“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Irish Crime Fiction Debuts: Jo Spain and Michael O’Higgins

It’s been a very good year for Irish crime fiction debuts, and two of the best have just been published: WITH OUR BLESSING by Jo Spain (Quercus) and SNAPSHOTS by Michael O’Higgins (New Island). To wit:
It’s true what they say . . . revenge is sweet.
  1975. A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.
  2010. The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.
  Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is working the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

SNAPSHOTS by Michael O’Higgins
Dublin, 1981. One cop. One curate. One hardman. One boy. When a brutal attack on a prison officer puts these four on a collision course, the outcome will be as startling as it is unsentimental. Gritty, authentic and emotionally charged, SNAPSHOTS is at once a taut crime thriller and a reflection of our world, one in which the worst human horrors are found closest to home, and the most destructive transgressions are committed behind closed doors.
  I’ll be reviewing both books in the Irish Times crime column later this month …

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Launch: John Connolly and Brian McGilloway at No Alibis

Ten years on from NOCTURNES, John Connolly publishes a second collection of short stories with NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 (Hodder & Stoughton). It looks to be an absolute treat: 13 stories in total, including the Edgar-winning tale ‘The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository’, ‘Holmes on the Range’, a further story derived from the Caxton Private Lending Library universe, and ‘The Hollow King’, which is rooted in the world of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. NIGHT MUSIC will be available in hardback and ebook from October 15th …
  Meanwhile, Brian McGilloway has just published the third in his Lucy Black series, PRESERVE THE DEAD (Corsair), with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is visiting her father, a patient in a secure unit in Gransha Hospital on the banks of the River Foyle. He’s been hurt badly in an altercation with another patient, and Lucy is shocked to discover him chained to the bed for safety. But she barely has time to take it all in, before an orderly raises the alarm - a body has been spotted floating in the river below...
  The body of an elderly man in a grey suit is hauled ashore: he is cold dead. He has been dead for several days. In fact a closer examination reveals that he has already been embalmed. A full scale investigation is launched - could this really be the suicide they at first assumed, or is this some kind of sick joke?
  Troubled and exhausted, Lucy goes back to her father’s shell of a house to get some sleep; but there’ll be no rest for her tonight. She’s barely in the front door when a neighbour knocks, in total distress - his wife’s sister has turned up badly beaten. Can she help?
  In PRESERVE THE DEAD, Brian McGilloway weaves a pacy, intricate plot, full of tension to the very last page.
  Writing in last weekend’s Irish Times, Declan Hughes was very impressed indeed with PRESERVE THE DEAD. For the full review, clickety-click here
  John and Brian co-launch their books at No Alibis in Belfast later this month, with the details as follows:
No Alibis is pleased (very, very pleased!) to invite you to our store on Thursday 22nd October at 7pm for the Double Launch Party of John Connolly and Brian McGilloway’s latest works, NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 and PRESERVE THE DEAD.
  We will also be celebrating the launch of our 4th limited edition publication. We are running a limited printing of NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 by John Connolly. This edition is limited to 125 specially bound and slipcased copies, including exclusive artwork commissioned by Anne M. Anderson.
  This incredibly special event will be sponsored by Boundary Brewing Company. An event not be missed, folks!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Salman Rushdie’s 10th novel opens in Arab Spain in 1195, when disgraced court physician and philosopher Ibn Rushd takes in the mysterious 16-year-old orphan Dunia. Given that the novel’s title adds up to 1,001 nights (aka ‘the number of magic’), it comes as no surprise when Dunia is revealed as the Lightning Princess, a jinnia – or genie – from the Upper World, or Fairyland.
  The many children of the union between this vain but brilliant man and the beautiful, magical princess multiply and spread out all over the world. A thousand years later, as the world faces an ecological disaster that morphs into an existential crisis when the wicked djinn of the Upper World declare war on humanity, Dunia’s children – the Duniazat – rise to the apparently impossible challenge of defeating their immortal foes.
  That’s the plot in a nutshell, but a summary does little justice to the digressive, delightfully fantastical tale of Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights. Rushdie draws heavily on the Arabian Nights for his narrative here, but Scheherazade’s stories are only one source of inspiration. The novel blends history, philosophy, myth and legend as Rushdie playfully recounts the cataclysmic events that ushered the novel’s narrators – an anonymous, collective ‘we’ – into humanity’s Golden Age of peace, wisdom and prosperity, 800 hundred years hence.
  Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses (1988) and Midnight’s Children (1981), the latter the winner of ‘the Best of the Booker Prize’ in 2008, here revels in silliness and whimsy – indeed, there are times when the shades of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams battle for dominance with Italo Calvino and Georges Sirtzes. Ibn Rushd may well be a high-minded disciple of Aristotle, and spends eternity locked in a philosophical feud with his bitter rival, the fear-mongering Ghazali, but the novel is peppered with pop culture references that range from Batman to Laurel and Hardy, Harry Potter to Isaac Asmiov.
  It’s also a novel deeply immersed in books and reading as an intrinsically human endeavour. The jinnia, we are told rarely have children – “That would be as if a story mated with its reader to produce another reader.” – but Dunia “produced offspring the way Georges Simenon wrote novels.” Humanity, and particularly the evolved ‘we’ telling us the story, “are the creature that tells itself stories to understand what sort of creature it is.”
  Rushdie, of course, had a fatwa issued against him in 1989 on the basis that The Satanic Verses was perceived as blasphemous, and while Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights is on the one hand an exhilarating exercise in the joy of storytelling akin to Rushdie’s own The Enchantress of Florence (2008), it is also a subversive piece of religious satire. The evil djinn – the Ifriti – seduce and subjugate human men to do their wicked bidding in the war against humanity, preying on their weaknesses and base instincts – sex, mainly – and sending them out to kill and die under a black flag. “When lonely, hopeless young men were provided with loving, or at least desirous, at the very least willing sexual partners,” writes Rushdie, “they lost interest in suicide belts, bombs and the virgins of heaven, and preferred to live.”
  Ultimately, this funny, profound and gorgeously readable novel thrives on unresolved tensions between reality and magic, fact and fiction, philosophy and religion. “They’re all make-believe,” the storyteller Blue Yasmeen tells us, “the realist fantasies and the fantastic fantasies are both made up.” It’s our tragedy, she declares, that “our fictions are killing us, but if we didn’t have those fictions, maybe that would kill us too.” ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Publication: THE LOST AND THE BLIND arrives in paperback

The very fine folk at Severn House have published THE LOST AND THE BLIND in paperback, which now comes – for the diehard completists – with added cover quotes. My favourite – and I hope you’ll forgive the shill, but it’s an unavoidable part of the publicity game – comes from those very nice people over at Booklist: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” I thank you kindly, Mr and Mrs Booklist.
  Meanwhile, the Severn House blurb elves have this to say about THE LOST AND THE BLIND:
“A dying man, if he is any kind of man, will live beyond the law.” The elderly German, Karl Uxkull, was senile or desperate for attention. Why else would he concoct a tale of Nazi atrocity on the remote island of Delphi, off the coast of Donegal? And why now, 60 years after the event, just when Irish-American billionaire Shay Govern has tendered for a prospecting licence for gold in Lough Swilly? Journalist Tom Noone doesn’t want to know. With his young daughter Emily to provide for, and a ghost-writing commission on Shay Govern’s autobiography to deliver, the timing is all wrong. Besides, can it be mere coincidence that Karl Uxkull’s tale bears a strong resemblance to the first thriller published by legendary spy novelist Sebastian Devereaux, the reclusive English author who has spent the past 50 years holed up on Delphi? But when a body is discovered drowned, Tom and Emily find themselves running for their lives, in pursuit of the truth that is their only hope of survival. This gripping Irish thriller is an intriguing new departure for comic noir writer Declan Burke.
  The paperback is currently retailing at £11.99 at Amazon UK, with the US paperback edition available (at $17.95) from November 1st. I hope you enjoy, folks …

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Event: The Hodges Figgis Book Festival

I’ve always been very fond of the Hodges Figgis bookstore on Dublin’s Dawson Street, which is currently hosting its own book festival (it runs from September 10th to 19th). The event that caught my eye, and which I’m hoping to get to, is the crime fiction night on Thursday 17th, when John Connolly will host a conversation between some of the most impressive talents of the new wave of Irish crime fiction, said talents being Karen Perry, Jane Casey, Alex Barclay, Liz Nugent and Sinead Crowley.
  It won’t have escaped your notice that, with the exception of the Paul Perry half of the ‘Karen Perry’ writing partnership, all those writers are women. Whether by accident or design, the Hodges Figgis event is certainly a timely one in that it celebrates the fact that female writers are very much to the fore in Irish crime writing these days. There have always been terrific women writers in terms of Irish crime fiction, among them Julie Parsons, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Ingrid Black, Cora Harrison, Erin Hart, Tana French, Niamh O’Connor and Arlene Hunt, but in the last couple of years women have come to dominate the scene, not least in terms of winning the crime fiction prize at the Irish Book Awards (Louise Phillips and Liz Nugent have won the last two awards); and this year alone we’ve seen debuts from Andrea Carter, Jax Miller, Sheena Lambert, Anna Sweeney and Kelly Creighton.
  I don’t have any theory as to why this might be the case (“Wot!?” I hear you gasp – “No theory?”), but if there is any underlying reason(s) for the trend, there’s no better man than John Connolly to winkle it/them out. The event takes place at Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, on Thursday 17th September, at 6.30pm. The event is free, and no booking is required.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reviews: Irish Times crime fiction column, August 29th

“Life, unlike crime, was not something you could solve,” observes the retired Parisian police inspector Auguste Jovert in Mark Henshaw’s The Snow Kimono (Tinder Press, €22.50), the Australian author’s first novel since he published his debut, the award-winning Out of the Line of Fire, 26 years ago. Jovert is ruminating on his conversations with Tadashi Omura – a former Professor of Law at the Imperial University of Japan, and a devotee of himitsu-e puzzles – who opens the novel by spinning Jovert an engrossing yarn about Kumiko, the young girl he raised as his own daughter after his old friend, Katsuo, went to prison in disgrace (the theme of fathers and their strained relationships with daughters is a constant: Jovert, formerly a ‘specialist interrogator’ with the French Territorial Police in Algeria, has recently received a letter from a young woman in Algiers who claims to be his daughter). What transpires is a story that is almost the antithesis of the conventional detective novel, a subtly wrought meditation on human frailty in the framework of an extended confession, with Jovert playing the part of reluctant confessor to an elaborately woven and beautifully detailed declaration of guilt.
  Andrea Carter’s debut Death at Whitewater Church (Constable, €22.10) opens in the northeast corner of Donegal, where solicitor Ben O’Keefe lives a life that ‘was sort of a half-life’, filling in time as an observer and facilitator of the lives around her. While helping to survey the deconsecrated church at Whitewater near the village of Glendara, Ben discovers a human skeleton in the church’s crypt; when it emerges that the remains are recent, and likely those of Conor Devitt, who disappeared six years previously on the eve of his wedding, a murder investigation begins. The shadow of the Troubles hangs over the events of this contemporary-set novel, although the story itself takes its cue from the Golden Age of mystery fiction, with Ben O’Keefe – an amateur sleuth who is by her own admission far too nosy for her own good – something of a latter-day Miss Marple as she surreptitiously investigates the cat’s cradle of possible motives for Conor Devitt’s death. Ben O’Keefe is an engaging character, one reminiscent of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan in her exemplary public professionalism and private self-doubt, and Death at Whitewater Church is a charming debut that bodes well for Carter’s future.
  A Little More Free (ECW Press, €14.99) is Canadian author John McFetridge’s second novel to feature Montreal Constable Eddie Dougherty. Opening in 1972, as Montreal hosts the legendary ‘Summit Series’ of ice hockey matches between Canada and the USSR, the story finds Dougherty investigating the deaths of three men who burned to death in a nightclub fire, and also the robbery of millions of dollars worth of paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts. McFetridge’s previous novels (this is his sixth) have been compared with those of Elmore Leonard, but the Eddie Dougherty novels have more in common with the work of Michael Connelly: Dougherty is a smart, pragmatic but deep-thinking cop who winkles out the truth by virtue of dogged police-work. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Dougherty novels is the way McFetridge opens a window onto Canada’s recent and turbulent past (both of the cases Dougherty investigates are historical events), with the title of A Little More Free alluding to the wider backdrop of Dougherty’s investigation, which leads him into the murky world of US Army deserters and those fleeing the Vietnam War-era draft.
  Julia Heaberlin’s third novel, Black-Eyed Susans (Penguin, €19.50), is a cleverly constructed tale that advances along parallel narratives. In 1995, in conversation with her psychiatrist as she prepares to testify in court, Texan teenager Tessie tries to remember the details of her miraculous escape from a serial killer who dumped her body into a pit containing the bones of some of his previous victims. Meanwhile, in the present day, the older Tessie, now calling herself Tessa, is convinced the killer has tracked her down, which means that Tessie’s testimony two decades previously sent the wrong man to death row. With Terrell Goodwin’s execution date looming, can Tessa finally unlock the dark secrets buried in her subconscious and save an innocent man’s life? A superb psychological thriller strewn with gothic motifs (Edgar Allen Poe, and particularly his story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, is regularly referenced), Black-Eyed Susans is a haunting account of Tessa’s painful journey towards understanding the unpalatable truth of her life-defining experience (“I am sane, and I am not, and I don’t want anyone to know.”), which also functions as an engrossing exploration of the morality of the death penalty.
  Jamie Kornegay’s debut novel Soil (Two Roads, €20.99) centres on environmental scientist Jay Mize, who has relocated his wife Sandy and young son Jacob to a corner of rural Mississippi in order to create a self-sustaining farm in anticipation of the climatic apocalypse Jay believes is imminent. Devastated when floods destroy his crops, and terrified of being accused of murder by the sociopathic Deputy Danny Shoals when the receding waters reveal a corpse on his land, the increasingly paranoid Jay decides to dispose of the body himself rather than alert the authorities. A slow-burning noir influenced by the Southern gothic tradition, Soil is a hugely impressive debut in which the central narrative of Jay’s psychological breakdown and his family’s destruction leads us into the darkest recesses of the South’s history (Jay’s ancestry is tainted by the worst kind of Jim Crow legacy). Kornegay is superb at evoking the minutiae of small-town America, and despite their different settings – Soil vividly depicts the sweltering Mississippi delta – this heart-breaking tragedy bears comparison with Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan and Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, August 24, 2015

“I Wish I Was In Carrickfergus (and Bangor)”

It’s off to Northern Ireland for yours truly at the end of this month, where I will be reading / answering Qs / juggling-on-stilts* at Carrickfergus Library (August 26th) and Bangor Library (August 27th). Both events kick off at 6.45pm, and both are free admission, as you might expect from library events, but booking is advisable.

For Carrick – Tel: 028 9336 2261 / Email: carrickfergus.library@librariesni.org.uk
For Bangor – Tel: 028 9127 0591 / Email: library@librariesni.org.uk

For any queries, clickety-click here

* largely dependent on librarians having in-house stilts for rental purpose

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: PARADISE SKY by Joe Lansdale

Joe Lansdale’s Paradise Sky is a fictionalised account of the life of Nat Love, aka Deadwood Dick, one of the Wild West’s most fascinating outlaws.
  Born in 1854, Nat (pronounced ‘Nate’) grew up a slave on a plantation in East Texas. In Lansdale’s novel, the young Nat Love – a self-confessed “runaway ass-looker, part-time horse thief and sometime farmhand” – escapes a small Texas town one step head ahead of a noose-dangling posse, accused by local bigot Sam Ruggert of disrespecting his wife. Nat joins the US Army as a cavalryman, goes to war with the Apache, and subsequently deserts and drifts west to the lawless towns of Deadwood and Dodge City, where his reputation as a horseman and sharpshooter becomes legendary.
  Lansdale’s account of Love’s life is broadly in line with the historical truth – the aging Love, now a Pullman porter, is telling us his story in a first-person narrative – but the story is also concerned with exploring how facts become wildly distorted by legend. At one point, Nat reads a dime novel about his old friend, Wild Bill Hickok. “It was the biggest batch of balderdash I have ever read,” reports Nat, “but it was pretty entertaining once I made up my mind it wasn’t no true-life story.”
  Best known for his award-winning Texas-set ‘Hap and Leonard’ crime novels, but also renowned as a horror writer and his work as a superheroes comic-book author, Lansdale is happily printing the legend in Paradise Sky. Relentlessly pursued by the vengeful Sam Ruggert throughout the Old West, Nat Love’s life is a series of shoot-outs, near-death experiences and encounters with famous names, including the notorious ‘hanging judge’ Isaac Parker and Wild Bill himself. It’s a hugely entertaining tale, not least because Nat Love makes for an engaging storyteller, a man of rudimentary education but one with a flair for dryly humorous vernacular. He also has a sharp eye for the casual racism of the Wild West, such as when Nat volunteers for the Ninth Cavalry, only to be told by a Colonel that, “We got plenty of riding niggers. What we need is walking niggers for the goddamn infantry.”
  ‘I figured [Nat observes] anything that had the tag “goddamn” in front of it wasn’t for me.’
  That wryly coarse vernacular tone is present throughout, and suggestive of how Huckleberry Finn might have gone had Huck and Jim abandoned the Mississippi and struck West (the novel opens with an epigraph from Mark Twain). Indeed, racism and bigotry underpin the entire story, as Nat struggles to escape those malign forces and establish his right to be accepted as a man on his own merits, the colour of his skin notwithstanding.
  Lansdale is also excellent when it comes to the humdrum brutality of the Old West, and particularly on how cheap life was. “I just turned and shot,” the teenage outlaw Kid Red tells Nat. “Bullet went right through the dog and hit that kid. He just sort of sat down out from under his bowler hat. That dog and him didn’t so much as whimper.”
  Overall, Paradise Sky is a charming blend of the starkly realistic, especially when it comes to the primitive living conditions to be found in Deadwood and Dodge City, and the wildly romantic notion of the outlaw life, with Nat Love a self-deprecating myth-maker who is as keenly aware of his own limitations as a hero as he is of the reader’s desire for credible truth. “Most of it is as true as I know how to make it,” he tells us, “keeping in mind nobody likes the dull parts.”
  True or otherwise, Paradise Sky is very rarely dull. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT by David Shafer

There is a place in northern Myanmar, close to the Chinese border, that can’t be found on any map, even if you have access to the latest high-tech GPS systems. At least, that’s the experience of Leila Majnoun, an aid-worker employed by an American NGO and operating in Myanmar, who accidentally stumbles across what appear to be US mercenaries guarding a facility in a remote Asian jungle. Leila is curious enough to send out an email to friends and colleagues, asking if anyone has heard of the facility. Within hours Leila’s visa has been revoked, and her father – the principal of a school in California – has been arrested on charges of child pornography.
  David Shafer’s techno-thriller debut begins in a conventional fashion, with concerned citizen Leila the innocent victim of what Ned Swain, a sympathetic American spy based in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyidaw, describes as ‘an immoral conspiracy almost certainly unrelated to national security.’ Leila isn’t the only one caught up in the globe-spanning spider’s web: in Portland, Oregon, the blogger and conspiracy theorist Leo Crane finds himself the subject of an intervention designed to incarcerate him in an institution. Meanwhile, Mark Devereaux, the author of the best-selling psychobabble self-help book Bringing the Inside Out, is adopted as a guru by James Straw, the CEO of the fictional SineCo, ‘the digital search-and-storage conglomerate’ that appears to be an unholy amalgamation of the real world’s technological behemoths.
  With all his characters finally on stage and the backdrop in place, David Shafer reveals the essence of his plot: a filthy-rich cabal of private enterprise is ‘planning an electronic coup’ to ‘control the storage and transmission of all the information in the world.’
  It’s a storyline worthy of the grand tradition of the conspiracy thriller. The villains, given the scale of their ambition, easily outstrip the worst excesses of cat-stroking Bond megalomaniacs, but the way in which Shafer incorporates the banalities of everyday life into the story makes their plot entirely believable. The Node, for example, is ‘SineCo’s newest gizmobauble’, a gadget that bears a remarkable similarity to contemporary smart-phones, although here the Node is the means by which SineCo persuades the world to pay for the privilege of voluntarily collecting and storing its most personal information, which will later be ruthlessly data-mined by SineCo.
  But for all its conventional narrative scenarios of innocent civilians at the mercy of dark forces and its bleak dystopian vision of the near future, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is by no means a standard techno-thriller. For one, Shafer has sufficient confidence in his readers to craft a slow-burning tale that is, for all its gleaming hardware and plans for a ‘New Alexandria’ of a globally centralised library-for-unimaginable-profit, very much a character-driven tale. Leila, Leo and Mark are richly detailed and empathic creations, their quirks and idiosyncrasies integral to the way in which they gradually uncover SineCo’s foul machinations.
  Moreover, the writing is a joy, Shafer employing both sly wit and a sharp eye for the telling image. “The grandeur fled,” Leo observes as he emerges from a reverie of a better world, “like shining back into shook foil.” Leila decides that Myanmar ‘sounded like a name cats would give their country.’ Indeed, the entire novel – all 422 pages of densely packed text – is littered with deliciously wry snippets and quotable lines, which gives the overall impression of a Neal Stephenson novel redrafted by Carl Hiaasen in blackly humorous form.
  Frighteningly plausible, epic in scale and vividly imagined, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a lovingly crafted homage to the techno-thriller that is hugely entertaining in its own right. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reviews: Irish Times Crime Fiction Column, August 2015

Benjamin Black’s – aka John Banville’s – series of mystery novels set in 1950s Dublin grow increasingly impressive, even as his protagonist, the pathologist Quirke, drifts further into existential ennui. Even the Dead (Penguin, €16.99), the seventh novel to feature Quirke, opens with this most reluctant of heroes on sabbatical, suffering from “mental blanks and momentary delusions” as a result of a beating he suffered two years previously. When a young man is discovered dead in suspicious circumstances in the Phoenix Park, however, Quirke rouses himself to go prowling “the mean and mendacious little city” with his companion in arms, Inspector Hackett. The pacing is as meandering as ever, as Black regularly digresses from the plot to explore Quirke’s bewilderment at the world and his place in it, and the story is again concerned with the malign power exercised by those who mix politics and religion that has proved fertile ground for Black in the past, but the lush prose (“the sky was an inverted bowl of bruised blue radiance, except in the west where the sunset looked like a fire-fight at sea”) is underpinned by a brutally noir moral relativism. Quirke, observes his daughter Phoebe, believes life consists of “going through the motions, observing the forms, doing the right thing.” That may be the case, but much like his creator, Quirke does the right thing in a deceptively effective way.
  Freedom’s Child (Harper Fiction, €19.50), the debut thriller from Jax Miller, an American author domiciled in Ireland, opens in dramatic fashion with the line, “My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter.” Living under an assumed name in a witness protection programme in Oregon, Freedom – who describes herself as “a murderer, a cop killer, a fugitive, a drunk” – breaks cover for the first time in almost two decades when said daughter, Rebekah, goes missing. Hunted by the recently released Matthew Delaney, who went to prison for 18 years on the basis of Freedom’s testimony, Freedom travels to Kentucky to investigate the fanatical Christian cult established by the man who adopted Rebekah, Virgil Paul. Plausibility is at a premium in Freedom’s Child, and language is here a rather blunt instrument, but Miller is less concerned with narrative subtlety and delicate prose than she is with creating a propulsive, full-throttle tale of revenge and redemption. The overall effect is a kind of literary grind-house, with Freedom Oliver a larger-than-life avenging angel driven by a host of demons, a self-confessed promiscuous drunk and glutton for punishment who might well be Lisbeth Salander’s long-lost twin.
  French author Dominique Sylvain’s second novel to be translated into English, Dirty War (Quercus, €13.99) opens in Paris with the horrific death of lawyer Florian Vidal, who has been tortured to death with a flaming tyre around his neck. When Commandant Sacha Duguin investigates, he discovers that Vidal is a business lawyer specialising in arms contracts for Richard Gratien, aka ‘Mr Africa’, a shadowy figure who has made a fortune from brokering deals in illegal weaponry to corrupt African regimes. It’s a fascinating set-up, and Sylvain expertly muddies the waters with a dispassionate account of the tensions that exist between the institutions – policing, political and judicial – responsible for counter-terrorism. Unfortunately, the novel is subtitled ‘A Lola and Ingrid Investigation’, and Lola and Ingrid – a former police Commissaire and an exotic dancer, respectively – repeatedly interrupt the narrative flow as Sylvain inserts them into the story to no great effect other than to duplicate Sacha Duguin’s investigations and to provide unnecessary exposition via dialogue.
  Sinéad Crowley’s second novel, Are You Watching Me? (Quercus, €17.99), reprises the character of Detective Claire Boyle, who was heavily pregnant during Crowley’s debut, Can Anybody Help Me? (2014). Delighted to be back at work after maternity leave, the Dublin-based Boyle investigates the apparently pointless murder of the aging, gentle James Mannion in his home; meanwhile, Liz Cafferky, Ireland’s newest media star and the communications executive with Tír na nÓg, a drop-in centre for old men, finds herself stalked by Stephen, who believes that Liz’s smile “was aimed at him; her words meant for him alone.” Crowley returns to the themes that underpinned her debut – the chilling vulnerability of a woman targeted by a psychologically damaged man, and the anonymity afforded by modern communications technology – but this is a markedly more assured offering. There’s a passionate intensity (and a very neat plot twist to boot) in Crowley’s poignant depiction of a whole swathe of old men abandoned by society, while Stephen, ostensibly the villain of the piece, is given a surprisingly sympathetic reading. A compulsively readable thriller, Are You Watching Me? is an absorbing variation on the ‘domestic noir’ genre.
  The Way of Sorrows (Blue Rider Press, €20.50) concludes Jon Steele’s ‘Angelus Trilogy’, and does so in very impressive style. The Watchers (2011) and Angel City (2013) established the scenario in which Harper, a private detective, discovers that he is in fact an angel in human form, and engaged in an aeons-long battle with the forces of darkness for possession of humanity’s soul. Here Harper sifts through the wreckage left behind by Evil’s onslaught at the end of Angel City, blending Chandleresque witticisms into a contemporary tale of the apocalypse as the action moves from Lausanne to Alaska and on through Russia to the explosive climax in Jerusalem, as Harper and his colleagues strive to make good on “a prophecy about a child conceived of light, born into the world to guide the creation through the next stage of evolution.” It’s an novel of jaw-dropping ambition and imagination – Zoroaster, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, Jesus Christ and the space probe Voyager all play their part – as Steele, formerly an award-winning journalist, gives Harper an appropriately fabulous, epic finale. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.