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?
I really would be prepared to strangle fluffy kittens and bite the heads off chickens to have written THE BIG SLEEP.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Hammett’s Continental Op. So that I’d finally know his actual name.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels. Makes me feel like a manly man and an excited little boy at the same time.
Most satisfying writing moment?
In my second crime novel THE SALADIN MURDERS, I found myself crying during as I wrote one particular scene in which the hero, a Palestinian schoolteacher, is being stoned by kids. At the time I thought, “Wow, I must be good. I can even make myself cry.” After the novel was finished, I realised I had been experiencing a traumatic memory of the same thing happening to me as a foreign correspondent during the intifada. That was even more satisfying, because I saw that I had been able to take a very deeply felt emotion of my own and make it belong to a character on the page. I also saved myself some psychiatrist bills.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR by Gene Kerrigan. I like that fact that he tosses out a lot of what the genre holds sacred, mainly in the character of his detective. I’ve found as a journalist everything ends up black and white, but as I’ve reported more and more on the Palestinians and Israelis I’ve seen that the truth lies in the grey areas, where only fiction can find them. I detect a similar element in Gene’s writing, after all his years as an investigative journalist. That comes through very strongly in THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, where the detective is forced to confront his own immorality: the bad he’s done in a good cause may simply be bad.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
As a Celt and a history buff, I think one of Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma novels would make the transition to the big screen rather well. (Ok, he’s not Irish, but his father was from Cork, I believe, and Sister Fidelma’s certainly Irish.)
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst: I get quite a few emails to my website from rabid anti-Semites who assume that because I write about the Palestinians I must hate Jews. I don’t enjoy that, at all. Best: Every moment I write feels like a meditation, such deep concentration. I just know that it’s good for my brain. (Second best: no bow ties. Anyone who’s ever sat at the next desk to a boss who wore a bow tie will understand what I mean.)
The pitch for your next book is …?
Omar Yussef goes to New York for a UN conference. He takes the subway to Brooklyn to visit his son, who lives in the part of the borough known as Little Palestine because of all the new immigrants from the West Bank. When he reaches the apartment, he discovers a dead body in his son’s bed … It’s the fourth in my series. It’s called THE FOURTH ASSASSIN and it’ll be out early next year, examining what it's like to be a Muslim in a city where many people think all Arabs are terrorists.
Who are you reading right now?
Peter Hoeg (THE QUIET GIRL). Set in Copenhagen, where I just visited on a book tour. He wrote MISS SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW. Before that, THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, which, as a new father, I found devastating because of the main character’s hopeless attempts to protect his son from a hostile world.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’ve lived in the holy city of Jerusalem for 13 years. I don’t eat kosher food and I smuggled a sandwich into the Palestinian parliament during Ramadan. If God hasn’t cracked down on me for that, he isn’t going to be bothered about whether I’m reading or writing. But if you put me on an island and said: “The complete works of Shakespeare, or a laptop computer?”, I’d go with the book and make up stories in my head (without God noticing).
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Not bloody journalism.
Matt Rees’s THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET is published by Atlantic Books
“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.