“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 24, 2008

The Gravy Train Has Left The Station

Yet another example, as if it were needed, of the extent of our loss when Siobhan Dowd died came through on Thursday, when THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY was announced as The Bisto Book of the Year. Quoth John Spain at the Irish Independent:
“An acclaimed children’s writer who died from cancer last year has won the Bisto Book of the Year Award for her novel THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY. Siobhan Dowd’s husband, Geoff Morgan, attended an emotional ceremony in Dublin yesterday, where the award was accepted on her behalf by her publisher David Fickling. Her Book of the Year Award of €10,000 will be donated to the trust which she set up before she died to help disadvantaged children improve their reading skills.”
Lovely. And the verdict from the Children’s Books Ireland wallahs?
Enthralling at the level of story, this convincingly written narrative draws the reader in with its beautifully stylish and textured language, its clever and light use of symbolism, and its unpatronising humour so as to emphasize the importance of connecting with others in life. A traditionally structured novel, this is a sustained and fully realised thriller for young readers.
Anyone interested in contributing to the very worthy Siobhan Dowd Trust should jump over here. And remember, people – every book is a new window on the world …

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

EWS...BREAKING NEWS...BREAKING NEWS...BREAKING NEWS...BREAKING NEWS...

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “Being something of a moron, and deaf in one ear, the Grand Vizier didn't realise that the copies of WHAT BURNS WITHIN offered below are SIGNED COPIES (woo-hoo!). We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Peace, out.”

The good folk at Dorchester Publishing have been kind enough to offer us three copies of Sandra Ruttan’s latest novel, WHAT BURNS WITHIN, to give away, so the least we can do is consult Mr & Mrs Publishers Weekly as to the quality therein, to wit:
Three Vancouver constables—son-of-a-sergeant Craig Nolan, bombshell in the boys’ club Ashlyn Hart, and stolidly antisocial cop Tain—are drawn together as the rapes, arsons and child abductions they’re working on respectively converge. The three, who have a beef over a prior case gone bad, must get over their personal differences and chase scant leads before another raped woman, burned building or missing girl turns up. Ruttan manages to keep the multiple leads and seconds on the same page admirably: she doesn’t drop too many clues in their laps or allow the tension to flag. The child abduction and sex crime aspects of the story are handled without exploitation or kid gloves; the straight proceduralism from Ruttan (SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES) serves the story well through the rewarding climax. - Publishers Weekly
Hmmmm, nice. To be in with a chance of winning a free copy, just answer the following question:
Is what burns within WHAT BURNS WITHIN:
(a) deserted warehouses;
(b) a bonfire of the sanities;
(c) Sandra Ruttan’s searing desire to brand the white-hot truth onto every page?
Answers via the comment box please, leaving an email contact address (using (at) rather than @) by noon on Wednesday 28. Et bon chance, mes amis

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nether Say Nether Again

Joseph O’Neill’s debut, NETHERLAND, has been attracting a lot of very positive comment, with one excitable reviewer suggesting that it’s already a Booker Prize contender. Naturally, being insatiable nosey-parkers, we had to take a gander, and we discovered that the blurb elves have been wibbling thusly:
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the power cut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans - his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in the Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place - the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriended Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city’s first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck’s dream and Chuck’s sense of American possibility - until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend’s activities and ambitions … NETHERLAND is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O’Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.
Lovely. Not really Crime Always Pays material, thought we, but lovely nonetheless. But lo! Then we discovered Brian Lynch’s review in the Sunday Independent, the gist of which runs to-wittishly:
“We never discover the identity of the murderer – this is a whodunit without a who – but that is part of the purpose of the book: the political violence of our times, the personal unease that follows from it, but above all the constantly shifting and strange glamour of the world cannot be explained, only apprehended … Already, NETHERLAND has been compared to THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The comparison is apt, but add in something of the ironic intellect of John Banville and a good dash of the coarse energy of the early Saul Bellow and you will get a better idea of how rich this book is.”
Hmmmm … the Bellow / Banville / Fitzgerald references suggest a literary tome, but the murderer / whodunit element suggests crime fiction. So which is it? Or – yipes! – could it be one of those increasingly popular crossover ‘lit crime’ bukes which thrive on employing crime fiction tropes, the likes of which have been popping up here, here, here and here? Only time, that notoriously prevaricating doity rat, will tell …

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Rough Justice Slouches Again Towards Bethlehem?

Yep, ’tis as inevitable as the Second Coming / the Rapture / the Anti-Christ (delete as applicable) – it’s the latest Jack Higgins novel, folks, aka ROUGH JUSTICE, which was released on April 1st, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
The master of the game is back, with another pulse-pounding adventure featuring the unstoppable Sean Dillon. Whilst checking up on the volatile situation in Kosovo, the US President’s right-hand man Blake Johnson meets Major Harry Miller, a member of the British Cabinet. Miller is there doing his own checks for the British Prime Minister. When both men get involved with a group of Russian soldiers about to commit an atrocity, Miller puts and end to the scuffle with a bullet in the forehead of the ring-leader. But this action has dire consequences not only for Miller and Johnson but their associates too, including Britain’s Sean Dillon, all the way to the top of the British, Russian and United States governments. Death begets death, and revenge leads only to revenge, and before the chain reaction of events is over, many will be dead!
Hurrah! Wanton slaughter, like, rools! Or – woah! – does it? What’s the last Jack Higgins novel YOU read, dear bibliophile? Answers on the back of a used €50 note to the usual address, folks. Or you could just leave a comment, we’re not fussed …

Comment Box Abuse: A Letter To ‘Melissa’

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “Hi, ‘Melissa’. In case you’re wondering why your comment was deleted last night, it’s because the Grand Vizier has read his Homer and doesn’t really approve of sneaky Trojan Horse attempts, via comment box link inserts, to publicise novels on Crime Always Pays without prior approval. You’re not the first to try it, and you very probably won’t be the last, but the one thing you can be certain of is that underhand promotional tactics are (a) unwelcome and (b) unnecessary. Crime Always Pays, while celebrating for the most part Irish crime and mystery fiction, is open to all crime writers of all nationalities – i.e., if you wanted to promote your new novel, all you had to do was ask. There are any number of ways in which you could have been accommodated: the weekly Q&A, the ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ slot, a competition giveaway, or simply a précis of what your novel is about and why you think the world at large should be told about it. It’s easy-peasy, it’s polite and mannerly, and that way everyone’s a winner – as Peter Clenott, for example, discovered last week. We wish you the very best with your new novel, ‘Melissa’, and hope that it’s a huge success for you, although given our experience of the crime and mystery writing and reading community, and its mind-bogglingly generous response to our attempts to drum up some support for our humble offering THE BIG O, we suggest that in the long run a more honest and transparent approach to your promotional activities will prove more beneficial. Peace, out.”

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,087: Steve Martini

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?
THE MALTESE FALCON.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sam Spade.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
The crime novels of the ’30s and ’40s – anything by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. And from the ’60s, John D. McDonald. I love the characterizations and the breezy entertaining quality of these works.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When COMPELLING EVIDENCE, my second novel, became the object of a bidding war between the Book of the Month Club and The Literary Guild. This served as the first confirmation that I had arrived as a writer.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
While I love Irish humour I am sorry to say that I don’t think I have ever read a genuine Irish crime novel unless THE GLASS KEY and RED HARVEST qualify. They were after all the basis for the film Miller’s Crossing, and if that ain’t fictional Irish crime, nothing is.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worse thing about being a writer is that you are never finished. The best thing for me is that I am most content it seems when I am writing. So figure that out.
The pitch for your next book is …?
It is likely to have a certain Latin flair as it will have scenes set in Central and South America, though the trial, as always in my Paul Madriani novels, will take place in Southern California. Who are you reading right now?
Joseph Ellis – AMERICAN SPHINX. Sorry to say I don’t read the genre in which I write in as that presents the dangerous spectre of having your voice mutate to that of another author.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I would have to go to Hell to see what the devil allows.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Painful (as I am never finished polishing the prose), Therapeutic (as I have always found a certain quality of peace in pounding on a keyboard), and Never-ending (except, as Jefferson said, “by the all-healing grave”).

Steve Martini’s latest novel, SHADOW OF POWER, will be published on May 27 by William Morrow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE RESERVE by Russell Banks

The zeppelin, an iconic image of the 1930s, is a recurring image in Russell Banks’ THE RESERVE, which is set in the Adirondack Mountains in 1936. Jordan Groves is an artist and pilot who late one evening lands his water-plane on the lake near the luxury holiday retreat of the Cole family. There he meets Vanessa Cole, the femme fatale of the piece, an emotionally unhinged divorcée who, Siren-like, attempts to lure Groves away from his wife and children and on towards his own destruction. Vanessa and the zeppelin, which Groves encounters on one of his flights, are equally beguiling to the self-obsessed artist: both are beautifully designed symbols of freedom, both are to all intents and purposes empty. The same, unfortunately, can be said of THE RESERVE.
  Banks has written superb novels in the past, such as AFFLICTION and CLOUDSPLITTER, but where those novels had a real heft and depth, THE RESERVE is virtually weightless. Conceived as a noir thriller, and celebrated as such by no less a light than William Kennedy, it is no such thing. The writing has at times a poetic fulsomeness, particularly when Banks is describing the bucolic hinterland of the Adirondack semi-wilderness, but all too often it is flabby where it should be spare. Moreover, the great noir writers, such as James M. Cain, employed plots akin to Greek tragedy, and rendered them streamlined and focused by eschewing all but the essential details. While the hubris that eventually leads to Groves’ downfall is very much a staple of Greek tragedy, Banks unfolds his story with a melodramatic clumsiness more appropriate to a Mills and Boon romance.
  The characters too are less than believable. The author requires his readers to make a leap of faith early in the narrative but strives too hard to generate compelling characters in order that we will follow. The result is grotesque exaggerations that belong only in poorly conceived fiction. “He was probably a builder too,” Vanessa muses about Groves, “judging from his house and outbuildings, which seemed handmade to her … he cuts his own firewood to heat his house and studio. His arduous travels to distant, difficult lands – Greenland, Alaska, the Andes – were legendary. He was strong and lean and hardhanded …” The fictional Groves is a caricature of his contemporaries, Hemingway and Dos Passos, and while it is possible that Banks is subtly parodying the artistic machismo that pervaded the era, the reader is entitled to ask how relevant the exercise is now, particularly as the central issue is Groves’ flaws, not those of his peers.
  Writers should always think long and hard about making their central characters artists or sculptors or creative minds of any kind, as there is a very real danger the reader will presume there is at least an element of autobiography involved. If that is the case with THE RESERVE, then Russell Banks should be commended for having the courage to offer us such a repellent self-portrait in Jordan Groves. Whether or not the exercise justifies an entire novel is another matter; when it comes to noir, less is more. THE RESERVE might well have made for a satisfying short story, but as a novel it is a zeppelin – a good idea in its conception, but flimsy and unwieldy, and as prone to crash and burn when reality finally muscles in on the theory. – Declan Burke

This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull

It’s 1957, the Cold War is freezing over, but an aging Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is still capable of cracking his whip at those damn Russkies, led by the ice-cool Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), when they arrive in Nevada at a Roswell-style complex to steal what appears to be the body of an alien life-form. A terrific opening sequence ensues, with a tongue-in-cheek finale courtesy of an exploding A-bomb, and then the movie settles down to its real quest, that of Indy’s search for a mythical crystal skull which will lead him and his sidekick, the Brando-lite rebel Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), to the equally mythical El Dorado deep in the Amazon’s impenetrable jungles. Every cent of the reputed $200 million budget is up on the screen, and for the most part this is a rollicking homage to the often shambolic B-movie matinee adventures of the ’30s and ’40s. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously (the ‘CCCP’ emblazoned on the back of Spalko’s jumpsuit is a wink in the direction of cartoonish style), but even so there’s a lack of rigorousness about the storytelling that is disappointing. The adrenaline-charged pursuit through the Amazon jungle is a case in point. Yes, it’s a terrifically entertaining and even hilarious set-piece as Indy, Spalko, Mutt, Marion (Karen Allen), Mac (Ray Winstone), Ox (John Hurt) and a veritable battalion of (uniformed!) Russian soldiers jump back and forth between trucks, jeeps and amphibious vehicles, using a variety of weapons to thrash one another senseless as the convoy careers through the jungle – but wait a minute, wasn’t that jungle supposed to be ‘impenetrable’? Where did the parallel roads come from? Are they the work of the aliens who arrived on earth 7,000 years ago to kick-start human civilisation as we know it, or was it just George Lucas and Steven Spielberg not really caring about simple things like continuity? Much as we’d like to believe it’s the former, it’s very probably the latter – The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a series of great set-pieces, one segueing into the other, but there’s no cohesion to what happens, and how, or why. In a nutshell, there’s no story to give us a reason as to why we should care if Indy and his crew succeed in their quest. The finale, which trades very heavily on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is visually impressive but emotionally sterile – there’s a perfunctory feel to it that suggests the makers simply couldn’t wait to get it all over with so they could begin a whole new franchise with Shia LaBeouf wielding the whip. *** - Declan Burke

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 2,023: Jim Michael Hansen

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?
HONG KONG LAWS, because that’s the one I’m working on now, and I wish it was done so I could see how it ends.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
There’s a scene in Body Double where a guy snatches Gloria Revelle’s purse on the beach and she ends up chasing him. Behind them, in the distance a hundred yards away, there’s a guy walking on the beach. I always wished I could have been him, and cast in his role, because I know I could have done it better.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
For guilty pleasures I don’t generally read. I mostly just look at the pictures.
Most satisfying writing moment?
The most satisfying moment was finishing my very first manuscript. I got so excited that I threw it to the ceiling in celebration—and immediately wished I had numbered the pages.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Being a sheltered U.S. guy, I don’t know any Irish crime novels. So, with your permission, I’m going to change the word “Irish” to “French.” … Hmm … Wait a minute, that didn’t do any good, I don’t know any French novels either.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I don’t know. Which one has the most bedroom scenes?
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is getting all those wonderful, grateful letters from Eskimos who absolutely love my books. Apparently they burn longer than most and give off a great deal of heat. The worst thing about being a writer is starting with all those alphabetically arranged words in the dictionary, figuring out which ones I want to use, and then trying to put them together in the right order. It’s like solving a four dimensional Rubik’s cube.
The pitch for your next book is …?
The pitch for my next book (IMMORTAL LAWS, 9/15/08) is a marketing stroke of genius that no one in the publishing industry has ever thought of. It goes like this: “If you buy my book, I’ll paint your house.” We expect to sell a thousand copies or more the very first hour! Who are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading the words, “What are you reading right now?” Otherwise I’d have no idea how to respond. Now I’m starting to read the next question. Excuse me, while I scroll down.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Being a lawyer, I did a little research to see if God really had the right to make an either / or demand. It turns out there’s an old dusty statute that says God always has to give at least three choices. I confronted him about this and after a bit of an argument, he eventually relented and gave me a third choice: “You can only write OR read OR have sex.” My response was pretty quick: “I’ll take that third one.”
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
“My own writing.”

Jim Michael Hansen’s BANGKOK LAWS was published in paperback in March

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “A clear disciple of Elmore Leonard, McFetridge (DIRTY SWEET) has almost every character talk and think like Chili Palmer, not a bad thing for a fun read,” says Publishers Weekly of EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE. A certain Ken Bruen, via John McFetridge’s blog, agrees: “EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE is just one hell of a read, takes off like a bullet and never lets up, like a wondrous mix of Elmore Leonard and McBain but with a dazzling Canadian slant that is as fresh as it is darkly hilarious.” Which is nice … “Declan Hughes has captured the spirit of Ireland in his series featuring the private detective Ed Loy … Hughes is especially good at dialogue. The story is less persuasive than in the earlier books and ends in high drama, but he is a very fine writer,” says Susanna Yager at The Sunday Telegraph of THE DYING BREED. Back to Ken Bruen for a mo: “Taylor’s a far cry from an affable character. In the hands of a weaker writer than Bruen, he’d probably be detestable and utterly unreadable. But Bruen does it with seeming ease. His is one of the freshest, most distinct voices in crime fiction today … Holding it all together is Bruen’s skill and fierce vision, and of course Taylor, a black hole of a hero if there ever was one,” reckons Kevin Burton Smith at The Rap Sheet (scroll down) about PRIEST. Over at Euro Crime, Norman Price is raving about CROSS: “Ken Bruen has written yet another brilliant book with his protagonist Jack Taylor able to speak for all those people who have been left behind by the complications of modern society … If you haven’t read Ken Bruen yet you are missing some the finest crime fiction being written today. It is not gentle like the Irish rain but harsh like Ireland’s history.” Martin Edwards likes Brian McGilloway’s first offering: “I’ve finished Brian McGilloway’s debut novel, BORDERLANDS, and I enjoyed it. After a steady beginning, the pace develops and there is plenty of action, coupled with a plot of increasing complexity that has its roots (like so many of the best murder plots) buried in the past … All in all, then, a very assured debut.” A couple now for John Connolly’s latest: “THE REAPERS fairly crackles with menace; the portrayal of serious-minded individuals utterly intent on completing their dark objectives is masterly. The author has adapted and blended elements of both the neo-noir and gothic tradition to produce a stylish piece, from which a darkly laconic sense of humour protrudes like a razorblade from an apple. In Connolly’s world, sentimentality gets abducted from outside a porno cinema and mercilessly pistol-whipped in a dank basement. THE REAPERS is all the better for it,” says Fachtna Kelly at the Sunday Business Post. Over at The Book Bag, Iain Wear agrees: “What I found was a highly enjoyable book that aside from a couple of minor points, proved to be a quick and easy read. It’s simply written, but the nature of the genre and of the characters involved here demands that and this helps keep the pace of the story high and stopped my interest in events from waning at any stage … I would certainly recommend THE REAPERS and, to judge from what events Connolly hinted at from his earlier books, the author in general.” But stay! What news of Benny Blanco? “This sequel to CHRISTINE FALLS is as atmospheric and dark, dark, dark a story as its predecessor … pulls you in with complicated characters, all machinating in gloomy 1950’s Dublin, and manages to be a crackling story as well as a bitter study of chances lost, and contentment squandered,” says Sohaila at McNally Robinson of THE SILVER SWAN. Meanwhile, Sarah Weinman is impressed with Benny’s forthcoming opus, THE LEMUR: “Anyone who thinks John Banville lacks a sense of humour clearly did not read his serial for the New York Times magazine, available in novella-ish format in July. The story has all the basic crime ingredients - blackmail, adultery, murder, betrayal, that sort of thing - but it is so, so clear how much fun Banville had writing this pseudonymous exercise, loading up sentences filled with bizarre but well-placed metaphors and gently (or not so gently!) lampooning his characters as he moves them around his narrative chess board.” Yet more big-ups for Tana French’s Edgar-winning IN THE WOODS: “This is a very fine book. The characters and relationships are fully drawn, the suspense of the police work is terrifically exciting, and the writing is lovely to read … This is not just an excellent police thriller; it’s an excellent novel, even for people who think they don’t like police thrillers. Recommended without reservation,” says Keith at In Which Our Hero. Justine at Fresh Library concurs: “One of the most gripping, well-written books I’ve ever read … Tana French does an amazing job in creating the characters and the dark, gloomy atmosphere of the woods … I highly recommend this book!” Over to Newsvine, where Adam Colclough is impressed by Ingrid Black’s latest: “THE JUDAS HEART is a truly superior thriller with an original setting and a plot that keeps the reader guessing until the last moment. Black’s view of the consequences of jealousy is, as events reveal, truly Shakespearean … Amidst the massed ranks of books about serial killers and the people who hunt them the work of Ingrid Black stands out as being the real deal.” Finally, a trio for John Boyne’s new offering: “Boyne’s novel can stand comparison with [William Golding’s RITES OF PASSAGE]. Written with a total command of naval expertise, without ever spilling over into pedantry, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is story-telling at its most accomplished … There is also a happier ending for Turnstile than ever seemed possible. This he richly deserves for having told his extraordinary tale with such wit and verve,” says Nicholas Tucker at The Independent. Mary Warnock in the Sunday Independent likes it too: “Boyne is a spellbinding story-teller with a real feel for the period. As he so successfully did with CONGRESS OF ROUGH RIDERS and THIEF OF TIME, he wonderfully evokes a particular atmosphere and has a lively historical imagination. Most of all, he tells a cracking good tale and, in this case, honour has been finally satisfied to boot.” And some wastrel called Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays offers his two cents: “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.” Hurrah! Can we use that ‘Boyne’s Own Adventure’ line yet again to finish off? No? Ah, boo …

The Doppelganger’s All Here

The ever-fragrant Sarah Weinman reports that The Bookseller hosts an in-depth profile on Tana French as she revs up for the publication of THE LIKENESS, her much anticipated sequel to IN THE WOODS, a flavour of which runneth thusly:
French is self-deprecating when it comes to her skills as a writer. “I don’t know what I’m doing when I start a book,” she says. “It starts off looking like this horrific explosion in a dictionary. I have a premise and a narrator. I can’t have a plot summary, because I don’t know the characters well enough at that point to know what they would or wouldn’t do.”
  French believes her acting was great training: “It is a very natural progression, from creating a character and a world for an audience to creating one for a reader—it made sense to me.”
  […]
  Writing crime was a natural choice. “I love the shape of mystery,” she explains. “It’s so tight, and yet there’s so much you can do with it. You can play with the parameters, turn things inside out, and I really enjoy that.”
Crime fiction – it’s literary Twister, innit? For another in-depth profile on Tana, this one courtesy of the ever-radiant Claire Coughlan, hop-skip-and-jump over here. Or, y’know, don’t. We’ll still love you anyway …

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gonzo Noir: Weird On Top And Wild At Heart?

A certain Neil was kind enough to leave a comment on Friday’s post about Barry Gifford’s WILD AT HEART, in which he described said novel as ‘Gonzo noir’. Our interest was piqued, not least because ‘Gonzo Noir’ was – and is – a potential title the Grand Vizier had earmarked for a work-in-progress he has Cheeky ‘Chico’ Morientes (right) currently sweating away over down in the CAP’s deepest dungeon. Being something of a sub-literate moron, of course, the Grand Viz hadn’t realised that ‘Gonzo noir’ is the name of a sub-sub-genre of the crime writing school, and that he was – and remains – in great danger of making a pas of the faux variety.
  So what is this strange beast ‘Gonzo noir’? Dispatching Chief Google Elf post-haste, we came up with the following references:
“The plot is pure gonzo noir, faking rights and taking lefts, jumping back and slapping the reader in the face. It’s certainly a breathless read. The violence is often shocking, vicious and, especially towards the end of the book, defiantly turned up to eleven. It might smack of sadism were it not for the fact that Williams writes with genuine finesse and a streak of black humour a mile wide,” says Crime Culture of Charlie Williams’ DEADFOLK.

“A booze-soaked tribute to those great gonzo noir writers of days gone by,” was Anthony Neil Smith’s verdict on Craig McDonald’s HEAD GAMES.

Over at Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind, Anthony Neil Smith gives the skinny on his own novel, PSYCHOSOMATIC: “As far as the plot, well, it’s certainly one of those ‘gonzo noir’ types, full of vivid violence and nastiness.”

Meanwhile, an interview over at Mooky Chick beginneth thusly: “Author of THE CONTORTIONIST HANDBOOK and the upcoming DERMAPHORIA, Craig Clevenger writes gonzo noir about identity and emotional freefall in a way you probably haven’t seen before.”

Then there’s James R. Winter over at January Magazine, reviewing Marc Lecard’s debut novel: “VINNIE’S HEAD, by debut novelist Marc Lecard, brings gonzo noir to Long Island ... VINNIE’S HEAD is a lesson in the absurd. Lecard spins an unbelievable plot and laces it with cartoonish violence and bizarre players. Yet he does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek ... Critics mention Carl Hiassen when talking about this book. Kinky Friedman also came to mind as I read it.”
  So there we have it: black humour; narrative fake-outs; slapping the reader in the face; shocking, vivid and / or cartoonish violence; bizarre players; identity and emotional freefall.
  So far, so good, at least for the Grand Viz’s work-in-progress. But what of the crucial ‘gonzo’ element itself, that which is derived from the Great Gonzo himself, the sadly missed Hunter S. Thompson (right), and which – presumably, at least – involves the author inserting him or herself into the text, Kinky-style? Quoth the Wikipedia research boffins:
Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The style tends to blend factual and fictional elements to emphasize an underlying message and engage the reader. The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavours …
The term “Gonzo” in connection to Hunter S. Thompson (right) was first used by Boston Globe magazine editor Bill Cardoso in 1970 when he described Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, which was written for the June 1970 Scanlan’s Monthly, as “pure Gonzo journalism”. Cardoso claimed that “gonzo” was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all night drinking marathon. Cardoso also claimed that it was a corruption of the French Canadian word “gonzeaux”, which means “shining path”, although this is disputed. In Italian, Gonzo is a common word for a gullible person, a “sucker” …
  Anyone else have any contribution to make? If any of you beautiful people out there can shed any light on the truth of ‘Gonzo noir’, we’d love to hear from you …