Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
I always take the mature view on these things, and assume that if I had written one of my favourite books then it wouldn’t be as good. I think Ross Macdonald’s The Chill is a near-perfect crime novel, the only perceived lapse being the death early on of possibly the most interesting character, although the effect is quite shocking so I suppose it was intentional on Macdonald’s part. I find myself defending Macdonald regularly against those who see him as Chandler’s poor relation, or pressing him on those who haven’t read him but believe that, say, The Big Sleep is as close as crime fiction ever got to being literature, which it isn’t. Chandler's a fabulous writer, but Macdonald was always the better novelist.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Wilbur Smith novels. The period novels are much better than the modern-day ones, as the dialogue doesn’t sound as clunky if it’s being spoken in the 1600s or 1700s, or by ancient Egyptians. I had to interview him a few years ago, and so read Monsoon in preparation, as it was the book that he was publicising at the time. I hadn’t read him since I was a teenager, and had vague memories of some ropey sex and a woman having a wee behind a rock (in the book, I hasten to add, not in my teenage life) but Monsoon was great fun. The ropey sex was still there, though. One phrase stands out in my memory: “She gasped at the sight of Tom’s wondrous man thing.” I thought: I have a man thing, but it’s not wondrous. What’s so special about his? Does it light up? Does it play a tune ...?
Most satisfying writing moment?
Probably finishing The Book of Lost Things. I’m a pretty harsh critic of my own work, but I felt that it represented as good a book as I was going to be able to write at that time, or perhaps ever, which is a bit depressing in a way. Something always gets lost in the act of transferring the nebulous book in your head to the page, which is very frustrating. You never quite manage to write the book that you set out to write, or at least I never do. I think the least was lost in the writing of The Book of Lost Things. It’s an odd little book, but I’m very fond of it and proud of it.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
You know, I’ll dodge that bullet by saying that the best Irish crime novel probably hasn’t been written yet. Crime fiction wasn’t our genre for such a long time, and now Irish writers are really starting to make an impact, but it’s early days yet. I think we’re going to see some fantastic Irish crime novels emerging over the next few years. As things stand, there have already been some very good ones.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Urk! The other difficulty is that I don’t read as much Irish fiction, crime or otherwise, as I should, so I’m a bad person to ask. Perhaps, in common with British crime writers, Irish crime fiction might be better suited to television. I think Declan Hughes’ books would be interesting to see on television. That said, I don’t watch those two-hour Morse / Rebus / Wire In The Blood series. I don’t have the patience for them, although I’ll happily watch back-to-back episodes of The Wire or Deadwood. I think it’s to do with pacing.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I’m a worrier. I worry that I’m going to be dropped by my publishers, that I’m going to write a bad book . . . (I may have written a bad book already, but it seems that people can’t agree which one it is.) I’m not sure that I enjoy the process of publishing itself as much as I thought I would. When I see my book on a bookshelf I just think, man, I hope it’s doing okay. Then again, I rarely ask my publishers how the books are doing in terms of sales. I think I’m afraid of the answer. The best thing, for me, is that I can make a living and pay my bills by doing something that I love, however hard I may find writing sometimes. And I like meeting readers. There’s something flattering, and humbling, when people take the time to come along to a bookstore to listen to you talk about your book.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
I’m hopeless at pitches as well. Let’s see: it’s an Angel and Louis book – they’re two kind of minor characters in the Parker novels – in which they get in over their heads when they try to kill a wealthy businessman who has targeted them in an act of revenge for the death of his son. It’s much lighter than the Parker novels, and stylistically a bit different. It’s not as tortured, I suppose.
Who are you reading right now?
I made the mistake of trying to read the last Harry Potter book, which took me two weeks - the pacing (there’s that word again) just seemed to me to be all wrong - and I was resentful of the time it had taken when I was done. I tend to flick between fiction and non-fiction, so now I’m one chapter into Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I do have a pile of other books sitting by my desk that I want to get to: Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, the new Philip Kerr and Martin Cruz Smith books, the new Paul Charles, the new James Lee Burke and, hey, the most recent Wilbur Smith. Ropey sex, here I come . . .
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gradually getting better . . .
John Connolly’s The Unquiet is currently on a best-seller list near you
“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. “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.