“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Popcorn Interlude: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Cormac McCarthy, a quality crime yarn and the Coen Brothers: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN should have been a perfect storm. It’s a marvellous movie, there’s no doubt about that, and that it’s not entirely wonderful is due in part to the curse of high expectations, and at least two, and possibly three, rather convoluted leaps of logic the filmmakers ask the audience to make – one is plenty, two is pushing it and three is just sloppy, which is not an adjective often used in the same paragraph as ‘the Coen Brothers’. In saying that, it will certainly reward a second viewing and it will deservedly be in most critics’ Top Ten come the end of the year. But here’s another way of getting at what we were trying to say here: the fact that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a crime story will in no way influence the way its critics and its audience view the film. It will be judged on its production values, its direction and acting, how plausible and engaging its story is, how well it achieves its implicit ambition. If its narrative genre is mentioned at all it will be in a positive context, given the Coens’ superb understanding and execution of what makes crime a global obsession; the Coen Brothers are among the best in the business because they work in the crime genre, not despite it. The same could be said for Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, W.R. Burnett. It helps, of course, that the Coens work in what is still a relatively new form, one that doesn’t concern itself with high or low art but good or bad movies. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler: “There’s only two kinds of writing, good and bad.” The Coens understand that there’s only two kinds of stories, essential or not. It’s still too early to decide if NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is essential in the way FARGO and THE BIG LEBOWSKI are, but for the moment it is almost a perfect storm.- Declan Burke

Friday, January 11, 2008

Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak

Yup, it’s the weekly interlude where we do our damnedest to raise irrelevant frippery to an art-form, to wit: Euro Crime’s critics included Brian McGilloway, John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Tana French, Gene Kerrigan and Benjamin Black in their Picks of 2007 … Declan Hughes has a rather spiffy new cover for THE COLOUR OF BLOOD (right) … Pan Macmillan are offering free copies of Julie Parson’s latest I SAW YOU over at their interweb yokeybus … Martin Edwards has a good pontificate on the nature of Benjamin Black-alias-John Banville over at Do You Write Under Your Own Name … The next John Connolly novel after THE REAPERS will be a Parker story (working title: THE LOVERS) which is due in 2009, according to Sons of Spade … Kevin Lavelle won the Over The Hedge ‘New Writer Of The Year Award’ for his short story ‘Bury Me In The Garden’, and the story is available at the Galway Arts Centre interweb thingy … There’s a nice audio sample of Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD up on Audiobooks Instantly … The much-missed Siobhan Dowd and Derek Landy both turned up on the Publishers’ Weekly Best 15 Kids’ Books for 2007, for A SWIFT PURE CRY and SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT respectively … And finally, we’ve used the vid before on occasion, but we think it’s hilarious and it’s our blog, so there. Cue Bernard Black’s rejection of a publisher’s rejection letter …

Feline Groovy

THE CAT TRAP, the latest outing for Emma Boylan, KT McCaffrey’s intrepid journo-cum-private eye, arrives on February 29, featuring (a) a recently separated Emma (boo), (b) messy allegations of rape against her new partner (boo-er), and (c) a very groovy cover (hurrah!). Quoth the blurb elves:
Investigative reporter, Emma Boylan, has split from her husband and moved in with Detective Inspector Jim Connolly. All is bliss until Connolly’s ex-wife, Iseult, accuses him of aggravated rape. Iseult, with the help of her friends, fabricates ‘compelling evidence’ against Connolly. Her scheme becomes unstuck, however, when her plan is hi-jacked by someone outside her circle and used for a far more sinister purpose. And when Iseult’s corpse is found, her friends go to the authorities with their concocted evidence against Connolly. Only Emma Boylan appears to be on his side but her motives are questioned when it transpires that she and the detective are lovers. When two more victims meet unnatural deaths, and Emma is attacked, she must protect herself while attempting to resolve the mystery, of who has framed Connolly and killed his ex-wife.
It’s early days, we know, but we’re already seeing THE CAT TRAP as a contender for Cover of the Year …

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Master And Demander

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY author John Boyne (right) rarely makes it easy for himself when blending crime tropes to his epic narratives: THE THIEF OF TIME concerns itself with a man who has stopped ageing, CRIPPEN is self-explanatory, while THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS plays out against the backdrop of the greatest crime of the 20th century. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (aka THE KING’S SHILLING) is due in May, with the blurb elves pontificating thusly:
December 23, 1787, Portsmouth: A 14-year-old boy, John Jacob Turnstile, has got into trouble with the police on one too many occasions and is on his way to prison when an offer is put to him – a ship has been refitted over the last few months and is about to set sail with an important mission. The boy who was expected to serve as the captain’s personal valet has been injured and a replacement must be found immediately. The deal is struck and he finds himself onboard, meeting the captain, just as the ship sets sail. The ship is HMS Bounty, the captain is William Bligh, and their destination is Tahiti. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is the first novel to explore all the events relating to the Bounty’s voyage, from their long journey across the ocean to their adventures on the island of Tahiti and the subsequent 48-day expedition towards Timor. A vivid recreation of the famous mutiny, the story is packed with humour, violence and historical detail, while presenting a very different portrait of Captain Bligh and Mr Christian than has ever been shown before.
A mouth-watering prospect, indeed – expect something akin to William Golding’s RITES OF PASSAGE, people. The big question to be resolved, of course, is who actually commits the most heinous crime: Bligh, Christian or the moron who decided to yank the coconut-flavoured Bounty bar off US shelves all those years ago?

By Hook Or By Rook

Chess fans wondering if Ronan Bennett was just dabbling in the dark arts of chess for the sake of some hoity-toity backdrop to ZUGZWANG can relax – according to a very nice piece over at Chess Base, the guy’s very serious about it all. Quoth Ronan:
“Chess was, to some degree, my saviour at a certain point in my life. I was on remand awaiting trial in Brixton prison in London. It was a tough prison and there were very few facilities. We were locked up for 23 hours a day. The boredom was excruciating. I read a lot, of course, but after a while, in those conditions, it was hard to enter the mental worlds the novels were trying to invite me into. The contradiction between my reality and the author’s imagined world was just too great. My lawyer was a Jewish man named Larry Grant, a keen amateur player and actually quite strong. Larry and I played a correspondence game, a King’s Gambit – he crushed me! But he gave me my first chess book – Irving Chernev’s THE MOST INSTRUCTIVE GAMES OF CHESS EVER PLAYED. Before that I didn’t realise that you could record the moves of games. From that moment on, chess captured me.”
So there it is, chess fans – hands up anyone else who can say chess kept them sane in prison. Hmmm, thought so … and no, Ludo doesn't count.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crime Fiction: Guilty As Charged?

It’s probably because she’s some kind of science-y boffin-type that the ever-lovely Maxine Clarke gets right to the nub of an issue. We like to think of her as a classic Bond villainess (Maxine’s body-double pictured right), a radiant vision of foxiness possessed of a ruthless logic which will at some point cause her to try to kill us all with a single dart of her poisoned stiletto heel. Still, it can’t be Mills & Boon every day, right? Anyhoo, Maxine left a comment last week on the post from last week in which we apologised to Claire Kilroy for dragging her into the mire of a pointless row over what is and is not crime / mystery / thriller fiction. Quoth Maxine:
“I often find it hard to find a one- or two-word ‘shorthand’ to describe a book. I haven’t read TENDERWIRE but the dilemma reminds me of Stef Penney’s TENDERNESS OF WOLVES -- could you call that crime fiction? It is a murder investigation in one way, but is mainly about literal and metaphorical journeys. Another example is one I read over Christmas, THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield -- I had no idea that there was going to be a crime in it and a mystery to solve -- but there was, as we discover about 3/4 of the way in. Does this make it crime fiction? I have never heard this book described thus, but it could be … it would not be wrong to do so, I think. Personally, I find the adjective ‘literary’ somewhat pretentious in describing books (or blogs, etc). I don’t see a problem with calling something a mystery, thriller, crime or detective story, if that’s what it is even if only in part.”
Thank you kindly, ma’am. And now for the bit where we get Maxine reaching for her poisonous stilettos: we think Maxine is wrong. Yep, we know, sacrilege, blasphemy, Maxine’s the font and oracle of crime fiction UK, yadda-blah, we’ve heard it all before. But we still think she’s wrong, albeit in a nit-picky way. Y’see, we agree in broad principle with Maxine’s thoughts, and with the general thrust of her arguing in favour of inclusiveness. But we have a tiny problem with this bit: “Does this make it crime fiction? I have never heard this book described thus, but it could be … it would not be wrong to do so, I think.” Fair enough, and generously put. In our opinion, though, it should read, “It would be wrong not to do so.” By which we mean the book or story, if it is to be considered crime fiction, should have a clarity of purpose in how it approaches the possibilities, complex motivations and scenarios the genre allows, and a clarity of intent in the way these are presented. This is not about body counts or style or offer platforms, and it has nothing to do with subjective opinions on good or bad writing. It is about the writer having the moral commitment to explore the reasons why crime fiction is such a perennially popular source of solace, entertainment and even joy for readers all around the globe, why Karl Marx could say, “Crime never pays – not so!” The worth to the economy of anti-crime measures is virtually inestimable; crime fiction is as an inevitable consequence of social evolution and the democratisation of culture as is policing, house alarms, car insurance or pepper spray. If a writer understands that the fictions of crime in books or movies serve as a lightning rod to the inevitable fears and paranoias of the modern world, and has wit enough to render our most primal instinct entertaining, then he or she is a crime writer and the book is a crime novel. Otherwise, and even if there’s only the tiniest doubt, it’s not. And that’s our two cents. Anyone else want to jump in here?

What’s Lost Is Lost And Gone Forever

For the uninitiated, ‘Slash City’* was the apolitical nickname bestowed on the city of Derry, aka Londonderry, during ‘the Troubles’, the Derry or Londonderry usuage depending very much on which side of the Foyle you were lobbing your petrol bombs from. The city’s defining event during the 30-year conflict was Bloody Sunday, and a new book from the Cork University Press investigates the cultural consequences of what happened after 13 civilians were murdered by the British army in the Bogside. Quoth the CUP blurb elves:
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry was set up by Tony Blair in January 1998. It was the second inquiry into the events in Derry on Jan 30, 1972, when 13 people were killed and 14 injured after troops opened fire on civilians. AFTER BLOODY SUNDAY examines the portrayals of the day and its devastating repercussions in photography, film, theatre, poetry, television documentary, art installations, murals, commemorative events and legal discourse.
  Drawing on their expertise in the fields of literature, cultural theory, media studies and visual art, the authors have produced a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach towards the many representations that claim, with varying degrees of confidence, to tell the story of ‘what really happened’ on the streets of the Bogside on the afternoon of 30th January 1972.
  In the course of six thematically-organized chapters, the authors analyze productions ranging from high-profile ‘popular’ forms of entertainment – such as Paul Greengrass’s feature film Bloody Sunday and Jimmy McGovern’s made-for-television film, Sunday – through to lesser-known treatments in poetry (Thomas Kinsella’s Butcher’s Dozen), drama (Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians and Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City), and visual art (The Bogside Artists and Willie Doherty). They place special emphasis on the commemoration events held each year in Derry in which the families of the victims have – over many years – remembered their dead and injured, while at the same time building a highly-effective campaign that resulted, finally, in the new Inquiry.
  Tom Herron is Lecturer in English in the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He has published work on contemporary Irish poetry, drama and fiction. John Lynch is Lecturer in Media & Visual Culture in the Department of Sociology at the University of Birmingham, UK. He has published work on photography, art history and visual culture.
* Not to be mistaken for ‘Stab City’, aka Limerick

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,014: Tony Black

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?
FILTH by Irvine Welsh. Not even his genre really but he nails it. Edgy and twisted with laugh-yer-arse off cracks a’plenty. Lurved it!
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Viz ... I defy anyone not to laugh at Tony Slattery's Phoney Cattery.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Has to be my agent calling to say, “We got an offer!” Believe me, it was a long time coming and if it hadn’t arrived when it did I’m not sure I’d have hung about waiting much longer.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE GUARDS by Ken Bruen. I did some of my growing up in Galway and every time I pick it up I’m back there. Atmospheric. Dark. And a style that's slicker than Brylcreem.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Ken again – THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS. Such a great tale. Great characters. And a great setting. It’s all there ... Hollywood, get off yer arse!
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best: meeting the writers you admire. Worst: mostly, you’re on your own.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Washed-up hack staggers into the underside of ‘genteel’ Edinburgh when he pokes into the grisly killing of his best friend’s son.
Who are you reading right now?
Nick Stone’s KING OF SWORDS ... the guy’s just too good for words. And Cathi Unsworth’s THE SINGER, which definitely rocks the casbah. I’m also itching to get my hands on Al Guthrie’s new one, SAVAGE NIGHT ... if I don’t get an advance proof soon, I might have to release more photographs of him.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Bad shit happens.

Tony Black’s PAYING FOR IT will be published in July.

The Embiggened O # 1043: Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em

There was a time when Camberwell was best known for its infamous carrot (see below), its intoxicating powers demonstrated to best effect in WITHNAIL AND I. But no more! For lo, Crime Scraps, run by the mysteriously monikered Uriah Robinson, operates out of the mean streets of Camberwell, a place where the metaphorical stick is more popular a motivational tool than the equally metaphorical carrot, sadly. Anyhoo, Uriah had himself a read of our humble offering THE BIG O over the Christmas, and was kind enough to post his thoughts, to wit:
“This book is a blunt, rude, crude, politically incorrect, raucous, rumbustious, rollicking, romp of a crime caper novel. The characters are larger than life and the action is convoluted and non-stop … THE BIG O is a loveable rogue of a novel and while it is not literature you will have a lot more fun reading it than some labyrinthine incomprehensible Booker prize winner.”
Hmmm. T’would appear Uriah has tumbled to our cunning plan to reverse the John Banville / Benny Blanco strategy, which is to write a half-decent crime caper first, then the incomprehensibly labyrinthine Booker winner, preferably while mashed off our collective bins. Zounds! Foiled again …

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “With, at times, echoes of the legend of Icarus and strongly redolent of a Victorian boys’ adventure story, AIRMAN really is a ripping yarn, with some excellent writing, notably in its concluding chapters,” says Robert Dunbar in the Irish Times (no link) about Eoin Colfer’s latest standalone. Over at The Arts Fuse, Harvey Blume likes Ronan Bennett’s latest: “ZUGZWANG is rich in historical detail … an historical thriller that makes good use of the fact that chess games are thrillers, too.” The inevitable John Connolly hup-ya runneth thusly: “THE UNQUIET takes a step back from the myth-building of THE BLACK ANGEL, and tells a smaller story, the closest thing to a straightforward investigation that the series has presented … The supernatural overtones are not forgotten, and are represented by the terrifying Hollow Men lurking on the edges of Parker’s vision, controlled by a shadowy figure he has met before,” says Richard Wright … Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT has been nominated for a Cybil, aka the 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Finalists: “This smart novel is full of humour, action, and a real sense of danger – and has a sly wit that would appeal to a wide age range,” reckons Sarah via the Cybils Blog … A couple of big-ups for Benny Blanco, starting with CHRISTINE FALLS: “I really enjoyed this and look forward to more. Definitely not a formulaic mystery; very well written,” says Beth at Paradise is a Library. Meanwhile, John Spain at the Irish Independent likes THE SILVER SWAN: “Black’s imagery perfectly evokes the stale and smoky Dublin of the time. Brilliant writing makes the leisurely pace a pleasure.” Staying with John Spain in the Indo, and his verdict on Julie Parson’s I SAW YOU: “As connections surface it all gets very murky and chilling in a story of love, revenge and atonement.” Sarah Harker at the Crewe Guardian likes Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, to wit: “Touching and poignant, thrilling and fast paced, this debut novel by Tana French is a unique read that will leave you up all night and hungry for more. Beautifully written, with a twist that you won’t see coming, IN THE WOODS is a stunning debut.” Over at Crime Reports, Adam Colclough can barely contain himself over Ingrid Black’s latest: “THE JUDAS HEART is a truly superior thriller with an original setting and a plot that keeps the reader guessing until the last moment … By far the best feature of this and Black’s other novels is the laconic but always touchingly human voice of Saxon herself, making her one of the most consistently realised serial characters in modern crime fiction and offering a potentially Oscar-winning role for some lucky Hollywood star in the almost inevitable film adaptation of this or one of Black’s other novels … Ingrid Black stands out as being the real deal.” Crikey! Finally, the Florida flag-flyer for Irish crime fiction, Michael Haskins, has Mr & Mrs Kirkus (no link) poring over his debut CHASIN’ THE WIND: “If the plot sounds outlandish, blame it on all the booze Mad Mick and his pals imbibe as they rescue a tortured lady, shoot it out with those Cubans and … sail off to Castro’s paradise to settle the score, although not to the complete satisfaction of the feds.” The question being, of course, whether anything is ever settled to the complete satisfaction of the feds …

Bring Guns, Lawyers And Debut Novels

You know things have reached something of a tipping-point when the lawyers get involved. Ronan O’Brien, a solicitor specialising in criminal law for the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions, publishes his debut novel, CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL, on January 10, with the blurb elves crunching his delicious prose thusly:
Following a near-death experience as a child, ‘the narrator’ becomes cursed with the ability to foresee the deaths of people closest to him. These visions come to him in his dreams and, following a disastrous attempt to save a childhood friend from drowning, a set of terrifying events begins to unfold. As a young man, he finds redemption in the arms of Ashling, his beautiful wife. But then the visions return ... Set in the fictional suburb of Rathgorman, CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL is a truly remarkable debut novel that will grip you from the first line and surprise you to the last.
The most surprising aspect for us is that a lawyer is capable of writing anything other than his signature across the bottom of his expense forms, but – knee-jerk cynicism aside – we can testify that the opening to CONFESSIONS … is indeed an intriguing one. We’ll bring you a review as soon as is humanly, or indeed elfishly, possible, m’luds.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Bitch Is Back

Yet again, the elves being sluggish coming out of their self-inflicted coma after a week-long bash on the Elf-Wonking Juice, we’re a little tardy in pointing you towards the latest leg of the Crime Carnival. So it’s heartfelt apologies to BookBitch (right), who is currently hosting the jamboree. Quoth Ms Bitch:
“This carnival features the reading freak better known as the BookBitch. In years past, I could safely say I read a book a day. While on vacation, I’d been known to double that. But this past year, with graduate school, working on a research intensive book, my job, my family, well, I don’t think I read more than 300 books. Told you I was a freak … I am extremely opinionated (probably no one ever noticed that about me...) and when I find a book I love, I want everyone else to read it, and hopefully love it too – and then tell their friends about it. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to some new writers. They all have their first thriller just out or coming out in 2008.”
The full list of break-out writers is CJ Lyons, Susan Arnout Smith, Laura Benedict, Andy Harp and Kelli Stanley, who is currently redefining the concept of ‘Roman noir’ with NOX DORMIENDA, and who got the rubber-hose treatment at Crime Always Pays a couple of months ago. Meanwhile, those of you who reckon free books are the finest thing since, well, free books, should jump over here, where BookBitch is only giving ’em away …