“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, January 24, 2009

Note To Self: Insert ‘Wot’s On / Watson’ Header Here

Bastion of all things academic and intellectual, Trinity College Dublin is currently hosting an exhibition titled ‘The Body in the Library – the great detectives 1841 to 1941’. Quoth the TCD website:
The detective novel is a genre which generates great popular interest and also growing academic and critical attention. The library’s collections across the past two centuries reflect the development of this form of imaginative writing. This exhibition will illustrate the origins of the detective story in the mid-19th century, the growth in popularity of fictional heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown and Hercule Poirot. There will be a focus on the first golden age of crime writing in the 1920s and 1930s.
  The exhibition opened on Thursday, and runs until June 15. There’s no details as to a specific Irish crime / mystery dimension, but hey – Trinners doing detective fiction? It’s a start.
  I’m also hearing persistent rumours that NYU is planning a symposium on Irish crime fiction later this year. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Self-Publish And / Or Be Damned

I tend to be defensive when it comes to the self-publishing / vanity publishing issue, given that THE BIG O was originally co-published with Hag’s Head Press, which involved my paying half the costs of putting the book on the shelf. While I appreciate that there’s a lot of dross that gets self-published, there’s also a lot of crap that not only gets past the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing model, but gets championed by said gatekeepers (see Nobody Move, below).
  Time magazine has this week waded into the fray with a fine piece on the future of publishing, the gist of which is that the means of disseminating fiction is undergoing a radical change (e-books, print on demand, etc.), and that the new forms will inevitably influence the content. To wit:
A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since--well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever …
  Self-publishing has gone from being the last resort of the desperate and talentless to something more like out-of-town tryouts for theatre or the farm system in baseball. It’s the last ripple of the Web 2.0 vibe finally washing up on publishing’s remote shores. After YouTube and Wikipedia, the idea of user-generated content just isn’t that freaky anymore …
  None of this is good or bad; it just is. The books of the future may not meet all the conventional criteria for literary value that we have today, or any of them. But if that sounds alarming or tragic, go back and sample the righteous zeal with which people despised novels when they first arose. They thought novels were vulgar and immoral. And in a way they were, and that was what was great about them: they shocked and seduced people into new ways of thinking. These books will too. Somewhere out there is the self-publishing world’s answer to [Daniel] Defoe, and he’s probably selling books out of his trunk. But he won’t be for long.
  To be honest, I’m not sure this kind of DIY ethic is going to transmogrify the industry. Pop music had its Year Zero in 1976, when the Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks et al arrived, but little really changed – Johnny Rotten recently turned up on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. And while the web makes it possible for anyone to get published and establish an audience, that still leaves the writer with the thorny question of how to get paid for the value of his or her time, let alone the value of the work. Or is ‘getting paid’ just too 20th century for words? Over to you, folks …

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

Some interesting news via John Connolly’s blog, folks, where he’s musing on a novel he’s currently writing: “At the same time, having finished the fairly minor edits for THE LOVERS, I’ve returned to an odd book that I’ve been humming and hawing over for quite some time … That urge to experiment, to try new things that may fail, is one that’s becoming increasingly difficult to indulge as time goes on.” ‘An odd book’? If we’re into territory even remotely approaching the ‘experiment’ of JC’s meisterwerk THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, I’ll be a very happy man indeed. As the boy Beckett may never have actually said, ‘Try again, fail again, fail better.’
  Meanwhile, I heard yesterday that John McFetridge’s SWAP will be coming to an American shelf near you in early 2010, and possibly late this year in a Canadian edition, which is superb news. I read SWAP last year in m/s, and even factoring in the provisio that El Fetch is a buddy of mine, it’s still a terrific read, and his best yet in my not-very-humble opinion. The vid below is the proposed trailer: roll it there, Collette …

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE ASSOCIATE by John Grisham

Fair play to the Irish Times – at a time when newsprint all over the planet is slashing its books coverage, the Old Lady has introduced a ‘Book of the Day’ review on its op-ed pages. Yours truly had the honour on Tuesday, to wit:
Book of the Day
The Associate
By John Grisham
Century
373pp, £18.99

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature on why large publishing firms find it impossible to escape the ‘blockbuster trap’. This is a lottery-style business model, albeit on a vast scale: you invest huge amounts of money in very few titles, and hope that some of them hit the jackpot and provide a return that will sustain the company’s entire roster. It’s a boom-or-bust philosophy that appears cavalier, but the alternative for any company not willing to play the game is that the author’s agent will simply take his client to a company who will.
  As a result, there’s a lot riding on John Grisham’s latest novel, THE ASSOCIATE, for Random House imprint Century. Grisham is a brand name and a perennial best-seller. THE ASSOCIATE, his twenty-first thriller, is perceived as something of a weather vane; if Grisham doesn’t sell, then the publishing industry is in dire straits.
  Perhaps that accounts for the novel’s conservatism. The cover proclaims Grisham as the ‘bestselling author of THE FIRM’, and the inside jacket acknowledges that THE ASSOCIATE is ‘reminiscent’ of Grisham’s breakthrough title, which took bestseller lists and Hollywood by storm. In point of fact, THE ASSOCIATE is so ‘reminiscent’ of THE FIRM that the unwary reader may suffer déjà vu.
  The protagonist, Kyle McAvoy, is a an idealistic law student, the editor of the Yale Law Journal, and a young man with a very bright future. His prospects quickly grow bleak, however, when he is blackmailed by a shadowy organisation, fronted by one Bennie Wright, into infiltrating one of Wall Street’s largest law firms and charged with winkling out the secrets of a multi-billion lawsuit. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse tale in which Kyle attempts to discover who is directing Bennie Wright before he gets caught in the act of corporate espionage and blackballed for life.
  It’s a conventional set-up by the standards of the contemporary thriller, and Grisham’s bland prose lacks the style that might compensate, while the dialogue is at times laughably preposterous (“You awake?” Joey whispered. “Yes. I assume you are too.”) There’s precious little narrative tension, either – Kyle’s predicament, and the reason he is being blackmailed, is that Bennie possesses a video-recording that suggests Kyle may or may not have been present, years previously, when two of his college roommates may or may not have had non-consensual sex with a woman who subsequently claimed she was raped.
  Grisham attempts to gloss over the fact that any half-baked law student would call the blackmailer’s bluff with the words ‘reasonable doubt’, but any reader familiar with even the most basic of legal procedures will realise that Kyle – particularly if he is as bright as Grisham claims – can walk away from the mess at any point. In order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, however, Kyle becomes the kind of genre-friendly but utterly implausible character who is noble enough to put a multi-million dollar career on the line for the sake of his former friends’ reputations.
  There are, for those new to Grisham’s oeuvre, some fascinating insights into the workings of large legal firms, which the ex-lawyer describes in intimate detail: the crushing workload, the rapacious billing practices, the sheer lunacy of the mentality that pervades the upper echelons of sprawling corporations that have, as Mark Twain once said, neither a head to think with nor an ass to kick. But even those kind of details will be already familiar to Grisham fans, and the frequent digressions contribute to a frustratingly disjointed narrative.
  THE ASSOCIATE may seem the perfect panacea for an industry currently questioning its modus operandi: its very familiarity may provide comfort in a time of doubt. In the long run, however, the championing of such staid, conservative novels can only accelerate the industry’s downward spiral of boom-or-bust. – Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Irish Times

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Becoming A Coward


It’s been a tough few days, folks, and getting away from the hospital for a few hours to receive the best wishes of you all via a bewildering array of electronic devices, and generally mess about with the blog and whatnot, kept me sane. Thankfully Lily was never in too serious a condition, and the pneumonia was caught before it had a chance to take hold properly, but you know how it goes – the old mind runs riot with worst-case scenarios, especially in the wee dark hours. At the risk of sounding too po-faced and / or sentimental about it, I never before realised that you didn’t have to be a coward to feel fear. Well, I do now, or else I’ve become a coward. Still, Lily is back on track, and we’re hoping she’ll be out tomorrow and back home where she belongs. Here’s hoping we never have to go through that again … Anyway, she’s in terrific form again, and that’s all that matters. Thanks to you all for your thoughts and best wishes.