“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.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Books Of The Year # 1: CROSS, by Ken Bruen

We’re always the last to know. Like, couldn’t someone have mentioned, even in passing, that it’s coming up to Christmas? Now here’s us with nary a child in the house washed and no sign of a ‘2007 Round-Up Of Books Wot My Friends Wrote’ compilation to fill a gap. Bah blummin’ humbug, etc. Anyhoo, here’s the first of our Books of the Year – Seamus Smyth on Ken Bruen’s CROSS. To wit:
“Like all gifted writers, Ken Bruen is big on atmosphere. He wallops you with it on page one – not with a character wearing a cross, but with a cross wearing him – and never lets up. And try this for characterisation: “I didn’t enquire how the barman knew my order. I was afraid he’d tell me … You sit behind a pint like that, a pure gift, with the Jameson already weaving its dark magic on your eyes, you can believe that Iraq is indeed on the other side of the world, that winter isn’t coming, that the Galway light will always hold that beautiful fascination and that priests are our protectors, not predators. You won’t have the illusion for very long, but the moment is priceless.” Bruen stalks Galway with the eye of a jackal, scouring the city’s ever-changing cultural and social scene and rancid underbelly, and weaves it into a thought-provoking sleuth yarn which is an indictment on modern-day Ireland. And he’s very visual. You see everything. The ‘half-crouch young people adopt’, the tree in the centre of McSwiggan’s pub reassuring us that the ‘country still has a sense of the absurd’. Bruen adds to the genre a voice that’s as challenging and unsettling as it is original. No genre-writing for this guy. He writes as if he’s sitting over a beer talking to a mate. It’s as subtle a piece of crime-writing as you’re likely to get. Nothing’s forced. It’s a masterclass in pace. Many writers are compared to writers who spawned their own sub-genre. Not Bruen. He’s spawning his own for others to aspire to. How many of us can claim that?”- Seamus Smyth
Seamus Smyth is the author of QUINN.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE SILVER SWAN by Benjamin Black

Incurably curious pathologist Quirke is back, in John Banville’s second novel written as Benjamin Black. It’s two years since the events of CHRISTINE FALLS, and Quirke has given up the drink. He and his daughter aren’t on good terms, his step-father’s suffered a severe stroke, and his step-brother’s lonely and mourning the death of his wife. A bleak picture in ’50s Dublin, then. Things threaten to become even more interesting when Billy Hunt, an old school-friend Quirke barely remembers, calls him and asks a favour: his wife has been found drowned, a suspected suicide, and could Quirke please see that an autopsy is not performed – Billy can’t bear the thought of his wife’s body under the pathologist’s scalpel. Quirke, being Quirke, agrees but does one anyway after he notices a suspicious mark on the dead woman’s skin. It seems he is right to be suspicious, but all that he finds only begs more questions, questions Quirke begins to worry away at, slowly picking his way through a puzzle of drugs, messy finances, and adultery, to reveal the answer. It’s possible that Banville is the best writer at work in the genre at the moment, in terms of artfulness at least. His prose is simply brilliant, gorgeous and evocative and poetic. The sentences he writes stun, the descriptions of the people and the city seem lovingly penned. However, there are moments when you get the sense he’s working on autopilot with these books. Every now and then, a clunker, which would never happen in a book written under the real name. I read somewhere that he writes them very quickly, and if you were to compare the writing here to the writing in, for example, THE SEA, I can certainly believe that. If his writing is this good when he’s not even really trying, if he were to spend the time on a crime novel that he spends on a normal piece of fiction, imagine the result! Quirke is a stunning character, too. Troubled, determined, dogged, melancholy, tee-total here, Banville furnishes him with dimension and makes him fascinating with absolute ease. The characterisation of Quirke alone is reason enough to read the series. As would be the atmosphere of the novel: vaguely sordid, repressed, a little desperate, dark, with everything seeming sinister. The only area where Banville is less than brilliant is the plotting. CHRISTINE FALLS was a little too predictable in this department, though with a brilliant end. The plot of THE SILVER SWAN is actually quite simple, but Banville moves it along at a perfect pace and this time ensures that there’s enough the reader doesn’t know to keep them interested in that department. There are no great shocks (there are, after all, only about three scenarios which could prove to be the truth), but it’s all developed excellently. There’s no punch at the end as there was with the last novel, but the whole thing is more satisfying over all. I can’t wait for the next, apparently called THE LEMUR, and to be serialised in The New York Times.- Fiona Walker

This review is republished by the kind permission of Euro Crime

“I Say, I Say, Essay – Have You Heard The One About Irish Crime Fiction Writing?”

Crimes and Misdemeanours
How the Celtic Tiger kick-started the burgeoning genre of Irish crime-writing, by Bert Wright

Murder, kidnapping, extortion, robbery, conspiracy, fraud, racketeering – sounds like Tony Soprano’s rap-sheet but it’s not. It’s the strapline from a promotional poster in a bookstore window display – 3 for 2 on selected True Crime and Crime Fiction titles, Take your pick! Little bit tabloid, perhaps, but what does it tell us? First, it tells us that in commercial terms, crime pays; and second, it assumes a crossover between the fiction and non-fiction sides of those death-dealing mean streets. This is interesting for in the past, I suspect, many people who read Agatha Christie or Patricia Highsmith found the real life stuff a little too déclassé to be caught dead reading on a bus or a beach. No longer! Sales of both genres are buoyant, according to industry insiders.
  Should we be surprised? No, check out the bestsellers and what you’ll find are thriller writers dominating the fiction charts and here in Ireland, certainly, true crime titles featured prominently in the non-fiction charts. Of the world’s bestselling brand authors, a huge percentage would be crime writers. If you’re reading this on an airplane or in an airport terminal look around and see if someone within a twenty-feet radius isn’t reading John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, or Michael Connelly. See what I mean? As one writer recently suggested, “today, suspense, not sex, is the engine that drives popular fiction.”
  At a time when most of what we wear, watch, and listen to derives from American popular culture it would be foolish to expect reading habits to be different but here in the land of saints, scholars and skinny lattes there is one essential difference. Not only do we have our own distinctive crime genre now, we also have the mise-en-scène to contextualise it. As Ken Bruen (right), one of our most highly-rated crime writers wrote: “I didn’t want to write about Ireland until we got mean streets. We sure got ’em now.”
  Some would say there’s no more crime than before, just more sensational crime reporting. This is not what most people think. Most of us instinctually believe that crime is not just more widespread but more vicious. With George Orwell we’d share the view – expressed in “The Decline of the English Murder” - that murder ain’t what it used to be, by which he meant that “the old domestic poisoning dramas, product of a stable society” had given way to the casual violence born of “the dance-halls and the false values of the American film.” (Orwell could be impossibly quaint when the humour was on him.)
  And arguably something similar has happened here. Thirty to forty years ago, crime in Ireland might involve an ageing farmer murdered over an inheritance dispute, sweet nothings in the ballroom of romance turning to violence in a country lane. Now we have teenage drug barons plugged in cold blood on quiet suburban streets, headless torsos fished out of canals, contract killings as an extension of the services sector, and most notoriously, a fearless crime reporter executed in her car at a busy intersection.
  Sociological extrapolations are risky, of course, but would it be a stretch to suggest that the combustible mixture of windfall economics, easy money and the ancient impulse to acquire lots of it, by whatever means, has fuelled the crime explosion? Surely not, and the explosion of Irish crime writing has followed as naturally as a gumshoe trailing a hot lead. Suddenly Irish crime writing is hip and edgy and everyone wants a piece of the action.
  Most readers could name-check established writers such as John Connolly, Paul Carson, or Julie Parsons, but scan the innumerable Irish crime websites and you’ll find listed seventy to a hundred active crime writers! Admittedly, they cheat by stretching the genus – Edna O’Brien, William Trevor, Hugo Hamilton, crime writers? – but nevertheless, it’s clear that many writers have raised a finger and tacked into the prevailing wind that’s currently powering the crime boom.
  Among the most interesting recruits are John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) and Declan Hughes. Hughes, a successful playwright and screenwriter, recently parlayed his fascination with American crime heavyweights such as Chandler, Macdonald and Hammett into a new career as a crime writer. “I’d always wanted to write crime, and then one day I was sent a series of crime novels a production company wanted me to adapt, and I thought: I can do better myself.” A three-book contract with London publisher John Murray soon followed and after a warm critical reception, Hughes’ Ed Loy series, set in his native South Dublin, looks set to propel its creator onto the international stage.
  But it’s the spectacle of John Banville, Booker Prize winner and perhaps the most self-consciously literary of Irish writers, parking his tank-sized reputation right in front of the precinct house that has generated screeds of newsprint as critics attempt to make sense of the writer’s curve-ball career move. (Conveniently, it’s forgotten that Banville has form, his 1989 novel THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, having brilliantly dramatised the celebrated Malcolm Macarthur murder case.)
  The resentment and conspicuous lack of fraternity, however, has been amusing to witness. In a faux-Wildean flourish, one crime website declared “Blandville’s” novel “as boring as a dog’s ass.”* In fact, CHRISTINE FALLS, his first novel under the Benjamin Black pseudonym, is a masterly exercise in period noir, evoking the sounds, smells and manners of 1950s’ Dublin with the acuity and panache which is conspicuously missing from too much genre fiction.
  But there is a darker side to all of this that raises questions about the way we view the New Ireland. Anatomising the frequently grim reality of Irish criminality has been the task of a coterie of journalists and writers for the past decade or more. The most successful of the true crime writers, Paul Williams of The Sunday World, more or less invented the genre with THE GENERAL (O’Brien Press, 1995.) Since then, through the efforts of Williams and other writers – Paul Reynolds, Michael Sheridan, Gene Kerrigan and Niamh O’Connor – Ireland has become a country intimately acquainted with the misdeeds of its most heinous criminals, from John Gilligan to The Scissor Sisters. (The craic in the book-biz, incidentally, is that these are the most-robbed books in history with weaselly gurriers frequently spotted browsing the crime section to see whether they’ve been name-checked in the latest bestseller.)
  But free-sampling aside, who actually buys crime books, propelling them time after time into the upper reaches of the charts? (To date THE GENERAL has sold a massive 130,000 copies.) A vast cross-sectional demographic is the answer, but why? Wherein, one wonders, lies the enduring appeal of crime writing? Well, of course, the fascination with dark deeds is older than Sophocles and Shakespeare but a contemporary slant suggests that we read these books to sublimate our very real fear of ever being involved in such terrifying situations ourselves. Or, simply put, we tell each other horror stories to ward off the bogeyman. Declan Hughes (right) puts it even more simply. “What’s not to like?” he asks. “I love the very stuff of crime fiction: the smoking gun, the hard drinking, the femme fatale, the merciless gangster, the chase through the night-time streets.”
  Equally interesting (and more disturbing to contemplate) is the possibility that we freely accept burgeoning crime as the price of economic success. There’s an ambivalence at work; nobody wants to experience violent crime first-hand but having your own mean streets, now that’s pretty cool. Add to the mix white-collar and lifestyle crime, financial corruption and recreational cocaine use, and you begin to see how Ireland has, in a perverse sense, come of age. We got the lattes, the land cruisers, and the lap dancers, so why wouldn’t we read about the really nasty side of the affluence deal?
  “It’s part of the tradition too,” declares Declan Hughes. “The hardboiled novel always depended on boomtowns where money was to be made and corners to be cut: twenties San Francisco for Hammett, forties LA for Chandler.” And now, early twenty-first century Dublin for a whole host of Irish crime writers, he might have added.- Bert Wright

This article was first published in Connections Magazine

* Yup, that was us. And we’d like to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise to dogs’ asses everywhere. Wea woofy culpa, or words to that effect.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 1,097: John McFetridge

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?
SWAG – or really anything by Elmore Leonard.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I read all over the place and I don't feel guilty about any of it.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When the ending to DIRTY SWEET presented itself. Up till that moment I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Now it’s closer to just no idea.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE WHORE MOTHER by Shaun Herron – despite the title (and it not being technically a crime novel. Also the story ‘Black Hoodie’ in Roddy Doyle’s THE DEPORTEES).
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Could I make this an Irish-Canadian novel and say Brian Moore’s THE REVOLUTION SCRIPT?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is when a scene is really working, when all the parts come together and it reads exactly like I want it to. The worst part is when a scene isn’t working.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
A late-’70's rock band, The High, reunite to play the casino nostalgia circuit – and rob a few along the way (I tried out some characters in flash fiction on www.muzzleflashfiction.net).
Who are you reading right now?
Mario Puzo and Linwood Barclay.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Sex. Violence. Profanity.

John McFetridge’s EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE will be published in July 2008. DIRTY SWEET is available at a good bookstore near you.

But How Strange The Change From Major To Major Major

Wonderful world, beautiful people. Any novel that features the characters Jimmy the Bollix, Stinking Pete, Lucky Luciano and Dirty Dave has our name on a copy, particularly when said novel – THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK – emanates from the warped mind of Twenty ‘Major Major’ Major, the bon viveur, surreal genius, bloggaire extraordinaire and erudite wordsmith who doesn’t like to show off, which is why his blogging vocabulary is mostly limited to an anagram of the word ‘cnut’. Quoth the blurb elves:
When Twenty gets an early morning wake-up call from Detective Larry O’Rourke it seems like any other day. But when he discovers that his friend, record-shop owner Tom O’Farrell, has been murdered and that his dying act was scrawl the number ‘60’ in blood on his chest and dial Twenty’s number into his phone, he begins to think something might be out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, time is running out for the people of Dublin. A plan has been hatched that is more sinister than seeing your granny tongue-kiss with an 18-year-old and it all seems to centre around ‘Folkapalooza’, a massive free concert due to take place in the Phoenix Park. Soon Twenty and his pals from Ron’s bar find themselves plummeted into the crazy world of concert promotions, assassins, iPod-based defence systems, mad taxi drivers, office espionage and devious minds. A combination that will test their friendships, and their ability to cope with hangovers, to the limit. What does the number ‘60’ signify? Who is the ginger albino and who is he working for? Can Twenty, Jimmy the Bollix, Stinking Pete, Dirty Dave and the rest solve the puzzle before it’s too late or will Dublin succumb to the dastardly mastermind behind it all?
Erm, given that said dastardly mastermind is very probably one Twenty Major, it matters not a whit. But it’s still not too late, people – the book isn’t published until February, so we can still get this filth banned. The petition is officially open in the comments box …

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We Need To Talk About Kevin. Again

And now for something slightly different, people. Kevin McCarthy is an Irish writer on the verge of a big breakthrough – he’s already had stories published with Thuglit and Plots With Guns – and has just completed his first novel, PEELER, ‘a murder mystery / lit crime novel set during in West Cork during the War of Independence’. We herewith and hencely bring you chapter the first of PEELER, with our commendations. To wit:

PEELER
by
Kevin McCarthy

Chapter 1
Word of the body had come from the wife of a shopkeeper in Ballycarleton. It was a rumour only, she had told the young RIC constable as he collected the barracks’ newspapers from the rear of her husband’s newsagents. But she hadn’t the heart not to hand it on. Imagine, she had said. Some poor soul lying alone in the gorse and the heather, in the wind and rain of late autumn. Unclaimed. A young woman, she had told the constable, her hand resting on his forearm, speaking quickly, in a breathless whisper, eyes darting left and right lest someone should see her speaking to a Peeler. Just a rumour, mind. Passed by the friend of a cousin who grazed sheep in the hills.
  The same hills where they were now searching. Eleven cold, wet men in the open back of a Crossley tender. Acting Sergeant Seán O’Keefe of the Royal Irish Constabulary bumped shoulders with a private from his escort of eight Essex regiment soldiers out of Bandon. With him from the barracks were Constables Logan and Keane, O’Keefe only bringing the recently sworn in Keane because it was he who had taken the tip on the body from the newsagent’s wife.
  The Crossley’s engine strained, gears grinding as it climbed a rutted boreen used by farmers and their livestock. O’Keefe scanned the landscape for any sign of the body. The squaddies scanned the sky for rain through the chicken wire mesh that shrouded the back of the Crossley. The chicken wire kept out grenades but not the weather.
  The soldiers, O’Keefe knew, resented being there; dragged away from a warm fire to run escort for three Peelers searching for a body that probably didn’t exist. They smoked, cupping cigarettes in down turned hands, their Lee-Enfield rifles resting between their knees. O’Keefe considered ordering a pair of the men to stand watch to the front and rear of the lorry bed, arms at the ready, but didn’t have the heart. He wasn’t sure the soldiers would obey a Peeler’s order anyway.
  Fifty-five policemen killed in the previous four months in Ireland. Forty-nine disarmed and countless others wounded, shot at and beaten. West Cork had been the worst affected in the country. The constabulary needed army escorts to move around the county and the Army relied on the constabulary for local intelligence, but neither was willing to cede authority until something went sour. Until someone was killed on patrol or a shop was looted and torched, when suddenly it was the other lot who had been in charge. O’Keefe remained silent.
  Hills of deep green—mottled with rusty patches of dying bracken, clumps of spiny gorse and rock and studded with mountain-grazing sheep—rose gently on both sides of the boreen. Halfway up the hill to the west were the abandoned remains of a small cottage, most of the structure’s rotting thatched roof collapsed inwards.
  ‘There! Down from the cottage, there.’
  O’Keefe saw it a second after Keane did. Rumour become truth, some two hundred yards up the hill to the west, to the left of the ruin. The sheer, fleshy whiteness of it. The black, rifling attention of feeding crows.
  The soldiers followed Keane’s pointed finger, one or two taking up their rifles, assuming the young constable had spotted a sniper or party of ambushers. O’Keefe reached over into the cab, tapped the Crossley driver’s shoulder and the tender squeaked to a halt. The men jumped off the tailgate, leaping the low ditch at the edge of the narrow track, fanning out in rough, defensive positions.
  O’Keefe followed them down from the lorry and paused behind it, studying the landscape. It was an odd place to dump a body, he thought, even if it was left as bait for an ambush. The only places an attack could come from were the ruined cottage or the hilltop, where there was a ruck of wind-worn boulders that could act as a firing position. He would be exposed while he did his examinations of the scene, but O’Keefe had seen far better ambush sites: bodies laid at bends in roads bordered by high blackthorn hedges and dry-stone walls; bodies left in front of derelict buildings, darkened windows nesting snipers. This felt different. He waved over the Essex lance corporal in charge of the escort. The man came slowly, ducking low in the ditch but in no hurry. He was a hard-looking man, a tracery of fine white scarring on one side of his face. O’Keefe guessed this wasn’t his first war.
  ‘The boulders there, and the ruins….’ O’Keefe pointed. ‘Can you send a few lads up to clear them? Maybe leave two in wide positions and a couple with the Lewis gun on the tender. Doesn’t feel like an ambush, but…’—he felt a fool saying it—‘better safe than sorry.’
  The lance corporal looked as if he might disagree, then shrugged and bellowed four names. The men received their orders and began to trudge up the hill while the corporal set his remaining squad in positions facing north and south, up and down the boreen, with two men manning the Lewis machine gun on the Crossley’s bonnet.
  A breeze cooled the damp wool of O’Keefe’s bottle green uniform. Gooseflesh dimpled his back. Constable Keane jogged over and squatted beside him, gently setting an oiled leather camera case on the grass at the ditch’s rim.
  ‘Will we head up, Sergeant?’
  ‘No,’ O’Keefe said. ‘Wait til those boys clear the area. The body’s not going anywhere.’
  Keane nodded, rummaging in his trouser pocket for a tattered paper bag of sweets. He held it out to O’Keefe who shook his head.
  ‘Queer spot to leave it, all the same,’ the young constable said, palming sweets into his mouth and returning the bag to his pocket. ‘Have to lug the yoke a fair stretch to get it up there. And left in full view of the whole valley.’
  ‘No sense plugging someone if others can’t learn from it.’
O’Keefe watched as the Essex scouts disappeared into the derelict cottage halfway up the hill. Moments later they re-emerged, signalling an all clear and O’Keefe continued to track them as they climbed towards the boulders at the hilltop, the soldiers moving in a loose group of four instead of spreading out and working around from each side of the crest. They ambled, upright, Enfields held loosely at their hips. Like Sunday hillwalkers, O’Keefe thought. Too young to have fought in the war or they’d know better. ‘Where’s Logan?’ he said.
  Keane nodded back towards the Crossley. Constable Logan was leaning up against the lorry’s bonnet, pipe stem wedged in his mouth under the cover of a thick, white moustache. O’Keefe didn’t need to see his mouth to know that he was yarning. It was what Logan did. The man could talk paint off walls.
  O’Keefe could hardly believe the old constable hadn’t taken a bullet since the Troubles had started. Logan was from a different age of policing in Ireland. A time when a constable stopped for an auld natter with the people he served. For a hand or two of cards with the bachelor farmer, a short whisky on a cold night patrol, a mug of tea and a look-in at the dairyman’s newborn calf.
  Now, O’Keefe reflected, we police travel in packs and kick in the dairymen’s doors, hunt down their sons while their sons are hunting us. Logan had taught O’Keefe a lot of what had been good about the job in the days before the killing had started. He decided to leave him where he was, hoping that Logan would hear the shooting, if there was any, over the sound of his own voice.
  The four Essexes reappeared from behind the boulders and again signalled an all clear.
  ‘Right so, Constable.’ O’Keefe rose stiffly from the ditch.
  Keane picked up the camera case and took long strides up the hill, boots pressing a wake in the damp grass for O’Keefe to follow. As they climbed, O’Keefe took note of the ascent and estimated the distance from the Crossley to the body. The grade of the hillside was enough to make a reasonably fit man break into a sweat. A fitter man than himself, he thought, the scar on his face tensing in spasm with the effort of the climb. He rubbed it with his palm. Like the lance corporal, O’Keefe had his own curio from the war; a dark, pink rope of knotted tissue, from under his right eye to his neck. It played up under physical or mental strain. He had covered enough of it as he could with a thick brown moustache.
  ‘Fair climb, Sergeant.’ Keane was only twenty-two years old, a Donegal lad six months in the police. He had sharp blue eyes, sandy blond hair under his peaked uniform cap and the wispy beginnings of his own de rigueur RIC moustache. He was an athletic, handsome, if shorter, version of the thousands of men who had clamoured to join the RIC for generations. When the IRA had begun shooting RIC men, recruitment to the constabulary had understandably dropped. Out of necessity, age-old standards for height, girth, reading, writing and arithmetic had been relaxed, allowing men under five foot nine, such as Keane, to enlist.
  ‘It is,’ O’Keefe answered. ‘You’d reckon more than one to do the job—to haul it up there.’
  ‘And a motor,’ Keane said, ‘or cart and ass to get the body up the boreen. Sure, the village there…,’ the constable turned back from his climbing and pointed south-eastwards, ‘must be a mile or more away.’
  O’Keefe stopped and looked. The hamlet was clearly visible from where they stood on the hill. ‘Drumdoolin,’ he said. ‘Two of our lads were killed just outside it on cycle patrol last summer. O’Rourke and Cotton—good cons, God rest them.’ Con. RIC slang for constable. O’Keefe had heard that con was short for convict in America. He enjoyed the irony. ‘They boarded up Drumdoolin barracks shortly after. Divvied up the men between Bandon barracks and ourselves. IRA burned the shell of it last Easter.’
  Keane shook his head but didn’t appear surprised. It was all in the run of things for new RIC men and the rabble of Black and Tans brought in from across the water. Barrack mates shot in the face from behind stone walls, their guns and ammunition taken while they lay twitching and bleeding out on the road. Barrack mates kidnapped from dance halls and executed by moonlight, their bodies dumped in bog holes or left on the wet cobbles of town squares as a warning to prospective recruits to the constabulary. Keane would never have known West Cork when it wasn’t a place hated and feared by policemen.
  ‘You think the body had anything to do with the village?’ Keane said, turning back and continuing to climb.
  O’Keefe shrugged and followed. ‘If it did, we’ll probably never find out. Sure, murder’s as common as rain round here these days. And no one knows anything about it, even when they do.’
  They reached the body and several crows flapped and rose from it, angry at the intrusion. Even then, O’Keefe thought one had refused to flee its roost at the body’s mid-section. Only as he moved closer could he see that it was no crow covering the young girl’s hips and thighs.
  Keane blessed himself. ‘Jesus wept. Look at her…’ He swallowed. ‘Are those…feathers?’
  The young constable turned then and vomited into a scrag of heather.

© Kevin McCarthy, 2007

Kevin McCarthy is represented by the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency. Enquiries to: Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, Rosney Mews, Upper Glenageary Road, Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland.

One Good Nocturnes Deserves Another

John Connolly’s collection of short stories, NOCTURNES, is being re-released with an additional tale tucked inside, and to celebrate he’s been maundering on about being an honorary woman and interesting stuff in locker-rooms over at his interweb thingy. Quoth John:
“To coincide with the publication of the new edition of NOCTURNES in the UK next month, with its lovely Rob Ryan-designed cover, we’ve added a new short story, “The Cycle”, to the ghost stories section of the website, as that’s one of the new additions to the collection, and we don’t want to gouge money from those who bought NOCTURNES when “The Cycle” wasn’t included. “The Cycle” was originally written for a collection entitled MOMENTS, which was published in Ireland to aid tsunami relief. The brief was that all of the stories should be written by women, but the editor asked if I’d like to sneak one in and see if anyone noticed, and then my story could be used to help with publicity. As it happened, the collection sold out, so they didn’t need to reveal the fact that I was one of the authors. Thus I ended up an honorary woman, but without any of the interesting locker-room stuff that my brief deception might otherwise have permitted. Sigh.”
Ladies? Any idea of what kind of ‘interesting’ locker-room ‘stuff’ John might be talking about? We can only presume he means towel-snapping and suchlike …

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 1,594: Felicity McCall

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 BIG SLEEP / Raymond Chandler. Great novel, iconic B/W film.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
My 17-year-old daughter Aoife’s collection. HOW I LIVE NOW / Meg Rosoff is brilliantly original.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Seeing a book of mine displayed in the same window as a seminal work by my journalist hero, Robert Fisk.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE / John Banville, and I loved the combination of readability and fine writing in FAREWELL TO THE FLESH / Gemma O’Connor.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Brian McGilloway’s Benedict Devlin is made for a long-running television series. I’ve urged him to think in that direction.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Switching mentally between the world of the work-in-progress and the basics of everyday life, during the intensive writing stage.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
A mother’s legal battle against a judgment-by-morals to win back custody of her daughters after she’s cleared of assaulting her infant. And the solicitor who fought her case to the highest court in the jurisdiction, and won – making legal history. Based on real-life events.
Who are you reading right now?
Alice MacDermott, archive news material for an inquest this week, and a collection of scripts from emerging playwrights. With Eoin McNamee’s 12:23 PARIS saved for Christmas.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Intense, perceptive, cynical. Or maybe that’s me.

Felicity McCall’s FINDING LAUREN is published by the Guildhall Press.

Bend Over, We’ll Drive*

“Is this the way Jayne Mansfield died?” Nathan Cain over at Independent Crime brings us the first glimpse of the latest Ken Bruen and Jason Starr outing for Hard Case Crime, with the news that THE MAX is slated for a September 2008 release. Says Nathan: “Just check out the cover. You know the book is going to kick ass.” Hmm, yes, it would appear that Angela is in for a bumpy ride. Although no bumpier than the ride Max is due, according to the extract from Hard Case. To wit:
“Gonna have yer sweet white ass later.”
  The greeting Max Fisher got from his towering black cell mate, Rufus.
  Max thought, Whoa, hold the phones, there’s gotta be some mistake. Was he in the right place? Where was the V.I.P. treatment? Where was Martha Fucking Stewart? Where were those bastards from Enron? How come there wasn't a goddamn tennis court in sight? Yeah, Max knew Attica wasn’t Club Fed, but he didn’t expect this. He thought a big-time player like himself would get the, you know, special treatment but, Jesus, not this kind of special treatment. He thought he’d work on his backhand, get some stock tips, learn how to crochet, maybe start working out, lose some of the extra forty pounds he’d been lugging around. Maybe the guard took him to the wrong part of the prison. Didn’t prisons have neighborhoods just like cities? Max was supposed to be on the Upper East Side, but by accident they'd brought him to the goddamn South Bronx.
  Max clutched the bars, said to the guard, a young black guy, “Hey, come back here, yo.” Yeah, Max spoke hip-hop, one of his many talents. The guard didn’t stop and Max shouted, “Hey, asshole, I think there's been a little fucking screw-up around here!” Yeah, let the fuck know who was boss, like the time he was dining at Le Cirque and the maitre d’ sat him at a table with a dirty tablecloth. Max let that motherfucker have it all right.
  The guard, walking away, laughed, said, “Naw, I think there’s gonna be a big screw up, Fisher. Inside yo’ ass.” …

Copyright © 2008 by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr.
The question, of course, is why Max Fisher might want to smuggle carpentry accessories into prison. Is he planning to build a bedside locker? Put up a book shelf? Only time, that notoriously doity rat fink, will tell …

* With apologies to The Cramps

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rebel Without A Pause

There’s a very nice feature on one-man publishing industry Eoin Colfer over at the Sunday Telegraph, in which Eoin outlines the reasons why people seem to like the unstoppable Artemis Fowl. Like, doesn’t every boy ‘n’ gal love a rebel? Quoth the Telly:
It’s the rule of every successful book, film or play that the leading character must be likeable. Otherwise, we won’t care what happens to them. That’s why author Eoin (pronounced Owen) Colfer was taking such a risk when he chose to make Artemis Fowl, the young hero of our book of the month for December, such an initially unappealing human being. The boy is 12 years old, a brilliant criminal mastermind and possessed of a cold, calculating determination that instantly sets him apart from friendlier fictional contemporaries such as Harry Potter and Alex Rider.
“The idea was to make Artemis a bit of a Huckleberry Finn character, a law unto himself,” says Colfer. “I wanted to make him so confident and outlandish that, in the end, the readers would be won over by his sheer audaciousness.
“It was a bit of a fine line and I confess I was worried because I’d got some criticism in the Irish press over the way in which Benny, the main character in my first book (BENNY AND OMAR) had left his little brother on his own when he should have been baby-sitting him. To me, Benny was basically a good lad who was a bit flawed, like lots of people are. It’s the same with Artemis. He loves his mother, but at the same time he likes to keep this hard face on him.
“To be honest, I wasn’t at all sure I’d got the balance right. I thought I was probably going to get buried.”
Erm, yes, but only in the publishing equivalent of a state funeral. Brace yourself for Colfer’s new departure, people – the standalone AIRMAN will be crash-landing onto a shelf near you on January 3rd …

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “Not quite another coming of age novel – more a densely plotted, fast-paced and action packed adventure story with characters so real you feel as though you could reach out and touch them. I enjoyed [ARTEMIS FOWL AND] THE LOST COLONY immensely. It gave me a few hours of enjoyment that I recall from my youthful days, when I had more time to sit and read for the sheer pleasure of it. Colfer speaks to the teenager in all of us and manages to help us come to terms with the discomfort we once felt at that difficult time in our own lives. The strangeness and newness of it. Absolute brilliance!” raves Pseudo at The Truth About Books. Over at Everyday Reads, Lightheaded is largely in agreement: “Wherever Colfer gets his ideas I sure hope as hell it doesn’t run dry. He continually surprises with plots that seem to come out of nowhere, grab and shake you to the core while still making you believe that hopefully, things will turn out right in the end.” Staying with the Eoin vibe, Sarah Weinman picks Eoin McNamee’s 12:23 as one of her reads of the year at The Millions: “If Graham Greene had lived to write about the death of [Princess] Di, this would have been the result.” As for Eoin’s alter-ego, John Creed, Mark Timlin at the Independent on Sunday likes BLACK CAT, BLACK DOG: “An intriguing mystery full of violence and double crosses … Creed writes like a master, and this is as good an espionage novel as I’ve read for years.” Lovely. Peter Guttridge at The Observer includes Cuddly Dudley Edwards’ MURDERING AMERICANS in his yearly round-up, to wit: “Edwards delights in bashing political correctness in US academia but there’s a skilfully plotted mystery behind all the jokes.” Another yearly round-up, this time in the Village Voice, finds Elizabeth Hand lauding John Connolly’s latest: “Anyone still yearning for a fix of something cold and dark should turn to Irish novelist John Connolly’s taut, disturbing THE UNQUIET, the latest in his series about Maine P.I. Charlie Parker … THE UNQUIET deals with supernatural tropes in a realistic milieu, though Connolly sides with the dark angels when it comes to this exceptional novel’s denouement.” Speaking of supernatural tropes: “I’d like to recommend an absolutely fantabulous book to you peoples – SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy. Finished it last night and it was freakin’ greatness, it was! I mean, skeletons, detectives, wizards and good ol’ wisecracks are fab on their own, but mush them all together and you’ve got yourself some AWESOME!” reckons Lydia at Crazy Crazy Monkey And now a brace for SLIDE, starting with Craig at Craig’s Book Club: “SLIDE is extremely dark fun all the way. [Ken] Bruen and [Jason] Starr put their characters (who are hardly likeable, even on their best days) through wringer after wringer (a Bruen specialty) just for their and our amusement. And it is quite a ride.” Over at International Noir, Glenn Harper sounds a tongue-in-cheek warning note: “The pulp end of the crime fiction spectrum is so stylized, in the pure form of the genre, that an author constantly risks tipping his story over into parody … Parody can be a lot of fun, but there’s a risk that comes along with it: can the reader ever again take pulp-noir fiction seriously after experiencing its comic travesty in a book like SLIDE?” New York Entertainment is isniffily mpressed by Gene Kerrigan’s THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR: “With crime novels, you can usually be satisfied if a couple of things go right, but here the author does everything well. He conveys beautifully the rituals of cops and their quarry, while evoking the feel of a city where new yuppie affluence rubs up against the remnants of a seedy, savage past.” And while we’re on the subject of seedy and savage: “Declan Hughes has written an amazing mystery … The characters are convincing, the dialogue is crisp, the setting is wonderful, and the villains are brutal, and chilling. Irish Noir at its best! Highly recommended!” parps our old friend Bob the Wordless about THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. “The story is slow to start – much of the first half is taken up with flashbacks to the earlier story and the past of the current one. But once it finally takes off, it gallops like a hunt through the hills, and readers will whip through the final pages, unable to sleep for dread,” reckons Lucille Redmond at Heatseeker Reviews of Julie Parsons’ latest, I SAW YOU … “Satisfyingly plotted and resolved … Sinister priests and baby-smuggling rings might tempt lesser men to melodrama, but Black swathes the action in near-Beckettian gloom,” says Alexis Soloski at Village Voice (via the Charleston City Paper, for some reason) about Benny Blanco’s CHRISTINE FALLS. Finally, they just won’t quit for Tana French’s IN THE WOODS: “Beautifully written, this intelligent thriller is laden with an atmosphere that blends shades of the gothic novel with the modern mystery. French keeps the suspense taut while never stooping to violence or cheap theatrics. This is subtle storytelling that steadily accelerates with each paragraph, as the author makes us deeply care about the characters as the story closes in on a surprising finale … IN THE WOODS is an exquisite debut,” purrs Oline H. Cogdill at the Florida Sun-Sentinel. It is most definitely that, ma’am …

Sunday, December 9, 2007

There’s No Coke Without Ire

Being whimsical types, the elves were struck by the lead editorial in Saturday’s Irish Times. The context of the piece is the increase in drug-related gangland crime in general, and cocaine-related deaths in particular. Three high-profile deaths associated with cocaine abuse occurred in Ireland last week, two happening after students ate damp cocaine, while a post-mortem on model and socialite Katy French (right) revealed that she had consumed the drug in the hours before her death. In the inevitable navel-gazing that followed, the former Old Lady of D’Olier Street, the paper of record for Ireland’s middle-class, weighed in with the following:
The cocaine culture
Cocaine kills. So does heroin. And so do the gangland suppliers of these illegal drugs. Yet the consumption and supply of potentially lethal substances continues to increase without any forceful public reaction to the undermining of social and community values and the rule of law. Recent cocaine-related deaths and gangland murders underline the need to shake ourselves out of this waking nightmare.
  President Mary McAleese addressed the issue last month. The only way to stop gangland criminals from flourishing, she said, was for people to refuse to buy the illegal materials they sell. It wasn’t an original insight. But it placed responsibility for vicious gangland murders and the devastation of communities where it ultimately belonged: on the heads of those citizens whose personal decisions prop up the criminal underworld.
  That is an uncomfortable reality, particularly for those middle-class people who behave as if their personal social habits are somehow disconnected from the rest of life. Drug users choose not to think about the gun-feuds and murders that form the backdrop to their cocaine supply. They blank out deaths from overdoses and adulterated materials. If they are young, they think they are bullet-proof and that the negative consequences of drug-addiction will happen to others.
  The past 10 years of unprecedented economic growth have made the Republic wealthy beyond its dreams. With that wealth has come lifestyle changes and a diminution in social responsibility. Drug abuse has spread out of working-class neighbourhoods where – lamentably – we have been prepared to accept and tolerate it. Yet a common code of values that links us all and encourages personal commitment is at the heart of a healthy society. We need to recognise and give effect to such a social contract if crime gangs are to be challenged and illegal drug use controlled. […]
  Government policies haven’t worked. Its initiatives lacked resources and sufficient urgency. That must change. We are experiencing a wave of illegal drug-taking that is swamping all sections of society. Young people are dying. And the crime bosses are growing more powerful and dangerous. Their corrupting influence is spreading. In this situation, we all have a responsibility to make hard choices.
If anyone can come up with a better manifesto for Irish crime fiction, we’re all ears. And if that sounds a tad cynical, then bear in mind that the crime writers, along with the first drafters of our grubbier history, the tabloid journalists, have been pretty much saying what the Old Lady said on Saturday for well over a decade now. Meanwhile, our sincere condolences to the French, Doyle and Grey families.

The Rain From Spain Falls Mainly On James Monaghan’s Parade

Crumbs! John Spain, literary editor-type at the Irish Independent and contributor to the Irish Voice, wasn’t noticeably impressed with James Monaghan’s COLOMBIA JAIL JOURNAL. To wit:
“I WAS looking forward to the new book by the head honcho of the Colombia Three, James Monaghan, which was published last week here and which advance publicity had promised would reveal all about the exploits of the Three Amigos down Colombia way a few years back. On that score it was deeply disappointing, which probably only proves how gullible I am to expect anything else. In fact the book fails to provide any new or convincing answers to the two most interesting questions about the Three Amigos – what they were really doing in Colombia in the first place, and how they were smuggled back to Ireland after they absconded from the Colombian justice system.”
Apparently there isn’t even a rehash of the story about how the three chaps were amateur ornithologists checking out the fauna in Colombia’s demilitarised zone. Which totally scuppers our gag about how canaries, like good children, should be seen and not heard. Which is just as well, from a factual point of view, because canaries aren’t indigenous to South America. Or Ireland.