“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, November 15, 2008

The Embiggened O # 4,209: Putting The ‘Fun’ Into ‘Funky’

Yep, it’s self-aggrandizing Saturday at Crime Always Pays, and Corey Wilde over at The Drowning Machine has been kind enough to review our humble offering, with the gist running thusly:
“Can you say funky? Can you say funky and Irish in the same sentence, is that legal? Is it possible? … THE BIG O is a fine, fun and altogether funky read. Take one part Ruthless People, add one part Fargo, mix with three parts black Irish humour, and you’ll still need author Declan Burke's storytelling skills to get it all properly shook up.”
  Thanking you kindly, Corey, you’ve been a wonderful audience. Meanwhile, Thursday night’s PEN gig was terrific fun. I met up with the luscious Alex Barclay beforehand for a bite to eat, and we had a very serious conversation about art, the craft of writing, and crime fiction’s place in the pantheon of literature. Koff. Anyhoos, the convivial atmosphere was rudely punctured by yours truly asking, “So listen, you know where the PEN gig is happening, right?”
  Erm, wrong. But we’ll draw a discreet veil over the sight of two authors who write about detectives and investigators and whatnot running up and down the length of Fitzwilliam Street in search of the United Arts club, and particularly the bit where a taxi-driver was asked for directions outside said club, this about twenty minutes before we actually found the place.
  Happily, the PEN folk were kindness personified, and the third member of the panel, Niamh O’Connor (right) had the good grace not to mention our tardiness. There was a terrific turn-out, and the event – once the malfunctioning microphones were dispensed with – was great fun. Not that I had a lot to do with it, naturally. Most of the Q&A queries were directed towards Alex and Niamh, and especially Niamh.
  An unfeasibly glamorous crime reporter with the Sunday World, Niamh also writes crime non-fiction, her most recent outing the tale of Sharon Collins, aka ‘Lyin’ Eyes’, the woman who contacted a hitman-for-hire website in a bid to have her lover and his two sons murdered so that she could scoop his €60 million fortune. Actually, the story sounds like a lurid novel – said lover has done his best to have Collins’s name cleared, despite the overwhelming evidence. Clickety-click here for a TV3 interview in which Niamh chats about the case and her book. It’s a fascinating tale, so much so that, if she’d written it as fiction, it’d have been laughed out of town …

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yea, Verily, Herewith Be The Vibe-Ups

Today seems as good a day as any to quote from the Bible, particularly when I’m hearing good news about a couple of my favourite writers, to wit: “As the vibe-ups descendeth upon the brows of my brothers, so too am I vibed up, verily.” First out of the traps is John ‘transcending the Johnre’ McFetridge, who got the hup-ya from Quill and Quire. Quoth Johnre:
Quill and Quire, “Canada’s Magazine of Book News and Reviews,” picked 15 books from 2008 “to remember,” and EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE is one of them. The article says, “Some are critical favourites, some are bookstore blockbusters. Some dive into difficult subjects, some are about pure pleasure.” About EVERYBODY KNOWS they say it’s, “a sprawling portrait of a city that’s rare for any novel, genre or literary.”
  Hmmmm, nice. Meanwhile, a little birdie with a dulcet Norn Iron lilt tells us that Brian McGilloway’s Inspector Devlin series – currently BORDERLANDS and GALLOWS LANE, with BLEED A RIVER DEEP to follow in spring – has been optioned as a TV serial. Which is very nice indeed. What are the odds that Jimmy Nesbitt will play Devlin? Or, indeed, that Colin Bateman will take a hatchet to Brian McGilloway? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …
  Back down south, panting hotfoot, for the news that Colm Keegan’s play A NIGHT TIME CRACKLE will be one element of the latest Shoestring Collective jamboree. It all takes place on November 22nd, at the James Joyce Centre, 35 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1, and I believe the poster pretty much tells its own tale. For more details, clickety-click here.
  Finally, and in keeping with our Biblical-ish tone – is it just me, or does this guy doth protest too much?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Week At The Movies

You get to see a lot of rubbish when you review movies for a living, and while it’s nowhere as bad as thinning turnips or working on a building site, it’s incredibly frustrating to waste a couple of hours (plus the couple of hours it takes to get there and back) watching complete tosh when you could be doing something more useful, like staring at a blank screen and trying to remember how this whole writing lark goes again. Last week was a bad week, upon which we won’t dwell, but this week has been one of the better ones.
  I saw Waltz With Bashir (above, right) on Monday morning, an animated film dealing with the 1982 Israeli-Lebanese war, the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and the voluntary amnesia of some of the Israeli soldiers involved. Written and directed by Ari Folman, who served during the conflict, it’s a fairly straightforward narrative, in that it’s constructed from a series of interviews Ari conducts with former comrades in an attempt to fill in the missing gaps in his memory of that time. The animation is crude, a technique called ‘rotor-scoping’ that involves filming live and then painting over the resulting film; it’s deliberately crude, however, designed to place the kind of dream-like barrier between audience and action that the soldiers themselves seem to experience when they try to remember the details of the war. Naturally, it’s those details, as they emerge in a drip-feed manner, that prove harrowing. A brave and haunting film, Waltz With Bashir is as compelling as its subject matter is repellent.
  I saw Choke on Tuesday morning, the movie version of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. I thought the novel overwrought and grating when I read it years ago, a story with all the idiosyncrasies of FIGHT CLUB but none of the substance. The movie isn’t much of an improvement; the main character, Victor, is an accumulation of quirks and oddities, and never really convinces as a fully rounded person. Yes, I know he’s supposed to be a despicable human being, and that I’m not supposed to like him, but I’d have been equally happy to hate the sex addict-cum-scam artist. I just didn’t care enough either way, although Angelica Huston’s performance, as Victor’s dying mother, is a strong one.
  Tuesday afternoon brought the Irish movie Kisses. To wit:
Two kids, Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) run away from home to escape Dylan’s abusive father and Kylie’s creepy uncle, and spend the night wandering the streets of Dublin. That’s the very simple set-up to Kisses, which was written and directed by Lance Daly, and the movie is as beautiful as it is simple. That’s not to say it’s a picture-postcard depiction of Dublin, or of its central characters. Dylan and Kylie are expertly drawn pre-teens from one of Dublin’s less salubrious suburban estates, with all the angst, conflict and hormonally-charged na├»vety that that suggests, and both have the vocabulary of a fishwife. Most of the situations the pair find themselves in are not ones that will have Bord Failte rushing to promote this movie – Kylie and Dylan, searching for Dylan’s homeless brother, find themselves dealing with a variety of winos, perverts and security guards keen to make a name for themselves. But it’s the chemistry and relationship between the leading pair that make this work, as well as a script that showcases a very sharp ear for Dublin slang, and despite their sordid environment, this is an uplifting tale that’s similar in tone and intent with the last great Irish movie, Adam and Paul.
  Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
  Tuesday night found me in the Abbey Theatre for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Berthold Brecht’s tale of the rise of an Italian-American gangster in 1930’s Chicago and the parallels between his coming to power and that of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Jimmy Fay, who has been turning out some terrific productions in the last couple of years, directs, and it’s a long but always compelling tale. Central to its success is the performance of Tom Vaughn Lawlor as Ui, a stunning piece of work in which Lawlor somehow manages to channel Hitler, Al Capone, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin and Richard III. It’s as fine a performance as I’ve seen on a Dublin stage in 10 years of reviewing theatre; if you’re in the vicinity of Dublin over the next few weeks, don’t miss it.
  Finally, the clip below is the trailer to Kisses. Roll it there, Collette …

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

O’Bloggers, Where Art Thou?

Took a quick shufty around ye olde bloggeosphere yesterday, and realised how many top-notch Irish blogs there are dealing with crime fiction. Tony Bailie (right) has a nice piece called ‘Thick as Thieves’ up on his interweb yokeybus, and I’m not saying that just because he name-checks yours truly. Okay, that’s a goodly part of the reason, but it’s still a pretty nifty piece nonetheless …
  Elsewhere, Neville Thompson has kicked off a recession-busting innovation. Quoth Nev: “In order to help with the current credit crunch, I have decided to write my latest novel as a blog novel, a chapter every Thursday.” Which is nice of him. Why not toddle along and leave him a comment?
  As always, Gerard Brennan over at CSNI leaves us all choking in his fragrant dust – this week alone he has posts on Ian Sansom, Sam Millar, John McFetridge and Brian McGilloway. All this when he’s supposed to be scribbling away on his own opus. Actually, it feels rather strange to try to remember a time when the world didn’t have CSNI … It’s a bit like mince pies, really. We could probably do without them, but wouldn’t you hate to have to try?
  Mmmmm, mince pies.
  Uber-babe and crime scribe Arlene Hunt has started blogging more often recently, very probably because she’s just released her latest novel, UNDERTOW, but she still doesn’t blog as often as she should, because she’s very funny when she does. Golly-gosh, isn’t it a terrible pity that she doesn’t know someone who could, y’know, help her out with that whole blogging malarkey?
  Finally, there’s always John Connolly’s blog. As he says in the intro to his latest piece, he’s been blogging less frequently too, mainly because he doesn’t want to repeat himself and waste our time. Bless. Anyhoo, there’s some smashing stuff in there this outing, in which John beards the literary types in their Canadian den. My theory on literary snobbery is, given that literary novels don’t really sell, the snobbery is all they’ve got. Literary writers are like the guys ‘n’ gals still living in two rooms of a crumbling old 40-room pile in the Home Counties, clinging on to that vestige of aristocracy in the hope that that will convince people they still matter. Quoth JC:
“A fellow Irish author enquires how I go about constructing a mystery narrative, given that it requires the farming out of information at certain intervals. I reply that I don’t plan it at all, and instead the revelations in question occur in part both naturally in the course of the initial draft and are also subject to revision during the process of rewriting as the heart of the narrative gradually reveals itself. I make the point that it is no different from the way in which a literary author approaches a book, and note the fact that his own most recent novel depends upon a series of revelations about an act of startling violence that has occurred many years in the past, so the difference between our texts is hardly as significant as he might believe. He doesn’t even answer, but simply turns around and walks away, as if appalled that I might suggest any degree of commonality between us.”
  An unnamed ‘fellow Irish author’, eh? My money’s on Michael Collins.

  UPDATE: Hurrah, a little birdie tells me it wasn’t Michael Collins! That’s a relief.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blood Runs Hot

I’m pretty sure it was Declan Hughes they actually wanted, and someone got their wires crossed along the way, but it seems I’ve been pencilled in for a nice gig next Thursday, November 13, talking crime fiction in some rather glamorous company. To wit:
Crime Always Pays: Join Three Crime Writers for a Criminal Conversation

Who: Declan Burke, author of THE BIG O; Alex Barclay (right), who signed a high six-figure sum with Harper Collins for DARKHOUSE; journalist Niamh O’Connor, author of THE BLACK WIDOW.
What: Learn about crime fiction and true crime writing.
Where: United Arts Club, 3 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday 13 November.
Cost: €3 members & €5 non-members.
Places limited. Booking essential: email irishpen@ireland.com or phone 087 966 0770
  The ever-radiant Alex Barclay, incidentally, has her latest novel, BLOOD RUNS COLD, arriving on a bookshelf near you any day soon. Hmmm. BLOOD RUNS HOT might be a more appropriate title, but then I’m a sexist pig, so what do I know?

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: John Knoerle

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?

FAREWELL MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Phillip Marlowe.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Cookbooks, esp. lushly illustrated ones. They’re foodie porn.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Can’t single out one but it’s that moment when you complete a circle you didn’t realize you were making.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
My ignorance of Irish crime novels is encyclopaedic.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Writing a good novel is damn near impossible. Writing a great novel, well, I wouldn’t know. But I’m betting it’s difficult.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A behind German lines OSS agent is invited to Berlin to participate in a post-war ‘business venture.’ He thinks it smells fishy but goes anyway. He’s right.

Who are you reading right now?
FLASHMAN by George MacDonald Fraser.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. But then how do I edit?

The three best words to describe your own writing are ...
Bloody damn fantastic.

John Knoerle’s A PURE DOUBLE CROSS is published by Blue Steel Press.

Monday, November 10, 2008

And If You Tolerate This …

I’m in the process of writing a feature about Irish women crime writers, and one of the questions asks if any of the ladies have a theory as to why there’s been such an upsurge in Irish crime writing recently. One of them pointed me in the general direction of today’s front page headlines, to wit:
Long-running drugs feud claims another innocent victim

Shot dead because he looked like gang's real target


999 caller told the operator he strangled Dublin mum

Man due in court over Larne murder

Dublin dad is charged with making child porn


Three men jailed for failed Securicor cash van heist


Dissidents co-operating with each other more, says IMC


Charged: 3 on €675m drug boat
  It surprises people when I tell them that there’s roughly 50 Irish crime writers currently being published. Actually, the wonder is there isn’t more.
  Meanwhile, our thoughts go out to the families of Carmel Breen, Shane Geoghegan and Kenneth Nicholl. RIP.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Erm, Have We Had A ‘Dear Genre’ Post Yet This Week?

Kevin Power reviewed the latest Paul Howard novel, MR S AND THE SECRETS OF ANDORRA’S BOX, in the Irish Times yesterday, Paul Howard being the creator of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, a Falstaffian comic foil that has allowed Howard skewer the pretensions of Celtic Tiger Ireland over the course of nine novels. The gist of Power’s review runneth thusly:
Irish fiction hasn’t kept up with Irish reality. So we get “literary” novels about paedophile priests, novels about the Famine, novels in which farmers walk the fields - but who pops into Starbucks and orders a grande chai latte with soy? During the last decade few novelists have bothered to notice what modern Ireland is actually like. This is terrain that Paul Howard … has made his own, seeing - or, more accurately, hearing - what the Irish really are, in south Dublin anyway … You will search the pages of our more distinguished literary novelists in vain for this kind of thing. When was the last time you read a novelist whose ear for the way some Irish people speak was so acute that he was capable of writing a sentence like “Just going back to what you were saying there about the whole non-national thing”?
  About two weeks ago, actually, when I read Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK. Power’s novel deals with the same strata of Irish society as Howard’s, albeit in a more serious vein. While I believe that the culture both men target is so hollow as to defy satire – Howard’s novels are much closer in tone to farce – Power certainly recreated the mini-cosmos with a deft touch, in the process showcasing a sharp ear for dialogue.
  Having said that, you have to wonder why Power ignores novels other than “literary” ones when making his point about fiction not dealing with the ‘real Ireland’. There are many examples of women’s fiction, aka chick lit, nailing the zeitgeist, the best and most popular being Marian Keyes. And, naturally, there are any amount of crime fiction novels that do so too. In 2008 alone we’ve had Declan Hughes’s THE DYING BREED, Tana French’s THE LIKENESS, Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE, Andrew Nugent’s SOUL MURDER, and Ingrid Black’s CIRCLE OF THE DEAD.
  You can argue in your own time about the literary merits, or otherwise, of those novels, although I’d argue that when it comes to storytelling, language is a tool akin to the sculptor’s chisel or the filmmaker’s camera – in other words, it needs to be first and foremost functional before it can start claiming any other virtues. The point being, there are plenty of novels relevant to the ‘real Ireland’ – there are novels due from Gene Kerrigan, Christy Kenneally, Declan Hughes and Tana French next year – that are being written with an ear for who we are now and where we are going.
  This is not to damn “literary” novels for not engaging with modern Ireland; a little birdie, for example, tells me that Gerard Donovan, for one, is currently at work on ‘a novel of crimes’, while David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, published earlier this year, is a powerful work about the post-Troubles political landscape in Northern Ireland. But why is it that only “literary” novels are accorded sufficient weight and credibility when it comes to recording the authentic experience of what is ‘real’ about the way we live?