“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, April 19, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE KILLING KIND by John Connolly

John Connolly’s THE KILLING KIND is the work of a master in his prime. Connolly weaves a complex story without making it so complicated the reader can’t appreciate the characters and quality of writing. For that, Connolly deserves our thanks. The characters and writing are what’s worth reading here.
  Not that the plot’s bad; far from it. A young woman commits suicide while researching her Masters thesis on the mysterious disappearance of a small band of religious zealots that disappeared without a trace in the Sixties. A rich man with a guilty conscience hires detective Charlie Parker to make sure suicide isn’t just an uncomplicated way for the police to close the case. Parker’s investigation inexorably takes him from a two-bit grifter turned faith healer to the sinister machinations of a church for whom all imperfect life, being damned, is without value.
  Parker once again has his inner demons pitted against formidable forces that seem almost otherworldly in their menace. The treat is watching him fight both without bathos. He faces up to his dark side as well as he can, imperfectly, letting us identify with him while rejoicing because nothing like this ever happens to us. Parker takes his situation and relationships seriously, making it doubly important to the reader that things work out for him.
  Parker’s not in it alone. Louis, his alter ego, could easily be a not-so-pale imitation of Spenser’s Hawk. Connolly won’t have it. Louis, Hawk-like in his controlled menace, serves a distinct purpose as Parker’s sidekick, understanding and helping to define his friend’s needs and internal struggles. The depth of their friendship is more evolved than Spenser’s with Hawk, who understand each other well enough to relate in the traditional manner of quiet bonding. Each knows the other is there for him; their mutual feelings are conveyed in the subtext of their banter. Parker and Louis are more open. They pick open each other’s psychic scabs to discuss things about which Spenser and Hawk will only smile knowingly. (Note to the reader: This is written by a Spenser devotee, and is no faint praise.)
  Louis’ partner Angel is a perfect foil, lacking their level of menace and injecting a lighter side without becoming comic relief. Rachel is a woman meant for a man like Parker, strong enough to both stand up to him and to let him do what he has to.
  It’s a good thing. Rare is a cast of villains found to match those in THE KILLING KIND. From Mr. Pudd’s spiders and his mute female companion through the spectral Golem, the undercurrent of evil is always touched by the malevolent offstage presence of a master unseen until the end.
  Connolly’s writing is reminiscent in some ways of early Robert B. Parker in more than the relationship between Charlie Parker and Louis. The descriptions, the pace and flow of the language, and the easy and genuinely amusing banter between friends are all Parker trademarks, here made distinctly Connolly’s own. The humour is particularly effective. Characters are only intentionally funny when they’re relaxing. The humour that erupts in dangerous situations is the unintentional levity of men under stress, or building their courage by whistling through the graveyard.
  Connolly excels at letting the reader in on things at his own pace and in his own way. He uses excerpts from Grace Peltier’s unfinished thesis to foreshadow events, letting you peek far enough ahead to guess at a few things without giving them away. Exercise some discipline. THE KILLING KIND will make you want to turn every page, but not too quickly. Skipping over anything here means you’ll miss something more than plot: good writing. And that’s worth lingering over. – Dana King

This review was first published at New Mystery Reader.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak

It’s Friday, it’s funky, to wit: a few interviews to kick off, first with CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL’s Ronan O’Brien (right) at his interweb thingagummy, and also with PROCESSION OF THE DEAD scribe DB Shan over at Indie London. Oh, and Declan Hughes is yakking it up with Dana King at the New Mystery Reader: “THE GALTON CASE stands out for me,” says Dec, “it’s about patrimony and personal reinvention and the American dream: it’s THE GREAT GATSBY of crime fiction.” A certain J. Kingston Pierce might well agree … Staying with Dec Hughes: he and John Connolly are appearing at Belfast’s premier crime fiction outlet, No Alibis, on May 9, if Gerard Brennan at CSNI is to be believed – which isn’t always the case, sadly. Meanwhile, and still riffing on a Norn Iron theme, Verbal Magazine is giving away free copies of Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM, while Irish crime fiction’s newest very best friend, Alex Meehan of the Sunday Business Post, interviews The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman ... Garbhan Downey gets interviewed on BBC Norn Iron about his new book, CONFIDENTIALLY YOURS, three signed copies of which we’ve already got our grubby little mitts on and will be releasing into the wild via a giveaway comp in the very near future … Via Detectives Beyond Borders comes the news that the doyenne of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds, Barbara Fister, has deigned to offer her favourite crime fiction blogs for your perusal … Some spoofing chancer called Declan Burke talks about the writing life he used to have before the arrival of Princess Lilyput over At Central Booking … Over in Berkshire, some speccy pipsqueak called Potter narrowly pipsqueaked Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT in the Berkshire Children’s Book Award. If you ask us, yon Potter is 'playing with fire'. See what we just did there? … Brian McGilloway used to write guest blogs for Crime Always Pays, but he’s gone upmarket now and is currently guesting on It’s A Crime, the cad. Was it us, Brian? Was it something we said, or didn’t say? Just give us one more opportunity to put things right, we can change … David Thompson of Busted Flush very kindly gets in touch to let us know there’s a free download of Bill Crider’s Edgar Award-nominated short story, ‘Crank’, taken from BF’s DAMN NEAR DEAD compilation, available just about here … Finally, Andrew Taylor did more than enough to convince us of his Irish connections to qualify for Crime Always Pays: here (or just below, to be pedantic about it) be the booktrailer for his latest novel, BLEEDING HEART SQUARE, which may or may not be about some geeky pinko commie liberal. Not, probably. Roll it there, Collette …

Crime Times

Hoo-rah! The Times wades into the escalating war on who the greatest crime writer might be, producing its own list of the Top 50 ‘Greatest Crime Writers’, producing something of a shock-horror (appropriately enough, given her subject matter) with its nomination for the greatest, Patricia Highsmith (right). The CAP panel of judging elves would very probably have plumped for Leonard, Chandler and Ellroy for their Top Three (the order depending on how hard they’d been hitting the Elf-Wonking Juice on any particular afternoon), but no one ever listens to the elves, so who gives a rat’s caboodle? Anyhoo, The Times publishes its Top 50 list tomorrow, but we have a sneak preview at this very link right here courtesy of the ever-friendly Times folk, where they’re also promising “explanations of how the list was created, who was on our judging panel, and some fun little sidebars about translating Crime Fiction to TV and Film, etc.” Without further ado, albeit with a tiny little trumpet parp, herewith be the illustrious Top Ten:
1. Patricia Highsmith
2. Georges Simenon
3. Agatha Christie
4. Raymond Chandler
5. Elmore Leonard
6. Arthur Conan Doyle
7. Ed McBain
8. James M. Cain
9. Ian Rankin
10. James Lee Burke

Tree Lines

While on an archaeological dig, former actress Tana French (right) saw some woods nearby and thought they would make the perfect setting for a mystery story. The result is a stunning crime novel debut for the Dublin-based author, says Claire Coughlan

Tana French looks more like the actress she used to be before writing took over – an expressive elfin face, intense hazel eyes and a floaty top, coupled with one of those treacly voices that you’d listen to reading the phone bill, gives more away about her former profession (although she says she’d love to combine acting and writing) than it does about her current one.   But then you get the 34-year-old talking about writing – crime writing to be specific – and suddenly the keen interest in psychology and social commentary immediately come to the fore and you can see why it’s no coincidence that she’s sold the rights to her debut novel IN THE WOODS (it came out last year) in 15 territories.
  She begins talking about why she thinks there are suddenly a slew of Irish crime novels about post Celtic Tiger Ireland.
  “I think the Celtic Tiger happened so fast and hit so hard that it’s taken a while for people to catch up and get a little perspective and write about it, because it’s quite hard to write about something when it first happens – you don’t actually know what just hit you,” she says.
  “And I think what I’m mostly write about – and this isn’t deliberate, it’s just the way it happens – both IN THE WOODS and the second book, The Likeness (which is out in August, where Cassie, a detective from the IN THE WOODS is the narrator), and the third book, which I’m just starting – are about what happens when the past meets the present. I think that’s a good thing, in Dublin right now especially, what happens when the past and the present crash into each other at 100 miles an hour? That’s crucial to everything, you know, how do you welcome an influx of immigrants without wrecking the character of the city, or – and this is in the book as well – we need new roads but how do you balance that without wrecking our heritage? I think we’re trying to find a way to balance the past and present without wrecking both.”
  French was born to an Irish father and a half-Russian, half-Italian mother and she grew up in America, Malawi, Italy and Ireland, thanks to her father’s job as a development economist, before settling back in Ireland in 1990 and subsequently training as an actress at Trinity College.
  “I think it does give you that borderline perspective where you almost belong but not quite. As in, I don’t have friends here that I’ve known since I was five and I think always having that slight outsider perspective – it means that you notice things that someone who’s never been anywhere else would take for granted and you’re analysing stuff that you might take for granted if you didn’t have that slight outsider’s eye,” she says.
  And as an ‘outsider’ looking in, is it any coincidence that she chose to write crime fiction in the current climate?
  “I think that crime writing deals with whatever society’s frightened of. In Ireland it’s what goes on behind closed doors and the vulnerability of kids – we realise so much more how vulnerable kids are in our society.”
  IN THE WOODS tells the story of Rob Ryan, a detective who, when he was a child, went playing in a wood outside Dublin with two friends – the other two never came back. Now Rob is called back to the same wood to solve a murder, that of a child, and he must confront his past while doing so.
  French actually got the idea for the story while she was on an archaeology dig.
  “There was a wood near a dig and I was thinking, ‘God, that’s a great place for kids to play.’”
  But French, being a psychological crime writer couldn’t let it rest there.
  “I think any psychological crime writer is someone who’s always looking for the mystery – I’ve loved mysterious stuff ever since I was a kid – true, fictional, whatever. And so because of that, instead of saying, ‘Ah, that’s a lovely place for kids to play,’ I said: ‘What would happen if three kids went in there and only one ever came out with no memory of what happened?’
  “I was looking for the biggest mystery I could come up with. And I scribbled the idea down on a bit of paper and went off to do the next show and forgot all about it. And a year later, I was moving flat and I found this bit of paper, under all the old phone bills with jam on it with the idea, and I thought, ‘I’d like to do something with that’. What would that do to the third kid, the one who came back, knowing that he’s got the solution to this mystery somewhere in his mind but he can’t find it?”
  And thankfully, for us, French isn’t the ‘Ah, isn’t that a nice place for kids to play’ type of person. Hallelujah for that.

IN THE WOODS is published by Hodder Headline Ireland and is nominated for an Irish Book Award.

This article was first published in the Evening Herald’s HQ magazine

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE by Salman Rushdie

The early reviews of THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE have suggested, with no little glee, that Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is the worst he has ever written. This, of course, is akin to saying that Diana’s Temple at Ephesus was the least of the Seven Wonders of the World. THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE is a tour-de-force in storytelling, and if there is a more enjoyable novel published this year, then it will have been a very good year indeed.
  Niccolo Vespucci, aka Mogor dell’Amore and sundry other aliases, arrives at the court of the Akbar the Great, ‘the Great Great One’, descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane and emperor of the Mughal empire that encompasses vast swathes of 15th century India. Vespucci, a Florentine, has a story to tell that only the emperor can hear, as it concerns the fate of his relative, the Princess Angelica of legendary beauty, and the adventures that befell her when she abandoned the subcontinent for the western world of the Near East and Europe, all for the love of the indomitable warrior Argalia. And so begins a series of inter-linked narratives that trace the histories of the Mughal court, the political and religious intrigues of the Italian – and particularly the Florentine – renaissance, and all historical, geographical and quasi-mythical points in between.
  Rushdie includes a six-page bibliography, citing a host of historical references he consulted in creating his story, but this novel is the antithesis of the conventional historical tome. It is, first and foremost, an exercise in imagination, an artful and irrepressibly playful cornucopia of tales, myths, digressions and narrative non sequiturs. The sheer delight Rushdie takes in spinning yarns provides the subtext to every page:
“In this half-discovered world every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary, revelatory dream-poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story which could make his fortune or else cost him his life.”
  Rushdie has always been fascinated by the notion of migration and cross-cultural pollination, and here he blends the tales of the Arabian Nights (a sultan’s palace has 1,001 gardeners), Marco Polo’s travels, the fabulous constructions of Italo Calvino’s INVISIBLE CITIES and Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE (Machiavelli being one of the historical figures who makes a fleeting appearance). Even the peripheries of the story teem with vibrant, larger-than-life characters straight from myth: Venetian buccaneer-princes; perfidious Turks; Jodha, the imaginary queen dreamed into life by the Emperor Akbar; a quartet of warriors akin to the Three Musketeers; artists who paint themselves into their canvases and disappear. The prose, as befits a post-modern fairytale, is simple and direct: “His hair was long and black as evil and his lips were full and red as blood …” […] “When life got too complicated for the men of the Mughal court they turned to the old women for answers.”
  It’s a sumptuous read, fabulous in both senses of the word, with Rushdie tossing off mini-biographies that most other writers would be happy to write an entire novel around. Embracing mythology and history, legend and fact, fictional characters and historical figures, magic, illusion and self-delusion, the novel fully deserves the accolade of tapestry, so finely woven and dazzling are its constituent parts. The prose, of course, is beautifully detailed, but Rushdie leavens the erudition with coarse dialogue that is at times hilariously profane and blasphemous.
  “Language upon a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough,” declares Niccolo Vespucci early in the tale, and while that is certainly true of poetry, it is not enough to fully satisfy in a novel. THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE is a page-turner, a deliciously light and flowing read, but it lacks the profundity of MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (the ‘Booker’s Booker) or SHALIMAR THE CLOWN, instead substituting playful craft for heft and depth. Perhaps the issue is preconceived notions, or that Rushdie’s every novel arrives with increasingly weighty expectations. Either way, by the time the final page turns, there is a faint sense of disappointment, of dissipation and evaporation, although that might simply be an echo of the feeling that comes with awakening from a dream into the reality of day.
  Nonetheless, Salman Rushdie has long ago earned the privilege of writing the novel he wishes to write. The deceptively simple art of storytelling may have fallen out of favour among self-consciously literary writers, but Rushdie is determined that we should not forget its pure joys entirely. As the Great Great One, Akbar the Great, declares, whilst riding through his city amidst his cowed and subservient subjects: “Make as much racket as you like, people! Noise is life, and an excess of noise is a sign that life is good. There will be a time for us all to be quiet when we are safely dead.” – Declan Burke

This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

DEAD Man Tells New Tales

That blummin’ Declan Hughes (right), eh? Can’t sit still. No sooner is the ink dry on the latest in the Ed Loy series, THE DYING BREED, than the Irish Ross Macdonald is wibbling on about the fourth instalment, CITY OF THE DEAD, to Dana King over at New Mystery Reader, with the gist running thusly:
“CITY OF THE DEAD sees Loy take the case of a woman whose father was murdered fifteen years ago; her mother’s lover was convicted of the crime, but the conviction was found to be unsafe, and he was released. The dead man was a tax inspector, and at the time of his death, was preparing tax evasion investigations into three men: a major gangland figure, an IRA terrorist and a prominent businessman. The Guards refuse to re-open the case, insisting, despite the verdict of the appeal court, that the right man was found guilty. Now the IRA are on ceasefire, and the businessman is a friend to politicians, and the gangland figure has paid his debts and gone legit, Loy finds the investigation extremely complicated, and begins to suspect it is in no-one’s interest except the dead man’s family to uncover the truth.”
Aye, but will there be blood? Trundle on over to New Mystery Reader for the inside skinny as to why ‘Declan Hughes, John Connolly, Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke (koff), Ken Bruen and others’ are heralding ‘a golden age’ in Irish crime fiction …

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,084: Aifric Campbell

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?
IN COLD BLOOD, Truman Capote.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Now this is tricky one because so many female characters have a habit of coming to a rather nasty end or have their hearts broken by unsavoury men. And one of the great things about being a writer is your life takes on the quality of fiction when you spend so much time plotting and scheming on your own in a room. So I’ll have to say I haven’t found her yet.
Who do you read for guilty pleasure?
All my reading is guilt free! But I will never finish a book that doesn’t grip me – life is far too short to waste time reading something that bores you.
Most satisfying writing moment?
There are many – often it’s when I feel that I have succeeded in writing about something that is outside my experience. In THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER, for example, it was a gay cruising scene in California in the 1960s seen through the eyes of a teenager. Last week it was a 21-year-old Canadian soldier landing on the beach at Dieppe in 1941 under a hail of machinegun fire. I love the challenge of writing what I don’t know. Sometimes it’s the pleasure of finding exactly the right word - yesterday it was “pleaching”, which is a type of pruning ...
The best Irish crime novel is …?
In my view THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE by John Banville is a certainly a contender but is it usually considered to belong to the genre? I’ve read and enjoyed the first Benjamin Black and am intrigued to know whether or readers will migrate from Black to Banville. Otherwise I haven’t read enough contemporary Irish crime writers to say.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
IN THE WOODS by Tana French springs to mind. Very atmospheric on suburban Dublin.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Two sides of the same coin: the long solitary hours in front of a screen.
The pitch for your next book is …?
I hate pitches! I was once given exactly one minute to do a book pitch to an editor in New York and I choked. Completely. But it did focus my mind on the importance of book titles. My current work-in-progress is about a woman with a dark past meets old man in graveyard ... I won’t write the pitch until I’ve finished the last page.
Who are you reading right now?
IN THE MISO SOUP by Ryu Murukami. THE UNQUIET, John Connolly. A collection of stories by Edgar Allen Poe. And TS Eliot’s Selected Poems is always by the bed. I compile long reading lists and next up is David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, Kevin Myer’s WATCHING THE DOOR and Don De Lillo’s FALLING MAN.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
You see, this is the kind of capricious behaviour that encourages people to doubt God’s existence! My nine-year-old son suggested that I should go for reading because I could write in my head.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
You have got to be kidding ... That’s writer-baiting!

Aifric Campbell’s debut novel, THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER, is published on April 24

The Embiggened O # 1,002: That Was The Year That Was

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: It being April 16, and the anniversary of the first ever Crime Always Pays post, and the three-week anniversary of the arrival of Princess Lilyput (right), and only eight days after the two-year anniversary of the betrothal of Mr and Mrs Grand Vizier (and, sadly, the one-year anniversary of the death of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut), the Grand Viz would like to take this opportunity to emerge on to his entirely metaphorical balcony and address his incredibly loyal readership of three in an Urbi et Orbi-style orgy of sentimental reminiscing. To wit:
  “It’s been a strange and wonderful year, people. As all three regular readers will know, Crime Always Pays came into being last April in order to promote (a) Irish crime fiction, (b) THE BIG O, and (c) the monstrous ego of CAP’s Grand Vizier, Declan Burke.
  “On the Irish crime fiction front, we believed there was that there was a lot of talented people out there writing novels that were relevant to an Ireland that has undergone cataclysmic social and economic upheaval in the last decade or so. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a hell of a lot more than just ‘a lot’ of talented writers out there: it’s no exaggeration to say that Irish crime fiction can make a genuine claim to be a substantial sub-genre of the crime fiction genus.
  “Meanwhile, once we hit the interweb highway, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that there were two on-line Irish crime fiction resources already available, Critical Mick and Cormac Millar, although the real shock to the system came when both proved incredibly generous with their time and space in helping Crime Always Pays get established as the – oh yes! – third most relevant Irish crime fiction web presence. Gentlemen, I thank ’ee kindly.
  “In fact, the kindness of strangers has been the most satisfying aspect of the blogging year. From all corners of the globe, people have been unfailingly helpful, friendly and generous. It helps, of course, that Crime Always Pays is a crime fiction blog, and that the crime fiction family’s willingness to lend a hand seems inexhaustible. To everyone who visited, wrote, linked and lurked their way to giving CAP almost 55,000 page impressions in the last year, a heartfelt thank you from the Grand Vizier and the, ahem, tireless elves.
  “As for THE BIG O, well, where do we start? Hmm, the start, you say? Cunning … Having sent THE BIG O to a selection of UK publishers, and received a selection of gracious rejections, the gist of which runneth ‘not commercial enough’, the Grand Vizier decided to bypass Irish publishing houses and self-publish the novel, simply as an exercise in learning the industry from the ground up. At this point, fate in the lovely form of Marsha Swan of Hag’s Head Press intervened. She suggested a co-publishing deal, on a 50-50 costs and profits arrangement, and THE BIG O was duly published in April, with a wonderful jacket design courtesy of Carly Schnur. With a promotion budget of precisely nil to work with, and lacking the power that bigger publishing houses can depend upon for reviews, blurbs and generally spreading the word, the Grand Vizier founded Crime Always Pays and got hustling. The rest, as they say, is history – i.e., a load of stuff no one really cares about anymore. Suffice to say that Stacia Decker, then of Harcourt, took pity on us, and signed THE BIG O on a two-book deal, the first of which will appear in all its hardback glory in August. The sequel, currently labouring under the unlikely working title of THE BLUE ORANGE, is already written and bursting with the literary equivalent of Vitamin C …
  “Meanwhile, to all the reviewers, both in print and on-line, who took the time to read and then write about THE BIG O, we are, and will remain, hugely grateful – unfortunately, we’re delighted to be able to say, there were too many to name individually, but you all know who you are. To the writers we persecuted for blurbs until they uncled and signed their names to the big-ups we’d pre-written for them, may you all wake up tomorrow morning to discover that the scribbling elves were in and finished your current novel while you were sleeping. And to everyone who parted with their hard-earned money to buy THE BIG O, and then spent your precious reading time on it – never, ever, underestimate what that might mean to an aspiring writer. God bless you, everyone …
  “Finally, a few special thank yous: to Claire Coughlan and Chico ‘Chicovich’ Morientes, for their help in keeping Crime Always Pays on the rails; to my agent, Jonathan Williams; Marsha Swan at Hag’s Head Press; Ken Bruen, as always a rock of support; John Connolly, for sneaking around and giving THE BIG O and EIGHTBALL BOOGIE the hup-ya to anyone who will listen, and refusing to take any credit for it; Charles Ardai for recommending THE BIG O to Harcourt; the ever-lovely Stacia Decker, ex-Harcourt, for believing in THE BIG O; Allan Guthrie, for his sage advice; and finally, and most importantly, to the ever-ravishing Mrs Grand Vizier, aka Aileen (right), for her constant support, strength and encouragement, particularly as she spent the latter half of 2007 and the first three months of 2008 pregnant with our impending arrival, Princess Lilyput, currently the Granny Smith of the Grand Vizier’s eye.
  “As for the rest of 2008: it’s upward and onward, people, and spare not the horses, James …”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Belfast: Giggle City?

The ever-lovely Ciara Dwyer interviewed the ever-fragrant Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman (right) for the Sunday Independent last weekend, on the latest leg of the Bateman world domination / ORPHEUS RISING tour, during which the Batemeister waxed lyrical about that most elusive of sprites, Norn Iron humour. To wit:
“I think Northern humour is very dark. You laugh about everything that goes on. Maybe it’s not unique in that a joke always follows a tragedy, but it’s how you deal with things. When David Trimble was involved with the peace process he actually gave one of my books into 10 Downing Street, saying: ‘This says more about Northern Ireland than you’re going to find in a text book. This is how things are.’ I tend to write serious stories which happen to be very funny. The humour is always going to be there. One of my books, MOHAMMED MAGUIRE, was taking the piss out of the hunger strikes. It’s not that everything is fair game and that I decide that I am going to have a go at the hunger strikes. It just sort of comes out and people seem to like it. My last book, I PREDICT A RIOT, was the first of all my books that received a sustained amount of critical negative feedback from readers. It started off as a serial in a newspaper in Belfast and because I couldn’t swear in it, I put asterisks in it. I got dozens of emails saying, ‘Bring back the swearing, we miss the swearing,’ which is a sad reflection on the people who are reading my books. But I’m quite at home with them, the fuckers.”
Hmmm. Can swearing ever be big and clever? Or is it only so when Master Bateman uses rudeys? Only time, that rat-faced frickin’ clam-mouthed curmudgeon, will tell …

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “McGilloway’s storytelling is razor-sharp and the description and atmosphere is outstanding … Thoughtful and taut storytelling with an edgy tone beneath the rural setting,” says Sharon Wheeler at Reviewing the Evidence of GALLOWS LANE. “A stunning second novel … McGilloway has written another compelling book here with no clich├ęs or easy answers. Taut and fast paced,” says Verbal Magazine. Over at It’s A Crime, Crime Fic Reader agrees: “McGilloway’s strengths lie in plotting … But, above and beyond that, characterisation is key to any good crime novel and in this, McGilloway excels … McGilloway’s novels are essentially police-procedurals, but the psychological impact and theme is never far way.” Maxine Clarke at Euro Crime won’t be out-done: “[GALLOWS LANE] is an absorbing, satisfying book that delivers on all its plot promises; provides a strong sense of humanity; and leaves the reader looking forward to more.” The inimitable Gerard Brennan at CSNI tosses in his two cents on McGilloway’s BORDERLANDS: “As the story unfolded and through his thoughts and actions, [Devlin] became a fully-formed and complex protagonist. No major flaws, apart from a slight lack of restraint emotionally and physically, but you know, that’s kind of original in itself, isn’t it? I am looking forward to getting to know the man a lot better in the coming instalments.” Lovely stuff … And now a quartet of reviews for Sibohan Dowd’s THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY: “Grabs readers from the beginning and doesn’t let go … Just as impressive as Dowd’s recent debut, A SWIFT PURE CRY, and fresh cause to mourn her premature death,” says Publishers Weekly via Powell’s Books. Mr and Mrs Kirkus can be found at the same link: “This is a well-constructed puzzle, and mystery lovers will delight in connecting the clues.” You’ll also find the Booklist verdict: “Everything rings true here, the family relationships, the quirky connections of Ted’s mental circuitry, and, perhaps most surprisingly, the mystery.” Meanwhile, Norah Piehl at Kids Read has this to say: “THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY would be a compelling story even without Ted’s unusual perspective. Plenty of twists and turns, dead ends and false hopes make for a breathlessly fascinating mystery plot.” Kyrialyse at Live Journal likes Tana French’s IN THE WOODS: “A must-read. Mystery-thriller-sly bits of horror. Outstanding voice, outstanding characterization. So disturbing and so real that at one point I had to put it aside and remind myself that this wasn’t happening to real people.” Some lovely big-ups for Cora Harrison’s MY LADY JUDGE from her peers, beginning with Peter Tremayne (via Macmillan US): “Sister Fidelma would be delighted with her sleuthing ‘descendant’ – a new female Brehon named Mara … Well researched and written.” PC Doherty agrees: “An excellent historical novel with a most original leading character. Cora Harrison has wonderfully recreated the Celtic culture of Ireland in its mysterious twilight at the end of the Middle Ages.” As does Brenda Rickman Vantrease: “A lovely, balanced blend of historical detail and good storytelling. This book is appealing in every way: a likeable protagonist, a clever mystery, and a richly textured rendering of sixteenth-century Ireland with its fascinating legal system.” What news of John Connolly? “Connolly is a master of suggestion, creating mood and suspense with ease, and unflinchingly presents a hard-eyed look at the horrors that can lurk in quiet, rustic settings,” says Publishers Weekly of THE UNQUIET, while Answer Girl has the first review we’ve seen of THE REAPERS: “THE REAPERS is a special treat for fans of the Parker series, but also holds its own as an updated version of the classic Western, a story of hard men facing each other on the frontier.” A quick brace of hup-yas for David Park’s latest: “Northern Irish novelist David Park imaginatively alludes to these historical and literary antecedents from South Africa in the opening of his new novel, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, a sombre but totally engrossing portrait of post-peace treaty Belfast … It’s hardly the stuff of photo ops, but it makes for great reading,” says James Grainger at The Toronto Star. Cheryl Wonders agrees: “I loved this book. Immediately started re-reading it when I’d finished … For anyone thinking of dealing with the misdeeds of the past – seeking revenge, atonement, forgiveness, cleansing – there is a hope of freedom, but you can only find it in the chaos.” A quick one for Benny Blanco’s latest: “Black / Banville is a fine prose stylist with the bleakest of outlooks, as befits any winner of the “dark is deep” Booker. THE SILVER SWAN is a finely tuned psychological drama, but be prepared if you read it for the irresistible impulse to crawl under your bed that will follow,” says LW at Provo City Library Staff Reviews. Fionnuala McGoldrick at Verbal Magazine likes KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP: “I found it to be thoroughly intriguing – with a well written plot and humorous interludes … This book is absolutely fantastic and I would love to see it televised or made into a film. The storyline is so full of twists and turns that any viewer would be glued to the screen. The ending is completely unexpected … I was particularly impressed with the male author’s understanding of the female psyche.” Finally, they’re really starting to tumble in for Derek Landy’s sequel to SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT, to wit: “PLAYING WITH FIRE is better than Landy’s first offering. Landy manages to write a dark gothic fantasy that is laugh out loud funny and also incredibly original, fresh and new. Landy has managed to do something that many authors have not: transcend genres. While this is first and foremost a young adult fantasy, it’s also a noir comedy and can be read by young adults and adults alike,” says Jamieson Villeneuve at the American Chronicle. Tasha Saecker at Kids’ Lit likes it too: “This was one book I was thrilled to get my hands on … A wild ride of a book, the battles are gory, choreographed and often funny. The book continues the strong sense of humour, laugh out-loud commentary, and vibrant relationship of the two main characters. Plenty of banter and wit as well as some deeper questions about life make this a winner of a novel.” Quoth Lupins Angel: “I prefer [PLAYING WITH FIRE] because the storyline is darker and more tense, and there’s more mystery in these books than there was in Harry Potter. It’s also the humour, Derek Landy would make a great comedian. He manages to make the tensest of situations laugh-out-loud funny, and does so at least twice in every chapter.” And RJ McGill isn’t about to rock the boat at Revish: “A fabulous series that seems to get better with each new instalment – the book is filled with biting dialogue that propels the action with the speed and intensity of lightning … From the ultra-cool skeleton to the action and scenery, each has been vividly painted to fully immerse the reader in Skulduggery’s world.” Make no (ahem) bones about it, people – Derek Landy is headed for Eoin Colferdom …

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty

The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other writers talk some sense for a change. This week: Adrian McKinty (right) on THE THIEF AND THE DOGS by Naguib Mahfouz.

Less Bark, More Bite: THE THIEF AND THE DOGS


Osama Bin Laden’s latest attack on western culture criticized Danish cartoons, western movies, western books, and freedom of speech, while praising – like tedious undergraduates everywhere – the work of Noam Chomsky and Robert Fisk.
  Lately the west has been fighting back against the Islamists through the writings of Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and others who seem to think that nothing good has come out of Araby since they gave us the words for alcohol and tobacco.
  Mystery novelists seldom venture onto this field and it’s not my intent here to add to any of this debate but rather to draw interested readers to the work of Naguib Mahfouz, whose crime novel THE THIEF AND THE DOGS is not only a classic of the genre but is a wonderful example of how west and east, genre fiction and literary fiction, religious writing and secular prose, can all get along famously in one great book.
  Everyone can learn a little from THE THIEF AND THE DOGS and even if you couldn’t care less about the current political debates, the book should still delight as a fast-paced thriller.
  Set in post-revolutionary 1950s Cairo, THE THIEF AND THE DOGS is about master-burglar Said Mahran and the weeks following his release from prison. During this time he attempts to reconcile with his family, to reconnect with his old friends, and eventually to seek revenge on the men who he feels have betrayed him.
  His first day of freedom is a disaster. His daughter Sana doesn’t remember him and his former girlfriend (Sana’s mother) Nabawaiyya has married one of his old confederates, Illish. Mocked by Illish’s friends, Said wanders the boiling, confusing streets of Cairo seething with anger in one of the first of Mahfouz’s extraordinary expressionistic scenes that are strangely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s early New York crime movie KILLER’S KISS (which is set at roughly the same time as Dogs).
  Both Kubrick and Mahfouz (right) are attracted to outsiders, betrayal, sexual dishonesty and conspiracies, and both love plunging their characters deep into the abyss to see if they will survive.
  Said Mahran fails the first of these tests, deciding to take up burglary again but without the gang of associates who used to help him case rich neighborhoods and work as servants inside the mansions of the elite to give him information on money and valuables.   His anarchic unplanned solo burglary attempts are failures and Said narrowly escapes death. He seeks refuge with a Sufi Sheikh, a former friend of his father’s. The Sheikh offers him a bed and sanctuary but Said moves on again, eventually shacking up with a young prostitute called Nur. The story has its own inexorable momentum but its Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo that is the real eye-opener. Whores, thieves, beggars, whisky-drinking soldiers, corrupt officials – the whole fermenting underbelly of the ancient city laid bare. This is an Islamic culture that we seldom see in the west and it’s completely different from the shady Arab underworld that is given to us in perennially popular novels such as [Paul Bowles’] THE SHELTERING SKY or [Lawrence Durrell’s] Alexandria Quartet. Here the reader is inside the culture peering out, not the reverse, and this position is much more interesting.   Seeking revenge against the whole of “cruel humanity”, Said settles on Rauf Illwan, an old school chum who has become a rich newspaper columnist. If he assassinates “the betrayer” Rauf, Said feels that his life will attain some kind of fame and meaning.
  Nur begs him to abandon his plan and the Sufi Sheikh goes deeper telling him that a dramatic act is not necessary. The Sufis believe that we all have a chance at redemption, right here, right now. All our pain, all our suffering, is the proof that we are alive. Our hurts and our humiliations are what make us human and seeing that is a path to peace and acceptance. Inverting the famous line of the morning call to prayer (“come to the mosque, for prayer is better than sleep”) the Sheikh tells Said that for him sleep is a form of prayer. He should sleep and then wake up and love his life today, right now, for who knows what comes in the tomorrow or even the sweet hereafter.
  Naturally Said rejects all of this and puts everything in place to carry out his assassination plan. Hunted by the newspapers, the police and informers, doors start closing on Said, his allies desert him, and his last refuge becomes a sprawling Cairo cemetery.
  Despite his acclaim, Islamists dislike Naguib Mahfouz and dismiss THE THIEF AND THE DOGS as decadent western fiction (In 1994 one of these Islamist fanatics even tried to kill him). His defence of Salman Rushdie has made Mahfouz suspect in the Arab world and his failure to praise Rushdie as a writer annoyed some in the west. Literary critics prefer Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize-winning Cairo Trilogy to his crime fictions, but it would be a shame if the forces of reaction or counter-reaction kept THE THIEF AND THE DOGS from a wider readership.
  All of us, including Osama Bin Laden and his largely Egyptian followers, would get so much more from Naguib Mahfouz than by any number of tracts by Chomsky, Fisk, Amis or Danish cartoonists. Certainly anyone looking for a terrific crime novel set in Egypt that doesn’t feature Belgian detectives or western lotus eaters could do worse than read Mahfouz’s short masterpiece, THE THIEF AND THE DOGS. – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty is the author of THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD. His latest novel, FIFTY GRAND, will be published by Holt later this year.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The CAP reviewing elves are mightily fond of Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE, the sequel to BORDERLANDS, and thus are delighted to announce that the ever-lovely people at Macmillan have offered three copies of said tome to be given away for free, gratis and sweet-piddle-all. First, the blurb elves:
Taking its title from the name of the road down which condemned Donegal criminals were once led, GALLOWS LANE follows Inspector Benedict Devlin as he investigates a series of gruesome murders in and around the Irish borderlands. When a young woman is found beaten to death on a building site, in what appears to be a sexually-motivated killing, Devlin’s enquiries soon point to a local body-builder and steroid addict. But days later, born-again ex-con James Kerr is found nailed to a tree – crucified – having been released from prison and returned to his hometown to spread the word of God. Increasingly torn between his young family and his job, Devlin is determined to apprehend those responsible for the murders before they strike again, even as the carnage begins to jeopardise those he cares about most. GALLOWS LANE is the heart-stopping follow-up to Brian McGilloway’s acclaimed debut BORDERLANDS.
To be in with a chance of winning a free copy, just answer the following question:
Is Brian McGilloway:
(a) a mild-mannered teacher by day and a hard-bitten noir writer by night?
(b) a mild-mannered noir writer by day and blood-quaffing vampire by night?
(c) only spreading that risible vampire rumour because he fancies some Brian-on-Buffy chop-socky action?
Answers in the comment box with an email contact, please (replacing the @ with (at) for your own peace of mind), before noon on Tuesday, April 15. Et bon chance, mes amis