“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 28, 2009

TOWERing Inferno

Is it just me, or is there a distinctly ’70s vibe emanating from the cover of the Ken Bruen / Reed Farrel Coleman collaboration from Busted Flush? Pretty stark artwork for a stark and not very pretty story, it has to be said, and one that puts yours truly in mind of blaxploitation and funkadelia – neither of which, I should probably point out, feature in the novel itself. Herewith be your humble correspondent’s take on it:
“TOWER goes off like a slo-mo explosion, a raging blast of white-heat light. It’s a compelling study of pathologies, and style, and friendship and fate. Fuelled by tenderness and murderous hate, it’s as tender as it is brutal, tender as a savage wound, ragged and raw. Here be monsters, crippled monsters: Nicky and Todd are the truest angels and demons of our mean streets I’ve read for some time. Be afraid.”
  There’s actually two covers for the book, given that there’s two authors, and what’s fascinating about what’s inside the covers is the very different styles employed for the parallel voices. It’s not the same set-up as the Ken Bruen / Jason Starr collaborations for Hard Case Crime: here you get the same tale of mutual destruction told twice, in a split narrative reminiscent of Jim Thompson, but filtered through radically diverse mind-sets. It’s a fascinating exercise that packs a hell of a wallop.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ava: A-Va-Va-Voom

Following on from Thursday’s ‘negative and/or crap reviews’ storm in a teacup, Ava McCarthy’s debut, THE INSIDER, isn’t really my cup of Darjeeling. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to like it – the protag, Harry Martinez, is a likeable minx, what with her wilful computer hackery and poker-playing wiles. Anyway, what the blummery do I know, I can’t even snag myself a book deal with Lulu these days …
  Anyhoos, and as always, my opinion is utterly moot, because THE INSIDER is moving through the publishing world like the proverbial dose of salts, with a little birdie telling me that the novel is selling into so many territories they’re thinking of terra-forming Mars just to accommodate the overspill. First, however – drum roll there, maestro – the novel will be conquering China, which is, as a publishing territory, the ultimate in sleeping giants. Well done, that woman.
  Meanwhile, here’s an interview with Ava, conducted by TV3, which has been pretty damn good lately when it comes to supporting the Irish crime fic rabble. Roll it there, Collette …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Gerard Stembridge

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?

DOUBLE INDEMNITY, by James M. Cain. Lean, mean, spare despair. To those who have only seen the splendid Billy Wilder film, you still have a treat in store and a surprise or two.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
George Smiley.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Eric Ambler. Pre-WW2 Europe at its most exotic, fantastic characters, his brilliance on the relationships between high finance, crime and politics set the standard. Favours politics over sex, which may be a downer for some readers, but, overall, if you haven’t yet, do. Now that I think about it, what’s to feel guilty about?

Most satisfying writing moment?
Beginning a rewrite.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
So much good stuff recently I hesitate to choose. While I have favourites right now, I still have a lot more to explore as your blog rather scarily demonstrates, and only time will tell who will survive in the memory. I will mention an earlier book that has stayed with me nearly twenty years on. John Brady’s KADDISH IN DUBLIN is well worth re-visiting both for its insightful contemporaneous portrait of late ’80s Dublin, and that most unusual of cop heroes, the happily married kind.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I want … strong visuals to start, a big juicy character for mains, and a man-size helping of plot with a really BIG Order of tension and plenty of surprise on the side. A big question this, really BIG. Oh I don’t know ... what to choose, what to choose ...

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Choosing when to get up/work/stop working/just think.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Are you joking? Do you want to put the hex on it altogether?

Who are you reading right now?
Recently finished Liam O Flaherty’s strange 1920’s ‘thriller’ GILHOOLEY. Doesn’t really work as a thriller but is of interest for its dark, cynical and occasionally quirky view, of early Free State Dublin. Just beginning TENDERWIRE by Claire Kilroy and really liking it so far.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. Without hesitation. Of course, I assume God will allow me to read anything I write (he said cunningly).

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
No words wasted.

Gerard Stembridge’s COUNTING DOWN is available now.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Watchmen: Who Reviews The Reviewers?

Erm, I do. Occasionally. Or once, at least. Sometimes a review is so badly put together you just can’t help sticking your oar in. Take The Book Critic’s review of Alex Barclay’s BLOOD RUNS COLD, for example. To wit:
According to the blurb, Alex Barclay is the rising star in the world of crime fiction. With this being her third novel, you’d have thought that she might have got into her stride by now and be displaying the talent that her agent and publishers saw in her.
Sadly, with Blood Runs Cold, this talent is yet to show itself.
  This is a poorly plotted, lumpenly-written novel with about as much verve, sparkle and edge as a damp towel. In a genre filled with the likes of Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretsky, Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, Alex Barclay needs to do a serious amount of work to do more than make up the numbers.
  The protagonist in this novel is totally unsympathetic and the dialogue is at times laughable, often impossible to follow. As a whole, it didn’t feel genuine or believeable.
  Another negative was the glut of supporting characters, none of whom felt real or sharply-enough drawn to hold the reader’s attention.
  I’m sure somewhere in the book is a semblance of a good plot straining to get out, but it’s mired in clunkiness of the highest order.
  Alex Barclay may be a talent, but on the evidence of this, it’s not clear if it will enough to sustain a career.
There’s an old phrase that runs, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.’ Another version runs, ‘If you can’t say anything original, fresh or constructively critical, crawl back under your stone.’ To wit:
According to the blog The Book Critic, bertieonrob is the rising star in the world of crime fiction criticism. With this being his umpteenth review, you’d have thought that he might have got into his stride by now and be displaying the talent that his ego saw in him.
Sadly, with Blood Runs Cold, this talent is yet to show itself.
  This is a poorly detailed, lumpenly-written review with about as much verve, sparkle and edge as a failed writer. In a niche filled with the likes of Peter Rozovsky, Glenn Harper, Karen Meek and Gerard Brennan, bertieonrob needs to do a serious amount of work to do more than make up the numbers.
  The critic in this review is totally unsympathetic and the critique is at times laughable, often impossible to follow. As a whole, it didn’t feel genuine or believeable.
  Another negative was the absence of supporting arguments for his case, none of which felt real or sharply-enough drawn to hold the reader’s attention. Or existed, even.
  I’m sure somewhere in the review is a semblance of a good critique straining to get out, but it’s mired in clunkiness of the highest order.
  Bertieonrob may be a talent, but on the evidence of this, it’s not clear if it will enough to sustain a zzzzzzzzz ….
  For those of you interested, here’s a rather different take on BLOOD RUNS COLD.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For Those About To Write, We Salute You

Over at the Guardian blog, AL Kennedy has a word or two of advice for her creative writing students – and wannabe writers of all hues, your humble correspondent included – during the course of which she hammers quite a number of nails just above the cuticle. To wit:
“They want to write, they have application and vigour, they’ve all come on since I read them last and yet ... it would be unfair not to remind them of how horrible their futures may become. If they’re unsuccessful, they’ll be clattering through a global Depression with a skill no one requires, a writing demon gnawing at their spine to be expressed and a delicately-nurtured sensitivity that will only make their predicaments seem worse – and yet somehow of no interest to anyone else. If they’re successful, they still may not make a living, will travel more than a drug mule, may be so emotionally preoccupied that they fail to notice entire relationships, will have to deal with media demands no sane person would want to understand and may well wear far too much black …
  “Naturally, I don’t believe anyone will be deterred by my mad-eyed rantings. Once somebody wants to write it’s almost impossible to stop them without also killing them to some significant degree … And if you think you might actually be doing some good, amusing someone other than yourself – making them less lonely, more alive, more informed – well, you’re just not going to chuck that over in favour of crafting, long walks and a quiet life. Hence the number of regimes and leaders who have discovered that killing writers until they are entirely dead is a highly effective method of slowing literary output. And may angels and ministers of grace preserve the students and indeed myself from any shades of that. We may feel hard done by, but we’re not doing that badly – for individuals trapped in a society intent upon eating its own tongue.”
  With two books published, a sequel to the second novel declined, and a fourth novel currently under consideration – which is a lot like sending your child along to an audition for Perverts on Ice – I’m about half-a-rung up from the average creative writing student. Which is pretty close to the floor, on a ladder half-inched from the Seven Dwarves.
  Will I stop writing? Well, right now I’m getting up at 5.30 am to get 90 minutes worth of genius prose written, this so my head doesn’t explode during the rest of the day while I rush about trying to fend off the Hydra-headed monster of Recession. At this point I so badly need the escapism that I’m about 30,000 words into a story set on the south coast of Crete, tentatively working-titled THE GODMAN OF LOUTRO, during the course of which the hero – who is, in fact, your humble correspondent – goes to Crete to research a novel and becomes said godman. About five thousand words ago, accepting the reality that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of the story ever being published, I decided to give the hero – YHC – amnesia, just so he can forget a few salient details, the most relevant one being how dire are the straits in which the publishing industry finds itself, so that YHC can continue scuffling about the Cretan mountains in search of a story, despite the fact that there’s a good chance it will never be published.
  In effect, I’m reduced to writing a novel about the fact that the novel I’m writing will never see the light of day.
  Will I stop writing it? Can I stop writing it? And what would it matter in the grand scheme of things if the answer to both questions was yes?
  At 5.30 am, “crafting, long walks and a quiet life” – perhaps even an extra 45 minutes of comatose oblivion – is a very tempting alternative to what amounts to shouting down a well. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE PARIS ENIGMA by Pablo de Santis

Set against the backdrop of the World’s Fair of 1900, THE PARIS ENIGMA sees the world famous brotherhood of the Twelve Detectives come together for the first time to exhibit their craft and discuss their cases. As every great classical detective requires a Watsonlike familiar, their assistants are present as well. Sigmundo Salvatrio, assistant to Argentinian detective Renato Craig, narrates what happens when one of the famous sleuths is found murdered at the foot of the EiffelTower.
  A journalist and editor of comic magazines, Argentinian Pablo De Santis is the author of a number of young adult books. This, his first foray into adult fiction, blends telling historical detail, faux naif humour and a touching homage to classic works of crime and mystery writing, with nods to Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the epitome of 19th-century crime writing, the ‘‘locked room’’ mystery.
e goes behind the scenes of the detective-assistant relationship, poking fun at the clichéd arrogance of the sleuth and the presumed ignorance of his Everyman sidekick. ‘‘Observe everything carefully,” the Pole Arzaky tells Salvatrio. ‘‘Any comment that occurs to you, make it: there is no greater inspiration for a detective than the frivolous words of the hoi polloi.”
  De Santis, however, has more to offer than simple parody or pastiche, and asks philosophical questions about the very nature of crime writing and, by extension, fiction writing of all hues and stripes. ‘‘Was I finding a puzzle to solve in behaviour that wasn’t mysterious in the least,” asks Japanese savant Sakawa, ‘‘in people who were fated from birth to their unique deaths? I don’t have nightmares about crime; I dream about the blank page, I dream that I am the one who draws the ideograms where there was nothing, where there should always be nothing.”
  Later, a minor character echoes the sentiment: ‘‘Our minds always search for hidden associations. We like things to rhyme. We can’t accept chaos, stupidity, the shapeless proliferation of evil.”
  This is a sumptuous offering from De Santis, an elegantly styled novel of ideas coloured by self-deprecating humour that also boasts a page-turning mystery. But the author has yet another string to his bow. Salvatrio, to the horror of his fellow assistants, utters the ultimate heresy when he admits that he, from a working-class family, has aspirations of becoming a gentleman detective himself.
  For devotees of crime fiction, the character of Salvatriopre figures the democratisation of the mystery narrative in the early decades of the 20th century when, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, protohard boiled writer Dashiell Hammett took murder out of the drawing room and dumped it back in the alley, where it belonged.’
  And yet De Santis has his detectives, those rationalist devotees of reason and forensic detail, the forerunners of today’s fictional giants, upstaged by an intuitive understanding of the capricious workings of the human heart. It’s that final twist of the post-modern screw which suggests that De Santis is a novelist of immense promise. – Declan Burke

This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Monday, February 23, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Stephen J. Cannell

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?
SILENT JOE by T. Jefferson Parker, or THE CHOIRBOYS by Joseph Wambaugh.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t read for guilty pleasure. I try to read novelists I can learn from.

Most satisfying writing moment?
The start of each day.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I truthfully haven’t read much Irish crime fiction, but I do read and admire, Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane – both of Irish American descent.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I thought the film adaptation of Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER was terrific.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
You get to keep your own hours.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Shane Scully is called upon to be a pallbearer and along with his five rail-mates, ends up proving that the death of their great friend inside the box was not a suicide, but a murder.

Who are you reading right now?
THE GATE HOUSE by Nelson DeMille.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. But if I couldn’t proof-read what I wrote, it might not be too good.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Page turning fiction.

Stephen J. Cannell’s ON THE GRIND is available now

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lingua Franca

Arminta Wallace conducted a rather nice interview with Tana French (right) in yesterday’s Irish Times, in which Tana offers some thoughtful insights into what makes the crime novel tick. To wit:
A central preoccupation of many of the current crop of Irish crime novels is, she points out, the theme of how to strike a workable balance between past and present. “In Declan Hughes’s THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD, the past literally surfaces from underneath a building site to shake up the present. Patrick Dunne’s investigator, Ilaun Bowe, is an archaeologist by trade. And just about everything I do is about keeping hold of our traditional identity while not getting stuck in the past.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, to my everlasting chagrin, I haven’t a baldy as to who Patrick Dunne is. For shame, sirrah, etc. Steps are being taken to rectify the situation as you read.
  Also meanwhile, and also in the Irish Times, Shane Hegarty had a piece on Ireland’s twenty most essential blogs. And golly-gosh, there was our humble offering nestling in amongst all the real bloggers. Is this it? Has Crime Always Pays gone mainstream? Mother of Mercy, is this the end for Rico?
  Only time, that notorious doity rat, will tell …