“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, September 21, 2007

Death, Where Is Thy Sting? Oh, There It Is

Michael Collins’s The Death of A Writer – aka The Secret Life of Robert E. Pendleton – gets a paperback reprint in the US this month, hardly surprising given the stack of big-ups it’s received to date. “Michael Collins tears into literary academe with great comic gusto,” reckoned Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times, although Publishers Weekly was a tad more circumspect, to wit: “The philosophical and literary digressions may annoy some readers, but all should appreciate the fully-realized characters, lyrical place descriptions and dark, circuitous plot.” As for Mr and Mrs Kirkus, they could hardly restrain themselves: “Mystery, tragedy and farce converge in this engaging novel of considerable psychological depth … The suspense makes this a page-turner until the climax, as Collins’s plot combines academic satire, philosophical speculation and tragedy.” Hurrah! Sorry, folks, we’re kind of busy this week, so you’ll have to insert your own ‘Death, where is thy sting? It’s in the tale’ gag here …

The Best Things In Life Are Free ... Books

Slide, the latest collaboration between Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, is published this week by Hard Case Crime, and to celebrate Crime Always Pays is diving head-first into a vat of Pimms. Before we slip into the Speedos, however, there’s the matter of the free copies being given away by Hard Case Crime, one of which could be yours if you just answer a simple question, to wit:
What is the name of the first Ken Bruen / Jason Starr collaboration?
To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just email us the answer at the address in the top right of this blog, with ‘Bruen / Starr competition’ in the subject line, before noon on September 25. Meanwhile, here’s a sample chapter to get you onto Slide’s slippery slope …

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Week We’re Reading … The Vengeful Virgin and The Wounded and The Slain

“I knew I’d never get enough of her. She was straight out of hell.” We’re having a bit of a Hard Case Crime binge this week, folks – first up is Gil Brewer’s The Vengeful Virgin, first published in 1958 and a cracker in the mould of Brewer’s patented amour fou, in which TV salesman-on-the-make Jack hooks up with Shirley, a 17-year-old chafing with frustration at having to take care of her rich, bedridden stepfather (“She looked hot enough to catch fire, but too lazy to do anything but just lie there and smoke.”). Delivered in Brewer’s precise, deadpan tone, the best laid plans of vengeful virgins and men quickly spiral out of control as one murder leads to another and Jack finds himself split between the allure of a vast pile of cash and the psychotic charms of a woman who should really be entered under the dictionary definition of ‘all or nothing’. Cain meets Jim Thompson, reckoned Anthony Boucher in the New York Times, and we’re not here to argue. Meanwhile, David Goodis, he of the novel-length suicide notes, sets The Wounded and The Slain (1955) in Jamaica, where James and Cora Bevan have gone in an attempt to rescue their marriage, a shell just hollow enough to accommodate alcoholism, self-loathing, simmering sexual dissatisfaction and bleak thoughts of ending it all. Naturally, Goodis avoids the palm-fringed beaches and sultry sunsets, dragging his characters into the slums of Kingston and face-to-face with their worst nightmares. “He did it to himself. He brought it on by slow degrees and then faster degrees and finally it blew up in his face and knocked him for a loop. For many loops. For endless loops. To send him sailing far away to some dizzy, goofy place where every day is Halloween.” You like your noir dark and psychologically twisted? The Wounded and The Slain is a black, bloody corkscrew.

Landy: Of Hope And Glory

Yet more good news for Derek Landy, folks. According to The Bookseller, Skulduggery Pleasant has been chosen as a contender in a one-off Richard and Judy children’s books special, to be aired on October 28th as part of Channel 4’s literacy season. Nominated in the third of the ‘Early’, ‘Developing’, ‘Confident’ and ‘Fluent’ reading sections, and with two winners to be announced from each section, the broadcast should see Skulduggery Pleasant go huge in the UK, where the Richard and Judy Show has become arguably the most important opinion-former. The full list of nominees is available at Beattie’s Book Blog. Meanwhile, Landy will be putting in an appearance at the Children's Book Festival, which takes place in County Clare from October 3rd-26th. To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson on Treasure Island: “If this don’t fetch the kids, they’ve gone rotten since I knew ’em.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Baa Humbug

Much as we hate to be territorial about Irish crime writing – it is, after all, a pretty broad church – Leonie Swann is testing our limits. Is it because she’s a German author who sets her novel, Three Bags Full, in the fictional Irish village of Glennkill? No. Is it because she’s much more successful at what she does than us, and has garnered a glowing review from Carl Hiassen? Well, only in part. But mainly we’re peeved because Leonie has added to the growing menagerie of cat-and-dog detectives with a rather outrageous twist, to wit:
“On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennkill, the members of the flock gather around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared for the sheep, reading them a plethora of books every night. The daily exposure to literature has made them far savvier about the workings of the human mind than your average sheep. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they set out to find George’s killer.”
Like, sheep? C’mon, people ... “It’s rather as if Agatha Christie had re-written The Wind in the Willows, and I ended by loving it,” says Jane Jakeman in The Independent. That whirring sound you hear? Yep, it’s Dashiell Hammett perning in his eternal gyre …

The Neville Will Find Work For Idle Hands To Do

One of the hardest working men in Irish crime fiction, Neville Thompson (right) has more fingers in more pies than yon Sweeney Todd - writer, editor, playwright, enabler of aspiring scribes and much more, all the details of which are here on his shiny new interweb thingy. Most pertinently, Neville has a new novel on the way, A Simple Twist of Fate, to wit:
“When I went to Thailand on holliers I couldn’t get over the amount of prostitutes and the age at which they started into it. I loved the country but hated that. I also wanted to pay homage to a film I seen years ago, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and I took the name of the book from the song on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. That song tells the story of a fella falling in love with a prostitute and my book has elements of that too. It’s the latest and there is always a certain feeling of pride about your latest work but I love this book. It’s a move away from my normal but not too far removed.”
Neville? Colour us intrigued already. Keep us posted, sir …

We Come Not To Bury Julius, But To Praise Him

I THINK I HEARD THE SHOT.
It was a cold afternoon at the end of October, and I was in my chair reading by the wood stove in my cabin. In these woods many men roam with guns, mostly in the stretches away from where people live, and their shots spray like pepper across the sky, especially on the first day of the rifle hunting season when people from Fort Kent and smaller towns bring long guns in their trucks up this way to hunt deer and bear …
If you haven’t yet got your grubby mitts on Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome, we urge you to do so with all due haste. In essence it’s a tale about a man who picks up his gun to avenge the death of his dog, but what makes it special is the voice, a hauntingly compelling tone that verges on the hypnotic, delivered by a character who is the antithesis of that old crime fiction staple, the unreliable narrator. For a shorthand reference, you could do worse than try to imagine Jim Thompson dabbling in the dark arts of literary fiction. If that’s not seductive enough, try a few sample chapters and immerse yourself in the workings of a unique mind …

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Four Legs Good, Two Opinions Bad

You’ll probably have picked up on Steve Wasserman’s cover story for the latest Columbia Journalism Review already. If you haven’t, you really should – we haven’t read anything quite as funny since the last Carl Hiassen novel. Kicking off with a lament for the decline in book reviewing in newspapers, Wasserman – editor of the Los Angeles Times Review from 1996 to 2005 – soon gets into his stride with a broadside against the lumpen bloggetariat who dare to infringe on the territory of serious critics, to wit:
“What Sarvas is reluctant to concede but is too intelligent to deny is what Richard Schickel, the film critic for Time magazine, eloquently affirmed in a blunt riposte, published in the Los Angeles Times in May, to the “hairy-chested populism” promoted by the boosters of blogging: “Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.” Sure, two, three, many opinions, but let’s all acknowledge a truth as simple as it is obvious: Not all opinions are equal.”
Pardon us while we vomit copiously into our pointy hat with the big fat D on the front. And now that we’re all out of bile, let’s just suggest (quietly, so Steve doesn’t get offended) that criticism and reviewing aren’t cousins, they’re Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The difference? People tend to steer clear of Tweedledum because he takes himself and life a wee bit too seriously, and isn’t much fun. Tweedledee, on the other hand, simply offers his opinion and isn’t going to sulk if he thinks you won’t order your life according to his rules. Because Tweedledee, along with most people, understands that if a writer needs an official interpreter wasting half a rainforest to explain what his or her book is trying to say, then said writer should think very seriously about taking a refresher course in Eng Lit 101. Tweedledee also thinks democracy and freedom of speech is a good thing. Sure, he can be a bit odd like that. But we like him.

Monday, September 17, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 397: JT Ellison

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?
Honestly, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. The story both frightened and comforted, and the pov blew me away. It was one of those books where you close the covers and THINK. I LOVE that. And I liked the idea that Heaven is what you make it. Fascinating concept.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Shriver, and stories from my past, like Jean Auel, Madeleine L’Engle, and Daphne du Maurier. Now isn’t that funny, I’ve just realized the entire list is comprised of women. I wonder what that means. Oh, nearly forgot – Lolita. Nabokov’s like a symphony to me.
Most satisfying writing moment?
It’s funny, as a debut author, you keep having these moments you think can’t be topped. First it’s meeting a hero, getting an agent, getting a deal, your name mentioned online, finishing the second book, the first panel, the first time you see your book, the first time it’s online for pre-sale ... I could go on and on. But the best so far, by far, was seeing it listed on my local library website. I wasn’t expecting to get picked up because I’m paperback, and a librarian from another county told me she never orders paperbacks. To find the unexpected, I think that becomes the most exciting moment of all.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I am woefully under read in Irish crime fiction. Of course, I’m woefully under read in all crime fiction, I think. So this is a thus far … I have to go with John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing. As a debut novel, it’s timeless, and the writing was inspirational to me. Now, as I’m broadening my horizons, I’ve become a fan of Ken Bruen ...
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Again, I’ll refer back to Connolly. I think capturing Charlie Parker onscreen could be difficult, but if done well, quite intriguing.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I haven’t found a worst thing. I love this. I love being able to say I’m a writer, and know deep in my heart I’m pursuing my dream. I feel inordinately lucky to have the opportunity to communicate with strangers. The best thing? Finishing the first draft of a manuscript. Suddenly, you’re not writing a book, you’re revising. And the pressure is off.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Has the Snow White serial killer, dormant for twenty years, resurfaced, or is there a copycat working Nashville? It’s called 14.
Who are you reading right now?
M.J. Rose, The Reincarnationist, Jason Pinter The Mark, a biography of Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour, Eightball Boogie and a few paperbacks. I tend to jump around when I’m working on my own stuff, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to read everything I want. My to-be-read pile is ridiculous, and constantly growing.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Tight, taut and intense.

JT Ellison’s All The Pretty Girls is published on November 1.

The Embiggened O: Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You

Things ain’t easy here at the coalface of independent publishing, folks. Mind you, some days are better than others. One such good day was when a US house got in touch to say they were keen on publishing The Big O. Now, being keen is one thing, crossing the line and actually offering contracts is another. And while they’re happy enough with the fact that The Big O has received decent reviews to date, they’re concerned it mightn’t translate to the US. Which is fair enough. So they asked if there was any way we could get some best-selling / well known / award-winning American authors to big up the book. Not a problem, says we, except for one tiny detail – in common with most people, we’ve never met a single best-selling / well known / award-winning American author. But hell, what’s the point in the interweb if you can’t persecute famous authors via their websites and blogs and ask them if they’d mind having a read of your book and – providing they liked it – say as much in print, right? So we drew up a list (checking it twice, for naughty rather than nice), and got busy persecuting. The result? Not the restraining order we were expecting, no sirree (and ma’am). No indeed – every single last author we got in touch with said yes, here’s my address, send the book. Now, from our limited experience of blogging over the last few months, we already knew the crime writing and reading community is generous above and beyond the call of duty. But for every single person we got in touch with to say yes? That’s simply incredible. So incredible – na├»ve as it might sound to say it aloud – that we quickly realised their collective reaction is actually more important to us now than whether or not the US house decide to publish the book. Because the world can live without one more book published, and God knows the shelves are already jam-packed, but you can’t buy decency, generosity of spirit and a willingness to lend a hand. God bless you, one and all. Meanwhile, the first author to get back to us was Jason Starr (left), who was kind enough to pitch in his two cents thusly:
“Declan Burke’s The Big O has everything you want in a crime novel: machinegun dialogue, unforgettable characters, and a wicked plot. Think George V. Higgins in Ireland on speed.”
Is it really necessary to say our cup runneth over like we’re Oliver Twist standing under Niagara Falls? Yes indeed, Momma never told us there’d be days like these …

The Monday Review

The late, lamented Siobhan Dowd may be gone but she is by no means forgotten. “Dowd’s prose is simple, yet masterful, and her sense of humour jumps off the page. The tension is kept high throughout the story and the reader is left guessing until the very last … A must-read for fans of the traditional mystery genre!” reckon the folks at the MS Readathon of The London Eye Mystery … “Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony is a good story. Artemis is redeemed, but still a saucy adolescent who is just feeling the effects of puberty. He’s also learning about senses of humour … I enjoyed the Lost Colony before bed, by the pool and on the bus,” says Miss Kate of Eoin Colfer’s latest … Yet more big-ups for Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant, this time from Joon Scribble at Live Journal: “The story breezes through and while danger is afoot, it’s never high enough to make you feel actually worried. But it’s a nice, fast read and I grew to like the characters enough so that even if I didn’t get too involved in their actual story, I did want to read about them.” … Delving into Crime Spree’s back issues, Judy Clemens is impressed by Andrew Nugent’s Second Burial, to wit:“(T)his beautifully written book … Nugent’s knowledge of the African community in Ireland is written into this book in an interesting and engrossing way, and by the end of the book I felt I learned something completely new … I am so glad to have discovered Nugent – to me a new author – and will certainly be looking up more of his work.” … The Irish Emigrant makes Ingrid Black’s The Judas Heart its Book of the Week, concluding: “As with all rewarding crime stories, this is a book that requires concentration to keep abreast of the twists and turns of the plot, twists and turns which reflect the distorted thinking of a number of the characters. The third in a series featuring agent Saxon, it manages to keep the suspense alive until the very last pages.” … The inevitable John Connolly review is a Crime Spree magazine double-whammy. In Issue 14, Ruth Jordan declares that, “The Book of Lost Things is a wonderful moment in literature. It’s not a mystery. It’s a fairytale for adults. And children. Every sentence wraps its heart around anyone who loves words. The protagonist himself loves words and therefore has an open imagination. The writer? He’s operating upon another level.” Pat Frovarp takes up the baton in Issue 15, to wit: “David’s experience in this monster-filled other-world is brought to life by Connolly’s unique imagination as it carries the reader along a wickedly clever path that will keep you turning the pages. The Book of Lost Things is certainly a departure for Mr. Connolly, but a story so entrancing that one ought not to pass it by.” We couldn’t agree more … “Christine Falls, despite an ultimately less-than-believable resolution, is a delight in itself, and it’s also a promising experiment. The book fuels the best kind of suspense, not just about Quirke’s future adventures but about the effects of the crafty Benjamin Black on John Banville’s art,” says Gideon Lewis-Kraus at The Slate … “I read until my eyes ached, rested a bit and went back to finish this amazing book. Michael Collins lays the American lifestyle out there for our examination in a “can’t put it down” tale that most of us can relate to,” says Nancy, via Powell’s Books, of Death of a Writer, aka The Secret Life of Robert E. Pendleton … Back to Crime Spree magazine, and a major hup-ya from Jon Jordan for Adrian McKinty in Issue 18, to wit: “Adrian McKinty has garnered nothing but praise for his first two books. This third in the trilogy, The Bloomsday Dead, should leave no doubt that he is a true star. Fast moving and highly engaging, this is a great book. McKinty just gets better and better, a true star of crime fiction.” Finally, a timely boost for Cora Harrison in the week in which My Lady Judge is published in the US, delivered by Dave Biemann of Mystery One Bookstore: “Cora Harrison writes with an easy grace. The relationships between her characters reminds one, very much, of Ellis Peters and her Brother Cadfael … Fans of the traditional mystery, Irish history, off-stage violence, subtle romance and a well paced and plotted read should thoroughly enjoy My Lady Judge.” The Judge judged, eh? Oooh, the humanity, etc.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yet More Independent Publishing, Sort Of

The Irish Independent has launched yet another of in its series of free books, this one focusing on 20 contemporary female Irish writers. First down the road less travelled is Edna O’Brien’s In the Forest, to which the Indo’s legion of blurb elves addressed themselves thusly:
Edna O’Brien’s novel In the Forest tells the dark story of a beautiful young woman and her little son who live in a cottage on the edge of a forest in rural Ireland and are murdered by a deranged killer who has become obsessed with her. The book is based on the true story of Imelda Riney and her son Liam, who were murdered by Brendan O’Donnell in Co Clare in 1994. The mentally disturbed O’Donnell went on to kill local priest Fr Joe Walshe. When the book was first published in 2002 it caused a lot of controversy and O’Brien was accused of exploiting the grief of the families involved. But if the novel makes use of a real life event, it does so for a valid artistic reason. This book is a brilliant exploration of exactly how such a horror -- and others that have happened since then -- can come to pass. It takes us deep into the mind of the killer and makes us feel the unspeakable terror of the victims. It is told in a calm and factual way, but in language of such intensity that the reader feels part of what is happening. It is at once terrifying and spell-binding to read.
All of which leads us to wonder when the Indo will get around to a series of contemporary Irish crime novels. Our humble suggestion runs, in no particular order and excluding novels currently in the first flush of publication, thusly:
1. Quinn by Seamus Smyth
2. The Guards by Ken Bruen
3. Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty
4. The Dead by Ingrid Black
5. Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
6. The Polling of the Dead by John Kelly
7. Little Criminals by Gene Kerrigan
8. Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman
9. The Guilty Heart by Julie Parsons
10. Bogmail by Patrick McGinley
11. Death the Pale Rider by Vincent Banville
12. The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
13. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
14. In the Forest by Edna O’Brien
15. The Colour of Blood by Brian Moore
16. Revenge by KT McCaffrey
17. The Assassin by Liam O’Flaherty
18. Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee
19. Death Call by TS O’Rourke
20. A Carra King by John Brady
Anyone you think we might have left out? As always, canvassing will immediately qualify …