“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, May 23, 2009

The Right Kind Of BLOOD

Another week, another Irish crime fiction writer. Sunday World crime correspondent Niamh O’Connor’s best-selling non-fiction book THE BLACK WIDOW goes out in paperback next month, with an update on the story of ‘the life and crimes of Catherine Nevin’, but a little birdie cheep-a-cheep-cheeps to the effect that Niamh will be publishing her first crime fiction opus next year, when IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN arrives courtesy of Transworld Ireland. No details as to plot et al just yet, but I’m hearing rumours of Lynda LaPlante-style shenanigans. I’ll keep you posted …
  As if that wasn’t enough, Niamh has another non-fiction true crime book arriving later this year, when BLOOD TIES hits the streets.
  I was on a panel with Niamh a couple of months ago, alongside the ├╝ber-glam* Alex Barclay, so I got in touch with Niamh earlier in the week, to see if I couldn’t pick her brains about a character I’m working on in a new story. She was incredibly helpful. “Anything you want to know,” she said, “just ask.” So I said, “Okay, my character is radiantly gorgeous. How does a girl manage to pull that off and be brilliant at the same time?”
  It was all downhill from there, really …

* (that umlaut’s for you, Ms Witch)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Suffer, Little Children

Those of you who have read Ken Bruen’s THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS and perhaps thought that Ken was, as writers tend to do, exaggerating the horrors of the ‘Magdalene laundries’ for dramatic purposes, might be interested in the findings of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, published earlier this week. The report details systematic abuses – including physical and psychological brutality, gang-rape and torture – on an industrial scale, all of which were perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church’s various bodies. Yesterday’s Irish Times editorial, under the heading ‘The savage reality of our darkest days’, had this to say:
The key to understanding these attitudes is surely to realise that abuse was not a failure of the system. It was the system. Terror was both the point of these institutions and their standard operating procedure. Their function in Irish society was to impose social control, particularly on the poor, by acting as a threat. Without the horror of an institution like Letterfrack, it could not fulfil that function. Within the institutions, terror was systematic and deliberate. It was a methodology handed down through “successive generations of [Christian] Brothers, priests and nuns”.
  There is a nightmarish quality to this systemic malice, reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. We read of children “flogged, kicked . . . scalded, burned and held under water”. We read of deliberate psychological torment inflicted through humiliation, expressions of contempt and the practice of incorrectly telling children that their parents were dead …
  For the full editorial, click here
  Those inclined to defend, rebut, apologise for or otherwise try to contextualise the horror by way of the ‘one bad apple in a barrel’ argument should realise that some apples are bad going into the barrel, some apples are made bad by the barrel, and some barrels are better than others at creating bad apples.
  Last week I mentioned that the Minister for Justice, Mr Brian Lenihan, is pressing ahead with his plans to put the crime of blasphemy on the statute books in Ireland. Given the findings of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, he might make better use of his time by banning religions, and particularly those who make a virtue of deviant sexual practices, such as celibacy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A GONZO NOIR: One Step Closer To Garnering Nappy Vouchers

Okay, so you’ve probably had it up to your proverbials with A GONZO NOIR blurbs this week, but I really couldn’t resist this one. All three regular readers will be familiar with moniker of ‘Benny Blanco’, it being CAP’s nom-de-plume for Benjamin Black, the crime-writing alter-ego / open pseudonym of John Banville (right). As it happens, and as I only discovered in the wake of interviewing John Banville a couple of weeks ago, the protagonist of Banville’s first novel, NIGHTSPAWN, is called Ben White. So I guess the joke has been on me all along …
  Anyway, I took the liberty of getting in touch with John Banville to see if he’d take a squint at A GONZO NOIR, with a view to perhaps providing a line or two that might nudge the book in the direction of garnering some nappy vouchers. To my surprise, he said he’d take a look at it, and he came back yesterday with this:
“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, Booker Prize-winning author of THE SEA
  Which is very, very nice indeed. Actually, I’m still a bit dizzy … But then, it’s been a very-nice-indeed kinda week, given the feedback I’ve had on the book (scroll down for verdicts from Adrian McKinty, Reed Farrel Coleman, John McFetridge and Ken Bruen), and especially as I’ve never been as unsure of a book as I am with A GONZO NOIR.
  I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – the extravagant generosity of the crime writing and reading community is a joy to behold. God bless you, every one …

BOG’s Standard Raised Again

The late, lamented Siobhan Dowd’s BOG CHILD won the Bisto Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Awards, the second year running one of her books has found itself aboard the gravy train. Quoth the Irish Times:
IT IS “disturbing and disappointing” that the Department of Education has cut the school book grant to schools and libraries in a move that will “limit young people’s access to books”, the chairwoman of Children’s Books Ireland has said.
  Jane O’Hanlon was speaking at the announcement yesterday of the winners of the Bisto Children’s Book of the Year Awards.
  She described the department’s move as “retrogressive”, said it would “impact heavily on already overstretched schools and libraries”, and called for the decision to be reconsidered.
  Yesterday’s ceremony in Dublin marked the 19th year of the Children’s Book Awards.
  The top award for 2009 – the Bisto Book of the Year – went to the late Siobhan Dowd for BOG CHILD. The award was accepted by her sister Oona Emerson.
  Dowd died in August 2007 at the age of 47 after a long illness.
  The €10,000 prize money will be donated to the Siobhan Dowd Trust, which she established to help disadvantaged children improve their reading skills.
  BOG CHILD is about a boy, Fergus, who while digging turf finds the body of a child in the bog.
  In other news, while we’re on the topic of YA crime fiction, Rafe McGregor and Adrian McKinty (right) had a fascinating exchange over at Rafe’s blog. To wit:
  Rafe: “What project are you currently working on?”
  Adrian: “I’m working on a Young Adult novel provisionally called DARK ENERGY about a skateboard punk kid who moves to Colorado Springs.”
  Rafe: “Your crime fiction is clearly aimed at an adult audience, so I was surprised to see that you also write YA. Can you tell me about your work in this genre and how you came to it?”
  Adrian: “I had an idea for an initial novel about an emotionally damaged child who comes to Islandmagee (an area in Ireland very close to my heart) that I knew wasn’t appropriate as a crime novel so I wrote it as a YA and the one book eventually became three. The new YA however is a crime novel. It’s about a serial killer in a small town in Colorado, I’m calling it a YA noir. God alone knows if there’s a market for something like that, but that’s the story and I’m just telling it.”
  YA Noir? From Adrian McKinty? Colour me intrigued, squire …

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A GONZO NOIR: Reed All About It, Etc.

I’ve mentioned the Holden Caulfield impulse before on these pages, the Holden Caulfield impulse being the one where Holden says that sometimes when you finish a book you’d like to be able to call up the author and tell him what a great book it was. Thanks to the interweb, I’ve been able to act on that impulse a couple of times over the last few years. One of those times was shortly after I read Reed Farrel Coleman’s (right) THE JAMES DEANS, which I read in one sitting out on a balcony on a rainy day in Croatia while my beloved went shopping: just me, coffee, cigarettes and Moe Prager. A damn fine day it was too, rain or no rain. Anyway, I dropped Reed Farrel Coleman a line to tell him how brilliant I thought the book was, and one thing led to another, and he ended up writing me a very generous blurb for THE BIG O. Which was nice.
  What was nicer was, at last year’s Bouchercon in Baltimore, I was at the bar with John McFetridge when I spotted Reed Coleman. “Hold on,” says I, “there’s Reed Coleman. I need to buy that man a drink.” Except Reed Farrel Coleman went, “No, man – I’m buying you a drink.”
  As Holden Caulfield might say, albeit without the sarcasm, the man’s a goddamn prince.
  All of which is a long-winded preamble to saying that Reed Farrel Coleman has been kind enough to blurb A GONZO NOIR. To wit:
“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul. If you want to think while you’re being entertained, read this book.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, two-time Shamus Award-winning author of EMPTY EVER AFTER
  Like I say, the man’s a gent …
  In one of those lovely twists of fate the universe offers up once in a while, the aforementioned John ‘Fetch’ McFetridge (right) chipped in with his two cents early the following morning. As with Adrian McKinty, the man’s a mate, a good bloke and a terrific writer, and not necessarily in that order. Anyway, quoth John:
“In this era of formulaic, pre-fab, test-marketed, focus-grouped, pre-packaged, no-risk sequels, remakes and the same-old same-old all over again, A GONZO NOIR is shockingly original and completely entertaining. Post-modern crime fiction at its very best.” – John McFetridge, author of EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE
  Two things I’m liking about the reactions to A GONZO NOIR. Well, three, given that I’m chuffed people seem to like it, obviously. But one thing I do like is how quickly the reactions are coming back, given that the manuscripts only went out about 10 days ago; and another thing is that the people who’ve been so generous already, namely Ken Bruen and Adrian McKinty, and now Reed Farrel Coleman and John McFetridge, are writers who don’t stand to benefit anything by doing so. I’ve raised the spectre of log-rolling already, but I’m only flattering myself when I do that – these guys have nothing to gain by lending me a hand, because a bottom-feeder like me is no position to return the log-roll favour. I can write about them on Crime Always Pays, of course, but that amounts to about three molecules of publicity oxygen …
  Anyway, you can analyse these things too closely. The bottom line is that terrific writers seem to like the book, and that they’re prepared to say so. All hopes of publication and / or earning nappy vouchers aside, that kind of reaction is priceless …

THE SCARECROW: Outstanding In Its Own Field

I was shocked, horrified and on the verge of calling the Culture Cops when Gerard Brennan announced a few weeks ago on CSNI that he’d never read a Chandler novel, although – as is the case with most people, I suspect – there are more gaps in my own reading than there is reading. I’ve only ever read one Sherlock Holmes story, for example, that being THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and it didn’t really do it for me. Should I be tarred and feathered?
  Anyway, THE SCARECROW is the first Michael Connelly novel I’ve read, and I very probably wouldn’t have read it had I not been reviewing it for the Irish Times, which continues to fly in the face of the global trend for cutbacks in print newspaper book review trends with its laudable ‘Book of the Day’ review on its Op-Ed pages. Appropriately enough, THE SCARECROW features Jack McEvoy, last encountered in THE POET, a journalist who is ‘pink-slipped’ by the LA Times as the novel opens, a device which gives Connelly plenty of opportunities to sound off about the decline and fall of newspaper journalism. To wit:
  Eschewing linguistic pyrotechnics, Connelly writes as McEvoy would, as a responsible journalist recording facts rather than a hack bent on exploiting vulnerable people for the sake of a headline. It’s a fine line for a thriller writer to walk, but Connelly pulls it off with aplomb.
  Where there is authorial intrusion is in Connelly’s account of the worm’s-eye view of the evisceration of American journalism.
  Clearly appalled at the ongoing downsizing of newspapers, and the resultant shrinkage in quality journalism, Connelly puts his words into the mouth of the cynical McEvoy: “Like the paper and ink newspaper itself, my time was over. It was about the internet now. It was about hourly uploads to online editions and blogs. It was about television tie-ins and Twitter updates. It was about filing stories on your phone rather than using it to call rewrite. The morning paper might as well have been called the Daily Afterthought.”
  Zing, etc.
  For the rest of the review, clickety-click here

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bristol 2009: Natural Born Shillers?

I was a bit ambivalent about the Bristol Crime Fest this year, I have to say. On the one hand, it’s always terrific to meet up with people you only see once or twice a year, if you’re lucky, some of whom dandered out for a bite to eat on Friday night (L to R: award-winning blogger Peter Rozovsky (sans beard), Vincent Holland-Keen, Donna Moore, Ewan (aka Donna Moore’s other half), Cara Black, Chris Ewan, Rafe McGregor, and Your Humble Host). A good night was had by all, although some appetites were rather ruined by Ewan’s mention of Donna’s party piece, which she was gracious enough not to showcase …
  On the other hand, events / conventions aren’t really about the business of writing, but much more about the business of marketing. I shouldn’t really grouse about that fact, given that I was privileged enough to be asked to sit on two panels, one of which took place on Friday and was moderated by Donna Moore, alongside Chris Ewan, Steve Mosby and Kevin Wignall. The panel went well enough, in that none of the panellists were chucked out any windows for boring the audience to tears, although I did find myself explaining why, exactly, I’d hijacked a mini-bus at the age of 15. Gosh, you get a bad rap and The Man never lets you forget it …
  But I only attended one panel I wasn’t involved with all weekend, and that for about 20 minutes, and that only because I got caught up in Ali Karim’s gravitational pull and he was already headed that way. The panellists were all interesting people, and two of them had published novels set in Greece (Paul Johnston and Anne Zouroudi), which is something I have a personal interest in, given that I’ve been working on-and-off on a novel set on Crete for the last five or six years, but … well, I don’t know. It’s hard to feel that you’re not really discovering anything you wouldn’t from reading between the lines of a back-page biog, I suppose … which isn’t to criticise the writers, because all the panellists I saw were pro-active and engaging. Maybe it’s just the case that writers talking about writing just isn’t very interesting, much in the same way as porn stars talking about sex isn’t very interesting. Or so I imagine …
  By the same token, and maybe it’s just that the dry sherries were in, the various conversations on Friday night were much more fun.
I had a particularly good one with Steve Mosby and Ali Karim (right) about a whole range of subjects – which is to say, of course, that Ali talked while Steve and I nodded occasionally. Still, there was a couple of fascinating topics, not least of which is the new demand in the US for companies which will maintain your on-line persona after your death, updating your Facebook, emailing your buddies, and even keeping your game-playing avatar hale and hearty while you sleep the big sleep. Perverse? Yes. Pointless? Yes. Chunky material for a Phil Dick-style book? Most certainly.
  Anyway, Friday was a good day, given that I bumped into Karen Meek and Norm Rushdie, and Dec Hughes and Brian McGilloway, and Ruth Dudley Edwards, and Maxim Jakubowski and Paul Johnston, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours bitching about the publishing industry with Rafe McGregor, gentleman that he is. All of which went some way to off-setting the embarrassment I should have been feeling at attending Crime Fest with no book other than THE BIG O to promote, which was first published two years ago, and – technically speaking – has never been published in the UK. For shame, etc …
  Which brings me back to the whole being-marketed-at issue. Would I have been happier with the weekend if I’d had a book to market? Not really. And I should say that I’m not dissing Crime Fest here, because I think it’s a terrific experience, and brilliantly run, and I’ll be back again next year to hook up with like-minded folk. But, to be honest – and I’m probably shooting myself in the foot here – the whole issue of selling / marketing books is simply a necessary evil that follows on from the privilege of being published in the first place. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d imagine most writers would much prefer to live in splendid isolation, tossing a manuscript over the wall of their mansion every year or so to a waiting editor, leaving the whole business of promotion and generalised shilling to people who are trained and / or have a vocation for the selling side of things.
  Hey, maybe there’s a market for a company that could maintain an electronic avatar-style version of writers, 3-D simulations who go on the circuit and promote the books, while the real writer stays home and writes. Any takers?

Sheila, Take A Bow

I was on my way to take part in a panel on Saturday at Bristol’s Crime Fest when I met Sheila Quigley (right) on the stairs, coming back from the swimming pool. “You’d want to get downstairs for a swim, son,” she says, “you look like shite.” Nice.
  I’d come across Sheila’s name before, and presumed with a moniker like that she was an Irish crime writer, only to find she’s a Sunderland lass going back generations – it’s her husband who brings the ‘Quigley’ element to the party. Anyway, as of last weekend, I’m officially adopting Sheila Quigley as an Irish crime writer under the ‘married-to-bloke-who-has-an-Irish-grandfather’ rule, mainly because she’s so shy and retiring and seems to need someone to speak up on her behalf (koff) …
  So – the business end of things. Sheila’s current novel is EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE, but THE ROAD TO HELL is due in November, from indie publisher Tonto Books, which has this for its manifesto: “To help support and nurture writers and value them as an integral part of the publishing industry.” Y’know, it’s so damn crazy it might just work …

Monday, May 18, 2009

A GONZO NOIR: In Which The Log-Rolling Dilemma Rears Its Ugly Log

As all three regular readers of CAP will be aware, my latest opus – BAD FOR GOOD: A GONZO NOIR – is being sent out to publishers for the by-now traditional mass rejection. Notwithstanding the fact that it may never be published, I’ve already started asking other writers for blurbs, which is a necessary evil in this day and age. As all three regular readers of CAP – one of whom, I’m reliably informed, is Adrian McKinty (right, currently topping the ‘Who is the Sexiest Irish Crime Writer?’ poll) – will also be aware, I think Adrian McKinty is a terrific writer. I got in touch with him after reading DEAD I WELL MAY BE, which is as good a novel of any stripe as I’ve ever read, and we’ve stayed in touch since. As well as being a top writer, he’s a good bloke, and at this stage he’s a mate.
  In saying all that, I asked him to read BFGAGN as part of my ongoing bid for world domination because he’s one of my favourite writers – his latest, FIFTY GRAND, is in my not-entirely-humble opinion one of the best novels published to date this year. Anyway, the point of telling you all that is that you may or may not want to take what he says about BFGAGN below with a Siberian mine-sized pinch of salt. To wit:
“What happens when the voices in a writer’s head come to life? In Declan Burke’s funny and intelligent A GONZO NOIR we find out. Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel about the difficulty of writing a crime novel. Dangerous fictional creations and real people and fictionalised real people battle for a writer’s soul in an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” – Adrian McKinty, author of FIFTY GRAND.
  I’m not questioning the man’s integrity, you understand. I’m just saying, it’s best to be up-front and honest about these things. It’s a small matter of principle …