel, the characters’ good and bad times are reflected in the kind of house where they live, and the condition of that house. The novel opens with Walter walking out on his new farm and evaluating the farm’s prospects, but eventually turning to the solidly built home that lies at its centre; the devastation of the Great Depression is characterised by abandoned houses, which turn into eyesores on the landscape; and the novel concludes with the young Claire struggling to cope with the news of a momentous death, and the emotional churn inside that leaves her feeling ‘like an empty house’.
  Beautifully descriptive in its depictions of an Iowa landscape at the mercy of volatile and extreme weather conditions – blistering sun in summer, savage blizzards in winter – the novel is an elegy for a forgotten generation but also a cautionary fable against mythologising their world (“Every house is in a dark wood,” warns Frank after his experience in WWII, amplifying the recurring fairytale motif, “every house has a wicked witch in it, doesn’t matter if she looks like a fairy godmother …”). All told, it’s an engrossing, bittersweet love letter to a people whose experience of a relentlessly changing world taught them to appreciate its natural charms but never underestimate its perils. ~ Declan Burke

  Some Luck by Jane Smiley is published by Mantle.

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.