“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.

Friday, July 4, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 3001: Katherine Howell

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 crime novel I admire most is James Lee Burke’s THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN, but I wouldn’t want to have written it because then I wouldn’t have had the great pleasure of reading it.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Nothing guilty about reading!
Most satisfying writing moment?
When my agent told me I had a two book deal from the first publisher who read my ms. Getting the email soon after about the overseas deals runs a close second.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I have to admit I haven’t read enough of it to say. I’ve read some Ken Bruen and loved it, read some Declan Burke and loved it, and have Tana French on the TBR pile. Can I say my vote is yet to be cast? Or vote for them all? (Jeez, talk about fence-sitting ...)
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I wouldn’t mind seeing Karen and Ray up there on the big screen!
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best is when readers talk to you about the books and you can see that the characters and stories have come to life in their minds. Worst is the discipline required to actually sit down and create those characters and stories.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Paramedics, police, the past catching up to the present, and somebody who has a shitload to lose if the truth gets out.
Who are you reading right now?
Just finished Michael Robotham’s SHATTER and am completely in awe.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Hart, klar, hochst spannend! (Four words from the German blurb. No, I don’t know what they mean either.)

Katherine Howell’s FRANTIC is published by Macmillan

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: DIRTY SWEET by John McFetridge

There’s good writing, there’s terrific writing, and then there’s writing that doesn’t read like writing. As with Elmore Leonard, John McFetridge’s writing reads as if you’re eavesdropping on the half-formed thoughts and conversations of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. True communication is not about breaking down barriers; it sneaks under the wire, slips in the back door, filters in through wormholes. Both McFetridge and Leonard understand that the best writing bypasses – or appears to bypass – the eyes and the ears, in the process diverting past the brain to address itself straight to the heart.
  DIRTY SWEET concerns itself with three main characters. Roxanne is a real estate vendor working in a depressed market, owing big and keeping her eyes open for a score to boomerang her back into the good times again. Vince is an ex-con with a quietly successful internet porn business humming away in the building he rents from Roxanne. Boris, a Russian immigrant, runs a strip joint as a front for the various scams he has going on, chief among them the export of stolen cars. When Boris orders a hit on a lieutenant who’s been skimming too much off the top, and the murder – in the middle of Toronto, in broad daylight – is witnessed by Roxanne, a chain reaction is set off that will have seismic repercussions for all three, particularly when it attracts the attention of cops Price and Loewen and the gang of Hell’s Angels who are looking for any opportunity to legitimise their dirty money …
  Notwithstanding the fact that McFetridge is a veteran screenwriter, DIRTY SWEET is an astonishingly assured debut. Laced throughout with a dark but understated black humour, the story opens in the wake of the hit and quickly, but almost invisibly, ratchets up the tension page-by-page. For a crime novel there is precious little violence on display; McFetridge is accomplished enough to thrive on threats, nuances, suggestions. Instead we get subtle character development, each personality growing in stature via their interactions with the others, and what their dialogue doesn’t say rather than what it does. McFetridge understands the power of suggestion, the tease, how the what’s-left-out exerts a compelling squeeze on what he puts in.
As is the case with his second novel, EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWWHERE, Toronto itself is one of the main characters of the story. On the fact of it a beacon of multi-cultural integration, the city is something of a candy store for the world’s criminal fraternity:
This is a new city, a new country, and it’s so fucking ripe. People have been coming in here and taking what they want since the fucking fur traders. They took it all, every damned beaver, they took all the fish, they’re going to cut down all the trees, drain all the water, this country is so fucking stupid they’re just going to let it all go.
  Yeah, Boris thought, and I just need my piece …
  Later, two minor characters take a meeting:
They were sitting on the patio of one of those Foxhound and Fricken places, this one out by the airport, so the only view was of an eight-lane highway and an endless stream of trucks. But patios were the only place you could smoke in this town now.
  In two short sentences McFetridge sketches in a strip-mined environment, the pretensions of the upwardly mobile, the false frontage of the franchise-riddled city, and the black joke of two Hell’s Angels, willing and keen to rape the city and murder anyone who stands in their way, meekly obeying the no smoking laws.
  DIRTY SWEET is a classic example of why crime fiction is the most important genre in literature today. It offers an entertaining page-turner, certainly, and one crafted by a rare talent. But what makes it vital is its portrayal of its milieu, which is as vividly depicted as that of Chandler or Ellroy’s LA, or Pelecanos’ Washington DC, and how everything – laws, rules, history, morality, lives – is fair game when money hits a boomtown. Toronto, of course, is only a metaphor for Canada itself, and Canada is only a metaphor for how the First World is dealing, or not dealing, with the issue of criminality emanating from the Second and Third Worlds. Not for nothing does McFetridge twice mention America’s prohibition era, and the rise of Canadian bootleggers to take advantage of the demand for booze.
  DIRTY SWEET is itself potent stuff, an illicit brew that’s as dirty as it’s sweet. It may kick like moonshine but it’s very much the real deal. – Declan Burke

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Neville Has All The Best Tunes # 2: THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST

Truth be told, we don’t know a hell of a lot about Stuart Neville (right), other than he’s a handsome cove and his forthcoming novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, has been described as “The best first novel I’ve read in years ... It’s a flat out terror trip” by no less a luminary than James Ellroy. Hmmmm, nice. Quoth the blurb elves:
Sooner or later, everybody pays - and the dead will set the price ...
  Former paramilitary killer Gerry Fegan is haunted by his victims, twelve souls who shadow his every waking day and scream through every drunken night. Just as he reaches the edge of sanity they reveal their desire: vengeance on those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all must pay the price.
  When Fegan’s vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland’s peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. David Campbell, a double agent lost between the forces of law and terror, takes the job. But he has his own reasons for eliminating Fegan; the secrets of a dirty war should stay buried, even if its ghosts do not.  Set against the backdrop of a post-conflict Northern Ireland struggling with its past, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST takes the reader from the back streets of the city, where violence and politics go hand-in-hand, to the country’s darkest heart. Often brutal, sometimes tender, the journey will see one man find his humanity while the other loses his.
Colour us intrigued. Meanwhile, there’s quite the Semtex blast of post-Troubles Norn Iron crime fiction coming to light these days. David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM, Garbhan Downey’s YOURS CONFIDENTIALLY, Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD, John McAllister’s LINE OF FLIGHT and – whisper it – CSNI’s own Gerard Brennan’s PIRHANAS. Will any of them rise to take the crown of El Maestro himself, Colin ‘Master’ Bateman? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: JACK KAIRO

A surreal, affectionate homage to the private eye detective popularised by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Jack Kairo is a one-man show which rewards fans of the hardboiled school of crime writing in particular. The hard-drinking and wise-cracking Kairo (Simon Toal, right) steps out of a case – literally, a suitcase – and into a case that involves the murder of a General Rumsfeld, the solving of which leads him, via the obligatory femme fatale, a butler-cum-Satan called Cheney and a deranged scientist called Hans Blix, to uncover the real reason for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Directed by Nicole Rourke, the production strikes the correct note of heartfelt but shambolic endeavour, with cues being deliberately missed and the soundtrack at times drowning out Kairo’s witless musings. Toal, performing his own material, is the antithesis of the cool and cynical PI, constantly undermining his attempts to uncover the truth with his bumbling persona, a succession of well-timed prat-falls and exaggeratedly convoluted versions of the pithy one-liners associated with the genre. The backdrop to the ‘case’ feels a little dated at this point, and the satire of the Bush administration is clumsy, but Toal’s chameleon-like performance is hugely entertaining, with a note-perfect impersonation of film noir stalwart Peter Lorre the highlight. – Declan Burke

This review first appeared in the Sunday Times