“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, May 15, 2010

Here We Go O’Carrolling …

I mentioned Niamh O’Connor during the week in terms of authenticity and her antipathy to the criminals she meets given the nature of her day job as a crime correspondent, and lo! Up pops another debutant author with even stronger claims to authenticity and antipathy. To wit:
Gerry O’Carroll was one of Ireland’s leading serious crime detectives. Born in the west of Ireland, Gerry trained in Dublin and was central to the investigation of over 80 murders. He was the first Irish detective to carry a firearm and has appeared at the top of IRA and gangland murder lists. He personally arrested Ireland’s longest-serving prisoners, the serial killers John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans, and was involved in the pursuit of John Gilligan, responsible for the murder of Veronica Guerin. Gerry was first on the scene when the IRA murdered notorious gangster Martin Cahill.
  Co-written with Jeff Gulvin, O’Carroll’s debut is titled THE GATHERING OF SOULS, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
This gripping debut introduces series characters Detectives Moss Quinn and Joe Doyle in a race against time to find Quinn’s abducted wife. A touch Denis Lehane meets Joseph Wambaugh, this suspenseful, contemporary Irish thriller looks set to join John Connolly and Alex Barclay’s books as an international bestseller. A year to the day after the death of their son, Moss Quinn’s wife Eva Marie has been abducted. He is Dublin’s star detective, investigating the disappearance of five women and the murder of another the year before. Moss’s number-one suspect walks free from the subsequent trial amidst allegations of police brutality meted out by Quinn’s partner, Joe Doyle, an old-school cop. Quinn’s world is in turmoil, his marriage is a mess, his reputation after the trial is in tatters and now his wife has been abducted. Somewhere out there, his wife is lying bound and gagged, she has been left to die of thirst. In 72 hours she will be in a coma or dead, and there is a voice on the phone telling him the clock is ticking and that the clues to his wife’s whereabouts are in his past ... Building to a heart-stopping finale, with a cast of credible and colourful characters from the criminal underworld and police ranks alike, THE GATHERING OF SOULS is an authentic, dark tale of obsession, revenge and redemption.
  O’Carroll, by the way, published a non-fiction title, THE SHERIFF: A DETECTIVE’S STORY, in 2006. Meanwhile, there’s a short interview with Gerry over at The Metro, with one snippet reading thusly:
Q: You were involved in dozens of high profile cases over the years. Which arrest and conviction are you most proud of?

A: “Probably the case of John Shaw and Geoffrey Evans, two English career criminals-turned-murderers. They were convicted for robbery and sent to Mountjoy in the 1970s. But because of a blunder they were convicted under false names and later released. They went on a murderous rampage and killed two women, Mary Duffy and Elizabeth Plunkett. These were the most sickening deaths ever afforded to two human beings. People think killers like these go round with the mark of Cain on their foreheads but they were two ordinary looking guys. After we caught them I was handcuffed to Shaw, and he turned and said to me: ‘Gerry, I’m glad you caught me.’ ‘Why’s that?’ I replied. ‘Because we were going to kill one a week.’ That was one of the most chilling remarks ever made to me. They’re now the longest serving convicts in the history of the state.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Little French Fancy

God bless Tana French and her fanciful notions. Obviously the various prizes and gushings of critical acclaim that accompanied IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS have gone to her noggin, because over at the Penguin interweb portal she’s yakking it up about breaking down the ‘ridiculous imaginary barrier’ between mystery fiction and literature. To wit:
Q: Your novels have won critical acclaim, a broad public following, and a well-deserved sackful of awards. What would you still like to accomplish as a writer?

A: “I don’t have a long-term plan. Actually, I still find it hard to think ahead even as far as the end of the book I’m working on-the idea of writing a whole book seems so ridiculously huge that I just focus on the next little section, or I’ll freak myself out. At the moment, I’m working on the fourth book (Scorcher Kennedy, who shows up in FAITHFUL PLACE, is the narrator this time) and my only goal as a writer is to get this one right!
  “On a broader scale, though . . . I hope someday soon we’ll get to the point where “mystery” and “literature” are no longer seen as mutually exclusive. There have always been crime novels that are every bit as beautifully written and as thematically complex as the finest literary fiction, and there have always been literary novels shaped around a crime framework. But there are still a few people (apparently people who’ve never read, for example, the courtroom drama TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) who have real difficulty with the idea of things not fitting neatly under one label, so they still think of genre fiction and literature as utterly separate, unconnected and unconnectable. More and more crime writers are rebelling against that, and I’d love to be a small part of the force that finally crumbles that ridiculous imaginary barrier.”
  For the full interview, clickety-click here

On Choosing Your Favourite Child

Craig Sisterson over at Kiwi Crime was kind enough to point his 9mm at me (oo-er, missus), said 9mm being a quick-fire interview consisting of nine questions, one of which runneth thusly:
CS: Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?

DB: “Now that’s a tough bloody question. It’s like asking which of your kids you love most. And the honest answer is that I love them all equally, and I’m including those that haven’t been published when I say ‘all’. EIGHTBALL was magic because it was my first, and I’ll never replicate that shining, incandescent moment when I first held the book - an actual book, written by me - in my hands. It happened on a street in Galway, and I believe I kind of blanked out for a few seconds. I’d waited a long, long time to see that book … THE BIG O I love because it was a co-published deal with Hag’s Head, I and my wife put our mortgage money where my mouth was by paying 50% of the costs, and it ended up a modest success, from a co-published little effort (880 copies in Ireland) that ended up getting a pretty decent deal in the States, and allowed me go to the States for a road-trip to promote it. BAD FOR GOOD (which is currently out under consideration) I love because it’s radically different to the previous books, and I’m still not sure where the voice came from, or where the notion of having a hospital porter blow up his hospital came from. But even the books that will never see the light of day, I love them too, because they’re me at my most me. Which is the main reason why I write, I think.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Actually, it was only after I’d seen the piece published that the sheer audacity of that question struck me. Not that I might have a favourite among my books, but the fact that there books out there that are ‘my books’, and enough of them published - the bare minimum, as it happens - to allow me choose a favourite. Some days you forget how far you’ve come relative to where you began … If you had told me 20 years ago that I’d have one book published, let alone two, I’d probably have had you consigned to a home for the terminally bewildered.
  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the bullshit that goes with writing - sales figures, publishing deals, not getting publishing deals, the near misses with commissioning editors who love your stuff but can’t get it past the bean-counters … All of which can be very frustrating, it’s true. Once in a while, though, it does no harm to lean back and glance up at the shelf where I’ve stacked the Irish crime fiction titles, and see ‘my books’ nestling in there (alphabetically, natch) amongst novels from proper good writers such as Colin Bateman, Ken Bruen, Paul Charles and John Connolly. I’ll probably never shed the notion that offerings are interlopers on that shelf, but hey, at least they’re there …

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If You Can’t Stand The Heat …

… stay away from Rob Kitchin. Debuting last year with THE RULE BOOK, which featured Detective Super Colm McEvoy on the trail of a serial killer and cheerfully broke many rules of crime writing as it went along, Kitchin follows it up next month with THE WHITE GALLOWS, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
In post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, the murder rate is soaring and the gardai are struggling to cope with gangland wars, domestic disputes, and drunken brawls that spiral into fatal violence. To add to Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy’s workload are the deaths of two immigrants - an anonymous Lithuanian youth and an elderly German billionaire. While one remains an enigma, the murky history of the other is slowly revealed. But where there is money there is power and, as McEvoy soon learns, if you swim amongst sharks, you better act like a shark.
  Nice. If you’re in or around the Naas area of Kildare this coming Saturday, May 15th, you can catch Rob Kitchin reading at the Kildare Readers’ Festival. Apparently a couple of whippersnappers called John Connolly and Stuart Neville are involved too, along with Joseph O’Connor, Dermot Bolger, Sheila O’Flanagan and Claire Keegan. For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just The Facts, Hack

A crime correspondent for the Sunday World, Niamh O’Connor gets to see the consequences of violent crime in a way that many crime writers don’t. What’s unusual is that she’s more than happy to talk about how her antipathy towards the criminals she encounters translated into her debut novel. Here’s a snippet from her blog:
“Went on TV3 this morning to talk about IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN, and realised how instinctive a hack anchor Sinead Desmond was when she started talking about the murder of the gangland boss, the Don.
  “Since IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN began as an idea about a killer purging gangland to atone for an horrific crime against a little girl, it was an intuitive link. It may sound heartless, but now the Don is dead, what’s wrong with the feeling of good riddance?”
  For the rest of the blog post, clickety-click here. Meanwhile, the full interview with Sinead Desmond comes below, and makes for very interesting viewing indeed. Roll it there, Collette …

Better The Devlin You Know

Here’s a Big Q that’s not very relevant in the grand scheme of things … Can an author’s voice change the way you read his or her books? I’m not talking about their authorial voice, but their actual, y’know, voice. If Lee Child, say, had a fey, high-pitched tone with a lisp, and you heard him giving a reading, would that impact on how you ‘heard’ Jack Reacher when reading his novels?
  I ask because Brian McGilloway is on RTE’s Arena arts show tonight (Wednesday, May 12th), yakking it up about his latest offering, THE RISING. Now, Donegal-based Brian is a mild-mannered teacher by day, and an equally mild-mannered crime writer by night, and his series protagonist, Inspector Benedict Devlin, is for the most part a mild-mannered Donegal cop. As it happens, I don’t hear Brian’s voice when I’m reading the Devlin novels, but it would be entirely appropriate if I did. Having heard James Ellroy perform in Belfast last year, on the other hand, will dramatically impact on how I ‘hear’ his characters next time I dip into an Ellroy novel.
  Anyone have any glaring mismatches between an author’s voice and how their characters sound?
  Meantime, there’s some nice reviews of THE RISING here, here and plenty more here. If you haven’t caught up with Brian McGilloway yet, THE RISING is the perfect place to start …

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: BURYING THE BONES: PEARL BUCK IN CHINA by Hilary Spurling

Hilary Spurling’s biography of Henri Matisse, ‘Matisse the Master’, won the overall Whitbread Book of the Year in 2005, and this study of Pearl Buck demonstrates why. Her meticulous research reveals itself in fascinating details of Buck’s personal and professional life, but Spurling also provides a hugely entertaining read. ‘Burying the Bones’ boasts a narrative as compelling as any pot-boiler, and features a heroine so multi-talented, and yet beset by personal tragedy, that a cautious novelist might well feel the need to tone down her colourful life. Spurling, juggling Buck’s life and fiction, strikes the perfect balance.
  Born Pearl Sydenstricker in West Virginia in 1892, Buck lived for the first half of her life in China. Her father, Absalom, was a Presbyterian missionary who preached hell-fire and damnation. He dedicated his life to converting the Chinese to Christianity at the expense of his own family, who lived for long periods in abject poverty. Living cheek-by-jowl with the Chinese peasants, Buck grew up not only bilingual but empathic to their culture. Her experiences would later be recorded in novels such as ‘The Good Earth’ (1931), ‘This Proud Heart’ (1938) and ‘The Time is Noon’ (1966). ‘The Good Earth’ was the best-selling novel in the US in 1931 and 1932, and won Buck the Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1938, the first woman American writer to be so honoured.
  What makes Spurling’s account of Buck’s life such a treasure is that she concentrates for the most part on the writer’s formative years. In a narrative of 279 pages (not counting bibliography and footnotes), Spurling only arrives at the publication of Buck’s first novel, ‘East Wind: West Wind’ (1930), on page 207. Recognising, perhaps, that Buck’s prodigious output and well publicised life in the wake of ‘The Good Earth’ has been covered in Peter Conn’s ‘Pearl Buck: A Cultural Biography’ (1998), Spurling roots this book in a very personal account of Buck’s early life. Here we read of the tensions that existed in the family home, between a father who vacillated between despair and ecstasy at his achievements as a missionary and an initially vivacious mother who is gradually ground down by the unremitting squalor of their hand-to-mouth existence. The most extreme consequence of the Sydenstrickers’ self-imposed exile was the death of three of Buck’s siblings, who were lost to disease as young children.
  Spurling also broadens her remit to provide a historical context to the author’s life in China. Buck lived through turbulent times in her first three decades, witnessing the Boxer Rebellion firsthand and enduring the ensuing revolutions that eventually culminated in the establishment of a Communist state. On a number of occasions the Sydenstricker family found itself quite literally running for its life, as did the Buck family in later years, during ‘the Nanking Incident’.
  Juxtaposed with the political upheavals are the day-to-day detail of ordinary Chinese family life, a precarious existence routinely shattered by flood, famine and bandit attack. While she draws heavily on Buck’s own writings for much of her local colour, Spurling has a deft touch when it comes to conveying the prosaic horrors Buck endured. Describing an exodus from the north by a population fleeing a famine, she writes: “Entire populations on the move devoured everything in their path, stripping bark from the trees and grass from the hills. No birds, animals or children survived in their wake.”
  The chilling spectre of cannibalism appears more than once in ‘Burying the Bones’, but Buck’s themes in her own writing were of less dramatic, more domestic concerns. Drawing for inspiration on the popular Chinese stories despised by the literary elite, Buck created vivid and accessible tales about the struggles of an equally despised rural working class. Her heroines faced marital rape, emotionally starved marriages and the time-honoured practice of driving an unwanted bride to suicide. Infanticide, particularly that of baby girls, was rife. At times, Spurling notes, the parents didn’t even bother to kill the baby before throwing it to the starving dogs.
  Although she initially married happily to John Lossing Buck, Pearl Buck experienced marital breakdown in her own life. Spurling implicitly links the growing confidence of Buck the writer to the disintegration of her marriage into an arranged convenience, particularly after Caroline, the Bucks’ daughter, was born with a rare condition that prevented the child’s mental development. That Caroline’s birth resulted in complication that prevented Buck from having more children compounded the tragedy. Yet Buck would later take this experience and, having adopted children herself, establish Welcome House, the first international, inter-racial adoption agency.
  Author, mother, editor, political campaigner, Buck was at the height of her popularity credited with ‘opening the door’ between America and China. Discredited in China in the wake of the Communist revolution for her depiction of China’s woes, and largely forgotten in America despite her popular and critical acclaim, Buck is well overdue a reappraisal. Hilary Spurling’s compelling account of Buck’s life goes a long way to providing that service. - Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Big Begorrah

Most Raymond Chandler (right) fans will be aware that the author spent time in his youth in Waterford on the south coast of Ireland, but this little snippet from waterfordireland.tripod.com suggests that he was fonder of the place that we’ve been given to believe. In fact, he may have been planning to set a Marlowe novel there. To wit:
The Waterford writer, Bill Long, made Chandler’s acquaintance in London in 1958 when they lived two doors apart in Chelsea. Being neighbours, they knew each other by sight although they had never spoken. One rainy day, while Long was waiting for a bus, Chandler’s limousine pulled up and Chandler’s driver asked Long if he needed a lift. When Chandler heard Long speak he became agitated and, saying that he had an ear for dialects, he guessed that Long came from Waterford. Long wrote that Chandler was quite visibly moved on hearing that he was correct. Chandler spoke of his mother and her family and said that he remembered how snobbish and bigoted his mother’s people, the Thorntons, were, especially about class and Catholicism. Everyone who worked for them had to be Protestant. Chandler admitted that he had inherited those faults also, and that he was very class-conscious. He recalled his Uncle Ernest as being a regular tyrant. He concluded by saying that he always had a good time in Waterford.
  Chandler had parties in his house every week where the ‘beautiful’ people would gather. He was seventy at that time, a widower and in poor health, but he was a kind, gracious and generous host. Crowds tired him and, often, he and Long would leave the party-goers and retire to Chandlers study where, invariably, Chandler wanted to talk about Waterford. He would ask Long to tell him about the Waterford of Long’s youth, forty years after Chandler had known it. Long said that Chandler would often take pencil and paper, and make lists of streets and squares and laneways of the old city, just as James Joyce did in recalling Dublin. Chandler loved to talk about the Port and of the ships that traded in and out of it. He spoke often about the ‘big houses’ in Waterford that he had visited with his mother and Uncle Ernest, whose law firm handled the legal business for the owners, all of them overwhelmingly Protestant of course.
  Chandler often spoke about Power’s second-hand bookshop that he frequented in Waterford. This was the famous “Sticky Back” Power’s shop, known to several generations of Waterford people. Once, while talking about the bookshop, Chandler became quite emotional and told Long how much the old city meant to him. He said that of all the places he had lived in (and he stressed the word all) Waterford was the place that drew him back, in his mind, all the time. Chandler startled Long, on one occasion when he was talking about “Sticky Back’s”, by saying that he had been thinking about the old bookshop and had come up with an idea for a new Philip Marlowe novel. He thought it would be a wonderful idea to use the shop, and the maze of streets and lanes surrounding it, as a setting for the novel. He outlined the plot.

Marlowe is visiting Ireland and he stops in Waterford for a few days. He visits a bar on the quays in Waterford and there he witnesses a fight between sailors from different ships. The next day he hears that one of the sailors from the fight has been murdered and the body was found slumped in Sticky Back’s doorway. That evening Marlowe is recognized by the captain of the murdered sailor’s boat and is asked to investigate.

  And so begins the new Philip Marlowe mystery. Let’s pause a moment and think a little bit about that. We could have had a Philip Marlowe novel set in Waterford and, when the inevitable film version was made, would it have starred Humphrey Bogart and would the film crews have filmed in Waterford? Nothing came of it, however, and Chandler died the following year.

“No, I’M Declan Hughes.”

It’s not so long ago that I received an email from Val McDermid saying very nice things about my latest book, and offering a few choice words that I might want to use as a blurb on any forthcoming books, if I saw fit. I was more than prepared to overlook the fact that I didn’t actually have a ‘latest’ book, never mind any hint of any ‘forthcoming’ offerings, and just run with the praise, preferably by tattooing it on my forehead. Except I couldn’t shush the nagging voice at the back of my head that kept whispering, “Don’t be a bloody moron, man, she’s confused you with Declan Hughes.”
  It happens regularly. Most recently, Ev was kind enough to leave a comment on the post below, congratulating me on the excellent review my latest novel received in the Tribune, and promising to rush out and buy said book on foot of it. Which is nice to know, even if she has confused me with Squire Hughes (the broth of a boy pictured above right, with Ruth Dudley Edwards and, y’know, The Other Declan), whose CITY OF LOST GIRLS is garnering wonderful reviews from all over the map. Now, it’s an easy mistake to make: Declan Hughes is a handsome chap, a gregarious and charismatic bon viveur with five critically acclaimed and occasionally prize-winning novels under his belt. Declan Burke is a little less handsome, perhaps, and doesn’t actually like people, or talking to them, who co-published his last novel and only last week invested in a special high-pitched whistle in the hope that it may encourage a dog to bark at him in the street. Other than that, though, we could be twins.
  Anyway, two more fine reviews of CITY OF LOST GIRLS popped up this weekend just gone, the first from Kevin Power in the Irish Times, with the gist running thusly:
IN FEBRUARY this year the novelist and songwriter Julian Gough posted on his blog what he called “an intemperate rant” about the state of Irish fiction. “I don’t get the impression many Irish writers have played Grand Theft Auto , or bought an X-Box, or watched YouPorn,” he wrote. “Irish literary writers have become a priestly caste, scribbling by candlelight, cut off from the electric current of the culture.”
  We’ve heard all this before. Why aren’t Irish writers writing about what’s happening now? Where are our novels about the Celtic Tiger? Well, various people – including the estimable Declan Burke, who blogs at Crime Always Pays – have been patiently pointing out the truth all along: some of the best – and truest – novels about the boom period (and its tawdry conclusion) have tended to get themselves dismissed as crime fiction …
  Crime fiction it may be, but CITY OF LOST GIRLS is, as well as being an excellent thriller, also a pitch-perfect evocation of “Dublin, the former goldrush town”. Julian Gough should take note.
  For the full review, which is well worth reading, clickety-click here. Meanwhile, over at the Irish Independent, they’re singing from the same hymn sheet. To wit:
In brief, this is a compelling thriller that also manages to be a wry social critique -- not so much THE WAY WE LIVE NOW by Anthony Trollope as THE WAY WE DIE NOW by Charles Willeford. Hughes, though, remains his own man.
  In short, then: Declan Hughes is the writer-guy, and Declan Burke is the blogger-guy. And CITY OF LOST GIRLS is ‘excellent’. You know what to do, people