“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, October 18, 2008

100,000 Not Out

Given that Crime Always Pays came into being to celebrate (mostly) Irish fiction as a platform to promote our humble offering THE BIG O, it’s appropriate that the stats passed the 100,000 mark for page impressions while I was away in the States on a Toronto-Baltimore road-trip designed to mark the publication of said tome in the U.S. Now, 100,000 page impressions in 18 months isn’t exactly the kind of stat to set the interweb aflame, but by the same token – as Twenty Major once pointed out – a blog dedicated to Irish crime fiction is a niche-niche-niche sell, particularly when you’re not actually selling anything.
  Anyhoos, I’m quietly pleased at having reached that mark, not least because many of CAP’s regular visitors have become good mates. I’d been warned by some Bouchercon veterans that the first experience can be overwhelming, given the scale of the operation and the numbers of people there, but when John McFetridge and I finally pulled into Baltimore, the experience was more akin to a reunion.
  Peter Rozovsky I’d met before, during his sojourn to Ireland, and it would have been nice to hook up with him again even if he hadn’t sweated blood organising the Philly leg of John and Dec’s Most Excellent Adventure. Peter? Now that you’re au fait with ‘shite’ and ‘gobshite’, I really must introduce you to ‘shitehawking’ the next time.
  I’d met Donna Moore before too, at Bristol Fest, and it was smashing to meet up with her again, partly because I’d read her terrific GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET in the interim, but mainly because I want her to play Diane Lane when they come to make the movie of my life. There’s nothing like a hug from a flame-haired beauty to make you feel like you belong in Baltimore. Apart from the daily hugs (“Oi, I haven’t had my hug today!”), the best part of seeing the poker maven again was the news that her follow-up novel is currently with her agent, and that she’s mailing me a copy as soon as I sign up for Bristol Fest 2009. Yon Donna Moore, she drives a hard bargain …
  It was nice to meet Jen Jordan, too, my first experience of whom was having my shoulder nuzzled by some random hottie in the convention’s main thoroughfare. But lo! It wasn’t a random hottie, it was Jen Jordan. Nice …
  Sarah Weinman was something of a disappointment, given that I was expecting her to be a matronly ball-breaker of indeterminate age. Dang my britches if she’s not cute as a junebug, and prone to enveloping a man in a hug even before he’s been properly introduced. Nice …
  Back to Bouchercon, which I’ve actually been reluctant to write about this week, on the basis that the experience was something of a bubble I’ve been afraid to puncture. Friendly people willing and eager to talk books all day and all night – sounds like hell, I know, but you get used to anything after a while. Readers, reviewers, bloggers, writers, editors, publicists, publishers and – crucially – booksellers, all mingling freely. Anyone who hasn’t yet grasped how the chaos of minute particles colliding at random at the quantum level can translate into a solid object or force at the macro level should get along to the next Bouchercon in Indianapolis.
  I suppose it helped that I had a foot in a few camps. I was there as a reader, of course, but also as a writer and a blogger / reviewer; and technically speaking, given that THE BIG O was originally a co-publication with Hag’s Head Press, I also had a foot in the publishing / publicity / distribution / selling side of things. So there were a lot of people I was hoping to see.
  Jeff Pierce was one, and it was nice to hang out with him on a couple of occasions. Glenn Harper was another, although we didn’t actually get to sit down and talk books – next time, Glenn, hopefully. I also got to meet Angie Johnson-Schmidt, who was kind enough to help me try to find tobacco in late-night Baltimore, as was Dana King, albeit in vain. It was cool to meet Brian Lindemuth and Sandra Ruttan too – Sandra’s another blogger with a foot in more than one camp. And then there was the effervescent and damn near omniscient Ali Karim, and Clair Lamb, and Janet Rudolph … The inimitable Joe Long came down from New York, to greet me with the words, “So where’s the other prick, Hughes?” And it was terrific to hook up with Jon Jordan and be able to say thanks in person for all the support he’s given me ever since way back when, aka the publication of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. Jon? You’re a gent, squire.
  Greg Gillespie of Philly’s Port Richmond Books came down to Baltimore on the Saturday, and nice it was to make his acquaintance again, given that he’d brought the troops out in force to Wednesday night’s Noir at the Bar at Fergie’s. Greg was supposed to sleep on the floor of our hotel room that night, but with an 8.30am panel on Sunday morning looming, I cracked around 2am and went to bed, and haven’t seen him since. Can anyone confirm that Greg is okay?
  Incidentally, McFetridge was great company on the road-trip, apart from his insistence in talking up the Toronto Blue Leafs, which plays some weird hybrid of hockey, football and baseball. Well, that and the fact that the Y he booked us into in New York had the noisiest bunk-beds ever made, and that one of the three communal showers was festooned with crime scene-style tape. Other than that, though, he was no more boring than you’d imagine a Canadian writer to be. We may even road-trip again, one day.
  As for the rest, well, this post is already too long – suffice to say that Bouchercon 2008 was a tremendous experience. Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik deserve all the credit going, and more.
  It did occur to me at one point that the attendees as a group were heavily skewed towards an older demographic, although that’s easily enough explained when you consider the cost of travelling to a four-day convention that’s a sheer indulgence. And you could also say that crime fiction is a conservative genre, concerned for the most part with upholding the status quo, and that older generations are more likely to be of a conservative bent.
  But here’s the thing – I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Yeah, I got into crime fiction in my fifties.” I was a teenager when the crime bug bit, and I thought I was pretty radical back then, as most teenagers tend to do. Maybe it’s because it’s the most popular kind of writing, and therefore the most accessible, and because the world of gats, molls and grift has a certain surface cool that appeals to the impressionable mind. But once it gets you hooked, it doesn’t let go. It’s odd, especially when you consider that you don’t listen to the same kind of music twenty, thirty or forty years on from your teens, or watch the same kind of movies, or like the same artists, etc. But when I read Ray Chandler today, I enjoy him even more than I did twenty years ago.
  The Big Question: any theories as to why crime fiction takes such a compelling grip as to last you an entire lifetime? Over to you, people ...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Like The Descent Of Their Last End, Upon All The Living And The Dead

If it’s autumn, it must be Ingrid Black. CIRCLE OF THE DEAD, the fourth Black novel in five years, and featuring her series heroine Saxon, finds the husband-and-wife writing team in serial killer territory, to wit:
Ex-FBI agent Saxon has dealt with many killers in her time but nothing can prepare her for the night of horror ahead ... It’s early evening on Halloween when the Dublin Murder squad are called out to the home of wealthy businessman Daniel Erskine. There, in his basement, they discover Daniel’s tortured body. Then, just hours later, his friend Oliver Niland also meets a gruesome end. As special adviser to the Dublin Murder squad, Saxon teams up once again with Chief Superintendent Grace Fitzgerald to track down a killer who’s closer than they think. But why has he targeted Daniel and Oliver? And what is the significance of the group known as the Second Circle to which they both belonged? The other members of the group might have the answers – but can Saxon and Fitzgerald get to them before it’s too late?
  Well, here’s hoping they do. Mind you, at a whopping 496 pages in paperback, you’d be inclined to believe that quite a few of the Second Circle are due some form of grisly comeuppance. Meanwhile, I’m wondering why Ingrid Black isn’t a household name. Saxon has that ballsy lesbian thing going on, she’s ex-FBI, and the woman is a more attractive Jessica Fletcher in terms of body-count. Like, what more do you want, people?
  Oh, and courtesy of the “Is It Just Me?” department: Is there any chance that ‘The Dead’ part of the title is a nod to the James Joyce short story of the same name, given that the novel kicks off with the worst snowstorm Dublin has seen in half a century? If anyone out there is in the know, pray tell ...

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Tim Maleeny

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?
Quite a few … damn near anything by Ross Macdonald, Loren Estleman or Elmore Leonard … but if I had to pick one I’d probably say THE MALTESE FALCON, if only because I’d want to be able to say that Sydney Greenstreet starred as one of my characters in the movie adaptation … even the way they shot him in that film, the camera down low and him looking gigantic, was pure genius.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Travis McGee.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Comic books, pulp adventures from the thirties, old issues of Spy Magazine.
Most satisfying writing moment?
When I figure out the ending, usually halfway through the manuscript.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
It’s a high bar, isn’t it? That other Declan, the lovable reprobate Declan Hughes, he wrote a kick-ass novel in THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. And Ken Bruen writes like a poet — THE MAGDALENE MARTYRS is one of my favourites. Adrian McKinty, I lost count of how many times I recommended DEAD I WELL MAY BE. But since I’m talkin’ to you and I’m not above kissing ass, I’ve no problem saying THE BIG O is a work of pure genius. The sheer unbridled mayhem of it appeals to my world view, sort of a cross between Hiaasen, Guy Ritchie (before he started banging Madonna and got artistically distracted) and Raymond Chandler on meth.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Those listed above, no doubt. Ken’s stuff is almost written like a screenplay, very spare, totally character-driven.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst … deadlines. The need for discipline. My inability to type without looking at the keys. Best …The channelling of the characters into dialogue on the page. Having it done, then reading it as if someone else wrote it. Getting fan mail from folks who loved escaping into your twisted corner of the world and can’t wait to go back.
The pitch for your next book is …?
Elmore Leonard writing an Agatha Christie novel while drinking tequila.
Who are you reading right now?
Neil Gaiman.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
First I’d call Him a prick for forcing such a choice on a man, then I’d probably say … I’d probably say … fuck, I’d probably say read, then when He wasn’t looking I’d burn something to make charcoal so I could use it to write while He slept.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Unapologetic. Visceral. Mayhem.

Tim Maleeny’s GREASING THE PINATA will be published in December.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty On Ronan Bennett

Evil genius Adrian McKinty (right) sends us yet another literary missive from his mountain lair, this one on the ‘fearless, gifted Irishman from Newtownabbey’, aka Ronan Bennett. Take it away, O Dark Lord, sir …

Ronan Bennett’s HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR is set in the north of England in the 1630s. It is the story of John Brigge, a respectable county civil servant who is also a covert follower of the “old religion”. Brigge is the parish coroner, and the book begins with his investigation into a local woman who appears to have murdered her baby. There may be more to the story than meets the eye or it could be that Brigge’s compassion towards the desperate wretches that appear before him day-in and day-out has clouded his judgement. In either case, Brigge raises suspicions among some of the local townsfolk and his life, complicated already by his own wife’s pregnancy, takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
  Bennett skilfully portrays a man on the edge and a country at the cusp of a disastrous civil war; among many remarkable passages he gives us Brigge’s dreams that mix murderers, wives, victims, secret priests and unborn children in a swirling whirlpool of guilt and fear.
  Brigge is ultimately betrayed as a Catholic by a jealous clerk and he and his family go on the run through a nightmare landscape no less vivid than the dreamscape.
  Ronan Bennett and all right-thinking people will hate this analogy, but sometimes you read a novel that impresses you, but whose power, like the festering bite of the komodo dragon, only increases with time. HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR is such a book for me. When I read it several months ago, I liked it, I thought it was a good read, I recommended it to friends, but I didn’t think it was transcendent. Since then, however, it has resonated in my consciousness at odd times of the day and night; whole scenes played out like a film, entire passages recalled like poetry.
  Last week I bought Bennett’s THE CATASTROPHIST and that too is an extraordinary read. Set in the Belgian Congo in 1959 and 1960, it is a love story and political thriller that takes place in the wake of Belgium’s hasty attempt to divest itself of its African empire. It too is a great book, both moving and gripping and a powerful allegory for imperialism closer to home.
  Ronan Bennett and I were born only a few miles and a few years apart but we’re from different cultural and political universes. Bennett was radicalised in the early seventies and apparently he has lost none of his righteous indignation. He has got himself into passionate debates with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens and he has said unfortunate things about the Omagh bombing - things which he has since recanted.
  But surely no one can fault Bennett’s fury at our contemporary scene, and his prose tells us something about the writer behind the disputes: clinical, dispassionate, ironic, intelligent, careful and ultimately incendiary.
  His plots move, his writing pulses, and his characters live and breathe and disagree with each other and often him. He takes his time with his protagonists, allowing them psychological and spiritual depth and yet he understands that characters alone aren’t enough; for a book to succeed it must have a strong, well planned narrative. Bennett’s novels are structurally sound and that hardest of combinations: unpredictable, yet completely convincing.
  Bennett is a profound writer in the tradition of early Le Carré or middle period Greene. He takes his job seriously and never underestimates the intelligence of his readers. And, speaking of Greene (this is where Bennett fans begin to groan), occasionally the British press will play the perennially popular game of wondering who “the new Graham Greene” could possibly be. A few – almost always English – authors are often tossed out and then summarily critiqued and dismissed as mere pretenders. No dauphin has yet been found, but if Ronan Bennett keeps on going the way he’s been going, I’d say the contest is over. Although Bennett would no doubt reject the dubious honour, the new Graham Greene isn’t an Englishman at all – he’s a fearless, gifted, Irishman from Newtownabbey. – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty blogs at The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. His latest novel, FIFTY GRAND, is due in 2009 from Holt

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Blue Jays, The Dodgers And Me

A little post-Bouchercon housekeeping folks, starting with a thank-you-kindly-ma’am to Laurie McFetridge for co-hosting yours truly in Toronto, and for buying some beautiful gifts for Lilyput – although I’m really not sure if I should let the little girl in for a lifetime of pain by dressing her in a Blue Jays romper suit. If I was that way inclined, I’d just go out and get her a Sligo Rovers strip. Still, wouldn’t you love to see the Blue Jays take to the ice in a fetching shade of pink? Hmmmm …
  Anyhoos, it behoves me to flag up the Irish contingent at Baltimore’s Bouchercon, all of whom seemed to be nominated for one award or other. Excepting, of course, yours truly. Dec Hughes lost out in the Shamus category, although there’s no shame there given that the winner was Reed Farrel Coleman’s SOUL PATCH. The first I heard of it was in the bar, when Reed says, “Hey, looks like they’ll have to change the blurb on your book to ‘Two-time Shamus winner Reed Farrel Coleman’.” Nice. Naturally, he was taking the piss out of himself, for which he appears to have a singular talent. During his panel on Saturday morning, he spoke movingly about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn the year after he was born, and how it was like a still-birth the community knew was coming. For years Brooklyn was in mourning, and Reed always thought the place was depressed because he was born. When he was old enough to know better, he was delighted to discover it was because the Dodgers left. “Yeah,” his dad said, “that too.”
  But I digress. A big CAP shout-out to Tana French, whose unstoppable IN THE WOODS bagged not one but two awards, for Barry First Novel and Macavity Best First Mystery. And she didn’t even turn up! Hell, I was there all weekend and I couldn’t even win an argument with the homeless guy who slept on the bench across the street … John Connolly, meanwhile, took home the Crime Spree Favourite Book of 2007 award, the good folk behind Crime Spree – the Jordan mob – being this year’s Bouchercon organisers, and a terrific job they did too. Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah for Ruth, Jon and Jen …
  As for the rest of the Irish contingent: Ken Bruen was there, stately in his majesty as he was squired about the place attended by a retinue like the last incarnation of an ancient sun king. Nice work if you can get it, etc. There was also quite a bit of talk about Irish writers who were absent, including Seamus Smith, whose RED DOCK has been picked up by a high-profile publisher; Stuart Neville, whose 2009 debut GHOSTS OF BELFAST was being spoken of in hushed tones as ‘unputdownable’; Colin Bateman, who will be dragged kicking and screaming to the next Bouchercon if Jon Jordan has his way; Brian McGilloway, whose BORDERLANDS was getting approving nods and murmurs every time it was mentioned; Gene Kerrigan, whose gritty realism might well be getting a Stateside outing if a certain editor has his way; and Adrian McKinty, whose DEAD I WELL MAY BE was described to me by an editor as ‘the best American novel in the last five years’ – the editor wasn’t McKinty’s, incidentally – and whose FIFTY GRAND is generating quite a bit of anticipation over at Holt.
  As for yours truly and THE BIG O – well, let’s just take the Olympic view and say that it’s the taking part that counts, not the winning. Or the being noticed much. Or the being noticed at all. Still, it can’t be Mills & Boon every day, right?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Morning, Coming Down

Hmmmm. Three flights + four airports + 18.4 hours travel time + half a coal-sack of jet-lag can do funny things to a man, albeit of the funny-peculiar variety. And I still haven’t seen the crèche-bound Lilyput yet, who was (allegedly) waving at a picture of the Grand Viz yesterday and saying “Da-da”. This book promotion malarkey just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be …
  Happily, I finally got back from Bouchercon to find two new reviews of THE BIG O wandering aimlessly around ye olde interwebbe, the first from Adam Woog at The Seattle Times, the gist of which runneth thusly:
“Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is full of dry Irish humour, a delightful caper revolving around a terrific cast … If you don’t mind the occasional stretch of credulity, the result is stylish and sly.”
  Thank you kindly, Mr Woog - we don’t mind if you don’t. After that came Luan Gaines, who has already given THE BIG O the old hup-ya over on Amazon.com, holding forth on Curled Up With a Good Book:
“I wasn’t sure what to expect in Burke’s Irish thriller, humour and crime not of particular interest to me. But I was seduced by Burke’s writing style - short, incisive dialog, heavy on attitude and rife with implication … a tale that begins with criminal intent and snowballs into a messy denouement that leaves little doubt about Burke’s skills as a writer of an ironic and entertaining thriller.”
  Who dares, Gaines – or words to that effect. A rather long post about all the wunnerful folk I met in Baltimore will be forthcoming in the very near future, but right now I’m boarding the train for Sleepytown. Night-night, Mary-Ellen …