“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, July 11, 2009

“And The Award For The Most Award Nominations Goes To … Declan Hughes!”

Another week, another awards nomination for Squire Declan Hughes (right). Yes indeedy, it’s the ‘Theakston’s Old Peculier Novel of the Year 2009’, the winner of which will be announced at the Harrogate Festival. Squire Hughes has been nominated for THE COLOUR OF BLOOD (the award is for books that were published in paperback in 2008), and he’s got some stiff competition – Ian Rankin, Lee Child, John Harvey, Peter James, Val McDermid … it’s cutthroat stuff, people.
  Anyway, the thing is, see, you – yes, YOU! – can vote on the award, and decide who you think should scoop ye olde ‘Theako’. I’m not saying who you should vote for or anything, but if Squire Hughes doesn’t get a minimum of 1,000 votes emanating from Crime Always Pays, he says he’ll come over and beat me like a red-headed step-child.
  You know what to do, folks – clickety-click here, and vote early and often for Declan Hughes …

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE BUDAPEST PROTOCOL and THE THIRD PIG DETECTIVE AGENCY

A couple of reviews from opposite ends of the spectrum, folks, the first being a ‘Book of the Day’ review I wrote for the Irish Times and which was published while I was away in Italy. To wit:
IT WILL come as no surprise to some that the European Union is a fiendish Nazi plot, and that the euro is just one of the tools employed by the Fourth Reich to facilitate the flow of capital from one country to another. They may be disappointed to learn that this is the case only between the covers of Adam Lebor’s political thriller.
  THE BUDAPEST PROTOCOL has as its protagonist Alex Farkas, British-Hungarian journalist working for a newspaper in the Hungarian capital. The arrival in Hungary of Frank Sanzlermann, on the campaign trail in the imminent election for the new position of European President, sets in train a number of events, some of them personal to Alex, such as the apparent murder of his grandfather. Other developments are political, including the establishment of a quasi-paramilitary force, an upsurge in nationalist and fascist sentiment, and the growing persecution of the Roma people.
  The political quickly becomes personal for Alex when he discovers his grandfather’s testimony about a protocol established in Budapest in 1944, between the Nazis and German and Swiss bankers and industrialists. Is it possible that the EU is the modern face of Nazism?
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, and moving from the sublime to the ridiculously sublime, here’s Matt Benyon Rees on Bob ‘no relation’ Burke’s THE THIRD PIG DETECTIVE AGENCY:
Seeing his brothers’ houses blown down by the Big Bad Wolf (“I’ll huff and I’ll puff ...”) taught Harry Pigg to build his own house out of bricks, thus avoiding the grisly fate of the first and second pigs. The nursery rhyme carries a lesson for all little children ... It also forms the somewhat traumatic background that turns Harry into the wise-cracking detective of Bob Burke’s engagingly witty new novel.
  We’re in Grimmtown, where everyone is a character from a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme. But it’s no fairytale wonderland. In fact, it’s rather true to the stories of the Brothers Grimm, whose nightmarish old tales always seem to me distinctly inappropriate for small children (the chipper little Gingerbread Man, for example, gets eaten and that’s the end of that. Whoever thought these would be good stories for kids?) On the mean streets of Grimmtown, hard-up Harry Pigg is hired by Aladdin to track down his stolen magic lantern, though this displeases Aladdin’s thuggish bodyguard, one of the Billygoats Gruff. Dwarfs, leprechauns and genies ensue.
  This is undoubtedly the most whimsical hardboiled detective novel ever written, and it’s utterly delightful.
  And while we’re on the topic of Matt Benyon Rees, and with a hat-tip to Detectives Beyond Borders, Matt is one of a quartet of writers who have just established a new blog, called International Crime Authors Reality Check. Clickety-click here for more

Thursday, July 9, 2009

There Will Be BLOOD. Again.

Every now and again the world of Irish crime writing throws up a maverick genius, and ‘Capt. Joseph Barbelo’, pseudonymous author of the quasi-autobiographical BARBELO’S BLOOD, is this year’s diamond shining on crazily from the rough. Or words to that effect. Quoth the blurb elves:
Alright, suppose I’d better write something here or you’ll never buy the fucking thing. I’m Captain Barbelo, pleasure to make your acquaintance.
  Cleverly disguised as a cracking first-class novel, welcome to my eighty-two year quest for the nefarious Illuminati, the truth behind the current global extermination project, satanic blood-fest rituals, mind control and transdimensional realities.
  A crash course in state-sponsored terrorism, military black ops, streetwise easy logic and good auld natural selection, you’ve got everything from cancer cures, to fit-birds with guns, to gangsters and the world banking scam – skulduggery galore.
  Your proverbial win-win situation.
  But, a cautionary word about rebellions, lawful or otherwise. Short of the homemade explosives section, (email me) you should find everything you need here to make a bloody good start. All I ask is that you use your loaf, think before you act, and do the job in proper order – or don’t do it at all.
  In for a penny, in for a pound.
  There’s a disclaimer about all that inside, but I’ll say it again: I’m not gonna be held responsible if any of yous release your inner killer and muff it up. Not my fucking problem. Alright?
  Other than that, get stuck in and enjoy yourselves.
  Pukka.
  I’m only 13 pages in, and even though I think I’m being had, I’m going to recommend this one. No kidding, it reads like Ken Bruen’s stroppy uncle with a bad case of Tourettes and one too many viewings of A Clockwork Orange under his belt. Which is, just to clarify, a very good thing indeed.
  You read it here first, folks. BARBELO’S BLOOD by Capt. Joseph Barbelo. Make it so.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

“What We Need Is Less Published Novels And More Great Novels.”

I have no idea who the ‘Three Guys’ are, and know nothing about them, except for the fact that there appears to be four of them, but they do seem to have a sensible thing or five to say about the current state of the publishing industry. Here’s a few excerpts from their recent post-BEA ‘State of the Union’ address:
“Literary novels, as least the ones I read, don’t ever engage the common reader, the man or woman interested in getting emotionally involved in a book between LAX and JFK. There is a certain percentage of readers out there who do like literary novels, but it’s less than you’d think. I believe printed books would be dead and buried if it weren’t for the big splashy thrillers and kids in peril books that crowd the superstores and airport racks, books as entertainment, books as identifiable substances within your own life. With this in mind it’s the gate keepers who are hurting the industry. The agents, the editors, the money men who down size five good employees two days before Christmas when the company fell short of it’s 15% profit goal. I look at every catalog of every US publisher and I see 90% commercial tripe. Whether its fiction, genre, or non fiction, it’s all based on the lowest common denominator …”
  “Maybe what we need is less published novels and more great novels? Enough with the sentence, already. How about engaging readers with a great story? How about allowing readers to get inside the story, instead of holding them at arms length in the name of literary pretension? Most of the new fiction I read just doesn’t feel lived. Period. And it’s not compelling because it feels like artifice. It feels crafted, or overworked, or counterfeit. I’m usually all too aware that somebody is writing the damn story. Hell, I’d rather watch Deadwood or Madmen any day of the week than read most new novels. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Some of the best writing is going on in cable television, because television has finally learned the benefit of creating a good working environment for writers where film has mostly failed, and publishing has—/ahem/—also come up short in recent decades. Maybe we’re losing some of our greatest novelists to the greener pastures of TV? We’re certainly losing our readers. Fuck that. I still believe in the novel! …”
  “However many ways there are to write a great novel, they all have one thing in common while you’re reading them, at least while I’m reading them: the experience feels credible, or in some way lived. It doesn’t feel written, so much as alive. Too much literary fiction I read feels written to me …”
  “I think the problem is that most literary novelists don’t create and manage enough tension in their work, something genre writers, and good television writers can’t afford to overlook. You’ve got to have something driving the story besides words and insights and observations and narrative tropes and voice. In order to keep an audience riveted to a story, you must have some form of tension at work constantly. I’m not suggesting that every scene needs to be a confrontation. Most of the tension can involve internal conflict that need never be stated, rather suggested or dictated by a character’s situation. Also, I think that among literary novelists there is often a concerted effort to frustrate traditional (Aristotelian) story arcs, which is admirable. The problem is, that after tens of thousands of years, folks process stories a certain way. We respond to rising action, we expect climax and denouement …”
  For more – much, much more – clickety-click here

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Jason O’Toole

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?
Anything by Raymond Chandler or James M Cain.

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

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Charles Bukowski and John Fante.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Interviewing John Gilligan last year for a Hot Press magazine cover story. It was 13,000 words feature that ran over two editions of the magazine, which subsequently resulted in Hot Press being banned from Irish prisons. This feature is in my latest book, CRIME, INK.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Ireland has produced an abundance of excellent crime authors (Connolly, Collins, Bruen, Burke, McNamee, Hughes, Barclay, Bateman, Kerrigan … to name a few) but my personal favourite is THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE by John Banville or Edna O’Brien’s IN THE FOREST.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Again, there are several, but I’d suggest LIES OF SILENCE by Brian Moore.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about writing is the flexibility of working from home and not having to work office hours. However, the downside is you always bring your work home with you, so it’s very hard to just switch off …

The pitch for your next book is …?
I have no idea, but I seem to start every pitch with the following words: “I can turn this around quick …”

Who are you reading right now?
I’m rereading Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD and THE NEW JOURNALISM, edited by Tom Wolfe and EW Johnson.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d probably go insane without being able to write …

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
In your face! The Sunday Independent once described my writing as “in your face”, which I hope was meant as a compliment.

Jason O’Toole’s CRIME, INK is published by Merlin Publishing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

THE TWELVE: Did I Mention That This One Goes Up To 11?

As much as I hate a lazy and / or bad reviewer, I love a good reviewer, and a good review, and Stuart Neville picked up a couple of doozies over the weekend, the first being Nicola Barr at The Observer, the gist of her review running thusly:
“THE TWELVE is a brilliant thriller: unbearably tense, stomach-churningly frightening. Fegan and his nemesis, the government double agent Davy Campbell, are magnificent creations: not sympathetic, but never wholly repugnant. And just as haunting as Fegan’s apparitions are Neville’s stunning reimaginings of the darkest atrocities: the bombs, the beatings, the torture, the point-blank murders. Then there’s the farm in south Armagh, setting for the novel’s grisly climax, presided over by the almost mythically violent Bull O’Kane, the last bastion of the old guard, unchanged, impenetrable, rooted in the past.
  “It is impressive indeed to create an entertainment out of such material, but more than that, Neville has boldly exposed post-ceasefire Northern Ireland as a confused, contradictory place, a country trying to carve out a future amid a peace recognised by the populace as hypocritical, but accepted as better than the alternative. This is the best fictional representation of the Troubles I have come across, a future classic of its time. Stuart Neville has finally given Northern Ireland the novel its singular history deserves.” – Nicola Barr, The Observer
  Very nice indeed. And then Matt Benyon Rees weighed in with a review on his interweb malarkey, which finishes up like this:
“Neville’s masterstroke is to take a post-conflict situation where of necessity a lot of former bad guys are converted to good guys -- gunmen made into legislators still running corrupt business sidelines -- and to show the price paid by those who can’t shrug off their past … Neville’s book is a thrilling record of the traces of crime and blood left behind when the politicians command us to move on.” – Matt Benyon Rees
  And then there was The Daily Mail on Monday, to wit: “An astonishing first novel ... Awesomely powerful, fabulously written ... simply unmissable.”
  Terrific stuff, and very well deserved it all is too …

Monday, July 6, 2009

Two Tales, One City

Work commitments – not to mention an irrational phobia of bowler hats – will keep me away from Belfast next Wednesday evening, although maybe that’s just as well, given that there’d be something of a conflict of interest were I to wander north. For lo! There’s not one but two quality book launches happening that evening in Belfast, the first for AFTERMATH, Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards’ new tome about the Omagh bombing. Quoth the blurb elves:
The Omagh bomb was the worst massacre in Northern Ireland’s modern history - yet from it came a most extraordinary tale of human resilience, as families of murdered people channelled their grief into action. As the bombers congratulated themselves on escaping justice, the families determined on a civil case against them and their organisation. No one had ever done this before. It was a very domestic atrocity. In Omagh, on Saturday, 15 August, 1998, a massive bomb placed by the so-called Real IRA murdered unborn twins, five men, fourteen women and nine children, of whom two were Spanish and one English: the dead included Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon. Although the police believed they knew the identities of the killers, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. Taking as their motto ‘For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing’, families of ten of the dead decided to pursue these men through the civil courts, where the burden of proof is lower. This is the remarkable account of how these families - who had no knowledge of the law and no money, and included a cleaner, a mechanic and a bookie - became internationally recognised, formidable campaigners and surmounted countless daunting obstacles to win a famous victory. How these mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers turned themselves into the scourge of the Real IRA is not just an astonishing story in itself. It is also a universal story of David challenging Goliath, as well as an inspiration to ordinary people anywhere devastated by terrorism.
  The launch for AFTERMATH takes place at the Bookshop at Queen’s University on Wednesday 8th, with the gig kicking off at 5.30pm and featuring Michael Gallagher, Brett Lockhart QC and Jason McCue as speakers.
  Meanwhile, over at No Alibis on Botanic Avenue, Adrian McKinty (right) will be doing a reading from FIFTY GRAND, to mark the UK publication of said opus, that event kicking off at 6pm. I’ve pretty much run out of superlatives to describe FIFTY GRAND, so suffice to say that if you scroll down a smidgeroo, you can avail of the opportunity to win a signed copy of this very, very fine novel.
  Happily, Belfast is a pretty compact city, and those of you dedicated to the cause can scoot along to Queen’s for the AFTERMATH launch, and then nip around the corner to Botanic Avenue for the McKinty jamboree. If you time it right, you might even get to skip the boring bit (McKinty reading) and cut straight to the entertainment (McKinty trying to juke out of paying his round for the rest of the evening). Bon chance, mes amis

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Publishing: If It Was A Dog, You’d Shoot It

I’ve been feeling a bit off about the whole writing bit lately, which is maybe a consequence of finishing a draft of a novel before I went on holiday. I’d planned to Kindle said novel, THE BIG EMPTY, and wanted to give it one last quick polish before I released it into the wild. Except 20 or 30 pages in I was thinking, ‘Actually, this isn’t as bad as I remember’ (it’s about five years since I wrote it). By the end I was fairly consumed by the story, and decided it needed a serious bit of work, but that it was worth it. Right now it’s out there in the tender care of some people I respect, and an opinion or two has started to waft back through the ether … mostly positive, happily enough.
  So maybe that’s why I’m feeling a bit drained and take-it-or-leave-it right now. And maybe the ennui has to do with the fact that there’s a couple of novels out there doing the rounds, THE BIG EMPTY and BAD FOR GOOD. Trying to maintain positive karma on behalf of both of them could wind up sucking me dry, and ruining the engine entirely, so maybe my subconscious has decided to temporarily promote the ‘don’t-really-give-a-shite’ defence.
  There are other reasons, though. The naked greed and gross stupidity of the industry in which I want to thrive is one of them. Another is the ongoing and relentless confirmation that the writing industry is not the meritocracy I’d always presumed it to be. Another is the daily confirmation of the fact that quite a lot of writers today aren’t writers at all, but simply businessmen (and women) with typewriters, who are far better at the business side of things than they are at the typing.
  Incidentally, today was the day I realised that the very fine website Crime Spot positions this blog in the category ‘The Business of Writing’, as opposed to the category ‘The Art of Writing’. It’s not that I think that my writing is art; it’s that I never thought of getting into writing for the sake of business. And I know that a goodly chunk of the output here is about promoting other writers … but is that necessarily ‘Business’ as opposed to ‘Art’?
  Anyway, by a pure fluke, I subsequently came across the Taint website, which was rating Irish blogs. And lo! Crime Always Pays comes in 43rd in the Top 100 Irish Blogs, which cheered me up no end. But lo-lo! It comes in 21st when the blogs are rated by ‘In-Bound Links’. I don’t really know what ‘In-Bound Links’ means, although I’m guessing it has to do with other websites et al linking to CAP …? Either way, I’m presuming it’s good.
  Cheered immeasurably by the news, I promptly went and ‘valued’ Crime Always Pays, and discovered that the blog is worth anywhere between $40k and $132k, depending on which website you believe.
  Bugger that ‘Art’ malarkey, we’re back in ‘Business’. Right?
  Erm, not really, although if anyone wants to make me an offer, I’m listening … Seriously, the best news I heard all day came via Ray Banks on Twitter, which directed me (eventually) to the video below. It’s a mission statement of sorts on behalf of publishing newbies Tyrus Books, which appears to take its philosophy from Ty Cobb, which is all sorts of alright with me. If we had even a tiny amount more people like this in the publishing industry, people, the world would be a hell of a better place. Or, for that matter, people like Stona Fitch, who was kind enough to send me a copy of his rather excellent novel SENSELESS recently. Roll it there, Collette …

I’d Love To Set A Thriller On The Moon, But …

Atmosphere or no, it’s amazing there aren’t more thrillers set on the moon*. Exotic locations are growing more and more popular with the crime fic fraternity, to the point where it can be argued – I think some po-faced critic did so recently, actually – that the novels are becoming as much travelogues as they are thrillers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I discovered Paul Johnston, for example, because he set the first Alex Mavros novel on a Greek island – but there can be times when writers overstep the mark and wallow in exotica to the exclusion of formerly vital components of the crime novel, such as tension and dead bodies.
  Anyway, kudos are due yet again to the Irish Times for their ongoing support for crime fiction, which this weekend manifested itself as a double-page spread feature on exotic locations for crime fic novels. To wit:
“BAD THINGS happen in beautiful places,” the doyenne of British crime fiction, PD James, recently observed. She’s so right. When we’re sunning ourselves on some idyllic beach or downing grilled prawns and dry white wine in some sheltered harbour, we like nothing better than a good murder – fictional, of course – to keep us entertained. A strong sense of place is one of the most attractive elements of a top-notch crime novel, and it needn’t be a remote wilderness place, either; it can be a pulsating city neighbourhood, or even a single apartment building. Arminta Wallace suggests some striking locations for a spot of summer sleuthing.
  The locations Wallace picked are Louisiana, Yorkshire, Venice, Boston, Bangkok, Donegal, Alaska, Shanghai, Botswana, Reykjavik, Washington DC, Sicily, London, Breslau, Dublin, Paris, New York, Edinburgh, Seville, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Nairobi, Maine, Sweden and Norfolk, although I’m sure Peter Rozovsky could suggest a few more. I’m thinking, off the top of my head, Tibet, Egypt, Australia, Greece and Brazil …
  And in the week that’s in it, given that it’s getting its UK publication, how the hell could they miss out on Cuba and Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND?
  Quibbles apart, it’s a fine piece. Clickety-click here for all the details

* Funnily enough, Duncan Jones – aka Zowie Bowie – has just directed Sam Rockwell in Moon, a Phil Dick-style existential thriller of paranoia, cloning and double-cross set on the moon, which is due out in Ireland on July 17, and comes warmly recommended by your genial host. Oh, and expect to see every newspaper feature dealing with Moon titled ‘Space Oddity’.