“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, March 15, 2008

The Thinnest Of Blue Lines

Here’s the kind of cop story, excerpted from the Irish Times earlier this week, you won’t hear too often outside of the pages of crime fiction. Last Tuesday night, two gardaí received a 999 call and arrived ‘within a minute or two’ of the alarm being raised to discover that a man was robbing The Village Pub, Chapelizod, Dublin. Conor Lally, the Irish Times’ crime correspondent, takes up the story:
Mr Gorevan [a co-owner of the pub] said when the gardaí arrived the front door of the pub had slammed shut and was locked from the inside, meaning the officers … had no way of gaining access to the premises.   They made their way through a neighbouring house and scaled a 20ft wall in the back garden into the pub’s beer garden.
  As they were doing this the gunman, armed with a double-barrelled shotgun, had forced the bar manager to empty the till behind the bar. He had then taken the manager to a cash room in the pub and demanded he open a safe.
  When the gardaí arrived they tackled the gunman as he was standing over the bar manager at the safe with the loaded gun. When the gunman saw the gardaí, he pointed the shotgun at them.
  “It was incredible,” said Mr Gorevan.
  “There was absolutely no hesitation from them, they just tackled him instantly and pinned him down with no regard for the danger they were under.
  “I really couldn’t praise them highly enough. It was great that the incident passed off without anyone being injured. The guy with the gun was very agitated and aggressive throughout the whole thing.”
  The incident was captured on the pub’s CCTV. The gunman was not masked.
  By the time the uniformed members had arrested the man, armed Garda back-up had arrived outside the pub. The arrested man was taken for questioning to Ballyfermot Garda station.
Yes, the two cops were unarmed, as the regular uniformed Gardai always are. Doesn’t look like suicide-by-cop will be taking off any time soon in Ireland, eh?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak

It’s Friday, it’s funky, to wit: this week’s cornucopia of irrelevancies and fripperies culled from the interweb kicks off with El Blogador’s report that The John Hewitt International Summer School is getting in on the book club phenomenon, with Richard Irvine, Mary O’Donnell and Ian Sansom gathering to debate their chosen offerings in the Great Northern Novel debate, the novels up for wibbling about being Brian McGilloway’s BORDERLANDS, Eoin McNamee’s RESURRECTION MEN, and Flann O’Brien’s AT SWIM TWO BIRDS. Interestingly (or not), both BORDERLANDS and AT SWIM TWO BIRDS are set in the South / Free State / Republic of Ireland (delete according to prejudice), in Donegal and Dublin respectively; and all three writers reside(d) in the South, McGilloway in Donegal, McNamee in Sligo and O’Brien in Dublin, where reports of his death have not, sadly, been over-exaggerated … The latest Crime Carnival, which is hosted by Sharon Wheeler of Reviewing the Evidence, shows up over at Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room. Confused? Not as confused as Sharon, obviously: “And then there’s the very charming Declan Burke over at Crime Always Pays, which has Irish crime fiction bang to rights, Guv.” Erm, Declan Burke charming? Shurely shome mishtake, ma’am? … Anyhoo, upward and onward to Marshal Zeringue’s What Writers Are Reading interweb yokeybus, where Irish historian Roy Foster is giving David Parks’ THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER the big-up, “because it’s a powerful novel about Northern Ireland by a writer I deeply admire.” Can’t say fairer than that … Here’s an interesting notion over at the Sigla Blog: an on-line book club trading in short stories. Whenever they get around to dealing with Raymond Carver, we’ll be front and centre, electronically speaking … Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Derek Landy might – his debut offering, SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT, has been voted their favourite book by Scarborough’s cheeky tyke population, who voted it numero uno at Scarborough College on World Book Day. Nice … Finally, Blooking spots “an odd justification for migrating blog characters to print” over at the synopsis for Twenty Major’s THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK at Amazon. To wit: “For three years Twenty Major has written a daily blog. Now though comes a tale so bizarre and abominable that mere words on a computer screen wouldn’t have been able to do it justice. These words need to be on paper ...” Here at CAP Towers, we make the modest proposal that Twenty Major should be skinned, said skin smoke-dried for parchment, said parchment tattooed with THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK, and the whole shebang nailed to the forehead of whoever it was arranged the running order for the Dublin Book Festival. No, don’t thank us, we’re only here to help …

What - And Who - Miss Katie Did Next

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on all the Irish crime fiction out there, up pops another serious contender for consideration. For lo! It’s Jack Barry and his MISS KATIE REGRETS from 2006! Quoth the blurb elves:
A seemingly humdrum shooting of an ex-paramilitary anti-drugs campaigner leads Detective Thomas Barrett to an on-line male prostitution service and to hints of a link with a politician appearing at a tribunal into corrupt property speculation. Barrett is given “sick leave” as newforces within the British and Irish centres of power allow him to pursue the sensitive investigation offstage. The plot moves between Dublin and Amsterdam, Manchester and British suburbia. At the centre of an apparent spider’s web of intrigue sits the enigmatic figure of Miss Katie, a crabby Dublin transvestite who will, under pressure, kiss and tell. And, perhaps, kill. The dramatic denouement takes place in the German cemetery in the Dublin mountains. Barrett is free to have another crack at his failed marriage, and Miss Katie, finally, is defanged, if not deflowered.
Defanged? Hmmm, colour us intrigued. So who be this Jack Barry chappy, eh? Quoth the Brandon Books blurbarazzi:
Jack Barry (also known as John Maher) is a winner of the Francis McManus Award, the P.J. O’Connor Radio Play Award, the Lar Cassidy Memorial Award, a Marianne Palotti Fellowship, an Arts Council Writer’s Bursary, and other awards and fellowships. Born in Dublin in 1954, he lives in Dublin, working as a writer and researcher; he has three children.
So there you have it. Jack Barry. MISS KATIE REGRETS. No way are we featuring the book on the basis of its salacious cover. No way.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In Like O’Flynn

The Grand Vizier would like to congratulate Catherine O’Flynn on her nomination in the Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year in the Galaxy British Book Awards, as reported today in The Guardian. WHAT WAS LOST is not only garnering plenty of critical plaudits (the debut novel has already won a Costa Prize) but getting terrific word of mouth too, a hopefully dynamite combination for the little book that could. Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah for independent publishing.
  Elsewhere, however, the news was not so embiggening for Irish crime writers, with nary a sign of even a token nod to Norn Iron to sugar the pill. Admittedly, it’s a tough category, with Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell and Lee Child duking it out in the Crime Thriller category. But are all five novels better than, say, Eoin McNamee’s 12:23? And is it the case that Irish crime fiction doesn’t get a fair shake in the UK, at least by comparison with the US, where this year’s NoirCon will be dedicated to Ken Bruen and there are three Irish writers up for Edgars? Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes were nominated for a couple of Daggers last year, but generally speaking, Irish crime writers seem to fare better in the US than the UK. Is it because of the IRA? Seriously, you can tell us, we won’t take it personally.

Cry Havoc, And Let Slip The Dogs Of Theatre Criticism

It’s been a good week for the micro-niche world of Irish crime fiction blogging, folks – first up we had that crazy Gerard Brennan-shaped diamond launching Crime Scene NI, which the Grand Vizier plans to lull into a false sense of security before launching an all-out attack under cover of one of the weekend nights, when all but the nerdiest of geeks are safely tucked up in front of a cosy bar. But don’t tell Gerard, because there’s nothing the Grand Vizier hates more than a fair fight. Meanwhile, playwright, novelist and square-jawed bon viveur-shaped Renaissance man Declan Hughes (right) went and cracked a bottle of electronic champagne against the prow of his new interweb yokeybus, aka The Parting Glass, and delivered a broadside against those pesky theatre critics, just in case any of those scurvy knaves were thinking of lifting a leg in the direction of his latest opus, THE DYING BREED. Quoth Dec:
“[I]n the theatre, chances are the reviews may be very negative indeed, because a) playwrights don’t review each other’s work, and b) it’s harder to be nice about even a so-so play, largely because boredom in the theatre is more painful than boredom anywhere else. I can read a book I half enjoy, and am sort of bored with, and not resent it overmuch if on balance there’s enough to keep me amused. In the theatre, that kind of evening has the GIN light flashing in my brain within fifteen minutes; by the final curtain, I want to have the director and the playwright killed. So I understand how theatre critics can err on the side of vitriol. I don’t forgive them, mind - and there’s another difference: the theatre is a strictly us-and-them game. Not only do playwrights not review each other, the theatre critic is, and often prides himself on being, Not Of The Theatre, choosing to adopt the persona of the man in the street, and if sometimes it feels like the man in the street he’s channelling is someone whose girlfriend dumped him for you, that’s just tough (The other type of theatre critic – the intellectual who takes you to task for not writing the play she would have if only she wasn’t too busy and important, or for failing in your duty to tasks you never set yourself – is way worse, of course, but at least most of her readers roll their eyes after the first pretentious paragraph and move elsewhere). The only way to deal with bad reviews is not to take them personally – and that applies in spades to the occasional scorcher that actually is. We are the lampposts, they are the dogs.”
Yes indeed we are, although CAP Towers being more enamoured of cats than dogs, the Grand Vizier is a metaphorical tray of kitty litter and the critics, well, you catch our niff-neutralized drift. Anyhoo, why not scoot on over to The Parting Glass and leave Declan Hughes a comment welcoming him to the blogosphere. You might as well, seeing as you won’t be leaving one here. Sob.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: LITTLE CRIMINALS by Gene Kerrigan

Once in a while you come across a book that delivers a blow to the guts, and very occasionally a kick to the arse as well. Gene Kerrigan’s LITTLE CRIMINALS is such a book.
  The story revolves around a gang of Dublin low-lives led by Frankie Crowe. Frankie, loving father, estranged husband and second division crim, has had enough of playing in the lower leagues. He’s served his apprenticeship and taken his share of licks in the service of others. Crowe, the hard-nosed leader, dominant, assertive and cruel, recruits Brendan, Dolly and Martin to pull the job off. With a lot of ambition, a ruthless streak and a plan, he’s gonna ride the Celtic Tiger get what he’s due and move up in the world.
  Justin Kennedy has some of what Frankie wants – a loving wife, an understanding girlfriend, a successful career with the big house and the bank balance to suit. A man sure of his place in the world and with a bright future ahead of Brioni suits and his double chin featuring in the society pages of the papers at the latest Dublin charity fundraiser. He’s someone who is definitely on the up and up, but Justin may come to regret hitting Ireland’s ‘Top Fifty’ rich list …
  LITTLE CRIMINALS tells the story of when their paths cross. Frankie, with his crew and his plan for a kidnap, with or without the approval of Dublin’s top gangster, enters Justin’s life and things will never be the same for either or the others dragged into the maelstrom. There’s an inevitability, as the kidnap unfolds, that few will emerge unscathed or damaged, and Kerrigan conveys the pain convincingly and makes you care.
The story unfolds at pace and the author’s skilful storytelling had me hooked. I’ve rarely read a book that has me turning the pages to reach the conclusion swiftly, whilst at the same time regretting the approach of the last page.
  One of the most enjoyable facets was the depth Kerrigan lent to the minor players that populate the tale, no Lowry-like sketching here. One such character, Sean Willie Costello, an object of ridicule in the early part of the book, stayed in my memory long after I’d finished the final page. Sean, a simple kindly man more at home in the Ireland of yesteryear, reminds us of what we’re losing as Ireland hurtles at full-speed to embrace the economic boom and satisfy the needs of the want-it-now generation.
  I’m led to believe that Kerrigan’s second fictional offering THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR is even more enjoyable. I’ll be greatly surprised but highly delighted if he has managed to raise the level of the bar any higher than this superb modern classic. Can’t wait to find out, though. – Colman Keane

Cecilia, You’re Breaking Our Hearts

The Irish Independent carried a piece last weekend previewing the Dublin Book Festival, the gist of which ran thusly:
‘Aspiring Irish writers hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cecilia’
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Dublin Book Festival, Sean O’Cearnaigh, President of the Irish Book Publishing Association, said that the market was alive and well here. “It’s certainly in a state of change, but publishers here have around 15pc of the market of books that are on sale in shops at the moment.” And the success of the market is all down to the talent of Irish writers, he added. “Irish writers are our secret weapons,” he explains. “We have everything from big writers to chick-lit authors to sports writers. There is a lot of talent. We have a lot of up-and-coming writers coming through as well, writers who have their finger on the pulse. Ireland is changing a lot and it’s just a matter of reflecting that, which many of the writers do.”
  And these writers with their fingers on the pulse, reflecting a changing Ireland? Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Ingrid Black, et al … They, unfortunately, were all too busy beavering away reflecting a changing Ireland to get along to the Festival. In fact, no Irish crime writer could tear him or herself away from the desk long enough to give a talk or attend a panel, lest removing their fingers from the pulse for even a moment might result in a national tragedy. The Festival did, of course, have a panel of true crime writers talking about crime and Ireland, but for the most part these were crime journalists promoting one-off books about a specific crime.
  Crime fiction writers? Pshaw, sir! Fie! And this despite the fact that the big news stories in Ireland over the last month were the brutal murder of two Polish men in Dublin; the ongoing farce in which an taoiseach (aka prime minister) Bertie Ahern attempts (and largely fails) to explain to a tribunal his, erm, idiosyncratic accounting procedures back when he was Minister for Finance; the largest drug haul in the history of the State; the murder of a young mother by her husband, who allegedly modelled his modus operandi on that of a previous killer; etc., ad nauseum. In other words, anyone writing fiction in Ireland today who is not dealing with crime is writing escapist fiction.
  And yet, if you walk into any Dublin bookstore today (other than the wonderful Murder Ink on Dawson Street), you’ll be faced with a bank of James Patterson’s 7TH HEAVEN, which is the worst apology for a sick monkey of a half-arsed first draft the Grand Vizier can remember reading. ‘Fingers on the pulse’, eh? Meanwhile, the Cecilia in whose footsteps Irish writers are hoping to follow? That’ll be the ever-lovely Cecilia Ahern (right), a creator of women’s fiction so insubstantial, frothy and sickeningly sweet that cotton candy may yet sue. Who just so happens to be the daughter of an taoiseach (aka prime minister) Bertie Ahern, who is attempting (and largely failing) to explain to a tribunal his, erm, idiosyncratic accounting procedures, etc., ad nauseum.
  Laugh? We nearly emigrated.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brain Candy

Just in case you thought we were over-stating the case just a tad last week in our review of neurologist Liam Durcan’s (right) rather fine debut novel GARCIA’S HEART, we herewith present a selection of big-ups and hup-yas from Durcan’s Canadian hinterland, to wit:
“Engrossing. . . . Durcan doesn’t offer any easy answers in this searching, meticulously observed novel of moral complexity. He does offer plenty to think about.” — Toronto Star

“Lucid and subtle. . . . Durcan has crafted an entertaining and convincing portrayal of a man awkwardly perched atop a precipice of identities and histories on the verge of collapse.” — Montreal Review of Books

“Stunningly well-written. . . . Durcan writes the way one imagines a brain surgeon employs his tools — with strength to cut through bone and feather-light delicacy to excise minute strands of tissue. Durcan’s style is a mixture of precision and playfulness, irony and moral seriousness reminiscent of British master Ian McEwan, or even a slightly restrained Martin Amis … A remarkable accomplishment.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“With this remarkable debut novel, Liam Durcan … has firmly ensconced himself within the hallowed ranks of doctors making successful forays into literature, a line running straight from Chekov through William Carlos Williams and W. Somerset Maugham to, most recently, Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam. . . .There are evocations of Ian McEwan’s SATURDAY here . . . Durcan beats McEwan at his own game by resisting the tendency to show off and, in doing so, produces a restrained, artfully paced work built around its central ethical question, which is not so much “what is evil?” as “what, exactly, is the nature of good?” — Quill & Quire (starred review)

“Like a cross between John le Carré and Ian McEwan – GARCIA’S HEART, treads the line between an elegant, elegiac novel of ideas and a sophisticated political thriller. It was exciting, intellectually compelling, and beautifully written. It was also that rarest of books: A literary work with an intensely humanistic core. I am so happy to have discovered Liam Durcan; he will be a major writer for years to come.” — Pauls Toutonghi

“Eloquent and haunting, GARCIA’S HEART fearlessly explores the moral ambiguities of the modern world. Durcan demonstrates his supreme versatility with this psychologically penetrating, technically assured, yet empathic and human portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with a terrible angel.” — Eden Robinson,

“In his debut novel, Liam Durcan skilfully performs complex forensic procedures: autopsies on mysteriously damaged hearts, brain scans on characters whose deepest thoughts remain beyond diagnosis. Throughout, Durcan writes with operating room precision. A grim, gripping, confident, and provocative book.” — Steven Heighton

“Liam Durcan raises complex and important issues in GARCIA’S HEART, exposing the frailty of human nature against the background of medical science. It’s an intelligent book, thought-provoking and satisfying — a meditation on the workings of the mind. I found myself thinking about it for a long time afterwards.” — Clare Morrall
So, there you have it. Liam Durcan. GARCIA’S HEART. Make yourself happy, people …

Oop North No Longer Quite So Grim – Official!

Two rather excellent pieces of news to report today, people. Firstly, it gives us great pleasure to announce (a trumpet parp please, maestro) the arrival of Crime Scene NI, an interweb yokeybus that does exactly what it says on the tin (“Primarily devoted to the post-Troubles boom in Northern Irish crime fiction, Crime Scene NI is also highly interested in all Irish, Euro and international crime fiction”), and which is administered by the Grand Vizier’s latest and manliest mortal enemy, Gerard Brennan. For its very first post, Crime Scene NI scooped the bone-idle elves of CAP Towers with the news that (The Artist Formerly Known As) Bateman’s latest novel, ORPHEUS RISING, hit the shelves last week, with Crime Scene NI linking through to Master Bateman himself. Quoth the Batemeister:
“The new novel, ORPHEUS RISING, was published this week folks. The one with the big pink shark on the cover. Hard to miss. Although you will if you order books through Amazon … as due to an administrative foul-up, the book has failed to appear there at all. Hopefully this will be rectified in the very near future. Meanwhile, if you live anywhere near Belfast, you’re invited to come and help launch the blessed thing at No Alibis bookstore in Botanic Avenue on Thursday, March 13 at 7 pm.”
Meanwhile, and although we’re very impressed with the artwork for ORPHEUS RISING, we do like the idiosyncratic version posted on Fantastic Fiction, for which the CAP lawyers would like to announce the Grand Vizier bears no responsibility at all, much.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Easter Rising II – Jack Wakes Up

We rather like the cut of Seth Harwood’s jib, people, given that he’s embarking on a one-man mission to stick it to The Man, in the process offering a pretty much unbeatable try-before-you-buy scenario with the publication of JACK WAKES UP. Quoth Seth:
“It would be great if you could drop a blog entry about JACK WAKES UP this weekend or later this week telling your readers what JACK WAKES UP is and that its release date is Palms Sunday, March 16th, and that the place to buy it on that date is Amazon.com. Include the link to the PDF and let all your peeps download the complete book! I’m trying something new: try it before you buy it. About time books got this on the net. So they can download the PDF, browse through it or even read the whole thing if they want. Just like in a bookstore. Then, if they want to buy, there’s a link inside that’ll take them right to Amazon. I hope that sounds good.”
It sounds entirely Jake to us. Herewith be the link to the PDF of JACK WAKES UP, and anyone remotely interested in supporting independent publishing should log on and give it a whirl. Otherwise there’ll be nothing to read but wall-to-wall James Patterson ‘novels’ in about a decade’s time, and they’ll have to resurrect Dante to invent a whole new level of hell.

Do Not Go Unquietly Into That Good Night

T’was only last week that the CAP elves were wondering what the jiggery-poo was up with John Connolly (right) not being nominated for awards, particularly as award-givers seem to be particularly impressed by the literary stylings of Benny Blanco and Tana French this year. And lo! It came to pass that the interweb thingy Mystery Ink almost immediately nominated JC in its Gumshoe Awards, with THE UNQUIET up for a gong in the ‘Best Mystery’ category. Coincidence? Yes! The full noms for ‘Best Mystery’ runneth thusly:
James Lee Burke - Tin Roof Blowdown (Simon & Schuster)
John Connolly - The Unquiet (Atria)
Ariana Franklin - Mistress of the Art of Death (Putnam)
Charlie Huston - The Shotgun Rule (Ballantine)
Laura Lippman - What the Dead Know (William Morrow)
Huzzah! Oh, and it’s nice too to see Laura Lippman getting the nod after the farrago that was the Edgar nominations. Seriously, folks – Benny Blanco’s CHRISTINE FALLS rather than WHAT THE DEAD KNOW? Like, puh-lease, etc.

A hat-tip to The Rap Sheet for the inside dope.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Bernd Kochanowski

The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other writers talk some sense for a change. This week: Bernd Kochanowski (right) of International Crime on the appropriateness (or otherwise) of a German crime fiction award named for the London / Yorkshire Ripper.

Isn’t it time for a pan-European crime fiction award? In Europe we share anxieties, hopes and problems, and many of us even share the currency and external borders. Ray Banks’ description of young men who can’t keep up with the changing rules of a society in SATURDAY’S CHILD applies to males in Hamburg as well as in Newcastle; the struggle of societies to come to terms with the influx of eastern European immigrants in Massimo Carlotto’s THE GOODBYE KISS happens not only in northern Italy; and Andrea Maria Schenkels petty people in TANNÖD (English: THE MURDER VILLAGE) could live in other remote rural regions of Europe as well. Among the huge number of smaller and larger crime fiction awards in Europe, so far none focuses on our joint future.
  It is therefore a pity that the crime fiction festival “Mord am Hellweg” (Murder at the Hellweg) missed an opportunity when it initiated a “European Crime Fiction Star Award” and named the award The Ripper Award (based on Jack the Ripper).
  Am Hellweg is a region in western Germany, situated between Duisburg and Paderborn. Since 2002 a bi-annual crime fiction festival has been held in several of its cities. The festival claims that it is the largest festival of its kind in Europe [no wonder: in 2008 it will last almost two months – 13th September to 8th November – and includes 150 events in 20 cities]. To be honest, were it not for the festival I wouldn’t know the “Am Hellweg Region” and I wouldn’t know the festival if it wasn’t for the ongoing discussion about the “The Ripper” award.
  Choosing the name “The Ripper” for its award served the festival’s aim well and started a debate in the German-based internet community that provided the publicity the festival lacked in the past. The intentions of the award are, according to the press release, as follows:
“The Ripper, the European Crime Fiction Star Award, honours a female or male crime fiction author who has rendered outstanding services to crime literature within Europe. [...] whose work testifies responsibility for crime literature in a special way and stands for a lively and modern development of the genre. His / her work is of European importance and / or has received a significant reception within Europe.”
  So what “responsibilities” do writers have to the genre ?
  If you want to select an eminent European author you need obviously a jury that knows the work and the reception of European crime fiction writers. What crime fiction writers come to mind, who would meet the expectations of the nomination criteria? Ian Rankin, Fred Vargas or Henning Mankell? Nominees could be proposed until the end of March. Bloggers are not explicitly excluded and the first author who came to my mind was Ken Bruen (right). I really thought about proposing him. Would he be happy, coming in from Dublin by one of those small aeroplanes, and telling the Galway audience that he had won “the Ripper” award, named after the London Ripper ?
  In the case of the Ripper award, a jury “of five German and international crime fiction authors” (German authors obviously are not international) make a pre-selection. In 2008 three of these are Germans / Austrians, plus Peter James and Camilla Läckberg. At the end the winner is chosen by the visitors to the festival. Visitors who participate just a short while at a festival that takes two months, visitors whose primary language more often than not is German, and visitors who most likely do not read foreign writers in their native tongue. These are visitors who attend events that are all fun and games (featuring music, cabaret, vine events etc.).
  Present at the festival this year, beside several German crime fiction writers and therefore representing the “European crime fiction writer elite”, are Leo P. Ard (Mallorca), Peter James (England), Bernhard Jaumann (Namibia), Michael Morley (England), Sabina Naber (Österreich), Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Island), Maj Sjöwall und Jürgen Alberts (Schweden/Bremen), Michael Theurillat (Schweiz), and Jac Toes und Thomas Hoeps (Niederlande) [Leo P. Ard and Bernhard Jaumann are Germans].
  As far as I can see, with this pompous award criteria and the awkward selection procedure, the crime fiction star award was established to promote and market a touristic spectacle.
  There is, though, a small discussion in Germany as to whether the name is witty, prudent or insulting. It seems that the more literary or commercially inclined find the name acceptable. They argue that the Ripper is not so much a serial killer as a metaphor symbolizing mass media-induced mass hysteria. “The name refers to one of the modern urban legends, ‘a serial murderer, who is connected to horror but also to delinquency and crime fiction par excellence’” ((1) kultur.macht.europa, quoting Sigrun Krauss, a member of the organizing committee).
  The London Ripper a urban legend ?
  “Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time” (Wikipedia). I personally would agree, that the Ripper is a metaphor that writers use to evoke an image of a murderer lurking in the streets and killing innocent people, but there is no exaggeration nor distortion about this image, because we are well informed about his victims. There is nothing sensational about David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet that is “inspired” by a second Ripper roaming Yorkshire and disturbing the mind of the young Peace so profoundly that he needs to loose the demons by writing the Quartet.
  So can we expect that the next time they look for an name for a spy novel award they will chose Adolf Eichmann?
  It might be due to this discussion that the explanation that the Ripper Award refers to the London Ripper had been tacitly removed from the German text of the award announcement, although I don’t know what is gained by this small gesture. – Bernd Kochanowski

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “GARCIA’S HEART is an astounding psychological thriller about moral responsibility and the human capacity for both denial and forgiveness,” declares the Barnes & Noble Spring 2008 Selection of Liam Durcan’s debut. At the same link, Christopher Bussman of the Library Journal is equally impressed: “Though [Durcan] has yet to develop fully his authorial powers and talent, he already writes with an ease reminiscent of Graham Greene … As the plot unfolds, the novel takes on a breathtaking immediacy that will awe readers and tune them into probing ethical dilemmas.” Mr & Mrs Kirkus concur: “The author’s expertise may lie firmly in the field of science, but his shrewd, intricate debut reveals a multi-talented artist.” Lovely stuff … Over at Heatseekers, Lucille Redmond likes Ronan O’Brien’s CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL: “The humour is the book’s best thing – Charlie’s wry descriptions and vicious banter will make readers burst out laughing … There are great characters here, mostly the really nasty ones. And there’s plenty of slapstick, and hilarious characters.” Staying with Heatseekers, for the verdict on David Parks’ THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER: “The book reads as if researched from within the security services. But the quality of the writing is fine, with a glowing interiority that at times lifts the stories off the pages.” ‘Interiority’? We love it … The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman’s ORPHEUS RISING gets a serious hup-ya from L.J. Hurst at Shots Magazine: “Forget Colin Bateman the comic novelist: there is little “darkly comic” fiction here. This is dark tragedy, played out in the sun of the Florida coast, with the occasional rocket launch like an extra illumination … If you know how good Christopher Priest can be, Bateman’s ORPHEUS RISING will not disappoint you.” Yum-yum … “The book is very enjoyable – good balance of wit and action and so on, although I found it very hard to believe that Stephanie was 12,” quibbles Tiny Jo of Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT … And now for a veritable raft of Ken Bruen big-ups, beginning with Mr & Mrs Kirkus (no link) on AMERICAN SKIN: “Bruen’s fans will know that monsters lie in wait. There are the usual rewards in terms of style, pace and, yes, flashes of mordant wit, but be warned: This is Bruen beyond noir into full-out stygian.” Hannah Tucker at Entertainment Weekly likes PRIEST: “Taylor’s winning, even lovable blend of bleak philosophy and noirish humour … is more gripping than the novel’s central mystery. B+.” Over at Reviewing the Evidence, Christine Zibas is very impressed with CROSS: “CROSS is a fascinating look at one man’s struggle with his own inner demons and those of the criminals around him, who have thrust their own brand of evil upon the world. This is not necessarily an easy story to read, but it will surely be one of the best you can remember.” Pardon us as we seamlessly segue: “Ken Bruen’s blood runs through Jack Barry’s veins in this gritty Northern Ireland story … A very fast ride, and often the scenery gets blurred as it whizzes past the window. Just hang on and read, and all will become clear,” says Gay Toltl Kinman at Crime Spree Magazine of MISS KATIE REGRETS. At the same link you’ll find Dave Biemann hupping it up for Cora Harrison’s debut: “Cora Harrison writes with an easy grace. The relationships between her characters reminds one, very much, of Ellis Peters and her Brother Cadfael … Fans of the traditional mystery, Irish history, off stage violence, subtle romance and a well paced and plotted read should thoroughly enjoy MY LADY JUDGE.” Hurrah! Meanwhile, Lady Lott provides us with the inevitable Tana French big-up: “IN THE WOODS is not only a mystery but a look at how the past shapes everything in our lives … Well written, intricately plotted and with characters that were completely believable, I found I could not put down this book. For those who expect their mysteries to be tied up in a neat little package, beware, this book ends the way life often does; not every question will have an answer.” Kate at Kate’s Home Blog was impressed with Catherine O’Flynn’s debut: “WHAT WAS LOST by Catherine O’Flynn is a stunning book. It’s not completely perfect – from a first-time writer, you wouldn’t expect it to be – but the story, the ambience, the slightly spooky alienation of it is just mind-blowing.” Better late than later, we say, poaching this from Finlay MacDonald’s review of Eoin McNamee’s 12:23 at the Sunday Star Times: “The best thing about McNamee’s effort, 10 years after the event, is the benefit of hindsight. An adroit stylist, he builds a plausible case for the fateful Mercedes ride of August 31, 1997 … He also goes where no one else dares, and imagines the death scene in surprisingly literary and moving fashion.” Over at The Guardian, Meg Rosoff is very complimentary about Siobhan Dowd’s BOG CHILD: “A radiant work, written by a novelist of subtle and complex literary gifts at the height of her powers … 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. Love falls from it in particles, like snow.” Finally, a veritable torrent of hup-yas and big-ups arrived in for Benny Blanco this week, starting with Elsa Dixler’s round-up in the New York Times: “Writing in The Times, Janet Maslin praised the “cool precision and contemplative allure” of Black’s debut [CHRISTINE FALLS] — not surprising, since Black is the Irish author John Banville. This is “crossover fiction of a very high order,” Maslin said.” Over at Publishers Weekly, via Barnes & Noble, the verdict on THE SILVER SWAN is very positive: “In this stunning follow-up to 2007’s CHRISTINE FALLS, Black spins a complex tale of murder and deception in 1950s Ireland … Laconic, stubborn Quirke makes an appealing hero as the pieces of this unsettling crime come together in a shocking conclusion.” At the same link you’ll find Lorna Griffith of Library Journal equally impressed: “Black / Banville is a master of atmosphere; the fear and dread associated with hidden desires and deeds fairly leap off the page. Highly recommended for all public libraries.” Then there’s this from the peerless Sarah Weinman at The Baltimore Sun: “Black, the pseudonym for Booker Prize winner John Banville, proved he could walk the crime fiction walk with the Edgar-nominated Christine Falls, and now his luminous prose gets an even better infrastructure with the sequel, a faster-paced, further melancholic slice of the noir life of Dublin pathologist Quirke.” And there is this from Tim Rutten at the LA Times: “The plot is grippingly propulsive, the evocation of Dublin is detail-perfect, every major and minor character is beautifully realized -- and there isn’t a clunky sentence in the book.” And lastly, but by no means leastly, this from Nancy O: “The writing, of course, is superb, and it’s uncanny how Black (aka John Banville) can get into the skin of each character he’s created … I HIGHLY recommend this book … Readers of Irish crime fiction will love it and serious mystery readers will enjoy it as well.” Erm, Nancy? Does that mean readers of Irish crime fiction aren’t serious mystery readers too? And there we were trying so blummin’ hard to be serious

The Untouchable’s New Clothes

“Speaking of which – what the fuck is going on with all the award nominations for Benny Blanco? You can’t help feeling it’s just for who he is, and almost a thank you for his condescending to join the crime pack, rather than a reflection of the content of his books. John Connolly must be pissed – and rightly so.”
The author of the above conundrum will have to remain anonymous, unless he or she decides otherwise, on the basis that we’re using it without permission, albeit it as a fairly accurate summation of the off-the-record comments that have arrived at the Grand Vizier’s desk over the last few weeks. Benny Blanco, as all three regular visitors to CAP Towers will be aware, is the pseudonym we use for the pseudonymous Benjamin Black, the crime fiction avatar of John Banville, who may well have changed his name by deed poll to ‘Booker Prize-winning author John Banville’ if the number of times the phrase is used in relation to his Benjamin Black novels is any reliable guide.
  The vast majority of said reviews are very positive indeed, both for Black’s debut CHRISTINE FALLS and its sequel, THE SILVER SWAN (Black’s third novel, THE LEMUR, is currently being serialised in the New York Times). In fact, the Review Monitoring Elf can’t remember seeing a single negative review of either novel. Sample quotes arriving in today (Sunday) alone range from: “I am at this moment reading THE SILVER SWAN by Benjamin Black, and it’s so good, so shiveringly delicious, I want to lick each page in appreciation” (Agatha Christ-Almighty) to: “Pour yourself a quiet drink and settle into your best chair for an authentic dose of Irish angst and wit, wondrous writing and about as undiluted an evening’s pleasure as reading can provide … Last year, Banville / Black stunned many of his long-time fans with an utterly masterful mystery novel, CHRISTINE FALLS, which is up for both an Edgar Award and a Los Angeles Times book prize” (Tim Rutten, LA Times).
  The Grand Vizier would have it be known that he is not in agreement with the thrust of these sentiments. But firstly, a disclaimer: the pseudonymous Grand Vizier is the power-hungry avatar of crime fiction author Declan Burke, who has not won a Booker Prize, and is highly unlikely ever to do so, and that’s even though we live in an infinite universe where everything is at least theoretically possible. A further disclaimer: the Grand Vizier believes John Banville’s THE UNTOUCHABLE to be one of the best novels of the last two decades, and that Banville is a superb writer and one of the best prose stylists working in the English language today. A third disclaimer: the Grand Vizier has yet to read THE SILVER SWAN, and is therefore only qualified to speak about CHRISTINE FALLS.
  So: CHRISTINE FALLS. Here at CAP Towers, we have for the very great part implemented a philosophy of goodwill to fellow writers, partly because life’s nasty, brutish and short enough as it is without us pissing on anyone’s parade, but mainly because the Grand Vizier is of such an evil disposition that he can do with every bit of good karma going. And so, even though the Grand Vizier was happy to host Claire Coughlan's reviews of CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN, he held off from writing a review of his own of CHRISTINE FALLS, on the basis that it would run something like this: “An affectionate and adequate pastiche, although poorly plotted; unnecessarily verbose, particularly as Banville has spoken of Georges Simenon as an inspiration; a casual approach to the defining characteristics of the genre that borders on disrespect for its traditions; inelegantly paced, particularly during the scarcely plausible last quarter.”
  Now, we know that that opinion runs contrary to most of the reviews CHRISTINE FALLS has received, and from reviewers that the Grand Vizier believes generally get it right. And, yes, due to the Grand Vizier’s lowly position on the publishing ladder (we’re holding it for our betters at the moment), there is a very good chance that the above comments will be read as sour grapes. So be it. Here we stand; we can do no more.
  Curiously enough, given the timing of this post, two other reviews of Benjamin Black’s novels arrived in today along with those quoted above. The first was posted by Erachet at Up The Beanstalk, the gist of which runneth thusly: “Perhaps not so surprising is that what makes the two Black novels, CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN, so good — their atmospheric, descriptive writing — is precisely Mr. Banville’s great strength, while Benjamin Black, whose third novel is currently being serialized in The New York Times Magazine, is still learning some of the ropes when it comes to plot and suspense.” Then came Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post Books Editor: “Line by line, Banville is a superb, evocative writer (“He was studying a dried puddle of blood, gleaming darkly like Chinese lacquer against the red-painted floorboards.”), and I think it would be fair to say that he wants to make sure you don’t forget it … Mostly, this virtuosity is welcome, because we are privy to the minds of the victims, usually relegated to mere names on a page. These, Banville insists, are real people. But there are other times when virtuosity is all that it is. Beneath the luscious writing and the evocative setting, the book’s bones are quite conventional.”
  A coincidence? Two petty cases of backlash against the hype? Could it be that the upper echelons of the crime writing fraternity have too soon rushed to embrace Benjamin Black in the hope that the genre might bask in the reflected glory of John Banville? Or is it possible that some people are simply acknowledging that John Banville’s THE UNTOUCHABLE doesn’t make Benjamin Black untouchable? You know where the comment box is, people … and there's a free, brand new copy of CHRISTINE FALLS to anyone who can change our minds about it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Left Coast Crime III – Three, After All, Is The Charm

The rather charming Kelli Stanley (right) is attending Denver’s Left Coast Crime, and has rather charmingly volunteered to blog the experience for us (the first and second instalments can be found here). To wit:

LCC Day Three: Lefties, Rockies, Arties and Dilys!


Saturday was a long day at LCC, culminating with a Hawaiian Costume Contest and Awards Banquet. Not to keep anyone in suspense, the Lefty, Rocky, Arty and Dilys went to:
Dilys: William Kent Krueger, THUNDER BAY (Independent Mystery Booksellers Association award for the book they most enjoyed selling in 2007)

Arty: Rhys Bowen, HER ROYAL SPYNESS (Best cover art for a mystery published in 2007)

Lefty: Elaine Viets, MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS (Most humorous mystery published in 2007)

Rocky: Margaret Coel, THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR (Best mystery set in the Left Coast Crime geographical region in 2007)
  What a day! I can’t believe LCC is almost over. On a personal note, a group of friends and I got a chance to get to the legendary Rockmount store in Denver ... run by the oldest CEO in the country (100-year-old Jack Weil – the inventor of the snap button Western shirt popularized by 1940s and 50s TV cowboys) … and the store is not your typical Western gear experience. Even this noir writer felt perfectly at home pawing through bandanas.
  Speaking of noir, it was an utter delight and an honour to participate on the afternoon ‘Shades of Black: Noir at 50 Paces’. Jason Starr (right), Cornelia Read, Con Lehane and moderator Ken Kuhlken are all extraordinary writers and people ... a terrific experience.
  Right now, it’s daylight savings time in the U.S., and past time for me to get a little sleep. Thanks for tuning in to the LCC report and a huge thanks to Declan for allowing me to post the news from Denver! LCC has well-earned its reputation as one of the best conferences in the country ... and I can’t wait for next year and Hawaii. See you there! – Kelli Stanley

Crime Always Pays would like to thank Kelli Stanley for her huge contribution over the weekend, and take this opportunity to direct you towards her fine debut novel, NOX DORMIENDA.

The Occasional John Connolly Update # 2,035: Hooray For Lollywood.

The answer to the question, “What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?” in our weekly Q&A is frequently, “Anything by John Connolly (right) – providing they get it right.” Well, courtesy of Connolly’s excellent blog, it looks like we’re finally going to find out if ‘they’ got it ‘right’ next year. Quoth John:
“This week, filming began on THE NEW DAUGHTER, with Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero, based on the short story of the same title in NOCTURNES. For those of you curious to know, principal filming is taking place in McClellanville, South Carolina, under the guiding hand of director Luis Berdejo. I still haven’t read the script, which is a matter of choice (although someone who has read it was very impressed with it) but one interesting snippet of information reveals that a casting call went out for a thin, almost emaciated actor to play a “creature” role in full make-up, suggesting that John Travis, the screenwriter, has stuck to the original story’s central idea of something very nasty indeed hiding in the burial mound on Costner’s property. The film is due to be released in 2009.”
The name Luis Berdejo means nothing to us as of yet, but the good news is that he’s Spanish, and that Spanish-language writers and directors have been in the habit of concocting some superb supernatural tales for some time now, including Open Your Eyes (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), The Others (2001), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Orphanage (2007). Will The New Daughter cut the Spanish mustard? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell.