“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.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Funky Friday’s Free-For-All: Being A Cornucopia Of Interweb Stuff ‘N’ Such

Huzzah! Critical Mick (right) is back-back-BACK! From his Uncle Travelling Critical Mick travels!! With a newly updated and much expanded Irish crime section on his not just essential but damn vital interweb page thingy!!! But Mr Critical Mick Ambassador sir, with all this extra info, you are surely spoiling us … Declan Hughes fans should scoot on over to Mystery File, where the hottest Declan since modesty forbids is currently being profiled … Via the ever-brilliant Rap Sheet comes the tip-off that Pulp Pusher is carrying an interview with last week’s Theakston’s Old Peculier winner, Allan Guthrie, where they ask the really hard questions – i.e., what does a non-boozer do with a barrel of free grog? Do we hear the words 'party house'? … The latest edition of Thuglit is on the electronic streets since last week, boasting some rather intriguing titles: Amphetamine Logic by Nathan Cain, Death Don’t Have No Mercy by William Boyle, and – our favourite – We All Come From Splattertown by Hugh Lessig … The superb Aussie crime fiction site After Dark My Sweet has the short-list for the Ned Kelly Awards. Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist is probably best known of the list up topside, but keep an eye on Barry Maitland’s Spider Trap. The results will be announced on August 29 at the Melbourne Writers Festival … Via the very fine Detectives Beyond Borders comes a question from Dave’s Fiction Warehouse, to wit: “Can you think of anybody writing crime fiction today who might still be in print 165 years from now?” Our money is on John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, given its capacity to effortlessly rejuvenate timeless folktales, myths and legends … Speaking of whom, the vid below is one John Connolly, terrorising a group of innocent readers at a meet-‘n’-greet and wibbling on about blackening pages courtesy of www.BookVideos.tv … And that’s it for another week, folks. Thanks for dropping by and see y’all next time around, y’hear?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 12:23 by Eoin McNamee

Given that Eoin McNamee inhabits the more literary end of the crime-writing spectrum, it comes as a very pleasant surprise to discover that his fin-de-siècle-in-retrospect thriller about the death of the former Princess of Wales in a Parisian automobile crash is written with the tropes of the hard-boiled crime novel very much in mind. The taut, often monosyllabic prose creates a relentless momentum as a variety of seedy characters (‘Bennett was like something exhumed by lamplight.’) arrive in Paris to inhabit the shadows and watch over the paparazzi-lit spectacle of ‘Spencer’ and ‘the Arab’, who are rumoured to be getting engaged as a result of Diana’s falling pregnant, a development unlikely to be well-received at the highest levels of the British establishment. Or are the hawks gathering because of Diana’s on-going campaign against landmines? Could it be true that she plans to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian cause? One of the pleasures of 12:23 is the realism McNamee brings to a tale that is as seductively plausible as The Day of the Jackal, while also playing up to the coarsened clichés of crime fiction: ‘Harper … crouched over, feeling like a fictional detective, a gone-to-seed aphorist in a cheap suit.’ … ‘Terse changes seemed to be in order. It was important that dialogue was clipped, utilitarian.’ An intimate tale that gets up close and personal with its bottom-feeding low-lives to the extent that it’s almost possible to smell their sweat and taste their cheap perfumes, it also has the capacity to open out into a kind of continent-vaulting international thriller, with McNamee making a number of non-specific references to a sense of over-arching collaboration in the supposed plot to murder the erstwhile princess, a plot in which the paparazzi are as guilty as specially-trained special forces operatives, and where the public greed which the paparazzi feeds is condemned as implicit in her destruction. ‘He knew the kinds of people who got swept up in the wake of people like Spencer. The cultists, the stalkers and loners and pale compulsives, out there on the margins, a citizenry of lost.’ Whether or not you buy into the Parisian grassy knoll theory McNamee offers here, this is a muscular tale of intrigue, deception, double- and triple-dealing. It’s also a masterclass in observational prose, and a compelling page-turner to boot.- Declan Burke

This review is reproduced with the kind permission of Eurocrime

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Kids Aren’t Always Alright

The Crime Always Pays elves recently took lunch with a woman who wants to write for kids, and spent the entire hour listening to words like ‘demographics’, ‘market slides’ (?) and ‘brand marketability’. Nary a word about a love of writing, nor – arguably more important – kids and what they like to read. Which makes the interview conducted by Nikki Gamble with Siobhan Dowd (right) over at Write Away so fascinating – Siobhan chats specifically about why she writes for the kind of reader that is drawn to her latest, The London Eye Mystery. Quoth Siobhan:
“When I was working on the Readers and Writers Programme, we identified Year 6, Year 7, the transition years between primary and secondary, as years in which children were often lost to reading. I remember my own transition being quite hard, so it is a time of life that I’m drawn to as a writer. If I’ve managed to create a readable book that helps children at that period to stay focused on the joys of reading, then I’ll be a really happy woman.”
Batten down the hatches, Siobhan – there’s a veritable El Nino of happiness heading your way …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 649: Sylvester Young

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?
Love, Lies and Bleeding. It brought back many memories of growing up in Wolves.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Four kids, a demanding wife, full-time job plus my own writing – for guilty pleasure I only have time for reading the best, the daily tabloids. A great source for plots.
Most satisfying writing moment?
After years of rejection, acceptance of my first book.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Ronan Bennett, The Second Prison.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Love, Lies and Bleeding. I wish I had the know-how to make it into a screenplay.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst: constant rejection of a script. Best: holding for the first time your book fresh off the press.
Why does John Banville use a pseudonym for writing crime?
To switch personality as well as style - switching names can help in that process.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Entertaining, thought provoking.

Sylvester Young’s Sleeping Dogs Lie is published in September by Raldon Books.

This Week We’re Reading … Missing Presumed Dead and Miami Purity

Something of a sharp contrast in the old reading habits this week: in Missing Presumed Dead, Arlene Hunt’s heroine Sarah Kenny, of Kenny and Quigley (QuicK) Investigations, is tough as nails but entirely feminine, as concerned about her relationships with her partner (the devil-may-care Quigley) and her sisters and mother as she is with investigating the case on hand, a bizarre shooting and attempted suicide by a woman who has been missing, presumed dead, for 26 years. A classic narrative arc, which gives Sarah and Quigley equal billing, with occasional digressions into the mind of the psychopathic killer determined to take his revenge on Sarah, is conveyed in unfussy prose designed to maximise the suspense as events hurtle towards what is, for Sarah, something of an apocalyptic finale. The ‘heroine’ of Vicki Hendricks’ Miami Purity, on the other hand, is barely recognisable as a woman at all. Sherri Parlay is modelled on Frank Chambers from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and offers a modern, highly-sexed take on the classic hardboiled noir. A high-wire balancing act between an amoral femme fatale and a poor gal just trying to make her way in a rich man’s world, Sherri is a compelling character, boasting more cojones that most male characters in crime fiction combined. If there’s a fault it’s that Hendricks didn’t end the book on the penultimate chapter with the most audaciously provocative suicide ever committed to print, but that’s a minor caveat. Republished by Busted Flush Press, with a foreword by Ken Bruen, Miami Purity is a must-read for all fans of neo-noir.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Rime Of The Not-So-Ancient Mariani

Is Scott Mariani (right) the only Crime Always Pays correspondent with 18% Egyptian blood in his veins? Erm, we’d imagine so. Irish-American, mainly, but based in Wales, Scott’s the guy behind The Fulcanelli Manuscript. ‘What the blummering flippery is that?’ we hear you cry. Take it away, Scott …
“The idea for The Fulcanelli Manuscript was a coming together of a whole bunch of elements. The main part of the story is the hunt for a mysterious alchemical elixir that could save the life of a little girl. The alchemical material is something I’ve been researching for years. The Fulcanelli of the title was a real-life alchemist, whose disappearance in 1920’s Paris has never been explained. Rich ground for me, I thought. It was originally going to be a non-fiction book, and then about two years later I had the idea of incorporating it into a thriller with this character who had been floating around in my mind for a long time. His name is Benedict Hope, and he’s a kidnap and ransom consultant: in other words, he’s the guy who can fetch your loved ones back out of trouble when baddies have snatched them away. The various strands came together – I have a renegade scientist, a couple of crazy religious maniacs, a super-intense coffee-addicted neurotic French cop, a self-mutilating lunatic, a seriously sexy Italian historian lady who comes close to stealing our hero’s affections. And a lot of bullets. Oh, and a huge secret that could change the course of civilisation as we know it ... The action takes us from the west coast of Ireland to Canada, via the south of France and a nice Irish pub in Paris. You CAN get good Guinness in Paris ... that was the best part of the research, naturally!”
Dan Brown, your ass is grass. For a download of the first chapter of The Fulcanelli Manuscript, alchemise yourself all the way over here

Flick Lit # 109: Dark Passage

It has been said that David Goodis didn’t write novels, he wrote suicide notes, and the titles of his novels give some idea of the mental and emotional state of this virtual recluse: Dark Passage (1946), Nightfall (aka The Dark Chase, 1947), Street of the Lost (1952), The Moon in the Gutter (1953), Street of No Return (1954), The Wounded and the Slain (1955), Down There (aka Shoot the Piano Player, 1956), and Somebody’s Done For (1967). In the post-war years, and in the hands of David Goodis, crime was no longer something ‘out there’, a concept to be taken on by hard heads and smart mouths. Crime, according to Goodis, was ‘down there’ – a sickness of the soul. His characters were paranoid and tortured, keenly aware of their lowly social status and the squalid desires that drove them further down into the mire. Those who believe in the innate goodness of man, and the possibility of redemption, would do well to steer clear of David Goodis. The opening lines of Dark Passage are as good an example as any of the way in which Goodis blended deceptively lucid prose, Kafkaesque hopelessness and simple human yearnings:
“It was a tough break. Parry was innocent. On top of that he was a decent sort of guy who never bothered people and wanted to lead a quiet life. But there was too much on the other side and on his side of it there was practically nothing. The jury decided he was guilty.”
Parry breaks out of prison, becomes a fugitive, and embarks on a nightmarish hunt for the person who framed him for the murder of his wife. The desperate gamble he takes to gain time – submitting to a quack surgeon’s knife for plastic surgery – allowed the director of Dark Passage (1947), Delmer Daves, to follow on from a technique pioneered in 1946’s The Lady in the Lake, in which the camera’s point-of-view plays the part of the detective. When the bandages finally come off, the comely features of Parry, aka Humphrey Bogart, are revealed. The film’s producers made much of the fact that Bogart and Lauren Bacall were back in harness again, for the first time since The Big Sleep (1946). And, as usual, their timing, screen presence and ability to play off one another is impeccable. But anyone expecting the rapid-fire dialogue and crackling sexual chemistry of Howard Hawks’ classic was to be sorely disappointed. Goodis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daves, had other fish to torture. Parry distrusts everyone and everything, wallowing in his misery until it seems he must surely drown. That the film doesn’t sink under the weight of its own pessimism is down to Daves’ crisp pacing, a brooding, atmospheric depiction of San Francisco, and a wonderfully eccentric supporting cast of noir misfits, including Bruce Bennett, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy and Hollywood’s best-ever on-screen WASP, Agnes Moorehead. Noir purists decry Dark Passage’s implausibly upbeat denouement, but to be fooled by the happy ending is to ignore all of the preceding ninety minutes. The success of Dark Passage, first as a serialised tale in the Saturday Evening Post, then as a film, led to work as a Hollywood screenwriter. However, Goodis fell out with Hollywood and retreated to his home town of Philadelphia. There he moved in with his mother and began a long and lonely slide into alcoholism. Successful as a novelist during the ’50s – Cassidy’s Girl, one of nineteen novels, sold over a million copies – his star dimmed as the ’60s wore on. By the time he died in 1967, Goodis was broke and – with the notable exception of French film directors – languishing in squalor and obscurity. The pity is that he never turned to autobiography: his life would have become his finest novel.- Michael McGowan

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ask Not For Whom The Poll Bells

The elves have voted early and often, the last hanging chad has been accounted for, and finally we can reveal the results of the inaugural Crime Always Pays Poll to discover the Funniest Irish Crime Fiction Writer, Like, Ever™. To no one’s real surprise, The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman (right) topped the vote with 47%, followed by Eoin Colfer and Ruth Dudley Edwards sharing 23% each, and Pauline McLynn coming home with 9%. In the heady hours leading up to the vote’s close, we contacted He Who Must Be Called Bateman for an appropriate response to the news that he was leading the most hotly contested contest since the Sweden-Finland flip-off in the 2006 World Championship Sauna Tiddlywinks Tourney. Quoth Col:
“Well, I would be truly staggered and honoured if I won, but I would prefer not to count my chickens until I actually get my hands on the cheque. And it is cashed.”
Hmmm. Wethinks there’ll be an unconscionable number of uncounted chicks around chez Bateman in the weeks and months to come … Meanwhile, cast a cold eye on the new poll, above right, and tell us who you think is the Best Irish Crime Fiction PI, Like, Ever™. The countdown staaaarts … now.

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 247: Andrew Nugent

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?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Bill Bryson. He is so politically incorrect.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When I have tried up to twenty times - and it suddenly clicks: I just know I have got it right.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
My guilty secret: I don’t read much crime – so I don’t really know.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Ditto.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing: It is bloody hard work. Best thing: You are present to yourself in a new and deeper way.
Why does John Banville use a pseudonym for writing crime?
It must be because he regards it as “guilty pleasure”.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Good-humoured, hopeful, sincere.

Andrew Nugent’s Second Burial goes into paperback in August.

Free Books? No Best, There Is None …

So there we were, toddling along and more or less minding our own business, when we received a very nice mail from one Peter McNulty at Hodder Headline Ireland offering to put us in touch with authors such as Tana French, John Connolly, Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes and Andrew Nugent, the fruits of which last you see in the Q&A above. Not only that, Peter offered copies of the authors’ books – and being greedy little elves, we took ’em all! Which kind of takes the whole ‘interweb free economy’ malarkey a bit far, but we’re certainly not complaining. We particularly liked Dec Hughes' debut, The Wrong Kind of Blood, so we’ll probably dive into the follow-up The Colour of Blood (right) first – but don’t be even slightly surprised if you see reviews for them all popping up in the next few weeks.
Yep, we’re a cheap date, and getting cheaper by the minute …

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Monday Review

Another week, another round of big-ups for Artemis Fowl and The Lost Colony, to wit:
“I finally got around to finishing off this addition to the Artemis Fowl series, and I must say The Lost Colony keeps up the tradition: a non-stop action story. Seriously, Eoin Colfer knows how to drop you right into the action at sixty miles per hour and keeps the foot on the gas until the finish line is crossed,” says Jason at Probably Not … There’s also a veritable lost colony of positive vibes at Amazon.com, although our favourite is the line, “Another great addition to the Artemis Fowl series from Eoin Colfer, certified genius.” They’re handing out certs for genius now? Ours must have got lost in the post … Pat Mullan is becoming a name to watch for, people, as Harriet Klausner has discovered: “The Circle of Sodom is a terse political thriller that never lets up until the final confrontation occurs. The story line is fast-paced and loaded with action … Mr. Mullan displays his skills as fans will easily follow along this one-sitting thriller.” Nice one, Pat … Benny Blanco (from the Bronx) gets the hup-ya from Josephine Damian, to wit: “In spite of these flaws it is pathologist Quirke’s inner conflict over betraying the very people he owes and loves that makes Christine Falls a worthwhile read. According to the jacket flap, we’re to see more of Quirke, for this book is the start of what promises to be a psychological and character-driven crime series.” The Mean Streets likes Ken Bruen’s latest quiet a lot: “With an ensemble cast, multiple intersecting plot lines and machine gun prose, this one is Bruen at his mordant best. On one hand Ammunition is just another full-throttle ride down the mean streets of Southeast London with one of the most innovative and entertaining tour guides working in the genre today. On another level, however, this book offers a disturbing critique of a society run amok … What McBain did for the police procedural in the 20th century, Bruen is doing in the 21st – taking it to a new level entirely!” Mmmm, yummy … Yet more smoke being blown up Tana French’s nether regions. First, the Washington Post: “Now add to that distinguished list Tana French’s ambitious and extraordinary first novel. And rank it high … Whether the ending succeeds will likely be debated, but French’s decisions are unexpected and unnerving – a bold close to a daring novel,” says Art Taylor, while Karen Chisholm at Aust Crime Fiction is equally impressed: “Ultimately In The Woods is fascinating. It’s one of those books that twists and turns and moves and shape-shifts to the point where you really don’t know what you did or didn’t think you knew a few pages before … It’s also one of those books that ends with not everything nicely answered / tied up / resolved – just like life really.” Intriguing, no? … What of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant? “An incredible piece of writing that is lively and wild! Humour, adventure, magic and suspense are all in this piece of writing! A nice break from the dull, realistic or overly imaginative books of the 21st century. Down to the ground, but still in the air kind of book. You CANNOT miss this one! I give it 5 stars!!” says J.B. at the Young Young Critics Club over at Perrot Library … Eoin McNamee’s 12:23 has been receiving mixed reviews but we love it and Peter Millar at The Times is inclined to agree: “McNamee has a better claim than most to be heir to John le Carré as master of the genuinely literary thriller, if only he could acquire just a little English understatedness.” Erm, exqueeze us? English understatedness? Wtf, etc.? … Finally, some nice reviews for Gene Kerrigan, first from Publisher’s Weekly for The Midnight Choir, to wit: “While much of the fun is in puzzling out unfamiliar words like “gurriers” and “gaff,” it’s Kerrigan’s firm control of the procedural genre and the breathtaking twist he gives his plot that show him to be a master of the form.” Which is nice, but Maxine Clarke, reviewing for Eurocrime, goes one better for Kerrigan’s debut, Little Criminals: “I was not sure I’d want to read a book about an Irish gang who kidnap a businessman’s wife and demand a huge ransom. But … I decided to try it. And I am glad I did: it is excellent.” Cheer up, Weepy Gene – we all loves ya, baby!

Bruen Up Several Storms

We may as well just rename this blog the Sir Kenneth of Bruen Hup-Ya, and for the same reason Crime Spree magazine have a category for The Ken Bruen Of The Year in their annual awards – the guy’s a literary virus, and in a very good way. The latest news, which comes courtesy of Sandra Ruttan, is that Ken’s Priest (the one millionth in the Jack Taylor series) has been nominated for Best British (!) Novel in the Barry Awards, named for Barry Gardner, the results to be announced at the 11th Annual Barry Awards presentation at Bouchercon, which takes place this year at Anchorage, Alaska (September 27 – 30). Bear in mind, people, that Bruen is already scheduled as the guest of honour at next year’s NoirCon … and as if that wasn’t enough, he and Jason Starr have also been nominated for another Barry, this time in the Best Original Paperback category, for Bust. Sir Ken? How sweet is all of that, exactly?
“I’ll be lighting lots of candles to St Jude. The publishers are so stunned they’re springing for the fares. Now that really is sweet …”
We couldn’t agree more. Watch out for those polar bears up in Alaska, man - they may look cute, but they don't have a wood to shit in. And you know how crazy that makes a bear ...

A Starrett Is Born

Said we, being snappers of the whipper variety: ‘Paul Charles, sir? How does it feel to start a whole new series in Donegal with some jumped-up Inspector Starrett-come-lately when you’ve been writing about DI Christy Kennedy in Camden Town all these years?’ Erm, believe it or not, he actually took the time to answer. Quoth Paul:
“It was great fun to write a Starrett story set in Donegal. I love the county and spend a lot of time there. I’ve used the character Inspector Starrett before in a Kennedy book, I’ve Heard The Banshee Sing, and in a short story, In The Midnight Hour, which was included in the Meeting Across The Water anthology. So he was there in the back of my mind screaming for more attention, if you know what I mean. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I lived with the character for a long time as opposed to sitting down in front of a blank screen waiting for magic. But the short answer to your question would be, “Great.””
And the short answer to the question ‘What the ruddy hell’s the novel called, then?’ is The Dust of Death. Ooooh, spooky, no?