“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, August 2, 2008

Around The Web In 80 Seconds*

You lose some, you win some. Hot on the heels of Publishers Weekly dissing THE BIG O on the basis that it’s not as good as Elmore Leonard (oh, the infamy!) comes this dinky little treat courtesy of Amazon’s Listmania, titled “The Crime Writing Kings Of All Time (and a great new guy!)”. Yep, it’s lil’ ol’ EIGHT BALL BOOGIE nestling in there with Chandler, Hammett and Thompson, et al. Joelle Claire Barrios, you are officially our newest VBF …
  Staying on the subject of Elmore Leonard, Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD gets a nifty big-up from John Dugdale in tomorrow’s Sunday Times, under the heading “Eight new thrillers for holiday readers”. To wit:
“It’s the unlikely pairing of Elmore Leonard and James Joyce that seems to shape Adrian McKinty’s THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD (Serpent’s Tail £10.99), a pacey, violent caper that, like ULYSSES, runs from breakfast time to midnight on a single June day. Belfast gangster queen Bridget Callaghan wants Michael Forsythe dead for killing her fiancé, but when her daughter is abducted, Callaghan decides he’s the only man who can find her. As Forsythe hurtles around the city, McKinty vividly portrays its sleazy, still-menacing underbelly.”
  Hmmm, nice. Upward and onward to the Booker Prize nominations, and while the howls of anguish that greeted CHILD 44’s nomination have abated a tad, Philip Stone at The Bookseller has an interesting piece about the sales figures for the various nominees. Salman Rushdie’s THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE leads the way, having sold 15,433 copies before the nominations were announced, but four of the eleven nominees have sold 1,000 copies or less, with Michelle de Kretser’s THE LOST DOG selling a less-than-whopping 363 books. Now, anyone who has read James Patterson can vouch for the fact that big sales don’t always (koff) equate with quality, so those figures have nothing to say about whether or not the books are entitled to be considered as possible Booker winners. Still, it’d make you wonder about how in tune, or otherwise, the judging panel is with the reading public.
  Meanwhile, Boyd Tonkin at The Independent laments the novels that didn’t make the Booker long-list, among them David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER:
“I will miss several other notable absentees from the later Booker heats. David Park’s wise and moving novel of the search for reconciliation in post-Troubles Belfast, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, should have caught the judges’ eye.”
  Finally, some groovy news for Eoin Colfer’s legion of fans, courtesy of Sarah Webb’s review of ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE TIME PARADOX in today’s Irish Independent:
“Colfer has certainly been busy. Next year his crime caper, HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS, will be on television, courtesy of the BBC, pitched as Grange Hill for the Noughties. The film rights to the Artemis books have been sold to Miramax and Tribeca (Robert De Niro’s production company) and the film is in development.”
  And the hell of it all is, it couldn’t happen a nicer guy. Happy days.

* Providing you don’t actually click any of the links, of course

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Disembiggened O: Hey, At Least They Got The Title Right

Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah for Publishers Weekly, which provides our humble offering, THE BIG O, with its first print review in the U.S. To wit:
The Big O
Declan Burke. Harcourt, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-101408-8
While Irish author Burke (Eight-ball Boogie [sic]) has been compared to Elmore Leonard, this effort falls short of Leonard’s superior blending of crime and dark humor. The impending parole of violent armed robber Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan sets in motion a cascading series of events. Callaghan’s ex-wife, Karen King, herself a thief, fears he’ll come after her, and seeks to get herself some insurance in the form of professional kidnapper Ray Brogan. Ray, in turn, is hired to abduct Karen’s friend, Madge Dolan, by her husband, Frank, a plastic surgeon who wants to cash in a lucrative insurance policy. The waters are further muddied by questions about Callaghan’s parentage and the introduction of a vicious, half-blind dog named Stalin. The broadly drawn figures and situations are clearly not intended to be taken seriously, but the absence of any character a reader is likely to sympathize with is a significant drawback. (Sept.)
  Now, as much as we’d like to take our lumps and crawl away into a hole and cry, it behoves us to stand our ground and make a couple of points, on the basis that anyone who has read the book will notice an error or eight in the plot description that suggests the anonymous reviewer may not have been paying as much attention as he / she should have, and may even have read the book while bungee-jumping. For example, even reading the blurb on the back of the book would have told the reviewer that Karen is not Rossi’s ex-wife, but his ex-girlfriend. A petty detail? Perhaps, although the difference has huge ramifications for their relationship when Rossi gets out. But it’s not the only basic mistake the reviewer made – in fact, the review is so littered with them, I think I’m entitled to ask whether or not the reviewer read the book all the way through.
  But I won’t. Instead, just for japes, I’ll review the review. To wit:
The Big O review reviewed
Anonymous. Publishers Weekly
While American magazine Publishers Weekly has been compared to a serious review publication, this effort falls short of the expected blend of attention to detail and sense of humour. The impending parole of violent armed robber Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan sets in motion a cascading series of events, even if Rossi Callaghan is not, as the story’s set-up might lead you to believe, a violent character. Nor is he paroled. Callaghan’s ex-wife, Karen King, is not in fact his ex-wife, and nor is she afraid Rossi will come after her. Nor does she seek any kind of insurance from professional kidnapper, Ray Brogan. In fact, when Ray seeks to protect Karen from Rossi, she tells him she can take care of herself, and in no uncertain terms - and as it happens, this much, Karen's independent and feisty character, is so integral to the plot that it was the initial spark of inspiration for the entire story. The review is further muddied by the introduction of a character called 'Stalin', who is actually called by another name, and is only referred to - erroneously - as Stalin by one character. The broadly drawn generalisations and mistakes are clearly not intended to be taken seriously, but the absence of any attention to detail a review reader is likely to expect as a minimum is a significant drawback. (Aug.)
  Ba-doom-tish, etc.

On Putting The Gat Into THE GREAT GATSBY

Answergirl – aka Clair – was kind enough to respond to my most recent post on the definition of crime fiction, during which I briefly but comprehensively bored everyone into submission by recounting my previous attempts to grapple with a concept no one else seems even remotely interested in. Quoth Clair:
I agree with your first position -- but even by your revised position, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES, THE SCARLET LETTER and THE GREAT GATSBY are all still crime fiction. For starters.
  Intrigued, I tracked answergirl down to her lair, and found this in her most recent-but-one post, which concerns itself with TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES:
It makes me angry when I hear literary novelists talk trash about crime fiction as a genre, as if plot, conflicts and violence disqualified a book from being taken seriously as literature. The essay for my Advanced Placement English exam asked us to discuss the role of an act of violence in a major work of literature, and any bright student would be spoiled for choice. You could write about anything from Macbeth to THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.
  THE GREAT GATSBY? MOBY DICK? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? INVISIBLE MAN? Violent, violent, violent. HEART OF DARKNESS is a thriller; THE SCARLET LETTER is a mystery. This was obvious to me as a girl of 16, and it’s even more obvious to me now.
  Strong words, ma’am, and your passion warms the cockles of my heart. But – and here we diverge slightly – I do have issues with crime fiction fans and writers claiming the likes of Hawthorne, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Shakespeare et al as authors of crime fiction, and for two reasons.
  The first is the issue of intent. In terms of the quality of their prose, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, who were more-or-less peers, are equals. But the difference is this, I think: Hawthorne tells a story in which a crime, or crimes, are central to the narrative; Poe, on the other hand, writes about criminality, using a crime, or crimes, to propel the narrative. Maybe it’s a fine line that separates the two, but it is an important distinction.
  The second issue I have is that, by saying that every narrative which features a crime is automatically crime fiction, fans and writers of crime fiction run the risk of (a) diluting the elements of what makes crime fiction such a potent genre, and (b) sounding like they have an inferiority complex, in that they need to claim the literary giants for their own in order to justify reading and writing crime fic.
  As a reader, I love the crime fiction genre above all others. But the genre only accounts for a third, and possibly even a quarter, of my own reading, and I have no need to read JUNKY as a crime novel, or THE CROSSING, or LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, or THE LORD OF THE FLIES or CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN, in order to enjoy them, even if they all contain elements of crime and criminality.
  I suppose the reason I’m mulling all this over right now is that I have a story on-going, and have had for some years, which contains a crime at its heart, and a crime without which the rest of the story would collapse. And yet I think the reason the story hasn’t worked out for me yet, even after five or six drafts, is that it isn’t a crime novel, and never will be, and that I need to start thinking beyond those parameters as a writer, because the novels I’ve written to date have been very definitely crime novels.
  If the story is to work, I need to get back to where I was as a young reader, when the branding – indeed, the author, or the quality or otherwise of the writing – was irrelevant, when all that mattered was that the story was interesting enough to keep the pages turning.
  Sounds naïve, I know. But here’s hoping.

TB Or Not TB, That Is The Question

It’s been, oh, almost a whole week now since we’ve had any TB-related material on Crime Always Pays, and some people have been in touch alleging withdrawal symptoms. Sorry, folks. Herewith, and without further ado, be Damien Seaman’s interview with part-time Scottish sex god Tony Black (right) …

NONE MORE BLACK


If it’s debut novels you’d be looking for, then how’s about giving PAYING FOR IT a gander? Tipped as ‘One To Watch For 2008’ by the Edinburgh Evening News, author Tony Black has also garnered praise from a Galway resident by the name of Bruen ...

DAMIEN SEAMAN: You’re a part-Lithuanian Scotsman with a chubby for Australia: what gives you the cojones to be interviewed for an Irish crime fiction blog?

TONY BLACK: The Grand Vizier has specifically invoked the FIFA grandparent ruling to have me here and I’m not gonna disappoint. And I grew up in Galway! Went to the same primary school as Ken Bruen and everything ... Am I in front yet? God, I have a hurley signed by Joe Connolly, there, that’s got to swing it.

DS: Your first novel, PAYING FOR IT has been released this month. How would you pitch the novel to readers in a few words?

TB: Jeez, I hate those hundred- word blurbs: How’s this? ... It’s a murder mystery, told in a thriller style, in which a father has lost his only son, tortured to death by people-smuggling gangsters with a sideline in prostitution, and he’s seeking answers. There’s a fairly significant father-son element. Thug-Lit said it was about the ‘pains of being a father and the pains of being a son’, which I really liked.

DS: The novel features a couple of memorable Irish characters. Is there anything significant in this?

TB: Scotland has always had a huge Irish population; mostly it’s associated with the west coast (Glasgow) but not exclusively. Edinburgh is Scotland’s most multicultural city and is sometimes actually described as its least Scottish as a result ... so there should be Irish characters cropping up in a representation of the city.
  As I say, I did some of my growing up in Ireland and I absolutely love the place, in fact, when I was living in Australia I was hugely homesick for Galway – it’s actually the place I feel most at home in the world -- I think it imprinted on me at that crucial age of about nine or ten. I had a really strong Irish accent when I left Galway and I can still hear all the voices from my childhood and I tap into them when I write.
  Al Guthrie -- God, I’m a dreadful name dropper -- told me he was really convinced by my Irish voices and that pleased me no end. I love my Irish characters; I actually wrote a whole (as yet unpublished) novel set in Ireland.
  In fact, when I think about it, Milo, one of the Irish characters in PAYING FOR IT, attracts the most praise from readers after my protagonist Gus.

DS: Given that PAYING FOR IT features an alcoholic ex-hack PI type, how do you aim to keep your series fresh in the next instalments?

TB: I’d like to think Gus is pretty rounded, his alcoholism and his accidental PI work isn’t the sum of him. He has quite a bit of damage in his life and he’s a conflicted character. I’m interested in him -- and the cast of characters he’s surrounded himself with -- so as long as I maintain that interest, and want to write about him, I can see the series barrelling along.

DS: Who are your favourite Irish writers and why?

TB: It’s kind of impossible not to start with Joyce. I really got into THE PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST and DUBLINERS when I was younger, and the heavier stuff later. Beckett too, all the big guns, there’s too many to list. Latterly, though, it’s been Bruen I’m massively impressed by. He’s the Hemingway of the crime genre, a real innovator and in my humble opinion a true genius. Nobody writes like Bruen.

DS: Favourite Irish crime novel?

TB: Well, it has to be by Ken Bruen (right), doesn’t it. THE GUARDS is a frickin masterpiece. I read it when I was living in Australia and every time I picked it up it was as if I was being transported back to Ireland. There’s a scene when Jack’s got some glasses he’s bought from Roche’s Stores and I was like, I know where he got them! It’s a fantastic achievement to render a city so alive.

DS: Favourite Irish character in crime fiction (doesn’t have to be written by an Irish author)?

TB: Got to be the incredible Francie Brady from THE BUTCHER BOY.

DS: Ken Bruen says that PAYING FOR IT ‘blasts off the page like a triple malt’. How do you feel to get this kind of praise from Bruen?

TB: Impossible to explain. I’d been stalking Ken for a wee while and persuaded him to read it so he took the ms on the weekend and got back to me that same evening saying he’d started it and had to shove the Sunday papers aside till he finished it. I just couldn’t get my head around that. Still can’t.
  If I’d been asked in advance who is the one person you’d want to adore your book it would have been Guv’nor Bruen. For him to be so blown away by it and so generous with his praise was very moving. He is a very generous man, though. If only the world had more like him ...

DS: From Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride to Al Guthrie, Ray Banks, Russel McLean and your good self, do you have any theories as to why there’s such a glut of quality Scottish crime writing at the moment?

TB: I just picked up the [Scottish] Daily Record and there’s a Murder Map of Scotland on page one. Inside it says Glasgow has a higher murder rate than London. We’ve got worse knife crime stats than NY; there’s the alcoholism, the drugs, the gangs, the lot ... am I painting a picture here?

DS: You see any major differences or similarities between the work of Scottish and Irish crime writers?

TB: On the whole I think the Irish and the Scots are being more experimental and innovative of late. Writers like Al Guthrie and Ray Banks are pushing things in much the same way as Ken Bruen and Adrian McKinty are. It’s a great time for the Celts.

DS: How important is it to you that a crime novel comes packing a sense of humour?

TB: The Scots have a great reputation for ‘The Patter’, so it should be in there. It’s a tricky one to pull off though, it can backfire drastically if it’s utilised in the wrong situation -- it’s almost like a guarantee of a work descending into farce if it’s not used appropriately.

DS: You’ve been a journo for some years now. You find that a help or a hindrance to your crime writing career?

TB: Latterly more of a hindrance than a help; getting up and going out to sit in front of a PC all day and then coming home to do it again all night isn’t something I’d choose to do. Believe me, if I had the knackers, I’d chuck it and wouldn’t go back.
  There’s also the confusion my journalism adds to the way my fiction writing is viewed too. Y’know, it’s a real easy line ‘the hack that wrote a book about a hack’ for journos to dive on. So, on balance, more of a hindrance. If I’d been a road sweeper to pay the bills I don’t think anyone would have given two shits about my day job.

DS: What’s the next Gus Dury novel about?

TB: GUTTED sees Gus Dury up to his neck in the seedy underside of Scotland’s ‘genteel’ capital once again. There’s a gangland murder and it all seems to be connected to the city’s booming dog-fighting trade and a well-heeled family who lost a child in a savage pit-bull attack. All the characters from PAYING FOR IT are back ... and Gus gets a rescue dog.

Damien Seaman’s crime-related tosh has graced the web pages of Pulp Pusher, Noir Originals, Spinetingler Magazine and Shots. He is not Irish, nor has he ever lived in Ireland, but he’s got some Irish friends and likes the occasional pint of Guinness. Angry emails more than welcome: damien.seaman@web.de

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Unbearable Likeness Of Being

There’s a book, you probably know it, called THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera, which is good fun if you like that kind of thing. I certainly did when I read it, which is years ago now, but as far as I remember the general gist is that a life lived without responsibility – personal, social or political – results in an unbearable lightness of being. I believe Hollywood is sweating slavishly over a new adaptation, with Adam Sandler and Jessica Alba playing the leads.
  Anyhoos, the reason I mention it is that when I first heard about Tana French’s follow-up to IN THE WOODS, which was to be about all kinds of doppelgangery flummery and titled THE LIKENESS, I blogged about it and called the post ‘The Unbearable Likeness of Being’.
  Yes, it’s piss-poor. But the reason I mention it – and this is for all you folks who arrived at this post after googling ‘the unbearable likeness of being’ – is that what you’re actually looking for is THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera.
  That’s ‘lightness’, not ‘likeness’.
  No thanks, please. It’s all part of the service.

“Some People Call Me The Space Cowboy …”

Last week I posted a review of the new Batman flick, The Dark Knight, in which I said I liked the movie a lot, not least for its use of a comic-book hero to posit some very interesting philosophical questions vis-à-vis the nature of crime and justice. Was Adrian McKinty convinced? Nope. Herewith be his thoughts on why the success of The Dark Knight augers ill for the future of mainstream cinema, to wit:
For all its visual brilliance, special effects and story telling zest, The Dark Knight was like eating an entire box of Cocoa Pops on a Saturday morning. Enjoyable at the time, but later I wondered how I was so easily seduced.
  It’s tough to go up against a movie that has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Every critic in the world seems to have loved The Dark Knight. A few complained it was too long, but that was about it.
  Its length didn’t bother me, but I did start to get bored with the Joker’s constant ability to outwit everyone in Gotham City, and maybe at some point it would have been nice to see someone get clobbered in the face and see it actually, you know, hurt.
Anyway, Batman has made 300 million dollars in the US alone and will probably gross a billion by the time it’s done. Hollywood will make more make films like Batman because that’s clearly what you people out there want.
  By going to Batman and Wanted and Ironman in droves and staying away from a thriller like Tell No One, your message is loud and clear: don’t worry about giving us a logical plot or realistic situations just make it stylish, loud and fast and we’ll go.
  It’s interesting that as thriller novels get more and more complex, thrillers in the cinema seem to get less so. If you want to pick up a clever thriller in paperback these days it’s very easy. Patrick Anderson, mystery critic of the Washington Post has written a book called THE TRIUMPH OF THE THRILLER examining this trend, and even smart mainstream novelists like Salman Rushdie, Cormac McCarthy and John Banville have jumped into the thriller/mystery genre.
  Funnily enough, in the 1970s the situation was exactly the opposite of today. Intelligent thrillers were nowhere to be found. Airport novels dominated the genre and the really interesting stuff was happening at the movies. Remember when a film like Coppola’s The Conversation could actually get an audience? Movie thrillers back then were funny, clever and tightly plotted. Could today’s studios give us The French Connection or The Taking of Pelham 123 or The Parallax View or even All The President’s Men?
  I’m sceptical. I think the trend will be to make superheroes increasingly conflicted, not to give ordinary people interesting situations and problems. Hollywood follows the money. For every Departed that makes a profit there’s an American Gangster that underperformed. Why should producers take the risk? The failure of every single Iraq movie and the success of almost every comic book movie is not a good sign for those of us who like a bit of politics in their films, for our heroes to hurt when they get hit, and for them to use their heads to solve problems instead of their fists.
  Hmmmm. Meanwhile, over at Confessions of a Film Critic, John Maguire has this to say:
This is a haunted tragedy that recasts the ancient myths of the hero in an ultramodern nihilism, achieving a complexity of feeling that is difficult to achieve in any kind of art, let alone the multi-million dollar studio summer movie.
  The Big, Big Question: who to be more afraid of disagreeing with, McKinty or Maguire? They’re both very scary men …

Yet More Flummery On Defining Crime Fiction

Fickle is as fickle does. There was a time when, inspired by Vincenzo Ruggiero’s CRIME IN LITERATURE: A SOCIOLOGY OF DEVIANCE AND FICTION (we read the synopsis, like), we were peddling the theory that the crime fiction genre was a broad enough church to encompass Dostoevsky, Camus, Melville, Shakespeare, PETER PAN and pretty much everything from Diddley-Eye Joe to damned if we know. Basically, if the narrative was fuelled by crime or criminality, it was a crime fiction tale.
  But lo! We soon got fed up of that malarkey – mainly because of the number of serious scribes who have no trouble ‘borrowing’ the tropes of crime fiction while pooh-poohing the idea that they are writing crime – and leapfrogged to the other end of the spectrum, faffing on about how the salient issue was one of intent. In other words, if someone was very deliberately crafting crime fiction, with due respect for the genre, then and only then could the novel be considered genuine crime fiction.
  Of course, no one gives a monkey’s chuff what we think, about crime fiction or anything else. Which – huzzah! – gives us the freedom to posit another theory on what constitutes crime fiction. And it’s this: if you can pull the crime out of a story and the tale still stands up, then it’s not a crime fiction novel; if you pull the crime and the story collapses, then it is.
  Any takers? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Heist Of Crime Writers?

It’s a murder of crows, so it’ll have to be a heist of crime writers. Anyhoo, it’s the same all over, I know, so you won’t be too surprised to learn that crime fiction in Ireland is generally regarded as the idiot half-brother to the more suavely literary end of things. That may be about to change, however – hot on the heels of the Mystery Readers’ Journal ‘Irish Mysteries’ issue comes the news that the ‘Sunday Independent Books 2008’ literary festival will take place in Dublin over the first weekend in September, and that the powers-that-be have decreed that the festival will include a number of panels on Irish crime writing. Huzzah! The crime writing element offers a pretty strong line-up, with John Connolly, Tana French, Colin Bateman, Declan Hughes, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Gene Kerrigan, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt and Alex Barclay so far confirmed to come together to plot that one last heist. Oh, and some chancing wastrel called (koff) Declan Burke will be there too. Further details will be forthcoming as they arrive at the Grand Vizier’s lair, and the official website should be up and running early next week. Stay tooned, folks …

The Curious Case Of Dr Banville And Mr Black

Bob Thompson conducted a fascinating interview with John Banville / Benny Blanco (right) for the Washington Post last weekend, two snippets of which runneth thusly:
How did a cheerful, prolific crime novelist come to inhabit the writing mind of one of the most angst-ridden perfectionists on the planet? The answer says a good deal about the Jekyll-and-Hyde relationship of so-called literary fiction and genre fiction. But it also makes you wonder: Are Dr. Banville and Mr. Black really as different as they seem?

Benjamin Black is like a schoolboy who’s been given an extra week’s Christmas holiday,” Banville says. “This, of course, is worrying. To enjoy writing is deeply worrying. I must be doing something wrong.”
The Big, Big Question: Is John Banville a pretentious oul’ bollocks, or a wily po-mo dilettante who may require surgery in the near future to remove that tongue from his cheek? Only time, that notoriously prevaricating doity rat, will tell …

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Politics In The Irish Crime Novel, Or Lack Thereof

Our German friend Bernd Kochanowski from International Crime adds an interesting coda to the comment he left on the post On Publishing and Being Damned, to wit:
BTW: He (the reviewer) is also unhappy that the new Irish crime fiction is almost apolitical and doesn’t reflect the events that shook Ireland for years.
  The reviewer in question was casting a cold eye over Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, and is presumably referring to what we in Ireland like to euphemistically refer to as ‘the Troubles’.
  In other words – and we’re taking Bernd’s word for this – said reviewer is disappointed that Irish crime writers aren’t dealing with the consequences of the 30-year conflict that involved the Provisional IRA, the INLA, the British Army, the RUC (latterly the PSNI), the Gardai, and more Loyalist paramilitary armies than you could shake a cat-o’-nine-tails at.
  To which we reply, ‘Tosh, piffle and balderdash, sirrah!’
  Case for the Defence # 1: Adrian McKinty’s protagonist Michael Forsythe is an ex-British Army soldier. In THE DEAD YARD, he goes undercover to break up a gang of renegade Republicans. In THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD he engages with (and generally vaporises) any number of ex-paramilitaries on his return to Belfast.
  Case for the Defence # 2: Sylvester Young’s SLEEPING DOGS LIE, in which ex-IRA men travel to the U.S. and become embroiled in a complex plot involving a number of security agencies.
  Case for the Defence # 3: Ken Bruen’s AMERICAN SKIN, in which an ex-IRA man wreaks mayhem in the U.S.
  Case for the Defence # 4: Declan Burke’s EIGHT BALL BOOGIE, in which former paramilitaries diversify into more prosaic criminality, specifically coke-trafficking.
  Case for the Defence # 5: David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, in which former paramilitaries and an ex-RUC officer find themselves called to account for their actions twenty years previously.
  Case for the Defence # 6: Colin Bateman.
  Case for the Defence # 7: Sam Millar.
  Case for the Defence # 8: Authors such as Peter Cunningham, Jack Holland and S.J. Michaels, who were writing about ‘the Troubles’ as far back as the late ’80s and early ’90s.
  I could go on, but hopefully the point is made. Besides, and pertinently in the context of the reviewer’s comments being made during a review of IN THE WOODS, Tana French’s novel had a political subtext that perhaps was too subtle for the reviewer to pick up on. The novel opens on an archaeological dig, where the body of a young girl has been found, said dig being conducted hastily on the basis that the bulldozers of the property developers are due in the very near future.
  In Ireland, many such developments are highly controversial and politically charged, the most obvious example being that of the M3 motorway, currently planned to run through the Tara Valley (right), an archaeological complex dating back to 2,000 BC.
  Furthermore, the ongoing tribunals of investigation were initially set up to investigate the links – if such could be proved – between property developers and politicians, specifically to discover if politicians had been bribed to facilitate the rezoning of land in favour of property speculators. Among the many politicians to find themselves under serious scrutiny at these tribunals, to put it mildly, were two former taoisigh, or Irish prime ministers, Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern.
  To suggest that IN THE WOODS is an apolitical novel is to deliberately ignore, or be utterly ignorant of, recent Irish history. Here endeth the lesson. Peace, out.

On Blowing Up Hospitals

Six or seven years ago, when I was writing the first draft of what eventually became A GONZO NOIR, I had a good long think about what would constitute the most disgusting act an ostensibly sane and civilized person could execute in order to make a political point. In the end I decided that blowing up a hospital ticked all the boxes – a media-friendly act that would illustrate exactly how depraved my protagonist was.
  The story was written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But while the attack on the Twin Towers was an outrageous assault on civilians, and by extension Western civilisation, I picked a hospital for my fictional target in the firm belief that the hospital, secular or not, is a sacred institution, above and beyond that of a church, mosque or synagogue, or even a school.
  How naïve was I? Quoth Monday’s Irish Times:
The first round of Ahemdabad’s bombings took place near busy markets, followed by explosions some 25 minutes later in and around two hospitals where the injured were being rushed.
A doctor, his three-month pregnant wife and another doctor were killed in explosions at two adjoining hospitals within a two-mile radius. “Never before have we seen such ruthless bombings of hospitals. The terrorists’ objective was to strike the defenceless and deepen the fear,” a senior security official said.
  According to the Irish Times, ‘The little-known “Indian Mujahideen” or Islamic warriors group claimed responsibility for the Ahemdabad attack in a lengthy e-mail to television news channels minutes before the first bomb exploded at about 6.30pm on Saturday.’
  In other words, the communiqué was not intended as a warning, as the IRA was wont to do when it planted its bombs, giving the authorities the chance to evacuate the building. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how little value the perpetrators place on human life and the utter contempt they have for those they consider their enemies, even those non-combatants lying helpless in a hospital.
  I know the argument – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter. But does any political objective justify the deliberate targeting of hospitals?
  I don’t want to diminish their responsibility by suggesting that the men – and rest assured they were men – who planned and executed this attack were insane, or evil. I believe they were sane, logical human beings.
  But civilised?
  ‘Civilisation’ is a remarkably elastic concept. But there’s only so far any elastic can stretch before it snaps.

Monday, July 28, 2008

“The Only Salvation That’s Mine For The Asking …”

Following on from the flummery of song lyrics as potential crime novels, as originally suggested by KT McCaffrey some weeks back, we herewith present St. John the Gambler by Townes van Zandt (right, holding his guitar – and there’s no other way of putting this – like a tommy-gun). Would it make for a great crime novel? Erm, no, given that no actual laws appear to be broken, although those “dead men laying deep ’round the door” might warrant some investigation. Still, crime fic or otherwise, it’d make a terrific read. We’re thinking CITIES OF THE PLAIN meets WUTHERING HEIGHTS by way of David Goodis and Gil Brewer. Any takers for a collaboration?
St. John the Gambler by Townes van Zandt

When she had twenty years she turned to her mother
Saying Mother, I know that you’ll grieve
But I’ve given my soul to St John the gambler
Tomorrow comes time leave
For the hills cannot hold back my sorrow forever
And dead men lay deep ’round the door
The only salvation that’s mine for the asking
So mother, think on me no more

Winter held high round the mountain’s breast
And the cold of a thousand snows
Lay heaped upon the forest’s leaf
But she dressed in calico
For a gambler likes his women fancy
Fancy she would be
And the fire of her longing would keep away the cold
And her dress was a sight to see

But the road was long beneath her feet
As she followed her frozen breath
In search of a certain St John the gambler
Stumbling to her death
She heard his laughter right down from the mountains
And danced with her mother’s tears
To a funeral drawn a calico
’neath the cross of twenty years

To a funeral drawn a calico
’neath the cross of twenty years.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Publishing And Being Damned

I don’t generally run posts responding to comments made on previous posts, but Peter Rozovsky (in typical universe-ruling mode, right) of the venerable institution Detectives Beyond Borders raised a few issues in his comment on the post below that deserve a proper airing. To wit:
“I’m no author, but it looks to me as if the consolidation of book dealing in fewer and fewer hands is a failure of capitalism. If fewer and fewer outlets are selling books, and those outlets are under constant cost pressure, good authors will get shoved aside, and crappy animal books will top bestseller lists.
  “I do think that bloggers can step into the void, notwithstanding criticism from jealous and understandably fearful members of the mainstream media [...] I’ve discovered far more authors through blogs than through the “mainstream” media. This may be why I roll my eyes every few months when some newspaper runs a column about the boom in international crime fiction and announces with breathless excitement authors whom I and other conscientious bloggers have known about for months if not years.
  “Still, as timorous, doddering and slow off the mark as they can be, there is still a place for mainstream media, the old darlings …”
  Firstly, the consolidation of retail outlets as a failure of capitalism (an ideas man, is our Peter). In this I think he’s 100% correct, because markets thrive on competition. Once competition gets stifled, the customer gets offered a seriously limited variety, and unless you’re selling crack cocaine, the customer is going to get bored very quickly.
  You can argue that all the retail outlets are in competition with one another, of course, but the salient fact is that all the major retail outlets are selling the same books and authors, with the only difference often being the size of the discount on offer.
  For example, the two major outlets in Dublin are Waterstone’s and Hodges and Figgis. Not only do they face one another across Dawson Street, and sell pretty much the same stock, they’re owned by the same parent company. In terms of crime fiction, both offer a decent selection, albeit very similar, and heavily skewed towards new and recent releases, and the kind of novels where the author’s name is bigger than the title.
  Further up Dawson Street, towards Stephen’s Green, is a tiny independent outlet called Murder Ink. It’s a specialist outlet, of course, and offers an intoxicating range of titles, from the most recent releases to hard-to-get imports to old classics. Its dedication to the cause of crime fiction, Irish and international, can be gauged by the fact that the owner, Michael Gallagher (right, holding some wastrel’s novel), is on first-name terms with the likes of John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes, Brian McGilloway, et al, not to mention many international authors. While I was in there during the week, Peter Robinson dropped in, just to say hello.
  Given its overheads (Dawson Street is prime Dublin real estate) and its size (no muscle to speak of, by comparison with its competitors, in terms of discounts for bulk buying, etc.), Murder Ink should have gone out of business a long time ago. Happily, it hasn’t. As a specialist outlet, it’s niche enough to secure a loyal customer base.
  But in the long run, even specialising isn’t going to save the retail outlets, regardless of their size. As Peter points out, bloggers tend to be way ahead of the curve of the mainstream media when it comes to discovering new talent and broadcasting about it. The mainstream media might be sniffy about the quality of the reviews, etc., but there’s no denying that the web is the conduit for the all-important word-of-mouth that pushes writers to the forefront of the public’s consciousness.
  For example, I operate a Google alerts system for Irish crime writers. The general trend is for a writer to publish a book and for their profile to ‘spike’ for a month or two, and then return to a more regular level of activity. The exception to that rule has been Tana French. Ever since IN THE WOODS was published, I’ve been receiving two, three and four Google alerts per day about Tana French, most of them referring to reviews from blogs, websites and on-line versions of mainstream media. That level of activity, of course, has only increased since the publication of THE LIKENESS. Yesterday, for example, I received alerts for Tana French-related material for YouTube, Albany Public Library, the Irish Independent, and the San Jose Mercury News. Today her alerts were for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Boston Globe, Jen’s Book Thoughts blog, The Squid List blog, and The Landlocked Pirate blog.
  Now, you – and the sniffier mainstream journalists – might want to quibble with the quality of the reviews on some of those outlets. That’s your entitlement, and you’re also fully entitled to quibble with the quality of review available in the traditional media. But you can’t deny that Tana French’s word-of-mouth penetration is phenomenal. And here’s where the web beats traditional media hands-down: today’s newsprint reviews will be tomorrow’s kitty-box liner, but those on-line reviews will be functioning for years to come. The ‘long tail’, as they call it, is certainly wagging for Tana French.
  What has that to do with the future demise of retail outlets? Well, Amazon is the classic example, but there are others catching up. How many times have you gone into a bookstore and asked for a particular title, only to hear that they don’t have it in stock, but will order it for you? You could’ve just stayed home and ordered it yourself, from any of the web-based retailers. And, with Amazon developing its print-on-demand technology, and the Kindle technology to allow you to download straight to your books version of the iPod, you’ll never have to set foot in a retail outlet again.
  But that’s hardly going to be the end of it. If you can have web-based retail outlets, why not web-based publishers? Why not simply write a book, have it published by an on-line outlet, and have them download it straight to your readers’ hand-held device?
  Of course, the real danger there is that a behemoth like Amazon corners the books market entirely, becoming a vast one-stop-shop of (electronic) printer-cum-publisher-cum-retailer, which brings us back to Peter Rozovsky’s original point about the consolidation of retailers and lack of choice.
  A disaster for readers and writers? That all depends on the readers and writers, and whether they have the ingenuity to use the web pro-actively. What’s to stop writers banding together to form their own on-line co-operative publishing houses, for example? Or to think outside the box and publish directly to the web, forsaking the traditional advance-and-royalties model for – say – banner ads, tips and click-through revenue generators? Or – and this one is so damn crazy it might just work – write for the love of writing, and deliver it directly to an audience that reads for the love of reading?
  No, I’m not insane, and no, I’m not on drugs. Yes, I’m incorrigibly naïve. But I started out writing for the fun of it, for the sheer joy of putting one word after another and watching them weave meaning out of chaos. And if it’s fun you crave in your life, particularly through books, then the web, with all its potential for anarchy, revolution and rewriting the script, is the place to be.
  The modern publishing industry, courtesy of Johannes Gutenberg (right), has been around for roughly 500 years. The internet, especially in its interactive incarnation, is barely a decade old.
  Strap yourselves in, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.