“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, August 15, 2009

Squeeze Over In The Bed – There’s Always Room For One More Version Of Hallelujah

Off with yours truly to the Flat Lake Festival today, for fun and rain-drenched frolics, if the view from the window is anything to by. I’ll be doing a crime fiction panel tomorrow with Declan Hughes and Brian McGilloway, hosted by Eoin McNamee, but my highlight of the weekend will very probably be the Jack L (right) gig, tonight at ten bells. If anyone’s around and fancies a scoop, I’ll be the one lurking down the back hollering requests for Jacky (“And if some day I should become / A singer with a Spanish bum …” etc.). If you’ve never heard of Jack L, incidentally, he’s possessed of the finest set of Irish pipes since Count John McCormack, and his album of Jacques Brel covers is on a par with Scott Walker’s. For a taster, the vid below is Jack L doing Commander Cohen’s Hallelujah, without some version of which a day is never fully right. Roll it there, Collette …

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: ‘The Story Of Crime’ by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Ten titles comprise The Martin Beck Mysteries, published between 1965 and 1975 and co-authored by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.
  The first six have been reissued (with fine cover designs by Gregg Kulick) by the aficionados of crime fiction at Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Press. This imprint also publishes Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, James M. Cain, Ross Macdonald, James Ellroy and Jim Thompson so you know where to go.
  These ten Martin Beck novels were influenced by Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series which started in 1956 – nine years before the first Beck Mystery. In MURDER AT THE SAVOY, the murderer mentions reading McBain’s TILL DEATH, so the authors were aware of McBain and acknowledging his role. The Beck Mysteries went deeper than the early McBain books through Beck’s greater interaction with the ensemble of police colleagues, through delineating Beck’s inner life and struggles in a more obvious and human way and through explicit social commentary (often scathing).
  The detailed plots and meticulous unravelling of clues meshed very well with the socialist dialectic of the Marxist authors and the narrative and integrity of the writing did not suffer. For example, in THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED, in reference to minor disturbances the previous summer of 1968:
“Instead they were handled by people who thought that Rhodesia was somewhere near Tasmania and that it is illegal to burn the American flag, but positively praiseworthy to blow your nose on the Vietnamese. These people thought that water cannons, rubber billy clubs and slobbering German shepherd dogs were superior aids when it came to creating contact with human beings …”
  The story never suffers from these polemics and even in MURDER AT THE SAVOY, which castigates big business, corruption and its fallout among ordinary citizens, the book is one of the most accomplished in the series - taut, rigorous and true.
  Henning Mankell, another Swede, is the natural inheritor of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s tradition. Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, an existential warrior battling crime and his own melancholia, closely resembles Beck.
  The Beck series used the Swedish weather to great effect - grey skies, rain, mist, sleet, snow, wind and hailstones and at the other extreme the scorching summers as a backdrop to the stories. The drab edifices of Stockholm’s public housing, the anonymous urban landscape, the ennui of the population and public servants, and the political and corporate corruption, is the milieu where Beck operates.
  The ten books are collectively known as The Story of Crime, comprising 300 chapters (30 chapters per book). They are all written with aplomb and honesty and set the standard for all police procedurals that followed. – Seamus Scanlon

Friday, August 14, 2009

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS on Crime Always Pays: In Which It All Gets Even More Self-Referential Than Usual

Rafe McGregor has been kind enough to post a review of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, the forthcoming opus from your humble host, which will be available at a Kindle near you in the very near future. The gist runs thusly:
“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is excellent, even better than THE BIG O. It has a great plot, cool characters, and there isn’t a single word wasted. This is really fine writing, masterful to the point where if I’d received the MS anonymously, I’d have assumed it came from one of the big bestsellers like Connelly, Crais, Rankin, or Child.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here ...
  CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, for those of you who aren’t this blog’s three regular readers, is the sequel to THE BIG O, in which most of the characters from THE BIG O take off on a variety of trans-Europe road-trips, fetching up in the Greek islands for fun, frolics and the occasional Bellini. Join Karen, Ray, Madge, Doyle, Rossi, Sleeps, Frank, Melody and Sleeps for another screwball noir romp in which the money is just a McGuffin with extra cheese! Or, don’t!! You – yes, YOU! – decide.
  Rafe was also kind enough to descend into a mild form of existential angst over the fact that CRIME ALWAYS PAYS – as all three regular readers will be aware – was dropped by its intended publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I should say at this point that the decision wasn’t as simple as the book not being good enough to publish – it was all a bit complicated, actually – although my brand of existential angst, when I first heard the news, was fairly raw.
  But at this point, I’m pretty much okay with it. That’s partly because I’ve spent the last few days formatting the story for Kindle, which is also a good opportunity to give the story one last proof-edit, and I’m as happy as I’m likely to get that the story stands up. It’s not perfect by any means, and at this stage – which is probably the 14th or 15th time I’ve read it through – I’m wondering why anyone else would want to read it.
  On the basis that some people might want to read it, however, I’ve been every bit as diligent on the Kindle proof-edit as if it was for a conventional publishing. No reason I shouldn’t be, of course: when it comes down it, for yours truly, the story is sacred and everything else is just detail. Apart from the fact that most people don’t have access to Kindle – a rather relevant factor, it has to be said – the format is virtually irrelevant. It matters not a whit whether the book is published electronically, on paper between cardboard, uploaded to the web, or scratched onto papyrus. As with the sob story about the book being dropped by its publisher initially, nothing bar what people think of the story itself will have any lasting value.
  I’m hopeful that the Kindle publishing will lead to a more conventional publishing, not because, as Rafe suggests, there’s more money to be made that way – the writer’s royalties aren’t that different when you publish to Kindle – but because more people are likely read it, in 2009, as an ordinary book. But if that doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen, and I’ll be as proud of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, as a story, as if it had appeared as a conventional book.
  Meanwhile, and speaking of proper books, here’s a review by Garbhan Downey of Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND that’s worth checking out; and Ali Karim casts an eye over John Connolly’s THE LOVERS.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 206 BONES by Kathy Reichs

IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that a thriller heroine in possession of all the skills required to nail the bad guys must be in want of a sense of humour. Such heroines must be dourly effective if they are to compete in a man’s world of carnage and mayhem, especially as it’s generally men who are causing the mayhem, which is usually directed against women.
  So runs the popular perception, although Kathy Reichs’s series protagonist, the forensic anthropologist Dr Temperance Brennan, lends the lie to that canard. 206 BONES is Brennan’s 12th outing, in which she assists Det Andrew Ryan in linking a number of cases of murdered old women, all the while trying to uncover the source of the malicious rumours undermining her professional reputation. Set for the most part in a snow-blanketed Quebec, the story also finds Brennan in something of a romantic tizzy as she struggles with her better judgment to keep the quietly persistent Ryan, a former lover, at arm’s length …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Best. Book. Cover. Ever.


I know, I know, this one has been floating about recently, so you’ve very probably caught it somewhere else … but hell, leprechaun Nazis are always worth a repost. Ladeez ‘n’ Gennulmen, THE LITTLE PEOPLE by John Christopher

Writing Advice # 2,017: In Which Captain Barbelo Nails It

The whole interview is worth catching, but the writing advice from Captain Joseph W. Barbelo’s – yon maverick genius behind BARBELO’S BLOOD – in his Q&A with Gerard Brennan at Crime Scene Norn Iron, is a piece of, well, maverick genius. To wit:
“The thing to remember is your book is already written, in its future, waiting for you to catch up with it. Do the legwork and you will.”
  There really isn’t a whole lot more you can add to that, is there?

Johnson And Boswell Ride Again

I’ll be writing a full-length review of John Connolly’s THE GATES closer to the publication date (October 1 in the UK), but for now suffice to say that it’s a terrific piece of work that put me in mind of THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. That’s not a comparison I make lightly, as I’m one of those who thinks Douglas Adams was something of a genius in a minor key, but THE GATES has the same qualities: a beautifully wrought tone, a subversively funny take on the intricacies of science (in this case, sub-atomic physics), and a deceptively simple but utterly compelling story.
  In essence, young Samuel Johnson (with his loyal dachshund Boswell) takes on the might of Satan and Hell’s legions armed with little more than an irrepressible curiosity, a nascent sense of civic duty and a generous dollop of courage. At 40 years old I’m probably not the best judge in the world of this, but to me the secret of this particular success is that Connolly has tapped into the mind of a young boy of ‘perhaps eleven’ to give us the world as seen through Samuel’s eyes. It’s perhaps clichéd to say it, but in doing so the world is remade vividly in all its wonders, horrors and banalities.
  Samuel’s age and the way in which Connolly blends reality and mythology will very probably draw comparisons to THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, but – at the risk of offending teen wizard fans – this has more in common with the Harry Potter books in its apocalyptic battle between good and evil, albeit – and this is one of its major strengths – without the good guys having recourse to magic. Unless, of course, you consider the esoteric mysteries of quantum physics a kind of magic, which I do.
  Anyway, the bottom line is that THE GATES is a novel that should achieve the elusive crossover by appealing to both adults and children, and the whispers I’m hearing about a further two books in the series bode well (and will hopefully see the return of Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities). In the meantime, Chapter 1 can be found here

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Banville Vs Edwards: Peace Busts Out All Over, Unfortunately

Sad as it is to relate, folks, it seems that John Banville and Ruth Dudley Edwards (right) have run out of toys to throw out of the pram and are now doing a babes-in-arms gig. Just this morning a white-haired gentleman stepped out of a helicopter on the CAP Towers helipad brandishing the following missive:
“PEACE BREAKS OUT. Following a cordial private correspondence, John Banville and Ruth Dudley Edwards have kissed, made up and decommissioned their hurleys.”
  Boo, etc. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted …
  Meanwhile, the latest big-up for Cuddly Dudley’s latest opus, OMAGH: THE AFTERMATH comes courtesy of Suzanne Breen in the Sunday Tribune, with the gist running thusly:
“If ever you see cruelty, write it in the sky, and then people won’t stand for it,” an old Kerry woman once told Ruth Dudley Edwards’ brother. The author does so magnificently in her account of the Omagh bombing … Its portrayal of cruelty and suffering is relevant far beyond Ireland. It should be compulsory reading for everyone – terrorists and state forces – contemplating planting, or dropping, a bomb in conflict.”
  For more along those lines, clickety-click here

Yes, We Have No Booker Prize

Peter Murphy has long been a friend of Crime Always Pays, and his debut novel, JOHN THE REVELATOR, is a very fine offering indeed. It put me in mind of Pat McCabe’s opus THE BUTCHER BOY when I was reading it, albeit with a tad less execution by pig-stickers.
  Anyway, JOHN THE REVELATOR is in the running for The Guardian’s innovative ‘Not the Booker Prize’ award, which will be given to the novel that should have been on the Booker longlist, and wasn’t, and you – yes, YOU! – can vote for it. Clickety-click here for all the details
  Next week - Not the Orange Prize: In which you – yes, YOU! – get to vote for all those books that didn’t qualify for the Orange Prize because they were written by blokes …

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: John Banville

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?
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT – though I would have smartened up Dostoyevsky’s tin-eared prose style.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Adrian Leverkuhn, in Thomas Mann’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS: an utter monster but a supremely great artist. I would have worked at helping him to find his inner nice person. Ha.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t know, really. I find bad books hard to read.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Putting down the first notes for my new novel, which I did a few days ago. At this stage, all is possibility, conviction, confidence, happiness. In a year or two I’ll be wading through mud up to my armpits.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Flann O’Brien.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Ditto.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is never being able to get it just right, best is being able, occasionally, to get it not entirely wrong.

The pitch for your next book is …?
My next book will be another Benjamin, called ELEGY FOR APRIL. “Quirke on the trail of another dead girl, though the real cliff-hanging question is, Will he go back on the booze?”

Who are you reading right now?
LIBERTY, by Isaiah Berlin, FROM THE OTHER SHORE by Alexander Herzen, INSIDE THE SKY by William Langewiesche, and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith. Utter pleasures, utterly guiltless.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d say, You don’t exist, so forget it.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Since I’m two-in-one I get six words, yes? Poetic, graceful, irresistible. Dour, dark, misanthropic. You decide which set fits JB and which BB. Or do a mix and match?

John Banville’s THE INFINITIES is published by Picador.

Twins’ TOWER

The early reviews for TOWER, the brothers-by-a-different-mother pairing of Ken Bruen-Reed Farrel Coleman for Busted Flush, are starting to filter through the ethersphere, with Gerard Brennan and Russel McLean off the mark in the recent days. To wit:
“There is a distinction in voice and style, but the writers make this work as a distinction in the characters’ inner dialogues and all-round make-up. The genius in this collaboration lies in the things that each writer hasn’t implicitly said, but that the reader is more than able to glean from the subtext and by cross-referencing the thoughts of the two protagonists.” – Gerard Brennan, Crime Scene Northern Ireland

“Collaborations are nothing new in the world of literature, but TOWER makes its mark in its compelling, two-tiered structure, its layered narrative and the way in which its authors complement and enhance each other. If you love punchy, layered and stylish crime fiction, then believe me when I say that you’re going to adore TOWER.” - Russel McLean, Crime Scene Scotland
  Lovely jubbly. Meanwhile, the Busted Flush blog is hosting an interview with that shy (but, unfortunately, a long way off retiring) cratur Allan Guthrie, who as editor had the unenviable task of harnessing the Bruen-Reed Coleman team. Clickety-click here for the inside juice …

UPDATE: And while we’re on the subject-ish of CSNI, Gerard Brennan has some No Alibis-related news about a James Ellroy appearance this coming November. Clickety-click here, etc.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Other Clones Cyclone

There’s about five hundred reasons for getting along to the Clones Flat Lake Festival this coming weekend, given that it’s chock-a-block with events musical, literary and film-related – although I have to say that my favourite will very probably be the 30-second disco. Hard on the heels of that will be the crime writing panel, which will feature Brian McGilloway (right), Declan Hughes and Some Chancer, Esq., aka Your Humble Host, all under the watchful eye of Eoin McNamee, who will be asking some very easy questions that – given the panel takes place on Sunday, after the frolics and of The Night Before – we can only hope will require no answering at all.
  Those all important details: The Flat Lake Festival is co-hosted by Patrick McCabe and Kevin Allen, and will take place in Clones, Co. Monaghan, from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th of August. For more, clickety-click here
  And while we’re on the topic of book-related jamborees, the Books 2009 Festival takes place from September 10th to 13th in Dublin’s fair city. The crime fic element alone is worth the price of admission: the line-up includes John Connolly, Sara Paretsky, The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Gene Kerrigan, Paul Williams, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Tom Rob Smith, Mandasue Heller, Stuart Neville, Alan Glynn, Ava McCarthy, Alex Barclay, Some Chancer, Esq., and – save the best ’til last – JOHN MCFETRIDGE! Who will, no doubt, be sporting a Montreal Bluestars basketball cap. Or something.
  Incidentally, John Banville will also be appearing at the festival, but as John Banville, to promote his new novel, THE INFINITIES. So there’s probably not much chance that he’ll bump into Ruth Dudley Edwards. Boo.
  For the running schedule, clickety-click here

All Aboard The Brandwagon

Brandon Books delivered a rather tasty package late last week, which contained the latest offerings from Sam Millar and Paul Charles. First up, Sam Millar’s sequel to BLOODSTORM, which rejoices in the title THE DARK PLACE and is set in Northern Ireland:
Young homeless women and drug addicts are being abducted before being brutally mutilated and murdered and the city is held in a grip of unspeakable terror. The police are unable - or unwilling - to apprehend the elusive serial killer and corrupt politicians turn a seemingly blind eye to the catalogue of murders. But by abducting Katie, the young daughter of legendary private investigator Karl Kane, the killer has just made his first mistake - and one which may well be his last.
Nice. Incidentally, Sam recently carved himself a weblington out of cyberspace; drop on over and say hello …
  Paul Charles, meanwhile, is generally to be found writing about DI Christy Kennedy, who pounds the Camden Town beat over in London Town. FAMILY LIFE, the follow-up to THE DUST OF DEATH, is the second in the Inspector Starrett series, which is set in north Donegal, and precariously close to Brian McGilloway’s turf. To wit:
In ones and twos, the Sweeney clan arrive at Liam Sweeney’s farm on the outskirts of Ramelton, County Donegal, to celebrate Liam’s birthday. The banter and storytelling is great as they await the arrival of the single missing family member. But when Inspector Starrett arrives unexpectedly at the farm it becomes clear that all is not well. The body of a Sweeney family member has just been discovered in the courtyard of a waterfront warehouse in the nearby town and the circumstances are suspicious to say the least …
  Incidentally, if we take Donegal to be a part of Northern Ireland – which it is, culturally and geographically, if not politically – then the last couple of months have seen novels from Norn Iron crime writers such as – obviously – Millar and Charles, Garbhan Downey, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman and Stuart Neville. What is it, exactly, they’re putting in the water up there? And can I have some?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hurls At Ten Paces In The Misty Russian Dawn: Cuddly Duddly Vs Benny Blanco, Round 4-Ish

Misquoted, traduced and wounded by the ricocheting fall-out from Banvillegate, Ruth Dudley Edwards (right) isn’t taking it lying down. Not content with having her say last week on Crime Always Pays – and let’s be honest, even I’m not content with having my say on CAP – she’s gone for the jugular courtesy of the Sunday Independent. To wit:
“I published my first crime novel in 1981 and was short-listed for the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Best First Novel Award. Since then I’ve published another 10, I’ve performed at innumerable crime conventions and crime bookshops in Britain, Ireland and the US, I’ve been on the committee of the Crime Writers' Association, I love the good-natured, egalitarian crime-fiction world and have great friends among writers and readers.
  “I am, if anything, more proud of my Last Laugh Award than of the James Tait Black memorial prize for biography.
  “Under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, John Banville published his first crime novel in 2006. At the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, which we both attended last month, he annoyed most of his audience, yet he had the brass neck to patronise me in The Guardian …”
  For the rest – and it does get a bit salty – clickety-click here

Nobody Move, This Is A Handful Of Reviews

A busy old weekend on the reviewing front, folks, with sundry big-ups popping into ye olde inbox. To wit:

“Adrian McKinty’s wonderful Dead Trilogy confirmed him as a master of modern noir, up there with Dennis Lehane and James Ellroy … FIFTY GRAND is a blast: a standalone effort which again showcases McKinty’s brutal lyricism as well as his sensitivity to the indignities of the immigrant experience … What matters is Mercado herself, the one-time winner (she tells us proudly) of the Dr Ernesto Guevara Young Poets’ prize. It’s a pleasure to be around someone so sharp and resourceful, noticing what she notices and feeling what she feels.” – John O’Connell, The Guardian

“Clearly influenced by Child and Joseph Finder, Black drives his hero into the tightest spots with a force and energy that jump off the page. He still has a little to learn when it comes to depth of character and pacing, but that won’t take long. Lock is clearly going to be around for a long time. With a spine-tingling finale that reminded me of Die Hard, this is a writer, and a hero, to watch.” – Geoffrey Wansell, Daily Mail

“I for one am a big fan of the police procedural as a genre, and [Rob] Kitchin gives us an excellent version [in THE RULE BOOK], emphasizing not the lurid crimes committed by the serial killer but the sometimes plodding pursuit of the killer in the detectives' meticulous methodology … Kitchin’s skill in maintaining that pace as well as the naturalism of the characters and setting is quite impressive in a first novel.” – Glenn Harper, International Noir

“Neville is the kind of fierce new voice that the thriller genre cries out for. His prose is sharp and deadly, his characters never less than complex. And for all THE TWELVE could easily have been a simple drama of revenge, a kind of Death Wish with an Irish accent, it feels somehow deeper and any answers you think have been offered are tempered with further questions. This is a thinking man’s thriller, as philosophical as it is visceral, and a novel I urge you to out and read.” – Russel McLean, Crime Scene Scotland

“THE TWELVE is a tough, uncompromising thriller, technically very well paced and solidly constructed in the best, tragic, noir fiction tradition, though possibly not one for the faint-hearted.” – Mike Ripley, Euro Crime

“Ruth Dudley Edwards, a fundraiser for the families, gives an insider’s account of the campaign, starting with the harrowing details of the blast. First responders tell of the difficulties of identifying headless bodies and of limbs lying in the street amid the debris. Blood ran from the doors of buses pressed into service as ambulances — the injured screaming at every speed bump on the way to the hospital. She hints at the drinking, the marriage break-ups and the suicide attempts that were the ripple effect of the atrocity. The victims squabble and at times come close to buckling under the strain as they move forward towards a court showdown that most experts predicted they would lose.” – Liam Clarke, The Sunday Times