“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 29, 2008

This Month I Was Mostly Reading …

Ye olde reading time was at a premium this month, for a variety of reasons, but while the quantity was low, the quality was pretty good. I gave up on Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO after something like 120 pages, not because the preamble was so tortured, but because I didn’t believe in what appeared to be the two main characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. It just didn’t make sense to me that a wealthy industrialist, who wanted his family’s history explored with discretion and could afford the finest private investigation talents available, would turn to a journalist who had been recently disgraced in a high-profile court case in which he was found to be guilty of a serious error of judgement. The Lisbeth character, meanwhile, came on like a goth Modesty Blaise who was simply too good to be true. It’s a pity, because the overwhelming verdict seems to be that TGWTGT is a modern classic, and Ali Karim reckons it’s sequel is even better. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few years’ time and try again.
  For some reason I re-read Alistair MacLean’s WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL immediately afterwards, and I should point out here that WEBT is one of my blind spots – I must have read it about six times by now. I’m not a MacLean fan, though. I know I read more of his novels in my misspent youth, but none of them stand up the way WEBT does. If you haven’t read it, it’s set amid the Scottish islands and features Philip Calvert as a British Secret Service agent investigating piracy on the high seas, which makes it kind of topical. The ‘Philip’ is a nod to Marlowe, presumably, as the style is a Chandleresque take on the typical Bond story, albeit one grounded in the kind of self-deprecation where Calvert describes himself as a civil servant. Pithy, funny and pacy, it’s a darling read, and I’ve only semi-plagiarised the style with third-rate knock-offs twice to date.
  I went straight from that to MacLean’s THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, because I’m working on something right now that involves WWII shenanigans in the Greek islands. I made it as far as page 17 or thereabouts, which was when MacLean has one of his characters tell how an island in the Dodecanese was invaded by German forces, some of whom were parachuted in. As far as I could tell, the story is set midway through WWII, but to the best of my knowledge the German parachute regiment – the Fallschirmjager – was downgraded to infantry after the debacle that was the airborne invasion of Crete, in 1941, and never went a-parachuting again. I hope I didn’t put away the book on the basis of my getting the timing wrong, but that kind of detail should be important. I can only presume the Allied commandos succeeded in their mission, given that FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE was a subsequent best-seller, but I’ve never seen the movie and I probably won’t be reading the book again.
  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t read a lot of women writers. I don’t think it’s a sexist thing, but more to do with the fact that men tend to write the kind of stories I’m interested in. Anyhoos, Mary Renault is one of the rare exceptions, and THE KING MUST DIE was the latest of her novels, most of which are set in classical Greece. It’s a fictionalised version of the Theseus myth, or the first half of it, covering the hero’s journey on the Greek mainland and his coming to recognition as the son and heir of the King of Athens, Aigeus, before he volunteers to be one of the victims sacrificed to the minotaur of King Minos and sails off to Crete to become a bull-dancer. Renault strips away the mythical elements, while remaining true to the quasi-spiritual aspects of the myth, and presents a fascinating tale of the clash of civilisations between the crude barbarians of the mainland Achaeans and the sophisticated culture of Minoa, which would eventually be undone by a combination of indolence, earthquake and ravening hordes from the north. Again, there’s a topical resonance, and Renault is a beautiful writer. Mind you, for a woman she tends to write quite a lot on the quintessentially male topics of war, conquest and glory – Alexander the Great was an obsession of hers – so maybe she’s not really an exception. I think she was a lesbian too, although I’m open to contradiction.
  Speaking of women with a male mind-set, I dipped into Alex Barclay’s latest, BLOOD RUNS COLD, and found myself fascinated by her creation Ren Bryce, a hard-drinking, no-bullshit FBI agent who seems to have more balls than most male characters. So I’ll be reading that next month. I’ll also be reading Donna Moore’s latest, on manuscript, because GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET was screamingly funny, and the first couple of chapters I dipped into there were just as hilarious. Staying with the manuscripts, I was sent an m/s of Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND, which is due out next year and already claiming all kinds of wondrous big-ups. The first chapter seems to bear them out, so that’s another cracker lined up for next month.
  Back to this month and another female writer, Deborah Lawrenson, whose THE ART OF FALLING was a terrific read. Set in the present day, but driven by a parallel narrative from WWII (Italy this time, rather than Greece), it’s the story of a woman on a quest to lay some ghosts to rest in order to gift herself the peace of mind she needs to be happy. Lawrenson published TAOF herself, before Random House picked it up and gave it the Big House treatment, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD, which employs a similarly dual narrative, this time steeped in the fictionalised life of a writer who bears a very strong resemblance to Lawrence Durrell, and which I’ve already recommended in these here pages.
  Finally, and for research purposes, I’m about to finish THE RASH ADVENTURER: A LIFE OF JOHN PENDLEBURY by Imogen Grundon, which features a foreword from Patrick Leigh Fermor. Pendlebury was a renowned archaeologist in the period between the wars, a specialist on Egyptian and Minoan culture. His life came to a premature end on Crete in 1941, when he was shot by German forces as a spy while working with the Cretan resistance while operating under the guise of the island’s ‘honorary consul’. His was a life lived to the full, and he seems to have been the classic kind of post-Edwardian renaissance man, and a superb writer in his own right who played a huge part in making the esoteric science of archaeology accessible to the masses. Grundon is also a beautiful writer, her own descriptive work no less evocative than the liberal sprinklings of excerpts taken from Pendlebury’s letters. All in all, it makes for stirring stuff.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gone Fishin’

A couple of new offerings from the seemingly bottomless pool of Irish writers, folks. First up is Norn Iron’s resident evil genius Gerard Brennan (right), he of CSNI fame, with the opening to his novel PIRANHAS. To wit:
The streets of Beechmount stank of wet dog. The effect of drying rain in early summer. Light faded from the West Belfast housing area. Joe Philips yawned and slumped against the redbrick alley wall. Half past ten at night. He wanted to be in bed, cosy and watching a DVD until he drifted off to sleep. But he was the leader. The rest of the gang expected him to be there.
  At least it was holiday time. No school to mitch in the morning. He popped his head around the corner and glanced down the avenue.
  “I see one,” he said.
  They all looked up to him. Literally. In the last few weeks he’d taken what his ma called a growth spurt. He’d use his share of tonight’s money to buy longer trousers. Too much white sock showed between his Nike Air trainers and his Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
  “Anyone else about?” Wee Danny Gibson asked. He snubbed a half-smoked fag on the alley wall and tucked the butt behind his ear.
  “No, just the aul doll. Easy enough number.”
  Wee Danny nodded and the rest of the gang twitched, murmured and pulled hoods up over lowered baseball caps. Ten of them in all, not one above fourteen years old.
  “Right, let’s go,” Joe said.
  They spilled out of the alley and surrounded the blue-rinse bitch like a cursing tornado. She screamed, but they moved too fast for the curtain-twitchers to react. Broken nose bleeding, she dropped her handbag and tried to fend off kicks and punches. Wee Danny scooped it up and whistled. They split in ten different directions. The old granny shrieked at them. They were gone before any fucker so much as opened his door.
  Nice. For the rest, clickety-click on Allan Guthrie’s Noir Originals.
  Meanwhile, Peter Murphy’s JOHN THE REVELATOR will be published next February by Faber and Faber, with the book-trailer looking a lot like this. Roll it there, Collette …

Thursday, November 27, 2008

“It’s Time To Put On Make-Up / It’s Time To Come Ye Back …”

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s been a tough week, folks, but the vid below fair cheered me up. Although Adrian McKinty may want to avert his eyes … The Big Question: Is ‘Danny Boy’ beyond parody?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Burke And McFetridge, Going Dutch

In case you missed the linky-poo on Monday, John McFetridge (right) is writing a meta-fiction-y short story in which he and I go on a crime spree during our pre-Bouchercon road-trip. To wit:
When I wrote my novel, EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, I used Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing, and I’m pretty sure that Declan Burke used them when he wrote his novel, THE BIG O, so it was natural when we teamed up to pull armed robberies on our way to Bouchercon in Baltimore, we’d use Elmore’s Ten Rules for Success and Happiness from his novel SWAG.
  In both cases we had to make minor changes to the rules. For one thing, grocery stores and bars never have much cash on hand anymore and one exclamation point for every hundred thousand words? Come on, these are crime novels, people getting robbed and beaten up yell ...
  It’s all true, by the way. Except for the bit where I call Elmore Leonard ‘Dutch’. For the rest, clickety-click here

UPDATE:
Now this is what I call the Big Time

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Tom Bale

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?
Anything by Graham Greene – BRIGHTON ROCK perhaps, as it’s set in my home town, but even the books he classed as “entertainments” are beautifully written. I am in awe of his talent and versatility.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jack Reacher. Tall, strong, fearless, morally certain and irresistible to women. It doesn’t get better than that.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
For the most part I think reading anything can be instructive, although I suppose Frederick Forsyth would fall into this category for me. The early books are very well-constructed thrillers, but his worldview doesn’t exactly coincide with mine, to put it mildly!

Most satisfying writing moment?
When Tif, my wonderful agent, rang me to say we’d had an offer from Preface. That was the moment when I realised I would be able to earn a living from writing. It was all the more gratifying because we were skint at the time, and because my editor, Rosie de Courcy, offered me the deal on the strength of my proposal for a very substantial rewrite. It was an incredible show of faith on her part.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I don’t feel I’ve read widely enough to comment fairly. I have Benjamin Black and Ken Bruen on my TBR pile, and after reading about Stuart Neville on your site I checked out the opening of THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST and thought it was excellent. And he’s not strictly a crime writer, but I think William Trevor is one of the finest writers alive.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Another question I have to dodge, I’m afraid! Often the books you most expect to translate to cinema prove to be a disappointment.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?

It seems ungrateful even to contemplate the worst aspect of what’s always been my dream job, but I do miss the camaraderie of working amongst other people. Daytime TV is a poor substitute. The best part probably comes towards the end of the rewriting phase, when all the hard work is done and you’re just going over and over the manuscript, trimming it, making it tighter and better with each pass.

The pitch for your next book is …?
“DIE HARD on Sandbanks.” And as someone who’s always had trouble reducing my ideas to a snappy one-sentence pitch, I’m pleased that I’ve finally been able to do so with this book. The provisional title is TERROR’S REACH, about a criminal gang who take control of an exclusive island off the Sussex coast, intent on much more than just robbery.

Who are you reading right now?
Gregg Hurwitz, Adrian Magson, Brett Battles and I’m also re-reading John Sandford’s fabulous “Prey” series.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
That’s not a deity I could believe in. But I’d have to choose reading, as so much of the desire to write springs from the thrill of reading.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Fast, thrilling, satisfying – I hope. It’s for others to say whether I succeed.

Tom Bale’s
SKIN AND BONES is published by Preface.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stop The Press: Crime In ‘Doesn’t Always Pay’ Shocker!

News just in folks – your humble scribe (right) has just heard that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has declined to publish the sequel to THE BIG O, said sequel being the now rather ironically titled CRIME ALWAYS PAYS. Damn you, hubris! Details remain sketchy as to why, but it’s either (a) the new editor assigned to the book didn’t fancy it; (b) the global economic downturn is hurting in places I didn’t know I had places; or (c) said sequel is complete tosh. Or maybe it’s all three. As soon as I hear, you’ll be the first to know. Unless it’s (c), of course, in which case I’ll pretend it’s a combination of (a) and (b). Oh well, I guess it’s back to the turnip-thinning for yours truly. It’s been nice knowing you people, you’ve been a wunnerful audience …

UPDATE:
Now this is what I call a cheer-me-up

UPDATE 2: In comedy, it’s all about the timing

Now Is The WINTERLAND Of Our Discontent

Don’t be fooled by his boyish good looks and cherubic charm – Alan Glynn (right) is something of a criminal mastermind. Yours truly was well impressed with his debut, THE DARK FIELDS, and there’s a rather impressive buzz building around his second, WINTERLAND, which is due early next year and appears to have nailed the second-rate circus that is contemporary Ireland. To wit:
“This is the colossus of Irish crime fiction – what MYSTIC RIVER did for Dennis Lehane, WINTERLAND should do for Alan Glynn. It is a noir masterpiece, the bar against which all future works will be judged … It’s as if Flann O’Brien wrote a mystery novel and laced it with speed, smarts and stupendous assurance.” – Ken Bruen

“Both a crime novel and a portrait of contemporary Ireland caught at a moment of profound change, WINTERLAND seems set to mark Alan Glynn as the first literary chronicler of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Timely, topical, and thrilling, this is Ireland as it truly is.” – John Connolly

“A thrilling novel of suspense from a new prose master.” – Adrian McKinty

“WINTERLAND is crime fiction of the highest order – smart, vivid, meticulously crafted, and highly entertaining. Alan Glynn has written a flat-out classic.” – Jason Starr

“WINTERLAND is a powerhouse of a novel whose pacy, character-driven narrative scrutinises Ireland’s underbelly, offering new meaning to the notion of corruption in high places. Glynn’s grasp of the big picture is as immaculate as his attention to detail. This is an exceptional and original crime novel, convincing at every level.” – Allan Guthrie
  Mmmm, nice. So what’s it all about then?
The worlds of business, politics and crime collide when two men with the same name, from the same family, die on the same night – one death is a gangland murder, the other, apparently, a road accident. Was it a coincidence? That’s the official version of events. But when a family member, Gina Rafferty, starts asking questions, this notion quickly unravels. Although she’s devastated, especially by the death of her older brother, Gina’s grief is tempered, and increasingly fuelled, by anger – because the more she’s told that it was all a coincidence, that gangland violence is commonplace, that people die on our roads every day of the week, the less she’s prepared to accept it. Alan Glynn is a Dublin-based writer whose first novel, THE DARK FIELDS, is soon to be filmed, starring Shia LaBeouf.
  All that, and depressingly zeitgeist-y too