Cecilia Ahern. Ken Bruen. Cathy Kelly. Tana French. Marian Keyes. Declan Hughes.
All Irish writers, of course, and no prizes for guessing which of names you’ve recognized. One of them won a brace of gongs at Bouchercon 2007 in the US, the biggest American awards ceremony of its kind. Another won the award for best debut novel at the same ceremony. A third debuted on the New York Times best-seller list three weeks ago.
Their names? Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and Tana French, respectively.
But unless you’re one of their small but growing band of Irish crime fiction fans, there’s a very good chance you won’t have heard of them before.
Meanwhile we get Marian Keyes billboards and Cecilia Ahern bus posters. Displays of Cathy Kelly’s books that take up entire shop windows.
The crime fiction writers? Buried away down the back of the bookstore, jammed in between the soft porn and science fiction. An Irish crime writer hoping for publicity would be best advised to get a gun and a mask and go blag a bank for real.
Strange, isn’t it? Crime fiction and chick lit are equally reader-friendly genres, both primarily concerned with escapist entertainment. The crime writers are at least as good in the writing stakes as their chick lit peers, or else they wouldn’t be valued so highly in America (and not just America: Declan Hughes’s The Wrong Kind of Blood and Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands were both nominated for Best Debut Novels in the UK’s CWA ‘Dagger’ awards last month).
So why the disconnect between Irish crime writers and an Irish audience?
You could argue that an Irish generation reared during the hedonistic years of the Celtic Tiger has no stomach for reading about corrupt politicians, Tiger kidnappings, paedophile priests and gangland killings. You don’t get many murder-rapes in chick lit.
Fair enough, except the true crime genre is one of the fastest-growing niches in Irish publishing today. Books on the corpse-dismembering ‘Scissors Sisters’, the media-friendly murderer Joe O’Reilly, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Miami Showband massacre are among some of the true crime stories that have appeared on Irish best-seller lists over the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, newspaper headlines are full of innocent bystanders gunned down by hired killers, and the taoiseach takes the stand again and again to explain financial irregularities.
And maybe crime fatigue is the problem. Where the crime writers are busy telling us where it all went wrong, chick lit is still promising it’ll all turn out Mr Right.
One crew is flogging hair-shirts, the other comfort pillows. No contest on the easier sale.
Prophets are never recognised in their own country. Profits generally are. - Declan Burke
This article was first published in the Evening Herald.
“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.