“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 25, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE SNAKE STONE by Jason Goodwin

Set in Istanbul in the mid-19th century, THE SNAKE STONE is the second of Jason Goodwin’s novels to feature Yashim Togalu, an unusual variation on the reluctant private eye (Yashim made his debut in THE JANISSARY TREE; THE SNAKE STONE won the 2007 Edgar for Best Novel). Formerly a eunuch at the sultan’s court, Yashim has earned a reputation as a lala, or guardian – a man of discretion to whom people can turn in their time of need. When an archaeologist, Lefèvre, throws himself on Yashim’s hospitality, Yashim is duty-bound to provide the Frenchman with whatever help he can. But when Lefevre is discovered horribly murdered shortly after Yashim has arranged for his escape from Istanbul, it quickly becomes apparent that the only suspect in the murder is Yashim himself.
  If that sounds fairly conventional, worry not; that’s merely the bare bones of the first 50 pages or so. Goodwin writes a pleasingly labyrinthine plot, one that utilises history, archaeology and politics in fleshing out a vibrant and meticulously detailed vision of Istanbul. The city makes for a wonderful setting, situated at the geographical crossing point between East and West, and a cultural melting pot that accommodates a bewildering variety of nationalities alongside its staple populations of Turk and Greek. Historically, the city can be summed up by the narrative of the former cathedral of Aya Sofia, a miracle of architecture that was formerly the jewel of Constantinople and pride of Byzantium, now the mosque with the largest dome in Islam. The aging sultan is dying; the hated janissaries have been defeated; the past and the future mingle in the thronged markets.
Early the next morning, leaving the Frenchman sleeping on the divan, Yashim walked down to the Horn and took a caique over to Galata, the centre of foreign commerce. In the harbourmaster’s office he asked for the shipping list and scanned it for a suitable vessel. There was a French 400-tonner, La Reunion, leaving for Valetta and Marseilles with a mixed cargo in four days’ time; but there was a Neapolitan vessel, too, Ca d’Oro out of Palermo, which had already been issued with bills of lading.
  Goodwin, a prize-winning historian, doesn’t graft his learning onto the plot. Instead the narrative is driven by its context, and the unravelling of the central mystery is integral to Yashim’s peeling back of layer upon layer of the city’s history. Yashim is a classic private investigator in that he seeks to understand his urban hinterland as a means by which he explore the motives of those who thrive in its mean streets; and just as Marlowe’s LA speaks to subsequent generations, so Goodwin’s Istanbul is a metaphor for contemporary globalisation. Istanbul is home to dozens of languages, the proverbial melting-pot of race and religion, a socially stratified nexus for trade and cross-cultural pollination.
  As for the story, it’s an absorbing tale, and Goodwin has a relaxed and lyrical style perfectly suited to the stately pace. Yashim walks, and never runs; he never so much as raises a jog. But Goodwin appreciates the fine difference between pace and pacing, and the importance of judicious timing, and THE SNAKE STONE is very much a compelling page-turner, a literary thriller. The most impressive thing, though, is the sense that Jason Goodwin is equally committed to all the elements of his craft: not only does he write beautifully and craft a fine plot set against an exotic background, he does so with a keen respect for the tradition of the crime narrative:
He’d seen it before, the way that sudden death made a nonsense of the things people did and said. Murder, above all, overturned the natural order of God’s creation: it was only to be expected that unreason and absurdity should crackle in its wake.

Friday, October 24, 2008

And Then There Was More

A lifelong Agatha Christie fan and an advisor to the Christie estate, John Curran (not pictured, right) is the Dubliner who last month announced the discovery of two previously unknown Poirot stories he’d found whilst sorting through Christie’s papers. Details are a little fuzzy as to if and where the stories will be published, with some sources suggesting they’ll appear in Curran’s THE NOTEBOOKS OF AGATHA CHRISTIE, due in March 2009. Best man to clear up the confusion? Probably John Curran himself. Happily, John will be speaking about his forthcoming book and Agatha Christie’s life and legacy at the Dublin City Library & Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2, on Thursday November 6th at 6.30pm. The press release doesn’t mention an admission price, but booking is probably advised. For more details, telephone 01 674 4873 or email dublinpubliclibraries@dublincity.ie.
  Incidentally, Wikipedia claims that Agatha Christie has sold roughly four billion copies of her books. That’s four billion. Consider my gast well and truly flabbered.

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Robert Greer

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
THE MALTESE FALCON. Its multi-layered entanglements, its expressed unseediness, its use of the classic femme fatale and Dashiell Hammett’s use of minor characters in ensemble form to produce effective darkness and greed which make this the very best of noir fiction in my judgment.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Since I am a westerner and own a working cattle ranch, I suspect that the character I most would have wanted to be would have been Shane, the ultimate dark cowboy hero.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I read flash fiction for guilty pleasure. The short short stories entailed in this literary form offer me the ultimate quick and dirty temporary escape from daily life.

Most satisfying writing moment?

Always, when I finish the last sentence of a novel, or come up with the idea for a new one.

The best Irish crime novel is …?

I can’t say that I have a favourite Irish crime novel but my favourite Irish literary works are Joseph Conrad’s TYPHOON and THE SHADOW-LINE.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?

Any one of Ruth Dudley Edwards’s crime fiction novels; CORRIDORS OF DEATH would be a good place to start.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is the pure satisfaction I get from writing. The worst thing about being a writer is trying to fit the writing in between my day job as a doctor.

The pitch for your next book is …?

My next book is not going to be a mystery at all but instead a love story / memoir. It will be a story about my late wife and me. I won’t have to pitch it since I lived the story and I can tell it word for word by heart.

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading SHORT STORY MASTERPIECES by Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine, largely because short fiction is my favourite form of the art and I don’t read enough British fiction, so this works me away from my standard American recipe of books.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I would choose neither; I would choose to think rather than write or read. But if forced to make a choice, I would clearly make the choice to read. It is how I learn.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …
Never the same.

Robert Greer’s BLACKBIRD, FAREWELL is published by North Atlantic Books.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Git Along Little Dogie – A Round-Up Of Interweb Stuff-‘N’-Such

Our good friend and colleague Mr Adrian McKinty was included in The Telegraph’s list of ‘50 Books Worth Talking About’, which appeared last weekend. The novel in question is THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD, and the object of the exercise is to get people talking about books in advance of World Book Day, which happens on March 5, 2009. As a point of fact, the list should really be renamed ‘51 Books Worth Talking About’, as it’s impossible to discuss THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD without referencing ULYSSES. Anyhoos, we’re done talking about THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD
  Over at the Book Witch, the young but knowledgeable Charlie conducts an in-depth interview with Eoin Colfer, during the course of which the Artemis Fowl movie rears its head. Quoth Eoin:
“On the movie, at the moment I’m working with the director to write the script. I think it could be very good, because we’re going to put some new stuff in for the fans that they won’t expect, and because I’m writing it, I’m hoping they’ll allow that … I’ve just been up to Scotland last week, where we’re making HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS into a TV show, and that looks great so I’m very happy with that.”
  HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS as a TV show? I’ll buy that for a dollar. Meanwhile, Emerging Writer brings us the news that Aifric Campbell’s THE SEMANTICS OF MURDER has been short-listed for the Glen Dimplex Awards. The GD award is given to ‘best first book’ in a variety of categories, with €5,000 going to the winner of each of five categories, and €20,000 going to the overall winner. I’m not sure what the criteria for inclusion is, but it’s all done in conjunction with the Irish Writers’ Centre, so no doubt it’s all above-board, ship-shape and depressingly worthy. Aifric? You go, gal …
  Finally, I’m about two-thirds of the way through Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, which took a bit of a hammering on RTE’s arts TV programme The View last Monday night, by all accounts. Quoth Colm Keegan: “The most telling comment I think came from Peter Murphy. He said it was the first real book of the Celtic Tiger age and that it was ugly.”
  On the other hand, John Boyne, writing in the Irish Times, liked it a lot:
“This is a book that breaks the rules of the conventional crime narrative … It’s an excellent novel, though, there’s no two ways about that. It comes from the gut, it’s raw, it’s passionate and it suggests, like Barry McCrea’s THE THIRD VERSE did a few months ago, that there are a group of young Irish novelists about to be set loose on the world like a pack of hungry wolves. Bring ’em on, I say. I’ll read them.”
  Erm, chaps? At the risk of banging a hole right through this here drum, has no one heard of Gene Kerrigan? Declan Hughes? Tana French? Ken Bruen? Brian McGilloway? Et al?
  Celtic Tiger novelists, one and all …

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tales From The Cryptic

There’s more to Paul Nagle’s debut novel IRONIC than meets the eye, folks. Quoth his interweb flummery:
“Can you figure out the Ironic cryptic clue I have written into the story? I have written the answer and placed it in a gold envelope and lodged it in a bank vault for safe keeping. It will be revealed in September 2009. If you want to participate all the details are printed on the back page of the book.”
  A gold envelope, eh? Nice. Mind you, we’re still a bit in the dark as to what you actually win if you work out the cryptic clue in advance. Is there an actual prize, or do you just get that smug glow that comes with being a pain-in-the-arse shitehawker?* We need to be told. If anyone in the Paul Nagle camp can put us wise, we’d be very grateful.
  Meanwhile, the first of the cryptic clues comes in the vid below, courtesy of YouTube, with cryptic clues 2-4 also available on the same YouTube page. Roll it there, Collette …
* Peter? That’s a gratuitous one, especially for you ...

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Scott Phillips

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
THE WOMAN CHASER, by Charles Willeford.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Sheriff Lou Ford.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
No such thing, reading is a virtue, even reading crap.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Tapping out ‘The end’.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Here I’m going out on a limb … THE MANGAN INHERITANCE by Brian Moore, an ex-pat Irishman turned Canadian who finished his days in Santa Barbara. It’s not even a genre book, and it sold damned few copies. Nonetheless it’s a fine novel, violent and creepy, and I once met him and told him I liked it and he told me I was pretty much alone in that.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Any of Ken’s …. I suppose CALIBRE would be next in line.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The hours. Best and worst both.

The pitch for your next book is …?

A guy walks into a bar.

Who are you reading right now?
Rudy Wurlitzer, Laura Lippman and Rick DeMarinis (if you have not read DeMarinis, what the fuck are you waiting for?).

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. Are you kidding me?

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Ha ha ha.

Scott Phillips’ COTTONWOOD is published by Ballantine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No Man Left Behind: O Rigby, Where Art Thou?

I was rummaging around in the back of the drawer the other night when I came across the old EIGHTBALL BOOGIE reviews I’d clipped out and kept. EIGHTBALL was my first serious attempt at a novel, a PI story set in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland featuring the ‘research consultant’ Harry Rigby. I thought the concept was hilarious, and I’d already written a goodly chunk of the second draft before my flatmate came home one day with a copy of THE GUARDS and said, “Hey, have you heard of this Ken Bruen guy?”
  Buggery.
  Anyhoos, Lilliput published the novel a couple of years later, in 2003. I was pretty green at the time, so when they said, “We’ll take care of the publicity, you don’t worry about it,” I took them at their word. When the reviews started coming in, I reckoned I was maybe onto something, to wit:
“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and it’s called Declan Burke.” – Ken Bruen

“Consummately slick … the characters just crazed enough, the plot just about crazy too … Burke drops neither ball nor pace through one of the sharpest, wittiest books I’ve read for ages.” – Sunday Independent

“There’s a lot of smart and snappy dialogue and a reasonably preposterous plot that moves as fast as a speeding bullet. Declan Burke is a definite find.” – Irish Independent

“Burke has balanced tragic and comic by dreaming up the most insensitive smart-ass he could, and letting him loose in a very fast-paced plot. The writing is splendid and gives new meaning to the term razor-sharp fiction.” – Irish Examiner

“Burke writes a staccato prose that ideally suits his purpose, and his narrative booms along as attention grippingly as a Harley Davidson with the silence missing. Downbeat but exhilarating.” – Irish Times

“Rigby resembles the gin-soaked love child of Rosalind Russell and William Powell ... a wild ride worth taking.” – Booklist

“A manic, edgy tone that owes much to Elmore Leonard … could be the start of something big.” – The Sunday Times

“Eight Ball Boogie proves to be that rare commodity, a first novel that reads as if it were penned by a writer in mid-career ... (it) marks the arrival of a new master of suspense on the literary scene.” – Mystery Scene

“Declan Burke has written a wonderful book … fast-paced and filled with wonderful characters through out, a PI story that moves forward like freight train.” – Crime Spree Magazine

“It was a vintage year, too, for new Irish talent. Watch out for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke, a pacy, picaresque thriller.” – ‘Books of the Year’, Irish Independent, 2003
  EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was also long-listed for the Sunday Independent / Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year in the Crime Fiction section, alongside Ken Bruen, Ingrid Black and Michael Collins, and was subsequently published in Holland and France, but Lilliput declined to publish the follow-up, which was another Rigby story. Only by then I’d ploughed on and written a third in the series.
  Buggery.
  I miss Harry Rigby sometimes. For all his faults and failings, or perhaps because of them, he’s the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written. Maybe some day I’ll get around to visiting him again, see how he’s doing. The last I heard, he’d been gypped by a friend, who set him up as a patsy and then lit out for Crete at the end of THE BIG EMPTY.
  Hey, maybe Rigby’s out in Crete now, looking for his erstwhile buddy. Y’think I could get a (koff) research grant to go see how he’s getting on?
  Finally, here’s Declan Burke circa 2003 (right). That shock of carefully tousled hair, the burgeoning lamb-chop sideburns, the statement of serious intent that is the black polo-neck … Beautiful, eh?

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Another week, another giveaway, and this time your generous benefactors are the good folk at Hachette Ireland, who are offering three copies of Andrew Nugent’s latest novel, SOUL MURDER. First the blurb elves:
When a house master is found dead at a leading boys’ boarding school in Ireland, Superintendent Denis Lennon and Sergeant Molly Power of the Irish Police Force struggle to uncover any probable motive for this brutal killing. Perhaps it was a bungled kidnapping attempt? Or a revenge attack? Or simple robbery but with extreme malice? But when the existence of a letter from an old boy is discovered, their investigation becomes much more complicated. Something very sinister has provoked this violent bloodshed and, with so much at stake, will the killer stop at one murder?
  Erm, probably not. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of SOUL MURDER, just answer the following question.
Is the appropriate way to address a Benedictine monk:
(a) Brother;
(b) Father;
(c) Your Monkness;
(d) With a valid stamp on the top-right corner.
  Answers via the comment box please, leaving an email contact with an (at) rather than @ to confuse the spam-munchkins, before noon on Wednesday, October 22. Et bon chance, mes amis

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Beautiful Sound Of Bloodstorm

It’s high-ho for the Irish Writers’ Centre on Parnell Square in Dublin on Thursday, October 30, where Paul Charles (left) and Sam Millar (right) get together for a reading, talk and Q&A to celebrate the launches of THE BEAUTIFUL SOUND OF SILENCE and BLOODSTORM, respectively. The gig is being organised by Brandon Books, and nice it is to see them getting behind their scribes and working ye olde promo circuit. No doubt the ‘talk’ element of the evening will prove intriguing, as both men have, as the Chinese proverb has it, lived through interesting times, Paul as a music promoter and Sam – before he was pardoned by Bill Clinton – as a reluctant guest of Uncle Sam’s hospitality. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it along myself, as I’m due to go out live on radio around 6.45pm that evening, but if either or both of Sam and Paul are reading this, and fancy a pre-gig cuppa joe, the coffees are on me … Oh, and did I mention that admission to the Writers’ Centre gig is free? No? Silly moi …

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jim Burke: RIP

My Uncle Jim died last week. I was in the States at the time, and just about made it back in time for the funeral. He’d been ill for some time, so everyone had time to prepare, Jim included. I don’t know if anyone ever dies happy, but he’d made his peace with himself, the world and his God.
  He was my father’s younger brother, and a good, good man. A gentleman according to the traditional meaning, and also in that he combined being gentle with being a man. He was a terrific hurler in his youth, no mean accolade when you hail from Wexford, and it was stirring as it was poignant to see his old comrades turn out to present a guard of honour on our way into the cemetery. You need to be a man of real courage and heart to prosper on the Wexford and Waterford hurling fields, a man who can combine ferocity and style. But when he left the field he left the ferocity behind him, and the style he brought to the game was intrinsic to his character.
  He was well-read and travelled, but he always had the grace to wear his learning lightly. He had a keen intelligence, and served for many years as Head Designer with Waterford Glass. In his spare time he liked to paint and write. Perhaps that’s why he took an interest in me.
  In my early teens, everyone I knew was aware that I liked to write – bad poetry and English essays, for the most part, although Jim wasn’t fussed about their quality. Even though no one I knew ever ridiculed my vague ambition to be a writer, Jim was the first person to take it seriously, to engage with me with the kind of seriousness every young writer craves, whether or not he or she realises it at the time. We had many long conversations, about books and writers for the most part, but wide-ranging enough to take in politics, travel, sport and pretty much anything that came up. He probably thought I was precocious, but he never said. After our first such conversation, when he was visiting us in Sligo, he took himself off into town and returned with a battered second-hand copy of ULYSSES, the only one he could find in the entire town, and in a tobacconists at that.
  I still have it, of course, although I’ve yet to read it through despite a few attempts. What mattered to me at the time was that Jim thought I was in some way kin to both himself and Joyce, that I was a member of some vaguely defined brotherhood of letters. It has been, in writing terms, my lucky charm ever since; it’s on the desk before me as I write this.
  I was lucky enough, many years later, to pay him the tribute I believed he deserved. Jim travelled to Dublin for the launch of my first book, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, and in my speech I recounted the tale of ULYSSES and its being my lucky charm. People laughed when I said I hadn’t read it, possibly out of relief given that most of them hadn’t read it either, but the point I wanted to make was that Jim could have given me a copy of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, or MOBY DICK, or NODDY GOES TO MARKET – it wasn’t the book itself that mattered, or its author, but the gift of it, the gift of collusion and inspiration and being taken seriously.
  Today I know that all I have in common with James Joyce is that we’re both Irish and our books are printed on paper. I don’t know what Jim made of my writing crime fiction – his tastes were a little more esoteric, and he favoured Hemingway above all others. But he understood at the time that it was in words that my greatest hope of happiness lay, and took the time, effort and patience to ensure that I was always, regardless of my regular digressions in life, travelling towards fulfilling that ambition.
  It’s hard not to be selfish at a time like this, to hoard your precious memories of someone who meant so much to you, to burnish them into something unique. But that would be unfair to Jim, who was equally fond of all his brother’s sons and daughters, and who was loved equally in return. He had a great rapport with my mother too, but then he was a charming rogue when the mood took him, with a devilish twinkle in his eye.
  But it’s my father, of course, who will miss him most. They were lucky enough to be friends as well as brothers, and team-mates, from a very early age, and it was intoxicating to hear Jim tell stories about my father from when they were boys and young men. We know our father better for knowing Jim, for he was a marvellous story-teller, and for that alone we will always be in his debt. He left behind the first draft of a manuscript called WHEN WE WERE YOUNG, and he has bequeathed it to me to do with it what I will, and I hope to be one day a good enough writer to do it justice.
  Beannacht Dé leat, Jim.

The Embiggened O # 3,043: A Shame-Faced Confession

Another couple of nice big-ups for THE BIG O arrived in during the week folks, the first courtesy of Patrick at The Poisoned Pen Blog, the gist of it running thusly:
“At long last we’re seeing a whole generation of Irish crime fiction emerging, and it’s fascinating that an island as small as Ireland can produce such a variety of different styles – Bruen’s brilliant, tormented Jack Taylor novels, Tana French’s wicked psychological Dublin gothics, Colin Bateman’s Ulster-set comic epics, and now Declan Burke .... THE BIG O seems to me a classic underworld caper in the same vein as Ray Banks or Allan Guthrie, but with a freshness and often satirical edge that distinguishes it from the lot. A hell of a lot of fun to read.”
  Thank you kindly, sir. Actually, while we’re on the topic of Poisoned Pen – one of the highlights of John and Dec’s Most Excellent Adventure Road-Trip Thingy was arriving at Harcourt publishers to sign ‘some copies’ of THE BIG O ordered by Poisoned Pen in Arizona, only to discover a pile teetering 50 copies high. Small potatoes to more established writers, maybe, but it just about blew my cotton socks off …
  Meanwhile, Jen over at Jen’s Book Thoughts is no less generous in her appraisal of our humble tome, to wit:
“Burke’s juggling act in this plot is really genius. How he makes everything somehow link together is amazing. I kept picturing the flow chart he had to have while he was writing to make sure there were no loose ends … THE BIG O is funny, at times ridiculous or even absurd, and just plain entertaining. It’s a fun book; enjoy it - don’t look for enlightenment!”
  Yep, that’s my philosophy too. Fun, fun, fun, and hope Daddy doesn’t take the T-bird away ...
  Just one thing, Jen – kind and all as you are to big-up my plotting chops, I don’t actually plot. Unless sitting down of a morning thinking, ‘Hmmm, I think I’d like this bit to end with a funny’ amounts to plotting. Planning ahead? Like, where’s the fun in that? I much prefer to just drop characters into situations they don’t like very much, and then watch them bounce around trying to get out of it.
  I guess it goes back to the idea of the writer being a God-like, omniscient creator. You think God plots? If He does, He might want to think about just winging it next time around …