“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 25, 2009

A Bloom By Any Other Name

Further to Adrian McKinty getting lumps kicked out of his latest novel, FIFTY GRAND, in the Irish Times this week, and in the interest of balance, we present a little nugget that slipped through the net from last month, in which Fintan O’Toole gits jiggy with James Joyce’s ULYSSES in – oh yes! – the Irish Times. To wit:
Is there a middle way between solemn worship on the one side and touristic antics on the other? How about thrillers? Anyone who can read a good thriller is half way towards being able to enjoy ULYSSES. Murder stories have a lot in common with Joyce’s masterpiece. They venture down the mean streets of the city. Their plots depend on a concentrated unfolding of time in which everything has to be carefully sequenced. Chance encounters acquire significance. The city, unknown at first, gradually yields up its hidden mysteries.
  This is why thriller writers have long been drawn to ULYSSES and also why thrillers can serve as excellent introductions to the book. Adrian McKinty’s recent hard-boiled, fast-paced THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD is as dark and violent as any thriller fan could demand, but it also serves as an intelligent homage to ULYSSES – not so much to its content as to Joyce’s way of telling a story …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Man With The PLAN

I know nothing about Bill Folman, author of THE SCANDAL PLAN, but I do feel his pain. Here, courtesy of the Harper Studio, is a little movie about debut novelist Folman’s attempts to scrape up a little publicity and sell a couple of books. The good news is, it’s very funny - especially the bit where Bill is advised to ‘go on Oprah’. I’ve had someone advise me to cut faffing around with blogging and whatnot, and just go on TV and plug the book … and this from a person who is a published author. Anyway, the bad news is, Bill Folman has just raised the bar for promo-seeking debutant novelists to the kind of standards that might well give Olympic pole vaulters nose-bleeds. Roll it there, Collette …

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jacobean Mayhem, Gothic Noir

After the debacle of the Adrian McKinty review yesterday, it’s nice to report that there are still some reviewers out there whose heads aren’t jammed up their fundament. First, Glenn Harper of International Noir on Declan Hughes’ latest, ALL THE DEAD VOICES:
“The plot goes off in some unexpected directions: just when you think you’re headed for a predictable or operatic crescendo, Hughes undercuts that expectation with casual violence or the withdrawal of an expected twist. And at the end, amid the nearly Jacobean mayhem, there’s a hint of redemption for Loy and those around him.”
  Very nice indeed – and why-oh-why did they pull the plug on the trippy cover? It’s Cover of the Year for yours truly so far (hat-tip to Glenn Harper for the image) ... Oh, and is John Connolly about to rebrand himself, a la Colin Bateman, as ‘Jon Connolly’? Say it ain’t so, Jon, sorry, John …
  Meanwhile, over at The Independent, Rebecca Armstrong likes John Connolly’s THE LOVERS:
“It’s not all crooks and spooks; Connolly is far too skilled a writer to create mere schlock-horror. He’s at his best getting inside his characters’ heads … Connolly’s latest novel is unashamedly gothic, but ultimately manages to be believable and moving too.”
  I couldn’t agree more. If THE GATES is half as good, it’ll be a vintage year for Connolly fans …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Chris Mooney

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?
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It’s the perfect thriller. And Hannibal Lecter is the most interesting, captivating villain.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jack Reacher. He kicks ass and always gets the woman. Captain Kirk would be a close second. And he has those cool phasers . . .

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I love this question. I’m about to finish the last book of the Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series – the basis for the HBO show True Blood. I’m not a fan of vampire books, but I was curious about this and man-oh-man I wasn’t disappointed. They’re great, fun reads. Can’t recommend them enough.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Working with Richard Marek on my first book, DEVIANT WAYS. Richard was the editor of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and he taught me everything I need to know about how to write a good, solid thriller.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Anything from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series. If I had to pick one, I’d say THE KILLING KIND. That book scared me to death.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I’d have to go with John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. It’s such a beautiful novel, and it really showcases John’s sense of humour.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is the middle of the book. That’s where I get stuck more often than not, and it’s at that point I’m usually telling myself I have no business doing this for a living. It’s hell for a while, then I finally see the light and start moving toward the end. The best thing? Those moments I call “happy accidents.” In THE MISSING, I had a specific ending in mind. As I was writing, that little voice in my head said, “What if you did such and such?” The idea stopped me dead in my tracks it was so frightening. I love those moments.

The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s another Darby McCormick book called THE LIVING DEAD. Here’s the pitch: What if kids are abducted, disappear for ten or twenty years, and then suddenly show up as killers?

Who are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing up Gregg Hurwitz’s TRUST NO ONE. It’s a thriller. Great writing, great plot, and a fantastic ending. Loved it from start to finish.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d have to go with writing. It’s more rewarding.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Fast, furious and terrifying.

Chris Mooney’s THE DEAD ROOM is published by Penguin

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Televised, With Endorsements

Kudos yet again to the Irish Times for its Book of the Day review slot, although today’s offering was a terrible review of Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND. By which I mean, the reviewer didn’t like the novel, but the review itself was terrible. It kicks off like this:
SERIOUS CRIME fiction these days is a fickle gamble, especially for newer writers. Genre boundaries have become blurred. Crime thriller enthusiasts are perhaps among the hardest readers to impress because of their love for both the list of illustrious luminaries and equally because of the powerful abilities of this same elite to bring their main characters to life. It’s called character stamina …
  Leaving aside ‘character stamina’ (?), what’s all this about ‘crime thriller enthusiasts’? Do those who love chick lit not have a list of illustrious luminaries? What about sci-fi lovers – don’t they have their own geniuses? Do not those who prefer literary fiction, or poetry, love their luminaries for their ability to bring their characters to life?
  The review goes downhill from there, losing wheels at a rate of knots. This bit stands out, though:
Some of Hollywood’s hottest names pop up in the storyline, including Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Matthew Broderick. Seeing their names made me increasingly uncomfortable as to how they might feel about being associated with the image of the resort’s labour conditions, bent sheriff and sleazy drug dealers.
  Happily, the reviewer was in no way uncomfortable with trashing a brilliant writer’s novel on the basis that he, the reviewer, preferred the works of Jeffrey Deaver and David Baldacci.
  Seriously, some days you’d wonder why you bother your hole.
  And then, just when you think the day can’t get any worse, the ever-fragrant Sarah Weinman pops up with the worst cover (see above) in the history of publishing.
  It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better, people …

Sheer Geneius

Gene Kerrigan is one of the finest Irish novelists around at the moment, in CAP’s not-so-humble opinion, and those of you who haven’t read his latest offering, DARK TIMES IN THE CITY – which, I suspect, is most of you – should hasten to your nearest bookstore and purchase it forthwith, sparing not the horses, James.
  I’m also rather fond of Gene Kerrigan’s columns on the back page of the Sunday Independent, which have taken on something of a quixotic poignancy in recent times, as he vainly tilts against the windmills of Ireland’s entrenched vested interests. The most recent subject of his ire is the McCarthy Report. To wit:
It’s like we’re all on a lifeboat. At one end of the lifeboat, we’re being told that things are so bad that we must choose which amongst us is to be served up as dinner, so that the rest won’t all perish.
  And, from the other end of the lifeboat, we can hear the enormous farts from the bloated arses of the Very Serious People, on the fourth course of their blow-out.
  As this column said before, this battle is about the quality of wine on the dinner tables of the elite. People who routinely uncork a €48 bottle of wine will, indeed, make sacrifices in our hour of peril. They’ll settle for a €36 bottle of plonk. But they’re damned if they’ll slum it with a crappy €22 bottle.
  Geneius. For the rest, clickety-click here ...
  The McCarthy Report, for those of you interested, is a report on where savings can be made in the Government’s public sector wage bill. It targets, for the most part, education, health and essential services – one proposal, for example, suggests closing down half the rural Garda stations.
  Here’s the situation in Ireland:
  A Fianna Fail-led government has been in power for over a decade;
  We’ve gone from boom to bust in the last three years;
  The same government who led us into the tailspin are now proposing to pull us out;
  They propose to achieve this by commissioning a report from a group of people who are ideologically wedded to the economic model that got us bust in the first place;
  The overall aim is to reassert the status quo, although possibly with more safety-nets built in for the very wealthy individuals whose greed caused the bust in the first place;
  The cost of paying for the stupid greed of a gilded elite will be picked up by the taxpayer, and the taxpayer’s children, and very probably the taxpayer’s grandchildren, because the government insists on bailing out useless, rotten banks by investing billions that could be spent on education, health, and essential services.
  Meanwhile, the opposition parties clamour for an election, pretending that they want to be in charge of the fiasco, but no one seems prepared to say that it’s the system that’s at fault; that it’s the system that has provided us with a generation of utterly useless politicians, bankers and captains of industry; that it’s the system that needs to change. Otherwise we’re just shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic.
  My father, bless his heart, is no political or economic savant. But for as long as I can remember, going back to the early ’80s, when it was clear to everyone with eyes to see that Charles J. Haughey was filthy to the core, my father was saying, “We need to ask Fidel to come over and sort us out.” A benign dictatorship was what he was proposing, in effect. And you can laugh if you want to, but answer me this: with Ireland on its way to hell in a hand-basket, broke and bust and borrowing billions at a punitive rate of interest just to keep up with the day-to-day spending, this a few short years after the Celtic Tiger was roaring all over the world, at anyone who’d listen, about how wonderful the Irish economy was – answer me this: how much worse of a job would Fidel Castro have done at managing the Irish economy than Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I’m only grumbling because I wasn’t invited, of course, but there’s a touch of the tired old blarney about ‘Emerald Noir’, next Saturday morning’s panel on Irish crime writing at Harrogate, which will be moderated by Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards (right). Quoth the Harrogate interweb malarkey:
Crime fiction is for many identified with big, brash urban landscapes, but some of the hottest properties in contemporary crime fiction come from and write about the greenest of all lands, Ireland. But what is it about the Emerald Isle that makes it the perfect place for crime of all types? Four top names – Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, Ava McCarthy and Brian McGilloway – talk about their influences and background, the importance of landscape and history, and the place of politics and religion in their work with veteran (and often controversial) commentator on Irish life, Ruth Dudley Edwards.
  Now, Ireland may be green in places, certainly, but Hughes and McCarthy both set their novels for the most part in Dublin, while it’s debatable as to whether city boy Gene Kerrigan has ever seen a real field in his entire life. Turf bogs and boreens aren’t a notable feature of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ novels, either.
  I’m not sure if any of the writers involved write ‘about’ Ireland. They may set their novels here, but that’s not necessarily the same as writing about the place. The stories they write aren’t unique to their setting, and to the extent that they use current and recent Irish events for backdrop, they function as implicit criticisms of an urban existence that could apply to most cities anywhere in the world. Even Brian McGilloway, who sketches the distinctive rural hinterland of Donegal and Derry with some aplomb, is writing stories that could apply to most international borders, and particularly those borders between countries with a history of conflict.
  This is a good thing, I think. I like it that these writers are of a generation confident enough to get their heads up and have a good look around, and write stories that aren’t necessarily beholden to their place. There was a time when being an ‘Irish writer’ meant writing about Ireland, which makes a certain amount of sense given that the country is a relatively young one, and still trying to establish an identity; by the same token, it smacked of the insularity of self-consciousness and maybe even an inferiority complex.
  Happily, that’s no longer the case. There’s no reason why a crime novel needs to be ‘about’ its setting any more than a crime novel needs to be some kind of political statement, or social commentary.
  That caveat aside, the ‘Emerald Noir’ panel looks like – no, hold up, there’s another caveat. About this time last month, when I first looked in on the Harrogate website, said ‘Emerald Noir’ entry included Ken Bruen. Erm, where’s Sir Kenneth of Bruen, folks? Was he waylaid on the way to the festival? Will there be a ransom demand any time soon? Talk to us – we can be the honest broker in this deal …
  Where was I? Oh yes, Ruth Dudley Edwards, and AFTERMATH, her new book about the Omagh atrocity. Clickety-click over here for some pics of the launch party, and a rather interesting video of Peter Mandelson trying to be humble. No kidding, it looks like Mandy’s about to turn inside-out and in the process rip a hole in the space-time continuum.
  And while we’re on the subject of Harrogate et al, John Banville may or may not be in Benjamin Black mode for his conversation with Reginald Hill, scheduled for Friday evening, 8pm, but if you’re in the vicinity, I urge you to go. His new Banville novel, THE INFINITIES, is due out this autumn, and it sounds like an absolute cracker, and if my experience of interviewing him is anything to go by, he’s funny, self-deprecating and occasionally illuminating about the business of writing. Not everyone will agree with me, I know, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles …
  Finally, it’s still not too late to VOTE FOR DECLAN HUGHES for Crime Novel of the Year. You know it makes sense …

The (Other) Captain Blood Rides Again!

I mentioned BARBELO’S BLOOD a week or so ago, BB being the debut offering of some maverick and to date pseudonymous genius going by the nom de plume of ‘Captain Barbelo’. I’m assured that all will be revealed – or the good Captain's identity, at least – at the launch of said tome, which takes place on Thursday evening, 6pm, at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway. Rumour has it that Ken Bruen may pop in to say a few words, but don’t take my word for that …
  Anyway, here’s the first few pages of BARBELO’S BLOOD. Remind you of anyone …?
Chapter Zero: Rude Awakenings

The scent of ionised concrete; the underpass, dripping the evening rain, drumming a hundred regrets into my brain.
  “Alright granddad?”
  “Good evening young man, please stand aside – ach!”
  His forearm pins my throat to the wall, his blade flashes under my nose.
  “Stand aside? Oi oi, the old fool’s losing his marbles; thinks he’s fuckin’ Charles Bronson!”
  Cold laughter booms from the shadows, another two young’uns come into view.
  Time slows, my senses quicken.
  “Oh please,” I rasp, “please don’t hurt me, let me go home.”
  “Empty ya fucking pockets!”
  I slipped my memorial pen out of my breast pocket, held up in front of his face.
  “It’s gold plated. It’s all I have. Please, I’m too old for this, I’m not a well man.”
  “Let’s have a butcher’s then, ay?”
  Reaching to grab my pen, his cutthroat razor slipped, slashing my hand – Blood!
  My blood.
  Everything has a price, we’ve all gotta pay tribute, we’ve all gotta pay our dues. Even me – and I’d not seen blood on my hands for over twenty years.
  “Oopsy-daisy, sorry ’bout that, granddad, it was—”
  It was the last thing this cunt said – my pen drives hard into his eye socket, my walking stick slaps into his groin.
  Screaming onto his knees, dragging me down with him, again and again I drove my memorial pen into his eyes.
  It was easy logic, a religious matter, my Gawd-given right!
  It was over quicker than a blink.

Chapter 1: Easy Logic

Bloody hell, I was only going home from the pub, I was.
  Fuck’s sake.
  Eighty-two years a scholar and a gent, I am. Scholar on account I talk a lot of sense, and gent on account I knows when to keep schtum.
  Mr Barbelo.
  Just another old cunt, deep in his own private perdition down his Brixton local. Ever chance The Effra Tavern in the early 1980s?
  You might recall I always did you the courtesy of a smile at the bar, or at least a nod on the way out. Think back. Geezer with the Trilby hat; three-pint man, always left around half nine before the gaff got mobbed with young’uns…?
  Didn’t think so.

Tap, tap, tap, went my misery cane, echoing through the underpass, drip, drip, splash, went the concrete roof, like it always did. And I thought about my tower block, the elevator, rattling the stink of urine up to my empty flat – and I thought, maybe one of these nights it won’t stop, maybe it’ll just keep going up, and up through the roof, into the starry sky, hurtling over the moon all the way to Happy Place, where people like me find peace at last, and shoot guns, riding on clouds…
  The twentieth floor is the farthest you’ll find anybody on my block, where the Dixons nest, burrow, and fester – nasty South London family the lot of them. And a floor below, Barbelo returns, and slumbers, dreaming my nightmares into the greasy-grey dawn.
  Every night, except this night; the lamb returns as the lion, or doesn’t return at all.
  Self-educated, I am, always had the knack for easy logic, but three of them, one of me? And my memorial pen. Hardly rocket science, is it? Three of the gawky, brain-dead cunts, versus me.
  I suppose I should be thankful for the wakeup call. Truth was, I’d been pegging the path of the walking dead a long time.

He bled, hard. He screamed even harder. Nah, no regrets. My pen was mightier than Excalibur when I struck his eyes again, and again.
  The other two ran from the slaughter – splish, splash, huff through the underpass – but if they’d only paused to ponder… just how old I was, just how much my stiff little fingers ached, well, perhaps they could’ve helped their friend. If friend he was. Whatever this soggy bloody mess in my arms was to these junkies.
  A true friend does not die alone. Never. I know, because friends I had, once…
  So I left him where he lay. The underpass was his tomb, and my resurrection. Tapped my cane home, numb, nothing hurt; it never does at first, and so I sang,
  “Raise the scarlet standard flying high, beneath its folds we’ll live and die…”
  Tap, tap, tap. I was covered in my scarlet flag alright. My pen was mighty, but his blade was sharp. I was cut, not as bad as he should have cut me, ay? Should’ve done the job in proper order, if he was gonna start. In for a penny, in for a pound – first rule of combat, first rule of any craft: follow through, always.
  Silly bunny.
  I don’t recall getting home. I only knows that when I did, I felt – fuck me sideways, yeah – I felt good!
  © Captain Barbelo, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Covers – You’re The Judge

A little help and/or advice required, folks, if you can spare the time … The three covers below (designed by JT Lindroos) are in the running for the cover of the Kindle version of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS (which is set for a goodly part on a Greek island), and while there’s things I like about all three, I’m not entirely certain about any of them. Any thoughts? All feedback welcome …





Sunday, July 19, 2009

ANIMAL FARM II: This Time It’s Jewish!

I’ve never much liked Yann Martel (right), it has to be said. Not sure why. It’s certainly nothing to do with the allegations that he plagiarised whole chunks of THE LIFE OF PI. Possibly it’s the precious irrelevance of the floating zoo.
  It’s always nice to have your prejudices confirmed, isn’t it? Martel’s latest novel, the follow-up to the floating zoo story, is (koff) an allegory about the Holocaust for which he’s being paid three million dollars. Quoth the New York Times:
It relates the story of an encounter between a famous writer and a taxidermist who is writing a play that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey, both imprinted on a shirt.
  “I’ve noticed over the years of reading books on the Holocaust and seeing movies that it’s always represented in the same way, which is historical or social realism,” Mr. Martel, 46, said in a telephone interview from his home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “I was thinking that it was interesting that you don’t have many imaginative takes on it like George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM and its take on Stalinism.”
  Okay, but can I stop you right there squire? One: you’re no George Orwell. Two, the murder of six million-plus people in an industrialised death machine doesn’t need ‘imaginative takes’. Three, you don’t have a lot of ‘imaginative takes’ on Stalinism, do you? Four, what, if anything, is your ‘imaginative take’ on the Holocaust designed to achieve, exactly?
  Mind you, shallow bastard that I am, that’s not the most irritating aspect of the NYT’s report. Apparently Martel is being paid a cool three million dollars for the donkey-monkey classic. Is he happy?
  Mr. Martel also declined to discuss his advance, but said, “Frankly, with all the years it took to write this book, if you amortize it out, it’s not as much as one would like it to be.”
  Given that the floating zoo won the Booker seven years ago, we can presume the donkey-monkey opus took roughly eight years to write. Which works out at about roughly €370,000 per year, when you ‘amortize it out’.
  Now, I know the dollar has seen better days, but still – nearly four hundred grand a year to write some wankery allegorical bullshit, during a recession when people’s homes are being repossessed at an unprecedented rate, and the asshole still isn’t happy?
  If at some point in the far future you stop and look around and scratch your head and say, ‘Hey, whatever happened to literary fiction? Some of it was actually okay’, just remember the moron with the donkey-monkey dialogues who wasn’t happy with a three million dollar advance he wouldn’t be able to pay back in four lifetimes of trying.

It Matters Not How Strait THE GATES …

I’m loving the strap on John Connolly’s THE GATES, which runs: “The Gates of Hell are About to Open. Mind the Gap.”
  A comic novel about Satanism and quantum physics? Roll on October … Mind you, given the impending anti-blasphemy legislation, there’s every chance THE GATES will mange to get itself banned in Ireland. Boo, etc.
  Meanwhile, JC has posted up the first chapter of THE GATES over at his interweb malarkey, to wit:
Chapter One
In Which We Encounter a Small Boy, His Dog, and Some People Who Are Up To No Good


On the night in question, Mr Abernathy answered the door to find a small figure dressed in a white sheet standing on his porch. The sheet had two holes cut into it at eye level so that the small figure could walk around without bumping into things, a precaution that seemed wise given that the small figure was also wearing rather thick glasses. The glasses were balanced on its nose outside the sheet, giving it the appearance of a short-sighted, and not terribly frightening, ghost. A mismatched pair of sneakers, the left blue, the right red, poked out from the bottom of the sheet.
  In its left hand, the figure held an empty bucket. From its right stretched a dog leash, ending at a red collar that encircled the neck of a little dachshund. The dachshund stared up at Mr Abernathy with what Mr Abernathy felt was a troubling degree of self-awareness. If he hadn’t know better, Mr Abernathy might have taken the view that this was a dog that knew it was a dog, and wasn’t very happy about it, all things considered. Equally, the dog also appeared to know that Mr Abernathy was not a dog (for, in general, dogs view humans as just very large dogs that have learned the neat trick of walking on two legs, which only impresses dogs for a very short period of time). This suggested to Mr Abernathy that here was a very smart dog indeed—freakishly so. There was something disapproving in the way the dog was staring at Mr Abernathy. Mr Abernathy sensed that the dog was not terribly keen on him, and he found himself feeling both annoyed, and slightly depressed, that he had somehow disappointed the animal.
  Mr Abernathy looked from the dog to the small figure, then back again, as though unsure which one of them was going to speak.
  “Trick or treat,” said the small figure eventually, from beneath the sheet.
  Mr Abernathy’s face betrayed utter bafflement.
  “What?” said Mr Abernathy.
  “Trick or treat,” the small figure repeated.
  Mr Abernathy’s mouth opened once, then closed again. He looked like a fish having an afterthought. He appeared to grow even more confused. He glanced at his watch, and checked the date, wondering if he had somehow lost a few days between hearing the doorbell ring, and opening the door.
  “It’s only October the twenty-eighth,” he said.
  “I know,” said the small figure. “I thought I’d get a head start on everyone else.”
  “What?” said Mr Abernathy again.
  “What?” said the small figure.
  “Why are you saying “what”?”, said Mr Abernathy. “I just said “what”.”
  “I know. Why?”
  “Why what?”
  “My question exactly,” said the small figure.
  “Who are you?” asked Mr Abernathy. His head was starting to hurt.
  “I’m a ghost,” said the small figure, then added, a little uncertainly: “Boo?”
  “No, not ‘What are you?’ Who are you?”
  “Oh.” The small figure removed the glasses and lifted up its sheet, revealing a pale boy of perhaps eleven, with wispy blond hair and very blue eyes. “I’m Samuel Johnson. I live in number five hundred and one. And this is Boswell,” he added, indicating the dachshund by raising his leash.
  Mr Abernathy, who was new to the town, nodded, as though this piece of information had suddenly confirmed all of his suspicions. Upon hearing its name spoken, the dog shuffled its bottom on Mr Abernathy’s porch and gave a bow. Mr Abernathy regarded it suspiciously.
  “Your shoes don’t match,” said Mr Abernathy to Samuel.
  “I know. I couldn’t decide which pair to wear, so I wore one of each.”
  Mr Abernathy raised an eyebrow. He didn’t trust people, especially children, who displayed signs of individuality.
  “So,” said Samuel. “Trick or treat?”
  “Neither,” said Mr Abernathy.
  “Why not?”
  “Because it’s not Halloween yet, that’s why not.”
  “But I was showing initiative.” Samuel’s teacher, Mr Hume, often spoke about the importance of showing initiative, although any time Samuel showed initiative Mr Hume seemed to disapprove of it, which Samuel found very puzzling.
  “No, you weren’t,” said Mr Abernathy. “You’re just too early. It’s not the same thing.”
  “Oh, please. A chocolate bar?”
  “No.”
  “Not even an apple?”
  “No.”
  “I can come back tomorrow, if that helps.”
  “No! Go away.”
  With that, Mr Abernathy slammed the front door, leaving Samuel and Boswell to stare at the flaking paintwork. Samuel let the sheet drop down once more, restoring himself to ghostliness, and replaced his. He looked down at Boswell. Boswell looked up at him. Samuel shook the empty bucket sadly.
  “It seemed like a good idea,” he said to Boswell. “I thought people might like an early fright.”
  Boswell sighed in response, as if to say: “I told you so.”
  Samuel gave one final, hopeful glance at Mr Abernathy’s front door, willing him to change his mind and appear with something for the bucket, even if it was just a single, solitary nut, but the door remained firmly closed. The Abernathys hadn’t lived on the street for very long, and their house was the biggest and oldest in town. Samuel had rather hoped that the Abernathys would decorate it for Halloween, or perhaps turn it into a haunted house, but after his recent encounter with Mr Abernathy he didn’t think this was very likely. Mr Abernathy’s wife, meanwhile, always looked like she had just been fed a very bitter slice of lemon, and was looking for somewhere to spit it out discreetly. No, thought Samuel, the Abernathy house would not be playing a very big part in this year’s Halloween festivities.
  As things turned out, he was very, very wrong.

  © John Connolly, 2009
  For the rest, clickety-click here