“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, August 31, 2007

The Popcorn Interlude # 236: Death Proof

Atrocious editing, scratchy print, abysmal continuity … the implicit message in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is that he’s so damn good, the only thing left for him to do is make a bad movie. The problem? Making a knowingly shit movie that references other knowingly shit movies results in a shit movie, if you’ll excuse our merde. Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike, a supposedly charismatic killer who gets his kicks from killing girls in head-on car collisions, all of which is very dramatic and not a little scary, albeit not in the sense that Tarantino intended – Orson Welles reckoned a movie set was the biggest train-set a kid could ever have to play with, and Death Proof reads like some self-loathing kid who can’t get to hang out with the sexy girls, and so decides to kill ’em all. Morbidly fascinating, this irritatingly self-referential outing should be a two-hour suicide note, except that it’s pitched at the geekier end of the 16-year-old drive-in demographic. Someone, anyone, should take Quentin to one side and tell him to get back to what he does best – fleshing out Elmore Leonard novels and ripping off Asian movies. The joke just ain’t funny, man. (no stars) – Michael McGowan

Thursday, August 30, 2007

His Satanic Majesty Presents ...

Crime fiction fans in the general vicinity of Belfast might want to toddle along to Norn Iron’s premier crime fiction outlet, No Alibis, on Wednesday September 5th, when Peter Robinson (right) will very probably not be juggling fire and brimstone to promote his latest DCI Banks novel, Friend of the Devil. What’s Banks up to this time? That stench of smouldering quill means the blurb elves have been very busy indeed, to wit:
“When Karen Drew is found sitting in her wheelchair staring out to sea with her throat cut one chilly morning, DI Annie Cabbot, on loan to Eastern Area, gets lumbered with the case. Back in Eastvale, that same Sunday morning, 19-year-old Hayley Daniels is found raped and strangled in the Maze, a tangle of narrow alleys behind Eastvale’s market square, after a drunken night on the town with a group of friends, and DCI Alan Banks is called in. Banks finds suspects galore, while Annie seems to hit a brick wall – until she reaches a breakthrough that spins her case in a shocking and surprising new direction, one that also involves Banks … As Banks and Annie dig into the past to uncover the deeper connections, they find themselves also dealing with the emotional baggage and personal demons of their own relationship.”
No Alibis is expecting a massive turn-out for Robinson’s appearance, so book early and often by contacting Dave at david@noalibis.com. Oh, and anyone expecting a reading from the DUP's God-fearing deputy leader will be sorely disappointed ...

Book ’Em, Danno

Abby Zidle, over at the impeccably titled Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room, picks up on an ABC News story about reading habits in the U.S., to wit:
“Did you all see that poll about readers in the U.S.? That 25% of American adults haven’t read a book in the last year? And that the average number of books a single adult reads in a year is four? This is why the publishing industry is forced to cater to blockbusters. It’s simply too dangerous, bottom-line-wise, to trust that brilliant writing will reach enough people. Especially people like this guy, who won’t read fiction. (I’ve got news for you, buddy – lots of movies are fiction, too.)”
Abby? We don’t want to fall out with you, but we’re not so sure that this is a bad news story – when you factor in illiteracy, poverty, access (or otherwise) to books and the time required to read them, 25% of adults not reading a book, and an average of four books per year, aren’t exactly catastrophic figures. Besides, it’s easy for bibliophiles to forget that a book is just one more way of telling a story, and it’s the story that matters, not the method of delivery. Movie fans, theatre-goers, web surfers, tabloid junkies, computer gamers, et al – it’s all about the right words in the right place. If the publishing industry has plateau’d (“The publishing business totalled $35.7 billion in global sales last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, according to the Book Industry Study Group, a trade association. About 3.1 billion books were sold, an increase of less than 1 percent.”), then it’s incumbent on the story-tellers to find a new way of getting through to their potential audience. The customer, after all, is always right. No?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,012: J.D. Rhoades

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?
My next one. Seriously, there are so many that I’m just in awe of. If forced to choose, I’d probably say LA Requiem. Tomorrow, though, it might be something else.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t really feel guilty about anything I read. Some people might regard military science fiction, stuff like David Drake and John Ringo, as something I SHOULD feel guilty about, but you know, I just don’t. It’s fun, even when it’s totally absurd.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Cracking open a big cardboard box that the UPS guy just delivered and looking down to see a whole bunch of real live honest-to-God new books in there, each one with my name on it, and thinking, “I did this.” The pleasure is somewhat diminished when the UPS guy leaves the box out under a tree, in the rain, like they did with my promo copies of Safe and Sound. I was not well pleased.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Well, I haven’t read every Irish crime novel; I don’t know that I’ve even read a fair sample. So, best Irish Crime Novel that I’ve read would have to be Ken Bruen’s The Killing of the Tinkers. That’s the one where I think Ken really hit his stride with the Jack Taylor character.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
John Connolly’s The Black Angel. I can see the scenes in the ossuary in my head already. The only problem would be that Connolly’s gorgeous prose wouldn’t make it onto the screen, but there’s enough striking visual imagery that it’ll still work as a movie.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best part is the people I meet: readers, booksellers, and especially other writers I admire. The day I met Ken Bruen, when I was all nervous and star-struck and wondering what the hell I was doing on the same panel with someone that talented, and he got up, hugged me, and told me how much he liked The Devil’s Right Hand … Man, I was, like, “Take me now, Lord, so I can die this happy.” The worst? Well, I think it’s the same for every writer: those moments when you’re staring at a blank page and going, “I got nothing. I can’t do this. I was just fooling myself.”
The pitch for your next novel is …?
It’s about a guy who’s paranoid because everybody IS really out to get him. The title is Breaking Cover.
Who are you reading right now?
I just started Christopher Buckley’s Boomsday, which promises to be as wildly funny as his other books No Way To Treat A First Lady and Thank You For Smoking. Buckley’s one of my favourites, because he’s got the most important personality trait for a satirist: balls of 100% cast iron. This is a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the words “over the top.” I picked up Boomsday because I’d just finished Jon Clinch’s Finn. It was excellent, but very dark, so I felt a craving for a few laughs. Next up is Ken Bruen’s Calibre.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Short, sharp, shock.

J.D. Rhoades’ Safe and Sound is available in all good bookshops.

French Kismet In The USA

Call it fate, karma or the law of averages, but good things do occasionally happen to good people – Galley Cat over at Media Bistro has a nice piece on Tana French’s (right) Into The Woods hitting the NYT bestseller list three months after its US publication, to wit:
In these fractious publishing times, normally publishers espouse the belief that if a book doesn’t hit the list within at least the first two weeks of its initial publication, it never will. It’s not an absolute, of course – nothing is – but more and more, publishing resembles the movies in terms of books “opening big” on bestseller lists thanks to pre-orders, co-op and other machinery in place months before publication.
So imagine my surprise at checking the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list dated September 2nd and seeing Irish crime writer Tana French’s debut novel In The Woods sneak in just under the wire, landing at #35 on the extended list. The book was published by Viking on May 17. It had, at least to the best of my knowledge, not been given extra co-op nor garnered some major media attention. Could this be a case of pure word-of-mouth, where readers who genuinely liked the book recommended it enthusiastically to their friends in chain-reaction fashion propelled a first novel to the bestseller lists months after its release date?
Yes and no, as French’s editor Kendra Harpster said in an email late yesterday afternoon. “I do think that word of mouth has played a part here,” she said. “Nearly everyone I mention the book to, even non-publishing people, have heard something about it, which is definitely unusual for a first novel by a non-American.” But Harpster also pointed to a recent mention on NPR by Librarian to the Stars Nancy Pearl and more importantly, to the book’s selection by Barnes & Noble for its Discover New Voices program, which put it into their store promotions beginning early August and running through the end of October. So in the end, media and co-op did play a major role for In The Woods, but that can happen to many books – and still not enough copies will sell to get that “NYT bestseller” tag.
And if all that isn’t lovely enough to give you a fuzzy warm feeling, here’s a few words Tana deigned to bestow on the roving reporter elves before she became a literary superstar. She’s nice like that …

The Popcorn Interlude # 174: Disturbia

Is the world ready for a teen take on Rear Window? Placed under house arrest for decking his teacher, Kale (Shia LaBeouf, right, with Carrie-Ann Moss) spends his summer spying on his neighbours – first the gorgeous newcomer to his neighbourhood, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), then the creepy guy next door (David Morse), who may or may not be a serial killer. An inventive remake, Disturbia owes a huge debt to LaBeouf’s sparky performance – fresh-faced he may be, but LaBeouf (Transformers, A Guide To Recognising Your Saints) has a natural style free of affectations that suggests he’s a serious prospect for the future. Director DJ Caruso (a veteran helmer of TV’s The Shield) ratchets up the tension gradually, leaving plenty of time for the romance between Kale and Ashley to blossom, and even if the final third recycles overly familiar slasher-horror tropes, this is still a cut above the usual teen fare. ****- Michael McGowan

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some Thoughts On The Switching Of Horses Mid-Stream

The lovely people at Penguin sent us an ARC of the up-coming Dick Francis novel, Dead Heat, although the reviewer elves noted a rather unusual development in the accompanying press release, to wit:
“ … And more than ever there is a special twist. With forty novels under his belt, Dick feels that the time has come to begin handing over the family business. Felix, the younger of Dick’s two sons, has long been involved with managing Dick’s many publishing commitments and has helped with the research for several previous novels, not least with Twice Shy which drew on Felix’s experiences both as a physics teacher and as a marksman. Felix, in Dead Heat, has for the first time taken a central role in the writing of the book. Over the last year, Dick and Felix have worked closely together, developing plot and character details for this novel, and hopefully many more to come. The result is the searing intrigue-filled blockbuster, Dead Heat, which heralds a new era for the Grand Master of thriller writing.”
Erm, exqueeze us? Shouldn’t that read, “ … a new era for the son of the Grand Master of thriller writing”? And while we’re asking questions ... Is there a danger here that Penguin are taking reader / brand loyalty a step too far? Since when has writing novels been considered ‘a family business’? Isn’t the joy of reading all about immersing yourself in a world created by the unique mind of a writer? Or are we just being na├»ve / pedantic / obtuse (delete as applicable) here? Answers on the back of €20 book tokens to the usual address, please.

Lunch Boxes Stripped Of Everything Except Fruit

Peter Rozovsky over at Detectives Beyond Borders is currently plugging one of our favourite reads of the year so far, Eoin Colfer’s Half Moon Investigations, the opening paragraph of which runneth thusly:
My name is Moon. Fletcher Moon. And I’m a private detective. In my twelve years on this spinning ball we call Earth, I’ve seen a lot of things normal people never see. I’ve seen lunch boxes stripped of everything except fruit. I’ve seen counterfeit homework networks that operated in five counties, and I’ve seen truckloads of candy taken from babies.
Quoth Peter:
"A child who reads that may just develop an affectionate attachment to crime fiction. Adults may like it, too. I do."
Ditto. Quoth the Crime Always Pays reviewing elves:
"Colfer is obviously a fan of Chandler et al, and he has distilled essence of the hardboiled style here, with the emphasis very much on style. Writers will read it and weep; less self-conscious readers will be wearing a smile throughout."
Just don’t get the elves started on his Artemis Fowl books. We’ll be here all night …

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Unquiet by John Connolly

The Unquiet was my first foray into John Connolly territory, and while it might not be the ideal novel to get started on due to all the extant back history of PI Charlie Parker and his coterie of associates, the plunge was well worth the initial icy splash. With the deaths of his first wife and child haunting him, Parker is called to the Maine home of Rebecca Clay, whose father, Daniel Clay, a child psychiatrist who worked at a centre for abused children, vanished seven years earlier in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal. Several of his patients had, whether by coincidence or not, been victims of an organised child sex abuse ring whilst under his care. The lapse of time since Dr Clay’s disappearance, by suicide, murder or a voluntary change of identity, means that he’s been declared legally dead by his daughter, Rebecca, but she’s being harassed by Merrick the Revenger, a man fresh out of prison who insists that he has unfinished business with Clay and is convinced that Rebecca knows more about his whereabouts than she’d care to admit. Ghosts populate the novel at every turn, on both a literal and allegorical level – Parker’s personal ghosts dog him throughout the investigation; meanwhile, the shadows and wraiths of the case itself and of the society that Parker dissects - the ‘Hollow Men’, as well as the ‘Unquiet’ of the title – hum urgently through the narrative right to its chilling close. A delightfully unsettling read.– Claire Coughlan

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 193: Michael Carroll

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 Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. A great romp, lots of fun, some great jokes and really nice twists. It’s more of a spy thriller than a typical crime novel but it’s so good I just had to mention it. It’s also one of the very few cases in which a comedian has written a book that’s actually readable.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Old Marvel comics: I’ve got the first forty years of Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men on DVD Rom (actual bought copies from shops - none of this bootleg stuff for me!). A lot of the early tales are silly, overblown and overwritten, but they’re presented with such fun and gusto that they’re tremendously entertaining.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Typing “The End” on the last day of every first draft. Even though the book still has a long way to go, getting the first draft completed always feels a major achievement. Reality kicks in a few days later when I go back over it with my Ruthless Red Pen.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I really enjoyed Jim Lusby’s A Waste of Shame. It’s the sort of book that makes me wish I had a time-machine and fewer scruples.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Black Angel by John Connolly is very filmable. I can see it as a vehicle for someone like Ridley Scott. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t already been made.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best thing: Being able to work from home. Worst thing: Constantly receiving phone calls from well-meaning friends and relatives who mistakenly believe I want to know how successful my peers are. “Did you see Darren Colfer was in the paper again? He’s sold a short story for eighteen billion dollars and it’s going to be made into a big-budget movie! And he’s bought another island! And he’s younger than you are! Isn’t that great?” Yes. It’s bloody marvellous. Now please leave me in peace to eat my hearty lunch of dry yellow-pack noodles straight out of the packet.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Top secret. I never reveal anything about upcoming work until I’ve actually written it (because if I tell someone then I've gotten it out of my system and that diminishes the impetus to write). Besides, I’ve got four different ideas I’m currently developing. I know that’s usually a writer’s euphemism for “I’ve done nothing but play Solitaire on my computer for the past six months”, but I promise that this time it’s true.
Who are you reading right now?
Well, I could pretend that I’m reading something worthy by some obscure dead nineteenth-century writer, but I’m not. I'm re-reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, and I’m about to embark on a lengthy voyage through Janet Evanovich’s entire Stephanie Plum series (if my sister ever gives them back).
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
After MUCH deliberation, I’ve concluded that the only three words that accurate describe my writing are: “By Michael Carroll”. Sorry. I was tempted to come over all humble and put “could be better” or something like that, but I’m not quite that mad.

Michael Carroll’s The New Heroes: Absolute Power is available in all good bookshops

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Monday Review

Some tasty thriller action to whet your appetite, folks: “Scott Mariani’s debut novel The Fulcanelli Manuscript turns out to be a sprightly little thriller with action on every page … a brisk and enjoyable enough read and suggests that Scott Mariani might well be an author to watch out for,” says Sharon Wheeler over at Reviewing the Evidence … We haven’t mentioned Eoin Colfer for a week or two, but blog-title-of-the-week Stardust Asylum remedies that with a big-up for Artemis Fowl and The Lost Colony: “This book was superbly written. Artemis has grown into a charming mixture of criminal mastermind and teenager with a heart of gold.” Meanwhile, some inky-fingered chancer called Declan Burke has inveigled his way into the Euro Crime reviewing list, and likes Sylvester Young’s up-coming Sleeping Dogs Lie, to wit: “A punchy, cynical and relentlessly political novel, Sleeping Dogs Lie is as courageous a statement of intent as it is a gripping thriller.” Couldn’t have put it better ourselves … The TLS is always a model of restraint, even when reviewing Eoin McNamee’s stonking thriller 12:23: “As people who stand to profit by witnessing a death, McNamee’s characters surpass the traditional villains of the piece, the paparazzi, in moral sordidness,” proclaims Nicholas Cullen through stiff upper and lower lips … Over at Fantasy Book Spot, Brian Lindenmuth is a tad more expressive about Ken Bruen’s American Skin, to wit: “It’s quite likely that no one, God, the fates and Bruen included are harder on his characters then they are themselves. They are the wardens of their own Hell.” Blimey! The Barnes & Noble review, via Amazon.com, is no less impressed: “Bruen’s latest is a visceral, visionary masterwork; underneath all the graphic bloodshed and drug-induced chaos, however, are deeply profound, darkly poetic themes … that will surely affect everyone who reads this extraordinary and truly unforgettable book. An instant noir cult classic – bottle of Jameson not included,” says Paul Goat Allen … As for Sir Kenneth of Bruen’s Ammunition, Libre-Muncher at Book Crossing gives it four thumbs aloft: “If you liked any of Mr. Bruen’s previous books, you will like this one as well. I know that I am addicted to these books myself.” … Walter Keady’s The Dowry belatedly beeped Gail’s jeep over at the Daily Dose on Powell’s Books, to wit: “Written with an obvious delight in the many twists and turns of life and of human nature, reading this ‘novel of Ireland’ is like a cosy gossip with an old friend.” Which is nice … Back to Amazon.com for the Bookmarks Magazine review of Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls: “Readers expecting a fast-paced crime novel may initially be surprised by Banville’s slow, deliberate rendering of the plot and the complex characters – but they will certainly look forward to the next novel in this projected series.” Hurrah! And what did you think of Christine Falls, O Meen of Meen’s Reading Journal fame? “The idea for the story was very good, but the writing too bland, distant and analyzing to truly grab me.” Boo … Finally, Troy Taylor sends up more than a few balloons on behalf of John Connolly over at his MySpace Blog, concluding thusly: “If you have never read any of Connolly’s books, you are missing on a rare talent. Connolly is an Irish writer who somehow manages to capture Maine and New England like a native, which enhances the books rather than detracts from them. You can feel the cool, crisp air of the region as you turn the pages … In closing, all that I can say is you don’t want to miss out on some of the best books that I have ever had the privilege to read. I don’t make recommendations lightly and if you want to read something truly unique and really immerse yourself into a weird and violent world, don’t miss out on John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series.” And there you have it, folks – conclusive proof, as if it were needed, that John Connolly is now blogging under the nom-de-plume ‘Troy Taylor’. For shame, sir ...

The Curious Case Of The Existential Lizard

It being Monday, you may be more in need of a giggle or two than usual. Allow us to point you in the direction of Roger Gregg’s Crazy Dog Audio Theatre, a place where the line between genius and lunacy has never been so fine. Our favourites are the Bill Lizard stories (Tread Softly, Bill Lizard; Time Out for Bill Lizard; The Apocalypse of Bill Lizard), which come on like Sam Spade trapped in an episode of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as written by Flann O’Brien. Take The Apocalypse, for example:
Bill Lizard, the maladjusted detective in the two-tone shoes, and his partner Cyril the Pooka are hired by the Unspeakable to search the Unknowable to find the Unthinkable. Does the world end? What is after the After Life? Will we need shoes in heaven?
Cyril the Pooka, incidentally, is an invisible six-foot rabbit who aids and abets Bill in his attempts to escape a parallel universe in which you can count on at least seven weird things happening before breakfast. You can download the first episode of Apocalypse here, although you may want to don the whale-bone corset now, before your sides start splitting …