Off with yours truly and my good lady wife to Belfast on Saturday, only to discover that John Connolly had been in to No Alibis on Friday night to launch THE GATES. Boo, etc. No doubt a good time was had by all.
I read THE GATES a couple of months ago, and loved it, and what I liked best about it was that it represents yet another string to Connolly’s bow. I’ve always loved William Goldman for his ability to write terrific stories regardless of genre – MARATHON MAN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – and for his ability to play it straight when required, but to mix it up and have fun whenever he gets the chance. To date John Connolly has written straight crime novels (BAD MEN), crime blended with the supernatural (the Charlie Parker novels), a collection of short stories infused by the classic fairytales of Charles Perrault (NOCTURNES) and the mythology mash-up of the superb THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. THE GATES blends Satanism, quantum physics and good old-fashioned fun in a tale that put me in mind of THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. It really is one for all the family.
These days, of course, it’s tough to write in more than one genre, because publishers believe that a writer shouldn’t confuse the oh-so-easily confused readership by offering them anything that deviates from the established brand. Connolly, who writes his non-crime offerings out of contract, is to be celebrated not only for taking a gamble with his time and energies, but for having faith in his readers. Yes, it’s entirely probable that THE GATES will not sell in anything approaching the numbers that the next Charlie Parker novel will. By the same token, it’s also very likely that the publishing house will more than recoup its investment.
I don’t care, particularly, about the profit margins and bottom line of any publishing house, but if THE GATES does sell well, then there’s a good chance we’ll get another novel featuring the dauntless Samuel Johnson and his faithful daschund Boswell (there’s rumours of a possible three-book series). Which means, and this is my bottom line, that we’ll get another fun book. Remember when you read for fun? Gosh, those were the days …
Maybe it’s just me, but it can often seem that the publishing biz takes itself far too seriously, writers included. Yes, there are bottom lines to attend to, and in these straitened times there are jobs at stake when a potential best-seller fails to meet expectations. But even taking all that on board, there’s no reason in the world why books – some of them, at least – can’t be fun to read. In fact, in times like these, the industry might do well to play to (and profit from) people’s need to laugh, for the childish (in the best sense of the word) impulse to find fun in the most improbable of places. And John Connolly is a funny guy. Were I a publishing exec, in this day and age, I’d be tickling his funny-bone and hoping it’d get his fingers busy on a keyboard.
Meanwhile, beg, borrow or steal (or go crazy, and buy) a copy of THE GATES. You owe yourself some fun.
“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.