“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.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thieves Like Them

You wait ages for an Irish crime writing gig to go to, and then two come along at the same time. William Ryan launches his debut novel THE HOLY THIEF at O’Mahony’s Bookshop in Limerick next Wednesday evening, May 12th, with the event kicking off at 6.30pm. Who he? I hear you cry. Well, the pre-pub praise has been pretty strong so far. To wit:
‘A subtle, superb mystery, a wonderful central character and with a sense of place and period to rival even the greatest of the Russian masters. More please!’ - KATE MOSSE, author of Labyrinth

‘A first-rate crime novel: a genuinely memorable detective, powerful story and a seamlessly convincing setting. William Ryan is the real thing.’ - A L KENNEDY

‘THE HOLY THIEF is an utterly compelling and beautifully lucid novel, in which murder, history and suspicion combine to create an atmosphere of ever-increasing and constantly shifting suspense.’ - JOHN BURNSIDE, author of Glister

‘With THE HOLY THIEF, Ryan establishes himself as a fresh voice, rendering the snow-slicked streets of Thirties’ Moscow with brilliant clarity. His picture of Captain Korolev as a conflicted, yet loyal, state servant is acutely real, as is his world, slouching toward terror and war. A masterful evocation of a dark time, wrapped around an even darker mystery, THE HOLY THIEF does its magic on the head as well as the nerves.’ - OLEN STEINHAUER, author of The Tourist
  THE HOLY THIEF is currently suffering from oxygen deprivation on the peak of Mt TBR, so hopefully we’ll have a review here in the next week or so. Meanwhile, Library Voices in Dun Laoghaire hosts Declan Hughes and Alan Glynn on the same evening, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Library Voices presents two of Ireland’s leading exponents of noir crime writing, Declan Hughes and Alan Glynn. Of Declan Hughes’s Ed Loy series, Val McDermid said: “If you don’t love this, don’t dare call yourself a crime fiction fan”. The fifth in the series, CITY OF LOST GIRLS, is set in Dublin and LA. Alan Glynn’s marvellous second novel, WINTERLAND, is a gripping thriller set in the Dublin underworld of hitmen, big business and government corruption.

Details: Wednesday, May 12th, at 7.30pm in County Hall, Marine Rd, Dun Laoghaire. Tickets €5.00 from the Pavilion Box Office. Call (01) 231 2929.
  So there it is. If anyone masters the art of bi-location and manages to get to both the Limerick and Dun Laoghaire gigs, be sure to let us know how it all panned out …

  Lately I have been mostly reading: THE DEVIL by Ken Bruen, THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly, PEELER by Kevin McCarthy, and A QUESTION OF BELIEF by Donna Leon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: DARK ORIGINS by Anthony E. Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski

DARK ORIGINS is the first in a series of novels titled ‘Level 26’. The title of the series is taken from the FBI’s ‘scale of evil’, in which killers are ranked from 1-25 depending on their evil. Ted Bundy, for example, rated a 22. Anthony Zuiker, who created the CSI phenomenon, has created a serial killer called Sqweegel, who rates a 26. Ex-FBI agent Steve Dark, who has investigated Sqweegel in the past with devastating consequences for his family, is recruited on pain of death to track down the serial killer.
  The novel takes a conceptual multi-media approach, as it offers internet links every 20 pages or so, inviting readers to log on to the web to see mini-films that enhance and advance the plot.
  The concept behind DARK ORIGINS is a fascinating one, and the book may well prove the first mainstream offering of its kind. The development of e-readers such as Kindle and the Sony Reader, and now the iPad, all of which have internet access built-in, will allow for complex multi-media interactivity with a story. This novel may well be the first offering in a revolutionary approach to publishing.
  Unfortunately, the novel itself is poor. The serial killer story shows no signs of flagging in terms of popularity, yet it is very quickly becoming the most hackneyed idea in crime fiction. Zuiker’s approach is to make his serial killer the most evil, the most intelligent, and the most accomplished in the history of serial killers, but the net effect is to render Sqweegel a parody of the sub-genre. It’s hard to believe that anyone old enough to read will be gullible enough to take this novel seriously.
  Sqweegel has killed numberless victims and remains at large. This is due largely to the fact that the leaves behind no forensic traces whatsoever - this may be an in-joke by CSI creator Zuiker to his fans, or it may be an attempt to put clear blue water between the CSI project and the novel.
  Sqweegel is also notable for his cruelty to his victims, physical, emotional and sexual. These aspects are delivered in graphic prose at times, and the effect is repulsive. Particularly repulsive is a chapter in which Sqweegel embarks on a lengthy anal rape of three students, using various implements; and while the description itself is disgusting, what marks the chapter out as especially repellent is that it serves no purpose in the grand scheme of the narrative, other than to confirm a brutality the reader has already acknowledged.
  Sqweegel is also the kind of serial killer who has, apparently, limitless financial reserves that enable him to globe-trot, utilising private jets, in order to pursue his relentless killing. He is also irritatingly omniscient, capable of observing his prey and his pursuers, it seems, simultaneously. He is also implausibly clever and resourceful - he has, for example, managed to slip aboard the Airforce Two jet in order to plant a listening device.
  The killer’s nemesis, Steve Dark, is just as clichéd. He is a loner, a burnt-out former FBI operative who nurses a deep and abiding loathing of Sqweegel, who murdered his adoptive family when it appeared Dark was getting too close to discovering the killer. When we meet him, however, Dark - a reclusive, alcoholic shell - has somehow managed to recover his humanity enough to persuade the impossibly beautiful, tender and understanding Sibby to share his life, to the extent that she is pregnant with their child. She is, as if it needs to be said, an artist.
  These are the basic plot blocks with which co-writer Duane Swierczynski - working from a 60-page outline provided by Zuiker - builds his story. The pace is swift, with short, snappy chapters that end in cliff-hangers, a la the James Patterson style. Swierczynski is an excellent noir author, and there are flashes here and there of his talent. However, quoting the famous Raymond Chandler line about the tarantula on angel food in the midst of the appalling reductionism that is DARK ORIGINS is a bad move, as it simply reminds the reader of how poor the novel is by comparison with Chandler’s - or, indeed, virtually any other plausible, realistic novel.
  I can’t stress enough how shoddy this novel is. Other than what it represents as a bridge of sorts between the current and future models of publishing, it has virtually no redeeming features at all. In its predictability, exaggerated clichés, torture-porn aspirations and dumbed-down prose, it has few equals, or at least not yet. If this is the future of publishing, then God help us all. - Declan Burke

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

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

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?
Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE. The book that got me into crime fiction in the first place, and probably still my favourite.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sal Paradise in ON THE ROAD.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I can’t say I feel guilty about it, because they’re a great series of books, but some of the pastel, chick-lit style covers on Janet Evanovich’s early Stephanie Plum novels can make me feel a tad self-conscious.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing the first five chapters of a new manuscript. Love the set-up phase. After that, it gets trickier.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
So much to chose from, and so much still to read, but Declan Hughes’ THE COLOUR OF BLOOD is terrific.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I’d like to see John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series translated to the screen.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing - we used to have a darts board in the office I worked in. I miss that dart board. Best thing? I guess now that I’m officially a ‘writer’, I might not sound like quite such a nut when I tell people what I do with my time.

The pitch for your next book is …?
THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VEGAS. Think Ocean’s Two - only with a floating corpse, a magician who vanishes in the middle of his own show, and no George Clooney.

Who are you reading right now?
A mixture of things. I just finished Dennis Lehane’s A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. I’m currently reading Michael Stanley’s A DEADLY TRADE, Lee Child’s KILLING FLOOR and Jan Morris’ VENICE. And I’m just about to revisit Anne Zouroudi’s THE TAINT OF MIDAS, the next selection for the crime fiction book club I run on the Isle of Man.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read, I guess. Probably a good moment to take a peek at a Bible for the first time since school.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Nimble. Convivial. Sly.

Chris Ewan’s THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VEGAS is published by Pocket Books.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Believe In Harvey

Is Michael Harvey Irish enough to qualify as an Irish crime writer? Well, he was born and raised in Boston, graduated from Boston Latin School, is married to Mary Frances and owns a dog called Maggie. He also owns a pub called The Hidden Shamrock. And as if that wasn’t enough, his series protagonist is ‘former Irish cop turned PI, Michael Kelly’. All of which, in our humble opinion, makes Michael Harvey as Irish as a tinkers’ wake. His latest offering is THE THIRD RAIL, about which the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
This ferocious new novel from the author of THE CHICAGO WAY and THE FIFTH FLOOR finds Michael Harvey at the top of his game in an expertly plotted, impossible to put down thriller set in Chicago’s public transit system. Harvey’s tough talking, Aeschylus-quoting, former Irish cop turned PI, Michael Kelly, is back in another sizzling murder mystery that pits him against a merciless sniper on the loose in Chicago’s public transportation system. After witnessing a shooting on an L platform - and receiving a phone call from the killer himself - Kelly is drawn toward a murderer with an unnerving link to his own past, to a crime he witnessed as a child, and to the consequences it had on his relationship with his father, a subject Kelly would prefer to leave unexamined. But when his girlfriend - the gorgeous Chicago judge Rachel Swenson - is abducted, Kelly has no choice but to find the killer by excavating his own stormy past. Stylish, sophisticated, edge-of-your-seat suspense from a new modern master.
  Impressed? John Grisham is. “A magnificent new voice,” quoth the Grishmeister. “A major new voice,” says Michael Connelly, determined to be outdone. “Gritty and witty … a real winner,” says Kathy Reichs.
  So there you have it. Michael Harvey. THE THIRD RAIL. We’re claiming him for our own …

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE RISING by Brian McGilloway, BLOOD MONEY by Arlene Hunt, and THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS by Declan Hughes

You can call them genre conventions or you can call them clichés, but the male protagonists in crime novels tend to have a lot in common. Whether cops, private eyes, crusading journalists or ex-military veterans, they’re generally misanthropic loners with addiction issues - booze is the most popular - and while they rarely have trouble attracting women, they have huge problems holding on to them. They are, as Raymond Chandler dubbed them, the tarnished white knights, who go down those mean streets without becoming themselves mean, and whose sense of justice remains undimmed no matter how many beatings they take on our behalf.
  Three recent Irish crime novels have taken those conventions and tossed them out the window. Inspector Benedict Devlin, the main character in Brian McGilloway’s Donegal-set series of police procedurals, is as happily a married man as any married man is likely to be. Devlin has two kids, no addiction issues, and is no more cynical about the human race than any policeman is entitled to be having achieved the rank of Inspector. In all, he’s an unusually clean-cut credit to his family, his country and the Gardai.
  THE RISING is the fourth Devlin novel in the series, and as has been the case in the previous novels, Devlin is the juncture where personal and political collide. Here the political is provided by the eponymous Republican splinter group, which is gathering local support on both sides of the North / South border around Strabane and Lifford for its zero tolerance approach to drug dealing. One of the leading lights of The Rising is an old foe of Devlin’s, Vincent Morrison, who has served his prison term and emerged with his debt paid to society. When Devlin’s 11-year-old daughter Penny develops a crush on Morrison’s son, Devlin finds himself compromised in relation to the investigation he is conducting into the brutal murders of small-time drug dealers.
  Devlin is far removed from the by-all-means-necessary kind of copper to be found in crime fiction, and part of the enjoyment of THE RISING is seeing one of the consequences of the post-Good Friday peace process - that of ex-paramilitaries turning to more prosaic forms of crime - through the eyes of a family man who is as concerned for his daughter’s well-being as he is with conceptual notions of justice and accountability. That said, McGilloway claims no moral high ground for Devlin, who is on occasion moved to use his fists in brutal fashion when his domestic life is infringed upon.
  For all that the story is peppered with outbreaks of violence and murder, McGilloway, writing in the spare, unadorned style of classic noir tradition, never renders the violence lurid or gratuitous. Nor does he break faith with the reader by having his methodical inspector depend on hunches or gut instinct for his big breakthroughs. Instead the story imitates police procedural as closely as any entertaining novel is allowed, depending on the steady and stealthy accretion of detail and nuance rather than show-stopping flourishes designed to mythologise both the process and its protagonist. It’s an approach that whets the appetite even as it sates it. McGilloway improves with every novel, and the latest Inspector Devlin - Morse without the affectations, basically - is fast becoming an annual must-read.
  Arlene Hunt also plays with the conventions in her latest offering, BLOOD MONEY. In her previous novels, the QuicK Investigations partnership of Sarah Quigley and John Kenny has been dominated by Sarah, the cool and thoughtful yin to John’s impulsive and occasionally boneheaded yang.
  In BLOOD MONEY, as a result of events in the previous novel, Sarah has disappeared, leaving John to investigate a case of apparent suicide brought to him by a grieving mother. Alison Cooper is a dedicated doctor, a married woman and a loving mother. Although her husband Tom had an affair a year previously, the pragmatic Alison is highly unlikely to have taken her own life as a result. Has there been foul play? Hunt juxtaposes John’s investigation with a parallel tale in which Pavel Sunic, a Bosnian Roma, travels to Ireland to hunt down the person responsible for his sister’s death.
  It quickly becomes apparent that John and Pavel are both investigating the murky world of international organ trafficking. This gives the novel a contemporary flavour, and also imbues the tale with an uncomfortable moral conundrum - what would you do, the story asks implicitly, if it was your nearest and dearest who could well die waiting for an organ transplant to arrive through the conventional channels? Hunt, who personalises the theme in her acknowledgements, leaves the answers up to the reader. John Quigley is not a detective burning with a sense of justice undelivered. Instead he is a man who engages in his detective work because it is his job, his way of paying the bills, and if he is no less diligent for all that, his prosaic style - knocking on doors, taking statements where he’s let, accumulating tiny amounts of information that may or may not prove useful - has a powerful ring of authenticity, not least in terms of the number of petty obstacles he encounters on his travels.
  Ed Loy, Declan Hughes’ private detective who gets his fifth outing in THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS, comes closest to the Chandlerian notion of the tarnished white knight in Irish crime fiction. In the past Hughes has very deliberately cultivated Loy as an Irish version of Lew Archer, the private eye who featured in Ross Macdonald’s novels and made a speciality of investigating the skeletons in wealthy families’ closets.
  While families and their dark secrets play their part in THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS, here Hughes has Loy investigate a different kind of family, the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ led by Jack Donovan, an old friend of Loy’s and an Irish film director made good in Hollywood who has returned home to make his masterpiece on home soil. When two extras go missing from the movie set, Loy is called in to investigate their disappearance. Loy immediately remembers that three girls went missing, never to be found, on another Jack Donovan shoot, this one some 15 years previously in California, and suspects that a serial killer might be at work.
  Loy, previously a hard-drinking, self-torturing romantic, has mellowed somewhat since his last appearance, in ALL THE DEAD VOICES, when he met Anne Fogarty, a divorced woman with two children. Now settled into his own version of suburban bliss, the detective is more pragmatic about life in general, and is willing to overlook humanity’s faults in a way he might not have in previous outings. Nonetheless, Loy’s sense of justice remains undimmed, even if his reasons for pursuing it have changed.
  A compelling page-turner, THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS also marks a new departure for Hughes. Always a fine stylist, he has here brought an new maturity and assuredness to his blending of three separate voices - the first-person narration by Loy, Anne Fogarty’s third-person perception of Loy, and the serial killer’s first-person justification for his killings - to create a courageous, challenging and ambitious novel. There is also a subtle investigation of what it means to be Irish now, an attempt to sift some truth of who and what we are from all the doom-and-gloom headlines. In all, it is a powerful tale from a gifted storyteller. If there is to be a better Irish novel this year, it will be a very fine piece of work indeed. - Declan Burke

  This article first appeared in the Sunday Independent

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Books With Backbone

The Irish crew mightn’t have done so well in the Edgars this year - odd, really, given that there’s usually an Irish presence, and that 2009 was such a fecund year for Irish crime writing - but they’ve been doing okay in other award ceremonies. Stuart Neville, as you might have heard, won the best Mystery / Thriller section in the recent LA Book of the Year awards for THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (aka THE TWELVE), and he also nabbed the Best Novel: New Voice gong in the Spinetingler Awards. Meanwhile, and staying with the Spinetinglers, Adrian McKinty got the nod for Best Novel: Rising Star Category for FIFTY GRAND, which is belated recognition for what was one of the best novels of last year, in my rarely humble opinion.
  Incidentally, both McKinty and Neville contribute to the forthcoming compilation of crime short stories based on Irish myths, REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, which promises to be one of the most intriguing collections of the year.
  Anyway, what makes the Spinetingler a pretty special award, I think, is that it’s voted for by the reading public, and a public that’s steeped in the genre to what is very probably an unprecedented degree. All of that takes serious co-ordination, of course, which translates into a lot of blood, sweat and (possibly) tears, all from a team - Sandra Ruttan, Jack Getze, Brian Lindemuth, the Nerd of Noir, and Keith Rawson - that work year-round to promote crime fiction of all stripes. Quoth the Spinetingler team on this year’s award:
This year’s turnout was greater then last years with a total of 4812 votes cast. That’s a huge increase from last year and we’ve seen growth every year. I think I speak for all of us here at Spinetingler when I say we’re glad to see more people participate in them and we have room for a lot more. We hope you enjoyed the awards as much as we did pulling them together. Hopefully at least one of the nominees made you curious enough to check it out because for us that’s the greatest reward. You all did this. And you did something good.
  No, Spinetingler folks, you did all this. And you did something good. Give yourselves a big fat slap on the back.

Like Slaughterers To The Lamb

Googling yourself, like an on-line version of eavesdropping at the keyhole, can be a chastening experience, which is why I tend to keep it to the minimum. By the same token, Googling yourself can throw up some interesting snippets, such as Clair Lamb’s recent piece for Books and Authors, titled ‘Where Green Meets Red: The Golden Age of Irish Crime Writing’. Basically, it’s a list of the hottest contemporary Irish crime writers, and great was the excitement when I realised I’d come in third. Then I noticed the first two writers were Colin Bateman and Ken Bruen, and that the list was alphabetical. Oh well. To wit:
3) Declan Burke is a journalist and reviewer who has published two critically-acclaimed crime novels: Eightball Boogie (2004), which introduced Dublin PI Harry Rigby, and The Big O, a caper novel that drew comparisons with Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. The Big O, in particular, has great fun with the rampant greed and suspended rules of life during the Celtic Tiger years. In addition to writing his own books, Burke maintains a blog that is the single best online source of news about Irish crime fiction.
  The only appropriate response to that is, ‘Gee, shucks.’ For the rest of the Top Ten, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, during my Google-esque perambulations, I also stumbled across this little chunk-a-love from the University of Minnesota:
Ireland may have a long and distinguished literary heritage, but in one major area, crime fiction, its contribution has been mysteriously lacking ... until recently. This course offers a snapshot of contemporary Irish crime fiction as a form practiced by serious writers, from the hard-boiled to the historical, from psychological thrillers to police procedurals. Discuss the development of Irish crime fiction, particularly the disparate social and cultural influences that have left their stamp on the genre. You will answer questions such as: What is it that makes these crime novels Irish? Is it the setting, the writer’s voice, or the characters? What part has Irish history played in the development of crime fiction, and how does placing a story in Ireland add layers of meaning to the events in each novel? In three monthly sessions structured like a book club, you will read in advance and be ready to discuss: (May 6) The Big O by Declan Burke, a fast-paced comic crime caper, described as “Elmore Leonard with a hard Irish edge”, and The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes, about a private eye who comes back to Ireland to bury his mother; (May 27) The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville, in which an IRA assassin lives with the ghosts of all 12 people he’s murdered, and Borderlands by Brian McGilloway, a police procedural set in the border lands between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and (June 3) My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison, a historical mystery.
  Thank you kindly, U of M. This is very probably the only time in my life (adjusts monocle) that I’ll be described as a ‘serious writer’ …