“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, March 14, 2009

Watchmen: Who Reviews The Reviewers # 2

I don’t want to get into the habit of reviewing reviews, but Nick Hay’s review of Andrew Pepper’s KILL-DEVIL AND WATER over at Reviewing the Evidence popped out at me. Hay quite liked Pepper’s third novel in the Pike series, finishing up thusly:
“Despite this reservation KILL-DEVIL AND WATER deserves two very hearty cheers. The plot is excellent, the writing good, the historical and political observation both gripping and committed. And it is real value for money; this is a lot of book in terms of weight of plot, detail, and seriousness of purpose.”
  Pepper doesn’t get a third hearty cheer because of Pike himself, whom Hay believes is hamstrung in the context of the book because of his role as a ‘noir anti-hero’. Which is fair enough, and fair comment, but then Hay nutshells things thusly:
“All this makes KILL-DEVIL AND WATER a very male book.”
  Now, I’m not quibbling with Hay’s review in general, because it’s a very good example of a thoughtful, considered critique. But is it really valid to offer an even partially negative take on a book on the basis that it’s ‘male’, or ‘very male’?
  Ladies? I’m particularly interested in your take on this …

Friday, March 13, 2009

“I CSI Dead People …”

Vanessa O’Loughlin of Inkwell gets in touch to say … well, why don’t I let Vanessa tell you? To wit:
“For those of you who are new to Inkwell, I run one workshop exclusively for those on the mailing list (not detailed on the website) - the Inkwell CSI Workshop (21st March) which is run in conjunction with An Garda Siochana. The Scenes of Crimes guys from Dun Laoghaire will this year be recreating the discovery of a body and walking you through an investigation step by step, giving you a chance to see forensics close up, to check out their box of tricks and to ask all the questions that have been bothering you. A must for crime writers and anyone writing intrigue, dark romance or a thriller.
  “Sandra Mara (top right), Ireland’s first female PI and author of NO JOB FOR A WOMAN, will also be joining us. As with all workshops, it is €175 for the full day (9.00-4.30), including lunch, the Inkwell Tips pack and all your writing materials. If you’ve any questions or queries, do get in touch, this workshop will not be run again until 2011. So book now!”
  You heard the woman … Meanwhile, Critical Mick has hatched the latest in his inexhaustible list of cunning plans. Mick? What’s the big idea?
“In the past four years of unruly reviewing and author interviewing, Mick has collected a groaning bookshelf of Irish fiction and non-fiction titles signed by their authors. Starting with six well-known works, these will be auctioned into the hands of fellow book fans in March 2009, all in aid of The Alzheimer Society of Ireland.”
So there you have it. Good books for a good cause. How can you possibly resist?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Christy Kenneally’s latest offering, TEARS OF GOD, sounds like a cracker, and we have three copies to give away courtesy of the kindly folk at Hodder Headline Ireland. First, the blurb elves:
Father Michael Flaherty returns to his island home to hide from the world, knowing that those he loves are in danger simply because he is alive. But try as he might, he can’t escape his past - and soon an assassin’s dying message makes him realise that he must face his enemy one final time to rid himself of the evil that threatens everything and everyone he holds dear. He finds himself in Jerusalem - the most volatile city on earth. As the Ghost, the malevolent director of the CIA, schemes to blindside the new American president and play Christians, Jews and Muslims off against one another and lead them to the brink of war, Michael Flaherty is involved in the much more simple game of who should live and who should die. And a Crusader Knight has just one question - ‘Where are the Tears of God?’
  No, God’s tears are not ‘the rain’ – that’s a whole precipitation-evaporation-precipitation dealio. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of TEARS OF GOD, just answer the following question.
Does God cry:
(a) tears of sorrow;
(b) tears of joy;
(c) the tears of a clown;
(d) from hay fever, mainly?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a snail-mail or contact address (using (at) rather than @ to confuse the spam-munchkins), before noon on Saturday, March 14. Et bon chance, mes amis

A RIVER Runs Through It

Brian McGilloway’s BLEED A RIVER DEEP isn’t actually out until April 3rd, but Crime Scene Scotland is out of the traps early with a rather nice review, with the gist running thusly:
“The character of Devlin himself is a fine creation and singles himself out from the herd of series characters constantly jostling for attention on the Crime Fiction scene. He’s a damn fine copper. Headstrong, sure, but balanced and professional. Maybe he doesn’t see eye to eye with his bosses, but he’s a family man with a strong moral streak in him. Don’t mistake any of this for dullness or weakness, however. When his moral code is challenged, Devlin rises to the challenge and pays the price professionally and sometimes personally for his dedication to the meaning of the job over the procedure of it all.
  “BLEED A RIVER DEEP was Crime Scene Scotland’s first exposure to the work of McGilloway, and given this tight, smartly written and gripping third novel, it won’t be our last.” – Russel McLean
  Nice. For your humble host’s take on said tome, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, the shy and retiring Brian will be appearing at Bristol’s CrimeFest and Harrogate this year, as will the equally reclusive Declan ‘Howard’ Hughes. The reticent duo will also be doing a joint reading in Waterstone’s, Dublin, at 6.30pm on Tuesday, April 14th, after which the pair will then hotfoot-ish North to Belfast, and No Alibis, for another gig, this time on Thursday 16th, at 7pm.
  Make the most of it, folks. You never know when, or even if, you’ll see the fawn-like pair peering doe-eyed out of the undergrowth again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD by Robert Wilson

At its best, the crime novel is a raw wound and a primal scream. This is not simply a matter of style. In recent times, Ken Bruen, David Peace and James Ellroy have written police procedurals that are virtually incoherent and spittle-flecked with inarticulate rage. Robert Wilson, the creator of Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, offers a more measured, traditional style, one reminiscent of Charles Willeford, but one which – again, like Willeford – is all the more compellingly terrifying for the way in which his mannered craft serves as a civilised veneer stretched thinly across the abyss.
  The final novel in the Javier Falcón quartet, which is set for the most part in Seville, opens in the wake of a terrorist bombing, the perpetrators of which Falcón has publicly sworn to bring to justice. A parallel investigation, into the Russian mafia, which mainly operates on the Costa del Sol but is spreading further into Andalucia, appears to be connected with the bombing. That would represent more than enough plot for most writers, but this is a fiendishly complex and labyrinthine tale: as Wilson brings together the loose threads of the preceding triptych, Falcón investigates the murder of his ex-wife, discovers that his friend Yacoub is being blackmailed by Islamic radicals, and has to deal with the kidnapping of the son of his current lover, Consuelo, by protagonists unknown, as they bid to deflect Falcón from his various investigations.
  If all of the above makes Falcón sound like a genre-friendly superman, nothing could be further from the truth. Urbane and dogged, he is nonetheless the first to admit his failings and limitations, be they personal or professional. Confronting the alleged murderer of his ex-wife, for example, his approach is not the eye-bulging, desk-thumping bluster beloved of Hollywood. Polite and reasonable, attentive to detail, Falcón adheres to protocol. It’s only later, in the privacy of his own torment, that Falcón allows himself the luxury of internalised rage and bitter recrimination. Despite the high number of expertly crafted action sequences, ‘The Ignorance of Blood’ is first and foremost a fascinating psychological study of a complicated Everyman, the reluctant voice of a generation that is resolute in the face of unprecedented threat and yet fearful of its inability, ultimately, to cope with the subtleties of the parasites that gnaw at the underbelly of the traditional European mores of logic, reason and enlightenment, be they Russian mafia or Islamic extremist.
  Despite his paralysing predicament, Falcón, like Beckett’s unnameable, goes on. Wilson, who won the 1999 CWA Gold Dagger for the historically split narrative of A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON, understands that he is writing within the parameters of genre fiction, and that his primary duty is to provide a work of entertainment, regardless of how challenging its contents might be to the reader more accustomed to crime fiction’s sentimental notions of justice, truth and chivalry. But to describe THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD as an entertainment is akin to calling Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ a wall hanging. By the end, the endemic corruption that underpins Seville’s beautiful façade has permeated Falcón’s soul, and the implicit message is that anyone who wishes to survive the impending world order had best roll up his or her sleeves and get their hands good and dirty.
  The conceit of a good man doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is not a revolutionary one, and Wilson is too canny to offer one last saddle-up for the tarnished knight. Instead he offers a hugely satisfying and authentic police procedural, in which a group of individually flawed but reasonably effective group of all-too-human beings try again, and fail again, and fail better. - Declan Burke

This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Ava 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?
THE POET, by Michael Connelly. I enjoy Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, but for me THE POET has an extra pull. There was a page-turning quality about it that had me riveted, and the twists and surprises were hard to second guess.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Kinsey Millhone, from Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series (A IS FOR ALIBI, B IS FOR BURGLAR, etc.). She’s a feisty, prickly, no-nonsense kind of gal, with an admirable capacity to be true to herself at all times. Plus, she has some really snappy one-liners …

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I associate guilt with many things, but never with reading! If I’m reading a book, it’s because I’m enjoying it and I can’t imagine why I’d feel sheepish about that. Perhaps one of the stories I enjoy re-reading which might be a bit unexpected is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Great magical world, great characters and full of human wisdom & insight.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing THE END. For me, it takes such a long time to get there and the sense of achievement is huge.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I actually haven’t read that many Irish crime novels – I’m still working my way through a long list of them! I’d favour the women writers, (Alex Barclay, Julie Parsons, Tana French) but perhaps only because they’re the main ones I’ve read. The best is hard to pick – Alex Barclay’s DARKHOUSE was a high impact debut, and the back-story for her Texan serial killer left a lasting impression.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
For some reason, I think Irish true-crime books would all make brilliant movies. THE GENERAL, based on Paul Williams’ book, was great, and I’d love to see a film version of Niamh O’Connor’s THE BLACK WIDOW.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is you don’t have to rely on anyone else to get the job done. Which means the worst thing is, when it all goes wrong you only have yourself to blame.

The pitch for your next book is …?
THE COURIER: When Harry Martinez, ex-hacker turned security professional, gets entangled in a world of illicit diamond trading, she’s drawn into a world of executions, greed and betrayal. From the racecourses of Ireland to the diamond mines of South Africa, Harry must use her own unique skills to prove her innocence, and most of all, to survive.

Who are you reading right now?

I’m about to start John Grisham’s THE ASSOCIATE. It hasn’t had great reviews, but I’m a big fan of his early legal thrillers and I really miss them, so I’m hoping he’s moving back to what I believe he does best.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. It was my first love, and the effect that books had on me was the reason I wanted to write in the first place. I’d give myself over to the world of story and escape. Besides, writing is hard….

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Did my best.

Ava McCarthy’s THE INSIDER is published by HarperCollins

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Real IRA: Even Better Than The Real Thing?

Given that the Real IRA are still fighting for a united Ireland by the traditional method of attempting to assassinate Polish pizza delivery men, ask yourself this: who would you rather see on Irish streets, British soldiers or the Real IRA? And no, you’re not allowed answer ‘Neither’.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stairway To Heaven

If your name was Jo Bannister, and you were a writer, and even if your life was as empty and futile as your humble host’s, wouldn’t you write an autobiography, to be published posthumously, just so you could call it STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN? No? Okay then …
  Anyhoos, a mystery man whose name we won’t reveal for fear of inducing narcolepsy in our already doddering readership gets in touch to suggest that we, being alleged Boswells of the Irish crime fic scene, get the proverbial finger out and use it to type some words that include the name ‘Jo Bannister’. For lo! T’would appear that the outrageously prolific Jo Bannister – albeit English-born – lives in Norn Iron and writes novels of the crime fic variety, the most recent being a series featuring the protags Deacon and Brodie. The current offering is CLOSER STILL, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Detective Superintendent Jack Deacon doesn’t take kindly to threats made on his family. So when local crime boss Joe Loomis starts to menace his infant son and the child’s mother, Brodie Farrell, Deacon is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect them. However, the danger of Loomis is not something he will have to worry about for long. Brodie has made a career out of finding lost things, but the last thing she’d want to look for is a man she’s taken great pains to lose. Annoyance is quickly replaced by horror when she finds Loomis at her door collapsed in a pool of blood - stabbed to the verge of death with his own knife. But it’s the gangster’s enigmatic last mutterings that threaten to tear apart her tenuously held family. With Deacon under suspicion and Brodie on the hunt for the crook’s killer, both are pulled into a world of twisting family ties and terrorism. Little do they know that the murder of one small time crime boss will unearth a sinister plot that could devastatingly impact far more than the pair’s domestic life.
  So there you have it. Jo Bannister, yet another Irish crime fic author. Better late than never, eh? And at least we’re on the ball for her forthcoming LIARS ALL. Ish.

Working-Class Literature: Or, Hurrah For Dickheads

‘Blade Runner’ is one of my favourite movies, regardless of which version I happen to be watching, but I’d never read the novel, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? For a variety of reasons, but mainly because I’d heard and read that Philip K. Dick was brilliant on ideas, but not such a great writer – this despite our favourite Dickhead’s testimony. Anyway, I started into ANDROIDS about a week ago, and was loving it until I had to put it down halfway through, to read a book for review. Dick isn’t the finest stylist ever to write prose, but on first reading he reminds me a lot of Jim Thompson – crude in places, for sure, but utterly compelling.
  Anyway, on the day I had to put away ANDROIDS I was browsing through a second-hand bookshop and came across I AM ALIVE AND YOU ARE DEAD: A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF PHILIP K. DICK by Emmanuel Carrère. It’s terrific stuff, and I’ve been dipping in and out all week. Dick wrote sci-fi, of course, but tinged with crime fic, and this little nugget in particular grabbed my attention. It’s from when Carrère is covering the early part of Dick’s career, circa 1955, with the McCarthyite anti-Communist purge in full spate and Dick’s then wife Kleo under scrutiny by two FBI agents who have come to visit:
No question about it: had he been one of the witch-hunters, Phil wouldn’t have bothered with fashionable East Coast intellectuals or Hollywood scriptwriters who wore their Communist sympathies on their sleeve; they were red herrings. He would have kept his eyes on the true manipulators of public opinion, the guys working down where it counted, turning out fodder for the masses, working-class literature that intellectuals affected to disdain.
  ‘Working-class literature’. Has a nice ring to it, don’tcha think?