“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, June 14, 2008

Uptown Top Rankin

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, certainly, what with all that Bristol malarkey, but there’s still no excuse for us allowing this little nugget to slip under the radar. Colin ‘Master’ Bateman (right) takes up the story:
“Hi there – Thought maybe you should mention for anyone in Dublin and surrounds that I’ll be interviewing Sir Ian Rankin on the stage of the Gate Theatre – as opposed to the dressing room, or the bar, obviously – on Sunday night as part of the Dublin Writers Festival. I have no idea what we’ll be talking about but we may touch on the subject of Rebus, and the fact that I actually created the character for television which he has since ripped off in a series of moderately successful books.”
If Sir Ian’s interview with Peter Guttridge at Bristol is anything to go by, it should be a very entertaining night indeed – although, if Ian starts a joke with “Two paving stones walk into a bar,” plug your ears immediately or you’ll have bad-pun nightmares for weeks after. All the booking details can be found here, although the Grand Viz won’t be able to get along, sadly, as he has longstanding plans to be worshipping at the feet of the other genius gracing a Dublin stage on Sunday night. If you do get along to The Gate, feel free to drop us a line and let us know how it went …

Friday, June 13, 2008

“Doh! A Deer!” Yep, ’Tis The Funky Friday Round-Up

“There was a time long, long ago in a galaxy not too far from here when we called the Friday Round-Up ‘Funky Friday’s Freaky-Deak’, the ‘freaky-deak’ bit being our little homage to El Maestro, Elmore Leonard. Unfortunately, we’ve subsequently discovered – naïve souls that we are – that ‘freaky-deak’ has a particular connotation in the world of interweb pornography (not pictured, right), and that a number of one-handed surfers were landing at Crime Always Pays to find themselves very disappointed indeed. Apologies, chaps – from here on in, the deak goes unfreaked at CAP Towers.
  “Anyhoo, onwards with the round-up. First off comes the belated news that Liam Durcan won the CWA’s Arthur Ellis ‘Best First Novel’ prize for GARCIA’S HEART, and a hat-tip to Durcan’s fellow Canadian-Irish scribe John McFetridge for giving us the nod as early as a week ago, at which point we were scraping the bottom of a barrel of Patented Elf-Wonking Juice™ over in Bristol. Still, it’s the thought that counts, right?
  “Over now to the lovely people at Fish Publishing in Cork, who have announced that this year’s Fish Knife Award for crime fiction short stories is now taking submissions. “5,000 words on any kind of crime, from piracy to petty larceny, from murder to misdemeanour,” say they, with the winner receiving €1,000, and engraved silver fish-knife, and publication in the 2000 Fish Anthology. The closing date is August 31, and all the details can be found here
  “An old friend of CAP, Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM was published last month to something of a baloohaha, and it looks like the novel is going to have legs. The good folk over at U.TV are currently perusing it for an online book group review, and so far the buzz has been very positive indeed. Is it Millar time? It’s always Millar time, people …
  “Finally, another old friend of CAP, Mr American Hell himself, has been busy a-doodling and has come up with another crime fiction cartoon classic. We likey. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of cartoons and animation – if anyone knows of anyone working in animation who might be interested getting on board with making a 30-second short movie designed to promote our humble offering THE BIG O on the occasion of its US release, please let them know that we have plenty of ideas but damn-all cash. Yep, that should get ’em battering our door down …
  “And that’s about it for another week, folks. Enjoy the weekend and don’t forget to come back, y’all. Peace, out.”

Leave Elegance To The Taylor

If you’re out to describe the truth, Albert Einstein once said, leave elegance to the tailor. A shame, then, he didn’t live long enough to meet the urbane, suave and generally god-like Andrew Taylor (right). Herewith be Andrew’s doodlings on Bristol’s CrimeFest, the essential ingredient of hard-boiled crime, and the true crime story behind his latest novel, BLEEDING HEART SQUARE

“I’m just back from CrimeFest in Bristol, the first of what looks like becoming an annual event in the crime writing calendar. Two years ago, the organisers, Adrian Muller and Myles Allfrey, brought the long-running American convention to Left Coast Crime to Bristol. But this was their very own event, and - in the opinion of most people I talked to - all the better for it. The weather was uncharacteristically fine as well, which helped. And Bristol itself is a city always worth returning to.
  “An immutable natural law governs these conferences, which is that the bar exerts a dark gravitational pull that most crime writers are powerless to resist. I had hardly arrived on Friday morning before I found myself sitting at a corner table with Ruth Dudley Edwards.
  “A certain amount of inevitable camera wobble is visible in the photograph (right), which shows from left to right in a mutually supportive cluster (eight legs are so much more stable than two) Laurie King, Richard Reynolds of Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge, Ruth and myself. Later on, Ruth won the Last Laugh Award (and the loudest cheer) at the Gala Dinner.
  “By a curious coincidence on more than one occasion I found myself in the bar with Declan Hughes. We continued our conversation at the gala dinner, which is when Declan was discussing the idea that hard-boiled crime fiction tends to blossom in cities at a particular point in their development.
  “Anne Enright made a similar point in her Guardian review of Declan’s latest, The Dying Breed (John Murray): “Declan Hughes’ Dublin recalls Hammett’s San Francisco and Chandler’s 1940s LA – hot-money towns in which the social wax was not yet set. What hard-boiled does best is portraying the moment a society turns respectable, or tries to ...”
  “It was one of those light-bulb moments. Dublin, Declan was saying, has reached its hard-boiled era. Context is all. It’s widely recognised that there is a relationship between particular types of crime fiction and the societies in which they flourish. But it’s an idea rarely explored in much depth, and I wish someone would do it for me ... but maybe they have?
  “I was at CrimeFest primarily to promote my next book, BLEEDING HEART SQUARE. As that is set in the 1930s, I’m not entirely sure what context has to do with it - unless of course I’m rather behind the times, a possibility my children often suggest is better than plausible.
  “The book derives from a story my grandmother told me about what she used to call “our” murder. In 1899, a bear-like philanderer named Samuel Dougal seduced a sweet-faced, middle-aged spinster named Camille Holland. She was some years older than himself. He was attracted to her fortune. He persuaded her to buy the Moat Farm near Saffron Walden in Essex with some of her money.
  “The farm belonged to my granny’s family: as a child in the 1890s, she and her sister often stayed there and played in their white pinafore dresses beside the moat. Only 30 miles from London as the crow flies, it’s an isolated and curiously bleak spot, even today. The nearest house, the Vicarage, was nearly half a mile away over muddy fields.
  Miss Holland was a fragile, finicky town-bred lady, accustomed to pavements. Mud scared her. So did cows. She was a prisoner.
  “Three weeks after they moved into the farm, Dougal shot Miss Holland by the bridge over the moat. He buried her in a disused ditch. Over the next four years he methodically embezzled her fortune while living the life of an aspiring country gentleman.
  “Dougal was a compulsive womaniser. At one time he was having affairs simultaneously with two sisters and their mother. Most of his victims were country women. He owned one of the first bicycles in the area, and it is said that he taught his prospective victims to ride in the meadow north of the farm. He persuaded them that it was essential for them to remove their clothes before lessons.
  As a result, he fathered a rash of unfortunate little bastards. This is what upset people in the end, and started them asking awkward questions. The police traced the embezzling first. Then they moved into Moat Farm and began to look for Miss Holland.
  “The investigation was national news. People sold postcards of the farm. There’s one of the police searching the moat. When they found what was left of the body, the place became a tourist attraction, attracting ghoulish crowds in a holiday mood.
  In the end she was identified largely by her clothes. Dougal sold his story to The Sun (he claimed it was all a dreadful mistake, for which he blamed his unfortunate predilection for brandy).
  “Dougal was hanged at Chelmsford. If he had had the sense to bury Miss Holland in the farm’s midden, it is unlikely that after four years there would have been enough left to identify her.
  “Other elements fed into BLEEDING HEART SQUARE - not least the real and strangely atmospheric Bleeding Heart Yard and its surroundings north of Holborn in London. And then there’s the British Union of Fascists, who marched their way into the book via a curious museum in the Forest of Dean. But all that’s another story.” – Andrew Taylor

A GONZO NOIR: A Short Interlude, And Two Questions

“As one or two of you may or may not have noticed, failed writer Declan Burke (right), embittered but still passable handsome, recently began publishing a novel, A GONZO NOIR, to this blog. Basically, the idea was that a character from a draft I’d written five years ago stepped out of the pages of the m/s and demanded a rewrite, as he – Karlsson – was trapped in limbo. It was an intriguing prospect, so I agreed. Unfortunately, the character – now calling himself Billy – decided that he needed at least a little autonomy when it came to deciding his fate.
  “That’s understandable on one level, as Karlsson / Billy, who works as a hospital porter, is something of a sociopath who is being investigated by the cops because aging patients have begun to die in what appear to be ‘Angel of Mercy’ assisted deaths; furthermore, Billy is now plotting to blow up the hospital.
  “Were I in his shoes, I too would want to believe that my fate wasn’t entirely in the hands of someone like me.
  “On the other hand, collaboration doesn’t come easy to me in any walk of life, and writing especially appeals to me as a private, solitary business.
  “What matters there is that Billy, as a character trapped in limbo, has nothing to lose. I, on the other hand, have a family and a young daughter, Lily, whom Aileen found in the garden shed after I’d had a dispute with Billy, this despite the fact that Lily is as yet unable to crawl.
  “So you can appreciate that there are issues that will have to be dealt with. I’ve already tried burning the manuscript, only to discover that, as Billy put it, the genie is already out of the bottle. For now there is an uneasy détente between us, as I wait to see what it is he will contribute to the story. Given that Billy will be reading this, you can appreciate that I shouldn’t really say any more than that for now.
  “There are, however, other issues, chief among them the technical aspect of revealing a story section-by-section. Serial instalments, of course, have a proud history, going all the way back to Homer and THE ILLIAD. Unfortunately, a blog doesn’t lend itself to the kind of seamless narrative that makes a story easy to read, as any reader who might come to the story as we go forward will need to go back in time in order to catch up. This is at best inelegant and at worst pointless, as most interweb surfers will simply not bother to click the relevant link.
  “So here’s what I’m proposing to do. Instead of uploading the novel section by section to Crime Always Pays, I’m thinking of uploading the story to a separate blog so that it reads the way a narrative should. As we are still redrafting as we go along, this means the story will be incomplete and a little rough around the edges, to put it mildly – in fact, it’s the writing equivalent of washing your dirty laundry in public.
  “From a reader’s point of view, however, a separate blog means the story can be read in a linear fashion and be more easily digestible than the way it is being uploaded here. And, as I’m a reader before I’m a writer, and always will, the idea appeals.
  “So, dear readers – all three of you – what say you? Yay or nay to A GONZO NOIR on a separate blog in a linear fashion that allows you to simply scroll down to the latest instalment?”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty on The English Detective

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 the English detective.

The English Detective, Reconsidered

“At this year’s Oscars, Tilda Swinton declared that the Best Actor winners were examples of a triumphant Celtic spirit. Swinton, who was born in London and went to the same school as Princess Diana, thinks of herself as Scottish. The other big Oscar winner, Daniel Day Lewis, also born and raised in London, considers himself Irish. Irish indeed is the default nationality for uncomfortable Englishmen everywhere. Some sneak themselves in so successfully we forget that they’re actually from over the sheugh, while others fail miserably. Jeremy Irons is never going to convince anyone of his essential Mickness but Shane McGowan, that wonderful living (still, I think) stereotype was born and went to school in Tunbridge Wells.
  “Now, I don’t mind sharing my Irishness with anyone. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to call yourself Irish but you and your family have been living in, say Boston, for the last hundred and forty years, well then that’s okay. We all do it: sometimes I cheer for the Kenyan marathoners because only a few thousand generations ago my very own ancestors were traipsing round the Great Rift Valley hunting antelope. No, what makes me sad about all of this is the rejection of Englishness.
  “I think it began in the seventies, perhaps through a combination of football hooliganism, economic recession, colonial guilt and Kevin Keegan’s haircut: a perfect storm which produced a generation who considered Englishness an embarrassing, guilt-ridden appendage. For five centuries before 1978 it was good to be Anglo-Saxon, but then almost overnight it wasn’t. On a recent podcast even The Greatest Living Englishman, Stephen Fry, admitted that he really wanted to be Oscar Wilde.
  “Literary fiction hasn’t produced new role models. The best English writers have always come from humble origins but these days brainy escapers tend to write screenplays or code for video games. Reading has become an almost cult behaviour with the consequence that the literary universe has gotten more clubbish, more exclusive and more out of touch than ever.
  “Movies haven’t helped either. I have never seen a Hugh Grant film in my life (I’m saving that experience for an eternity in hell) but I’ll bet Grant’s stuttering, foppish, sarcastic, allegedly witty characters do the English no favours. There’s a thin line a being a wit and a complete cunt, as that wannabe Irishman John Lydon once said.
  “So where does an Englishman (Swinton aside, women don’t usually have this problem) turn if he’s looking for an archetype? Music? Fuggedaboutit. The Gallagher brothers are no-talent has-beens, Tom Yorke is a doom-saying mystic and Duffy’s a girl. And Welsh. All the most famous Englishmen these days are, God save us, chefs.
  “No, I suggest that the confused Englishman reject all of this and embrace an older role model, that of the sophisticated, smart, unruffled, classic English detective.
  “Sherlock Holmes (right) sprang from the mind of a Lowland Scot but essentially he’s as English as soft-boiled eggs, warm rain, rudeness in restaurants, kindness to animals, cruelty to children, etc. On TV he’s usually a chilly savant but in the books he’s a moody dope fiend, prone to fisticuffs, occasionally witty and of course hyper-intelligent. The downside is Holmes’ snobbishness and his fawning attitude towards royalty, but you can forgive him his milieu. If more Brits behaved like Holmes they’d still miss penalties in crucial football games but at least they wouldn’t blub about it.
  “If Sherlock Holmes isn’t your cup of tea, there are many others. We’ll skip over Lord Peter Wimsey (see snobbishness above) and go straight to Philip Marlowe. Courteous, smart and funny; a seducer of violet-eyed heiresses, a resister of femmes fatale. And cool. Sherlock Holmes is a lot of things but he’s not hip. Marlowe is, in spades. If cool were America, Holmes would be a hick town in Kansas and Marlowe would be the East Village. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Wasn’t Philip Marlowe born in Santa Rosa, California? Didn’t that American actor Humphrey Bogart play him in the movies? How can he be English? He just is, that’s all.
  “Like Chandler himself, Marlowe was born Stateside but obviously, like Chandler, he went to school in London and spent his formative years in England, becoming - again, like Chandler - a naturalized Brit. Marlowe likes poetry, chess, the aesthetic, the Old World, ancient books over modern, the nineteenth century over the twentieth, metaphor over simile, violet over blue. His phoney accent doesn’t fool me, he’s a Brit through and through. His name is English, his clothes are British, the weather owes more to London than Santa Monica and his stance has a certain trans-Atlantic panache. Both he and James Bond are late thirties but Marlowe’s world weary cynicism is more appropriate than Bond’s boyish enthusiasm as a response to the anomie and existential crises of our nightmare epoch. Marlowe’s your man if you went to blend your own rye whiskey and look through rainy windows at the poor deluded fools dreaming their lives away while the world goes to hell about them.
  “If neither of those guys work for you, you could look at Inspector Wexford and Adam Dalgliesh but for me the apotheosis of the type has to be Chief Inspector Morse of the Oxford Constabulary. Morse has the virtues and vices of the classically educated man. He is continually outraged by the psychopathology of every day life. He hates deadlines, cell-phones, meetings, workshops, press conferences, television, gossip mags, celebrities, chilled beer … As Brian Wilson once said, he just wasn’t made for these times. Who is? With insanity everywhere, Morse starts drinking when the pubs open and swallows his last dram before bed; and unlike the Hugh Grants of this world, Morse’s sarcasm isn’t there to amuse and titillate. Morse’s sarcasm is a slate-black irony directed at the God who isn’t there, the chaos that robs us of any chance of love and the meaninglessness of it all. As Nabokov pointed out, “the cradle rocks over the abyss” and for Morse the abyss is always with us. For a trillion years we’ll be dead until the universe itself dies in a whimpering heat death, our petty lives not even a glimmer of a spark in all that long grim durée. Morse knows that the only thing we can do is enjoy the achingly brief time we have. Following Epicurus, Morse says drink good beer, listen – really listen – to the best music, drive your car and relish it (easy if you’ve got a Mark 2 Jag), and if you can, try to salve the pain of the grief-stricken.
  “Yeah, I like Morse just as I like the English, but I’d like them better if Englishmen rejected the lines given them by Richard Curtis and rediscovered their old clichés: the stiff upper lip, coolness in a crisis, dry wit, and the broody imperiousness of Holmes, Marlowe (right) and Morse. The classic English detectives, like real Celts everywhere (and unlike poor foot-in-mouth Tilda Swinton) know when to talk and when to embrace the silence.” – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is published by Serpent’s Tail

“You Dropped Something, Sir. It Appears To Be A Name.”

“It’s always nice to step outside your life for a few days, and Bristol Crime Fest 2008 brought together your humble host’s (right) idea of a perfect storm of good people, strong drink and books. Highlights included:
Peter Guttridge playing The Who’s Substitute during his interview of Ian Rankin, which was fascinating not for Rankin’s insights on Rebus, particularly, but for his willingness to explore the narrative form in opera, comic book, novella, along with an upcoming standalone non-Rebus novel;
  Meeting – all too briefly, sadly – Tony Black, Nick Stone and Martyn Waites in the same fifteen-minute period as they hailed taxis while your humble host was lurking outside the Royal Marriott. Three cheers for the smoking ban, eh?
  Losing out to Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Last Laugh Award during the gala dinner, if only because it allowed us to see the erstwhile Iron Woman of Irish journalism moist-eyed in the aftermath;
  Talking faith and reason with The Hardest Working Man in Crime Fiction™, aka Ali Karim, over a couple of smokes on the banqueting hall’s terrace. Three cheers for the smoking ban, eh?
  Being regaled with entirely inappropriate Celtic FC football songs by Declan Hughes in the ‘Champagne Cocktail Lounge’ at 2am;
  Meeting the effortlessly suave and self-effacing Martin Edwards via the good works of Maxine Clarke, only to discover days later that the modest bugger had a book being launched this week, WATERLOO SUNSET;
  Discovering I was at the same table, during the gala dinner, with the radiant Ruth Downie, who appeared to be on a one-woman mission to rehabilitate the little black number cocktail dress, and succeeding handsomely;
  Receiving, at some blurred point in Saturday’s proceedings, an email via text message that began, “Dear Declan Hughes, I read and enjoyed your PI novel THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD …”
  Sharing a panel, moderated by Peter Guttridge, with Len Tyler, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Allan Guthrie in which the topic under discussion was comedy in crime fiction (seriously, people: comedy on a Sunday morning with the mother-in-law of all hangovers?) in which your humble host managed to insult the Irish ex-taoiseach, Ian Rankin and right-thinking people of good taste everywhere. Like, how’s a man supposed to concentrate with Donna Moore sitting in the third row?
  Scoffing Sunday morning champagne in the company of Ruth Dudley Edwards and Declan Hughes (right, pic courtesy of Rhian), Ms ‘It’s A Crime!’ herself, the lovely Pat and Ruth’s equally lovely agent, who listened very politely, but with the kind of expression you might wear gazing upon a chimp juggling chainsaws, at the story behind THE BIG O’s co-publication with Hag’s Head Press.
  “There were many other brief encounters over the weekend but really Bristol Crime Fest wasn’t about names or particular conversations or panels or insights into the craft and skill of blackening pages. Rather it was the easy ambience, the taking for granted that what you did required no justification or explanation, and knowing that you were highly unlikely to hear the dreaded question, “So – have you any plans to write a proper novel?” It was the delicious indulgence of being able to step sideways out of your life for two or three days and allow yourself to believe that you’re a real writer, not some chancing wastrel who – when lucky – manages to scrape together a couple of hours of words that take so long to hack into some kind of readability that you might as well be using chisel and stone. It was the camaraderie of fellow story-tellers, very few of whom were overly concerned with telling you how wonderful they were, mainly because everyone seemed to think everyone else was pretty wonderful. And if all that sounds a little sickly-sweet and sentimental, then so be it – life just ain’t that way for most writers, and who can blame anyone for wanting to live the dream for one paltry weekend?
  “In fact, the only downside to the entire weekend was being away from Mrs Girl, aka Lilyput (right, with her new best friend, Taff, courtesy of the good works of Rhian), and wondering all the while whether she’d remember her dad when he got back from gallivanting around Bristol. But even that, in hindsight, proved the most positive thing about the entire exercise – one, that I can survive without her for short periods if required, and she me; and two, as of last weekend, that that ‘if’ is a very, very big ‘if’ indeed. Books are wonderful things, as you already know; but they’re no Lilyput. Peace, out.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Always Judge A Book By Its Cover # 114: Paul Nagle’s IRONIC

We hadn’t really planned to mention Paul Nagle again until autumn rolls around, as his debut novel, IRONIC, isn’t due on the shelves until October 16, but then we caught a glimpse of said tome’s cover, which fair took our breath away. In fact, so audaciously minimalist was it, that we initially thought it was some kind of prototype. But no! Kudos to the design elves responsible; we haven’t been so impressed with Irish crime fiction artwork since Ken Bruen’s forthcoming ONCE WERE COPS and (koff) some chancing wastrel’s THE BIG O … And is that a human body swirling around in the smoke? Or have we just been hitting the old Elf Wonking Juice™ a little too hard this weekend? Only time, that notoriously doity stoolie rat, will tell …

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: DEVIL MAY CARE by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming

Described as the “pillow book fantasies of an adolescent mind” by no less an authority than Ian Fleming himself, the original James Bond novels were models of functional writing. The plots were ludicrous, of course, as a single agent, the sociopathic killing machine known as 007, foiled a series of megalomaniacs in their bid to achieve world domination. Perversely, Fleming’s successful career as a journalist stood him in good stead when writing his ‘fantasies’. In delivering the pot-boilers via a hard-bitten prose that eschewed the elaborate flourishes and curlicues of more literary stylists, Fleming – a SOE operative during WWII – invested his stories of unlikely triumphs over the Blofelds and Scaramangas with what seemed like gritty and plausible realism.
  The further you delve into DEVIL MAY CARE, then, the more you’re inclined to wonder why Sebastian Faulks was so assiduously courted to write the novel intended to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming’s death. A superb stylist, his Birdsong is among the finest novels published in the last decade precisely because Faulks achieves a heart-wrenching realism by virtue of his painstaking accretion of detail. And while Charlotte Gray, for example, engages with the world of espionage, albeit during WW II, and On Green Dolphin Street is set during the Cold War, Fleming and Faulks inhabit opposite ends of the literary spectrum. Faulks is a subtly persuasive writer, and a very English one in the mould of Fleming’s peers such as Lawrence Durrell and William Golding. Even if Fleming hadn’t been championed by Raymond Chandler, the grand master of the American crime novel, his brutally foreshortened sentences and wilful disregard for the finer things in life, such as metaphor and adverb, would have marked him out as an artisan rather than an artist.
  Devil May Care has Faulks ‘writing as Ian Fleming’ rather than reimagining Fleming for a contemporary audience. In effect it’s an act of literary ventriloquism, which begs the question as to why Faulks, who was famously reluctant to take the job, and spent a mere six weeks writing the novel, was asked to take on the project in the first place. Certainly it’s not because Faulks has the ability to create a note-perfect echo of Fleming’s style. DEVIL MAY CARE is at times slapdash and shoddy, and contains far too many clunky, faux-philosophical moments that would have horrified Fleming, the first of which appears as early as page 7: “It was here that Paris shunted off those for whom there was no house in the City of Light, only an airless room in the looming cities of dark.”
  But if Faulks is perfunctory where Fleming was functional, the plot is outrageously implausible even by Fleming’s standards. Sent by M to Paris to investigate Dr Julius Gorner, who is suspected of flooding Britain with cheap heroin, Bond discovers that Gorner is in fact plotting a nuclear strike in order to gain revenge on the British Empire for a personal slight which he received as a student at Cambridge. If it were simply pastiche it might be funny (Gorner justifies his attack on the British establishment by referencing the Irish potato famine, for example), but there’s a persistent silliness to it all that suggests nothing less than contempt for the veteran Bond reader.
  There are positive aspects. Faulks is wonderfully evocative when it comes to exploring the exotic settings of Paris and the Near East, and particularly when juxtaposing the austere Bond and the flesh-pots which could easily have been drawn from a modern take on the Arabian Nights. He is excellent too at recreating Bond himself, who is at the start of the novel a poignant creation, half-broken by the death of his wife and the years of abuse, physical and emotional, he has suffered in his vocation as a human weapon. The Cold War backdrop is sketched in deftly, courtesy of some glancing references to The Rolling Stones, the Vietnam war and the fashion boutiques of the King’s Road, Chelsea.
  Most pleasing of all is Faulks’ refusal to provide a commentary on 1967 from the vantage point of the 21st century. Bond, an emblem of British might-is-right despite its crumbling empire, the fragile but unbreakable wedge between the superpowers of America and Soviet Russia, remains gloriously and unrepentantly a one-man flag-waving band for innate British superiority. Form, the character of James Bond trumpets, is temporary but class will always be permanent.
  So where sits DEVIL MAY CARE in the Fleming pantheon? It’s a fine pastiche, an hilarious parody and a poor homage. Had it been written by an anonymous hack and published with little fanfare, it might well have been hailed as an workmanlike rebirth of the Fleming brand. Given the hype, however, and the high-risk gamble of employing a writer of Sebastian Faulks’ quality to write it, DEVIL MAY CARE can only be judged a severe disappointment. – Declan Burke

This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

JC: Big Questions, Small Answers

There was a nifty little interview with John Connolly in the Atlanta Sunday Paper, in which JC (right) waxed philosophical on the profundity inherent in crime fiction. To wit:
“Crime fiction is a really conservative genre; there’s no miscegenation in crime fiction. And that’s really odd to me. If you read a lot of crime fiction, issues of redemption and salvation arrive again and again. And there’s a kind of possibility of a kind of spiritual interpretation as well: If we live in a godless universe, would you live a moral life?”
It’s a yes or no answer, folks, on the back of a used twenty to the usual address …

Monday, June 9, 2008

MURDERING AMERICANS – Don’t Try This At Home

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “Institutions are generally the kind of places where we tend to lock up those who say and do the kinds of things that polite and / or politically correct society frowns upon, so it gives us all kinds of pleasure to announce that Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards (right), herself a venerable institution, albeit the kind that gives voice to the kinds of things that polite and / or politically correct society frowns upon, deservedly won the Last Laugh Award for MURDERING AMERICANS at the 2008 Bristol Crime Fest. Being not only in the running, but also in the blummin’ room, the Grand Vizier found himself in the very unusual position of deferring to a genius even more evil than his own, and was even further flummoxed when the dastardly Ms Edwards insisted on buying the celebratory drinks when she should really have been basking in our unanimous acclaim, not to mention a mist of champagne spray (the tone of the night was probably summed up by the Grand Vizier’s cohort, who leaned over when the announcement was made and said, “No luck, mate. Next time write a funnier fucking book, eh?”). Anyhoo, it’s electronic bouquets for Ms Edwards: it really couldn’t have happened to a nicer or funnier woman. But remember, folks – murdering Americans is only funny when Ruth Dudley Edwards does it, so don’t try this at home. Peace, out.”

Bristol Crime Fest 2008: Where Were You When We Were Getting High? # 1

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “The first thing to be said about Bristol’s Crime Fest 2008 was that there was really no need for the good burghers of Bristol to go to all the bother of erecting statues (right) of the Grand Viz. Still, it was a nice touch, and his black, twisted heart pumped briefly in gratitude on Friday lunchtime, when the miserable curmudgeon finally deigned to put in an appearance.
  “Friday afternoon was something of a dispiriting experience, it has to be said, as the most frequently mentioned phrases at the panels the Grand Viz attended were ‘sales force’ and ‘marketing strategy’. Meanwhile, every single writer at the BCF was adamant they were paupers who couldn’t even afford an unheated garret, while the industry in general, as we all know, is loud in proclaiming that books are a bust, people don’t read anymore, the business is leaking capital, yadda-yadda-yah.
  “It did occur to the Grand Viz that expecting imaginations – those of reader and writer – to be fired by the strictures of accountants is probably asking too much, and that the relentless homogenisation of the industry to maximise profit is short-term thinking of the most self-destructive kind, and a business practice that could be broadly equated with strip-mining. Ever the romantic, the Grand Viz couldn’t help but fondly remember the bloated corporate monolith the music industry had become before Johnny Rotten started gobbing all over his audience, and wondering if perhaps the books industry, given recent technological innovations, is now primed for a 1976 punk DIY revolution that bypasses the traditional structures, or at least forces the contemporary model to recalibrate its approach in mediating between artist and audience.
  “Mind you, that was very probably because the Grand Viz was spending too much time in Mickey No-Mates mode, other than with his trusty sidekick Insatiable Ego, because the fool had forgotten to make arrangements to meet with anyone in Bristol. But lo! Along came a spider, aka the Book Witch, to whirl him away into her sticky social web and introduce him to the mellifluous Rhian, for whom no vowel is so soft and sweet it couldn’t do with another coat of honey. Then Donna Moore passed by. When the movie is made of the Grand Vizier’s life, he wants and needs Diane Lane to play Donna Moore.
  “Out to dinner, then, with Ms Moore, the ever-radiant Ms Witch, the disgustingly youthful Chris McEwan, and Pat, an American lady taking the Grand Tour and deigning to drop in on Bristol to share her stories about Lawrence Block and the Mitford sisters and sundry other weird and wonderful experiences. Allan Guthrie was there too, but he’s shy, so the less said about him the better. Oh, and a lovely woman called Kate, whose first words were, ‘You had a baby recently, didn’t you?’ Yes, ma’am, we most certainly did. Her name is Lily (right) …
  “Then it was back to the hotel for a dry sherry or two and a wee chat with Karen Meek and Maxine Clarke, which was rather disconcerting, as Maxine turned out to be more in line with the harsh-but-fair dominatrix-type the Grand Viz had been hoping Karen Meek was, whereas Karen was the bubbly, vivacious blonde he’d always presumed Maxine was. Perceptive stuff from Ireland’s third-most relevant crime fiction blog, eh? Ms Witch disappeared entirely, sadly, given that it was her 29th birthday, although it’s entirely possible she had to leave before midnight and the whole coach-into-a-pumpkin malarkey kicked in. A pity. Sample quote from Ms Witch’s Bristol update: “Next after the psychics came the comedians, and it worried me slightly that I had had dinner with three of the four [comedy award nominees] on the panel. The losers, I have to point out.”
  “Anyhoo, the rest of the evening was something of a blur, happily, until the shutters came down at 2am. Seriously, people – what’s up wid dat? A hotel bar stuffed with crime writers and readers and YOU CLOSE THE BLUMMIN’ BAR AT 2AM?
  “Up at the crack of dawn-ish on Saturday, then, for a panel hosted by Donna Moore that included Shy Al Guthrie, man-child Chris McEwan, man-mountain Martyn Waites and Tony ‘Bet-On’ Black. Huzzah for the restoration of the Grand Viz’s will to live, as the panel had fun (gasp!) talking about series characters with nary a whisper of marketing ploys or cynical exploitation – albeit within the context that the self-perpetuating series character is the industry’s holy grail. Still, it was a huge advance on the bean-counting and ledger-fiddling of the previous day. Plus, Ms Moore was wearing some eye-watering shoes. And Shy Al Guthrie’s ‘homework’, an excerpt from a possible blockbuster in the criminally underrated ‘bucolic erotica’ sub-genre, had the Grand Viz wondering anew at the sexual potential of turnips. All in all, a marvellous success. Oh, and afterwards Ms Moore presented the Grand Viz with a copy of her tough-to-get debut GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET, with which he was well pleased.
  “Leaving the venue, we had the good fortune to bump into Norm from Crime Scraps. Your secret’s safe with us, ‘Norm’. And don’t listen to the critics – THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE is one of your best novels yet.
  “Lunchtime on Saturday being a good place to snip the weekend report in two, we’ll leave it at that for now. One last pertinent thought on what might well be the most important issue the crime fiction industry will have to face in the immediate future. To wit: has anyone else noticed Shy Al Guthrie’s (right) eyelashes? Like kitten’s whiskers, they are. Enough to make a Grand Vizier kick a hole in his stained-glass harem window. Peace, out.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The wonderfully generous folk at Hard Case Crime – i.e., Charles Ardai – have been good enough to offer Crime Always Pays three copies to give away of the forthcoming Ken Bruen / Jason Starr collaboration, THE MAX, being the third in the increasingly weird ‘n’ wonderful pulp noir series by two of the finest crime fiction scribes in the business. First, the blurb elves:
When last we saw Max Fisher and Angela Petrakos, Max was being arrested by the NYPD for drug trafficking and Angela was fleeing the country in the wake of a brutal murder. Now both are headed for eye-opening encounters with the law—Max in the cell blocks of Attica, Angela in a quaint little prison on the Greek island of Lesbos ...
Erm, just as well this ain’t a family-friendly blog, eh? Anyhoo, to be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question.
Is the classical Greek poet Sappho most closely associated with the island of:
(a) Lesbos;
(b) Sapphos;
(c) never mind that oul’ shite, is THE MAX illustrated?
To enter, just leave your answer in the comment box below with a contact email address (please use (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins) before noon on Wednesday, June 11. Et bon chance, mes amis