“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.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Irish Crime Fiction: Ghetto Chic?

Two not entirely unrelated mails popped into ye olde inboxe yesterday, the first from Norm ‘Salman of Knowledge’ Price - yes, that's 'Salman' of Knowledge - to let me know that Barbara Fister (right) has established a new interweb yokeybus dedicated to Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English; the second was from Damien Seaman, to ask this: “You ever worry this kind of approach (i.e., a crime fiction blog with an Irish focus) can serve to ghettoise Irish crime fiction, or create false expectations as though ‘Irish crime’ were a genre in its own right?”
  The first thing here is to wish Barbara the best of luck with her latest endeavour, and here’s hoping it’s as successful as the Crime Carnival.
  The second thing to say is that I can only wish that Crime Always Pays was popular enough to influence opinion to the extent that it could ‘ghettoise’ Irish crime fiction. Sadly, it falls a long way short of that particular mark. Besides, one joy of Irish crime writing is its diversity.
  The main reason I set up Crime Always Pays a year and a half ago was to promote my new novel THE BIG O, on the basis that I hadn’t a red cent to promote it in the traditional way. I’d also been writing for some other Irish blogs, now sadly defunct, and I loved blogging. On top of that, I believed there were a number of authors coming through who were saying interesting things about contemporary Ireland, and that no other blog or website was covering these writers in a cohesive way. And so CAP was born.
  As it happens, and as the months went by, I was gobsmacked at the number of writers out there who were writing quality crime fiction that could very loosely be described as ‘Irish’. Every week seemed to turn up a new gem, but each new find only confirmed what was almost immediately apparent: that there was nothing homogenous about ‘Irish crime fiction’.
  For example, the three most high-profile authors at the time – John Connolly, Ken Bruen and Colin Bateman – could hardly write more different kinds of stories if they tried, with settings that included Maine, Galway / London and Belfast, respectively. Adrian McKinty’s novels were also set in the U.S., albeit with a more Northern Irish flavour. Eoin Colfer’s crime capers are about a pre-teen evil genius. Tana French, who was actually born in the U.S., arrived with a police procedural set very firmly in Dublin. Declan Hughes goes the private eye route and uses the Chandler / Macdonald model to get under the skin of modern Ireland. Brian McGilloway appeared with a police procedural set in rural Donegal. Gene Kerrigan’s gritty noirs are set in urban Dublin. Ruth Dudley Edwards writes comedy crime that are set wherever the mood takes her. Arlene Hunt riffs on the male / female private eye duo. Ingrid Black takes an ex-FBI agent and plonks her down in Dublin. KT McCaffrey has his amateur sleuth Emma Boylan work as an investigate reporter. Benjamin Black’s amateur sleuth is a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin. Cora Harrison’s Mara is a Brehon judge of the 16th century based in the wild Burren of Ireland’s west. Sam Millar writes darker-than-dark noir set in Northern Ireland. Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant is about a private eye skeleton. Stephen Leather writes balls-out thrillers. Aifric Campbell, Julie Parsons, Paul Charles, Garbhan Downey, DB Shan … the list goes on and on, and the only thing the writers have in common is how different their novels are. And that’s without factoring in the diaspora. Michael Haskins, for example, calls his protagonist ‘Mad’ Mick Murphy, a man who is as Irish as red hair despite his Florida Keys setting. By the same token, John McFetridge is Canadian-Irish, although you’d never know about the Irish element from reading his Toronto-based novels. And then there are the more literary offerings that utilise crime narratives. Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME, David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER and Eoin McNamee’s 12:23, set in Maine, Belfast and Paris respectively, are only three of the most recent novels that engage with the tropes of crime fiction.
  If someone can draw a straight line between all of those novels, then he / she is a better man / woman than I. The only thing the writers have in common is that they are to one degree or another Irish. There is no ‘Tartan noir’ movement, and neither can Irish crime fiction be characterised by a particular tone, say, as you could argue Scandinavian crime can.
  It’s possible that I have done certain writers a disservice by calling them Irish crime writers, and if that’s the case I can only apologise. The intention was always to draw attention to their books, not to cram them into some pigeonhole to suit a theory of mine. And hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Peace, out.