Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Songs In The Key West Of Life

The Florida branch of the Irish crime writing community, aka Michael Haskins (right), received something of a love letter from the International Thriller Writers last week that was lovelier than the hypothetical offspring of chanteuse Courtney Love and golf pro Davis Love III. To wit:
When you think of Key West, what first comes to mind are likely beautiful sunsets, clear blue water, and cold beer enjoyed to a soundtrack of island music, not a man beaten half to death outside the clubhouse of a sailing club. But that’s the way Michael Haskins introduces us to Key West in CHASIN’ THE WIND. Local journalist “Mad Mick” Murphy finds the victim, a friend and one of a cast of idiosyncratic locals who populate Haskins’ debut political thriller. As the plot unfolds, Mick and associates uncover a tawdry scheme involving local officials and the Cuban government, and the deeper they dig, the more treachery they unearth.
  Haskins comes upon his understanding of the dark potential of the human heart through a life as wide-ranging and varied as his protagonist’s. His long career in journalism took him from his birthplace in the Boston area to Puerto Rico and Los Angeles and finally to Key West, his home for the last ten years. His first job, at sixteen, was as the overnight office boy at the Record-American, Sunday Advertiser. “I was fortunate to enter the world of journalism in its gritty days,” he says, “when reporters came up the ranks from office boy, to cub, to reporter. My early years were like a black-and-white noir movie.” There’s a novel in all that history, he says. Based on the uncompromising power of CHASIN’ THE WIND, we can only hope it’s not too long coming.
  “Education, I discovered long ago,” Haskins explains, “comes with living life, not necessarily from the hallowed halls of universities.” In addition to his work as a reporter and editor, he’s worked in television and as a freelance photojournalist. Once he landed in Key West, his work at the daily Key West Citizen opened a window into the inner workings of business in Key West. After more than five years at the Citizen, he went to work as public information officer for the City of Key West. In that role he gained further insight into the life and business of his adopted home, insight which illuminates the action of CHASIN’ THE WIND.
  Describing the Key West of CHASIN’ THE WIND, Shamus Award-winner Jeremiah Healy says, “Haskins captures its exotic nature in wonderfully spare prose and dialog.” Edgar nominee Megan Abbott adds, “CHASIN’ THE WIND [reveals] a dark menace rippling beneath the placid city of shaggy bars, flowing rum and the sound of rain on tin roofs.” While Haskins admits that the world he describes on the page may be darker and more tawdry than the Key West he knows and loves, he strived to capture the quality of life in Key West. “[CHASIN’ THE WIND] is fiction, but the city that looms in the background, the bars and restaurants and many of the characters that run through its pages are taken from real life.” He adds, “Crime as I write it does not happen in Key West. We are a long way from the mayhem and gangs of Miami.” Even so, Haskins has me convinced. CHASIN’ THE WIND is not only rich with Key West flavour, but is a crisp, gripping read.

Readers hoping for an introduction to Mad Mick need look no further than his web site, www.michaelhaskins.com. Mad Mick first appears in Murder in Key West, published in the March / April 2007 issue Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and now available online. - ITW

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: I PREDICT A RIOT by (The Artist Formerly Known As Colin) Bateman

I PREDICT A RIOT is a big brick of a book from the Northern Irish crime fiction aficionado now going by the name of Bateman. As a fan of his since DIVORCING JACK, I had high hopes for this book. As ever, the Bangor man failed to disappoint me. I cracked my first smile at the dedication to his Christian name, “… gone but not forgotten.” Couple this with the intriguing tagline, ‘Murder, extortion & carrot cake’, and the reader already knows what they’re in for. Classic Bateman violence and humour.
  As always, his flawed characters leave you cringing as they stumble towards inevitable disaster, and his cleverly constructed plot is revealed with a lightning fast pace that keeps you turning the pages. And as always, I laughed out loud. A lot. Seriously, people at work were staring at me as I giggled through my lunch break for a week.
  The book started life as a serialisation in a Belfast newspaper, The News Letter. Each chapter is an instalment from the paper, and so each one is very short. I have no complaints about this. It made it an incredibly easy read. Also, as a result of its original venue, all the f**king swearing has been ****ed out. If you read Mr Bateman’s blog, you’ll see a mini rant about this. Apparently a lot of folk found his “censorship” rather annoying. I disagree. I thought it made some of the swearing funnier in places.
  However, another hangover from its genesis is the rather annoying amount of recaps within the chapters. I can understand the need to drop the odd sentence of back-story when the reader has to wait days for the next instalment, but in a book as fast-paced as this it’s completely unnecessary. I reckon this was the result of lazy editing as opposed to overkill from the writer.
  All in all, I PREDICT A RIOT rocks harder than the Kaiser Chiefs (sorry, too easy to resist). With a strong cast of characters and a wry look at life in modern Belfast, you’re on to a winner with this one. My final thought when turning the last page was, when’s the next one coming out? Good news! ORPHEUS RISING will be on the shelves in March. It will be mine. – Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan can be found right here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

L.D. Confidential

Hailing from Derry, aka LondonDerry, aka Slash City, Garbhan Downey (right) is steeped in the politics of his home town, as anyone who read last year’s hilarious RUNNING MATES can attest. Being a nice bloke, despite his journalism background, Garbhan was kind enough to drop us a line and let us know he has a new comedy thriller due on the shelves in April. Quoth the blurb elves:
The dark and dirty world of parliamentary espionage is the subject of Garbhan Downey’s new book, YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY: LETTERS OF A WOULD-BE MP, published by Guildhall Press on March 30, 2008. The Derry author’s fourth novel is a comedy-thriller set against the current British and Irish political landscape. And it cements the former newspaper editor’s reputation as one of the sharpest political fiction writers on these islands. The story centres on an independent North Derry assemblyman, out to win himself a seat in the House of Commons and some real, honest-to-God power. To do that, he’s going to have sign a Faustian pact with a murderous gangster. But in a country where everyone bugs everyone else, all the time, it can only be a matter of time before the dubious deal is exposed. As with Downey’s PRIVATE DIARY OF A SUSPENDED MLA (described by the Sunday Times as “the Northern Ireland political novel of the century”), real-live politicians are given cameo roles. And a number of them have already indicated they will be attending the launch in Bookworm, Derry, in early April, if only to ensure their right of reply …
Happily, rumours that Ian Paisley junior’s hand was finally forced by the imminent publication of YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY are entirely the product of the CAP elves’ sick minds.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 7th HEAVEN by James Patterson and THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerritsen

SFPD homicide detective Lindsay Boxer investigates a series of lethal arson attacks in James Patterson’s 7TH HEAVEN, with her motley crew of friends aiding and abetting as usual. A cop, an attorney, a medical examiner and a crime beat reporter respectively, Lindsay, Yuki, Claire and Cindy are staple characters in Patterson’s ‘Women’s Murder Club’ series, of which 7TH HEAVEN is the seventh instalment, the last four being co-written with Maxine Paetro.
  That Patterson last week announced that the ‘Women’s Murder Club’ is being developed into an interactive computer game for a June release is no surprise. Everything about the ‘WMC’ project is geared to maximise potential readers, from the rainbow-like multi-cultural background of the leading characters to the bells-and-whistles website promoting the brand. Unfortunately, the quality of the story-telling has been woefully neglected in the process.
  Among the many crimes against good writing are: narrative sequences irritatingly guillotined into three and four ‘chapters’ to give the illusion of pace; a first-person voice clumsily juxtaposed with third-person narratives; perfect good guys and one-dimensionally nasty baddies; a twist that requires yet another third-person narrative to pop up at the very end; the kind of deathless prose more commonly found in back-cover blurbs (“Who had committed these brutal murders – and why?” Claire helpfully asks herself at one point, just in case the reader is too dim to do any wondering for him or herself). I could go on, but the list is virtually 376 pages long.
  Reading 7TH HEAVEN is akin to reading a chunky, clunky CSI: Miami script, albeit one with very bad dialogue. It’s possible that Patterson, a multi-million best-seller and a former winner of the Edgar, crime fiction’s most prestigious accolade, believes that he has earned the right to reinvent the genre with a post-modern offering that obeys no rules. It’s also possible that he has delegated a step too far to Maxine Paetro in this instance, although that’s very likely unfair to Paetro – Patterson has published (writing and co-writing) 52 novels since 1976, a statistic that suggests quality control, and the requirements of a discerning readership, are nowhere near the top of his list of priorities.
  That’s a shame, because James Patterson is something of a standard-bearer for crime fiction, which is the most popular genre in fiction for a very good reason. As the old certainties continue to break down, and crime in all its guises threatens to erode our faith in society and common decency, the illusion of closure afforded by the crime fiction narrative can provide a psychic release for many readers.
  Tess Gerritsen understands the unspoken contract between the crime fiction writer and reader. Gerritsen too is a prolific writer, and has published more than 25 novels since 1985, but on the evidence of THE BONE GARDEN she is still heavily committed to providing quality to her readers. For the most part a fascinating historical crime narrative set in the 1830s, in which the ‘West End Reaper’ preys on its victims against a backdrop of Boston’s Irish ghettos, the novel also features as a character Oliver Wendell Holmes, a doctor who would go on to revolutionise hospital practice all over the world with his simple discovery that the washing of hands can prevent the spread of disease.
  A medical practitioner before she turned to writing full-time, Gerritsen is passionate about her material, and offers a richly detailed story that is almost Dickensian in its evocation of slum poverty. The pace is slow for a thriller, however, and matters aren’t helped by regular intrusions from the present day, in which Julia Hamill investigates the origin of a skeleton she finds in the garden of her new home, a conceit that smacks of a grafted-on concession to readers of Gerritsen’s previous medical thrillers, most of which have contemporary settings. There is also a tendency towards florid prose, and a simplicity in characterisation that finds all the ne’er-do-wells suffering with rotten teeth and stinking breath, while those on the side of the angels are invariably pure of heart if not motive.
  For all that, and by comparison with 7TH HEAVEN, THE BONE GARDEN is a meaty and thought-provoking, if at times unwieldy, tale of a time and place rarely visited by the crime fiction genre. Would that all best-selling crime writers were still as ambitious. – Declan Burke

This review was first published in the Irish Times

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,067: Brett Battles

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?

Since my focus is more toward the intrigue / spy type of thing, I’d have to say a three-way tie - either MARATHON MAN by William Goldman, THE BOURNE IDENTITY by Robert Ludlum or one of my favourite books of all time, THE QUIET AMERICAN by Graham Greene. They’re all books I continue to reread when the mood strikes.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I guess I would have to say Steven Hockensmith. His HOLMES ON THE RANGE series about a couple of cowboy Sherlock Holmes wannabes set in the 1890s is not something I would typically pick up. But once I read the first one, I was hooked. The series is hilarious and fun and smart. It’s a nice change from the other books I usually read.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing a chapter or scene that worked out even better than I expected it to. I get kind of a runner’s high after that, and feel great for the rest of the day.
The best Irish crime novel is ...?
Ever changing ... but for now, I’ll go with THE GUARDS by Ken Bruen.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best, creating stories that other people enjoy, and meeting other authors. Worst, deadlines. No question.
The pitch for your next novel is ...?
Jonathan Quinn, the protagonist from THE CLEANER, returns in THE DECEIVED. Quinn’s hired to do a simple job – remove a body that has shown up at the Port of Los Angeles in a shipping container. Only when he opens it, and sees whose body it is, he realized the job isn’t going to be so simple.
Who are you reading right now?
I just finished an Ian Rankin, and was trying to figure out what was next. As you can probably guess I read a lot of thriller and crime fiction. Sometimes I just need to step away. So that’s exactly what I’ve done. I picked up a book I’ve read many times before but falls outside my typical genres ... THE RAZOR’S EDGE by Somerset Maugham.
The three best words to describe your own writing are ...?
Clean. Fast. Engaging.

Brett Battles’ THE CLEANER is published in paperback on March 6.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: GALLOWS LANE by Brian McGilloway

It hasn’t happened overnight, and there are more complex reasons as to why it is so than can be satisfactorily addressed in a book review, but policing in Ireland is suffering from something of a crisis of confidence. In recent times the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), historically perceived to be facilitating a pro-Loyalist agenda, has been reformed into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in a bid to provide a police service in which both Nationalist and Loyalist communities in the Ulster province can – theoretically, at least – place their trust.
  Across the border in the Republic of Ireland there have been similar calls for a reform of An Garda Siochana, the Irish police force. Here the issue is not that the Gardai favour one community over another, but that the Irish people are simply losing faith with the purported guardians of the peace. A number of high-profile cases strongly suggests that members of An Garda Siochana have subverted the course of justice and the law of the land in pursuing personal agendas and vendettas. As a self-regulating body, subsequent investigations by the Gardai into alleged wrong-doing have not resulted in satisfactory conclusions for the public at large. There are also issues relating to the separation of powers, allegations of undue political influence being brought to bear, and a creeping sense that a crude philosophy of arrogant lèse majesté pertains within An Garda Siochana.
  Donegal, where Brian McGilloway sets his Inspector Devlin stories, makes for fertile ground in relation to these issues. Although one of the 32 counties of the Republic of Ireland, Donegal is also one of the Ulster counties, the majority of which make up the political entity of Northern Ireland. In geographical terms, Donegal is somewhat cut off from the rest of the Republic, and its main town, Letterkenny, has more in common with Derry and Belfast in Northern Ireland than Dublin or Cork in the Republic. The ‘high-profile’ cases of An Garda Siochana’s abuse of its powers referred to above have occurred in Donegal.
  The plural in the title of McGilloway’s debut, BORDERLANDS, and its implicit subtext of ‘badlands’, makes clear from the outset that there are unresolved issues about the morality of policing in Ireland that go far beyond lines on a map.
  In GALLOWS LANE, the sequel to BORDERLANDS, Inspector Devlin reluctantly applies for promotion, and attends an interview. “Things seem to be a little out of control up there at the moment, Inspector,’ the air-line manager said. “Quite a number of killings – no arrests as such. It’s a bit of a wild frontier you’re policing.”
  Devlin, while in the mould of the classic ‘good guy doing the wrong thing for the right reasons’, isn’t exactly Dirty Harry. A sensitive and thoughtful policeman, he is not naïve, but is prepared to go by the book even as he investigates the particularly brutal murder of a young girl. That line of enquiry provides the spine of the narrative, but McGilloway deftly weaves a number of sub-plots around it: Devlin’s personal life, and how his job impacts on the family home; Devlin’s passive response when he finds himself compromised when he discovers that fellow Gardai are planting weapons and drugs and claiming them as ‘results’ in order to boost their own promotion prospects; and Devlin’s active compromising of himself, when he resorts to similar methods in order to secure an arrest he is convinced is sound, despite the lack of evidence.
  It’s a very personal story, in that Devlin’s responses to practically any situation is to refract it through the prism of his domestic life, to question the rightness of what he does by referring to the touchstone of his family unit of wife and two young children. Devlin, for the sake of his sanity, believes in doing the right thing in order to maintain the fabric of society for the silent majority, of which his own family is only a tiny part. But McGilloway isn’t content to allow Devlin to wallow in a nobility that that comes at a price. When he tries to persuade a colleague, hospitalised by an act of sabotage intended for Devlin, that she is not only entitled but morally obliged to accept the risks that go with the job, she is scathing in her response. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I look at you, sir, and I don’t want to be like you anymore. I don’t want to die for people who don’t really give a shit.”
  The novel compares favourably with William McGivern’s THE BIG HEAT, in which an ostensibly upright cop quickly turns rogue vigilante when his family are murdered by the corrupt forces infiltrating his police department. McGilloway too illustrates that the personal is the political in the narrative arc that takes Devlin from passive observer to active player in the rogues gallery of compromised public officials who populate GALLOWS LANE. It offers a bleaker vision of modern Ireland than its predecessor, a more cynical evaluation of the poisoned body politic; even in the ending, which offers the traditional note of hope that the system can be leached of its toxins, McGilloway can’t help but qualify the illusion of closure. “Assuming Shane was stirring for a bottle, I went into his room. He was already standing in his cot, his arms gripping the vertical bars, a juvenile prisoner. When he saw me, he raised his arms to be lifted and fell backwards, landing softly on his rump.”
  Eugene McEldowney’s Superintendent Cecil McGarry is the godfather of the Irish policier, but writers such as Tana French, Ingrid Black and Gene Kerrigan have taken up the baton in recent years. It is probably no coincidence that two of those writers are working journalists; if journalism is the first draft of history, crime fiction is the finished article that probes the roots of our culture’s morality. Brian McGilloway – a teacher, as it happens – is to the forefront of this vanguard, and GALLOWS LANE is a superb example of why crime fiction is not just important, but essential. – Declan Burke

Disclaimer: It should be noted that Brian McGilloway was kind enough to thank Declan Burke, among many others, in his list of acknowledgments in GALLOWS LANE. If anyone has any issues about bias arising from this fact, please outline your complaint in block capital letters on the back of used €50 note and send it to The Grand Vizier, c/o the Crime Always Pays Slush Fund, Filthy Lucre Towers, Blaggerville, Cape Wonga, The Maldive Islands. We thank you for your cooperation

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They Haven’t Gone Away, You Know

SHADOWS OF THE GUNMEN: VIOLENCE AND CULTURE IN MODERN IRELAND is a timely collection of essays from the Cork University Press, especially as many ex-Provisional IRA members and those of the Loyalist paramilitary forces have since the beginning of the Northern Ireland Peace Process diversified into a criminality shorn of political motive. Quoth the blurb elves:
Scholars have long understood the key roles played by violence in the making of modern Ireland. In recent years, studies on violence have become increasingly creative and sophisticated, as scholars have used new analytical lenses to confront the real challenges faced in “writing violence.” Much of the best work in this new literature examines the complex relationships between violence and its representation. SHADOWS OF THE GUNMEN provides a coherent introduction to the latest scholarship. The essays from historians, film scholars, literary critics, and philosophers, SHADOWS OF THE GUNMEN is both relevant to the particular Irish experience and the broader contemporary world. Violence may not speak, but violence is represented and these depictions are continually interrogated and /or contested in public and private arenas across Ireland and abroad. This volume of essays will explore and probe the connection between political/historical violence and aesthetic representations of such violence. The first interdisciplinary study of violence and the modern Irish experience, SHADOWS OF THE GUNMEN is a major contribution to both Irish studies and the broader examination of violence in the modern world.
Edited by Danine Farquharson and Sean Farrell, the book takes its title from Sean O’Casey’s play THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN (1923), which concerns itself with a man who may or may not be an IRA assassin. And while we’re on the topic, Crime Always Pays humbly suggests that students of the origins of hardboiled crime fiction should seek out Liam O’Flaherty’s THE ASSASSIN (1928), a novel based on a true event about an IRA killer who returns to Dublin on a mission of execution, and written in a stark style that prefigures the vivid reality of Dashiell Hammett and the stripped-back prose and staccato rhythms of James M. Cain.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Sam Millar

A Grand Vizier writes: The idea behind ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ is to give guest bloggers the few molecules of oxygen of publicity Crime Always Pays can provide, in the process offering some fresh perspectives on crime fiction in general and Irish crime fiction in particular. And so, with minimum fanfare – a tiny tootle there, please, maestro – here’s Sam Millar (right) on the inspiration behind BLOODSTORM.

The Colombian Connection

The day wasn’t too bad, despite a deep depression biting through my arse. A voice called to me in soft broken English, mixing with the lilt of Spanish. Melodic. Seductive. Like rum being poured over dark chocolate. Ah, if only it had been a woman …
  “Irish. Why walk alone? You have many friends. Remember always.”
  My parents christened me Sam, but to him and the rest of the Hispanic population I was ‘Irish’, the guy from Be-fast.
  He was from Colombia. Carlos his name. Drugs his game. Despite his notoriety in the penitentiary – oh, I did mention I was in an American penitentiary? Sorry. Must have slipped my mind – anyway, I always found him to be a gentleman, and will forever be in his debt for introducing me to Cormac McCarthy’s books and plays.
  Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the penitentiary can be pretty grim (there’s an oxymoron for you), but he helped alleviate some of my anxiety. Admittedly, there were times when I wasn’t the most communicative – knowing I was probably never going to be released or ever see Ireland again, can quickly kill the craic in a man – but he refused to allow me to wallow in self-pity.
  “You hear about the women prisoners on the news last night?” he asked, his handsome face turning ugly.
  “Yes. Horrendous …”
  Over a three-year period, a group of Hispanic women in the nearby women’s prison had been systematically abused and raped by the screws, culminating in the death of one of the women. Had her death not happened, only the devil knows how long the abuse would have continued unreported for? Such is justice …
  “You get out – you write. You tell people in Be-fast and Air-land what happens to Hispanic women in these prisons. Okay?”
  “I’m never getting out, Carlos. There isn’t much chance of writing other than the prison news-sheet.”
  “You write. Okay?”
  “Okay,” I agreed, knowing it was never going to happen.
  Two weeks later, the strangest of things did happen. Bill Clinton pardoned me, and sent me back to Air-land. If you believe in God, you would possibly suspect the old miracle cabinet had been opened. A friend summed it up much better, a few months later: “You were always a jammy bastard. Some people were born with a horseshoe up their arse, but you were born with an entire stable!”
  And so to the publication of BLOODSTORM, a fictionalised account of how I perceived the women victims of prison barbarity would have wanted justice to be implemented. Despite the fact the story is based in Ireland, and Belfast in particular, its theme is universal and could be any country in the world. It’s a dark tale of revenge, served very cold indeed … - Sam Millar

Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM is published on March 4.

In Spring A Young Man’s Thoughts Turn To French Fancies

The elves were just last week saying how you don’t get many French movie festivals to the pound these days, when – quelle fromage, etc. – up pops Dara Burke to let us know that the 19th Cork French Film Festival takes place in the People’s Republic of Cork, Ireland, from February 28th to March 7th. Highlights include Diva, Caramel (right), Gus van Sant’s Cannes winner Paranoid Park, Water Lilies, 2 Days In Paris, Silent Light, Tarkovsky’s last film The Sacrifice, and Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus on 16mm. The full programme line-up can be found here, with Dara suggesting that Paranoid Park is “a 21st century CRIME AND PUNISHMENT with a difference.” Given that he’s very probably related to CAP Grand Vizier Declan Burke, we’re not going to argue with him. We’ll just have him whacked instead. Pufnstuf? Put away that bong, we’ve got another job for you.

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “[Liam] Durcan’s outstanding debut novel walks a taut line between skilful thriller and philosophical novel of ideas … he already writes with an ease reminiscent of Graham Greene … As the plot unfolds, the novel takes on a breathtaking immediacy that will awe readers and tune them into probing ethical dilemmas,” says Library Journal’s Christopher Bussman of GARCIA’S HEART (via Barnes & Noble). At the same link, Mr & Mrs Kirkus agree: “Canadian neurologist and award-winning writer Durcan plumbs his stock in trade to inform this audacious literary debut, its purpose no less than finding a window to the soul … [Durcan’s] shrewd, intricate debut reveals a multi-talented artist.” Hmmm, nice. They’re still coming in for Benny Blanco’s debut: “CHRISTINE FALLS is carefully crafted, layered, story … Black has written an excellent character-driven story with a compelling story to move it forward,” says Mack Lundy at Revish. Over at Shadow of the Raven, David Lampe-Wilson concurs: “A great read whether you like mysteries or not,” says he pithily. What say you, Nancy O? “Very noir-ish in tone, CHRISTINE FALLS may not be something that mainstream mystery readers will pounce on, and more’s the pity, since they’ll be missing a splendid piece of writing …Recommended.” Thank you kindly, ma’am … A trio of big-ups for Siobhan Dowd this week, starting with BOG CHILD: “The characters are beautifully drawn and totally convincing … Overall, the story flows well and works wonderfully as a novel. Certainly one of the best Young Adult novels I’ve read for a long time,” says Colin Mulhern at Chicklish. Maylin at The Dewey Divas and the Dudes (!) likes A SWIFT PURE CRY: “The relationship between the siblings is wonderfully written and this novel has one of the most exuberant endings I’ve read in a long time. Beautifully written and award winning.” Staying with the Dewey Divas, THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY gets a mention too: “Ted is an original, charming creation and half the fun of this novel is getting inside his head as he uses his knowledge about weather systems to logically make sense of the world. Great fun.” Lovely stuff … Over at Asylum, John Self likes Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME: “In Julius’s remote landscape, “distances collapse, time is thrown out,” and the book achieves a similar trickery by being both spare and immersive, short but engrossing right up to the breathless closing chapters.” Thank you, John … Ronan O’Brien’s CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL is still impressing ’em, to wit: “It’s a clever plot. The story holds together well as a narrative, hurtling towards its end as classical tragedy, and the main character is engaging in how he deals with adversity … On balance, the heart leaps up at this new Irish novel,” says John S. Doyle at the Sunday Independent. Beth at Beth’s Reading List likes Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY: “I enjoyed this – the description of fairy technology is always intriguing and amazing. Colfer draws the new characters with as much personality as the ones we already know.” Meanwhile, over at Stone Library’s Book Blog, Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT gets an Eoin Colfer comparison: “Fans of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, or anyone who likes a dash of violence and danger served up with magical humour will enjoy this book.” Finally, it’s a couple of big-ups for The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman. “I found I PREDICT A RIOT to be a hugely funny and very entertaining read … it is also a murder / mystery, a crime thriller and a hilarious piece of social commentary on Belfast, and the current situation in Northern Ireland life,” says Austin Lynch at the Fermanagh Herald, while Gerard Brennan has been reading his little cotton socks off: “This last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction. So far Declan Hughes’ THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD is impressing me, I highly recommend Ken Bruen’s PRIEST, and Colin Bateman’s latest novel I PREDICT A RIOT was a pure Belfast blast.” Yes indeed, yon Bateman is pure literary Semtex, we find …

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Crimes Against Crime Fiction # 2,102: The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph ran a feature on Saturday entitled ‘50 Crime Writers To Read Before You Die’, and we’re still not sure if we should laugh or cry. Yes, we’ve always had a sneaking fondness for GREAT EXPECTATIONS as a noir-ish tale – but Charles Dickens as a crime writer? Hmmmmm ... Happy days for The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman, who gets the following entry: “Any appearance by Bateman’s regular protagonist, journalist Dan Starkey, heralds the imminent death in amusing fashion of half the population of Belfast. Comic thrillers that are actually comic and thrilling.” Hurrah! Okay, now for the crying bit: the list of 50 does not – repeat not – include James M. Cain, Ross Macdonald, John D. McDonald, W.R. Burnett or Horace McCoy. Seriously. But it does – repeat, does – include Benjamin Black. Wot? Benny Blanco? ARE YOU FRICKIN’ KIDDING US?????

Game, Seth And Match

We like Seth Harwood’s (right) moxy, people. First he brought Jack Palms to life via podcasts, and now he’s hustling the hell out of the paperback release of JACK WAKES UP, which hits a bookshelf near you on March 16. Quoth Seth:
“Seth Harwood is back this spring to launch the third free podcast in his JACK PALMS Crime series. With JACK WAKES UP hitting Amazon and a fine bookseller near you in March, Palm(s) Sunday (March 16th) bringing a whole gang of fans storming the web to buy as many copies as they can on Amazon.com, and a Seth Harwood reading tour on both US coasts, what would this spring be without a new instalment of the podcasts that started it all? That’s right, JACK PALMS is back in San Francisco to weather a gunshot wound, find the Russian who’s been trading young girls as sex slaves, and bring this whole sordid investigation to an end. With Vlade and the Czechs back in the city, Detective Shaw and Jane Gannon on the run, this season promises to be the most hair-raising one yet! To hear the JACK PALMS Crime podcasts free (Jack Wakes Up, Jack Palms II: This Is Life, and JACK PALMS 3) visit sethharwood.com today. [Basically a podcast is a free audio series/audio book in instalments.] You’ll also find all the Amazon and iTunes links you can think of, a free PDF of JACK WAKES UP to try before you buy, and much, much more ...”
Seth Harwood versus The Man? No contest. It’s game, Seth and match to the boy Harwood …

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shiny-Shiny, Shiny Books Of Leather

The lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton were kind enough to send us a copy of Stephen Leather’s latest, DEAD MEN, and we really couldn't resist the headline. Quoth the blurb elves:
Former SAS trooper turned undercover cop Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd knows there are no easy solutions in the war against terrorism. But when a killer starts to target pardoned IRA terrorists, Shepherd has to put his life on the line to protect his former enemies. Whilst he is undercover in Belfast, a grief-stricken Saudi whose two sons died under torture in the name of the War On Terror is planning to avenge their deaths by striking out at two people close to Shepherd. As the Muslim assassin closes in on his prey, Shepherd realises that the only way to save lives is to become a killer himself.
Yes, yes – but is it any good? Quoth the Daily Express:
“There’s a new breed of British crime writer giving the genre a much-needed shake-up – and Stephen Leather is at the forefront … the sheer impetus of his storytelling is damned hard to resist.”
So there you have it, the book that finally lends the lie to the old saw that DEAD MEN tell no tales …

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fright And The City

The Bookseller last week hosted a rather nice interview with twinkly-eyed rogue Darren Shan (right), aka DB Shan, in which he talked with Alison Flood about demons, gore, morality and crime fiction in advance of the publication of PROCESSION OF THE DEAD, the first of the ‘City’ trilogy. To wit:
The Road to Darkness

In an urban fantasy novel by one Darren O’Shaughnessy, Orion’s Simon Spanton—the book’s first editor—appears as a corpse and has his extracted guts used as a divining tool to predict the future stock market performance of his company.
  Gruesome? Gory? Unsurprising when you realise this is the work of Darren Shan, who in his million-selling, 19-strong range of books for children variously dismembers families, dives into a world of guts and splatters characters with vomit. PROCESSION OF THE DEAD (Harper Voyager, March) is his first novel for adults, originally published by Orion in 1999 as AYUMARCA and now reworked and repackaged under the name D.B. Shan.
  Shan makes a naughty schoolboy chuckle when Spanton’s name arises. “In my children’s books I often kill off people I know—loads of my friends get torn to pieces,” he says, reclining on a smart leather couch in his London crash pad (home is Limerick in Ireland).   “It’s a mark of respect—I never kill off anyone I don’t like, so I thought it would be nice to go back, put Simon in there and kill him off.” His publicist Helen Johnstone, he adds, will probably be killed off at some stage.
  The addition of Spanton is not the only change Shan has made to the original novel. Written when he was 21, it was the first book he ever had published, and it sold only “a couple of thousand” copies despite positive reviews. Apart from changing the name of the book (“no one could actually pronounce it”), he has cut it back by around 100 pages and filtered in elements of the modern world to bring it up to date.
  “I never felt that it was finished before,” he says. “I didn’t change the structure very much, as I didn’t want to go back and rewrite it completely. I just cut out things that didn’t need to be there. Back then, in my mid to late 20s, I was learning to express myself, I was saying more than I needed to say. These days I write more than I need and edit down, edit down, edit down.”
  The cuts really show. PROCESSION OF THE DEAD rattles along at a breakneck pace, following the story of wannabe gangster Capac Raimi as he learns about life in the City, crosses paths with the all-powerful Cardinal, delves into the mysteries of the Incan priests who control more than meets the eye—and slowly comes to realise that he has entirely forgotten his own past. Shan describes it as a cross between “The Godfather” and the Coen Brothers.
  PROCESSION OF THE DEAD is published under the name D B Shan to avoid alienating Shan’s large fan-base, but also to prevent his younger readers from picking it up. “One of the interesting things about this book will be how many readers follow across,” he says. “I don’t want 11–12-year-olds but I do want 14–15-year-olds to . . .”—he thinks for a second—”to follow me down the road of utter darkness.”

Gore and morality

  Shan always knew he wanted to be a writer, and after finishing an English and sociology degree at Roehampton University, he wrote while working for a television cable company in Limerick for two years, before quitting to see if he could make his dreams come true.
  “I knew there was a good chance I might not get published, and I was drawing the dole for two years, but it was what I wanted to do.” First written was AYUMARCA, then the idea for his first children’s book, CIRQUE DU FREAK, arrived fully formed in Shan’s head. His agent Christopher Little loved it but initially struggled to sell it, as publishers thought it was too dark. HarperCollins took a chance—and eight years later sales through BookScan of Darren Shan’s books total 1.8 million.
  Shan is still surprised there has not been more outcry about the gore, but says that despite the blood and guts, the books are actually very moral. “In LORD LOSS, in chapter two, a kid walks in and his family has been torn apart by demons: his dad is hanging upside down with his head chopped off, his mum is cut in two with a demon behind her moving her around like a puppet. It’s a really gory scene that I thought would get the book banned everywhere. But what it’s about is a kid dealing with loss, losing his parents. Good fantasy, especially for children, is about real life. It gets children to reflect on these things. Kids don’t want lessons, they don’t want to be told what to do if their mother dies in a car accident—snore—but reading an adventure book, they get close to the character, and if the character loses someone, they think about it.”
  Shan works a few years in advance, so is currently up to 2012 in terms of his children’s books and 2010 for his adult titles; sequels HELL’S HORIZON and CITY OF SNAKES will follow PROCESSION OF THE DEAD in 2009 and 2010. He’s keen to write more adult books, and the ideas are lining up thick and fast. “The trouble I’ve always had is getting the publisher to release the books quickly enough. I’d written up to book nine [in The Saga of Darren Shan] by the time they published CIRQUE DU FREAK.”
  He spends around two years writing each book and has four titles on the go at once, doing eight drafts of each book. Working with long series means he can go back and sow the seeds for a future event if he desires: “If I come up with an idea in book seven, I can go back and put a hint about what’s to come in book two,” he says. “It’s quite a chaotic way of writing—like juggling—but it’s just the way my mind works.
  “When I do my first draft in my head, I’m thinking everything’s brilliant—this is going to be ULYSSES for the 21st century. Then I leave it for a year, and because I’ve put it aside for so long I can say ‘rubbish, rubbish, rubbish’. When you’re writing a book, you’ve got to get beyond that precious stage, and see it as the reader’s seeing it.” – Alison Flood
This interview was first published in The Bookseller

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER by David Park

Who’d be a publisher? Having to shout equally loud about all the books you publish, it becomes impossible for browsers to tell the good from the bad. Maybe there should be a key - a winking eye on the spine, say - to tell us what’s not really worth bothering with. The thought occurred as I was reading David Park’s new novel THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, a book worthy of the highest praise; and yet I know I would never have heard of it, let alone bought it, if I hadn’t noticed that the book launch was taking place in my home city of Belfast, Park being a fellow Northern Irishman - and that in optimistic preparation, my local Waterstone’s had a couple of hundred copies stacked high everywhere I looked. I don’t know whether this is cheering, because I did discover it, or depressing, because of all the others I haven’t.
  I don’t know whether THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER is cheering or depressing either: it’s solemn of outlook all right, but such a rare pleasure to read that it sent shivers of delight right up through me from the pages. It takes a situation ripe with emotional possibilities and does it every justice.
  The setting is Northern Ireland, home of long memories and extended news bulletins, where at present there is momentum for a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to help draw a line under decades of conflict. Where other writers might feel that the move from violence to politics robs the subject of power, Park’s stroke of brilliance is to recognise that it is these moments of change - where attention has moved on but the story is not yet over - which offer the most dramatic potential, and in the book the Commission has been established. Some people want to forgive and forget, perhaps because their status now is one they don’t want to lose; others want to remember and still demand justice. Overlooking them all are the British and Irish politicians who most of all want to feel the hand of history on their shoulder, and will permit principles to erode in order to keep the process on track.
  The first two-thirds of the book moves unhurriedly, with 60-page portraits of four men: Henry Stanfield, the Truth Commissioner; Francis Gilroy, former IRA man and now Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly; James Fenton, retired detective who will be able to provide some unwelcome facts to the Commission; and Danny, a young Irishman in America who is about to make a commitment to his girlfriend. Where these scenes excel is in filling in the truth of the men: Stanfield’s adulterous past, estranged daughter and weakness for younger women; Gilroy’s embarrassment at his lack of cultural knowledge which leads him to surreptitiously read Philip Larkin poems, and his new understanding of the fear of sudden murder which he himself once instilled in others; Fenton’s need to drive across Europe “where he’s unknown and no more visible than a grain of sand on the world’s shore” to atone for his past; Danny’s mistaken belief that his only worries are for the future. Stanfield in particular is a fascinating character, a perfect example of the type of person who comes to hate their old homeland after being away - Belfast is a place of “self-consoling mythology” - and who has some unwelcome observations to make about the political process:
Now the world doesn’t care any more because there are bigger wars and better terrors and all that remains is this final tidying up … He has even met a few individuals already who clearly have become emotionally dependent on their grief, who have jerry-built a kind of lop-sided, self-pitying life out of it and are unwilling to risk having even that taken from them, in exchange for their day in the sun.
  These sections are written with beautiful poise and elegance, and although the sinuous style seemed a little similar from character to character, it can only be to Park’s credit that I found myself each time unwilling to leave the man whose life had been laid out before me, and keen to hear more of his story. The characters are fully fleshed, struggling to maintain their sense of self even as they understand that their place is ultimately in someone else’s story, with their “inability to resist or stop the flow.”
  Although urgently political in background, the stories at the heart of THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER are human ones, stories of exertion of and submission to power, and of “the curse of memory.” In the last third the pace picks up and the story becomes almost a thriller - well, I was pretty thrilled anyway - without sacrificing its grounded sincerity. All this is surrounded by a linked introduction and coda which opens the book on a note of high drama and ends it with something approaching serenity.
  Truth is a relative concept, and personal, and perhaps I am swayed by my knowledge of the places and processes described in the book, like an excited local pointing out his street on a TV drama. For me, nonetheless, the truth is that David Park has written what looks like the first essential novel of 2008. – John Self

This review is republished with the kind permission of Asylum

Thursday, February 21, 2008

“Alibis? We Don’t Need No Stinking Alibis!”

They did it for John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, and now the good folk at Belfast’s premier crime fiction outlet No Alibis are giving Paul Charles’ THE DUST OF DEATH the plush limited edition treatment. Quoth the Belfast Telegraph:
A novel by crime writer Paul Charles which first appeared in the shops as a £15.99 hardback is going back on the shelves – as a £150 leather-bound limited edition.
  The new-look THE DUST OF DEATH, in which the author introduces good cop Starrett, is the work of Belfast bookbinder Liam McLaughlin, with illustrations by Anne M Anderson [above, right] for Edel Torr Editions.
  Only 75 copies of the limited edition, printed by Nicholson & Bass, are going on offer at the No Alibis Bookshop in Botanic Avenue tomorrow.
  There is a waiting list for the books and they are expected to sell out quickly.
  “I’m deeply flattered by this gesture,” said show business agent-turned-writer Charles, originally from Magherafelt, who now lives in Camden with his wife Catherine.
  “It’s all about David Torrans of Edel Torr and his love of books and the special edition is definitely aimed at collectors.”
The launch takes place today, Thursday 21, at 6pm, No Alibis, Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Oh, and the Telly also reports that Paul is currently polishing off his 13th novel, a Christy Kennedy title called THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND O SILENCE. All together now: “There’s a kind of plush / All over the world …”

The Future Is Bright, The Future Is THE BLUE ORANGE

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: It’s been a week of minor landmarks, people, what with Crime Always Pays being nominated for Best Specialist Blog at the Irish Blog Awards just as the witless witterings of the elves propelled the blog past the humble figure of 40,000 page impressions since it kicked off in April, 2007. The Grand Vizier also acquired a new editor at Harcourt, the very well spoken of Thomas Bouman, and finished the latest draft of the sequel to THE BIG O, which is currently labouring under the unlikely working title of THE BLUE ORANGE.
  It’s a time of taking stock at CAP Towers, then, and not least because the Grand Vizier and Mrs Vizier (right) are due to be delivered Baby Vizier in roughly three weeks time. Which means that we’re all feeling unduly optimistic about life in general here at Crime Always Pays. We’re feeling mostly pleased about the current draft of THE BLUE ORANGE, which is an unusual state of affairs at Chez Vizier. We’re disappointed Stacia Decker has left Harcourt, naturally, but we’re very much looking forward to working with Thomas Bouman. We’re also looking forward to proving wrong Sarah Weinman’s gloomy prognosis for the writers Stacia signed to Harcourt, on the basis that the novels we’ve read of Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks and John McFetridge are top class examples of modern crime fiction (we’ve yet to read James Sallis, but according to a Ken Bruen-shaped birdie, “With Jim Sallis, CYPRUS GROVE is a masterpiece and his Lou Griffin series is awesome, not to even mention his biography of Chester Himes.”). We’re also pretty sure, given her unstinting support for crime and mystery fiction, that no one will be happier to see Sarah Weinman proved wrong than Sarah herself.
  So where to now? With the Grand Vizier in unusually honest mode, he has pronounced himself entirely unsure. To date THE BIG O has been a grand adventure, going from its humble beginnings as a co-published novel with the tiny but perfectly formed Irish publisher Hag’s Head Press, under the guiding hand of Marsha Swan, to Harcourt making real the Grand Vizier’s life-long dream, that of having a book published in the U.S., the spiritual home of hardboiled crime. Which is wonderful in itself, but as Lou Reed once croaked, a baby is the beginning of a great adventure. Will writing even matter as much when Baby Vizier arrives? Will it matter at all? Is it possible that the Grand Vizier will come to resent his compulsion to write on the basis that it will eat into the time he can spend with Baby Vizier? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …
  One thing we do know is that the Grand Vizier will not be spending as much time at CAP Towers as of yore. So the elves would like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to all crime writers, their agents and publicists to take advantage of all that potential blank space by forwarding suggestions for guest blogging posts to the Minister for Propaganda Elf, c/o dbrodb(at)gmail.com, putting ‘I can do better than that rubbish’ in the subject line (Crime Always Pays offers precisely three molecules of publicity oxygen, but hey, we can’t all be The Rap Sheet).
  Finally, we’d like to offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has played their part in bringing us to this point, and we sincerely hope you stay on board to ride the train all the way to the end of the line. Oh, and apologies for all the sentimental guff – normal service will be resumed forthwith. The future, after all, is blue-ish orange …

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out Of Aifric

Here at CAP Towers, the elves are always on the look-out for new Irish crime writers, not least because new writers save the elves the trouble of generating fresh material themselves, the lazy midget buggers. So it’s three cheers, two stools and a lusty huzzah for Aifric Campbell (right), whose THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER will be published on April 24. How do we love thee, Aifric? Let us count the ways … Gorgeous? Check. Smarter than us? Check. Writing superior crime fiction? Check. Operating a state-of-the-art interweb thingy? Check. Did her greyhound win the Irish Derby when Aifric was 15? Check. Quoth the blurb elves:
Jay Hamilton lives a comfortable life in fashionable west London, listening to the minor and major dysfunctions of the over-privileged clients who frequent his psychoanalysis practice. But the darker recesses of his own psyche would not stand up to close examination: his brother Richard, a genius professor of mathematical linguistics, was apparently killed by rent boys in Los Angeles and Jay was the first on the scene. Author Dana Flynn is determined to scratch beneath the surface while researching a biography she intends to write about Richard, and finds that Jay’s professional life is as precarious as his personal relationships – he uses his clients’ case studies as material for his fiction writing. Such is Jay’s hunger for recognition as a creative force that he exploits the vulnerables he counsels, and a decision not to intervene when a troubled patient steals a baby causes his past to unravel.
Lovely, lovely, lovely. But is it any good? “This gripping psychological drama hooks the reader into a compelling labyrinth of sibling rivalry and stealthy passion. It is an intellectual novel of ideas written with real verve and style,” says Patricia Duncker, while Stevie Davies largely concurs: “A profoundly original new writer. THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER leads us on a dark and thrilling quest through murderous spaces of the mind, in a prose of startling and inventive beauty.”
So there you have it. Aifric Campbell. THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER. Sorry, Ms ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards, but it looks like we found ourselves a new stalkee …

A hat-tip to Karen Meek at Euro Crime for the inside dope.

Another Day, Another €40,000

At some point today, barring the complete collapse of the interweb, the statcounter at the bottom of this page will hit the 40,000 mark, which as far as we know means that Crime Always Pays has had 40,000 page impressions since the day it kicked off last April, when it was launched to coincide with the publication by Hag’s Head Press of our humble offering, THE BIG O. A relatively modest achievement, we’re sure you’ll agree, but that’s no reason not to thank everyone who has ever visited CAP Towers, even if it was just to blow raspberries (Ray Banks, we know where you live).
  We’d also like to thank those who have contributed to the blog in some shape or form, particularly reviewer par excellence Claire Coughlan and Chico ‘Chicovich’ Morientes, who has played a huge part in maintaining the blog when the Grand Vizier was indisposed (i.e., disporting himself shamelessly in sunnier climes). We’d also like to thank contributors who have come on board in recent weeks under the ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ banner, especially as they are quality writers – Adrian McKinty, KT McCaffrey, Brian McGilloway and Bernd Kochanowski, take a bow.
  Meanwhile, the statcounter would very probably be closer to 400 page impressions than 40,000 if it wasn’t for the generous support of the network of crime and mystery fiction blogs and websites out there. In no particular order, we’d like to thank The Rap Sheet, It’s A Crime!, Euro Crime, Petrona, Detectives Beyond Borders, International Crime, Pulp Pusher, Shots Magazine, International Noir, Reviewing the Evidence, AustCrimeFiction, the Crime Carnival crew, Crime Scraps, Spinetingler Magazine, CrimeSpree Magazine, the Book Witch and Cormac Millar. Last but by no means least, it’s a humble hat-tip to Critical Mick, the original and the best Irish crime fiction web resource. If we’ve left anyone out, we’re very sorry; rest assured we will be punishing the elves for their sloth forthwith.
  This is a wonderful time to be Irish and writing about crime fiction. In the first six months of 2008 alone, we will see new novels from John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Aifric Campbell, Declan Hughes, DB Shan, Sam Millar, KT McCaffrey, Derek Landy, David Park, Ronan O’Brien, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman, Eoin Colfer, Siobhan Dowd and Benjamin Black (John McFetridge, Liam Durcan, Michael Haskins and Tony Black, meanwhile, qualify under FIFA’s ‘grandparent’ ruling). In addition to those names, we’ve had published in the last six months novels by Ronan Bennett, Ingrid Black, Sylvester Young, Julie Parsons, John Creed, Cora Harrison, Adrian McKinty, Garbhan Downey, Paul Charles, Eoin McNamee, Neville Thompson, Tana French, Andrew Nugent, Sean Moncrieff, Patricia Rainsford and Arlene Hunt.
  When we began Crime Always Pays, we wondered where all the material would come from. Today we have no idea where the time will come from to do justice to all the quality Irish crime fiction that’s out there. Long may you all run.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THEFT: A LOVE STORY by Peter Carey

Peter Carey understands that crime is a means and not an end in itself. THE ILLYWHACKER tells the story of Herbert Badgery, ‘self-admitted liar, trickster, and confidence man’; JACK MAGGS explores what might have happened to Dickens’ banished convict Magwitch; THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin, but instead fictionalises the infamous Australian outlaws; MY LIFE AS A FAKE concerns itself with literary hoax, while THEFT: A LOVE STORY engages with hoaxing and fakery in the world of modern art. But is Carey, twice a winner of the Man Booker Prize, a crime fiction author?
  Well, yes and no. ‘Yes’ because he is quite obviously obsessed, albeit not exclusively, with the criminal mind. ‘No’ because you won’t find Peter Carey’s novels reviewed in some ‘Crime / Mystery Round-Up’ ghetto tucked away in the corner of a newspaper once a month, an afterthought to the other works of fiction deemed worthy of review. That is not to say that Carey’s novels, in that patronising phrase gaining currency, ‘transcend the genre’. But Carey himself, as an author, name and now virtually a brand, has. This should be a cause for celebration for writers of all genres and none.
  THEFT is typically Carey, in that it’s an exercise in debunking myths, not only of its subject matter, the hysterically pretentious modern art world, but of the craft of writing itself. The story is told in twinned narrative voices, those of Butcher Bones and his ‘idiot savant’ brother Slow Bones, and while both offer a refreshingly earthy and distinctively Aussie take on the art world, it’s Slow Bones who steals the show. Reminiscent in his interior monologues of Patrick McCabe’s THE BUTCHER BOY, which in its turn owes a debt to Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, the childlike Slow Bones is by turns crude, perceptive, insightful and potentially homicidal. A pawn in the hands of his ambitious artist brother Butcher, and Butcher’s ruthless lover and art authenticator Marlene, Slow Bones is a deranged angel, his infantile yearnings the only hope for morality in a world in which all reference points, including the quality of the art that sells for millions, are by definition subjective. Carey can’t resist the occasional poetic flourish, but for the most part THEFT reads like it could have been written by (an admittedly giddy) David Goodis or Gil Brewer. Says Butcher:
I have told this bloody story so often. I am accustomed to the expression on my listeners’ faces and I know there must be some essential detail I omit. Most likely that detail is my character, a flaw passed from Blue Bones’ rotten sperm to my own corrupted clay. For I can never have anyone really feel why her confession so thrilled me, why I devoured her slippery soft-muscled mouth in the dancing light of country barbecue near the Shinjuku railway station.
  So she was a crook!
  Oh the horror! Fuck me dead!
  The real charm here is the way in which Carey addresses some pertinent questions to anyone who loves books. Who decides what is art and what is not? Is anyone truly entitled to claim the role of ‘authenticator’? Can a novel be considered literary if its story is told in (deliciously) profane vernacular? Carey, clearly one of the most gifted wordsmiths of his generation, could easily have told the story of THEFT in any style he chose, from hardboiled prose to a baroque parody of the language used by those who inhabit the rarefied atmosphere of modern art. That he chose not only to puncture the bubble of self-aggrandizing, mutual deception that characterises the art world, but does so in a manner akin to Pollock spattering bullshit all over its ostensibly pristine canvas, the whole shot through with crime fiction tropes, suggests that the gap between what is considered literary and genre fiction may well need to be radically reassessed in the near future.
  For the two to be given equal footing will require the majority of crime writers to improve their prose, and for the majority of literary writers to hone their story-telling – or at least try to remember that the fundamental point of any book is the story it tells. For now, though, the likes of Peter Carey on the one hand and James Lee Burke on the other, both superb and popular stylists who revel in the possibilities of a good story, are close enough to shake hands if they so choose. It may take a bit of work, but there’s no good reason why other writers shouldn’t be able to slip into the wake created by their momentum and produce work that acknowledges its debts and roots but is not confined to any particular genre, or none. – Declan Burke

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,043: Twenty Major

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?
I don’t know exactly. I suppose something by Elmore Leonard or Joseph Wambaugh. They have this brilliant ability to tell the crime story but to combine it with such humour and pathos without being clichéd in any way. I had thought maybe something by James Ellroy but I don’t want to think about that man’s mind. It scares me.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Football biographies. Ex-players, ex-managers etc. I like the way that no matter who the ghost-writer is he makes the footballer sound exactly like every other footballer. Especially when he’s trying to make him sound different. Other than that I’ll read anything really. Apart from chick-lit or any kind of romantic fiction.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing the first draft of THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK. Writing a blog is easy because you only do 500 or a 1000 words on any post. There doesn’t have to be continuity, there’s no need for fact checking, you don’t have to go back and figure out what someone said in chapter 4 to see if it makes sense compared to what you’ve just made them say, it can be random and pointless. Unless you’re Dan Brown, writing a book is very different. The first draft was finished on a Friday. I’d set that day as the deadline and I knew the story was coming to an end. I think I drank about 5 pots of coffee that day but because you know you’re on the finishing straight you can just keep going. I even wrote ‘The End’. Even though with all the editing and further drafts it was nowhere near. It was a nice moment though.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE THIRD POLICEMAN by Flann O’Brien. A piece of surreal genius.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
It’s hard to say. It’d be nice if it were something that was typically Irish and could be filmed here. You’d look at the John Connolly books in terms of their stories but the setting is the USA. Oh, wait, isn’t this the question where everyone answers ‘Mine!’? It would be nice to see some film companies take a chance with Irish books though. There are some excellent stories and characters out there, I suppose it just means someone taking a bit of a risk.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best - working on your own schedule, mostly, multiple coffee breaks, knowing that in some very small way you’ve left your mark on the world. I like the idea of somebody finding my book in old old cardboard box, years after I’m dead, and sitting down and enjoying it. Or thinking ‘Man, this is terrible. I think I’ll write a book. If this fucker can do it anyone can!’. Either way works for me. Worst - being easily distracted, that bit in the middle of the book where you’re completely stuck and filled with self-doubt, hangovers.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Twenty and Jimmy the Bollix owe a favour to somebody. At the end of the first book a meeting is set up. The second book deals with this meeting with a Dublin gangster who is calling in his marker. After that I kind of know where it’s going but I don’t want to say too much at the moment. It will mean a trip outside Dublin, to sunnier climes. And I don’t mean Brittas Bay. Basically they’ll be asked to do something that will prove very hard to do for all kinds of reasons. It may not be 100% crime based but there’ll certainly be a lot of petty crime in it.
Who are you reading right now?
Elmore Leonard – UP IN HONEY’S ROOM. Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ring’ series. Boris Starling – VISIBILITY.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Absolutely fucking ludicrous.

Twenty Major’s THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK is published by Hodder Headline Ireland.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: IN THE WOODS by Tana French

IN THE WOODS is an astonishing primeur, fuller and more zaftig than most of its kind. Praised by reviewers, its nomination for the Edgar Awards was only a surprise because French’s major contribution to her obligation as an American citizen was her birth in Vermont.
  The book is often described as a psycho thriller, which it not wrong but nevertheless give a wrong impression: it is much more than that. On the first 400 of its never boring 600 pages, IN THE WOODS reads like a crossbreed of a classical whodunit and James Ellroy’s THE BLACK DAHLIA.
  The corpse of a young girl is found on an altar stone on an archaeological excavation site. She had been clubbed and suffocated and an object was inserted into her vagina to suggest a rape ...
  There seems to be no plausible motives to explain the murder and still several lines of investigation are followed. The father of the girl is a chairman of a citizens’ action committee that wants to prevent the construction of a motorway which would destroy the site of the excavation. Much money is at stake and he receives anonymous and threatening telephone calls. The family itself seems strange, somewhat deranged, as if there is something wrong ... but the detectives cannot put their finger on it. And then there is the excavation site, an archaeological treasure situated on an old pagan sanctuary, sacrificed by politicians to build the motorway at exactly that place.
  Substantial investigational police work is done, several tracks are followed, a lot of working days are deployed, but all this without any results.
  The small village where the crime happened had been the scene of a crime once before. At that time three children, all 12 years old, two boys and one girl, played as they usually did in a small wood. At the end of the day two of them were missing and never found. The third stood at a tree, scratching with his finger nails at the bark with his shoes filled with blood. What happened he doesn’t know and will never know: he has suffered a total blackout. Adam Ryan was the name of the boy; now he is Rob Ryan and he is one of the detectives who try to solve the case of the murdered girl.
  His partner, Cassie, a young woman, together maintain a very close and deep platonic friendship. She knows his secret, which accompanies the investigation, hinders it, advances it.
  The coexistence of the personal relationship of Cassie and Rob and the unfathomable secret, which plagues Rob and threatens to destroy him, lends a very intensive atmosphere to the book.
  And then, on the last 200 pages, as the case is about to be solved, French whirls and shuffles the different strands of the plot and creates a emotional cauldron with a satisfying solution.
  It is a daring book. A lesser writer would have abbreviated the lush text, reined in the narrative flow and dealt with the end in a more conventional manner. However, this is multilayered, moves stylistically from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases.
I never knew and never will whether either Cassie or I was a great detective, though I suspect not, but I know this: we made a team worthy of bard-songs and history books. This was our last and greatest dance together, danced in a tiny interview room with darkness outside and rain falling soft and relentless on the roof, for no audience but the doomed and the dead.”
Reviewed by Bernd Kochanowski and republished with the kind permission of International Crime.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “Bruen covers and makes manifest many tenets of human pathology. He keeps the reader wanting to cover one eye and peek through thin spaces to see what happens next, since there will inevitably be someone getting a shot to the face, a sloppy, bloody mix-up, or the classic narrow escape that turns into being much more devastating than anyone could have anticipated,” says Francesca Camilla at Pop Matters of AMERICAN SKIN. Over at Revish, Mack Lundy has been reading PRIEST: “Ken Bruen writes clean, spare prose without anything that could be considered filler. He is the master of the one word paragraph … PRIEST is a dark look at contemporary Ireland, the Church, and society. It is a compelling read.” Alan in Belfast likes David Park’s latest, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER: “It’s a great book. A book of this time and of this place,” says he, pithily. Equally pithy but no less direct is Lois Peterson’s verdict on WHAT WAS LOST at LP Words: “What can I say but ‘Brilliant’ in craft, theme, story.” S.J. Hollis at I Must Write That Down likes Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: “It reads like a damn good crack!fic and the one-liners are worth the cover-price alone. Skulduggery is simply a fantastic character.” Over at The Times, Nicolette Jones is very impressed by Siobhan Dowd’s BOG CHILD: “This book is sometimes funny, despite the seriousness of its subject. It is also psychologically and historically convincing, showing the impact of politics on domestic life. The work of an outstanding writer, it is preoccupied with the preciousness of life and the finality of death.” Over at the Irish Times, Margrit Cruickshank agrees: “In Dowd’s handling of complicated plot strands, her lyrical prose, her humanity and her humour, we recognise a talent which was been very sadly cut short.” They’re still coming in for Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME: “Donovan’s disturbing novel brilliantly describes the pleasures of being alone and the simultaneous perils of loneliness … the shocking contrast between nature’s calm and humankind’s capacity for violence is superbly realised,” says Ian Critchley at the Sunday Times. Back to Mack Lundy at Revish for his thoughts on Declan Hughes’ THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD: “If you like classic-style private investigator stories, on the edge of being hard-boiled, with good, witty writing, I highly recommend THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD … There is blood, violence, and swearing using at least one word we don’t use often in the US.” Hmmm, must be ‘feck’ … Nicola at Back To Books likes DB Shan’s PROCESSION OF THE DEAD: “This is a dark fantasy, set in a violent world and fortunately, the first in a series. I hope I don’t have to wait too long to read the next one! Highly recommended!” Finally, a couple of big-ups for Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, to wit: “IN THE WOODS by Tana French is set in my favourite virtually-visited country, the land of magic, great literature and outstanding beverages, Ireland … This book will be in my top ten of the year. Beautiful writing and good character development,” says Mary Saums at Femmes Fatales. But we’ll leave the last word to Bernd Kochanowski at International Crime: “It is a daring book. A lesser writer would have abbreviated the lush text, reined in the narrative flow and dealt with the end in a more conventional manner. However, this is multilayered, moves stylistically from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases.” Just like Bernd himself, as it just so serendipitously happens …

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Brian McGilloway On the Essence of Crime Fiction

A Grand Vizier writes: The motives behind ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ are twofold. First, the idea is to give guest bloggers the few molecules of oxygen of publicity Crime Always Pays can provide. Secondly, even we’re sick of listening only to ourselves, and we reckon some new voices will provide fresh perspectives on crime fiction in general, and Irish crime fiction in particular. And so, with minimum fanfare – a tiny tootle there, please, maestro – here’s Brian McGilloway (right) on the nexus between real and fictionalised crime.

‘The Obligation To Tell the Truth’

“This past week in Strabane, a 27-year-old man was abducted, taken just over the border, shot twice in the chest, and left to die outside a small Catholic church. The man’s murder caused outrage and rumour in equal measure in the local area.
  “Twenty miles away, a man, having served eight years of a 16-year sentence for the rape of a 91-year-old woman, who died two weeks later of a heart attack, perhaps precipitated by her ordeal, was released from prison and moved into a small farmhouse near a community with a number of lone, aged females. Those in the surrounding area have no control over who has moved into their midst. Some argue that the man has served his sentence. Others argue that his seeming lack of remorse and refusal to comply with police procedures make him unsafe in such a community.
  “These two events have, unsurprisingly, featured highly in our local media this past week. However, on a more personal level, in recent days, over a dozen of my colleagues have smiled knowingly at me and said; ‘That’s the plot of your next book taken care of then, eh?’
  “Whilst the comment was, for the most part, intended in a good-humoured way, and I’m not in the least egotistical enough to see a link between the two things, it did set me thinking. Firstly, I found the recent shooting both shocking and deeply frightening. Strabane/Lifford is a small, fairly tight-knit community. Murders happening in large cities are somehow more anonymous, although none the less horrible for that. In a small community though, it’s perfectly possible that the man who pulled the trigger that killed the 27-year-old Strabane man, or who raped a 91-year-old spinster, could be standing behind my wife and children in the corner shop, could be the person who drives the bus into town, offers you the Sign of Peace in Church. Someone who thought little of taking another person’s life in such a brutal and violent manner.
  “Secondly, the quip about the Devlin books also gave me pause for thought. As I started drafting book four, THE RISING, I found myself questioning the use of violence and crime in the books I write and those I read. In a time when Hollywood seems preoccupied with violence as the new pornography, is there something deeply flawed in using crime for entertainment?
  “But that, to my mind, disregards the purpose of crime fiction. I wrote my first novel around the time of the birth of my first son. I am convinced that that event was at least a catalyst in my writing. Nothing creates an awareness of the threats of the world quite as much as a new-born child. Particularly in post-Troubles Ireland, where a mixture of the Ceasefire and increased affluence has, paradoxically, seemed to create more criminal activity. And as the cases of this week show, all too often justice is not done, or those who commit crimes not necessarily brought to justice in a manner most people would like.
  “Yet crime fiction allows that to happen, imposing some form of morality and order on a world that seems increasingly lacking in both. Our detectives in books achieve clearance rates massively above the average in Ireland. And perhaps offer us some vicarious hope that good will always triumph. The books themselves allow us to safely face our fears, safe in the knowledge that some form of resolution will be imposed in a manner unlike real life, much as the ancient Greeks experienced catharsis watching dramatic tragedies.
  “Whilst I wouldn’t claim that crime fiction necessarily matches Greek Tragedy, its purpose and its appeal in raising difficult issues to a wide reading public far outstrips most literary novels. James Lee Burke [right] argues that it is the artist’s obligation to ‘tell the truth about the period he lives in and to expose those who exploit their fellow man.’ I believe few genres are as well placed to do this in modern Ireland than the crime novel and so, as I started writing THE RISING today, I did so not with a voyeuristic use of violence but a dedication to deal truthfully with issues that affect myself, my children, and those who live in Ireland in 2008. In this I believe I am no different from any other writer named in this blog over the past year.
  “And I am proud to be among their ranks.” – Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE will be published on April 4