“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, May 17, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY by John Boyne

At first glance it seems strange that John Boyne should choose to re-tell the well known tale of the mutiny aboard The Bounty for his follow-up to THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS. Those familiar with the tale courtesy of its various film versions will be surprised by what unfolds here, however: as recounted by Captain Bligh’s servant boy, John Jacob Turnstile, the villain of the piece is Fletcher Christian, while Bligh emerges as a brilliant, complex and benevolent character who perhaps erred on the side of caution in his approach to enforcing on-board discipline.
  Boyne includes a bibliography of reference sources to underpin his claim to be telling a story based on historical truth but he wears his learning lightly and the tale is very much an adventure yarn. This is partly due to the irrepressible spirit of its narrator, 14-year-old John Jacob Turnstile, an earthy and occasionally coarse but humorous and thoughtful Jim Hawkins, who, as the captain’s servant, has the perfect excuse to be present at all the crucial moments that lead to the mutiny and beyond. Comparisons to Joseph Conrad and William Golding’s RITES OF PASSAGE trilogy are not outrageous, and Boyne has clearly paid attention to TREASURE ISLAND. Throw in the exotic setting of Otaheite, the mutiny, and one of nautical history’s most impressive feats of endurance, and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is well-nigh irresistible.
  It’s not simply a boy’s own adventure, either. Turnstile is as complex a character as his master, a reluctant sailor forced to chose, at the outset, between a year in gaol and taking service aboard The Bounty. Once he comes to terms with seasickness and the rigidly hierarchical system aboard ship, Turnstile finds himself conflicted about the mission, which is to transport breadfruit trees from the island of Otaheite to the West Indies as a cheap food source for plantation slaves.
“‘It’s an adventure of great merit we are engaged in, Turnstile,’ [Captain Bligh] told me then, wagging his finger at me as if I was a babe in arms. ‘Some day, when you are an old man, you will look back and tell your grandchildren of it. Perhaps their own slaves will be fed on breadfruit then too, and you will feel enormous pride at our achievements.’
  I nodded but wasn’t sure that I would.”
  Turnstile, an orphan press-ganged into male prostitution as a young boy, empathises with the slaves rather than his master and peers. Observes the boy:
“He was not the type to follow my line of thinking; he was too well educated and of too high a social class to have respect for the rights of man.”
  The rights of women, too, are important to Turnstile when the shipload of sex-starved sailors finally reach Otaheite. Concerned that the women are only faking their delight, as he himself has had to do so many times, Turnstile is among a minority of two who refrain from indulging in carnal delights, the other being Captain Bligh. That the young boy eventually allows himself to be seduced by a Polynesian beauty in an idyllic glade may seem the stuff of stereotypical male fantasy, but Turnstile’s painfully slow progress towards the point where he finally allows himself to consent to what had been previously been a painful intimacy stands in stark contrast to the posturing and preening of Fletcher Christian’s alpha male, and his physical and emotional fulfilment is well-earned.
  That Christian is caricatured as a self-serving narcissist is this novel’s one real weakness, incidentally, particularly when he is compared to the multi-faceted Bligh; and while Boyne’s ambition to reverse the roles of hero and villain is laudable, it was unnecessary to bludgeon the point home with so blunt an instrument.
  That’s a minor caveat, however, and in truth the real conflict of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is not that of Bligh versus Christian, but Turnstile’s instinctive Christian responses to the repressive Christianity of the Empire’s establishment caste (Christ, where His name is invoked, is invariably referred to as ‘Saviour’). God-botherers and Bible-thumpers are given as short a shrift as those who denigrate their island hosts as ‘savages’ and loot their natural resources; Turnstile, the outcast, social pariah and former sex slave, naively and subversively and with no little humour preaches a sermon of equality, tolerance and respect for all, regardless of class, religion or race. It’s a relevant subtext for the contemporary reader, albeit one that’s bound up in a stirring tale of heroism and derring-do, and the result is a truly terrific novel. To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson on the publication of TREASURE ISLAND: “If this don’t fetch the kids, then they’ve gone rotten since I knew ’em.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Friday Project: WILD AT HEART by Barry Gifford

Patti Abbott is working on a project called Fridays: The Book You Have to Read, the gist of which is to refresh people’s memories about great books that might have slipped off the radar. Last week we did Horace McCoy’s KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE. This week we’re picking – trumpet parp, if you will, maestro – Barry Gifford’s WILD AT HEART.

“Findin’ out the meanin’ of life and all is fine, far as it goes, but dead’s dead, you know what I mean?”
  Barry Gifford, WILD AT HEART
Barry Gifford doesn’t waste words. WILD AT HEART – THE STORY OF SAILOR AND LULA (1990) is a novel written by an author who is also a prize-winning poet, which partially explains his ability to pack 44 chapters into 156 pages and also goes some way towards explaining the impressionistic, imagistic style he employs. Each chapter is a short, punchy vignette in which Sailor and Lula outline their philosophy on life while striving to stay one step ahead of the law and the potential killer Lula’s Mama has set on their trail. A seamless blend of ’30s hard-boiled brevity and the on-the-road Beat tradition of the ’50s, WILD AT HEART comes on like the deranged offspring of Horace McCoy and Jack Kerouac as he struggles to draw breath in the sultry atmosphere of a William Faulkner short story.
  On his release from prison after serving a term for manslaughter, Sailor Ripley breaks parole and takes to the road with Lula Pace Fortune in order to escape the oppressive grasp of Lula’s disproving mother, Marietta. The plot doesn’t get any more convoluted than that; what sustains WILD AT HEART’s narrative is the colourful cast of characters the couple encounter on their flight west towards California. By turns intriguing, bizarre, grotesque and lethal, the collection of misfits only serves to confirm Lula’s heartfelt conviction that the world is indeed ‘wild at heart and weird on top.’
  Imbued with Southern gentility and decorum, Gifford’s style has been described by critic Patrick Beach as ‘chicken-fried noir’ and – as per the rules of hard-boiled fiction – a happy ending is never on the cards for the star-crossed lovers. “Safe?” exclaims Marietta’s friend, Dal. “Safe? Ain’t that a stitch. Ain’t nobody nowhere never been safe a second of their life.” The frisson generated by a blend of uncertain direction and inevitable danger crackles from the back seat of Lula’s white ’75 Bonneville convertible. A distraught Lula can force Sailor to dump a crazy hitchhiker when the kid gets a little too weird for her liking, but she remains all too aware of the overwhelming forces – not least of which is that of Fate – ranged against the pair:
Sailor stroked Lula’s head.
“It ain’t gonna be forever, peanut.”
Lula closed her eyes.
“I know, Sailor. Nothin’ is.”

The Embiggened O # 2,014: Always Judge A Book By Its Cover Homage

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “Things have been going rather swimmingly for our humble offering THE BIG O of late, people. The good folk at Harcourt recently sent through the art-work for the cover of the forthcoming US edition, with which the Grand Viz was well pleased, mainly because it suggested that the designer boffin responsible had paid close attention to the text, to the point where the ever-radiant Maxine Clarke was moved to suggest that the cover itself might represent something of a plot spoiler. That was swiftly followed by the news that THE BIG O has been short-listed for the Bristol Crime Fest ‘Last Laugh’ award, a huge boost to the GV’s scheme for world domination, not least because the vagaries of alphabeticisation mean that the moniker ‘Burke, Declan’ heads the short-list (literally, if not actually). Hot on the heels of that little nugget of joy came the news that the Book Witch had a quick gander at THE BIG O’s sequel, currently labouring under the unlikely title of THE BLUE ORANGE, and professed herself hugely impressed with GV’s ability to apply the spell-check function. Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah, said we, as we limbered up to breast-stroke through the vat of our Patented Elf-Wonking Juice™. But lo! There’s more! For yea, it came to pass that the eagle-eyed John McFetridge dropped us a line to point up the similarities between our cover and that of an edition of KILLSHOT by some American tyro called Ellroy Leonard, or Elmore Lennox, or summat akin. Well, you could’ve knocked us down with a feather made of microscopic sledgehammers. Still, they do say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, do they not? And, given that THE BIG O is a fourth-rate rip-off of Mr Lennox / Leonard’s style, it makes perfect sense that the Harcourt designer boffins should produce a first-rate homage to one of Mr Lennox / Leonard’s covers. Right, that’s us off for a couple of lengths in the vat of Patented Elf-Wonking Juice™. Be beautiful, people. Peace, out.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jury Remains Out: CAL by Bernard MacLaverty

Acclaimed as literary novels, they are steeped in crime – but is it kosher to call them Irish crime fiction novels? YOU decide! Or, y’know, don’t! This week: CAL by Bernard MacLaverty
“Cal’s mother died when he was a child and he and his father, who works in the local abattoir, are under threat to get out from Loyalists who are itching to coin the phrase ethnic cleansing a decade or so early … What lifts CAL above its almost satirically grim subject matter is MacLaverty’s deliciously precise detailing and his dedication to his main character … not the least pleasure of reading it is to rediscover in Bernard MacLaverty another Northern Irish writer who can stand toe to toe with the rest of them, and with the great Brian Moore in particular.” John Self, Asylum

Comedy and humour are not among the stylistic features one would readily associate with Bernard MacLaverty’s works. CAL, for instance, his most famous book (which was also successfully filmed), is a haunting study of a nineteen-year-old Catholic in the midst of the Northern Irish Troubles and his desperate attempt to break away from this violent background—an attempt doomed to failure. On the surface, his writing seems a brilliant example of Seamus Deane’s hyperbolical dictum: “If there is anything more depressing than Ulster fact it must be Ulster fiction.” – International Fiction Review

Poolbeg: Putting The ‘Crim’ Into Crimson

You know things are all a-stir in the Irish crime fiction world when Poolbeg – the home of all things glittery, shiny and chick literary – dip a toe in the ‘psychological drama genre’. The first of their ‘Poolbeg Crimson’ line is GUARDING MAGGIE by Ellen McCarthy, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
Maggie walked into her yard and found a strange man standing there, with her dog walking circles around him. Maggie has lived at home all her life with only a brief stay in Scotland and Dublin. She cares for her elderly mother and older brother Pascal, who has controlled and dominated every aspect of her life. After Pascal’s suspicious death from an apparent asthmatic attack, secrets from the past start to emerge and Maggie discovers someone is watching her every move. Maggie thought she had control of her life for the first time in over forty years after Pascal’s death but now she’s more scared and alone than ever. All her life her family have sheltered her from the outside world. But who is guarding Maggie now?
Ooooooh, spooky. Incidentally, the novel is set in rural Donegal, which is where Brian McGilloway and Paul Charles have set their recent novels. Will there be anyone left alive to be murdered in Donegal by the end of the summer? Only time, that notoriously loose-lipped doity rat, will tell …

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: GLISTER by John Burnside

A poet with 11 published collections to his name, along with six novels, John Burnside is a master of descriptive prose, particularly when it comes to fleshing out the subtleties of the natural world. One of the many ironies of GLISTER is that while Burnside’s evocation of the novel’s geographical setting is rich in detail, the world it describes – ‘Homeland’ – is a headland devastated by a disused chemical factory, the economy now in ruins, the environment curdled, its soil and woods and sea left lifeless.
  Post-apocalyptic in tone, GLISTER tells of a community enduring a living hell. Multiple narrators, some third-person, one first-person, contribute to a tale of emotional and psychological paralysis, as the inhabitants of Innertown avert their collective gaze from the ongoing disappearance of a succession of teenage boys. Morrison, the hapless local police officer, is reduced to tending a shrine in ‘the poisoned wood’, while at home his wife Alice nurtures a breakdown that allows her abdicate her responsibilities. Brian Smith, the Outertown entrepreneur who owns the community body and soul, may be somehow responsible for the disappearances; but those who still care enough to contemplate the horrifying consequences of absolute corruption, including the 15-year-old bibliophile Leonard, are powerless to penetrate Smith’s inner sanctum.
  Despite Burnside’s sharply observed vignettes, the cumulative effect of multiple narrative voices is to create a disorientating, meandering story. This is Burnside’s intention. GLISTER is a bewildering, Kafkaesque howl of anguish for lost innocence, in which Burnside explicitly references Melville’s MOBY-DICK while implicitly evoking Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY. The notion that a metaphorical great white whale of redemption is available only via a whole new circle of hell, one created to cater for those responsible for mankind’s rapacious abuse of the planet and its denizens, human and animal, is a sobering one, but Burnside refuses to take the easy option by pointing a finger at any one individual, or even the Brian Smiths of this world. We are all, the subtext suggests, equally guilty of abnegating our responsibilities, condemned by ourselves and our neighbours and the fragile blue ball on which we live. Or would be, had we the will to call ourselves to account.
  Burnside does offer that faint prospect of redemption, courtesy of the spectral Mothman who befriends the lost soul that is Leonard, but even at the finale the notion of hope is shot through with a shocking pragmatism. Accused of an apparent indifference to the fate of the teenage boys, the police officer Morrison protests that the soul is not ‘intrinsically good’; rather, he says, “ … the soul is wet and dark, a creature that takes up residence in the human body like a parasite and feeds on it, a creature hungry for experience and power and possessed of an inhuman joy that cares nothing for its host, but lives, as it must live, in perpetual, disfigured longing.”
  It is a ‘disfigured longing’ that glisters just beneath the surface of this sinuously compelling novel, the ancient, inarticulate desire to have the promise of life finally delivered, however compromised that promise might be by the dirty, poisonous business of living. Just as the chemical fall-out from the disused plant will pollute Burnside’s mythical Homeland for generations to come, GLISTER will radiate darkly in your mind long after it is done. – Declan Burke

This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Zaney Is As Zaney Does

Zane by name, Radcliffe by nature. Yep, that’s Zane Radcliffe (right), people, author of THE KILLER’S GUIDE TO ICELAND, BIG JESSIE and LONDON IRISH. What do we know of him? Very little. Happily, our resident private dick elf was on the case like skin on custard. To wit:
Zane Radcliffe was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland in 1969, the year the Troubles started. The day he moved to London in 1994, the IRA declared a ceasefire. Typical.
  The undoubted highlight of Zane’s advertising career was writing the world’s first topless radio ad, voiced by glamour model Jo Guest. Bizarrely the ad was banned when listeners complained about such flagrant nudity on the airwaves.
In the summer of 2001, Zane penned his first novel LONDON IRISH, a black comedy concerning a disillusioned Ulsterman living in London who is forced to flee the city and ends up in Edinburgh. Spookily, life then imitated art, and Zane moved to Edinburgh six months after the book’s publication.
  LONDON IRISH went on to win the 2003 WH Smith ‘People’s Choice’ Award for New Talent. It was followed in September of that year by BIG JESSIE, a novel described by FHM as ‘ funny, absurd and memorable … the Peace Process written by The Fast Show.’
So there you have it. A prize-winning Irish crime fiction author, and we only heard about him last week. Doesn’t do an awful lot for our claim to be the third-most relevant interweb presence for Irish crime fiction, does it? In fact, we don’t really know why we bother. If it wasn’t that the blummin’ towers are so tough to erect again once you’ve packed them away, we’d have folded our tent long since …

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2010: Alan Glynn

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?

Depends. AMERICAN TABLOID for big, insane, ambitious. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE for small, tight, perfect.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Tom Ripley.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
The only guilt I associate with reading is guilt at not finishing books I’ve started, like still being on page 111 of AGAINST THE DAY’S 1,085, sixteen months after it came out.
Most satisfying writing moment?
That rare moment when something clicks, and the whole thing comes - fleetingly - into focus. Then it’s back to work.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes. The words ‘quantum’ and ‘leap’ spring to mind.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I think the Benjy Black books would translate very well. It’d be interesting to see THAT version of the world my parents were young in - but you’d need a shitload of CGI to recreate the Dublin of the 50s.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is the insecurity - eight years between publishers saying, ‘Yes’. Best is having it be what you do.
The pitch for your next book is …?
A doppelganger story. Watch these spaces . . .
Who are you reading right now?
Otto Friedrich’s CITY OF NETS. Hooray for Hollywood.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Why, the idea. Away beast, I say - a pitchfork, a clove of garlic, a WMD . . . whatever it takes.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Always Be Closing.

Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND will be published in spring 2009 by Thomas Dunne

Cindy-Anna Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Tomb

Peter Clenott is kind enough to get in touch and advise us of his latest offering, HUNTING THE KING, which qualifies for an Irish crime fiction blog on the very dubious basis that its heroine is called Molly O’Dwyer. Quoth Peter:
“Because the theme of HUNTING and its predecessor is faith versus reason, I chose a Catholic hero. That’s part of the reason why she has Irish ancestry. Also, I live in the Boston area where there is a huge Irish community. I lived in South Africa for a while. I had an Irish roommate named Michael, who was an auto mechanic. Pale as a ghost. One day he went out to catch some sun and came back burnt to a crisp on his stomach, swearing he would never do that again. The next day he came back with his back side burnt just as bright a red.”
Mad dogs and Irishmen, eh? So what the blummery is this HUNTING THE KING malarkey all about then? Quoth the blurb elves:
Amid the chaos of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, American archaeologist and biblical expert Molly O’Dwyer hunts for the tomb of Jesus. Molly, derisively called Cindy-Anna Jones by rivals, embarks on her action-packed adventure with the U.S. military, Iraqi fighters, and a slew of other antagonists on her trail. Molly is sure to become a beloved, if provocative, heroine, combining the brain of an ambitious, questioning scientist with a deeply spiritual and loving heart.
Yes, yes – but is it any good? Quoth Mr & Mrs Booklist:
“A very readable thriller ... DA VINCI CODE-like draw of this compelling variation on the familiar theme of a lost artefact that could change the world. Fans of intellectual thrillers and historical fiction will find a worthy new voice in Clenott. With the ease of a seasoned novelist ... Clenott manages to create a story that is entertaining and wholly his own.” —Booklist
Erm, any chance we can get Karima Adebibe (right) to play another tomb raider? Colman, buddy, this one’s for you …

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “These books continue to be written extremely well, with engaging plots, excellent new ideas, and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. If he finishes the series in the next few books, I’ll be very surprised,” says Faith at Faith’s Blog of ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY. Over at Bookphilia, DreamQueen agrees: “I see Eoin Colfer’s character Artemis Fowl as a sort of antidote to Harry Potter … This is all quite charming and chuckle-worthy … there are the usual crazy action scenes and the usual abundance of bad puns and jokes.” Staying with YA novels, and Jill Murphy at The Book Bag likes Siobhan Dowd’s THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY: “That’s the wonderful thing about THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY; it’s such a romantic story. Not only is the hero bright and brave; he must also battle tremendous odds … It’s beautifully written … I loved it.” The Mystery Bookshelf gives John Connolly’s THE UNQUIET the hup-ya: “This is the best novel I’ve read so far in 2008. It is unlike the vast majority of mysteries written today and unlike anything else I’ve ever read … Connolly takes you into a world where evil exists, but there are other forces at work and you have no idea which side they’re on. Highly Recommended! *****” Nice … They’re still coming in for Brian McGilloway’s sequel to BORDERLANDS: “McGilloway’s prose paints vivid, atmospheric pictures of this dark green land that hides its secrets and its ancient tensions, as well as the modern phenomenon of social exclusion … McGilloway is a fine novelist, an expert builder of solid, credible plots who keeps a strong command of twist and turn in what at times is a complex, muddied trail. But more than that he is a very gifted writer, poetic in his tone and turn of phrase, artistic, like a watercolour painter, with his descriptive powers. It is seductive, compelling combination: impeccable characterisation, beautiful writing and a first class narrative. BORDERLANDS is a terrific book, GALLOWS LANE an even stronger sequel,” reckon the good folk at Material Witness … The latest on Benny Blanco runneth thusly: “In this stunning follow-up to 2007’s CHRISTINE FALLS, Black spins a complex tale of murder and deception … Laconic, stubborn Quirke makes an appealing hero as the pieces of this unsettling crime come together in a shocking conclusion,” reckons The Journal of a Good Life … Meanwhile, over at the Sunday Business Post, Alex Meehan likes Declan Hughes’ latest: “This is a brash and unapologetically stylish book, full of quick-witted banter and unpredictable characters doing unpredictable things, likely to skew the plot in a different direction at any moment … THE DYING BREED is a fine addition to the canon of Irish crime novels, delivering a payload of stylish noir, with a considerable amount of confidence and a witty turn of phrase.” Sweet. Finally, they’re tumbling in good-o for John Boyne’s latest, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. First up, John Lloyd at The Book Bag: “Turnstile is a brilliant creation … Also of superlative note is the way the historical research has been worn so lightly … I am confident nothing will get in the way of this being a much appreciated and avidly read book. It can only get the strongest, five-star recommendation from The Book Bag.” A quick skip across to the Daily Mirror: “John Boyne, the Irish author of the massive hit THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, has created another wonderfully atmospheric period piece, steeped in historical fact … This is storytelling of the first order, combining true adventure with great characters.” And then there’s Dermot Bolger in the Irish Times (no link): “At once an adventure story and an account of a boy’s coming of age, this novel becomes a meditation on what constitutes paradise, on what exactly freedom is, and on how much suffering the human spirit can endure and still be driven forward … This is a remarkable and compelling piece of storytelling.” Nothing like a Boy(ne)’s Own adventure yarn to stir the blood, eh? Avast lubbers, etc …

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty

The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other people talk some sense for a change. This week: Adrian McKinty (right) on Chester Himes’ Harlem.

Cotton Comes To Harlem

“For the six years that I lived in Harlem, real estate brokers and landlords continually tried to convince me that I actually resided in a neighbourhood called Morningside Heights. The fact that I was on 122nd and Amsterdam only three blocks from Harlem’s main drag and on no “height” whatsoever did not deter them. Back then the very name “Harlem” struck terror into the hearts of even the most fearless Manhattan property sharks.
  “This was not always the case. In novelist Henry Roth’s day Harlem was a middle-class Jewish neighbourhood and then it was Irish and finally in the 1930’s black immigrants arrived from the South. After this last migration Harlem was a trendy place to visit, with its jazz clubs and cool night life, but decline set in during the race riots of the 1960s and by the 1970s crime was endemic and white people began to avoid Harlem at all costs. It became the stereotypical black ghetto in mainstream films such as The French Connection or Live and Let Die and the reality wasn’t that far from the cinematic excesses.
  “When I first moved to Harlem in the summer of 1993 things were at their nadir. Crack ruled the streets and murders in New York City were running at about two thousand a year. This wasn’t getting 9/11 size headlines because no one really cared about black on black violence in African American neighborhoods like Bed-Sty, the South Bronx and Harlem. Caucasians seldom went north of 122nd Street and almost never to 125. I was blissfully unaware of this though and there were times when I was the only white person at the fast A Train stop at 101 East 125th or the empty Manhattanville post office on 365 West 125th.
  “I was also sometimes the only person at all in the excellent George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library on 125 and Amsterdam. And it was there that I discovered their collection of Harlem crime fiction by Chester Himes: a half shelf of first editions and paperback originals begun while Himes was living in France. Each one could be finished in a few hours, but best savoured slowly from the quiet second floor of the George Bruce looking down 125 to Broadway and the steamy Hudson River beyond.
  “Chester Himes (right) was a renaissance man. The son of college professors, he had done hard time in prison for armed robbery, worked in the shipyards during the war, and hobnobbed with the African American literary elite in Paris in the 1950’s. He wrote many novels but is best remembered for his two black NYPD detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones who walk the mean streets of Harlem and are actually quite mean themselves - though usually in a good cause.
  “There are nine books in the series and they can be read non-sequentially. My favourite of them is THE REAL COOL KILLERS but it might be too violent for some readers and probably newbies should start with the most famous - COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, which was made into a blaxploitation film of the same name.
  “COTTON COMES TO HARLEM begins with ex con Deke O’Hara’s brilliant scheme to swindle money for a back-to-Africa movement from poor Harlemites. In the middle of his eccentric pan-African rally, white gunmen steal $87,000 and make off with it. Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are put on the case and of course - typical of the series - the plot they fall into is fast, breezy and completely unpredictable. The book is so short that all further details would be spoilers but you can expect some chases, escapes, shootouts and ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques that would make Dick Cheney proud.
  “Himes’s descriptions of Harlem are terse, laconic, spare and funny; appropriate for a district that has fallen on hard times. He lets the facts speak for themselves: the poverty, drug dependence, the absence of male role models, and above all a deep, basic humanity which flows from every tenement room, down the bustling apartment stairs, out onto packed, gossipy building stoops and finally into the pulsating, dangerous streets.
  “In COTTON and all the series, Harlem is a big village where everybody knows everybody else, where people borrow money and groceries and sometimes weapons from each other, where playground kids have inside information on the local crazy or the local perv and old men sitting in street-side armchairs crack wise about pimps who suddenly have a lot of extra spread.
  “Himes’s Harlem is a universe in itself, as rich for me as Chandler’s LA or Conan Doyle’s London and there’s a sweetness and innocence there too which also reminds me of Baker Street circa 1895. For all its poverty and random violence you’d far rather live here than among the crooks, scam artists, jazz musicians and dreamers than downtown among the aloof WASPs of the Upper East Side or the oh-so-hip intellectuals of SoHo or Brooklyn Heights.
  “Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed love the people they have sworn to protect and even though they work for the white man, they never do the white man’s dirty work.
  “COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is not a perfect book; some of the characters are reed thin and merely mouthpieces to move the plot along, but move it does and when we’re finally done the sense of place lingers long in the memory. When I’m homesick for Harlem - something that happens surprisingly often - I read a few pages of Chester Himes and forget the fact that the Columbia University bulldozers are set to roll all over my old stomping ground and instead lose myself in soul food restaurants, smoke-filled blues clubs, rickety fire escapes and basement speakeasies - a world lost in time and space in the gentrified, 21st century New York sameness so beloved of landlords and real estate agents.” – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is published in paperback on June 12.

What Lilyput Did Next # 306: Erm, She Scarpered

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “It is with great sadness that we announce this to be the final ‘Princess Lilyput’ post on Crime Always Pays. The Grand Vizier, need it be said, had been growing increasingly agitated over the last number of weeks that Lilyput was hogging all his limelight, and has finally stepped in to proclaim a moratorium on Lilyput pics and vids. The bugger. Anyhoo, as a compromise that might go some way to disguising the fact that he is a heartless cad who’s only in it for the money, the Grand Viz has agreed to Lilyput having her own blog, and to host a link to said interweb malarkey on the top left of CAP. Which leads us to the pics below, the first of which was taken when the Grand Viz broke the bad news to a stunned Lilyput …



“… and the second, one quick-change later, when she realised she was finally free of that dozy old curmudgeon who keeps singing the poxy songs.


Quoth Lily:
“Boopy-doop!”
“So there you have it: Princess Lilyput gets her own blog. It’s called Lilyput’s World. It’s guaranteed Grand Vizier-free. What more could you ask for? Be beautiful, people.”

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Garbhan Downey’s follow-up to last year’s RUNNING MATES is YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY: LETTERS OF A WOULD-BE MP, with Gerard Brennan of CSNI declaring it “a laugh-out-loud-funny, fast-paced story and an entertaining education in the climate of Northern Ireland’s politics.” The rascal. Anyhoo, the Guildhall Press have been kind enough to offer us three signed (woo-hoo!) copies to give away, but first the blurb elves:
The Derry author’s fourth novel is a comedy-thriller set against the current British and Irish political landscape and it cements the former newspaper editor’s reputation as one of the sharpest political fiction writers on these islands. The story centres on an independent North Derry assemblyman, out to win himself a seat in the House of Commons and some real, honest-to-God power. To do that, he’s going to have sign a Faustian pact with a murderous gangster. But in a country where everyone bugs everyone else, all the time, it can only be a matter of time before the dubious deal is exposed. As with Downey’s PRIVATE DIARY OF A SUSPENDED MLA (described by the Sunday Times as “the Northern Ireland political novel of the century”), real politicians are given cameo roles. The cover design of YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY: LETTERS OF A WOULD-BE MP is by award-winning animator John McCloskey, whose film Crumblegiant was nominated for this year’s BAFTA.
Lovely. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question:
Is Derry officially known as:
(a) ‘Londonderry’;
(b) ‘Slash City’;
(c) ‘Yon other place in Norn Iron that’s not Belfast, whatchamacallit?’
Answers, along with an (at) rather than @ email address, via the comment box please, keeping the poisonous sectarianism to an absolute minimum, before noon on Tuesday, May 13. Et bon chance, mes amis