“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, February 7, 2009

Do The White Thing

In my first book, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, which was set in the week running up to Christmas, I used snowfall the way some people use an impending thunderstorm, and the muckier things got as Harry Rigby found himself up to his oxters in corruption and murder, the heavier the pristine snow fell. Ironic, eh? No? Okay.
  Herewith be Jim Kelly (right) on why snow is such an important element of his latest novel, DEATH WORE WHITE
“What is it about snow that fascinates the British - or perhaps specifically - the English mind ? As we struggle to deal with the worst snow for twenty years it’s a question worth asking. For me it’s a particularly pertinent question. This week sees the publication of my latest crime novel – DEATH WORE WHITE - a mystery set on a snow- choked country lane. Aside from the almost spooky coincidence, the falling snow flakes prompt for me this larger question - why is the whole crime genre, and especially its so-called Golden Age, so fond of snow ? And it’s just not crime buffs who like the stuff. Just look at MISS SMILIA’S FEELING FOR SNOW, or SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, or any number of recent classics. Why do they return so often to the white stuff ? It’s not just the picture postcard beauty - although it helps. And it’s not just the nostalgic feel - harking back to Winnie the Pooh, WIND IN THE WILLOWS and A CHRISTMAS CAROL - although that helps too. There’s another much more deep-rooted reason, lying just beneath the white shroud, like the door knocker to Mr Badger’s set.
  “And on other big question comes to mind: as global warming turns the classic snow scene into little more than a nostalgic oddity, can we crime writers go on conjuring up such frosty plots ?
  “The central place of snow in the crime literature goes back to the idea of the “locked room mystery” – the core element of the modern crime story, which can be traced to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 short story – ‘The Murders In The Rue Morgue’. We all know the basic rules of the locked-room mystery - the crime where the killer leaves no trace. A dead body, a locked room, no way in, no way out. But beyond this rather narrow idea of the locked-room lies a bigger idea - that of the impossible crime. And behind that an absolutely massive idea - the impossible itself, the sheer wonder when we come across something which speaks of the super-natural, the unknown, or the superhuman. What Poe called the “preternatural”. But why does this idea big idea so often lead to snow ? Two examples illustrate why snow is so useful: In THE HOLLOW MAN, by John Dickson Carr, a book widely considered to be the very best of the genre, a man walks a snowy London street. A shot rings out, he falls dead, seen by witnesses. The wound points to the fact the gun was held against his chest. But there’s no gun. And there’s no other footsteps. Who committed this impossible crime ?
  “Nearly eighty years after Dickson Carr’s classic was published I’ve written my own version on the same theme. In DEATH WORE WHITE I conjured up a line of eight cars, stranded on a country road. Once the police arrive they find the driver in the leading vehicle dead at the wheel - a chisel driven through his eye. But there’s no footsteps around the car. How did the killer get in ? How did the killer get out ?
  “Snow - you see - gives us a virtual locked-room. Short of the missing ceiling, the snow provides us with transparent impenetrable walls. Of course you can fire something at the victim - but then you could always do that through a window anyway (usually an icicle - then the murder weapon is gone too !). The only real difference is that there is no ceiling to our virtual locked-room, but that only multiplies the solutions. So as soon as those flakes of snow start to fall those of us in the crime-writing fraternity who still like a locked room mystery find our imaginations, strangely, unlocked. So after Poe - and specifically after Israel Zangwill’s ground-breaking 1903 book THE BIG BOW MYSTERY (the first novel with a locked room at its heart) - writers turned to snow to ‘modernise’ the locked room and find other ways of giving readers an impossible crime.
  “The basic rules of the locked-room can be applied to many other crime plots and scenarios. (Dickson Carr - again in THE HOLLOW MAN - gives us a helpful list of seven ways to commit the impossible locked-room crime - an invaluable tool for the budding crime writer)
  “But there’s much more to snow that a locked room. Snow reduces the landscape to its essential components - the lane, the old house, the stream, the village church, with none of that annoying ‘noise’ in between. It reduces the real world, the real landscape to a real-life map, a plan - and we all know that at the heart of a really good puzzle of the Golden Age, or indeed any other age, we’ll find a diagram, or a map, so that we the reader can puzzle along with the sleuth or the puzzle-setter. It’s almost as if snow gives us a chance to see the world more clearly: still, crisp, and without those annoying grey-areas that can make real life so complex and difficult.
  “And of course, every time a real-live person sets out across this landscape they are forced to leave those comforting footsteps behind.
  “It’s a world where everyone leaves a trail, and in a world fascinated with forensic science, and the certainties it seems to promise, this is deeply reassuring. And talking of reassurance snow also takes us back to our childhoods - to Christmas, to comfortable log fires, and the warmth of families real and imagined.
  “While I’m happy - in fact proud - to follow in these snowy footsteps of the Golden Age of crime writers, I hope my book is a very contemporary take on an old theme. There’s nothing cosy about the world inhabited by my hero - DI Peter Shaw, and his side-kick DS George Valentine. The book’s set along the North Norfolk Coast - the modern-day home to the Chelsea-set, up from London for some bracing sea air. But Shaw is based in Kings Lynn, just along the coast, and despite its medieval heart that’s a town with enough modern problems to put it alongside any of Britain’s smouldering inner cities. But given the increasing rarity of real-life snow, can I ever get away again with a snow-bound locked room mystery ? Not every time, certainly, but yes - literature has a way of commanding the forces of nature to its needs. Thunder and lightning strike more often on the printed page, or on Shakespeare’s stage, than in any real life.
  “That’s what literature and drama do best - distil the best, most exciting, most curious aspects of everyday life into a pocket-sized world crammed with excitement. So unless snow becomes just a folk memory, I’ll always be able to enjoy it’s criminal possibilities.” – Jim Kelly

Friday, February 6, 2009

Books And The Stealing Thereof

A nice little piece in the Times this morning, about books and the stealing thereof (possible chief culprit, pictured right). Quoth the Times-ish person:
Crime books are extremely popular. According to PLR records, James Patterson, who mostly writes cop thrillers, is the most borrowed author from libraries. And books about crime are also frequently stolen - hence the works of Martina Cole, a prolific crime writer, appear high on the list. Her books are also among those most read in prisons, and she claims to be perfectly happy to be a target for thieves: “I think it’s great, personally. If people want my books badly enough to go and steal them, it’s a compliment, really.”
  Nice one, Ms Cole. The Big Question: Have you ever stolen a book? Feel free to use the ‘anonymous’ button when leaving a comment …
  I have, by the way. Actually, I stole my very first Chandler novel. In that case, at least, you’d have to say the end justified the means. But feel free to flay me with your moral indignation.

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: L.C. Tyler

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?
OK, let’s establish some ground rules here, shall we? I write crime but I also write what gets described (for want of a better term) as “general comic fiction”. So my envy about other novels is fairly widespread and comprehensive. The novel I would most like to have written is THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD - not crime exactly, but there is a spine-tingling moment about ten pages in from the end, when you suddenly realise how comprehensively hoodwinked you have been - precisely what you try to achieve in a good detective story. If you want me to stick narrowly to crime, then I’d probably go for one of the classics from the Golden Age – THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, say. I also wish I had written THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM before Chris Ewan did. But, sadly, I didn’t.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. There’s an on-line quiz you can do to establish which character from Winnie the Pooh you are. I was Rabbit. I know a number of other people who also did the quiz and proved to be Rabbit. We were all very happy with our choice; it’s the type of fictional character we are.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
At any given time I tend to have two metaphorical piles of books. One is the books I ought to be reading: crime novels I’ve been told I should read, books by people I know well and who’ve read my books, anything that might constitute “research” for a future novel. The other pile is everything else. Reading from one pile makes me feel slightly guiltier than reading from the other - but not much.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Typing “Chapter One” (or more usually, in my case, “Prologue”).

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Other than your own, of course ... GALLOWS LANE by Brian McGilloway.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Logically the answer should be as above, and I’m sure it would make an excellent film or TV series. I’d also like to see one of Ruth Dudley Edward’s novels made into a film, though.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Most things about being a writer are pretty good, as you’ll know yourself. The best thing is the actual creative process - watching the book unfold in front of you is a bit magical. Also, as a writer of comic crime, it always comes as a pleasant surprise that something you wrote and found funny is something that other people have read and found funny. The worst? Possibly reviews that fail to convey the absolute sense of wonder and awe that you feel your book should command in any right-minded critic. (Yes, you really do get reviews like that occasionally. No, I couldn’t believe it either.)

The pitch for your next book is …?
My next book, after the paperback of THE HERRING SELLER’S APPRENTICE, is A VERY PERSISTENT ILLUSION (published in March), and the first thing I need to explain is that it isn’t crime. It’s black humour and it delves into the nature of reality, why people support Southend United and the importance of owning a classic sports car. But there is a mystery to solve and a point, about ten pages from the end, where hopefully you finally see what it was all about. For the one after that (TEN LITTLE HERRINGS - out in August) it’s back to a life of crime ...

Who are you reading right now?
It’s a book on the English Civil War from the non-guilt pile. At some stage soon I’d like to start writing a comic-historical-crime series set in the seventeenth century. There’s a real-life murder that I want to include, but I’m not going to be so foolish as to reveal which one at this stage. I’ve just finished DROWNED HOPES by Donald Westlake - a great writer sadly no longer with us.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
This is clearly a bum deal either way. I’d be straight onto the internet to see if any other deity was offering better terms.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
“Perky” (Financial Times) “Classic” (The Scotsman) “Subversive” (The Bookseller)

L.C. Tyler’s
THE HERRING SELLER’S APPRENTICE is now available in paperback

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Harrogate: When’s The Split?

It’s traditional, when two or more Irish people come together in any kind of organised capacity, for the first item on the agenda to be, “When’s the split?” It’s just one of those things – we like pretty much everyone else, we just can’t stand one another. Anyhoo, the reason I mention it is because I’m hearing a rumour wafting in on the breeze from Harrogate direction that Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes, Brian McGilloway and Benny Blanco are all slated to appear on a panel at said festival, with Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards moderating (artist’s impression, above). Will sparks fly? Did the bear stumble upon the pope whilst wandering the woods looking for a quiet spot to read the Daily Mail? The Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place from July 23-26, and I’m booking my ticket NOW!*

* Not really. I’m actually going to Bristol’s Crime Fest. But that’s another story.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Embiggened O # 4,004: It Hasn’t Gone Away, Y’Know

There hasn’t been a review of our humble offering THE BIG O since God was a boy, so it was a pleasant surprise when one popped up this week in Mystery Scene Magazine. Kevin Burton Smith wasn’t too impressed with the lack of specifically Irish setting, but in general seemed happy enough, with the gist running thusly:
“Recalls Elmore Leonard’s more humorous works … It’s a perfectly realized, twisted little 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that slowly snaps together, with more than a few surprises along the way … The humour is of the dark and wicked kind, but both it and the inevitable violence are handled in a refreshingly subtle manner, more ice pick than chainsaw.” – Mystery Scene Magazine
  Thank you kindly, Mr Burton Smith. For the rest, clickety-click here
  In other news, I’m thinking strongly about hoisting CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, said humble tome’s ill-fated sequel with the bitterly ironic title, onto ye olde interwebbe, much in the same way as I did A GONZO NOIR, setting up a separate blog and uploading 4,000-5,000 word chunks every few days. And, given that I’m a generous soul when you get down to the actual bedrock, and because no one has shown the slightest inclination to pay for it, it’ll be free. All in favour say ‘Yay!’

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE GOLIATH BONE by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Herewith be the gist of a review of THE GOLIATH BONE, to wit:
Spillane, one of the best-selling crime fiction writers of all time, who died in 2006, wrote a first draft of the story in the wake of 9/11, with the manuscript being finished by his long-term collaborator and friend, the author Max Allan Collins. It’s a crude and blustering tale with right-wing overtones, although the trouble with criticising the novel on that basis is that it’s supposed to be. Mike Hammer was celebrated by his fans for being politically incorrect, a 20th century throwback to the Wild West sheriff, a larger-than-life hero who made up in pithy quips and dead bodies what he lacked in finesse and sophistication.
  On that basis, Collins has provided a fitting tribute to Spillane’s career. For those who aren’t fans of Spillane’s cartoonishly hard-boiled style, however, THE GOLIATH BONE has all the hallmarks of a novel too hastily conceived in the aftermath of 9/11. It offers a simplistic, knee-jerk response to the threat of terrorism, for the most part championing Hammer’s singular vision of good versus evil – Hammer and his trusty .45 represent good, and everyone else, until they prove otherwise, represent evil …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, February 1, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Ellen McCarthy

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?

John Connolly’s EVERY DEAD THING is so horribly great. Some people find it too graphic but I think it is crafted beautifully while looking at the extremes of human depravity. I’m glad it’s fiction!
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Miss Marple. I want to live in a picture perfect cottage in St Mary Meade and meddle in everyone’s life.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
P.D. James. Her quiet insular settings are captivating whether it’s an isolated monastery or a remote Cornish island retreat. Her characterisation and prose are comforting, timeless and old worldly.
Most satisfying writing moment?
My most satisfying writing moment to date was when I won the short story competition ‘Do The Write Thing,’ with Poolbeg Press in conjunction with RTE’s ‘Seoige’. It wasn’t the Edgar but it was the moment my writing came out of the back room and on to the bookshelves.
The best Irish crime novel is…?
LOST SOULS by Michael Collins. It is part police procedural with a deep psychological feel. It is beautifully written, taking an unforgiving look at the decline of a small town and its inhabitants when poverty strikes.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
BLACK SHEEP by Arlene Hunt. I think the director could really focus on the Quinn brothers and the legacy of family and bad decisions.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing about being a writer is the fear and insecurity. Every time I send something out I’m shaking with nerves. The best thing about being a writer is getting positive reviews from readers.
The pitch for your next book is …?
A husband dies suddenly, but who was he? His work colleagues claim they never met him and nobody seems to know his real name. Now some stranger is prompting his wife towards a past he obviously didn’t want her to know. Was this person responsible for his death and where will it all lead her?
Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading Robert Crais’ L.A. REQUIEM. I fell for the title. The book is proving to be just as good.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
That’s an impossible question. It’s like saying I’ll give you legs but you can either stand or walk.
The best three words to describe your own writing are …?
Vivid, tense, absorbing.

Ellen McCarthy’s novel GUILT RIDDEN is published by Poolbeg Crimson