“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, April 4, 2009

Being Benny Blanco

One of the nicest things about running this blog, and being a freelance journalist, is that you get to meet terrific writers on a semi-regular basis, and ask them stuff you’ve always wanted to know, being an inveterate nosey-parker. In the last week or so alone, I’ve hooked up with Alan Glynn and Gene Kerrigan, and I’ll be meeting with Declan Hughes in the coming week. Which is nice, because you never know the day nor the hour when some of their pixie dust might settle on your own shoulders and turn you into a terrific writer too.
  All three regular readers of CAP might be pleasantly surprised to learn that I met with John Banville (right) during the week, John Banville being perhaps better known to readers of this blog as Benjamin Black, or Benny Blanco (from the Bronx). They might also be surprised to learn that he was courteous and cautious to begin with (it was an interview scenario, loosely based around his ‘Being Benny Blanco’), and then became eloquent, funny and considered when talking about crime fiction in general, and Irish crime fiction in particular. There was, to be quite frank about it, a refreshing lack of bullshit about the proceedings (from his side of the table, at least).
  Incidentally, ‘Benjamin Black’ was at an early stage ‘Benjamin White’, named for a character from NIGHTSPAWN, Ben White. Man, they really should have gone with ‘Benny Blanco’, shouldn’t they?
  John Banville’s reputation as a difficult interviewee precedes him, but I have to say I found him thoroughly entertaining company. Perhaps he was demob-happy, having finished the latest John Banville novel last week, a novel he began in 2004. The good news for Benjamin Black fans is that he plans to complete two Black novels before the year is out.
  So – one John Banville novel takes the best part of five years, and two Benjamin Black novels takes eight months (give or take). Does that piss me off? Certainly (although mostly because it takes me eight months to write a first draft). Is it because I think he disrespects crime writing by writing the Black novels so quickly? Not after listening to him explain why he writes them so quickly, and why he can. It helps, of course, that I’ve been a fan of the Banville novels since God was a boy.
  Anyhoos, the point of the exercise was for a project I’ve mentioned previously, which is / will be a collection writings by Irish crime authors about crime writing. Originally conceived as a series of essays, it has since broadened out to include interviews and short stories, and will hopefully be something of a Rattlebag of crime writing. The working title is now ‘DOWN THOSE GREEN STREETS … Irish Crime Narratives in the 21st Century’, and the ‘narratives’ aspect will be broad enough to encompass film, theatre and journalism as well as novels. Contributors confirmed include, in no particular order: John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Alan Glynn, Gene Kerrigan, John Banville, Julie Parsons, Eoin McNamee, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt, Colin Bateman, Gerard Brennan, Neville Thompson, Adrian McKinty, Ingrid Black, Paul Williams, Tana French, KT McCaffrey, Paul Charles, Professor Ian Ross, and Cora Harrison.
  A small but perfectly formed commissioning fund has been provided by the Irish Arts Council, and some of the pieces have already started to filter through, not least those from Adrian McKinty, Gerard Brennan, Neville Thompson and The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman. If the rest of the material is of the same standard, and I have no reason to doubt that it will be, it’ll be a terrific read. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: ‘Fifty Dead Men Walking’

A feckless young man growing up in war-torn Belfast, Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess, right) is recruited by the Special Branch as a ‘tout’, or informer. When Martin infiltrates the IRA, he finds himself in a position to save lives by telling his handler, ‘Fergus’ (Ben Kingsley), details of planned operations. Based on Martin McGartland’s true story, Kari Skogland’s movie is a terrific thriller. The history and politics are painted with broad strokes (the final credits, for example, blandly inform us that the British army has left Northern Ireland), but a knowledge of ‘the Troubles’ isn’t actually necessary to enjoy this – it works just as well as a gritty, violent tale of paranoia, double-cross and sell-out akin to ‘Goodfellas’, for example. The character of McGartland is a hard sell, given that he is perceived as a traitor to his own people, although here he’s pitched as a hero who saves the lives of the fifty men of the title, who would today be dead were it not for his activities. A strong script helps the movie’s cause, and Sturgess is compelling in the main role, believable as a hard-nosed undercover operative, and also as a loving family man. The context is excellently evoked too. Skogland gets under the skin of Belfast’s mean streets, capturing not only the period detail of the place and time, but also the sense of oppression and intimidation generated by British army soldiers and the RUC, which is mirrored by the summary justice of the IRA’s ‘community policing’, all of which feeds into Martin’s complex motivation for doing what he does. Kingsley gives Sturgess strong support, as does Natalie Press as his girlfriend, Lara, and Kevin Zegers as his ideologue friend and IRA operative, Sean. A challenging, thoughtful piece, it’s not for the faint-hearted. ****

  Elsewhere, Martin McGartland disowns the movie in the Sunday Times.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Gene Kerrigan

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?

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. And I know Cormac McCarthy has been called America’s greatest living writer, but I’d still have the impertinence to fix the ending.

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

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Every now and then I buy the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – in the hope it’ll be as good as it was when I was a teenager. It never is.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When the book is done and it’s time to cut, re-write and fix it up.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR by Ronan Bennett. I know it’s set in seventeenth century England, and features an English coroner/detective – but Bennett is Irish and the accused is an Irish peasant, Katherine Shay, so it qualifies. It works as a crime mystery, it works as history and as a parable about the dangers of a New World Order. The tension is relentless and it’s superbly written.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR – hasn’t anyone sent a copy to the Coen Brothers yet?

Worst/best thing about being a writer?
There is no worst. Best – the moment you go back to the top of the page and start reading, and you find something worked better than you thought it did.

The pitch for your next book is …?
As the Celtic Tiger begins to crumble, two men walk into a Dublin pub, carrying guns. An everyday tale of entrepreneurial gangsters and revenge.

Who are you reading right now?
I read the first two Omar Yussef novels by Matt Rees last year, and I’m into the third at the moment. On one level it’s the old amateur sleuth gig, but set in the modern day Middle East. A decent old Palestinian tries to uphold the eternal values amid the gunmen – whether Palestinian or Israeli – who cheapen life.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?

I couldn’t live without reading. I couldn’t make a living without writing. I’d tell him to go find something constructive to do. And there’s no shortage of things need doing, God knows.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Tense, unpredictable, plausible. At least, that’s the general intention.

Gene Kerrigan’s DARK TIMES IN THE CITY is published by Harvill Secker

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

“One Merkin Or Two, Vicar?” Yep, It’s The Allan Guthrie Interview

Allan Guthrie (right) has already filled in a Q&A for CAP, but the bloke has a new book out and he’s my agent, and he says he’ll send Ray Banks around to eat my child if I don’t give him the three molecules of publicity oxegyn CAP provides. Ah, the glamour of it all ...

Q: The new novel is SLAMMER, squire. Tell us a little bit about it.
A: “The book’s about a very young prison officer, Nick Glass, who’s not terribly well equipped, psychologically, to handle the stresses of the job. It’s about his struggle to survive in an increasingly hostile environment.”

Q: What was it about a prison guard that drew you to him as a character?
A: “I was intrigued by the idea of exploring the psychology of someone who chooses to spend a significant chunk of their short time on this planet behind bars.”

Q: You’re obviously a terrific writer. How come you’re wasting your time on that crime fiction trash?
A: “Well, much as I’d love to write something earnest and meaningful that’s about as entertaining as counting grains of sand, I don’t seem to be quite agile enough to stick my head far enough up my own arse. So I’ll just stay with writing crime fiction trash for now. Hoping to come up with some SF or horror one of these days too.”

Q: Who were your big inspirations and / or heroes?
A: “Different at various points of my life -- Agatha Christie, for instance, when I was but a nipper. Currently I’d say I’m besotted by Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Seven’ (among others), and the graphic novelist Garth Ennis.”

Q: If you could assume authorship for one writer’s back catalogue, who would it be?
A: “Tough one. Georges Simenon, I think. Either him or Germaine Greer.”

Q: You’ve won top awards, you’ve had wonderful reviews, and yet it’s only in a parallel universe that they’re calling John Grisham ‘the new Allan Guthrie’. Do you ever despair about the industry?
A: “Yes, indeed, but not because of my place in it. That’s one of them there variables that isn’t within a person’s control. What I despair about is the arse-backwards discounting that’s ripping the industry apart. Breaks my heart to see books that would sell in huge numbers without any price reduction invariably ending up being sold for a fraction of the RRP, thereby ensuring that no one (bookstores/publishers/agents/authors) makes any money. Whereas books that need the support that discounting might provide are usually on sale at full price. It’s a perverse situation. And then everybody complains about profit margins being tiny and the industry being in terminal decline. Um, hello?”

Q: Who’s the sexiest living crime writer?

A: “Easy one. Ray Banks. The man’s smile is legend. As are his testicles.”

Q: Any new novelists you’d like to let us know about?
A: “Besides my own clients (I’m a literary agent, which I’m going to guess you’ll mention in the next question), there are three second novels out soon which I think are outstanding: VERY MERCENARY by Rayo Casablanca, GUTTED by Tony Black and WINTERLAND by Alan Glynn.”

Q: Parallel to your writing career, you’re also an agent. Ever thought about bumping off a particularly good new writer and stealing his or her manuscript?
A: “Psychic, so I am. Yes, actually, that’s a good idea. So good that I’ve done it already. Five times, in fact.”

Q: Finally, are those eyelashes real? Or are there really kittens out there with bald faces?
A: “I breed them specially. The whisker-lashes don’t tend to last very long, so I need a constant supply of kitten-soft kitten. I have a production line going now, so I’m quite well stocked. Just say the word if you’d like a trial package sent your way. I also do a fine line in merkins.”

Allan Guthrie’s SLAMMER is published by Polygon

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Irish Book Awards Crime Fiction Shortlist: Trumpet Please, Maestro

The Irish Books Awards crime fiction shortlist was announced today, for novels published in the last twelve months, and there’s nary a sign of John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes or Adrian McKinty. Sacrilege! X 4! Happily, there is Alex Barclay (right) (BLOOD RUNS COLD), Arlene Hunt (UNDERTOW), Tana French (THE LIKENESS) and Brian McGilloway (GALLOWS LANE). Quoth the blurb elves:
We are delighted to announce the addition of a new category in the 2009 awards, the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award. Crime fiction ranks among the most vibrant genres in contemporary Irish publishing and the new award, adopted by one of our key media partners, Ireland AM, represents an exciting new addition to the Irish Book Awards.
  To vote for your favourite, clickety-click here

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND by Ed O’Loughlin

When his newspaper editor dies, a photograph in one of the man’s personal folders sets Owen Simmons, the Dublin-based narrator of NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, reminiscing about his time as a correspondent in Africa, when he reported from South Africa, Zaire and Sierra Leone, among other hot-spots. One of a loose grouping of correspondents and photographers who roamed the continent in pursuit of the latest war, atrocity or military coup, Simmons has the detached tone and sharp eye for detail of a good journalist, even when writing about Beatrice, the photographer he falls for with despite his professional and personal cynicism.
  Ed O’Loughlin reported on Africa for eight years as a correspondent for ‘The Irish Times’, and here his debut fiction rings with a rare authenticity. As they pick their way through a rat-infested refugee camp massacre in search of ‘colour’ for their feature stories, for example, one of the journalists calls out to his colleagues. “‘Has anyone seen the other half of this baby?’ he asked. ‘We mustn’t count it twice.’”
  It’s a moment to make even the most hardened reader of gory novels wince, but O’Loughlin is not in the business of sensationalism. Simmons bears witness to what seems at times a daily litany of tragedy, but does so in a clipped, understated fashion. The novel has been compared with the works of V.S. Naipaul and Graham Greene, but there’s a measure of Ernest Hemingway here too. The prose is muscular and delicate, the mark of a writer who knows his own strength and is sure of his aim. In the chaos of a jungle fire-fight, ambushed by the latest in an interminable series of half-naked rebel forces, Simmons observes a jeep make “a slow and sedate turn towards us, part-sheltered by the hulk of the armoured car … its indicator piously winking.” Later, at a conference in Durban, he observes: “By the time I’d finished reading, the tide in the foyer had receded, stranding little pools of gossipers and the odd scuttling newcomer.”
  O’Loughlin, who has also reported on the Middle East, might have been expected to write a political treatise disguised as a novel. But while there is at one point a brilliantly sustained piece of ice-cold vitriol directed at the professional charity operatives, who “spend years dodging from one short-term contract to the next, chasing the funds as compassion flits from disaster to disaster”, the novel is almost perversely blinkered in the way it follows the fortunes of its characters without ever stepping back from the fray to make grand statements about the whys and wherefores of the conditions and situations they find themselves in. The journalists are there to dispassionately observe and report back to the outside world, and Simmons mimics their apparently callous tones as he records for the reader their words and deeds, very few of which derive from philanthropic or ideological motives.
  In another writer’s hands, the tale of last-minute evacuations, jungle ambushes, flights into and out of cities on the brink of fall or liberation, and discreet but passionate affairs, would have resulted in a full-tilt sprint delivered in breathless prose. Instead, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND offers a meandering and at times deliberately obtuse narrative, one that shuffles and weaves, moving to an odd but quickly addictive rhythm. So much so, in fact, that it’s tempting to believe that O’Loughlin has composed the story in a style that conjures up outsiders’ perceptions of, and prejudices about, Africa. Certainly, having referenced the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, in which Muhammad Ali outfoxed George Foreman in Kinshasa by spreading himself on the ropes and absorbing inhuman levels of punishment before landing a killer blow, O’Loughlin provides a final twist that reveals his tale, and Simmons’ cynical posturing, to be a literary version of Ali’s legendary ‘rope-a-dope’ trick.
  Laced with the blackest of humour, studded with glints of hard-edged poetry, and underpinned by a poisonously cynical mindset that is as repulsive as it is compelling, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND is one of the most powerful debut Irish novels of the last decade.

This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Only In It For The Money

The Spinetingler Awards are with us again, people, and all very democratic it is too – if you can click a mouse, you can vote. The good news is that neither yours truly nor THE BIG O have been nominated, although the bad news is that Crime Always Pays has been, in the ‘Special Services to the Industry’ category.
  A couple of things about that. (1) Much as I appreciate the nod, and at the risk of sounding ungracious, I’m not doing the little I do for the industry, and I suspect that very few bloggers and / or webnauts are either. If I win, I’ll have to hand the gong back. (2) Of which happening there being very little chance, given that (a) there’s no actual gong and (b) the other nominees include Ruth and Jon Jordan, J. Kingston Pierce, Barbara Franchi, and the man with the biggest brain in the universe, Peter Rozovsky (pictured, top right). (3) In my not-so-humble opinion, and off the top of my head, I can think of Sarah Weinman, Karen Meek, Maxine Clarke and the Spinetingler crew themselves as more deserving nominees than your humble host (Glenn Harper, Karen Chisholm and Ali Karim are nominated in the ‘Review’ category), mainly because, as far as I can make out, they all do it as a labour of love, whereas I’m only in it for the money. (4) Go Rozovsky!
  Of the other categories, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the ‘Rising Star’, which pits Allan Guthrie against his old nemesis Ray Banks. Anyone else willing to pay to see those two beasts going at it in a cage-fight? And ‘New Voice’ should be interesting too, given that John McFetridge, Declan Hughes and Brian McGilloway are all jostling for position as you read. Fine writers and good blokes to a man, although, on the basis that I’ve spent 10 days sharing bathroom space with the man, and didn’t want to kill him afterwards, McFetridge gets my nod.
  To vote, clickety-click here

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Frank Burton

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?
COMPLICITY by Iain Banks. Classic noir by a man who’s not necessarily known for being a crime writer.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Viz.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Winning the Philip LeBrun Prize in 2003.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I won’t pretend to be an expert, but John Connolly’s THE BLACK ANGEL has to be up there with the best of them.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Ken Bruen’s recent novel, PRIEST, has an atmospheric quality that could translate effectively onto the big screen in the right hands.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is starting a new project, getting fired up and attacking it with all your available energy and enthusiasm. The worst part is finishing the damn thing.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Growing up, leaving home and fucking things up in interesting and entertaining ways.

Who are you reading right now?

Cormac McCarthy. One of the masters.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Writing. I’d like to think I’m better at writing than I am at reading.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Unpredictable, subversive, minimalist.

Frank Burton’s novella ABOUT SOMEBODY is published online