“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 23, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Jar City

I caught a preview of Jar City yesterday, an Icelandic thriller based on Arnaldur Indridason’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t judge how closely or otherwise the filmmakers based their story on the source material, but I’d be very surprised if Indridason’s fans were disappointed. I loved it.
  It’s a gritty, bleak story set against a barren and blasted backdrop, in which the investigation of a murder unravels a complex web of corruption, blackmail and unsolved killings. It’s a multi-layered piece, in which themes are gently teased out as a number of stories run parallel to one another, most of them centring on the character of Detective Erlendur, played by a laconic Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson. Father-daughter relationships play a prominent part, and provide the obvious emotional engagement for the audience, but there’s quite a lot happening here that is more subtly achieved. Not least is the use of natural light – or the artifice that persuades us that natural light is used – to give the impression the entire country is smothered with gloomy foreboding.
  Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s camerawork is superb, and Iceland – or the parts of it used here – looks achingly beautiful. The cast is uniformly good, with Sigurðsson outstanding, and the director, Baltasar Kormákur, maintains a pleasingly downbeat tone right up the very end, when things unfortunately turn disappointingly formulaic. Nevertheless, this is for the most part a terrific crime thriller, and a wonderful advertisement for Icelandic cinema.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Embiggened O: Bringing It All Back Home

Yep, it’s a Red Letter Day, folks. One month exactly to the day when THE BIG O hits the shelves of North America, September 22nd, a box full of gorgeous hardbacks arrived at Chez Big Viz, to the delight of large and Lilliputian. In fact, so excited was Lilyput that she lost the run of herself entirely and tried to bite a chunk out of the cover’s corner. You don’t make that mistake twice …
  Anyhoos, it’s here, and suddenly the whole deal seems that bit more real. Actually, it feels a bit surreal. As if the world has taken a step closer to yours truly, or I to it. Everything seems to be in sharper focus. I suppose it’s the adrenaline buzz, but I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.
  Harcourt – or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to give it its full name – have done a wonderful job on the book. I was very happy indeed with the Hag’s Head version, but I’m equally happy this one too. Kudos there to jacket designer Kelly Eismann …
  North America is a big, big place, of course, and I’m under no illusions as to how hard THE BIG O will have to work if it’s to make even the slightest impact on its release. But that’s the easiest kind of hard work I’ll ever do. I’ve worked in bars and on building sites, pumped petrol in all weathers, and worked every half-assed job you can think of. Knuckling down to promote your second-favourite baby is child’s play by comparison, and just as enjoyable.
  Speaking of which … If anyone out there is getting along to next weekend’s Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co. Laois, I’ll be chairing a discussion on Irish crime fiction with a panel that includes Declan Hughes, Julie Parsons and Brian McGilloway. That happens at 4.30pm in the Spoken Word tent, and if it’s hammering down rain, as it is very likely to be in this wettest of Irish summers, you’ll be warm and cosy listening to us droning on. Hell, you can even bring your iPods so long as you don’t turn ’em up too loud …

Bruen Up A Storm

God bless The Rap Sheet, which does all the heavy lifting by interrogating Reed Farrel Coleman (Jim Winter on thumbscrew duties) and discovering that he has a new novel coming out next year called TOWER, a collaboration with (dum-dum-DUM!) Sir Kenneth of Bruen. That makes it, by my reckoning, at least four novels Ken Bruen was writing at some point in the last twelve months – TOWER, ONCE WERE COPS, SANCTUARY and THE MAX, his latest Hard Case Crime collab with Jason Starr.
  Meanwhile, Brandon Books are issuing AMERICAN SKIN in hardback on this side of the pond, with the very handsome tome hitting a shelf near you on September 9th. Paula Murphy of the Mater Dei Institute of Education at Dublin University is on the case, with an extended essay entitled ‘Ken Bruen’s AMERICAN SKIN and Postmodern Media Culture’, which kicks off thusly:
Analyzing Ken Bruen’s novel AMERICAN SKIN, this essay argues that his crime novel illustrates the necessary tension of postmodern identity in the Western world; a tension between individual national and cultural identities and the universalizing force of globalization. The novel is set in Ireland and America and has characters from each country. However, rather than resolve the tension between native and acquired identities that the novel sets up, Bruen chooses to set his novel in the larger socio-cultural scene of the globalized, postmodern world. Consequently, the novel uproots identity from its national context and situates it in the heterogeneous flux of postmodern culture …
  For lots more in a similar vein, jump on over here

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Past That Was Never True

As mentioned earlier in the week, Brian McGilloway (right) is blogging over at Moments in Crime to support the publication of BORDERLANDS in the U.S., and maybe he should think about blogging on a more regular basis. To wit:
“I set out to write a non-Troubles book, because I didn’t want that to be the only thing that Ireland (and especially the North) is known for. I realise that it is still there, in our past, and it would be the elephant in the corner if it didn’t feature in our fiction. But I think too many people suffered for us as writers to use that history in a lazy or manipulative way, for entertainment or titillation or a romanticized version of a past that was never true.”
  Well said, that man. Meanwhile, Brian’s also chipping in at the Macmillan New Writers blog with his teacher’s hat (mortarboard?) on:
“Over the past few years I’ve managed to include THE MOONSTONE, ORANGES FROM SPAIN, Ian Rankin’s A GOOD HANGING, THE OUTSIDERS and THE GODFATHER into my classes, alongside THE GREAT GATSBY and HAMLET, which are two of my favourite texts from my own days at school. This year I’ll be teaching DRACULA amongst other things to one of my classes … I suppose what I’m wondering is, if you could choose one book that isn’t ordinarily taught in school to be added to the curriculum, what would it be and why? And furthermore, are there any books you’d like to see removed from school reading lists? Personally, I could happily survive a few terms without Thomas Hardy…”
  Methinks every teenager should read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, THE SUMMER OF ’42, and THE LORD OF THE FLIES.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shssssh, It’s Paul Charles

Brandon Books get in touch to let us know that Paul Charles has a new novel hitting the shelves on September 9th, THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND OF SILENCE. Charles’ previous offering THE DUST OF DEATH was a break with his DI Christy Kennedy series, and was set in Donegal, but Charles is back on his old stomping ground of London’s Camden Town again for the ninth Kennedy mystery, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
In the ninth DI Christy Kennedy mystery, Kennedy investigates the murder of a colleague whose ‘the ends justify the means’ work ethic created numerous enemies. An annual Halloween Bonfire goes horribly wrong when a body is spotted in the middle of the fire’s glowing timbers. Identifiable only through his dental records, the victim is retired police Superintendent David Peters, an ex-colleague of DI Christy Kennedy. As Kennedy and his team settle down to a painstaking search through Peters’ cases, they soon discover that for the superintendent the means justified the end in solving them, and each case they review throws up another suspect …
  So why should you care about Paul Charles? “A writer who treads in the classic footsteps of Morse and Maigret,” says The Guardian. “This series deserves recognition on a par with those of Inspectors Jury, Morse and Tennyson,” says Publishers Weekly. “Paul Charles is one of the hidden treasures of British crime fiction,” says John Connolly.
  Wouldn’t it ironic if THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND OF SILENCE was the one to get the mainstream press beating the drums for Paul Charles? No? Okay then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Around The Web In 80 Seconds*

Crumbs! There’s nothing like eBay to give you a sense of perspective. An ARC of THE BIG O just went over there for $3, which is a long, long way from the heady heights of the $195.36 it was selling for on Amazon not so long ago. Talk about a credit crunch …
  Anyhoos, on with the more interesting stuff. Over at The Blog of Revelations, Peter Murphy reports that David Simon will be in Dublin on September 19 for a special screening of The Wire, which will be followed by a public interview. Jump on this for all the details
  Brian McGilloway’s BORDERLANDS hits the U.S. shelves this week, and Brian’s blogging his heart out over at Moments in Crime all week, with today’s instalment concerning itself with why he picked up the quill in the first place. To wit:
“It was as a fan of these series that, four or five years ago, I had a strong sense that many of them were nearing an end: Rebus was reaching retirement; Morse had died; Robicheaux thought he was taking a heart attack in LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS. I decided that, in case these series should stop, I would need a new book to read, featuring that sense of place and central character linked. And so I wrote BORDERLANDS …”
  Which is nice. Meanwhile, over at the Book Witch’s impossibly glamorous lair, the Witch is talking up Oisín McGann’s SMALL-MINDED GIANTS, which Eoin Colfer recommended to her. Quoth la Witch:
“The cover of SMALL-MINDED GIANTS says this is a book for older readers, and there may be some truth in this. It’s a violent story, in a way, and the future looks bleak. Oisín has written a thriller with lots of action, and none of the clever gadgets or the backup that Alex Rider enjoys.”
  If it’s good enough for Eoin Colfer and the Witch, it’s good enough for us. Finally, Sam Millar gets in touch to let us all know that BLOODSTORM has reached American shores, complete with a funky new cover, and that the early reviews have been very positive indeed. First our good friends at Publishers Weekly:
“BLOODSTORM is the first in a powerful new crime series from Irish author Millar. Extremely original, it is a chillingly gripping book, and the consistently tough prose should help gain Millar more fans in the U.S. with a taste for the hard-boiled.”
  Nice. And then there’s the folk at Booklist:
“Irish crime writer, Sam Millar (THE REDEMPTION FACTORY) is back with a brand new anti-hero, Karl Kane … crime noir doesn’t get much darker or grittier than this shocking tale of corruption and revenge …”
  Nicer still. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – it’s always Millar time at Crime Always Pays.

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tied Up With A Black Velvet Brand

By email, yesterday:
I see that John Banville [right] is on the Books 2008 program under his Benjamin Black name, but still not part of the crime fiction program. Don’t worry, I’m sticking with the crime fiction part, but that was nonetheless interesting to see. A snipe on Banville’s part at the genre that he has condescended to join?”
  Erm, probably. Although a straw-poll among the contributing Irish crime writers as to whether Black’s novels would render him worthy of inclusion might produce some interesting results. On the basis of THE LEMUR, I’d say yes.
  Meanwhile, if anyone can offer a phrase about crime fiction they’re heard more often in 2008 than, “That’s not surprising, since Benjamin Black is really John Banville, the Irish writer who won the 2005 Man Booker Prize …” (© Canada.com), we’d love to hear it.
  Do you think if Rob Smith wins the Booker he’ll adopt a pseudonym for writing literary fiction?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Time Of Gifts That Keeps On Giving

I watched a BBC 4 documentary on Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) last week, which was terrific stuff, as it covered his writing and personal lives in equal measure. One of the best travel writers of his generation, if not the best, Fermor is best known for the first two parts of a proposed trilogy, A TIME OF GIFTS and BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, in which he recounts his experiences of walking from England to the Balkans in the late 1930s. He’s still adamant that the third part of the trilogy is on its way, although the fact that he’s 94 and contemplating a major rewrite on the book does not augur well.
  The documentary, incidentally, didn’t mention his superb books on Greece, MANI: TRAVELS IN THE SOUTHERN PELOPONNESE and ROUMELI: TRAVELS IN NORTHERN GREECE. It did spend some time on his audacious coup during WWII, when Fermor led a commando group that parachuted onto Crete to kidnap the German general in charge of the Cretan occupation. ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, an account of the raid, was written by Fermor’s second-in-command, Captain Billy Moss, and the story was later made into a movie starring Dirk Bogarde as Fermor.
  Fermor is still revered today in Crete as an honorary Cretan, particularly among the mountainous regions, and accolades don’t come much higher than that.
  Fermor is a writer with rare descriptive powers, so it was nice that the documentary featured old footage of the author reading aloud from his work. But here’s the rub – I’m willing to make an exception for Patrick Leigh Fermor, on the basis that he is an exceptional human being and his writing is strongly autobiographical.
  In general, though, I haven’t the faintest interest in hearing authors real aloud from their books, and especially works of fiction. I just don’t get the appeal. And it’s irrelevant as to whether the authors are great showmen and entertainers (Declan Hughes and John Connolly spring to mind), or whether they’re crap at public speaking (c.f. yours truly). The whole point of writing fiction, after all, is to create a voice, or voices, which the reader then brings to life in his or her own mind. Is it not?
  Right now I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s CITIES OF THE PLAIN. I’d hate to hear McCarthy read aloud from it and discover that he sounds like Truman Capote. I’d never be able to read his novels again.