“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French

The same again, runs the advice when it comes to writing a series of commercial bestsellers, just a little different.
  Tana French’s debut novel, In the Woods (2007), won the Edgar, Macavity, Barry and Anthony awards in the United States. An elegantly written police procedural, it has served as a template for her body of work to date. The Likeness (2008), Faithful Place (2010) and Broken Harbour (2012) – the latter won the Irish Book Crime Fiction and the LA Times’ Mystery/Thriller awards – have all featured murder investigations rooted in the warped psychology of small, intensely bonded groups.
  Tana French, of course, gives the ‘just a little different’ advice a unique spin. Rather than a familiar protagonist or detective returning each time, French promotes a minor character from a previous novel to centre-stage. In The Secret Place (Hachette), our narrator is Detective Stephen Moran, whom we first met in Faithful Place as the ambitious young sidekick to the investigating detective, Frank Mackey.
  Now stuck working in Cold Cases, Stephen sees an opportunity for advancement when Holly Mackey, Frank’s daughter, comes to him with a chilling message. A boarder at the exclusive St. Kilda’s, Holly brings Stephen a note she discovered pinned to ‘the Secret Place’, a noticeboard at St. Kilda’s where pupils can anonymously post their thoughts, desires and frustrations. ‘I know who killed him’ says the note: the ‘him’ is Christopher Harper, a popular 16-year-old from nearby St. Colm’s school, who was murdered almost a year previously.
  Taking the note to Detective Antoinette Conway in Murder, Stephen inveigles his way into the investigation – a relatively easy thing to do, given that none of Conway’s colleagues want to work with her – and the pair set off to St. Kilda’s to interview the girls who might have posted the note.
  What follows is a very long day’s journey into night. The story unfolds over the course of an increasingly fraught and tense twelve or so hours, with Stephen’s first-person narration of contemporary developments broken up by third-person accounts from Holly and her friends – Selena, Rebecca and Julia – that recount significant events in the year leading up to the murder of Chris Harper.
  It’s a gripping tale on a number of levels, all of them concerned with the psychology of relationships. Stephen and Conway start out at loggerheads, each suspicious of the other’s motives – Conway has been tainted by her involvement in the initial murder investigation, which yielded nothing but a conviction for possession with intent to sell for one of the St. Kilda’s gardeners – but soon realise that they will need to join forces if they are to penetrate the protective shield thrown up by the fiercely protective teenage girls. The combative odd couple detectives who belatedly and begrudgingly come to respect one another is a standard trope in the crime genre, but what causes most friction between this pair is their shared rough-and-tumble upbringing on hard-knock council estates on Dublin’s Northside, an experience a long way removed from the wealthy privilege of St. Kilda’s and its leafy environs.
  Where the story really scores, however, is the way in which French gets under the skin of her teenage characters. Holly, Julia et al start off as a relatively normal group of friends but quickly draw much closer, and possibly become dangerous to themselves and others (other pupils describe the quartet as witches) as their shared experiences wind so tightly around them as to bind them into a single personality. Feeling their way blind through adolescence, bewildered by the expectations – and particularly those of a sexual nature – of the big, bad world beyond the school walls, crazed by hormones and concerned only for the here and now, Holly and her friends become much more than the sum of their parts as their collective energy seeks an outlet. In its vivid account of the crackling intensity of adolescence, The Secret Place brings to mind recent novels from Megan Abbott and Kevin Power’s Bad Day in Blackrock, but also, as the title might well be alluding to, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
  As always, French offers a sharp contrast between her narrative prose and her characters’ dialogue. Seen through the eyes of Stephen, who regrets not having similar educational opportunities, St. Kilda’s is rendered a fabulous and almost mythical kind of oasis. When Conway, as the pair first arrive at the school, pours scorn on its aspirational ethos, Stephen silently admires ‘[a] portico held up by slim curl-topped columns; a rooftop balustrade, pillars curved delicate as vases. Perfect, it was … every inch.’
  That fragile beauty is rather undermined the way the girls speak, their conversations delivered in the mid-Atlantic ‘OMG whatevs’ hybrid that is, to French’s credit, at times irritatingly pitch-perfect. Meanwhile, the back-and-forth between Conway and Stephen is harshly abrasive, although privately Stephen craves the finer things, a different kind of world than the one he lives in: ‘I love beautiful; always have. I never saw why I should hate what I wish I had. Love it harder. Work your way closer. Clasp your hands around it tighter. Till you find a way to make it yours.’
  It’s a philosophy, offered early in the story, that drops a broad hint about the motive for murder, which may well appear slight to some readers. By then, however, French has so embroiled the reader in the claustrophobically febrile world of her adolescent characters that hard-headed adult logic no longer applies – and besides, a motive for murder only ever needs to make sense to the killer. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Friday, September 12, 2014

News: Andrea Carter To Debut With WHITEWATER CHURCH

Hearty congrats to Andrea Carter, who will publish her debut novel WHITEWATER CHURCH (Constable) next year. Quoth the Bookseller:
Krystyna Green at Constable has acquired world English language rights in WHITEWATER CHURCH by Andrea Carter (right) in a two book deal from Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates.
  WHITEWATER CHURCH is the first of a crime series set in a small town in the beautiful and remote Inishowen Peninsula in Ireland. When a skeleton wrapped in a blanket is found in the secret crypt of a deconsecrated church, local solicitor Ben (Benedicta) O’Keeffe finds herself drawn into the dark secrets of a rural community, as she negotiates between the official investigation and obstructive locals to uncover the truth of what happened.
  Krystyna Green said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be taking Andrea on, especially at this exciting time for the Constable list. As well as publishing our more traditional titles it’s marvellous too we can devote time and energy to pushing forward debut authors with a long and thrilling future ahead of them.”
  Andrea Carter is a barrister living in Dublin. She lived and worked in the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal as a solicitor for a number of years. WHITEWATER CHURCH was one of the winners of the 2013 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair and received an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary Award. Constable will publish in Autumn 2015.
  For more on Andrea Carter, clickety-click here

Monday, September 8, 2014

News: Irish Crime Writing at Mountains To Sea

The Mountains to Sea literary festival takes place this year from Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th of September, and as always it’s something of a smorgasbord. I’m delighted to see that there’s a very strong Irish crime writing presence lined up, three of whom are debutants.
  Lee Child , interviewed by the inimitable Declan Hughes, leads the charge. Lee, who claims his Irishness under a variation on FIFA’s ‘grandparent rule’, will also have a short story in the BELFAST NOIR (Akashic Books) anthology later this year. Elsewhere, the line-up includes Sinead Crowley (CAN ANYBODY HELP ME?), Karen Perry (THE BOY THAT NEVER WAS), Liz Nugent (UNRAVELLING OLIVER) and Jane Casey (THE KILL). In addition to her appearance at the festival, Jane Casey will also host a writing workshop.
  For all the details on the Mountains to Sea programme, and how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Sunday, September 7, 2014

News: Adrian McKinty Wins Australian ‘Ned Kelly’ Award

Hearty congratulations to Adrian McKinty (right), who yesterday won the Australian ‘Ned Kelly’ award for Best Australian Crime Fiction for IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (Serpent’s Tail). The prize was awarded at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Quoth the judges:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
  For more, clickety-click on Adrian’s blog.
  For an interview published on the release of IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE, clickety-click here

Friday, August 29, 2014

Interview: Herman Koch, author of SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL

“I actually find it difficult to write about likeable characters,” says Dutch author Herman Koch, “because really, they can be quite boring.”
  Herman Koch is the author of The Dinner, the phenomenal international best-seller which was first translated into English in 2012. A novel that begins with pleasant, sophisticated adults sitting around a restaurant dinner-table, it gradually strips away the veneer of its characters’ civilised society to reveal nasty and brutish behaviour.
  “Unlikeable characters,” says Herman, “are generally more interesting and more colourful. It’s the reason, I think, why we like gangster movies, or The Sopranos, for example. These people might be murderers, but they’re interesting. We can even sympathise with them in some ways. So that’s the kind of thing I like to explore. I always have some likeable people in my books,” he laughs, “but they’re usually minor characters.”
  His seventh novel in total – he has also published seven collections of short stories – Summer House With Swimming Pool is Herman Koch’s follow-up to The Dinner, and has for its narrator another fascinatingly dislikeable character, Marc Schlosser. A doctor – a general practitioner – for the past 25 years, Marc has grown so bored with his patients’ complaints that he is now utterly indifferent to their pain and suffering.
  “He’s doing very routine work,” says Herman, “not like what a surgeon might do. And I think the status of the doctor in general has diminished a lot in the last 150 or 200 years, and Marc is having problems with that as well, having patients who are well-known, artistic people – actors, writers – who look down on him. So he feels like somebody who is just being used, and this is where his frustration comes from. And with frustration, in the end – not with everybody, but with Marc – comes disgust.”
  Compounding Marc’s disgust for his own and others’ failings is his contempt for humans who try to ignore their animal instincts.
  “I was thinking that we tend, sometimes, when we have our struggles and movements, our campaigns for equal rights for everybody, we forget our biological aspect, and that even the biological aspect now is sometimes a taboo, that it is not politically correct,” says Herman. “In the end, human beings differ from animals because the animal just thinks, ‘Well, now I have to eat, now I have to procreate.’ Or they’re not even conscious that they’re procreating. We as humans are conscious of that, certainly. But maybe in the way we look at each other, in the way a man looks at a woman, it can still be an animal-like look.”
  The story turns, however, not on animal instincts, but a very human sexual deviance, as Marc comes to realise that his 13-year-old daughter Julia is the focus of an adult male’s obsession.
  “When I started the book, I didn’t know how the story would end,” says Herman. “But while I was writing it, Roman Polanski got arrested again, for this case from the 1970s.” In 1977, film director Roman Polanski was arrested in California for the rape of a 13-year-old girl, and subsequently pled guilty to a charge of unlawful sex with a minor. “That’s why I put this film director [the Dutch-born Hollywood director Stanley Forbes] into the novel,” says Herman, “and why his girlfriend is called Emmanuelle, like the wife of Roman Polanski. I thought I would expose all the different facets of a story about a 13-year-old girl who in the eyes of her father is still a small girl, and a 13-year-old girl who herself thinks she is already a woman. It’s to do with a father whose girl is growing up, and what he might do to try to protect her.”
  As was the case with The Dinner, Summer House With Swimming Pool first offers the reader a cast of characters who appear to be sophisticated, tolerant and intelligent. Once Marc Schlosser begins scratching at the surface, however, glimpses of much cruder, illiberal and immoral characters quickly appear. It’s a snapshot, says Herman, of a far larger issue confronting Holland today.
  “I think that what I see sometimes in the Dutch is that they congratulate themselves – or they were congratulating themselves – about their tolerance. You know, we’re so tolerant because we accept people from every part of the world. But there’s also another side to that. The idea of tolerance, I think, comes out of feeling superior. What I feel is that you don’t have the right to say, ‘I tolerate this man from Africa or the Middle East.’ Because why should you? Is he tolerating you? The only way you are superior to this man is in numbers. You can say, ‘Oh, I will tolerate this other guy or this woman, but of course the culture is very primitive. But we can help.’ And then this whole ‘helping’ thing – sometimes an immigrant is not looking for help. He’s just looking for some kind of respect.
  “Lately, in Holland, with all the discussions of culture and religion, it suddenly came out that the Dutch are now voting for this right-wing, anti-foreigner party,” he continues. “The Dutch are saying, ‘Oh, we did all we could, and they’re not even grateful. So now we will tear off this mask of tolerance.’ But I think, deep inside, they were never that liberal at all.”
  In some ways, Herman Koch’s journey as a writer has been the reverse of the Dutch experience. Initially intolerant of all forms of authority, he has grown comfortable with becoming a figure of influence.
  “When you start as a writer, you start as a more rebellious person, more against teachers and adults, your family,” he says. “And then afterwards you become a father yourself, you have your own family, so your perspective changes a lot. You’re no longer this adolescent revolutionary,” he laughs. “You’re more trying to protect what you have. I knew I had to grow up, and as a writer use this experience of being an adult with my own family.”
  A film of The Dinner has already been made in Holland, with a Hollywood version to come starring Cate Blanchett, although Herman – previously an actor and screenwriter himself – has chosen not to be involved in the adaptation. “I think it’s better that the director is completely free to tell the story,” he says.
  Does he have a theory as to why The Dinner was such a tremendous international success?
  “Of course I’ve asked myself that question, because you can have a success in your own country – but then, just because it’s a success in your own country, can it hold the attention of people in other countries?” He shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s a combination of things. Certainly The Dinner touched some sore spot to do with protecting children, but I also think it has to do with going against political correctness. People might say, ‘I’m not allowed to say this aloud, but I can think it at least.’ And when they read that kind of thing, it confirms that there is somebody who also thinks it – maybe the hero, maybe the writer – and that the thought isn’t forbidden. And that might also be a cathartic thing, a liberating experience.” ~ Declan Burke

  Herman Koch’s Summer House With Swimming Pool is published by Atlantic Books.

  This interview was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pre-Publication: SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH by Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus has published two adult crime titles to date, EVEN FLOW and THE POLKA-DOT GIRL, although he shifts focus a little for SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH (Hot Key Books), a crime fiction YA novel. To wit:
After months of bullying and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels just about ready to end it all. But when he wakes up one morning to find that local beauty and town sweetheart Sláine McAuley actually has, he discovers a new sense of purpose, and becomes determined to find out what happened to her. The town is happy to put it down to suicide, but then one night Aidan gets a message, scratched in ice on his bedroom window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Who is contacting him? And if Sláine didn't end her own life ... who did?
  SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH will be published in November. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, August 25, 2014

Publication: THE LAST WITNESS by Glenn Meade

Rooted in the horrific crimes committed during the fall of Yugoslavia, THE LAST WITNESS (Howard Books) is the latest offering from Irish author Glenn Meade. To wit:
After a massacre at a Bosnian prison camp, a young girl is found alone, clutching a diary, so traumatized she can’t even speak. Twenty years later, the last witness to the prison guards’ brutal crimes must hunt down those responsible to learn what happened to her family.
  Twenty years ago, after the fall of Yugoslavia, the world watched in horror as tens of thousands were killed or imprisoned in work camps during an “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia. Carla Lane has little knowledge of what went on halfway around the world when she was a child. She is living a near perfect life in New York City, married and soon to have a family of her own. But when her husband is murdered by a group of Serbian war criminals, strange memories start coming back, and she discovers that she underwent extensive therapy as a girl to suppress her memories. She is given her mother’s diary, which unlocks her childhood memories and reveals that she was, along with her parents and young brother, imprisoned in a war camp outside Sarajevo.
  As her memories come back, it becomes clear that she is the last witness to a brutal massacre in the prison and that her brother may still be alive. She sets out to find her brother, but first she must hunt down the war criminals responsible for destroying her life. But these killers will stop at nothing to protect their anonymity and their deadly pasts ... and are determined to silence the last witness to their crimes.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Publication: THE DEAD PASS by Colin Bateman

It’s with some relief that we note The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman – i.e., Bateman – has been reunited with his first name. For lo! The new Bateman novel, THE DEAD PASS (Hachette), appears under the moniker ‘Colin Bateman’. Better still, it’s a new Dan Starkey story. To wit:
Hired to find the missing son of retired political activist Moira Doherty, Dan Starkey knows his new case is going to be challenging. Billy ‘the Bear’ Doherty isn’t an easy man to find - a criminal with a nasty drug habit, his mum is convinced he’s been murdered.
  But when Moira herself is killed, her body found floating in the waters under Londonderry’s Peace Bridge, Dan finds himself in the middle of a deadly game of cat and mouse.
  Already in unfamiliar territory, Starkey is quickly embroiled in the city’s porn and drug fuelled underworld, where a new generation of gangster terrorist is intent on creating mayhem their predecessors could only dream of ...
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Publication: ECHOBEAT by Joe Joyce

Joe Joyce’s ECHOLAND introduced us to Paul Duggan, an Irish army intelligence officer operating in Dublin during ‘the Emergency’ – known to the rest of the world as WWII – in 1940. ECHOBEAT (Liberties Press) is the sequel:
Christmas, 1940. France is under German control, Britain is in danger and the United States has yet to join the war. Ireland, meanwhile, has succeeded in staying neutral – so far. Reports of a British troop buildup in the North have raised fears that Ireland is facing an invasion by its neighbour. And Germany’s bombing of Dublin early in the new year suggests Berlin is trying to send a message, but the meaning is unclear. Paul Duggan and his colleagues in G2, the intelligence unit of the Irish army, have to decipher Germany’s intentions fast: any miscalculation could be fatal. One man who could answer their questions is Hermann Goertz, the chief German spy in Ireland, who has been on the run for almost a year. Finding him is imperative. Meanwhile, Duggan is also running an undercover operation spying on German fliers interned in Ireland when they’re out on parole. Planned as a routine operation, it turns out to be anything but – and changes Duggan’s life dramatically. Dublin shines through Joyce’s prose as his characters play a diplomatic chess game to keep Ireland out of the war. You won’t be able to put down this thriller until you reach its heart-wrenching finale. Echobeat is the second book in the Echoland series, which features Duggan, his Special Branch friend Peter Gifford, and a cast of political and intelligence operators in Ireland during the treacherous days of the Second World War.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

News: Adrian McKinty Shortlisted for 2014 Ned Kelly Awards

Hearty congrats to Adrian McKinty, the Australia-based Irish crime writer who has been nominated for the 2014 Ned Kelly Awards – Australia’s crime fiction gong – for IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (Serpent’s Tail). It’s the second time McKinty has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly; he was shortlisted last year for the second in the Sean Duffy series, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET. Quoth the judging panel:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
  For more, including the full list of nominees, clickety-click here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Publication: THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French

Her first offering since the superb, award-winning BROKEN HARBOUR (2012), Tana French’s latest novel is THE SECRET PLACE (Hodder & Stoughton), a typically quirky police procedural set in an exclusive Dublin boarding school for girls. To wit:
The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago.
  The caption says, ‘I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM’.
  Detective Stephen Moran hasn’t seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she’s sixteen and she’s shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story.
  Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys’ school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card.
  Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn’t want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn’t want to hear.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, August 15, 2014

Publication: CRIME SCENE by Casey Hill

THE WATCHED (Simon & Schuster) will be the fourth in Casey Hill’s series featuring forensic investigator Reilly Steel when it is published in December. In the meantime, Casey Hill publishes a Reilly Steel prequel novella, CRIME SCENE. To wit:
Forty miles south of Washington, D.C. lies the small town of Quantico. Situated among lush greenery, the 547 acre property is where FBI recruits run obstacle courses, engage in firearms training and participate in mock hostage scenarios in Hogan’s Alley.   It’s the world budding forensic investigator Reilly Steel was born for.
During her first semester at the Academy, a fatal accident occurs at a student party off-campus, and a fellow recruit is under suspicion. But by the behaviour of the other students and the forensic evidence at the crime scene, Reilly guesses that there is more to the story than meets the eye.
  Will her instincts, and everything she’s learnt at Quantico so far help Reilly uncover the truth behind the victim’s death?
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Publication: NOBODY WINS by Michael Haskins

NOBODY WINS is the latest offering from Florida-based Irish-American crime author Michael Haskins, and features his series hero, Key West journalist Mick Murphy. To wit:
A simple request of Mick Murphy to find his cousin Cecil Fahey turns into a struggle of avoiding irate SAS soldiers determined to kill Cecil for his IRA activities in the ’80s. Murphy’s quest takes him into the shadowy world of the IRA in Los Angeles, New Jersey and eventually Dublin, Ireland, all the while avoiding efforts to kidnap him and trying to survive attempts on his life. In his quest to locate Cecil and find out who and why someone wants him dead, family and friends lie to Murphy. With a new identity provided by the IRA, Murphy can’t escape his long-time black bag friend Norm’s scrutiny or the MI6 agents following him, while being used to set up an ambush of SAS soldiers. When truths are lies and lies are necessary, Mick Murphy realizes nobody wins.
  For the first three chapters of NOBODY WINS, clickety-click here

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Publication: RED LIGHT by Graham Masterton

RED LIGHT (Head of Zeus) is the third of Graham Masterton’s novels to feature Cork-based DS Katie Maguire; as the title suggests, the story is rooted in prostitution, people trafficking and sex slavery. To wit:
Somewhere in the city of Cork, a woman’s cry echoes through the rainy streets.
  On a bloodstained mattress in a grimy flat, a burly man lies dead. A terrified girl kneels over his body. She is half-naked, starving, screaming. She has been trapped here for three days.
  It doesn’t take DS Katie Maguire long to identify the murder victim. He is someone she has been trying to convict for years - a cruel and powerful pimp who terrorised the girls who worked for him.
  It’s Katie’s job to catch the killer. But with men like this dead, the city is safer - and so are the scared young women who are trafficked into Cork. When a second pimp is horrifically murdered, Katie must decide. Should she do her job, or follow her conscience? Should she allow the killer to strike again?
  For more, clickety-click here

Friday, August 8, 2014

Interview: Adrian McKinty, author of THE SUN IS GOD

“There’s this true story about when Oliver North came to Ireland,” says author Adrian McKinty, “it’s a crackpot idea, but he gets himself an Irish passport and calls himself Tom Clancy, because Clancy is his favourite spy novelist and he’s being a spy.”
  McKinty is outlining the backdrop to what will be his next novel, the fourth in a series centring on Sean Duffy, a Catholic RUC officer in operating in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Rooted in historical events such as the hunger strikes and the Brighton bombing, the books feature cameos from well known historical figures, including George Seawright, Gerry Adams and John DeLorean. Oliver North, notorious for his role in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal, pops up in the next book.
  “So [North] goes to the IRA and says, ‘Can I get some missiles?’ And they take one look at him and go, ‘Who’s this joker?’ They won’t have anything to do with him. And he goes to the UVF, and he asks them for missiles, and they go, ‘Oh yeah, of course.’”
  Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Adrian McKinty left Northern Ireland to read politics and philosophy at Oxford. He has lived in the United States and Australia for most of his adult life, publishing his first novel, Orange Rhymes with Everything, in 1998. The acclaimed Dead I Well May Be (2003) was his first crime novel, and today he is regarded as one of the leading lights, along with John Connolly, Tana French and Eoin McNamee, of the current wave of Irish crime writing.
  After writing three novels in a row set against the bleak, claustrophobic backdrop of 1980s Northern Ireland, however, McKinty found himself gasping for artistic breathing space. His current offering, The Sun is God, is set in the South Pacific in 1906, and is rooted in the bizarre but true story of a German cult of nudists – the Cocovores – who ate only coconuts and worshipped the sun.
  “Mostly it was because I was so excited by the story,” says McKinty. “It was a murder case that took place in a German nudist religious cult – and no one has told this story? But to be honest, I was a bit fed up about reading background material about Northern Ireland in the 1980s, because you know what they’re all going to say. And it was really fun to look at another part of the world, at a different time.”
  In the novel, Will Prior is a former British Army military policeman and a disillusioned veteran of the Boer War. Prior is living a dissolute life as a rubber plantation manager in German New Guinea when he is approached by Hauptmann Kessler to help investigate a suspicious death on the island of Kabakon, where the Cocovores have established their community.
  “I liked that Pat Barker book, The Ghost Road, and there’s a character in that called Billy Prior. I really liked that name, but I couldn’t call him Billy, because even that was too Northern Ireland,” he laughs.
  Perversely, McKinty’s radical departure in terms of setting arrives just as Northern Ireland-set crime writing is beginning to flourish. Belfast Noir, a collection of short stories which McKinty co-edited with Stuart Neville, will be published in November, and features Northern Irish crime writers Eoin McNamee, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Gerard Brennan. Does Belfast Noir represent a coming of age for Northern Irish crime writing?
  “I think so, yes. I mean, I think it’s interesting, in the first place, that you’re allowed to talk about this now. I mean, the situation has normalised to the extent where this is not totally taboo, we can actually talk about these subjects now. Five or six years ago, even, the attitude would have been, ‘No, let’s not talk about this yet.’”
  What was particularly pleasing to McKinty was the way in which non-crime fiction authors such as Lucy Caldwell and Glenn Patterson seamlessly fitted into the collection.
  “I think if you grow up in a culture where the army is out on the street sighting you with rifles,” he says, “it has to have some kind of psychological impact.”
  In The Sun is God, Will Prior’s previous experience of horrific violence has dulled his humanity to the point where he is nowhere as smart, noble or interested in justice as the conventional detective in a crime novel should be.
  “One of the things I liked about Will Prior – and this probably won’t be popular at all – is that he doesn’t actually solve the crime,” says McKinty. “He gets it all wrong. Now, we’ve seen that kind of thing before, many times, but it’s always done for comedic effect. But I thought, what about doing it when it’s not for comedic effect – he’s just wrong. And I know readers hate that. They’ll put up with anything except for an incompetent lead. They’ll put up with drinking, racism, womanising – but if you have someone who’s not good at their job, they hate it.”
  Prior’s ineffectiveness is in part due to the fact that the crime on Kabakon Island – if crime it was – remains unsolved, but it’s also a reflection of McKinty’s spiky refusal to be chained to the genre’s conventions, and contains an echo of Francis Bacon’s idea – often quoted by Eoin McNamee – that the job of all art is to deepen the mystery.
  “Even today,” says McKinty, “nobody knows the truth about Kabakon Island. I’ve done a lot of research into it, and no one actually knows the answer. It probably was a murder, but no one knows for sure, or who did it, or why. You can only speculate on what happened.”

  The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty is published by Serpent’s Tail.

  This interview was first published in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Publication: DISAPPEARED by Anthony Quinn

Described as ‘One of the best books of the year’ by Strand Magazine when it was published in the US last year, Anthony Quinn’s DISAPPEARED (Head of Zeus) is now available on this side of the pond. To wit:
DISAPPEARED introduces Celcius Daly, a Belfast Police Inspector laden with flawed judgment and misplaced loyalties.
  A retired Special Branch Detective succumbing to early-stage dementia disappears from his remote home in rural Northern Ireland. An ex-intelligence officer is tortured to death. But why was his obituary printed in the local paper before his death? A son seeks his father's long-lost body and vengeance against those who murdered him. A stone-cold killer stalks the outskirts of Belfast. But at whose behest is he hunting his targets? And why?
  All are connected by a single strand spun out of the past... but as Inspector Celcius Daly knows, the past is never dead... it's not even past.
  For more information on Tyrone author Anthony Quinn, clickety-click here

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reviews: Lynda La Plante, Stuart Neville, Cara Black, Robert Littell

Best known, perhaps, as the writer of the TV series Prime Suspect, Lynda La Plante has published over 30 novels. Twisted (Simon & Schuster, €27.50) is probably her most complete offering to date. Ostensibly a police procedural, it opens with Lena and Marcus Fulford in the early stages of what promises to be a very messy divorce. Distracted by their bickering, neither parent notices when their only daughter, Amy, fails to appear home from boarding school for the weekend. When the alarm is finally raised, DI Reid of the Richmond Missing Persons’ Unit discovers some very disturbing entries in Amy’s private journal. As the search for Amy criss-crosses London, and friends of Lena and Marcus begin to die, DI Reid isn’t entirely sure if he’s trying to find a victim or hunting a killer. Told in a straightforward and unadorned style, the story drives relentlessly forward as it implicates a number of characters in Amy’s disappearance, broadening out from its police procedural origins to incorporate a fascinating psychological investigation into the damaged mind of a killer who is as much a victim of circumstance as those murdered. Compassion appears to be La Plante’s watchword here, as she contrives a series of revelations designed to force even the most seasoned of crime fiction readers to reappraise their expectations. Some of the revelations are a little more contrived than others, it’s true, but what’s most impressive about Twisted is La Plante’s treatment of the missing Amy. In less experienced hands, the ‘wandering daughter’ angle would serve as little more than an introductory hook to hang an investigation on. Absent though she might be for most of the story, Amy nevertheless becomes a more absorbing, poignant and complex character the further DI Reid’s investigation progresses.
  The Final Silence (Harvill Secker, €14.99) is Stuart Neville’s fifth novel, and the third to feature DI Jack Lennon of the PSNI as its central character. The story opens with Rea Carlisle, an old flame of Lennon’s, clearing out the house of her recently deceased uncle, Raymond. When Rea discovers evidence of horrific murders she contacts Lennon, unaware that he is currently suspended from duty and that her discovery, and her instinct to publicise it, has marked her out as problem to be disposed of. Neville’s most recent novel, Ratlines (2013), was set in the 1960s, but otherwise his novels tend to revolve around contemporary crimes that have their roots buried deep in Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. The Final Silence is no exception, its succinct and pacy storytelling stretched taut across a morass of unresolved tensions and motives for murder that don’t necessarily fit the prevailing post-Peace Process narrative. Indeed, Lennon himself could well serve as a poster boy for conflict resolution, a deeply flawed man who has in the past been his own worst enemy, and is now battered and scarred, physically and emotionally, as he pursues truth and justice by any means necessary.
  American author Cara Black sets her Aimée Leduc series of novels in Paris, where the effortlessly chic Aimée works as a private investigator. Murder Below Montparnasse (Soho Crime, €27.50) is her 13th outing, which opens with Aimée commissioned by Yuri, a ‘stubborn old Cossack’ Russian émigré, to protect a long-lost Modigliani. It sounds like a straightforward job, but when Aimée discovers Yuri murdered – apparently tortured to death – and the painting gone, she discovers that the art world can be a lethal place to do business. What follows is a breathless tale of double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses as the private eye finds herself at the heart of a century-old plot that incorporates not only the great painters of the avant-garde but also one Vladimir Illyich Lenin. Black sketches in the Montparnasse backdrop with considerable style, contrasting its contemporary political turmoil with its bohemian origins in the early part of the 20th century, and weaves a host of sub-plots through the main story, including one involving the heroine’s long-absent mother, who may or may not be a hired killer for the CIA. It all makes for an exhilarating read, although the sheer volume of intricately plotted twists, turns and revelations that send Aimée ricocheting through the Parisian streets and make Murder Below Montparnasse the proverbial page-turner might well frustrate a more patient reader.
  The exploits of Adrian Russell ‘Kim’ Philby have been picked over many times, but Robert Littell’s Young Philby (Duckworth Overlook, €11.50) takes an intriguing approach to exploring the motivations of the notorious British spy, who defected to the Soviet Union when his cover was finally blown in 1963. The novel begins with a Prologue in 1938, with a Russian ‘handler’ of Philby being interrogated in a Moscow prison, before going back to 1933, and Philby’s arrival in Vienna as Fascism begins to take hold in Austria. Essentially a series of portraits of Philby offered by those he worked with, the story comprises fictionalised encounters between, among others, Philby and his first wife Litzi Friedman, Guy Burgess, Teodor Maly, who first recruited Philby in London, and Evelyn Sinclair, the secretary who recorded conversations at the heart of the British secret service. This last account is the most fascinating of a beautifully detailed mosaic, offering as it does a revolutionary theory on Philby’s career and activities. Littell, who has published 18 novels to date, also offers a beguiling range of narrative styles as his clutch of narrators follow Philby from Austria to London and on to the Spanish Civil War, deftly recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of the pre-WWII years and the fluid political sympathies of the British ruling class. In re-imagining one of the most familiar figures of the Cold War landscape, Robert Littell has given us a spy thriller of the very highest order. ~ Declan Burke

  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

News: White’s Swan Takes Flight

Hearty congratulations to Nicola White, whose debut novel IN THE ROSARY GARDEN (Cargo Publishing) has just been shortlisted for the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year. I reviewed IN THE ROSARY GARDEN a few months ago in the Irish Times, with the gist running a lot like this:
Set in Ireland in 1984, Nicola White’s IN THE ROSARY GARDEN (Cargo Publishing) centres on the discovery of a dead infant in the grounds of a convent. Given the place and particularly the time, Detective Vincent Swan has to proceed carefully as he investigates how the child was killed, and why it was left to be discovered in a convent, and matters are further complicated by the fact that this is not the first time that schoolgirl Ali Hogan has discovered a dead baby. White’s debut – the novel won the Dundee International Book Prize late last year – has haunting echoes of recent Irish history, and White has no compunction in pointing the finger at the patriarchal society that plays a significant part in the tragedies detailed here. The novel is by no means a polemic, however. An unusual but absorbingly twisting narrative is hugely enhanced by White’s creation of Detective Swan, a complex man whose own frustrated paternal instincts ensure that a highly politicised case becomes very personal indeed. ~ Declan Burke
  For the full shortlist, clickety-click here