“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 28, 2009

The ‘Crime Always Pays’ Irish Crime Novel Of The Year: The Shortlist

A trumpet parp there, please, maestro …
  Last week (or maybe the week before) I posted about the inaugural but rather less than prestigious ‘Crime Always Pays’ Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award, which was, above all else, designed to remind people of how many excellent Irish crime novels were published in 2009. If memory serves (although more often than not, it stands and waits), the post involved detailing a forthcoming shortlist and what were in retrospect horribly complicated voting procedures. By which I mean, of course, that the voting would have been fairly straightforward, but the collating and counting would have been unnecessarily time-consuming for yours truly.
  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I cheated, and went with a system akin to that of the Professional Football Association’s ‘Player of the Year’ award, in which the players themselves vote on the best player. To that end, I contacted as many Irish crime writers as I know, and asked them to nominate their best Irish novels of the year, and preferably in the order of 1-2-3. Each ‘1’ vote gets 10 points, each ‘2’ vote gets five points, and a ‘3’ vote gets one point.
  The votes are still coming in, but already a pattern has emerged. It’s tight: to date only six novels have been nominated, and the one currently in first place has 32 points, while the one in sixth place has 16 points, a very narrow spread that confirms the quality of the books involved. So – if you’re an Irish crime writer who received a ‘voting’ email, and you haven’t yet voted, please crack on. I’ll be posting the results on this coming Friday, December 4th, and your vote – yes, YOURS! – could make all the difference.
  For the non-writers among you, I’d mentioned in the original post that whoever predicted the 1-2-3 in correct order would go into a hat for a draw for a bundle of rather fine Irish crime novels. The ‘shortlist’ – aka the list of six novels already nominated – runneth thusly, in alphabetical order (by author):
John Connolly – THE LOVERS
Alan Glynn – WINTERLAND
Declan Hughes – ALL THE DEAD VOICES
Gene Kerrigan – DARK TIMES IN THE CITY
Adrian McKinty – FIFTY GRAND
Stuart Neville – THE TWELVE
  If you want to be in with a chance of winning said bundle of novels, leave your 1-2-3 predictions in the comment box below before noon on Thursday, December 3rd. Et bon chance, mes amis …
  I haven’t voted myself, by the way, and won’t be, simply because I know a few of the Irish writers at this point, and there’s a very great danger I’d be biased in favour of those.
  One last thing: I didn’t say anything in the ‘voting’ email I sent out about writers being precluded from voting for themselves, on the basis that to do so would be to insult their intelligence. Happily, no one has voted for his or her own book. Frankly, I’m not surprised.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pin ’Em Up, I Say – Pin ’Em Up!

I was pondering aloud on these pages last weekend about how best to ‘market’ Irish crime fiction, as is my wont, which was enough to get the inimitable Joe Long, Irish crime fic fan and bon viveur about NY town, tossing his two cents into the ring. To wit:
“I know how Irish crime writers can get Irish people to buy books. Just start an Irish crime writers calendar. Proceeds will go to charity. The more you show the more the calendars you will sell. The picture taken for each month would have copies of the respective author’s books covering – shall we say – strategic spots. Now, you would have to convince the female contingent to get on board, but a man with your charm should not have a problem. Obviously, you, Declan [Hughes], John [Connolly] and Brian [McGilloway] would have to be buried in months no one cares about. But Arlene Hunt and Alex Barclay – Christmas and Summer – there you go.”
  So there you have it: a sexy Irish crime writers calendar. Personally, I think you’d be quicker trying to sell sexy Irish crime writer colanders, but that’s just me. Any takers?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gospel According To Genre

There was a good piece in Publishers Weekly titled ‘Breaking the Wall’, in which a variety of crime writers discuss what Michael Connelly describes as the ‘membrane’ (as opposed to ‘wall’) between genre and literary fiction. For my money, Tana French (right) nails it to the wall:
“When you’re working to make a sentence as perfect as it can be,” says French, “or to make a character real and vivid and three-dimensional, how and whether you do that isn’t dependent on where the book will be shelved.”
  Well said, that woman. Mind you, Tana is one of those writers for whom style appears to be every bit as important as plot or character. Could it be a coincidence that IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS are award-winning best-sellers? Erm, probably not …
  It’s also true that Ireland has its fair share of ‘literary crime fiction’: John Banville’s THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE and THE UNTOUCHABLE, Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Pat McCabe’s THE BUTCHER BOY, Eoin McNamee’s RESURRECTION MAN (and others), Brian Moore’s THE COLOUR OF BLOOD (and others), Liam O’Flaherty’s THE INFORMER and THE ASSASSIN, David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME, Edna O’Brien’s IN THE FOREST (and others) … It’s a long and noble tradition.
  Okay, your turn. Your favourite ‘literary crime fiction’ is ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oi, Kids – Go Play In The Traffic

It were all fields round here when I were a boy, and where it weren’t, we used to play football on the street, with special rules to allow for passing traffic. No one I knew was ever killed that way, and occasionally diving out of the way of juggernauts gave you a body swerve Georgie Best would’ve given his left liver for.
  All of which is a long-winded way of saying that kids are tougher than we think, and that the desire to protect kids (especially from themselves) has grown out of all proportion to the real dangers that exist. That’s a bit rich coming from someone who has adapted the last line of the Rock-a-Bye-Baby lullaby to ‘Down will come baby / Daddy break your fall,’ so thankfully John Connolly is on hand, courtesy of the Brisbane Times, to lend a bit of perspective to the debate, and particularly the part of the debate that centres on what kids should or shouldn’t be reading. In a piece titled, ‘Why It’s Good to Terrify Children’, JC ruminates thusly:
“Like a lot of boys, I was curious about the darkness, and I quite liked being scared a little, as long as I was in control of the medium.
  “I can’t ever remember closing a book because it frightened me, but there were a couple that I tended not to read when alone in the house, or when I was sitting up in bed at night. After all, I might have been adventurous when it came to my literary tastes, but I wasn’t stupid.
  “Recently I have been put in the unfamiliar position of having to defend my latest book, THE GATES, from accusations that it may be a bit frightening for younger readers who don’t get out enough …
  “When the Victorians bowdlerised the fables, removing much of the violence and peril, and indeed the punishments visited on the wrongdoers at the end, they took away their power and their purpose. Without terror they have no meaning.”
  The scariest book I read as a kid was the Illustrated Bible, especially the bit where Herod slaughtered all the babies. That and the crucifixion. When you’re a kid, and you realise that this is what they do to the good guy … that’s pretty damn scary.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sharpest O’Toole In The Box

There was an interesting piece on Irish crime fiction from Fintan O’Toole (right) in yesterday’s Irish Times, in which he referenced Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan and Alan Glynn as exemplars of ‘the nearest thing we have to a realist literature adequate to capturing the nature of contemporary society …’. The gist runneth thusly:
“It is striking that the most successful Irish crime writer, John Connolly, who began his career just a decade ago, felt it necessary to set his books in the US and to insert himself directly into the American detective tradition. Connolly presumably decided that Ireland, even in the Celtic Tiger years, was not the place for crime fiction. Yet it is equally striking that in the last few years, Irish-set crime writing has not merely begun to blossom but has become arguably the nearest thing we have to a realist literature adequate to capturing the nature of contemporary society …
  “If that were the whole story, however, what we’d be getting now would be simply a local version of the established international genre. That we’re getting something rather more interesting than that is suggested by two intriguing ways in which the best writing is inflected by older Irish traditions …
  “In creating an Ireland with no faith in authority and no belief that the bad guys will be vanquished by naming their names, they get closer to reality than most literary fiction has managed.”
  The piece is short but it is wide-ranging enough to touch on the perversity of the Irish crime narrative, beginning with JM Synge’s play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, in which the ‘murderer’ is not only discovered very early on in the story, but spends most of his time protesting his ‘guilt’, to no avail. In offering reasons for why the traditional crime novel didn’t find its place in Ireland until recently, however, O’Toole doesn’t mention the post-colonial Irish attitude summed up by Seamus Heaney’s phrase, “Whatever you say / Say nothing.” In Ireland, everyone loves to tell a story, but no one wants to be thought an informant. Hence the power of Liam O’Flaherty’s proto-noir THE INFORMER, a claustrophobic tale of treachery and insufferable guilt and the consequences of betrayal, a Greek tragedy set in Dublin’s red-light district and written in the brusque, staccato style that Dashiell Hammett would later pioneer in the U.S. (THE INFORMER was published in 1925).
  All in all, O’Toole’s is a thought-provoking piece, and could well prove a quantum leap in the ongoing struggle for the Irish crime novel to gain traction with the Irish reading public. Fintan O’Toole is one of the most clear-eyed observers among the Irish intelligentsia (he recently published SHIP OF FOOLS: HOW STUPIDITY AND CORRUPTION SANK THE CELTIC TIGER) and his tacit approval certainly won’t do Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan and Alan Glynn any harm.
  Naturally, given that the piece appeared shortly after yours truly went public with his decision to pack in the writing career, I’m a little sceptical about the prospects for the Irish crime novel. But it’s not just me: this week just gone by, I had conversations with two very fine Irish crime writers, both of whom were very pessimistic about the publishing industry in general, and Irish crime fiction in particular. Put bluntly, and despite high-profile awards and awards nominations for the likes of Connolly, Hughes, Ken Bruen, Tana French, Gene Kerrigan, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Brian McGilloway in recent years, Irish crime novels don’t sell, either in Ireland or (crucially) abroad. Without knowing exact figures, John Connolly is probably the exception to this rule, as he is to most rules - and apologies to any writer mentioned who is, in fact, rolling in dosh.
  Next year will see no less than three movies based on Ken Bruen novels hit the big screen, and – all going well – filming begin on Alan Glynn’s THE DARK FIELDS. On the surface, things appear to be going swimmingly for Irish crime writers, and it was heart-warming to see Stuart Neville’s THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (aka THE TWELVE) get top billing in Marilyn Stasio’s NYT column last week. This year has been a terrific year for Irish crime writing: along with Connolly, Kerrigan, Glynn and Hughes, Fintan O’Toole could quite easily, given his terms of reference, have mentioned the likes of Adrian McKinty, Colin Bateman, Alex Barclay, Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Ken Bruen, Ava McCarthy, Garbhan Downey and Sam Millar, and that’s in a year when we didn’t have any books from Arlene Hunt, Julie Parsons, Benjamin Black or Tana French. It was also the year when the Irish crime novel got its own category at the Irish Book Awards, with Alex Barclay the inaugural winner.
  All of which seems overwhelmingly positive, and a rising tide lifts all boats, but I can’t help wondering if Fintan O’Toole’s piece won’t come to be seen as the high-water mark of the Irish crime novel – usually, mainstream media picking up on a trend means sounding its death-knell. I certainly hope it doesn’t, because, leaving aside the fact that most of the writers mentioned above write well-written entertainments, they also write novels that are important in terms of our understanding of who we are and where we’re going. As Val McDermid says in today’s Sunday Independent:
“The crime novel really has become the state-of-the-nation fiction. There’s an Irish writer called Alan Glynn, who has just published a novel WINTERLAND … This is a book that speaks to absolutely now. Good writers – good crime writers in particular – have a knack of plugging into the zeitgeist.”
  As a writer, I’ve been hearing for some time now from editors and agents and publishers that what the industry wants is ‘big’ books – crime stories with an appeal broad enough to propel the book into the mainstream. CHILD 44 and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO are good recent examples, and it’s possibly the case that Ireland, despite its potentially fertile setting for crime fiction (post-Troubles, post-economic boom) simply isn’t ‘big’ enough to capture the imagination of the reading public at large. That shouldn’t be the case, in theory at least, because, like politics, all good novels are local, and if there’s one thing Ireland is producing in these benighted times, it’s damn fine novels.
  The irony, of course, is that the best way for a country to break out of an economic slump is to start creating unique indigenous products for export, which is very much the case when it comes to most of the writers mentioned above. Has it come time for Irish crime writers to band together in a union, the better to lobby the government for investment to market their high quality exports abroad? A little investment, cleverly used, would go a long way, particularly in terms of impacting on the media. Or has the time finally come for an Irish crime writing association? Are such associations of any practical use? Or are there any other ideas out there in left field that might be beneficial?
  I know that there are plenty of Irish crime writers out there who ‘lurk’ on Crime Always Pays, and it’s your prerogative not to leave a comment, or get involved in any way, because the writing game is at heart a solitary business, and (speaking for myself, at least) joining gangs goes against the grain. But the times they are a-changing, folks, and what worked in the past just ain’t cutting it anymore. And it would be horrible, truly horrible, if we were to look back in five years time and concede that Fintan O’Toole’s piece in the Irish Times was a high-water mark, and that the tide has gone out, leaving some very fine boats stranded.
  The floor is open, people …