“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 11, 2009

Crime Fiction: The Second Draft Of History # 341

I’ve mentioned before how the Irish Times has been bucking the global trend by increasing its books coverage, with a ‘Book of the Day’ review on the Op-Ed pages supplementing its traditional coverage in Saturday’s Review section. It’s a ballsy move, and they’re not above getting down ‘n’ dirty with the crime fic crew either. Ava McCarthy’s debut THE INSIDER got a rave two weeks ago, and this week it was Gene Kerrigan’s turn, with Kevin Power reviewing DARK TIMES IN THE CITY. To wit:
“Kerrigan, no slouch, is alert to the possibilities of the thriller form. This is a novel that uses a beautifully spun crime narrative to say something interesting about Ireland in the here and now. (It’s strikingly up to date: Kerrigan has, I think, written the first Irish novel that manages to take account of the global financial crisis – doubly impressive when you remember that most Irish writers haven’t even caught up with the boom years yet.)”
  DARK TIMES … is strikingly fresh as a snapshot of Ireland’s crumbling fa├žade, but it’s not the only novel to capture the current mood and tone. Declan Hughes’s ALL THE DEAD VOICES is not only mired in economic failure, it also dared to predict the recent upsurge in murderous dissident Republicanism. Alan Glynn’s forthcoming WINTERLAND is similarly pessimistic about Ireland’s economic future, in a story which quite literally lays bare the shaky foundations of the boom years as politics, business and gangland conspire to hoodwink Dublin’s denizens. And Ken Bruen has been writing about the decline and fall for a couple of years now, as Jack Taylor notes how Galway’s glossy party rep gets duller by the year.
  Being a pompous windbag, I’ve said before that if journalism is the first draft of history, crime fiction is its second. I’m generalising, of course, and as always, but crime fiction does seem to me to be the most relevant kind of writing out there. Is it because writers need to keep up with the always innovative criminals? Does the form itself have an immediacy that lends itself to the now? Is it simply a matter of recycling the classic three-act structure and filling in the gaps with tomorrow’s headlines? Or a more cynical case of today’s taboo being next year’s best-seller?
  Over to you people. Comment is free …

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: BRODECK’S REPORT by Philippe Claudel

“My name is Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.”
  The opening line of Philippe Claudel’s novel is as stark and affecting as that of any classic hard-boiled noir, but BRODECK'S REPORT is much more than a crime narrative, or even a narrative of crimes. Set in a remote village somewhere in the German-speaking part of France, in the wake of ‘the war’, it opens with Brodeck being commissioned by his fellow villagers to tell the truth of what happened to the ‘Anderer’, the ‘Other’, a mysterious outsider who arrived in the village with his horse and donkey, took up residence over the village inn, and was subsequently murdered by the villagers.
  Brodeck, who writes reports on the locality’s flora and fauna for the Administration, is one of the few educated men in the village capable of recording what happened. That Brodeck is himself an outsider, who arrived in the village as a child, a refugee in the wake of an earlier war, gives his tale an added poignancy. The story of the novel, however, runs parallel to the report he is compiling, and is in effect Brodeck’s autobiography. The murder of the Anderer is simply the wedge that cracks open a haunting tale of love and loss, of pogroms, death camps and war-time atrocities.
  A Professor of Literature at the University of Nancy, Philippe Claudel is a prize-winning author in his native France. He is best known outside of France for writing and directing the recent Kristin Scott Thomas movie, ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’. The narrative of BRODECK'S REPORT, however, is anything but linear. Instead Claudel favours an elliptical approach, drawing the reader into the horrific truth at the core of the story by utilising time-loops, segues and digressions, flashbacks within flashbacks, all the while building towards a climax with the weight of the accumulating narratives pushing the tale forward inexorably.
  The combination of circuitous narrative and allusive setting may prove problematic for some readers. The village’s locality is never pin-pointed, and nor is the historical period. ‘The war’ is frequently referred to, but never specified, and while there are modern references – to trains, say, or robots – the bucolic village setting, and its lack of machinery, could easily mean that the story is for the most part set in an earlier century. Brodeck, meanwhile, is deported to the death camp because he is a ‘Fremder’ – a ‘foreigner’ – rather than for any of the justifications the Nazis employed.
  But Claudel has bigger fish to fry than the uncovering of any one particular atrocity, or even Brodeck’s harrowing personal testimony. Man’s inhumanity to man may sound like a thesis worthy of a sixth-form school essay, but it is one worth repeating, especially when Claudel pins it to a timeless backdrop that allows parallels to be drawn with Srebrenica, say, or the Sudan, or any other conflict, past, present or future, where individuals can be characterised as less than human for the purpose of eradicating them and their kind from the face of the earth.
  The overarching theme may be epic, but what gives BRODECK'S REPORT its haunting quality is Claudel’s ability to make intimate the details of losses suffered, his skill at exposing the flesh-and-blood humanity of not only the victims, but also that of the killing machine. Beautifully written, in a terse yet lyrical prose that is a credit to the translator, John Cullen, it is a superb novel, equal parts Kafkaesque disorientation, Primo Levi’s devastating accounts of the killing camps, Italo Calvino’s post-modern playfulness, and Jean Genet’s unflinching eye for the sewers through which the blood of our histories flow. – Declan Burke

This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Masturbation, Pink Sharks And THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL: Yup, It’s The Bateman Interlude

MYSTERY MAN is the latest novel, squire. What’s the skinny?
“I kind of wrote it by accident. I’ve launched nearly all of my three hundred and twenty-seven novels in No Alibis bookshop in Belfast, a fine mystery bookstore indeed, the best an only one in that city of twelve stories. Mmm, good title for book … The Stories … but when I do a reading I always read from the first chapter - you don’t need any confusing set up. But when I was launching DRIVING BIG DAVIE about four years ago the first chapter was all about masturbation, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that – the reading – in front of my relatives. So instead I wrote a short story using the shop as the location, and the owner as a part time detective. It just got a lot of laughs. So when I launched the next book, I wrote a second story, it went down just as well, and then the novel just seemed to write itself.”

The No Alibis-style crime fiction bookstore; the famous Irish literary author turned crime writer; a snivelling weakling as first-person narrator – aren’t we dangerously close to meta-fiction here, if not actual autobiography?
“Absolutely right, it is almost entirely autobiographical. I hope it’s an affectionate tribute to crime writers, book sellers and readers, even if I do depict them all as being sad and mental. Actually, squire, I think the entire book has been as much influenced by CAP as anything, it’s one of the first sites I turn to in the morning. Although I’m now definitely bracketed as a crime writer, I’ve never really been or felt part of a ‘scene’ or attended many conferences or the like, and I don’t mix with other crime writers at all (not out of choice, out of being a lazy bugger), so CAP is like a nice club to visit.”

The whole Norn Iron Prods vs Taigs thing – why can’t you just get along? Eh?
“We may fight, but at least we can add up, which clearly you lot south of the border can’t do. The Celtic Tiger, hah!”

Rafa Benitez: messiah or messer?
“When he was good he was very good, when he was bad he was awful. If you remember that eventually, your team ALWAYS, lets you down, then you can be fairly relaxed about it all. And having won the Champions League in ’05, we, and I mean WE, really don’t have to do anything else for about twenty years.”

You’re obviously a terrific writer. How come you’re wasting your time on that crime fiction trash?
“I love that ‘obviously’! I think most of us writers can only write what we can write - we can’t suddenly put on a ‘literary’ hat or start writing poetry, or for that matter a Mills & Boon novel. I suppose it’s whatever floats your boat. That said, when I started out I was asked if I wanted to be in the crime section and I said no, I wanted to be free to write whatever stories I wanted. So twenty three books down the line, including the children’s ones, there hasn’t been one that hasn’t featured crime or thriller elements. So I guess it’s in the DNA.”

Do you write comedy crime fiction or crime fiction comedy? Is there a difference? And why the comedy? Yon crime’s a serious business, like …
“I just write the stories and let other people decide what they are. I kind of half-remember watching a Charlie Drake movie on TV when I was a kid in which he was a comedian who tried to go straight, but people kept laughing at him, and I think that has always been my fear. I have been re-branded with a comedic look, which I’m fine with and the books all look great together, but it can be a bit restrictive - my last book ORPHEUS RISING was as far from a comedy as I can imagine, but you wouldn’t necessarily have known that from the large pink shark on the cover. A shark which only appears in the first paragraph. And wasn’t pink. MYSTERY MAN, however, IS supposed to be a comedy, probably the purest comedy I’ve written.”

Who were your big inspirations and / or heroes?
“Marvel Comics, science fiction magazines, pulp fiction, movies, movies, movies, Robert B Parker, Liverpool. I would give it all up to play for Liverpool, but the bloody phone never rings. I still play twice a week, but the clock is ticking.”

If you could assume authorship for one writer’s back catalogue, who would it be?
“Do you know, the only writer in recent years whose books I’ve consistently enjoyed has been Robert Harris - FATHERLAND, THE GHOST, etc. The problem with 95 per cent of what we call ‘crime fiction’ is that it’s all exactly the same, like it’s written by a software programme. Harris is very understated, and all the more thrilling for it. I’ve started reading David Peace now, and I like the style. Has also made me think a bit more about going back to The Troubles for a book; I was fed up with writing about terrorists etc. but it might be the right time to re-visit.”

Who’s the sexiest living crime writer?

“Alex Barclay, obviously. She said the same about me. And then I woke up.”

Any new Norn Iron writers we should be keeping our eyes peeled for?
“No. I REALLY don’t need the competition.
Stuart Neville’s book obviously is coming soon, and Brian McGilloway seems to be taking off and Adrian McKinty’s new one ... I am) in the process of putting together an anthology of Noirish fiction, and I’ve seven or eight really good stories, but not quite enough for a book - we are a very small country though, and maybe I shouldn’t expect there to be a dozen or so good crime writers. But I think we’re punching above our weight.”

You don’t read a lot of crime fiction. Why so?
“I’m very easily influenced, mostly. As you’ll see from above, I’m coming over all David Peace and I’ve hardly started him. And also, a lot of it makes me want to throw it through the window of a bus.”

The next one is called THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL. What’s all that about?

“Well, we had a marketing meeting, and decided if we married THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS with MARLEY & ME we might have a hit on our hands. Actually, it’s the sequel to MYSTERY MAN. And I used to have a Jack Russell. Also, I was wondering, has there been a crime novel where someone actually flogs a dead horse?”

Finally, why aren’t there more redhead crime writers? Is it a conspiracy?
“My favourite joke of all time is: ‘My wife’s a redhead. No hair, just a red head.’ Actually, it’s the one about the news report saying a car has crashed through a wall into Dublin cemetery, and so far Garda have recovered two hundred and thirty bodies.”

Bateman’s MYSTERY MAN is published on April 30th

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

JC Vs The Satanists

When is a stalker not a stalker? When he’s a queue. If John Connolly (right) looks out of the windows of his mansion any time soon, to see a man in a shabby raincoat standing at the gates, it’ll be yours truly, waiting not to flash him again (he laughed the last time, and had his coachman lash me with a quirt) but for a copy of THE GATES. Quoth JC:
After finishing THE LOVERS, I worked flat out on THE GATES. It was a labour of love. I so wanted to write it, and I didn’t care if it was going to be picked up or not. Oh, it would have hurt a bit if it had been rejected by my publishers, but I wouldn’t have regretted a moment of the time that I spent writing it. I was able to let my imagination run riot, while at the same time retaining a thread of pure science. At times, it felt like a bit of a balancing act, and I’ve asked the physics department of my old university to check the science to make sure I haven’t mangled some very complicated stuff too much, but I hope that the enthusiasm behind it is communicated to those who read it. We’ll see.
  So THE GATES is a book that combines quantum physics and, well, Satanism, I suppose …
  I. Am. So. There.
  Mind you, it puts paid to my own quantum physics-inspired novel THE GATES, in which computer whizz Bill Gates, ’70s crooner David Gates, and be-mulleted crafty schemer for Ipswich Town FC’s early ’80s UEFA Cup winners Eric Gates all fall into a black hole and come out mind-melded in a parallel universe – a universe where there are no gates, only revolving doors. Oh, the humanity …

Monday, April 6, 2009

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Sean Chercover

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?
I honestly don’t wish I’d written other people’s books. Just doesn’t occur to me to think that way. But if I had to pick one, it might be A DANCE AT THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE by Lawrence Block. Or any of the Factory series by Derek Raymond. Or PORT TROPIQUE by Barry Gifford. Or ...

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Popeye, the sailor man.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I spend far too much time reading cookbooks.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Probably when my two-year-old son held up a copy of TRIGGER CITY and said, “Trigga Ciddy! Da-Da book!”

The best Irish crime novel is …?

The Jack Taylor series, by Ken Bruen. PRIEST may be my favourite, but I look at that series as one long episodic novel. Another that I could wish I’d written, if I thought that way.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?

Well, I’m very excited that a couple of Ken’s books are being made into movies. I’m a big fan of Declan Hughes and I think his work would play well on the big screen. And John Connolly is awesome. THE BLACK ANGEL would make a great movie.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst? The critical voices in my head that jeer at me when the writing isn’t going well. Best? Everything else. I absolutely love this job.

The pitch for your next book is …?
... a secret, for now.

Who are you reading right now?
God. Well, not God, but those cats who wrote the Bible. And a bunch of books on Buddhism and Voodoo and quantum physics. All research for my current work-in-progress.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
That’s just cruel. I suspect that if stopped reading, my writing would start to suck after a while, so I’m tempted to choose reading. But if I’m tempted, then maybe it isn’t really God. Maybe it’s Satan. So maybe I should choose writing. Either way, I’m screwed.

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

Modesty forbids. But if you want to see what words other people use to describe my writing, scoot on over to www.chercover.com, where you can read plenty of review quotes, learn more about me and my books, and even enter a contest and maybe win stuff.

Sean Chercover’s latest novel is TRIGGER CITY

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Sunday Review

One of these kids has to be wrong, and for once I’m hoping it’s Myles McWeeney. Reviewing the new Declan Hughes novel, ALL THE DEAD VOICES, in the Irish Independent, McWeeney says: “This is the fourth Ed Loy mystery and Declan Hughes continues to up the Irish noir ante with this assured and gory examination of the relationship between IRA splinter groups and crime in Dublin.”
  Nice. But then Claire Kilroy, in the Irish Times, has this: “Hughes’s four previous Loy novels were characterised by a strain of high Gothic which centred around the Big House, the notion of fate, and of corrupted bloodlines … Loy is a winning combination of caustic cynicism and romantic idealism, an adept at Beckettian failing better … Hughes gives the reader an ending which confounds the expectations of the genre, and which is all the more satisfying for it.”
  So – is ALL THE DEAD VOICES the fourth or fifth Ed Loy novel? Does Claire Kilroy know something we don’t know? And if so, how come Squire Hughes is holding out on us? Was it something we said? Something we didn’t say? Questions, questions …
  Anyhoos, upward and onward to the new Derek Landy, THE FACELESS ONES, being the third in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, which Sarah Webb in the Irish Independent likes a lot. To wit: “It’s non-stop action from the first page on … Landy’s dialogue crackles with authenticity and wit … If you want to keep your youngster reading, look no further. It’s Landy to the rescue again.”
  Nice. Over at RTE, Tara Loughrey-Grant is loving Twenty Major’s second novel, ABSINTHE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER: “As shockingly entertaining as his debut novel was, ABSINTHE is a better read. The plot is tighter, more mature with added suspense keeping the reader glued until the very last page. Twenty brings Barcelona to live, in full 3D colour, enabling the reader to become part of his hedonistic, dysfunctional team.”
  Lovely. Meanwhile, Henry Sutton at the Daily Mirror is bigging up Gene Kerrigan’s rather marvellous DARK TIMES IN THE CITY thusly: “The dark side of Dublin is the star in this brilliantly written slice of Irish noir, featuring a good man who gets himself on the wrong side of a very bad lot.”
  Gorgeous. Last word this week goes to the inimitable Glenn Harper over at International Noir, who’s been perusing the latest from The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman: “Bateman’s last novel, ORPHEUS RISING, was magic realism rather than crime fiction, and in the new one, he has come back to crime with a comic vengeance … Good news, since MYSTERY MAN is the funniest crime novel since Bateman’s own DIVORCING JACK and CYCLE OF VIOLENCE.”
  Lovely jubbly.