“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, September 27, 2008

Stark Raven Love

Author and blogger Lyman Feero (right) locates himself Somewhere Between a Raven and the Universe, from which vantage point he took aim at yours truly’s recent mini-Crime Carnival post on how the interweb might well provide the setting for a comprehensive critical evaluation of crime / mystery fiction.
  Lyman has first-hand experience of how genre fiction is treated in the hallowed halls of academia, and thus has plenty to say worth reading, with one snippet running thusly:
“However, sidestep into the American Studies, History and Pop Culture departments and you'll find something completely different … The programs that grow writers and offer lofty speeches on the value of a piece of written works are not the source for genre validation. The people who study genres and offer up theories on how the works fit into their genres are theorists, sociologists, psychologists, who all see the value of the craft. They are the ones that can provide that analysis. They are the ones to catch up the mystery / crime’s analysis backlog. The analysis will be more meaningful, tying the writing more closely to its social relevance, its place in history, its rote validity. Genre theorists know more about the nature of popular writing than most English faculty members ever dreamed.”
  Trust me, this is worth five minutes of your time

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

It’s a good week for Sir Kenneth of Bruen, people – LONDON BOULEVARD has just been short-listed for the SNCF ‘Best Foreign Crime Novel’ award in France (ooh la-la, etc.). Nice one, Sir Kenneth. To celebrate, we’re giving away – courtesy of the lovely folk at Brandon Books – three hardback copies of AMERICAN SKIN for free, gratis and nuffink. First, the blurb elves:
Stephen Blake is a good man blown in bad directions. He and girlfriend Siobhan, best friend Tommy, IRA terrorist Stapleton, and a particularly American sort of psychopath named Dade, are all on a collision course somewhere between the dive bars of New York and the pitiless desert of the Southwest. This is the long-awaited American novel by Ken Bruen, the hard-boiled master of Irish noir.
  Nice. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of AMERICAN SKIN, just answer the following question.
Is Ken Bruen’s rock ‘n’ roll alter-ego:
(a) Iggy Pop;
(b) Keith Richards;
(c) Kris Kristofferson;
(d) Jerry Lee Lewis?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins) by noon on Tuesday, September 30. Et bon chance, mes amis

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Embiggened O # 31,709: In Which Modesty Suffers The Latest Of Its Death By A Thousand Cuts

Given the week that’s in it, with our humble tome THE BIG O touching down on the North American landmass, I hope you’ll forgive me if I foist yet another review onto your tender sensibilities. This one comes courtesy of Marilyn Dahl at Shelf Awareness, and runs thusly:
Needing to deal with pre-election agita, I’ve been self-medicating with a lot of mysteries and thrillers (along with pinot noir, Tim’s black pepper potato chips and prayer). The books have been uniformly good, and some have been outstanding, like THE BIG O by Irish writer Declan Burke. If you are a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard fan, don’t miss this dark, wacky story of bad people plotting bad things.
  THE BIG O begins with a bang: Karen hits up a convenience store and nearly shoots Ray, who’s there just to get a strawberry Cornetto from the freezer case. Naturally this leads to drinks, followed by lust and a wary meeting of minds. Rounding out the cast is Frank, an almost-disbarred plastic surgeon (his lawyer, explaining to Frank the spot of trouble he’s in: “That malpractice suit isn’t going away ... even if you had it in writing, how that poor woman explicitly asked to look like Bob Mitchum, the jury’d take one look at the eyelids and--”); Frank’s ex-wife Madge, who’s also Karen’s best friend; his current amour Genevieve, a shopaholic, withholding bimbo; and Karen’s ex, Rossi, freshly out of prison, working on a con (a charity for ex-cons) and looking for his $60,000 from a previous job and the Ducati he thinks Karen has. Rossi styles himself after Cagney and starts his first week of freedom by ripping off an Oxfam store for a pinstripe suit with pink stripes, a red shirt, striped suspenders and a bottle-green tie (“Never in fashion, always in style,” he says). Then there is Doyle, the cop who has a tough day trying to decide how to file her case-load—“alphabetically, chronologically or by stench”; and Anna, Karen’s beloved one-eyed Siberian wolf. As for the plot, Ray happens to be a professional kidnapper, and Frank happens to want his ex-wife kidnapped to collect insurance money.
  Burke’s dialogue is spot on, as are his characters, even minor players like the Chinese storeowner in the initial hold-up who checks the time as he hands over the money, muttering he’s just about to close, get on with it. Nobody can whimper like Frank (MASH’s Maj. Burns comes to mind), especially after he hits the bourbon five or six times. Rossi is a nasty scumbag--why did Karen take up with him?--but he’s hilarious in his attempts to articulate his world view. This is a biting, wickedly funny noir farce that builds to a knock-out ending. – Marilyn Dahl

  Shelf Talker: A dark and crazy noir thriller about bad people plotting bad things, usually ineptly, often hilariously.
  The Big Question: Should I cop myself on, grow a beard and stop posting these reviews? Hit me where it hurts, people …

Three Chords And The Truth

If the prospect of ‘low’ entertainment being transmuted into art makes you queasy, look away now. For lo, Peter Murphy has a fine treatise on the influence of punk music on Irish literature over at his Blog of Revelations, in the midst of which he has this to say:
“The compost theory of culture holds that what was once held as ‘low’ entertainment – gothic, southern gothic, pulp fiction, westerns, post-war noir, horror, magic realism, new journalism, the new wave of ’60s sci-fi, EC and Marvel comics, tales from the crypt, performance poetry, graffiti art, graphic novels – gets turned to precious metal by the pressure of successive decades heaped on top of each other, until, at this end of the process, what was once derided as common has become retroactively transmuted into art.
  “Anybody feeling queasy here should note that Cormac McCarthy, maybe the most respected living American writer, has worked exclusively in genre for decades, be it the post-apocalyptic (THE ROAD), modern noir, (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), western (THE BORDER TRILOGY) horror masquerading as western (BLOOD MERIDIAN) or southern gothic (CHILD OF GOD, OUTER DARK).”
  Peter I love like a mother from another brother, etc., but there’s an issue at the heart of his argument I can’t get my head around, which is that he views Irish literary works through the prism of the punk music of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, et al.
  Surely, if the ‘low entertainment vs art’ argument holds true, then punk – and pop, rock, C&W, metal, et al – are simply genres of music, with classical the only music worth taking seriously for true connoisseurs.
  Here’s something that occurred to me while watching the Coen Brothers’ take on NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – the movie would not be judged on its merits as a genre flick, but simply on whether it was a good or bad movie. And when the awards season rolled around, the film wasn’t awarded ‘Best Crime Flick’, it was given ‘Best Flick’.
  You can argue, as I’ve been known to do after a dry sherry or four, that movie-making being a relatively new form, it’s more in tune with generalised democracy and universal suffrage – as with TV, it instinctively understands that its audience is for the very great part composed of a classless society, or at least believes that it belongs to a classless society.
  The world of books, on the other hand, has its roots in a much different world order, one which depended for its very existence on the idea of a pecking order. And no matter how you arranged that pecking order – by title, rank or money – the essential element underpinning it was snobbery.
  Peter, back at the Blog of Revelations, celebrates the social and cultural leveller that was / is the punk ethic by urging us to:
“ … imagine a climate where Irish writers and, crucially, non-Irish writers resident here, co-opted punk’s refusal to observe protocol, where there’s no confining delineation between so-called serious and popular literature, where language, theme, storytelling craft and imagination all co-exist.”
  He goes on to cite, as examples of same, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Joe Hill, AM Homes, David Foster Wallace, Steven Hall, Jeffrey Eugenides, Dave Eggars, George Saunders, Katherine Dunne and Tom Spanbauer.
  I don’t get the “and, crucially, non-Irish writers resident here” bit, but what I can suggest is that there many Irish writers who have “co-opted punk’s refusal to observe protocol”. They include John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Alan Glynn, Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Gerard Donovan, Colin Bateman … you get my drift.
  If punk was about anything, it was about telling it like it is. Some, like the Pistols, were wilfully raw. Others, such as The Buzzcocks, were deceptively articulate and sophisticated.
  Crime writing – whether wilfully raw or sophisticated and articulate – tells it like it is.
  All together now: “Even fallen in love with someone / Ever fallen in love / In love with someone / You shouldna fallen in love with …”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Soldiers Of Misfortune

Two interesting prospects wing our way from the Mercier Press, folks. Up first, HITLER’S IRISHMEN by Terence O’Reilly:
A handful of Irishmen fought for Nazi Germany – but only two ever wore the uniform of the notorious Waffen-SS …
  During the Second World War, two young Irishmen served in the armed forces of Nazi Germany, swearing the oath of the Waffen-SS, wearing the organisation’s uniform and even its distinctive blood group tattoo.
  James Brady from Roscommon and Frank Stringer from Leitrim were under the direct command of Otto Skorzeny, the man who rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a mountain-top prison, and they were involved in some of the most ferocious fighting of the war in the last days of the Third Reich.
  Ironically these young men had originally joined an Irish regiment of the British army, and but for a twist of fate would have ended up fighting against the Germans. Instead, the pair were recruited to the German special forces after they were captured on the island of Jersey.
  Based on new research from the two men’s own accounts and on state papers which have been recently released.
  Mmmm, tasty. Meanwhile, Gerard Mac Manus publishes what sounds like a fascinating memoir, DARK CORNERS:
As a young man in 1960’s Ireland, Gerard Mac Manus joined the Irish Army. This set in train a sequence of events that resulted in him: guarding Europe’s borders during the Cold War, patrolling the meanest streets in the world as a cop in Atlanta, and going undercover in high-living and low-life Florida.
  His adventures included nearly killing President Nixon’s best friend, not quite arresting one of the world’s biggest rock groups and finding himself responsible for the security of Yitzhak Rabin, against the latter’s wishes.
  Mac Manus has seen more action and witnessed more pivotal events – from the Cold War to responses to 9/11 – than most would ever dream about. His life is an Irishman’s record of the violence, organised corruption, and compassion found in America and the west during the last fifty years.
  Surrounded since childhood by literary and artistic achievement, but writing for the first time about his life experiences, Mac Manus digs deep into his dark times to reveal a powerful story.
  So there you have it. The Mercier Press, keeping it real on the streets …

Failure Is NOT An Option

Failure ain’t an option, according to Sam Beckett (right), it’s an inevitability. It’s amazing how easy the writing lark gets when you embrace that fact …
  Anyone else collect mottos? I don’t go bananas on it, but over the years I have picked up a few choice writing-related lines that I keep dotted around the desk for those times when the muse is gone on the razz with her cider-swilling buddies. To wit:
“Try again, fail again, fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“When you leave your typewriter you leave your machine-gun and the rats come pouring through.” – Charles Bukowski

“If you’re out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.” – Albert Einstein

“Crime is but a left-handed form of human endeavour.” – WR Burnett
  The Big Question - What’s the line that gets you girding your loins and thundering once more unto the breach, Horatio?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Embiggened O # 44,106: Yep, It’s That Blummin’ Book Again

Chances are you won’t be in the vicinity of Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, this coming weekend, but if you are you might want to drop in on the inaugural Castlecomer Writers’ Festival, where yours truly (right) will be hosting two workshops, one titled ‘Fictional Crime’, the other ‘Crime Always Pays’. Or leading everyone in a chorus of All Kinds of Everything, depending on how it goes … Other contributors to the weekend include Neville Thompson, Anita Notaro and Garbhan Downey, and Emerging Writer has all the details …
  Meanwhile, the on-line crime fic community continues its generous cheerleading on THE BIG O’s behalf, with Salman Rushdie’s stunt-double, Uriah Robinson, wibbling thusly:
“Fun is the word I associate with Declan’s book and in my review I wrote that ‘THE BIG O is a loveable rogue of a novel ...’ and great read. The full review is here.”
  Thank you kindly, O Salman-ish of Knowledge. Over at Pitched Up, Mack Lundy does us proud too:
“You know how there are television shows where the cast is perfect and they complement each other – Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Shield, The Wire, shows like that. That’s the way I felt about the characters in THE BIG O. I liked many of them but was interested in all of them.”
  Nice one, Mack. Oh, and by the way – in Monday’s round-up of BIG O big-ups, I disgracefully neglected to mention the New Mystery Reader. Folks? I’m currently wearing sackcloth and ashes. Mea culpa

The Law – No Longer An Ass, Apparently

Crikey! There we were, just yesterday, saying how Ken Bruen (right) is having a good week. And then this pops up, courtesy of Variety Magazine:
Elliott Lester has been tapped to direct BLITZ, the feature adaptation of Ken Bruen’s police thriller, for Lionsgate U.K., Donald Kushner and Brad Wyman [producing].
  BLITZ centres on a serial killer who’s aiming for tabloid immortality by executing cops in southeast London.
  The kicker? The rumour mill has it that none other than – trumpets please, maestro – Jude Law will be doing the honours.
  A good week? Quite. All together now: “Hey Jude / Don’t make it bad / Take a sad song / And make it better …”

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Mark Coggins

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?
I’m a big Chandler fan, but I’m feeling sentimental because of the announcement of this author’s death today. I’ll go with Crumley’s THE WRONG CASE. Up until today, I used to say Crumley was my favourite living writer.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jack Reacher. No worries about wardrobe, women or kicks. There’s adventure around every corner and I’d be more than ready to handle it. Although in the last book, he was told by a woman he wasn’t a very good lover. That part would bruise my ego.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
If we are really talking guilty, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey books. The guilt comes from being a hard boiled writer and reading a novelist that Chandler specifically criticized in ‘The Simple Art of Murder’.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Killing off a character based on an old boss.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
Although he beat me for the best first Shamus the year we were both first published in the US, I’m a big fan of John Connolly. I’ll go with EVERY DEAD THING because of its primeval power.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Same as above.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is the ever-expanding requirement to be a sales person and marketer for your own work. Best is picking up one of your own books after you’ve had a few drinks, flipping it open and actually enjoying what you read, even (or especially) if you don’t remember writing it.
The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s under wraps, so you’ll just have to trust me.
Who are you reading right now?
I just finished Connolly’s THE REAPERS on my Kindle flying back home on a plane last night.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. Like Red Smith is supposed to have said, “Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed.”
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Crimson, corpuscular and coagulated.

Mark Coggins’ RUNOFF is available now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Embiggened O # 31,017: “It’s Time To Put On Make-Up / It’s Time To Light The Lights …”

It’s a never-ending source of amazement to me that, given all the books out there that they could be reading, people have picked up THE BIG O and taken a chance that their precious reading time won’t be squandered in the process. But they have, and they continue to do so, and I remain in a perpetual state of amazement. And not only do they read it, they go to the trouble of writing and posting reviews, as Luan Gaines did on Amazon.com. To wit:
“A master of the aberrant behaviours of the fringe-dwellers of modern Irish society, Burke’s novel attests to the endless creativity of those who indulge in usually non-violent crime to avoid the doldrums of regular employment … The result is an innovative farce evoking the inevitable law of unintended consequences, Burke in top form as he manipulates his characters like a master puppeteer.” – Luan Gaines
  Funny you should mention puppets, squire – one of my very first stabs at writing, back when I was 14 or so, was the rewriting of a series of classic plays, such as King Lear, with the play being produced in the Muppet Show theatre and the action moving back and forth from the on-stage production – in front of an audience composed of the Anarchist Liberation Front – to the back-stage shenanigans, in which a titanic struggle for control of the production was waged between the Muppet Show regulars and the Monty Python crew. No, seriously. The United Nations generally had to get involved by the end to sort things out. Once it was written, three or four of us would sit around a tape-recorder and record the lot. I still have the scripts and tapes somewhere …
  Anyhoos, Jacqueline Jung at Nights and Weekends was also kind enough to review THE BIG O, with the gist running thusly:
“Irish writer Declan Burke has managed to get away with breaking all of the rules with his fun comedic thriller … THE BIG O moves quickly as it continually keeps you in stitches. This hilarious novel is filled with plenty of drugs, sex, and even a little rock ‘n’ roll. The humour is raw, but Burke manages to keep the satire short of slapstick. I hope that Declan Burke will continue to come out with more satirical crime novels like this one. After all, life doesn’t always have to be that serious.” – Jacqueline Jung
  So there you have it. “Life doesn’t always have to be that serious.” Amen, sister …

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Embiggened O # 3,119: Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You

Given the day that’s in it, with our humble tome THE BIG O being published in hardback in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I thought I’d take the opportunity to blow my own trumpet so hard that I squish both lungs out through said trumpet in little sausage-y links. Maestro? In your own time, please …
  Actually, no – there’ll be no trumpet-parping today. Today is a day for feeling quietly positive about the human race in general and the crime fiction community in particular. Why so? Well, the way said community has rallied around yours truly in the last week or 10 days has been heartwarming to say the least, and I’m currently basking in the glow of the kind of good vibes Brian Wilson could only dream about while he scratched about in his sandpit. To wit:
Jeff Kingston asked me to deface / guest-blog at The Rap Sheet for the last week;
The Book Witch has updated her review of THE BIG O;
Gerard Brennan at CSNI republished his review, and tossed in a major shout-out to boot;
Stuart Neville gave me a bejasus big-up;
Marshal Zeringue pulled out all the stops at America Reads;
Glenn Harper did me proud over at International Noir;
Barbara Fister was kind enough to invite me to host the Crime Carnival again;
And Peter Rozovsky has been log-rolling THE BIG O to beat the band over at Detectives Beyond Borders.
  If I’ve forgotten anyone, my sincerest apologies – I’m just a bit light-headed from all the good karma. Peace, people – your reward will come in heaven …

Monday’s Lynx

In which Jinx the Lynx (right) presents some stuff ‘n’ such that tickled his tufty little ears during last week’s prowl around the interweb, to wit:
Maxine at Petrona has an ‘In Praise of Crime Fiction’ thingy going on …

… and are we still defending crime fiction? Really?

Every writer should have read this by now …

Tony Black on RILKE ON BLACK …

Julie Parsons on the allure of rubber boots …

… and finally, a belated report on the Crime Writers Series from Books 2008 …

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Embiggened O # 3,109: That’s It, I’m Retiring

Say you’re me, just for a second or two. Your humble tome (right) is due to be released in the U.S. tomorrow, Monday September 22nd, and you’re a little nervous as to how it’ll fare. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to get some positive feedback,’ you might say, ‘just to save yourself the hangover that’ll accrue from attacking that bottle of brandy to steady the nerves.’ And then a Galway-based little birdie passes on the latest newsletter from London’s quality crime fic bookstore Murder One, which happens to mention said humble tome in passing. To wit:
“Declan Burke / THE BIG O £17.99, absolutely wonderful Irish hardboiled novel … Now available in US hardback form and a hoot. Elmore Leonard crossed with Ken Bruen and Fredric Brown!”
Erm … Elmore Leonard and Ken Bruen? Sod the brandy, break out the frizzy …