“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 18, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: FROZEN RIVER

Desperate to make ends meet, mother-of-two Ray (Melissa Leo) joins forces with local Mohawk Lila (Misty Upham) to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border between the US and Canada. In theory it should be easy: the Mohawk reservation extends across the border, and the local police have no jurisdiction on Mohawk land, but the frozen river the women need to cross while transporting their illicit cargo is the least treacherous obstacle in their way. A superb performance from Melissa Leo carries what might have been a standard noir tale, although what gives writer-director Courtney Hunt’s story an unconventional edge are the female leads, resulting in a downbeat and desolate Thelma and Louise. Ray and Lila aren’t out for post-feminist kicks, though – they break the law because they need to eat, and it’s the domestic aspect to Ray’s downward spiral that gives Frozen River its poignant edge, while a couple of scenes – particularly the one with the ‘misplaced’ baby – are truly heartbreaking. Shot crisply, cheaply but effectively, and with a good eye for the hauntingly bleak surroundings of northern New York State, this is as good a crime movie as you’ll see all year. ****

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Good Year For The ROSES

I guess the reason we’re not talking / There’s so little left to say / We haven’t said …” So warbled Elvis Costello in A Good Year for the Roses, a sentiment that wouldn’t cut much mustard with Garbhan Downey right now. For lo! The author of WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES is rabbiting all over the interweb. Here he is on Culture Northern Ireland:
From the outside 2009 looks like a vintage year for political satirists: expenses scandals rumbling on in Westminster, our own MLAs claims coming under ever greater press and public scrutiny, economic meltdown after years of hubris. ‘But I’d say it’s the opposite - there has never been a harder time to be a satirist’, says Garbhan Downey, a writer who has spent the best part of a decade ripping it out of the political classes on both sides of the border. ‘All these revelations just prove that the real world is so much stranger than anything a novelist could come up with.’
 Truth is stranger than fiction shocker! A pity the truth wouldn’t be half as funny as Garbhan Downey once in a while, but sure you can’t have everything. Anyway, where would you put it, etc. Meanwhile, here’s Garbhan over at the Irish Echo:
“There’s a few things I don’t like about America: nukes, twelve years of the Bush family, illegal renditions. Plus the fact that, for some reason, I can never quite fathom, my home television is now stuck for eight hours a day on the Disney Channel.
  “My novel WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES - though a comedy - picks up on some of these complaints.
  “But it also looks at the age-old kinship and friendship between our two countries, as personified by the taoiseach and the new U.S. president, when they meet up in the White House on the opening page.
  “In the book, the “bromance” between Ireland and the U.S. culminates in the Yanks sponsoring a massive flower-growing competition outside Derry, this to take some of the sting out of the Marching Season.”
  Ah, Norn Iron – the only place where you can still have a March in summer. Finally, here’s Downey over at Crime Scene Norn Iron:
“I thought I’d give McKinty a go because Gerard Brennan clearly rated him – and Ger, along with Peter [Rozovsky] and Dec [Modesty Forbids], is one of the few reviewers I still respect. If they have an angle, I don’t see it. And I say that as someone who has spent his life in journalism looking out for angles.”
  As I’ve told anyone who’ll listen, my angle is I’m in it for the money, the free books and the complimentary reacharounds. Anyway, and while we’re on the subject of Adrian McKinty and/or gobby Norn Ironers, here’s McKinty in the Times introducing his Top 10 Female Sleuths:
“As much as any hairy, beer drinking male can be I believe that I am in touch with my feminine side. I ride a girl’s bicycle, I went to a women’s college at Oxford and I have seen several episodes of Sex and the City (though I am not willing to admit the exact number for fear of damaging my hard-boiled crime writing credentials). As a kid in Northern Ireland I had two older sisters who kept me out of trouble and now I have two young daughters whose agenda is precisely the opposite. I grew up in an era of impressive female role models (Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman, Mrs Thatcher) so I have never had a problem enjoying female protagonists in fiction, especially in detective fiction which became my go-to genre. Now that I have written a XX chromosomed detective in my book FIFTY GRAND, I thought I would share my own idiosyncratic list of 10 favourite female gumshoes …”
  Erm, no Foxy Brown in there, squire?
  Finally, and as this will probably be the only CAP post to reference Elvis Costello and Margaret Thatcher, here’s Costello’s touching paean to the Iron Lady, Tramp the Dirt Down. Roll it there, Collette …

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TWO-WAY SPLIT: Killing With Kindleness

Good news and bad news, folks – the good news is that Allan Guthrie’s terrific TWO-WAY SPLIT is available in yet another format, the Kindle, which means it’s likely to knock the socks off a whole new audience. Better still, it’ll cost you the princely sum of $1.25! Huzzah!
  For that all-essential Crime Always Pays take on TWO-WAY SPLIT, clickety-click here … but be warned – those of you with an aversion to purple prose should resist the temptation to click thru, the better to avoid lines like, “The result is a gut-knotting finale that unfurls with the inevitability of all great tragedy and the best nasty sex – it’ll leave you devastated, hollowed out, aching to cry and craving more.”
  The bad news? Well, it’s a kick in the nuts to see the likes of TWO-WAY SPLIT being offered at $1.25. I mean, the novel won the Theakston’s Old Peculier, and it’s a wonderful novel, noir or otherwise. How’s a man supposed to earn a living when his best work is on sale at the knock-down, low-low, bargain basement price of $1.25? Eh?
  I should probably declare a variety of interests here, before I go any further: Allan Guthrie is my agent; I’m planning on uploading a novel to Kindle in the very near future; I haven’t had any great tragedy or nasty sex recently; and I am, in fact – mwah-hah-hah!!! – Allan Guthrie.
  Seriously, though – I’ll earn more this month from freelance writing (reviews of movies, theatre and books, mostly, with some features and interviews tossed in) than I’ve earned in the last 18 months from writing fiction. And this month isn’t a particularly terrific month, it’s average enough. So you tell me – with a baby girl in the house needing food, nappies, clothes and new shoes (the girl loves her shoes!), what’s the point in trying to write fiction? Or, let me rephrase that – What’s the point in writing terrific fiction (which I do, modesty and all aside) and trying to sell it, and very probably winding up selling it for $1.25 a pop, which works out – given the outrageous cost of living in Ireland – at roughly three nappies per copy?
  The answer: None, unless you’re insane.
  Anyway, if you have a Kindle, go buy Allan Guthrie’s brilliant TWO-WAY SPLIT. Apparently he’s going to cut me in for 0.000015 cents per copy, as commission, and if he sells a million copies this week, my baby girl gets to eat.
  You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: MOON by Duncan Jones

Next Monday is the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, making for a timely release date for Moon, a tasty little Phildickian tale of clones, paranoia, and futuristic fear and self-loathing. To wit:

You certainly can’t fault Duncan Jones’ ambition. Moon is only his second feature, and yet Jones has boldly gone where directors such as Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Soderberg and Trumbull have gone before. And as if that wasn’t enough pop-culture baggage to lug around, Jones – aka Zowie Bowie, and the director of the quirkiest sci-fi space oddity for some time – is David Bowie’s son.
  Under pressure? No man has more …
  Actually, Moon unfolds with the easy authority of a director in mid-career. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a lone astronaut working on a mining station on the dark side of the moon with only a talking computer, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), for company. Sam works for E-Lunar, a company strip-mining the moon of selenium, a miracle energy source which has recently reversed Earth’s chronic energy dependency. With his three-year contract running out in a matter of weeks, Sam is tired, bored and unkempt, but very much looking forward to going home to Earth to see his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and young daughter, Eve.
  Unfortunately, while checking out a malfunctioning mining vehicle, Sam has a serious accident. The next we see of him, in the base’s infirmary, the previously scruffy miner is clean-shaven and immaculately dressed. Banned from moving outside the base by Gerty, Sam invents an excuse and goes to check the malfunctioning mining vehicle. Inside the vehicle he discovers his unkempt and unconscious but very much alive doppelganger. Is Sam hallucinating? Has he gone insane? Or has he simply – fiendishly – been cloned?
  It may sound perverse to say that a film that so explicitly references some of science-fiction’s most recognisable movies has a freshness and authenticity all of its own, but the movies Moon pays homage to – 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Solaris, even Blade Runner – are also thoughtful, introspective pieces that trade on the question that has sustained 2,500 years of philosophy: What is it, exactly, that makes us truly human? As Sam and Sam declare an uneasy truce, despite each thinking he is the original and the other the clone, the screenwriters, Jones and Nathan Parker, use their dilemma to ask a series of profound questions about the nature of humanity, about personality and uniqueness, about the very tools we use to measure who we are.   As is generally the case with the best sci-fi – or speculative fictions, as its devotees prefer – Moon is a fable about contemporaneous alienation, and for the moon-bound Sam, the isolation is literal as well as psychological and emotional. How is he ever likely to extricate himself from his predicament, asks the story, when he has only his mirror-image to turn to for answers? How is it possible to find the strength to live when your life is not even pointless in the face of the heedless cosmos, but a carbon copy of a pointless existence?
  Despite the relatively small budget of £5 million, Jones has created a superb lunar landscape, an utterly believable hinterland that sets the tone for Sam’s isolation with its vast backdrop of the limitless universe. The special effects give proceedings an unexpectedly appropriate other-worldly feel, the exteriors drenched in matt blacks and greys, and gleaming silvers, conveying the sense that Sam has woken up to discover himself not only in a nightmare, but a ghost story too, albeit a haunting that is – as with Kubrick’s The Shining – derived less from the supernatural than the manifestation of a fatally sickening mind.
  It’s not a perfect movie, of course. There are craters in the plot, the largest concerning the fact that Sam ploughs a lone furrow as a lunar miner. If selenium is the miracle energy provider the movie claims it to be, wouldn’t a host of companies on Earth have laid claim to parts of the moon? And even if the E-Lunar company had a monopoly on the source of lunar selenium, it would surely have a small army of Sams at work on the dark side of the moon.
  Caveats aside, Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking offering. Rockwell turns in an excellent performance, particularly as he’s playing against himself for practically the entire movie. He does get support from Spacey as the lugubrious robot Gerty, who in turn offers some flashes of black humour. Gerty, to all sci-fi fans, is the latest incarnation of Hal, the mission-wrecking computer from 2001. When Gerty helps rather than hinders Sam at a crucial point in the story, Sam is moved to ask why. “Because it’s my job to help you, Sam,” Gerty replies, deadpan, setting off a million dark and knowing chuckles.
  As for Duncan Jones, well, he’s got a black sense of humour too. Rather than have Sam rise each morning to the alarm-clock strains of the more appropriate Space Oddity, or Major Tom, Jones has him wake to (koff) Chesney Hawkes’ The One and Only. ****

Monday, July 13, 2009

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS: The Novel Cometh

I’m getting pretty close to uploading CRIME ALWAYS PAYS to Kindle (mock-up cover, right, by my own fair hand), courtesy of others more technologically advanced than I, but I have to say that there isn’t the same excitement involved as when I have had a conventional book published. Maybe that’ll change as we get closer to the date, but I don’t know. I think it’s partly to do with the electronic format – I don’t own an e-reader myself, so there’ll be nothing tangible for me to hold in my hands and say, ‘That’s mine, I did that’. There’ll be nothing to go on the shelf, nothing to show the grandchildren … boo-hoo, etc.
  Still and all, publishing is publishing, and I’d far rather the story was out there being read, even by very few people, than gathering dust in my bottom drawer. I mean, I love books like the next guy or gal, but I love them for their stories, not for their design or what they represent, or for any other reason. Apologies to ye olde bibliophiles out there, but the story is first, last and always with me. And I honestly believe, despite being agnostic about the e-readers, that the new technologies will be good for the story, much in the way the novel was good for the story when it came along.
  For what it’s worth, I think the e-readers are doomed if they persist in offering only one option – i.e., written text. Until they start offering the options of music, movies and possibly gaming, they’re not going to cross over into the mainstream, like iPods. I know quite a few people who consider themselves readers who read about 10-15 books per year, and I know some people who consider themselves readers on the basis of reading 4-5 books per year. Those people – the vast majority of readers, I’d argue, being the book club readers, and the holiday readers – aren’t going to invest in an e-reader, because it doesn’t make any financial sense.
  Still, while most of the emphasis on the recent technological developments in the world of publishing seems to be focusing on marketing, sales and profits, an understandable if short-term fixation, especially given the current economic climate, I haven’t come across many people talking about the story-telling possibilities.
  I remember there was a craze many years ago for books in which the reader decided how the story ran, by choosing at the end of a chapter whether to jump to page 93 or page 147, and so on. A stupid bloody idea, but there you go. Anyway, last year I uploaded a novel to the web, and was very tempted to provide links in the text – for example, when I mentioned the Spartans, I’d provide a link to take you through to a history of the Spartans, or a particularly interesting story about them. Along with the links, I wanted to embed video in the text, and incorporate mood music … In essence, I suppose, the idea was to position the blog roughly halfway between that of a novel and a movie. I didn’t have the time or tech skills, but I’m thinking the Kindle / Sony Reader might be the perfect platform for this kind of thing.
  There are potential downsides, the main one being that a reader might well jump out of your novel into an account of the Spartans, and from there to the Peloponnesian wars, and from there onwards into the online universe, never to return to your novel again. I’d argue that it’s your job as a writer is to make your story interesting enough to bring them back to the source over and over again.
  How anyone would make any money out of a project like that I have no idea, and care less. I’d say it’d be fun, though. Especially if you started interacting with other writers and their stories ...
  Meanwhile, I’m curious – how many of you actually own an e-reader, or are contemplating buying one? And how many of you would rather take a fork in both eyes than read a novel on an e-reader?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Irish Crime Writing: Lost In Translation?

Glenn Harper over at International Noir is always worth listening to on the subject of crime fiction, and he recently ran the rule over Brian McGilloway’s latest, BLEED A RIVER DEEP, with the gist running thusly:
“It is Devlin’s empathy and conscience that make the books interesting and give them depth beyond the average police procedural … McGilloway deserves the attention he has been getting for his Devlin novels: he’s stretching the boundaries of the crime novel without condescending to the genre, and his novels deserve even wider recognition among crime fans and general readers.”
  For the full review, clickety-click here. Meanwhile, Glenn finishes up with a question:
“A question for those who know better than I what’s happening in the translations of the new Irish crime wave: are readers outside the English-speaking world getting access to the fine crime fiction of McGilloway, Declan Hughes, Declan Burke, Gene Kerrigan, etc?”
  Speaking for myself, I can only say that readers inside the English-speaking world aren’t getting access to my crime fiction, fine or otherwise, and I’d imagine readers in the non-English-speaking world will be waiting quite a while to read THE BIG O or any of its follow-ups. EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was published in France and Holland, much to my surprise and delight, and THE BIG O was scheduled to be published in Hungary, of all places, later this year, although the current economic climate has put the kibosh on that one. Boo, etc.   As for the other writers, I really can’t say if they’re being translated or not. Can anyone else help?
  One Irish crime writer who is definitely being translated is Benjamin Black, whose CHRISTINE FALLS I saw in a Bergamo bookshop during my recent trip to Italy. Funnily enough, the Italian version of CHRISTINE FALLS was published under the nom-de-plume ‘John Banville’. Cheeky sods …