With three Irish writers nominated for Edgar awards, Declan Burke asks why Irish crime fiction - aka dubh noir - is suddenly so popular in the USA.
Have you heard that Shrooms and Once have both been nominated for Best Movie at the Oscars? No, you haven’t – but can you imagine the hoo-hah if they were?
Three Irish writers have been shortlisted for the prestigious Mystery Writers of America ‘Edgar’ awards. Named after Edgar Allen Poe, the man who single-handedly invented the crime genre, the Edgars are crime fiction’s equivalent of the Oscars.
In the ‘Best Novel’ category, Ken Bruen (right) was nominated for PRIEST, in which Galway private eye Jack Taylor investigates the decapitation of a priest in a confessional. Benjamin Black, aka John Banville, got the nod for his debut crime novel, CHRISTINE FALLS, in which pathologist Quirke investigates the death of the eponymous character in 1950’s Dublin.
Tana French, the Vermont-born author who now lives in Ireland, was nominated in the ‘Best First Novel by an American Author’ category. IN THE WOODS follows a male and female detective partnership as they investigate what appears to be the ritualistic murder of a teenage girl in a leafy Dublin suburb.
Bruen is already a multiple award winner in the US, and has previously been nominated for an Edgar; Tana French made the New York Times best-seller list some months back; and Black / Banville’s upcoming crime story, THE LEMUR, the third in the Quirke series following on from The Silver Swan, is currently being serialised in the New York Times.
The glaring question, of course, is why aren’t these writers as popular in Ireland as they are in the US?
“It’s the old chestnut of crime fiction not being considered ‘real’ writing,” says Bruen. “Funny that, with a Booker-winner [Banville] and a Pulitzer-winner [Michael Chabon] on the shortlist.”
And yet John Connolly’s superbly written novels, for example, have been best-sellers in the US and Ireland for many years. Why has the new wave of Irish crime writers, the dubh noir of Declan Hughes, Brian McGilloway, Ingrid Black, Alan Glynn, Arlene Hunt and Adrian McKinty, suddenly become so popular there now?
McKinty (left), an Irish writer now living in Colorado, believes that the new wave of Irish crime writing has coincided with the fact that America’s perception of Ireland has ‘changed radically in the last few years’. “Many of the old stereotypes are finally being laid to rest,” he says, “and Americans have discovered that Ireland is no longer the country of sheep, rain, ANGELA’S ASHES and The Quiet Man.
“Crime writers embrace modernity and contemporary problems,” he says, “and Americans can’t help but notice in their visits to Dublin that Ireland has the youngest population in Europe and Dublin is a multi-cultural, twenty-first century city.”
Charles Ardai, co-publisher at Hard Case Crime, which publishes the novels BUST and SLIDE, Ken Bruen’s collaborations with American author Jason Starr, suggests that Irish crime writing possesses a ‘wounded romanticism’ for American readers.
“Irish settings are particularly appealing, not only because they have a touch of the exotic for US readers but because of the lyricism and sadness of the Irish voice – it blends nicely with the wounded romanticism that has been at the heart of crime fiction ever since Raymond Chandler make it his speciality,” he says. “No one can express pain and grief as resoundingly as an Irishman. No hard-drinking private eye can toss back pints with more fury (or more stamina) than an Irish P.I. And the poetry of the language is just delicious: by and large, American voices just can’t compete with Irish ones when it comes to describing a scene in a tasty way.”
“Before Christmas,” McKinty says, by way of explaining the new-found American appetite for Irish rather than ‘Oirish’ stories, “I went to the movies to see I Am Legend. The preview for PS, I Love You elicited groans from the audience, but the preview for Martin McDonagh’s new crime thriller, In Bruges, brought belly laughs. That surely is a sign of something.” – Declan Burke
This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the Evening Herald
* A free copy of THE BIG O to the first person to identify the song. Ray Banks? You’re barred.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.