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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

This week’s super soaraway freebie thingy comes courtesy of the generous folk at Brandon Books, who have given us three copies of Paul Charles’ latest, THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND OF SILENCE, to pass on to you. Yes, YOU! First, the blurb elves:
In the ninth DI Christy Kennedy mystery, Kennedy investigates the murder of a colleague whose ‘the ends justify the means’ work ethic created numerous enemies. An annual Halloween Bonfire goes horribly wrong when a body is spotted in the middle of the fire’s glowing timbers. Identifiable only through his dental records, the victim is retired police Superintendent David Peters, an ex-colleague of DI Christy Kennedy. As Kennedy and his team settle down to a painstaking search through Peters’ cases, they soon discover that for the superintendent the means justified the end in solving them, and each case they review throws up another suspect.
  Coolio. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question.
Was Paul Charles’ last book, THE DUST OF DEATH, set in:
(a) London;
(b) Dublin;
(c) Donegal;
(d) Oh for pity’s sake, just give me a blummin’ free book for once!
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address (using (at) rather than @ to confused the spam-munchkins), by noon on Tuesday, October 7. Et bon chance, mes amis

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Charles Salzberg

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?
There are so many of them--anything by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, especially THE BIG SLEEP, or Ross MacDonald. They were really the inspiration for writing SWANN’S LAST SONG. And maybe an unlikely candidate, DESPERADOES, by Ron Hansen, about the James, Dalton and Younger gangs.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
I try to think of myself as a fictional character, it gets me through the day – and night. But if pressed, I suppose it would have to be one of those detectives, like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, who always seemed to know what they were doing, even if they didn’t know why.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Well, I don’t think of reading anything as doing something guilty. We all do enough guilty things during the course of a day. I actually think of reading anything today, with all the diversions there are – the internet, TV, movies – as virtuous. But I guess I’d have to say the New York Post, a tabloid here in America, especially Page 6, the gossip page.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Getting a book published, especially one like SWANN, which I first wrote nearly thirty years ago. But I’ve got other unpublished manuscripts in my drawer and getting one of them published would certainly be a satisfying moment.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I could probably google myself to death to come up with what I’d consider the best Irish crime novel, but then I’d be guilty of lying, so I’m going to tell the truth and unmask myself as a terrible impostor because I read very little crime fiction, though I’ll see every crime movie ever made.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Again, I’ll have to demur here. Besides, what great book ever makes a great movie?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best thing: you don’t have to go out when the weather’s inclement. Worst thing: having to actually write.
The pitch for your next book is …?
I’m planning a sequel to SWANN, where’s he’s gotten out of the business and become a cable TV installer, but is dragged back into “the game”, and becomes involved in the stealing of and selling of rare books.
Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading a book of short stories by Bruce Jay Friedman called THREE BALCONIES, and a non-fiction book by Jerome Groopman, called HOW DOCTORS THINK, as well as trying to catch up with a bunch of New Yorker magazines lying around. I’m an inveterate magazine reader.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. Hands down. It would be a way to avoid writing, which every writer worth his or her salt wants to do.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …
Varied. Conversational. Character-driven.

Charles Salzberg’s SWANN’S LAST SONG is published by Five Star.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Monday Lynx

Being a round-up of mildly interesting stuff-‘n’-such discovered by Jinx the Lynx (right) on his weekly prowl around the interweb. To wit:
John Connolly is interviewed over at Me and My Big Mouth.

Gerard Brennan has interviews with Neville Thompson and Ken Bruen.

Adrian McKinty is running a competition to win a copy of THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS.

Tana French tells The Guardian about her ‘Top 10 Maverick Mysteries’ …

… while her second novel, THE LIKENESS, gets reviewed at the Irish Independent.

Garbhan Downey talks journalism and crime writing at Detectives Beyond Borders.

Back to The Guardian for James Lasdun’s review of Benny Blanco’s THE LEMUR.

And this was the saddest news of the weekend …

The Embiggened O # 31,461: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto. Oh, Hold On …

And I know / It ain’t gonna last …” warbled the Mercury Revsters at one point, so I’ll make hay while the sun shines and / or post up the reviews of our humble tome THE BIG O as they arrive. The weekend just passed was a particularly good one, with the generous folk at Booklist leading the way, to wit:
“Burke has married hard-boiled crime with noir sensibility and seasoned it with humour and crackling dialogue … fans of comic noir will find plenty to enjoy here.” – Booklist

“Burke’s the latest – and one of the best – bad-boy Irish writers to hit our shores … the pieces of THE BIG O fall flawlessly into place. Burke’s characters are as unpredictable as stray bullets and the dialogue is nothing short of electric. This caper is so stylish, so hilarious, that it could have been written by the love-child of Elmore Leonard and Oscar Wilde.” – Killer Books

“A noir hybrid of murder and merriment … as if Quentin Tarantino and Buster Keaton had a love-child who could write … There have been few novelists who could plot tightly, create well-developed characters and write laugh-out-loud dialogue – Burke is a welcome new addition. ” – Mystery on Main Street
  Finally, Leslie McGill at the Kansas City Star did us proud, not least because THE BIG O was her Pick of the Week over such luminaries as Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin, the gist of the review running thusly:
“Delightful … darkly funny … Burke’s style is evocative of Elmore Leonard, but with an Irish accent and more of a sense of humour … Here’s hoping we see lots more of Declan Burke soon.” – Leslie McGill, Kansas City Star
  All of which is very, very nice indeed. Folks? We thank you kindly, one and all …

Sunday, September 28, 2008

“In The Desiccated Murk Of A John Banville Novel …”

Declan Hughes reviewed Benny Blanco’s THE LEMUR for the Irish Times yesterday, and I choked so hard on my cornflakes I needed a good Heimliching from a 300-pound gorilla. To wit:
“This is not Banville writing as Black, this is Black writing as Banville, and John Glass is that familiar figure: Banville Man. Banville Man, furrowed brow wreathed in smoke, forever caught between a swoon and a sneer; Banville Man, the rumpled aesthete whose exquisite nerves are ever besieged by the crass and the vulgar (“For God’s sake, Louise. The ‘chopper’!”); Banville Man, whose loathing of the hell that is other people is surpassed only by his loathing of himself.
  “And in the desiccated murk of a John Banville novel, where no one expects much by way of character or action, where a bogus back-story is the least you might imagine a man to have, that’s all par for the course.”
  I actually liked THE LEMUR, on the basis that I thought it was good fun to read Banville playing around with the genre conventions. But this is much more fun – we haven’t had a good old-fashioned writers’ spat in, oooh, never. And what gives this one a frisson is that Banville used to be the literary editor-type with the Irish Times.
  Ding-ding, gentlemen, seconds out …

“Just A Perfect Day / I’m Glad I Spent It With Youse …”

I don’t generally have much truck with Kilkenny, this on the basis that its hurlers knocks the stuffing out of Wexford on an annual basis, but yesterday, at the invitation of organiser Neville Thompson (right), I headed down country for the inaugural Castlecomer Writers’ Festival. A fine day it was too, with the sleepy hamlet bathed in sunshine and none of the locals inclined to boast that their county’s hurlers are the finest specimens of the art known to mankind, and are therefore the finest sportsmen ever to grace the planet.
  Anyhoos, I did my best to ruin the convivial atmosphere by injecting some crime into proceedings but no one seemed to take it personally, and the morning’s crime writing workshop went off without a hitch, apart from the fact that I was unforgivably late. It being Castlecomer, no one was rude enough to point out this fact, and it was only afterwards I realised it. Folks? Sincere apologies …
  Bizarre as it was to be asked for my advice on how to write (“Erm, I dunno – rip off someone good, like Elmore Leonard …?”), it was a terrific experience. Because the truth is that I’m about a half-a-rung up the publishing ladder from the folks who are currently struggling to piece their first novels together, which made the whole process a fairly chastening reality check. Mind you, the highlight of the morning was the nun who recounted how she’d taught a hardened prisoner the meaning of the acronym ‘fuck’.
  Upward and onward to lunch, where I met James Lawless, whose novel PEELING ORANGES sounds like a good one. To wit:
PEELING ORANGES tells the story of Derek Foley, who, while sifting through his late father’s diaries and his mother’s correspondence with an IRA man, discovers that Patrick Foley, a diplomat in Franco’s Spain, was not really his father. Derek’s mother, who is ailing, is unwilling to discuss the past, forcing her son on a quest that will plunge him into the early history of Irish diplomacy, taking him to Spain and later to Northern Ireland, until he discovers who his real father was – with tragic consequences.
  PEELING ORANGES is a novel full of personal and political intrigue, fraught with ideology, as it intersects the histories of two emergent nations – Ireland and Spain. It is also a beautiful and lyrically written love story of childhood sweethearts – the apolitical Derek and the passionate nationalist, Sinéad Ní Shúileabháin. “A book to lose oneself in. I highly recommend it.” – Gabriel Byrne.
  I also – finally – got to meet Garbhan Downey, who followed me outside when I slipped out for a post-prandial smoke. “I recognised you from the cigarillo,” says he. A top bloke. After lunch we co-hosted a workshop on journalism, during which I felt like a total fraud. I tried to buy a copy of OFF BROADWAY, his Damon Runyon-inspired collection of short stories, but apparently my money is no good in Castlecomer. “If I never wrote another book,” he said, handing it over, “this is the book I wanted to write.” Always nice to hear a scribe say that …
  Back into the Vizmobile, then, and off to Dublin, where I took part in a discussion on the sudden popularity of Irish crime fiction on Newstalk 106 hosted by the ever-radiant Sinead Gleeson. Tana French and I were in the studio, with Paul Charles on the line from London. The verdict? Irish crime fiction is suddenly popular because there’s a whole heap of terrific authors writing crime fiction. Here endeth the lesson.
  Back into the Vizmobile again and hey-ho for Arklow and the afters of a wedding reception, where I got quietly and very pleasantly drunk to the soundtrack of a covers band knocking out pretty decent versions of offerings from The Stones, The Monkees, The Beatles and Joe Dolan. Nice. Mind you, I did make a faux pas when I told one of Mrs Viz’s cousins that I really liked her shoes. What – aren’t married men supposed to notice women’s shoes anymore?
  Anyhoos, back home and off to Sleepytown, not neglecting to give the Princess Lilyput a little cuddle before my pillow finally claimed me for its own. A perfect day? Damn close …

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stark Raven Love

Author and blogger Lyman Feero (right) locates himself Somewhere Between a Raven and the Universe, from which vantage point he took aim at yours truly’s recent mini-Crime Carnival post on how the interweb might well provide the setting for a comprehensive critical evaluation of crime / mystery fiction.
  Lyman has first-hand experience of how genre fiction is treated in the hallowed halls of academia, and thus has plenty to say worth reading, with one snippet running thusly:
“However, sidestep into the American Studies, History and Pop Culture departments and you'll find something completely different … The programs that grow writers and offer lofty speeches on the value of a piece of written works are not the source for genre validation. The people who study genres and offer up theories on how the works fit into their genres are theorists, sociologists, psychologists, who all see the value of the craft. They are the ones that can provide that analysis. They are the ones to catch up the mystery / crime’s analysis backlog. The analysis will be more meaningful, tying the writing more closely to its social relevance, its place in history, its rote validity. Genre theorists know more about the nature of popular writing than most English faculty members ever dreamed.”
  Trust me, this is worth five minutes of your time

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

It’s a good week for Sir Kenneth of Bruen, people – LONDON BOULEVARD has just been short-listed for the SNCF ‘Best Foreign Crime Novel’ award in France (ooh la-la, etc.). Nice one, Sir Kenneth. To celebrate, we’re giving away – courtesy of the lovely folk at Brandon Books – three hardback copies of AMERICAN SKIN for free, gratis and nuffink. First, the blurb elves:
Stephen Blake is a good man blown in bad directions. He and girlfriend Siobhan, best friend Tommy, IRA terrorist Stapleton, and a particularly American sort of psychopath named Dade, are all on a collision course somewhere between the dive bars of New York and the pitiless desert of the Southwest. This is the long-awaited American novel by Ken Bruen, the hard-boiled master of Irish noir.
  Nice. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of AMERICAN SKIN, just answer the following question.
Is Ken Bruen’s rock ‘n’ roll alter-ego:
(a) Iggy Pop;
(b) Keith Richards;
(c) Kris Kristofferson;
(d) Jerry Lee Lewis?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins) by noon on Tuesday, September 30. Et bon chance, mes amis

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Embiggened O # 31,709: In Which Modesty Suffers The Latest Of Its Death By A Thousand Cuts

Given the week that’s in it, with our humble tome THE BIG O touching down on the North American landmass, I hope you’ll forgive me if I foist yet another review onto your tender sensibilities. This one comes courtesy of Marilyn Dahl at Shelf Awareness, and runs thusly:
Needing to deal with pre-election agita, I’ve been self-medicating with a lot of mysteries and thrillers (along with pinot noir, Tim’s black pepper potato chips and prayer). The books have been uniformly good, and some have been outstanding, like THE BIG O by Irish writer Declan Burke. If you are a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard fan, don’t miss this dark, wacky story of bad people plotting bad things.
  THE BIG O begins with a bang: Karen hits up a convenience store and nearly shoots Ray, who’s there just to get a strawberry Cornetto from the freezer case. Naturally this leads to drinks, followed by lust and a wary meeting of minds. Rounding out the cast is Frank, an almost-disbarred plastic surgeon (his lawyer, explaining to Frank the spot of trouble he’s in: “That malpractice suit isn’t going away ... even if you had it in writing, how that poor woman explicitly asked to look like Bob Mitchum, the jury’d take one look at the eyelids and--”); Frank’s ex-wife Madge, who’s also Karen’s best friend; his current amour Genevieve, a shopaholic, withholding bimbo; and Karen’s ex, Rossi, freshly out of prison, working on a con (a charity for ex-cons) and looking for his $60,000 from a previous job and the Ducati he thinks Karen has. Rossi styles himself after Cagney and starts his first week of freedom by ripping off an Oxfam store for a pinstripe suit with pink stripes, a red shirt, striped suspenders and a bottle-green tie (“Never in fashion, always in style,” he says). Then there is Doyle, the cop who has a tough day trying to decide how to file her case-load—“alphabetically, chronologically or by stench”; and Anna, Karen’s beloved one-eyed Siberian wolf. As for the plot, Ray happens to be a professional kidnapper, and Frank happens to want his ex-wife kidnapped to collect insurance money.
  Burke’s dialogue is spot on, as are his characters, even minor players like the Chinese storeowner in the initial hold-up who checks the time as he hands over the money, muttering he’s just about to close, get on with it. Nobody can whimper like Frank (MASH’s Maj. Burns comes to mind), especially after he hits the bourbon five or six times. Rossi is a nasty scumbag--why did Karen take up with him?--but he’s hilarious in his attempts to articulate his world view. This is a biting, wickedly funny noir farce that builds to a knock-out ending. – Marilyn Dahl

  Shelf Talker: A dark and crazy noir thriller about bad people plotting bad things, usually ineptly, often hilariously.
  The Big Question: Should I cop myself on, grow a beard and stop posting these reviews? Hit me where it hurts, people …

Three Chords And The Truth

If the prospect of ‘low’ entertainment being transmuted into art makes you queasy, look away now. For lo, Peter Murphy has a fine treatise on the influence of punk music on Irish literature over at his Blog of Revelations, in the midst of which he has this to say:
“The compost theory of culture holds that what was once held as ‘low’ entertainment – gothic, southern gothic, pulp fiction, westerns, post-war noir, horror, magic realism, new journalism, the new wave of ’60s sci-fi, EC and Marvel comics, tales from the crypt, performance poetry, graffiti art, graphic novels – gets turned to precious metal by the pressure of successive decades heaped on top of each other, until, at this end of the process, what was once derided as common has become retroactively transmuted into art.
  “Anybody feeling queasy here should note that Cormac McCarthy, maybe the most respected living American writer, has worked exclusively in genre for decades, be it the post-apocalyptic (THE ROAD), modern noir, (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), western (THE BORDER TRILOGY) horror masquerading as western (BLOOD MERIDIAN) or southern gothic (CHILD OF GOD, OUTER DARK).”
  Peter I love like a mother from another brother, etc., but there’s an issue at the heart of his argument I can’t get my head around, which is that he views Irish literary works through the prism of the punk music of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, et al.
  Surely, if the ‘low entertainment vs art’ argument holds true, then punk – and pop, rock, C&W, metal, et al – are simply genres of music, with classical the only music worth taking seriously for true connoisseurs.
  Here’s something that occurred to me while watching the Coen Brothers’ take on NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – the movie would not be judged on its merits as a genre flick, but simply on whether it was a good or bad movie. And when the awards season rolled around, the film wasn’t awarded ‘Best Crime Flick’, it was given ‘Best Flick’.
  You can argue, as I’ve been known to do after a dry sherry or four, that movie-making being a relatively new form, it’s more in tune with generalised democracy and universal suffrage – as with TV, it instinctively understands that its audience is for the very great part composed of a classless society, or at least believes that it belongs to a classless society.
  The world of books, on the other hand, has its roots in a much different world order, one which depended for its very existence on the idea of a pecking order. And no matter how you arranged that pecking order – by title, rank or money – the essential element underpinning it was snobbery.
  Peter, back at the Blog of Revelations, celebrates the social and cultural leveller that was / is the punk ethic by urging us to:
“ … imagine a climate where Irish writers and, crucially, non-Irish writers resident here, co-opted punk’s refusal to observe protocol, where there’s no confining delineation between so-called serious and popular literature, where language, theme, storytelling craft and imagination all co-exist.”
  He goes on to cite, as examples of same, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Joe Hill, AM Homes, David Foster Wallace, Steven Hall, Jeffrey Eugenides, Dave Eggars, George Saunders, Katherine Dunne and Tom Spanbauer.
  I don’t get the “and, crucially, non-Irish writers resident here” bit, but what I can suggest is that there many Irish writers who have “co-opted punk’s refusal to observe protocol”. They include John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Alan Glynn, Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Gerard Donovan, Colin Bateman … you get my drift.
  If punk was about anything, it was about telling it like it is. Some, like the Pistols, were wilfully raw. Others, such as The Buzzcocks, were deceptively articulate and sophisticated.
  Crime writing – whether wilfully raw or sophisticated and articulate – tells it like it is.
  All together now: “Even fallen in love with someone / Ever fallen in love / In love with someone / You shouldna fallen in love with …”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Soldiers Of Misfortune

Two interesting prospects wing our way from the Mercier Press, folks. Up first, HITLER’S IRISHMEN by Terence O’Reilly:
A handful of Irishmen fought for Nazi Germany – but only two ever wore the uniform of the notorious Waffen-SS …
  During the Second World War, two young Irishmen served in the armed forces of Nazi Germany, swearing the oath of the Waffen-SS, wearing the organisation’s uniform and even its distinctive blood group tattoo.
  James Brady from Roscommon and Frank Stringer from Leitrim were under the direct command of Otto Skorzeny, the man who rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a mountain-top prison, and they were involved in some of the most ferocious fighting of the war in the last days of the Third Reich.
  Ironically these young men had originally joined an Irish regiment of the British army, and but for a twist of fate would have ended up fighting against the Germans. Instead, the pair were recruited to the German special forces after they were captured on the island of Jersey.
  Based on new research from the two men’s own accounts and on state papers which have been recently released.
  Mmmm, tasty. Meanwhile, Gerard Mac Manus publishes what sounds like a fascinating memoir, DARK CORNERS:
As a young man in 1960’s Ireland, Gerard Mac Manus joined the Irish Army. This set in train a sequence of events that resulted in him: guarding Europe’s borders during the Cold War, patrolling the meanest streets in the world as a cop in Atlanta, and going undercover in high-living and low-life Florida.
  His adventures included nearly killing President Nixon’s best friend, not quite arresting one of the world’s biggest rock groups and finding himself responsible for the security of Yitzhak Rabin, against the latter’s wishes.
  Mac Manus has seen more action and witnessed more pivotal events – from the Cold War to responses to 9/11 – than most would ever dream about. His life is an Irishman’s record of the violence, organised corruption, and compassion found in America and the west during the last fifty years.
  Surrounded since childhood by literary and artistic achievement, but writing for the first time about his life experiences, Mac Manus digs deep into his dark times to reveal a powerful story.
  So there you have it. The Mercier Press, keeping it real on the streets …

Failure Is NOT An Option

Failure ain’t an option, according to Sam Beckett (right), it’s an inevitability. It’s amazing how easy the writing lark gets when you embrace that fact …
  Anyone else collect mottos? I don’t go bananas on it, but over the years I have picked up a few choice writing-related lines that I keep dotted around the desk for those times when the muse is gone on the razz with her cider-swilling buddies. To wit:
“Try again, fail again, fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“When you leave your typewriter you leave your machine-gun and the rats come pouring through.” – Charles Bukowski

“If you’re out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.” – Albert Einstein

“Crime is but a left-handed form of human endeavour.” – WR Burnett
  The Big Question - What’s the line that gets you girding your loins and thundering once more unto the breach, Horatio?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Embiggened O # 44,106: Yep, It’s That Blummin’ Book Again

Chances are you won’t be in the vicinity of Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, this coming weekend, but if you are you might want to drop in on the inaugural Castlecomer Writers’ Festival, where yours truly (right) will be hosting two workshops, one titled ‘Fictional Crime’, the other ‘Crime Always Pays’. Or leading everyone in a chorus of All Kinds of Everything, depending on how it goes … Other contributors to the weekend include Neville Thompson, Anita Notaro and Garbhan Downey, and Emerging Writer has all the details …
  Meanwhile, the on-line crime fic community continues its generous cheerleading on THE BIG O’s behalf, with Salman Rushdie’s stunt-double, Uriah Robinson, wibbling thusly:
“Fun is the word I associate with Declan’s book and in my review I wrote that ‘THE BIG O is a loveable rogue of a novel ...’ and great read. The full review is here.”
  Thank you kindly, O Salman-ish of Knowledge. Over at Pitched Up, Mack Lundy does us proud too:
“You know how there are television shows where the cast is perfect and they complement each other – Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Shield, The Wire, shows like that. That’s the way I felt about the characters in THE BIG O. I liked many of them but was interested in all of them.”
  Nice one, Mack. Oh, and by the way – in Monday’s round-up of BIG O big-ups, I disgracefully neglected to mention the New Mystery Reader. Folks? I’m currently wearing sackcloth and ashes. Mea culpa

The Law – No Longer An Ass, Apparently

Crikey! There we were, just yesterday, saying how Ken Bruen (right) is having a good week. And then this pops up, courtesy of Variety Magazine:
Elliott Lester has been tapped to direct BLITZ, the feature adaptation of Ken Bruen’s police thriller, for Lionsgate U.K., Donald Kushner and Brad Wyman [producing].
  BLITZ centres on a serial killer who’s aiming for tabloid immortality by executing cops in southeast London.
  The kicker? The rumour mill has it that none other than – trumpets please, maestro – Jude Law will be doing the honours.
  A good week? Quite. All together now: “Hey Jude / Don’t make it bad / Take a sad song / And make it better …”

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Mark Coggins

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’m a big Chandler fan, but I’m feeling sentimental because of the announcement of this author’s death today. I’ll go with Crumley’s THE WRONG CASE. Up until today, I used to say Crumley was my favourite living writer.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jack Reacher. No worries about wardrobe, women or kicks. There’s adventure around every corner and I’d be more than ready to handle it. Although in the last book, he was told by a woman he wasn’t a very good lover. That part would bruise my ego.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
If we are really talking guilty, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey books. The guilt comes from being a hard boiled writer and reading a novelist that Chandler specifically criticized in ‘The Simple Art of Murder’.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Killing off a character based on an old boss.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Although he beat me for the best first Shamus the year we were both first published in the US, I’m a big fan of John Connolly. I’ll go with EVERY DEAD THING because of its primeval power.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Same as above.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is the ever-expanding requirement to be a sales person and marketer for your own work. Best is picking up one of your own books after you’ve had a few drinks, flipping it open and actually enjoying what you read, even (or especially) if you don’t remember writing it.
The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s under wraps, so you’ll just have to trust me.
Who are you reading right now?
I just finished Connolly’s THE REAPERS on my Kindle flying back home on a plane last night.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. Like Red Smith is supposed to have said, “Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed.”
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Crimson, corpuscular and coagulated.

Mark Coggins’ RUNOFF is available now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Embiggened O # 31,017: “It’s Time To Put On Make-Up / It’s Time To Light The Lights …”

It’s a never-ending source of amazement to me that, given all the books out there that they could be reading, people have picked up THE BIG O and taken a chance that their precious reading time won’t be squandered in the process. But they have, and they continue to do so, and I remain in a perpetual state of amazement. And not only do they read it, they go to the trouble of writing and posting reviews, as Luan Gaines did on To wit:
“A master of the aberrant behaviours of the fringe-dwellers of modern Irish society, Burke’s novel attests to the endless creativity of those who indulge in usually non-violent crime to avoid the doldrums of regular employment … The result is an innovative farce evoking the inevitable law of unintended consequences, Burke in top form as he manipulates his characters like a master puppeteer.” – Luan Gaines
  Funny you should mention puppets, squire – one of my very first stabs at writing, back when I was 14 or so, was the rewriting of a series of classic plays, such as King Lear, with the play being produced in the Muppet Show theatre and the action moving back and forth from the on-stage production – in front of an audience composed of the Anarchist Liberation Front – to the back-stage shenanigans, in which a titanic struggle for control of the production was waged between the Muppet Show regulars and the Monty Python crew. No, seriously. The United Nations generally had to get involved by the end to sort things out. Once it was written, three or four of us would sit around a tape-recorder and record the lot. I still have the scripts and tapes somewhere …
  Anyhoos, Jacqueline Jung at Nights and Weekends was also kind enough to review THE BIG O, with the gist running thusly:
“Irish writer Declan Burke has managed to get away with breaking all of the rules with his fun comedic thriller … THE BIG O moves quickly as it continually keeps you in stitches. This hilarious novel is filled with plenty of drugs, sex, and even a little rock ‘n’ roll. The humour is raw, but Burke manages to keep the satire short of slapstick. I hope that Declan Burke will continue to come out with more satirical crime novels like this one. After all, life doesn’t always have to be that serious.” – Jacqueline Jung
  So there you have it. “Life doesn’t always have to be that serious.” Amen, sister …

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Embiggened O # 3,119: Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You

Given the day that’s in it, with our humble tome THE BIG O being published in hardback in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I thought I’d take the opportunity to blow my own trumpet so hard that I squish both lungs out through said trumpet in little sausage-y links. Maestro? In your own time, please …
  Actually, no – there’ll be no trumpet-parping today. Today is a day for feeling quietly positive about the human race in general and the crime fiction community in particular. Why so? Well, the way said community has rallied around yours truly in the last week or 10 days has been heartwarming to say the least, and I’m currently basking in the glow of the kind of good vibes Brian Wilson could only dream about while he scratched about in his sandpit. To wit:
Jeff Kingston asked me to deface / guest-blog at The Rap Sheet for the last week;
The Book Witch has updated her review of THE BIG O;
Gerard Brennan at CSNI republished his review, and tossed in a major shout-out to boot;
Stuart Neville gave me a bejasus big-up;
Marshal Zeringue pulled out all the stops at America Reads;
Glenn Harper did me proud over at International Noir;
Barbara Fister was kind enough to invite me to host the Crime Carnival again;
And Peter Rozovsky has been log-rolling THE BIG O to beat the band over at Detectives Beyond Borders.
  If I’ve forgotten anyone, my sincerest apologies – I’m just a bit light-headed from all the good karma. Peace, people – your reward will come in heaven …

Monday’s Lynx

In which Jinx the Lynx (right) presents some stuff ‘n’ such that tickled his tufty little ears during last week’s prowl around the interweb, to wit:
Maxine at Petrona has an ‘In Praise of Crime Fiction’ thingy going on …

… and are we still defending crime fiction? Really?

Every writer should have read this by now …

Tony Black on RILKE ON BLACK …

Julie Parsons on the allure of rubber boots …

… and finally, a belated report on the Crime Writers Series from Books 2008 …

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Embiggened O # 3,109: That’s It, I’m Retiring

Say you’re me, just for a second or two. Your humble tome (right) is due to be released in the U.S. tomorrow, Monday September 22nd, and you’re a little nervous as to how it’ll fare. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to get some positive feedback,’ you might say, ‘just to save yourself the hangover that’ll accrue from attacking that bottle of brandy to steady the nerves.’ And then a Galway-based little birdie passes on the latest newsletter from London’s quality crime fic bookstore Murder One, which happens to mention said humble tome in passing. To wit:
“Declan Burke / THE BIG O £17.99, absolutely wonderful Irish hardboiled novel … Now available in US hardback form and a hoot. Elmore Leonard crossed with Ken Bruen and Fredric Brown!”
Erm … Elmore Leonard and Ken Bruen? Sod the brandy, break out the frizzy …

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Another week, another freebie giveaway. This week your generous benefactors are Hachette Ireland, and they’re giving away three copies of Arlene Hunt’s latest offering, UNDERTOW. First, the blurb elves:
A missing boyfriend … a heavily pregnant girlfriend … just another ordinary case for QuicK Investigations. But the trail they follow suggests something far from ordinary. Who is Orie Kavlar and why has he gone to ground? What is the connection to the body of a dead girl found on waste ground in Sandyford? And what is his relationship to Darren Wallace, ex-gangland criminal? With their personal relationship at a new all-time low, Sarah and John are straining under the weight of their own problems, such as the murder of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend Vic. Vic was a dangerous psychotic, but murder is murder. So why won’t she accept John’s help? In no time John and Sarah’s investigations alert others to their search, and as they dig deeper into Orie Kavlar’s life, one man decides he has too much to lose to allow them to continue. Sarah and John are about to be caught up in an undertow of violence that will suck them into their most perilous case yet.
  Coolio. To be in with a chance of winning UNDERTOW, just answer the following question.
The coolest ‘hunt’ title of all time is:
(a) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER by Davis Grubb;
(b) THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers;
(c) THE HUNTER by Richard Stark;
(d) MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN by Siegfried Sassoon.
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address, as always using (at) rather than @ to confuse the spam-munchkins, before noon on Monday, September 22. Et bon chance, mes amis

Friday, September 19, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Paul Johnston

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?
Difficult. Toss-up between Ellroy’s WHITE JAZZ and Philip Kerr’s A PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATION (I only wish I had the nerve to have a serial killer called Wittgenstein).
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sherlock H. Rude, brilliant, stoned and nifty with his fists.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
P D James. Don’t agree with her politics and can’t stand the lengthy descriptions, but she gets to the meat of things for all her Golden Age credentials.
Most satisfying writing moment?
If you mean literally writing, it would be nailing the death-bed vision of old Maro in A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE (soon to be republished as CRYING BLUE MURDER) - after about fifty attempts. If you mean more generally, I’d have to say winning the Sherlock Award (see above) for THE LAST RED DEATH - a novel I literally nearly died writing (thanks to cancer).
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Do you mean written by an Irish person or set in Ireland? If the former, John Connolly’s THE KILLING KIND. The latter, Declan Hughes’s THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. (They’re two of a ‘kind’...)
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst - the first sentence every day. Best - the unexpected appearance of a deeply sneaky plot twist or such like from the subconscious.
The pitch for your next book is …?
Nazis, Satanists and the FBI - who are the scariest of them all?
Who are you reading right now?
Declan Burke (no, really...)
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
If he was paying me for it, read - much easier.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Ideas above (his) station (quote J Connolly).

Paul Johnston’s THE SOUL COLLECTOR has just been published by Mira Books.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Yet Again, We Need To Talk About Kevin

The Lilliput Press publish Kevin Power’s debut novel, BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, with the blurb elves outdoing themselves by comparing it to THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, IN COLD BLOOD and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. To wit:
On a late August night in 2004, a young man is kicked to death by his team-mates outside a Dublin nightclub and celebration turns to devastation. The reverberations of that event, its genesis and aftermath, is the subject of this extraordinary story, stripping away the veneer of a generation of Celtic cubs, whose social and sexual mores are chronicled and dissected in this tract for our times. The victim, Conor Harris, his killers – three of them are charged with manslaughter – and the trial judge share common childhoods and schooling in the privileged echelons of south Dublin suburbia. The intertwining of these lives leaves their afflicted families in moral freefall as public exposure merges with private anguish and imploded futures. This stark, elliptical tale tells of catharsis and self-examination through the eyes of the narrator and Laura Haines, girlfriend, confidante and catalyst. Akin to Lionel Shriver’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, John Banville’s THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE and Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD, it deals with the unacceptable, and the nature of truth. Like all good fiction, it illuminates a society and transcends its age with the searchlight of a sympathetic imagination. It is a significant debut by an intuitive writer.
  The title is a nod to the classic Spencer Tracy movie, obviously, although it’s been used in an Irish context before – Blackrock, y’see, being a well-to-do area of south Dublin, represents leafy-suburbed affluence in Ireland. Anyhoos, Power’s story appears to be based on a real event from a few years back, and one that exercised the country to an enormous extent at the time, giving rise to much media soul-searching and state-of-the-nation polemics mainly because the perpetrators and the victim hailed from the ranks of the overly moneyed oiks of what passes for Ireland’s aspirational middle-class.
  My initial reaction when I read the blurb was that the story is too parochial to translate to a wider audience, that Power will take all kinds of stick for reopening old wounds (fair play to him), and that the blurb elves were doing a debutant novelist no favours at all by comparing him to John Banville, Truman Capote and Lionel Shriver.
  Then I heard ‘Wilderness Gothic’ on Sunday night, Power’s short-listed entry for the Francis MacManus Short Story Award, and I thought, hmmm, okay, the guy can write …
  Anyone out there know anything more about him?

The Embiggened O # 12,309: In Which A Harper Tugs At Our Heart-Strings

It’s going to look like it was planned this way, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that it wasn’t. I thought I’d love-bombed Glenn Harper at International Noir into submission with my mini-Crime Carnival post, but the guy’s tougher than I thought – not only does he go and republish his original review of THE BIG O without so much as a by-your-leave, he also gives the cover a bejaysus big-up, to wit:
“I don’t know if the new cover is an image photographed specially for this book or came from stock photography (increasingly the source for book covers, as has been noted on several blogs with reference to different books using the same imagery), but the new cover is quite striking—congratulations to all concerned, on the cover as well as the release next week.”
  Incidentally, and while we’re on the subject – Gerard Brennan brings news of an upcoming Elmore Leonard flick based on KILLSHOT, which is news to us …
  Anyhoos, cue the review. Maestro? Trumpets, please …
THE BIG O moves out of the classic pulp-noir territory of Declan Burke’s first novel, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, into a kidnap caper with style and plotting more like Elmore Leonard (or maybe Donald Westlake) than Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The narrative is actually mostly dialogue: even the non-dialogue sections, if you look closely, are internal monologues by the various characters. The voices are snappy, and the novel is divided into short sections, each from the point of view of one of the characters. The result is a kaleidoscopic narrative that moves forward at a rapid pace--and the result is also quite funny, in the way that Leonard’s novels are frequently funny: expectations are overturned, characters move inexorably toward an unforeseen climax, and we glide past unbelievable coincidences without hesitation. None of these characters are master criminals, and the attraction of some of them for others is that of ordinary men and women. THE BIG O is, ultimately, a crime farce of the first order. The violence is postponed, riding along with the converging characters and plot lines until the ending that, though impossible to entirely foresee, seems inevitable once you’ve gotten to it. The plotting seems casual, unplanned, with the random pattern of life--but looking back, the story is as tightly structured as a jigsaw puzzle. I may not be making myself perfectly clear, here, but THE BIG O is a lot of fun, hence the earlier mention of Westlake--the elements of the plot lock together as the story moves forward with an increasingly comic effect (as, for example, the plot of Pulp Fiction moves forward), and the “blackout” quality of the short sections and alternating voices adds an additional liveliness. I frequently talk about the settings of crime novels, and this one has a carefully ambiguous setting--sometimes it seems like Ireland, but not clearly or overtly so. Sometimes THE BIG O’s story could be happening in the U.S., except that some idioms are clearly not U.S. English (“chemist” for what would be “drug store” here, among other examples). The ambiguity works effectively with the technique of the novel, though, focusing our attention on the progressively complicated story rather than on a definite setting.
  Y’know, if I was any kind of decent human being, I’d be too modest to write this kind of post. But who can afford to be a decent human being at a time like this?
  Oh, and by the way – Marsha Swan’s book launch for THE PUNCHING MAN / BOYS ARE ELASTIC, GIRLS ARE FANTASTIC happens today at Toner’s of Baggot Street, Dublin, Ireland, at 6.30pm. All are welcome …

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And Another Thing: Hurrah, It’s AND ANOTHER THING …!

One or two snippets you might have missed about the Irish YA brigade who have been known to dabble in the dark arts of crime fic, the first courtesy of the BBC:
Children’s author Eoin Colfer [right] has been commissioned to write a sixth instalment of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series.
  MOSTLY HARMLESS, the last Hitchhiker book, was written by its creator, the late Douglas Adams, 16 years ago.
  Now Adams’s widow, Jane Belson, has given her approval to bring back the hapless Arthur Dent in a new book entitled AND ANOTHER THING ...
  Eoin Colfer, 43, is best known for the best-selling Artemis Fowl novels.
  He said he was “terrified” by the prospect of creating a new Hitchhiker book almost a quarter of a century after being introduced to what he described as a “slice of satirical genius” in his late teens.
  Crumbs! Eoin Colfer writing Hitchhiker material? Truly our cup runneth over … Meanwhile, Love Reading 4 Kids brings us the news that Siobhan Dowd has been posthumously nominated for the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize shortlist, with the Guardian’s big-up for BOG CHILD running thusly:
“One of the joys of this book is its willingness to confront big themes . . . BOG CHILD explores political conflict, personal heroism, human frailty, love and death. As a writer, Dowd appears to be incapable of a jarring phrase or a lazy metaphor. Her sentences sing - each note resonates with an urgent humanity of the sort that cannot be faked. BOG CHILD sparkles with optimism and a deep passion for living.” – Meg Rosoff
  The winner will be announced next Wednesday, September 24, and we’re all rooting for BOG CHILD. Finally, news wings our way that Derek Landy’s sequel to SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT, the eagerly anticipated PLAYING WITH FIRE, will get all kinds of jazzy, interwebby marketing strategies, in particular a virally marketed game called The Munchkin Army. Does that make Sir Landy the Munchking? Erm, no. Quoth Tom Conway, marketing boffin at HarperCollins Children’s Books:
“With the Munchkin Army we wanted to create an experience that would enrich the world of Skulduggery for our 20,000 registered users, whilst encouraging them to share their passion with potential new readers. We worked closely with Hyperlaunch to create a unique game that continues even after you’ve turned off your computer. The Munchkin Army rewards existing fans with a rich, fun and exciting adventure whilst introducing newcomers to a strange and intriguing new world.”
  Folks? Get Munchkining

The First Item On The Agenda: When’s The Split?

Pat Mullan (right) gets in touch with news for ‘Irish writers of thrillers, crime, mystery, suspense’. Basically, the International Thriller Writers organisation is going, well, international, and Pat is your genial host of the forthcoming Irish chapter. The good news? Membership is free. Quoth Pat:
“Long-term we’d like to see international participation in the growing number of projects ITW is getting off the ground, from anthologies to audio serial thrillers. But, first, we need you to join. Won’t it be a good thing to have our own organization here in Ireland: ITW Ireland?”
Being the helpful type, Pat provides of an example of what ITW membership can achieve, to wit:
“Jassy Mackenzie, a young South African writer, joined ITW and rapidly found her new book written up as an interview with a fellow author, Robert Gregory Browne, in the U.S. You can see the results here ...”
So there you have it. If you want to avail of the benefits that being a member of ITW brings in its wake, you can sign up here. If you have any queries, please feel free to contact Pat Mullan at Pat? Best of luck with the project, squire - everyone knows that the first item on the agenda of any Irish organisation is, ‘When’s the split?’ …

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Embiggened O: Bee, Where Is Thy Sting? Oh, There It Is …

The redoubtable Allen Pierleoni at the Sacramento Bee does our humble offering THE BIG O proud in a mini-feature in which he reckons readers should “spend time with investigators who toil in foreign countries” and offers 10 recommendations, pithily suggesting that “Burke’s second novel (after EIGHTBALL BOOGIE) is in keeping with the new wave of Irish hardboiled detective fiction (think in terms of Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen and Adrian McKinty)”. Fine writers one and all, and delighted I am to be mentioned in the same breath. Meanwhile, some of his other recommendations come from Denis Lehane, Stieg Larsson, Stuart Kaminsky and Carlos Fuentes ...
  Yep, it’s official – this BIG O lark is getting way out of hand.
  Speaking of which, Jeff Kingston has been kind enough to ask me to guest-blog at The Rap Sheet in the week running up to the publication of THE BIG O, with the first post appearing today. But then, you all subscribe to The Rap Sheet anyway, so I’m probably not telling you anything don’t already know. The first post is a bit on the serious side, but I’ll lighten up after that. By Friday it’ll be a regular giggle-fest, I promise …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Marsha Swan

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?
Leonardo Sciascia’s EQUAL DANGER.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
The baby in Percival Everett’s GLYPH.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Chester Himes, Daniel Pennec, Barbara Kingsolver.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Self-publishing my first novel and seeing a terrifying wall of them arrive from the printers.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE BIG O—it's the only one I loved enough to publish!
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Aside from THE BIG O, you mean? Ken Bruen’s THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I can’t think about anything properly without writing about it. (Best & worst both).
The pitch for your next book is …?
Two novellas about a young Roma Gypsy and a middle-aged American teacher who move to Dublin, where they quickly find themselves fighting against shadows: a culture they don’t understand and don’t have access to; bullies on the schoolyard and in the staffroom; a mysterious stranger and a mysterious disease.
Who are you reading right now?
Sherman Alexie.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
This question upset me so much it put me off answering the Q&A for a week. I wish I could say read, but it’d have to be write.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Not too long.

Marsha Swan’s THE PUNCHING MAN / BOYS ARE ELASTIC, GIRLS ARE FANTASTIC will be launched in Toner’s of Baggot Street, Dublin, on Thursday, September 18 at 6.30pm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Crime Carnival Cometh. Again

Barbara Fister (right), the ever-radiant mastermind behind the Crime Carnival concept, was kind enough to get in touch about a month ago to ask if I’d be interested in hosting another Crime Carnival. My reply ran thusly:
“I certainly wouldn’t mind hosting the carnival again, although I’d probably do a different kind of job on it ... I think the concept has probably exhausted most of the crime fic sites out there. Maybe phase two could be about generating discussion and debate on the merits or otherwise of crime fic blogs and sites, get us asking one another what it is exactly we’re trying to achieve ... and how best to achieve it?”
  Barbara thought that that was a good idea, in principle at least, and so here we are …
  The problem now, of course, is that I have to back up my initially whimsical suggestion with some hard facts and examples. I think the first thing to be said is that every blog and site is different, a diversity which is in itself one of the joys of the crime / mystery fic community. It further needs to be said that the notions I outline below don’t apply to all blogs and sites, on the basis that most of us have a set of well-defined parameters we work within, and are quite happy to keep on doing so.
  For example, Crime Always Pays is for the most part dedicated to Irish crime fiction, but I’m always delighted to feature non-Irish crime writers on it. Further, I tend to broaden the parameters on a whim, and in the last couple of weeks have blogged about quantum physics, Lawrence Durrell and Marsha Swan’s new book, all of which have nothing whatsoever to do with crime fiction. Further again, anyone familiar with Crime Always Pays understands that I blog about Irish crime fiction in general in order to promote my own writing in particular – it’s not about the hard sell, but it would be disingenuous of me to suggest otherwise.
  In other words, different blogs have different objectives, and the last thing I want to do is offend anyone by suggesting that their work doesn’t come up to a certain standard or mark. That is most definitely not the point of this exercise.
  So what is the point? Well, it’s about where crime fiction itself is going, and what blogs and sites can do to help it get there. For the most part, as you well know, crime / mystery fiction has not, historically, been taken as seriously as it should be by the gatekeepers of the traditional media. Those gatekeepers also tend to man the portals of the various awards available to fiction writers, which is why there was such a furore recently when Tom Rob Smith’s CHILD 44 breached the Booker Prize defences.
  With a few notable exceptions, crime / mystery writing tends to get short shrift in the mainstream press, and as often as not finds itself shoehorned into a review ghetto, wherein five or six titles will be briefly assessed in the same kind of space that would be given over to single, more ‘literary’ title. That very fact, of course, is one of the main reasons for the proliferation of crime / mystery fiction blogs and sites available on-line, and in a perverse way, it should be celebrated for inadvertently creating such a dynamic and vibrate on-line crime / mystery community.
  By the same token, many mainstream commentators have suggested that the blogging format doesn’t lend itself to the quality of commentary available in mainstream media. To a certain extent, this is true. The blogging paradigm lends itself to shorter, more direct forms of communication than that of the traditional mainstream press. Further, most bloggers are not being paid to read and review books, and are for the most part doing it as a labour of love in their spare time. Another factor involved is that to be a ‘successful’ blogger – i.e., to achieve the kind of exposure that makes your time and effort worthwhile – it is necessary to blog on a regular basis, or at least far more regularly than the traditional media reviewer needs to review. For all these reasons, and more, the on-line community lacks the resources (but mainly space, time and money) that has allowed the more literary community build up a corpus of critical work on literary novels.
  That’s not to say that there isn’t superb critical work available. There is, and there’s plenty of it. By comparison with the literary corpus, however, which has not only colonised the traditional media and its prize-giving off-shoots, but also the libraries and campuses, and which has a head-start on crime / mystery fiction that can be measured in hundreds of years, the critical work on crime / mystery fiction is very much in its infancy.
  One point, before we go further: I am NOT saying that crime / mystery fiction should strive to be taken seriously by the literary establishment. They do what they do, and good luck to them; my personal reading habits involve quite a lot of what would be considered literary fiction, and I have no beef with what they do or how they do it. By the same token, and speaking only for myself, the last thing I need or want is a pat on the head from the literary establishment. What I AM saying is that the critical work on crime fiction needs to develop of and through its own metier, that the Johnsons of the crime / mystery community require their Boswells, and that I believe heart and soul that crime / mystery fiction needs and deserves the kind of widespread, top-to-bottom critical work that would in turn inspire the writers to strive towards ever-higher standards of work.
  Here I need to hold my hand up and admit that Crime Always Pays does not offer the kind of critical work that I’m talking about. In mitigation I plead that (a) the blog was always intended as an information resource, (b) I blog in those precious few cracks I can find in my daily schedule, and (c) I’m nowhere near as smart as I’d need to be in order to raise my game to that standard. I’m sure that most bloggers would say the same thing, excepting (c).
  But here’s the thing – crime / mystery fiction is the most popular genre on the planet, it is inarguably the most relevant and important fiction out there, and that’s why I believe it deserves more. It deserves more from me, certainly, than reviews that run along the lines of, “This is a great book because I liked it and I liked it because it’s a great book.” It deserves the kind of dynamic, rigorous, extensive and constantly evolving critical work that the interweb is perfectly placed to provide, and it deserves to be critiqued, justified and praised not by the kind of commentator who will suggest that a particular novel has (koff) ‘transcended the genre’, but by those who understand that good crime / mystery fiction is simultaneously scourge and balm, panacea and drug, a fiction for the world we live in that is also its truth.
  I’m going to leave you with an example of the quality of work I’m talking about, and I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone’s sensibilities with what has gone before, or by mentioning only one blog. It’s Glenn Harper’s outlet at International Noir – when I dropped by today to check it out, this is what he had to say for himself
Classical Unities and Crime Fiction
“I’ve just finished Peter Craig’s HOT PLASTIC, published a few years ago. The novel shares a good deal with Jim Thompson’s great THE GRIFTERS, but I didn’t like HOT PLASTIC very much. I’m wondering why it didn’t satisfy, though I usually find grifter novels appealing. One thing that occurred to me is that it violates a modern version of the classical unities, while THE GRIFTERS does not. Aristotle said that tragedy should not violate three rules, unity of action, unity of place, and unity of time. That is, one main action or plot with few subplots, one setting, and a time-frame of no more than 24 hours. Obviously, the modern novel violates those rules in all but a few cases (ULYSSES, for example), and some forms of the novel (the picaresque, for example) violate all the rules most of the time. But keeping those rules in mind nevertheless provides focus for fiction as well as drama, but crime fiction actually adheres to the rules more closely than a lot of so-called mainstream fiction (think of those family dramas covering four generations and three continents). The biggest difference between THE GRIFTERS and HOT PLASTIC is that Thompson maintains enough of the unities to give the novel a sharp, while Craig’s novel is more of a picaresque or romance, following several characters through a number of adventures that don’t follow a common plot though they eventually lead back to a kind of repetition of the original situation. HOT PLASTIC has more of the structure of a mainstream novel, following the relationships of the characters more than any coherent story. Fine, if that’s what you’re after, but to me it suits the crime genre less well. Even when a crime novel covers a large-ish frame of time; to use just two famous examples, ROSEANNA by Sjöwall & Wahlöö or FACELESS KILLERS by Mankell stretch a police investigation over a considerable time and numerous false leads, but the doggedness of the investigator and the concentration on a single crime maintain a unity of story or action. Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD obviously derives its unity of time from Ulysses, but many other crime novels, from the famous FAST ONE by Paul Cain onward, adhere to a tight time-frame. And when subplots seem to be more important or as important as a main plot in a crime novel, there’s a coherence provided by those plots moving toward a common endpoint or in their relation to an investigation or a crime (as in false leads). Unity of place is possibly the most adhered to of the rules in the kind of crime fiction that I like best (that is to say, localized stories rather than globe-hopping thrillers). So what do you think: Are crime novels Aristotelian? Or should they be?”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

TV Or Not TV, That Is The Question

A rather interesting few hours was had by your genial host last evening. The venue was RTE, the Irish state broadcaster, and the occasion was Ryan Tubridy’s (right) The Tubridy Tonight show, Ireland’s equivalent of the David Letterman yak-fest. The object of the exercise was to talk about Ireland’s obsession with crime in the company of crime fiction scribe Declan Hughes and the Daily Star’s crime correspondent, Mick O’Toole, co-author with John Mooney of BLACK OPERATIONS: THE SECRET WAR AGAINST THE REAL IRA. I was there masquerading as an expert in Irish crime fiction.
  As it transpired, there was very little in the way of chat about crime fiction, with the conversation concentrating on true-crime cases, and particularly the stories of Madeleine McCann, Farah Noor and Rachel O’Reilly. Not being an aficionado of true-crime writing, my contribution was limited to suggesting that the Irish fascination with crime – I reckoned ‘obsession’ was a bit strong, and has morbid connotations – is a positive thing. Take the Farah Noor case, aka the ‘Scissors Sisters’ story. If the dismembered body of a man turned up in a canal and didn’t provoke appalled fascination, then serious questions would have to be asked about the emotional well-being of a society that could be so callously indifferent.
  I also suggested that Ireland, despite its rapidly growing population, is still a relatively small country, which gives its high-profile crime cases a potent immediacy and intimacy. That’s not to say we’re a village where everyone knows everyone else, but if there’s a murder in such-and-such pub, say, there’s a good chance you know someone who drank there, or you were on that street three weeks ago, or you know someone who lives in the area.
  There’s also the largely unremarked fact that while the Republic of Ireland went about its business blissfully and / or wilfully ignorant of its burgeoning criminal class until the investigative journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered in 1996, less than a hundred miles to the north there were regular (on occasion daily) outbreaks of violence, murder and bombings being visited on Northern Ireland’s population.
  The bad news is that last night’s Tubridy Tonight was a ‘dry run’ pilot for the forthcoming series, so it won’t actually be screened on TV. Boo. Still, it was interesting to see how that kind of show is put together, and it’s another story for the grandkids.
  Most interesting of all was the pre-show conversation in the Green Room, where Mick O’Toole gave myself and Dec Hughes the inside skinny on some of Ireland’s more high-profile crime cases, most of which wasn’t fit to print at the time and won’t be repeated here for fear of finding my pert little ass sued off. But it does beg the question – given the terrific examples of Gene Kerrigan’s grittily realistic novels, when are Ireland’s crime correspondents going to start writing crime fiction?

999: The Mark Of The Feast

Yep, it’s ‘Post # 999’ for Crime Always Pays. I don’t know about you, but that one caught me broadside and shivered me timbers when I realised how much time I’ve been spending on ye olde blogge. If every post is only 200 words long (and most of them are at least that), and bearing in mind that my novels come in around the 75,000-word mark, I’d have had the best part of three novels written for the same amount of time and effort invested over the last 18 months. A scary thought …
  Mind you, I don’t begrudge a second of it. It’s been terrific fun, I’ve met a veritable horde of brilliant people, and CAP has put me in regular touch with some of the best writers of their generation. Nice. And not only that, but Crime Always Pays has taken our humble tome THE BIG O from its lowly status as a co-published novel with the tiny but perfectly formed Hag’s Head Press in Ireland to within two weeks of a hardcover release in the U.S. courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  Anyhoos, to celebrate the impendingness of both CAP’s one thousandth post and THE BIG O’s release in the U.S., I’m running a BIG O-style ‘Best Things In Life Are Free … Books’ competition this week. And not only that, I’m tossing in a copy of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE to boot. First, the blurb elves, aka THE BIG O’s back-cover big-ups:
“Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is one of the sharpest, wittiest, and most unusual Irish crime novels of recent years.” – John Connolly, author of THE UNQUIET

“Declan Burke’s THE BIG O has everything you want in a crime novel: machine-gun dialogue, unforgettable characters, and a wicked plot. Think George V. Higgins in Ireland on speed.” – Jason Starr, author of THE FOLLOWER

“No such thing as coincidence! Don’t tell that to the glorious band of cast-offs and misfits that populate the pages of Declan Burke’s uncanny THE BIG O. With a deft touch, Burke pulls together a cross-genre plot that’s part hard-boiled caper, part thriller, part classic noir, and flat out fun. From first page to last, THE BIG O grabs hold and won’t let go.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, author of THE JAMES DEANS

“It’s hard to praise THE BIG O highly enough. Excellent writing, great characters, superb storytelling – all played out at a ferocious tempo. By turns it’s dark, funny, moving, brutal, tender and twisted. A book that makes one hell of an impact. More Declan Burke, please.” – Allan Guthrie, author of SAVAGE NIGHT

“Declan Burke’s crime writing is fast, furious, and funny, but this is more than just genre fiction: Burke is a high satirist in the tradition of Waugh and Kingsley Amis, and his stories pulse with all the contradictions of contemporary Ireland. Burke has a deep respect for and understand of the classic traditions of the hardboiled school but he never forgets that his first duty is to give us a damn good read.” – Adrian McKinty, author of THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD
  So there you have it. To be in with a chance of winning one of three copies of THE BIG O and EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, just answer the following question. Exactly how cute is the Princess Lilyput (right)?
(a) Cute;
(b) Very cute;
(c) Wow, she’s gorgeous;
(d) Hey Dec, that’s a good-looking child – are you sure she’s yours?
  Answers via the comment box, including an email contact address that uses (at) rather than @ to confuse the spam munchkins, before noon on Tuesday, September 16. Et bon chance, mes amis

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Embiggened O: What’s In A Name?

Whenever it comes up in conversation that I’ve written a book, and people ask what it’s called, and I tell them THE BIG O, the reaction is very much split along gender lines. Women tend to raise an eyebrow and / or smirk, and say, ‘Oh, really?’ Men tend to say, ‘Oh.’
  Funny, that.
  People have asked as to why I picked THE BIG O as a title, and here’s the skinny. Its working title was ‘Karen King, Pirate Queen’, but my agent didn’t much like the idea of actually calling it that. ‘Any other suggestions?’ he said. ‘Well, I’m thinking of calling it THE BIG O,’ I said. All credit to him, he smirked and raised an eyebrow.
  Because the story was a comedy crime caper, I wanted a title that paid its dues to classic crime, but also had a little fun with it too. THE BIG SLEEP is, for me, the quintessential crime novel title, so I wanted a variation on that. That title, as everyone knows, was invented by Chandler as crime fiction argot for ‘death’ – as in, ‘he sleeps the big sleep’. And because my story’s central character was a woman, the feisty Karen, I liked the idea of working in a good dollop of sex too – ‘the big o’, as the French will tell you, is also ‘le petit mort’. So I came up with The Big Omega, aka THE BIG O.
  There was a more serious element to it too. I don’t know if many of you have ever had a loaded gun pointed at your face, but if you haven’t, I don’t recommend you go rushing out to try it. You have no idea of how that little ‘O’ can grow so huge in a heartbeat, until it’s virtually your entire world. The guy at the other end of the gun was a British soldier at a checkpoint near Derry, and he could have pointed that gun a million places and still got his message across. But he didn’t. He pointed the gun at my face. Not good. That ten seconds or so will stay with me for the rest of my life.
  I’d planned to have the ‘O’ in the title of the original THE BIG O designed as if it was the muzzle of a gun staring you straight in the face. That didn’t work out, but I was very happy with the retro cover art concocted by Carly Schnur when I saw it. Bizarrely, and without any prompting from me, the cover art boffins working on THE BIG O at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt came up with practically the perfect example of what I’d had in mind originally. And not only that, the cover itself is an homage to an old Elmore Leonard cover (right), with which I am very well pleased.
  Anyhoos, ‘the big o’ is slang for a variety of wildly different things, among them the female orgasm and Roy Orbison, both of which I reference in the book just for the hell of it. Over the last 18 months or so, people have offered me wildly diverse slang takes on ‘the big o’ – the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the ‘Brotherhood of International Government and Order’ in Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm stories, opium among the biker fraternity, and an arithmetic function in Number Theory.
  The latest, which arrived yesterday, is that ‘the big o’ is slang used by Navajo Native Americans to refer to ‘the toilet’, although I’m still waiting for official confirmation of that one. Talk about offering a hostage to fortune …