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
“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.