MYSTERY MAN is the latest novel, squire. What’s the skinny?
“I kind of wrote it by accident. I’ve launched nearly all of my three hundred and twenty-seven novels in No Alibis bookshop in Belfast, a fine mystery bookstore indeed, the best an only one in that city of twelve stories. Mmm, good title for book … The Stories … but when I do a reading I always read from the first chapter - you don’t need any confusing set up. But when I was launching DRIVING BIG DAVIE about four years ago the first chapter was all about masturbation, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that – the reading – in front of my relatives. So instead I wrote a short story using the shop as the location, and the owner as a part time detective. It just got a lot of laughs. So when I launched the next book, I wrote a second story, it went down just as well, and then the novel just seemed to write itself.”
The No Alibis-style crime fiction bookstore; the famous Irish literary author turned crime writer; a snivelling weakling as first-person narrator – aren’t we dangerously close to meta-fiction here, if not actual autobiography?
“Absolutely right, it is almost entirely autobiographical. I hope it’s an affectionate tribute to crime writers, book sellers and readers, even if I do depict them all as being sad and mental. Actually, squire, I think the entire book has been as much influenced by CAP as anything, it’s one of the first sites I turn to in the morning. Although I’m now definitely bracketed as a crime writer, I’ve never really been or felt part of a ‘scene’ or attended many conferences or the like, and I don’t mix with other crime writers at all (not out of choice, out of being a lazy bugger), so CAP is like a nice club to visit.”
The whole Norn Iron Prods vs Taigs thing – why can’t you just get along? Eh?
“We may fight, but at least we can add up, which clearly you lot south of the border can’t do. The Celtic Tiger, hah!”
Rafa Benitez: messiah or messer?
“When he was good he was very good, when he was bad he was awful. If you remember that eventually, your team ALWAYS, lets you down, then you can be fairly relaxed about it all. And having won the Champions League in ’05, we, and I mean WE, really don’t have to do anything else for about twenty years.”
You’re obviously a terrific writer. How come you’re wasting your time on that crime fiction trash?
“I love that ‘obviously’! I think most of us writers can only write what we can write - we can’t suddenly put on a ‘literary’ hat or start writing poetry, or for that matter a Mills & Boon novel. I suppose it’s whatever floats your boat. That said, when I started out I was asked if I wanted to be in the crime section and I said no, I wanted to be free to write whatever stories I wanted. So twenty three books down the line, including the children’s ones, there hasn’t been one that hasn’t featured crime or thriller elements. So I guess it’s in the DNA.”
Do you write comedy crime fiction or crime fiction comedy? Is there a difference? And why the comedy? Yon crime’s a serious business, like …
“I just write the stories and let other people decide what they are. I kind of half-remember watching a Charlie Drake movie on TV when I was a kid in which he was a comedian who tried to go straight, but people kept laughing at him, and I think that has always been my fear. I have been re-branded with a comedic look, which I’m fine with and the books all look great together, but it can be a bit restrictive - my last book ORPHEUS RISING was as far from a comedy as I can imagine, but you wouldn’t necessarily have known that from the large pink shark on the cover. A shark which only appears in the first paragraph. And wasn’t pink. MYSTERY MAN, however, IS supposed to be a comedy, probably the purest comedy I’ve written.”
Who were your big inspirations and / or heroes?
“Marvel Comics, science fiction magazines, pulp fiction, movies, movies, movies, Robert B Parker, Liverpool. I would give it all up to play for Liverpool, but the bloody phone never rings. I still play twice a week, but the clock is ticking.”
If you could assume authorship for one writer’s back catalogue, who would it be?
“Do you know, the only writer in recent years whose books I’ve consistently enjoyed has been Robert Harris - FATHERLAND, THE GHOST, etc. The problem with 95 per cent of what we call ‘crime fiction’ is that it’s all exactly the same, like it’s written by a software programme. Harris is very understated, and all the more thrilling for it. I’ve started reading David Peace now, and I like the style. Has also made me think a bit more about going back to The Troubles for a book; I was fed up with writing about terrorists etc. but it might be the right time to re-visit.”
Who’s the sexiest living crime writer?
“Alex Barclay, obviously. She said the same about me. And then I woke up.”
Any new Norn Iron writers we should be keeping our eyes peeled for?
“No. I REALLY don’t need the competition.
Stuart Neville’s book obviously is coming soon, and Brian McGilloway seems to be taking off and Adrian McKinty’s new one ... I am) in the process of putting together an anthology of Noirish fiction, and I’ve seven or eight really good stories, but not quite enough for a book - we are a very small country though, and maybe I shouldn’t expect there to be a dozen or so good crime writers. But I think we’re punching above our weight.”
You don’t read a lot of crime fiction. Why so?
“I’m very easily influenced, mostly. As you’ll see from above, I’m coming over all David Peace and I’ve hardly started him. And also, a lot of it makes me want to throw it through the window of a bus.”
The next one is called THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL. What’s all that about?
“Well, we had a marketing meeting, and decided if we married THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS with MARLEY & ME we might have a hit on our hands. Actually, it’s the sequel to MYSTERY MAN. And I used to have a Jack Russell. Also, I was wondering, has there been a crime novel where someone actually flogs a dead horse?”
Finally, why aren’t there more redhead crime writers? Is it a conspiracy?
“My favourite joke of all time is: ‘My wife’s a redhead. No hair, just a red head.’ Actually, it’s the one about the news report saying a car has crashed through a wall into Dublin cemetery, and so far Garda have recovered two hundred and thirty bodies.”
Bateman’s MYSTERY MAN is published on April 30th
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.