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?
Is there any self-respecting author or enthusiastic reader who could offer just one title? It’d be like asking me to choose the single book I would take with me to a deserted island. Hell, I’d drown myself in the ocean before I ever reached that frickin’ island, if I knew I was going to be stuck there with just one book to read for the rest of my foreseeable days. But back to your actual question: what book I’d like to have penned. It would be a toss-up between Ross Macdonald’s THE CHILL (1964), Peter Lovesey’s WAXWORK (1978), Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1953), Rennie Airth’s RIVER OF DARKNESS (1999), and maybe Elmore Leonard’s LABRAVA (1983). Oh, and I would go to my grave a happy man, indeed, if I could ever produce something even remotely as brilliantly disturbing as Robert Wilson’s A SMALL TOWN IN LISBON (1999).
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
The only faint shame I ever feel in reading is when I find myself hooked on authors whose work isn’t changing or evolving much, yet I can’t resist picking up their new novels. In that category, I’d place Edward Marston (who has been writing variations on the same delightful Elizabethan theater mystery for the last 20 years), Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker series (at least the guy realizes that he’s an anachronism), and Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge books. Outside of the crime category, I’m addicted to historical non-fiction about the American West.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When I’m so enmeshed with my storytelling, that I lose track of time. At such moments, I forget to eat, forget about the laundry that needs doing and the cat meowing at the windows at the top of his lungs. Even better: When I find myself unable to move forward in a tale, at least for a time, because I know that I’m going to have to cause harm to a character I’ve come to love. There’s nothing tougher. Or more rewarding.
The best Irish crime novel is ...?
I can only say what I’ve liked best, which would include Declan Hughes’ THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD, John Brady’s POACHER’S ROAD, Gene Kerrigan’s THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, and of course, John Banville/Benjamin Black’s CHRISTINE FALLS. I’m only now, finally, digging into Eoin McNamee’s Diana, Princess of Wales, conspiracy novel--12:23: PARIS. 31ST AUGUST 1997--and enjoying it immensely.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Because the last film I remember being made of the notorious 1910 Hawley Harvey Crippen murder case was 1962’s DR. CRIPPEN, starring Donald Pleasance, I’d be happy to see John Boyne’s CRIPPEN (2004) adapted for the silver screen. Maybe with the chameleon-like Philip Seymour Hoffman in the starring role.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst: Having people ask you for years about what you’re working on now, and you have nothing new to say--you’re still writing the same book you were the last time they inquired. After spending decades as a journalist, and enjoying the satisfactions to be had from making short work of short pieces, I find that writing novels--as I’m finally starting to do now--can be frustrating in the extreme. But then there’s that best thing about being a writer: Beating your head against an impossible scene, with improbable circumstances and inflexible characters, and suddenly everything comes together. And your fingers cannot move quickly enough over the keyboard to get down every nuance. What’s that Nathaniel Hawthorne quote? “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” Every novelist should plaster that statement above his or her computer.
The pitch for your next novel is ...?
What I’m laboring on is my first novel. I haven’t had to pitch such a work before. The half-dozen non-fiction titles I have to my name were easy sells; I just had to write them. This one will be tougher, especially since it’s a historical tale that resists being categorized as crime fiction, but can’t be easily slotted elsewhere. If I can use cinematic references rather than literary ones, I’d shorthand the story as THE UNFORGIVEN meets CHINATOWN, with a bit of the Burt Reynolds/Gene Hackman/Liza Minelli Prohibition romp LUCKY LADY thrown into the mix. I wish I could write faster, so I can read how it all turns out.
Who are you reading right now?
As editor of The Rap Sheet and senior editor of January Magazine, I’m required to do a lot of reading in the crime/mystery genre. So I have a stack of those titles on my nightstand, among them David Lawrence’s DOWN INTO DARKNESS, Thomas Eidson’s SOULS OF ANGELS, and Richard Kunzmann’s SALAMANDER’S COTTON. Plus, I am in the midst of several books that aren’t available yet, including Peter Robinson’s FRIEND OF THE DEVIL, Steve Hockensmith’s BLACK DOVE, and my colleague Linda L. Richards’ DEATH WAS THE OTHER WOMAN. But I don’t confine myself to crime fiction. I’m also relishing Richard Russo’s BRIDGE OF SIGHS, Thomas Oliphant’s UTTER INCOMPETENTS: EGO AND IDEOLOGY IN THE AGE OF BUSH, and Stacy A. Cordery’s outstanding biography of Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, ALICE: ALICE ROOSEVELT LONGWORTH, FROM WHITE HOUSE PRINCESS TO WASHINGTON POWER BROKER.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Precise. Witty. Propulsive.
J. Kingston Pierce is the editor at The Rap Sheet. He is currently working on his first novel.
“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.