“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, November 21, 2009

A Peck Of Pykled Pepper

Andrew Pepper isn’t Irish, nor does he set his novels in Ireland, but he does live in Belfast, and he’s a nice bloke, which is more than enough to qualify him for inclusion on these pages. The latest in his series of Pyke novels (which are set in historical London, and feature the Bow Street Runners, et al) is THE DETECTIVE BRANCH, which will be appearing on bookshelves near you next February. Quoth the blurb elves:
A robbery at a pawnbroker’s. Three people murdered. A headache for the new head of the Detective Branch ... Now part of the Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch, Pyke must find the culprit and quickly, especially as the identity of one of the victims threatens to expose his own criminal past. A valuable religious artefact appears to have motivated the robbery but when the main suspect commits suicide in police custody, the investigation falters. A few months later, the rector of a wealthy parish is brutally murdered and the manhunt that follows seems to implicate an former prisoner, now looking for redemption. But Pyke’s suspicions take him in another direction and lead him to a dissolute former Catholic priest and rumours of Devil worshipping. And when a City Alderman dies in suspicious circumstances, the trail of blood leads first to a charismatic mesmerist and an alluring painter and then to the murders of two boys five years earlier. With time running out and the murderer threatening to kill again, Pyke must face up to forces within the police and the church who would rather the secrets of the past remained buried forever.
  So there you have it: an ambiguous noir anti-hero, a goodly chunk of history, some devil-worshipping priests and more murders than you could shake a thurible at. What’s not to like?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sec’s Appeal: The Other John Waters Vs Secularism # 1,014

At the risk of oversimplifying John Waters’ most recent book, LAPSED AGNOSTIC, the Irish Times journalist found God through Alcoholics Anonymous, and then learned to justify an entire belief system by viewing it through the prism of his own experience.
  Now I’m delighted, for his sake, that John Waters managed to escape the demon booze, because you wouldn’t wish alcoholism on your worst enemy, but I really do wish that he’d stop trying to belittle those who have yet to share his epiphany by suggesting that they are somehow less human than he.
  He was at it again in today’s Irish Times, when he had this to say:
“Religion, rather than just another “category”, is the guiding hypothesis that makes sense of the whole, the public expression of the total dimension of human nature. No other channel has the capacity to convey the broadest truths about man’s nature and his relationship to the universe. Secularists do not like this characterisation of the situation, but it has long been obvious that they have nothing to offer society as an alternative source of ethics, meaning or hope.”
  Of the first part of his assertion, I’d suggest that science has not only “the capacity to convey the broadest truths about man’s nature and his relationship to the universe”, but is in fact the only rational approach to trying to understand the whys and wherefores of being alive.
  As for secularists having “nothing to offer society as an alternative source of ethics, meaning or hope”: leaving aside the basic human capacity to instinctively understand good from bad, and all that flows from that understanding, Waters fails to suggest how humanity managed to survive for the 100,000 years or so of its current incarnation (up to about 14,000-12,000 BC, when the first inklings of religion appear) without even a primitive system of ethics, meaning or hope to sustain it.
  Humans invented religion, the most perverse case of wishful thinking every visited on the race. And good for us, it’s a tribute to our imaginations and the brainy brains that got us this far in the struggle for survival. In the grand scheme of things, though, religion is Santa Claus for slow learners. Here endeth the sermon.

THE GHOSTS Of Christmas Presents

It’s been a terrific year for Stuart Neville. Superb reviews of his debut novel, THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST); interviewing James Ellroy at the Belfast Waterfront; and last weekend – in case you missed it – a lovely write up from Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times, in which TGOB was the lead review. All of which is very nice indeed, but then Stuart is a very nice bloke indeed, as you’ll see for yourself in this video interview with Keith Rawson. Roll it there, Collette …
  And while we’re on the subject of nice blokes, there was a marvellous turn-out for Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND launch at Dubray Books last Tuesday night, which was cunningly timed to coincide with the official turning on of the Christmas lights on Grafton Street. Among the writerly types in attendance were Declan Hughes, Peter Murphy, Professor Ian Ross, Cormac Millar, Ava McCarthy, Critical Mick and John Boyne, and at least one Booker Prize winner, Anne Enright. Which goes to show how highly regarded Alan Glynn is across the writing spectrum, and deservedly so, because WINTERLAND is a wonderful novel.
  Anyway, you may well be wondering about Christmas gifts at this point. For the reader in your life, you could do a hell of a lot worse than give them THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST or WINTERLAND. Or, better still, both. They’re both beautifully written novels that are page-turning thrillers, but they also do what the best crime writing does: they remind us who we really are and how we live now.
  Incidentally, in a very good week for Irish writing, hearty congratulations to Colum McCann for scooping the National Book Award for LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN.
  Finally, and in contradiction to erroneous information provided here by yours truly, it appears that my latest opus, THE BIG EMPTY, has only gone out for consideration to publishers this week – last Monday, to be precise. I really should pay more attention to such things, but I was under the impression that the book was already under consideration. This is both good news and bad news: good in the sense that the book is still a live grenade, in a manner of speaking, and bad in the sense that the waiting begins all over again. And, given the fact that editors generally have an already existing pile of submissions to work their way through, and that it’s already more than halfway through November, there’s a good chance that we won’t hear how it’s faring until well into the New Year.
  It is, of course, the hope that kills you in the end, but as all three regular readers of this blog will know, I last week went public with my decision to quit writing. So I feel curiously detached from THE BIG EMPTY – although there’s a strong possibility that I feel that way because it’s by far my most personal piece of writing to date, and I’m simply steeling myself against the inevitable rejection letters (hey, not everyone’s going to like it, or love it enough to publish it; that’s just the way things work). Having said all that, I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t feeling just the tiniest frisson of anticipation, or trepidation: in effect, I’ve submitted my baby to a beauty contest, and she’s now at the mercy of factors beyond my control, and depending on the kindness of strangers.
  As for the story, it’s a Harry Rigby private eye tale, a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, of which the ever-generous Ken Bruen had this to say on its publication:
“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and it’s called Declan Burke. Here is talent writ large – mesmerizing, literate, smart and gripping. If there is such an animal as the literary crime novel, then this is it. But as a compelling crime novel, it is so far ahead of anything being produced, that at last my hopes for crime fiction are renewed. I can’t wait to read his next novel.”
  For what it’s worth, I think that THE BIG EMPTY is a better book than EIGHTBALL BOOGIE – but then, I would say that. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to THE BIG EMPTY, my opinion no longer matters. To belabour the baby metaphor, I’ve done all I can to prepare her for the big, bad world, and can do nothing more to protect her from its harsh realities. All I can do is pray she gets a fair hearing and is treated kindly. Here’s hoping.
  If some kind soul does pick it up, then it would actually jibe quite well with last week’s decision, given that there are another two Harry Rigby novels already written, the rewriting / redrafting of which would allow me to keep my hand in at writing, without requiring the full-time commitment I’d have to make to write a new novel from scratch. In a perfect world, that would be the perfect scenario – although you don’t need me to tell you that neither you, I nor Harry Rigby lives in a perfect world. Anyway, upward and onward: bon voyage, THE BIG EMPTY, and a fair wind …

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thierry Henry: My Two Francs

A terrific performance (what’s rare is wonderful) from the Irish football team in Paris last night wasn’t enough to see us qualify for next year’s World Cup, but in terms of people to blame, Thierry Henry is about fifteenth on the list.
  Yes, he blatantly handled the ball to set up Gallas for the French equaliser, but Ireland – had they the class – should have been 3-0 or 4-0 up on the night by then: Duff, Keane, Doyle and O’Shea all had chances that you’d expect a player of international quality to score. Then there’s the performance itself: had Trapattoni allowed / encouraged that kind of performance all through the qualifying series, there’s a decent chance Ireland wouldn’t have wound up in the play-offs in the first place. Finally, the hand-ball: did anyone else notice that Robbie Keane got pulled up four times – that’s four times – for hand-ball during the game, one of which was in the box as he tried to turn Gallas? Now, deliberate hand-ball is due a yellow card; Keane shouldn’t have been on the pitch by the end, had the ref been looking to stitch up Ireland at the behest of FIFA, as the more demented morons have been suggesting (he could also have easily given a penalty for Anelka’s dive, had he been so inclined).
  Anyway, the point about Keane and his multiple hand-balls: he cheated but we didn’t profit; Henry cheated and France profited. Where’s the moral high ground there?
  Oh, and while were banging on about hand-ball: anyone (yours truly included) who laughed themselves sick at Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal against England in 1986 has no right to (a) get up on their high horse about Henry or (b) join in the growing demand from the headbangers, including Liam Brady, calling for a replay. It was a game of football. We didn’t do enough to win it. Get over yourselves.
  Roll it there, Collette …

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The ‘Crime Always Pays’ Irish Crime Novel Of The Year Award

It’s getting to that time of the year again, when the ‘Best-of-Year’ selections are made, and Crime Always Pays has never been backward about clambering aboard a bandwagon. Yep, it’s the ‘Crime Always Pays’ Irish Novel of the Year Award, that somewhat-less-than-prestigious gong coveted by the very few and the ludicrously self-deluded.
  The usual hyperbole aside, 2009 was a terrific year for the Irish crime novel, and will, I’m pretty certain, be seen in retrospect as a watershed year in terms of quality. Everyone seemed to up their game, in some cases to a frighteningly good level (if you happen to be an aspiring Irish writer yourself), and the result was some excellent novels across the entire spectrum of the crime writing genre.
  What I’m doing today is mentioning some of said novels, to give you a flavour of what was published this year, and next week I’ll narrow it down to a shortlist, although hopefully you – yes, YOU! – will give me a gentle nudge in the right direction if I’ve left out a novel or two that you think is deserving of nomination. Next week, I’ll start a poll, although it won’t be a push-button poll, because otherwise The Dark Lord, aka John Connolly, will simply muster his massed forces and do a number on it. Instead, I’ll be asking people to state their top three nominations for Best Novel, with those who guess the right order of first, second and third going into the Christmas stocking for a draw. The prize will be a selection of the finest Irish crime novels of the year, and will be announced two weeks before Christmas, so that the package arrives in time for the festivities.
  Now, those novels. It being November, it’s only fair that the competition incorporates novels published from November 2008 to November 2009, which includes the following:
BLOOD RUNS COLD by Alex Barclay – winner of the Irish Book Awards inaugural Crime Fiction category
THE LOVERS by John Connolly – in my opinion, his finest Charlie Parker novel to date
MYSTERY MAN by Bateman – a ‘Richard & Judy’ pick this summer past
THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL by Bateman – a better and funnier read than MYSTERY MAN, is my two cents
FIFTY GRAND by Adrian McKinty – an elegant, mature and (say it ain’t so, Joe!) emotionally literate thriller
DARK TIMES IN THE CITY by Gene Kerrigan – nominated for the CWA Golden Dagger
WINTERLAND by Alan Glynn – a superb conspiracy thriller, both contemporary and prescient in its depiction of modern Ireland
BLEED A RIVER DEEP by Brian McGilloway – Ireland’s Ian Rankin finds his groove
TOWER by Ken Bruen / Reed Farrel Coleman – an emotionally eviscerating tale of claustrophobia, tragic flaws and mutually assured destruction
ALL THE DEAD VOICES by Declan Hughes – the best novel yet from the bridesmaid perennially nominated for the ‘Best Novel’ Edgar
THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville – a raw, angry deconstruction of post-Troubles Northern Ireland
THE INSIDER by Ava McCarthy – high-concept thriller about high-finance shenanigans
  And they’re just the ones I’ve read. Novels I haven’t had the chance to read yet, unfortunately, include FAMILY LIFE by Paul Charles, LOCKDOWN by Sean Black, THE DARK PLACE by Sam Millar, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN by Liam McIlvanney, THE WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES by Garbhan Downey, THE THIRD PIG DETECTIVE AGENCY by Bob Burke, THE RULE BOOK by Rob Kitchin, and TEARS OF GOD by Christy Kenneally.
  So there you have it: the Irish crime novel, in a state of exceedingly rude health. Is there anyone I’ve missed? Do tell …

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Pristine Keyboards and Subtle Fireworks

I mention in the post below that the business of being a writer involves, first and foremost, learning to make compromises with yourself. And despite the fact that I am, as all three regular readers will be aware, now an ex-writer, I’m finding it hard to kick the compromising habit. I’m also finding it very difficult to stop thinking about the book I was planning to write over the next year or so. As a compromise, I’m telling myself that instead of obsessing about one book in particular, I’m going to do a bit of noodling about writing and / or reading in general, to see if I can’t figure out where I’ve been going wrong all these years.
  First up, the pristine state of my keyboard. I get a new PC every three or four years, and it’s rare that I have to upgrade the keyboard between times. I’m wondering if that’s where I’m going wrong.
  I ‘learned’ to type years ago, and while I can touch-type, my error-rate is pretty high – I don’t know what my wpm is, but it’s probably around 30 words per minute. Now, the trouble with touch-typing is it’s exactly that – touch typing. You caress the keys, you persuade and fondle and nudge … in effect, you seduce the keyboard into giving up its goodies one word at a time.
  Which is all very good and well if you’re writing romantic fiction, I guess. But crime fiction? Man, you should be BASHING those keys, bam-bam-BAM!!! Here’s the GUY with the GUN and BANG-BANG, KISS-KISS!!! A quiet bit, THEN BAM-BANG-BASH-BOOM!!! Then another quiet bit, THEN WOP-BOP-A-LOO-BOP-A-WOP-BANG-BOOM!!!
  Now, I’m not advocating caps and a picket fence of exclamation marks. What I’m suggesting is that the words should come off like they’ve been punched into the page by someone who loves words and hates paper. Or, as I suggest below vis-√†-vis James Ellroy, like they’ve been machine-gunned into a tombstone. When I read, I want to be ducking under ricochets and copping splinters and coughing up dust. I want the sky lit by tracer and Very lights exploding overhead and the ground underneath shaking from the intensity of the barrage.
  Me, I’m too subtle when I write – or, worse, I aim for subtle and end up stuck in the middle of No Man’s Land during a ceasefire, with everyone going, “Okay, but when’s the fireworks start?” Because everyone likes a good fireworks show. And ‘fireworks’ and ‘subtle’ are pretty much mutually exclusive.
  So – that’s the first thing to consider: how to achieve subtle fireworks, and in the process need to buy a new keyboard every six months or so.
  All suggestions will be gratefully accepted …