“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 22, 2010

Newsflash: Ruth Dud In ‘No Dud’ Shocker!

Yesterday’s CWA nominations for best crime writing threw up very few Irish nominees, surprisingly enough, given that 2009 was a particularly fertile year for Irish crime fiction, although the New Blood, Ian Fleming Steel and Gold Dagger nomination lists won’t be published until later in the year, so hopefully we’ll see a nod or two when they appear.
  In the meantime we’ll have to console ourselves with the news that Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards has received a nod in the Non-Fiction category for her monumental work, AFTERMATH: THE OMAGH BOMBING. The book also made the longlist for this year’s Orwell Prize, but didn’t make the shortlist, so here’s hoping the CWA peeps do the right thing.
  Meanwhile, it’s hearty congratulations to Declan Hughes and Brian McGilloway, who yesterday made the long-list for the Theakstons Old Peculier ‘Crime Novel of the Year’ Award, for THE DYING BREED and GALLOWS LANE, respectively. Strange to say, but these award nominations are a little frustrating, given that both Hughes and McGilloway have published new titles in the last month or so, both of which are - in my rarely humble opinion - superior to their previous offerings. In other words, and fine novels though THE DYING BREED and GALLOWS LANE undoubtedly are, you’d rather see the chaps judged on where they are now rather than where they were then. Anyway, it looks like it’ll be a pretty tough competition: also making the longlist are Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, Peter James, Peter Robinson and Simon Kernick, among others. For more, clickety-click here
  Finally, the paperback release of Gene Kerrigan’s DARK TIMES IN THE CITY gets a nice big-up from Arminta Wallace in today’s Irish Times, with the gist running thusly:
“Gene Kerrigan’s third novel, following LITTLE CRIMINALS and THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, is another intelligent, highly readable instalment of the kind of urban neo-noir that is fast making Dublin as recognisable to readers of crime fiction worldwide as is Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Downloads

All three regular readers of CAP will be aware that John McFetridge (right) is a terrific writer, or at least good enough to be dubbed ‘the Canadian Elmore Leonard’, which is good enough for me and should be good enough for you too. His current novel is titled SWAP or LET IT RIDE, depending on which jurisdiction you find yourself, but he’s also just released a long short story via Smashwords, called ‘East Coast’. It’s free to download to the viewing mechanism of your choice here, with the frammis kicking off thusly:
Bangor, Maine

They called it the New England States-Maritime Provinces Narcotics Officers Drinking Club, a couple hundred cops taking over the entire Days Inn off the I-95 just outside Bangor for the weekend. By Saturday night they had a barbeque set up by the pool, the no glass rule was long gone and the saunas were co-ed. Music blasted, country mostly, a little R’n’B when the Fed from Boston got near the system.
  The idea was an informal exchange of information. Rumours, innuendo, which dealers were on their way up, who was bringing in larger shipments, who was the biggest pain in the ass, who was most likely to get killed. All that stuff that couldn’t go in official reports, stuff that wouldn’t ever see the inside of a courtroom but stuff that would be good if the cops on both sides of the world’s longest unprotected border were aware.
  In room 202 Staff Sergeant Jerry Northup, the highest ranking RCMP officer on the trip, laid his cards on the table and said, “Even in Canada we call that a full house.”
  “You got a lot of time up there to play cards, don’t you?”
  Northup pulled in the chips and winked at Sherriff Cousins from Worcester, saying, “Oh yeah, you know us, we’ve got no crime we just sit around in our igloos practicing moose calls and playing poker.”
  “You’re in my backyard now.”
  Jerry said, you know it, and dealt another hand. The room’s bed had been pushed out into the hall to make room for the table brought up from the restaurant, six cops sitting around it, maybe a thousand bucks would change hands. It was all in fun.


One floor down a naked Constable Evelyn Edwards was on top of a DEA guy from Portland, Maine, both of them very close, and her phone started beeping and the DEA guy said, “Whoa, you’re not going to answer that,” and she said, yeah, I have to, “I’m on duty.”
  “You’re five hundred miles out of your jurisdiction, you’re in another God damn country.”
  She was beside the bed then pulling her phone out of her jeans in the pile of clothes on the floor saying, we couldn’t all get the weekend off, then into the phone, “Edwards ... Yes, un-huh, wow, really?” She shook her head and the DEA guy knew they weren’t going to finish any time soon.
  Edwards pulled on her sweatshirt and jeans and took off barefoot out of the room saying she’d be back and the DEA guy saw her bra and panties on the floor beside her running shoes and thought, hey, maybe they would finish.


In the poker room Sheriff Cousins was raking a pot, a big one, saying he knew his luck was going change when Edwards walked in out of breath, all the guys looking at her messed up hair and she said, “Sergeant Northup,” and Jerry said, “Hey Ev, you looking to lose some money?”
  “No sir, it’s about, it’s Superintendent Bergeron.”
  Jerry looked at his cards and said, Henry? What now, “Did he lock himself out of the office again?”
  Cousins laughed like he knew all about that kind of boss and Edwards said, no sir.
  “He died, sir.”
  Jerry leaned back in his chair and looked at her. Shit.
  Party’s over …

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE DEVIL by Ken Bruen

John Connolly has long used supernatural elements in his crime novels, and last year Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE employed the device of an ex-paramilitary killer haunted by the ghosts of his victims. Where both writers have tended to leave it to the reader to judge whether their protagonists are bedevilled by manifestations of evil or a tortured conscience, Ken Bruen has taken a more literal approach in his latest novel, when his series private eye, Jack Taylor, confronts the Devil himself.
  Galway private detective Taylor has appeared in seven previous novels, making his debut in THE GUARDS (2001). A casual glance suggests that he is a conventional genre creation, a tarnished white knight tormented by past failures, his addiction to alcohol and the spectres of those he has been unable to help. On closer inspection, Taylor reveals himself as unique. Most literary private eyes are bent on parsing the culture they spring from, examining society through the prism of their own morality in the guise of investigating a particular case. If this conceit represents a literary fourth wall, however, Bruen’s post-modernist approach has long since blown it down. Even events as serious as murder happen at the periphery of a Jack Taylor narrative, in which everything that happens is subordinate to the needs of Taylor himself.
  THE DEVIL opens with Taylor at Shannon Airport being refused entry into America by Homeland Security. Back home in Galway, he is approached by the mother of a student who has gone missing. Can Jack find the boy? He can’t, as the lad turns up a few days later horribly mutilated, with a dog’s head thrust into his entrails. Rumour suggests that the student was heavily influenced by the malign Carl, who bears a strong resemblance to a Kurt whom Taylor met at Shannon Airport. Soon Taylor has met Carl, and comes to believe that the man is Satan incarnate. As more young people die, Taylor resolves on a showdown that will rid the world of evil.
  This is, on the face of it, a preposterously implausible storyline, yet readers would do well to bear in mind that Bruen is a multiple prize-winning author in the US, Germany and France, and that he holds a doctorate in metaphysics. The fact that Taylor embarks on a Jameson-and-Xanax binge after being refused entry to the US may also be a factor in the narrative, which grows progressively more outrageous as Taylor indulges in his indefatigable nemesis, the demon drink.
  It’s also worth bearing in mind that the backdrop to THE DEVIL is that of a country in the throes of economic downturn, and the havoc the recession has wreaked on individual lives. Time and again Taylor refers to the inequality of the suffering, sketching out the devastation in a line or two of his trademark spare style. The crucial line arrives when Taylor asks his friend Vinny if he believes in the Devil. “Look at the state of the country,” answers Vinny, “and whoever is stalking the land - it ain’t God.”
  Bruen gives himself a get-out clause with the implicit suggestion that Taylor’s peculiar brand of self-loathing narcissism, fuelled on drink and drugs, has conjured up the ultimate foe. That said, the novel dares the reader to seriously the notion that evil isn’t just the absence of empathy, as John Connolly recently claimed, but a tangible entity bent on persecution. Told in bright, broad and luridly cheerful strokes, the novel lacks the kind of subtlety to be expected from a doctor of metaphysics. By the same token, Bruen’s radical reimagining of the private eye genre has long earned him the right to challenge our perceptions of how a story can or should be told. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published as an Irish Times ‘Book of the Day’ pick.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: PD Brazill

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?
Donna Moore’s OLD DOGS. A sweary Ealing comedy.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Matt Helm.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Well I did enjoy THE DA VINCI CODE, but I don’t feel guilty about that. Ian McEwan - he makes me feel all sensible, which is never a good thing.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Any time someone ‘gets’ what I do! Working on the edit of a story with Anne Frasier gave me a real ego boost, mind you.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Adrian McKinty’s Michael Forsythe Trilogy would be great in Paul Greengrass’s hands.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst: It doesn’t pay well. Best: it beats working.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Battered bodies and battered Mars Bars.

Who are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Danny Bowman’s cracking The Windowlicker Maker. Today, I’ll be catching up on stories at BEAT TO A PULP.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write, because then I wouldn’t know how crap my stuff is.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Ad hoc, slapdash, twoddle.

PD Brazill writes the serial WARSAW MOON. His pic was taken by Kasia Martell.

The Fowl Skulduggery Of Lovers In The Woods

Or, your chance to vote for Irish crime fiction. Voting for the Irish Book Awards’ Book of the Decade ends on May 27th, and you - yes, YOU! - can vote for the best Irish book from the last ten years. Of the 50 titles, two can be considered adult crime titles - John Connolly’s THE LOVERS and Tana French’s IN THE WOODS - while there are two young adult crime titles: Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL and Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT. Meanwhile, at a stretch, there are two titles that could be considered literary crime: Edna O’Brien’s IN THE FOREST and David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER. You know what to do, people: your democratic duty calls here
  Elsewhere, there was a very nice interview with Declan Hughes in yesterday’s Irish Times, conducted by Arminta Wallace, in which Squire Hughes answers with good grace the perennial question of why crime fiction isn’t taken seriously by those who really should know better. Quote Dec:
“Anyone who reads a page of Chandler and doesn’t realise that it’s better prose than 95 per cent of writers of any kind . . . it’s weird, I think. It’s ignorance, too.”
  Well said, that man. For the rest, clickety-click here
  In other news, Stuart Neville has got himself a stalker. Jeez, what does a guy have to do to get a stalker around here …?
  Finally, the Only Good Movies blog was kind enough to link to Crime Always Pays in a round-up of crime fiction blogs that review crime movies, so I’d better do the decent thing and review one. To wit:
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (18s)
As the title suggests, Lieutenant Terence McDonagh is not a good man. He spends his days apparently investigating crimes, while in reality he’s busy shaking down civilians to feed his drug, gambling and sex addictions. On occasion he offers flashes of morality, taking the lead on an investigation into a drug-related execution-style killing that claimed the lives of men, women and children, but even that investigation simply opens up opportunities for McDonagh to get his hands on illicit drugs. Crippled physically by back pain, and morally by his addictions, McDonagh begins making the kind of mistakes that even a corrupt police department can’t ignore. With time running out and good and bad guys closing in, McDonagh has big decisions to make about his immediate future - if he has one. Set - superficially - in the wake of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, this finds Nicolas Cage taking on the mantle of Harvey Keitel, who starred in the original Bad Lieutenant (1992), which was a genuinely unsettling tale of human degradation directed by Abel Ferrara. This remake / reimagining, which is directed by Werner Herzog, shows flashes of the original’s brilliance, not least when McDonagh starts hallucinating about iguanas while about to confront a houseful of potential killers. By the same token, and despite a gripping tale, this version lacks the scuzzy quality that made the original so compelling. Cage’s performance is an archly knowing one, and despite his many personal and professional handicaps, it’s hard to believe that he suffers the same quality of spiritual torment that Keitel brought to the screen. Similarly, Eva Mendes is rarely less than luminous playing McDonagh’s prostitute girlfriend. A strong cop thriller, it lacks the authenticity that might have made it great. ***

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Kevin McCarthy

Being the latest in a very occasional series in which the Grand Vizier reclines in his hammock with a jeroboam of Elf-Wonking Juice™ and lets proper writers have a say. This week: Kevin McCarthy (right), whose debut novel PEELER is published next week. To wit:

A Debasing Pastime;
or, Notes from a Darkened Room (On FA Cup Final Saturday)


“The funny thing about having a novel published is the number of people who you would categorise as friends—close friends even—who had no idea you wrote novels in the first place. It’s not something you tell people, when they ask you what you did at the weekend. Good weekend? Oh, yeah, I spent it in a darkened room by myself making stuff up.
  “I laughed aloud in recognition when I read a recent Guardian interview with novelist Nicola Barker. In it, she says, “Writing is kind of a debased pastime ...” It is, I thought. You slink off, alone, to a darkened room to engage with fantasy. You spend sunny weekends—and early mornings before work and every weekday afternoon and early evenings at it. You sometimes skip dinner to do it. You ignore the sprouting weeds and chipped paint and dysfunctional bathroom fan to do it. You feel guilty when you do it too much and terribly guilty when you don’t do it. Truly, debased.
  “So you don’t tell your friends that you spend your free time wallowing in the guilt ridden, guilt driven pastime that is novel writing until, that is, you want them to know about it so they’ll buy your book and make all that reclusive, brain-chafing effort, somehow worthwhile. And in that sense, when you’ve finally had a novel accepted for publication—over a year and a half ago and PEELER will finally hit the shelves next week—it’s as if you are coming out of that darkened room for the first time. Revealing something vaguely shameful about yourself. Dude, your friends say, you don’t strike me as the type to … you know. Write books. Can you hear the music? ‘I’m coming out, I want the world to know…’
  “The second thing, inevitably, your friends—or anyone, for that matter—asks when they discover you’ve written a novel that is about to be published is: What’s it about? To this, over time, you come up with a summary of sorts, that reduces the three years of work to a pitch line straight out of Altman’s The Player. It’s called PEELER. It’s about the brutal murder of a woman during the War of Independence. A good cop, an RIC man, a wounded veteran of the Great War, investigates the murder while the IRA investigates it from their side.
  “Sounds cool, your friend says. I didn’t know you studied Irish history…
  “I didn’t. But I did to write this book. Researching an historical novel is the fun part. It is where you take your general knowledge of a time and place in history, and read out from there and then, read in—primary sources, first hand accounts, police reports, diaries, letters—narrowing the focus until you get inside the heads and the hearts of the men and women who were living through it. How they acted. Why they acted. What they felt. In this, you get beneath the skin of the accepted versions we’re taught in school. Get to the underbelly, so to speak.
  “The accepted version is what you are, in essence, reading against and if you read enough, you find that this version merely skims the surface of the truth of history at best. Skims the surface wielding a large brush and bucket of green paint at worst. The interesting thing for me has always been the parts that this conventional, accepted history leaves out.
  “JG Farrell, the Liverpool-Irish novelist, renowned for his historical fictions and who died, too young, only a few miles from where I set PEELER in West Cork, wrote: ‘History leaves so much out … It leaves out the most important thing: the detail of what being alive is like.’ The best in popular history strive to uncover this ‘detail,’ lately, more and more. John Keegan, Anthony Beevor, Stephen Ambrose, John D Brewer, Dermot Ferriter, Michael Hopkinson, Peter Hart among others. It is a recent (and lucrative) and much needed step in the democratising of non-fiction historical narrative. But the best historical fiction has always done this. From Robert Graves to Stephen Crane to James Ellroy to Alan Furst. All of these writers scouring the margins, scraping and prodding at the underbelly of the time and place and characters they’ve used and invented to recreate the ‘detail of what being alive is like’—in Imperial Rome or a Civil War battlefield or wartime LA or wartime Bulgaria. With the exception of Graves, they write about the bit players in the larger historical dramas as if they were the grandest players on the stage of history and this is exactly how it should be, because this is how history is to every one of us as we are living through it. It is what I have attempted to do, in my no doubt flawed and modest way, in PEELER.
  “Get beyond the accepted version and the War of Independence becomes one fought at close range. More men were killed with revolvers than any other type of weapon. Shotguns were often used, again at close quarters. More often than not, killers knew their victims personally. A war of gangland style, tit for tat murders rather than pitched battles. A war of hitmen and death squads on both sides, hunting marked targets and targets of opportunity. It was a war mainly fought in alley ways and ditches and country lanes.
  “The version we are taught in school is one of set piece battles and masterfully planned ambushes; of outnumbered Flying Columns sending hardened British Army troops fleeing in retreat. These things happened, I learned, but rarely. The alley way, the darkened lane; the assassination set up in the brothel used by Crown troops, prostitutes tipping off gunmen and ‘donating’ money for the IRA arms fund. The underbelly.
  This is where the War of Independence was fought; this is also, it would seem obvious, where crime novels are set. It seemed only natural to go into the darkened room and come out with a crime novel about a PEELER trying to do his work as a policeman while dodging bullets and yearning openly for an end to the killing and an independent Ireland at the same time. This is how most RIC men felt, you learn in your researches. Charged with defending the Crown, most Peelers desired independence for Ireland. They were rightly terrified by the campaign of murder being waged against them by the IRA and yet felt only disgust for most of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries brought to Ireland to help with ‘policing.’ Brilliant contradictions that are so human you can’t not write about them.
  “So you narrow the focus, writing now against the accepted version. Using what you have learned in your research, you find you have to write of such things because you are amazed when you read about them and want other people to know.
  Still, even in the darkened room, outside life intervenes. Making the ‘debasing pastime’, on occasion difficult, but more often than not, enriching it. As I sit here now (debasing myself!) I can hear the burping rattle of light and heavy machine guns from a live firing exercise at Gormanstown Army barracks, a couple of miles up the coast from my home. Throughout the writing of my new novel PEELER, this was often the case and oddly appropriate, given the subject matter of the book. There is one line in the book, in fact, that I wrote—not an important one, just a small line of atmospheric detail—just because I happened to hear the gunnery exercise that day when I was writing the scene. It is a post curfew prowl through the war ravaged streets of Cork city for the protagonist. In it, RIC sergeant, Séan O’Keefe … ‘made it back to the Daly house without seeing another soul in the streets, sticking to the shadows, using alleys and laneways when he could. Damp pavements. Shot out streetlamps. The distant roar of revving engines, bursts of machine gun fire.’ Of course, I have taken my description of war time Cork from any number of contemporary accounts, but I’m not sure if I would have included that last bit, the ‘bursts of machine gun fire’ had I not heard, just then from outside my window, the sustained, mechanical pop-pop-pop, stu-tt-tt-tter of the gunners in Gormanstown. The outside world intruding.
  “Before one even gets to the darkened room, however—forces him/herself there when the sun is (rarely) splitting the proverbials or the local is showing an Arabic broadcast of Man United on a wet Saturday afternoon that begs for the high stool and warm fire—it is outside life that determines what novel you will begin to write in the first place.
  “Time between novels—I had written three other as yet unpublished novels before PEELER—is like this: a restless, half-waking state where ideas for new projects come to you with all the promise of a sure thing and are tossed aside like crumpled betting slips before the initial elation has even faded. You find yourself staring blankly at Late Night Poker on the TV, thinking how you would have folded those eights, when suddenly you’re sitting up, scrabbling for pen and paper and scratching out lines of dialogue, scenes envisioned, plotlines, possibilities. Generally, it’s not long after you’ve done this that you realise you’ve just outlined the plot to HEART OF DARKNESS or LONESOME DOVE or DOG SOLDIERS or GOSHAWK SQUADRON; those favourite novels that lie dormant in the mind and influence, in some way, everything you write. But one day, you sit up and scratch out your ideas and say, Yeah, hold on. There’s something here…
  “Like all novels, I imagine, PEELER came from a serendipitous convergence things and events. For me: books stumbled upon, snippets of conversation, a plaque on a bridge.
  “With PEELER, I chanced upon Myles Dungan’s IRISH VOICES FROM THE GREAT WAR in the local library returned books stack. Entering the library, I always make my way to this pile first, for some reason and always have since I was a child, anxious to see what others have been reading. More often than not, it’s self-help and the driver’s theory test or Harry Potter novels, but the odd time, a gem like this one reveals itself. Halfway through the reading of Irish Voices—first hand accounts of WWI on all its fronts from the diaries and letters of those who fought, brilliantly compiled and contextualised—it occurred to me to write a fictional account of the bloody assault on V Beach by the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers in the Dardanelles in which over a thousand Irishmen died in a single morning. Fortunately I didn’t write it, as the book I outlined on the back of an envelope was strikingly similar to Sebastian Barry’s book, A LONG, LONG WAY which appeared halfway through the second draft of PEELER. But a seed was planted.
  “Luck would have it, however, that a second book landed in front of me at roughly the same time, courtesy of my mother-in-law’s research into her own father’s service in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Your father was an RIC man? I thought he owned a shop? He did, after he retired from the Peelers … He’s listed here, in this book …
  “Jim Herlihy’s THE ROYAL IRISH CONSTABULARY: A SHORT HISTORY AND GENEALOGICAL GUIDE is a fantastic history and compendium of the names and details of service of virtually every man who once served in the RIC. Reading this, I discovered that many RIC men had volunteered to serve in the Great War and returned—if they returned at all—to another more personalised sort of war in Ireland in which they were the primary targets of the IRA campaign for independence. I had known this. I had read of this before, but after having read the stories of the men who had fought in the trenches and beaches of Europe and the Dardanelles in Dungan’s book and now the story of the RIC men returning to home to another war, the story was slowly shifting and reshaping in my head. Questions arising, conflicting with my previous assumptions. Irish men killing other Irish men for the sake of Irish Independence? That was the Civil War, wasn’t it? No, not yet. It wasn’t just the IRA vs. brutal Black and Tans and the British Army? No. Yes. There is more to this, I felt. Dig deeper, go wider to the margins and then hone in, find the detail of what being a copper, a gunman, a Black and Tan was like.
  “Then, there was the plaque on the bridge in a nearby town. It is outside of a pub I drink in and I pass it every time I enter the pub. It reads: Near this spot Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons were Brutally Done to Death by British Forces while in their custody. September 20, 1920. An deis de go raib a n-anam.
  “It is well-known locally, that these Occupying Forces were trainee members of the Black and Tans based at the training depot at Gormanstown Aerodrome—now home to the Irish Army and the live firing exercises I can hear from my room—who sacked the town in revenge for the killing of an RIC man who had just been promoted to District Inspector. This RIC man had been drinking in a local bar with his brother, also an RIC man, to celebrate the promotion, when they became involved in an argument—politics, no doubt—with some members of the local IRA company. Drink had been taken, so the story goes—as do most in the crime reports from the local newspaper today—and a pistol was produced, a man shot dead, the town burnt to the ground and two men tortured, then bayoneted to death and left in the middle of the road at dawn amidst the smouldering ruins. What, I couldn’t help but thinking, were two armed policemen—men with a bounty on their heads throughout the country—doing drinking in a bar with armed republicans? What was it like living, drinking, working in a town where virtually anybody could be armed and there were more police per capita than almost any country in the world at the time and yet, common crime was rampant? What kind of war was the War of Independence?
  “It was the kind of war, I discovered, where the most violent and bloody of killings were carried out by men who then organised ceasefires for race meetings and market days. It was a war where women were targeted, tarred and feathered, stripped and raped and daubed with red and blue paint and sometimes murdered for associating with members of the Crown forces. It was a place where innocent men were dragged out of bed by members of an occupying army and shot dead ‘while trying to escape.’ It was a war fought by damaged men fresh from the slaughterhouse of the Great War unleashed at a pound a day upon the people of Ireland. It was a war fought by brave, idealistic, articulate and intelligent men on both sides; men who hated war fighting and policing alongside other men who weren’t living unless they were killing.
  “This is, really, what PEELER is about. But enough now. It’s sunny outside, for once. The FA Cup final is on the TV. Time to go back into the darkened room. Back to debasement!” - Kevin McCarthy

  Kevin McCarthy’s PEELER is published by Mercier Press.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Michael Harvey

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?
Hmm ... I can think of three and can’t pick between them. THE LONG GOODBYE, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE SUN ALSO RISES.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Sam Spade ... is there any other answer?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Clive Cussler, Eric Ambler, Homer.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Chapter 41 of THE CHICAGO WAY. Not sure if it’s my favourite passage, but I remember writing it and feeling it in my bones.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
RESURRECTION MEN by Ian Rankin. Scottish, but close enough. (BTW, don’t say that too loud in Glasgow.)

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
RESURRECTION MEN by Ian Rankin.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is that it’s just you and your characters. The worst thing is that it’s just you and your characters. Make sense? It’s not supposed to. The bottom line is that writing a novel is one of the purest human endeavours anyone can undertake. It uses up no natural resources and creates something out of nothing. Not magic ... hard work ... but pretty damn cool.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A sequel to THE THIRD RAIL. It starts up a week after THE THIRD RAIL ends and all hell breaks loose.

Who are you reading right now?
Got a few going. Cormac McCarthy, Albert Camus, Aeschylus, Alan Furst and Daniel Silva.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Yikes ... I’m Irish Catholic. We don’t like to tempt fate and we don’t like these questions. If I were still a child, I’d say read. Right now, I guess I’d say write.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Physical, cinematic, honest.

Michael Harvey’s THE THIRD RAIL is published by Knopf.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly

In a recent Arts Lives documentary on RTE, John Connolly suggested that evil is the absence of empathy. That’s an interesting notion in itself, but even moreso in the context of his own work, which features private detective Charlie Parker in an ongoing series, of which THE WHISPERERS is the ninth offering.
  Parker’s conscience is even more tortured than is the norm for literary private eyes, a consequence of the guilt he experiences over the murder of his wife and child in Connolly’s debut, EVERY DEAD THING (1999). That gruesome double murder also means Parker has an empathy for murder victims that is unusually fine-tuned. But Parker is haunted by more than his own failure to protect his wife and child: the backdrop to Connolly’s novels teem with ghosts, spectres and demons.
  Until recently it was left to the reader to decide whether Parker’s otherworldly experiences were manifestations of his guilt or glimpses of something more sinister. However, his previous offering, The Lovers (2009), was unambiguous in revealing that Parker is bedevilled by entities bent on doing evil. That theme is further explored in THE WHISPERERS.
  Commissioned by a mourning father to investigate the circumstances of his son’s suicide, Parker finds himself uncovering a smuggling operation run by ex-soldiers who served in the Iraq war. Exactly what they’re smuggling across the Canadian border into Maine is difficult to ascertain, but the contraband has attracted the attention of a number of concerned parties. These include a Mexican drug lord and the smuggling kingpin who unofficially regulates the illegal trafficking that crosses the north-eastern border. But even more sinister elements are gathering in the shadows: Herod, the Captain, and the Collector …
  The appeal of Connolly’s novels lies in his ability to successfully integrate two storytelling traditions. The first is a relatively recent one, that of the tarnished white knight of private eye lore, where a detective investigates a particular case in order to shed light on the society in which the character finds him or herself operating. This requires a clear-eyed assessment of contemporary mores and grittily realistic representation of the modern world. Connolly, in examining the consequences of war on individuals, and in particular the increasing numbers of ex-military men who are taking their own lives (and on occasion the lives of others), here explores a phenomenon that has become a silent epidemic in the US.
  The second tradition he employs is that of gothic horror, a style popularised by Edgar Allan Poe, who is also credited with penning the first detective story in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1841). Connolly’s supernatural creations, however, predate literary tradition. The various spectres and dark manifestations that populate his novels have their roots in prehistory, and they - or what they represent - appear in the earliest cultural tracts. Here Connolly taps into that timeless appeal by invoking demons who first made their appearance during the Sumerian civilisation, one of the earliest of the ancient civilisations of the Middle East, on which the modern political entity of Iraq is built.
  It would be reductive to suggest that THE WHISPERERS is a thrilling page-turner simply because Connolly blends the crime and horror genres. He does so, of course, and in this case the join is seamless, not least because his deftly detailed prose and meticulous research creates a voice of compelling authority. With the Charlie Parker series, however, Connolly has tapped into something larger than commercially successful genre-bending. He understands that all literary investigation is an attempt to come to terms with the abiding presence of evil, its source and its consequences; moreover, he understands that mankind’s time-honoured fascination with evil is itself the ultimate investigation.
  Crucially, Connolly understands that the horror Kurtz finally reveals to Marlow, for example, is a McGuffin; what matters is Marlow’s pursuit of the truth and the parallel, perverse journey made by Kurtz. But then, all great novels are more concerned with journey than destination. THE WHISPERERS is Connolly’s most ambitious novel yet in that it makes explicit the notion that, for Charlie Parker at least, horror is but a lurid companion on his journey towards the ineffable quality that nests in the heart of darkness. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Orthodox Approach

There’s a nice interview with William Ryan over at the Pan Macmillan interweb portal, in which William expands on the whys and wherefores of plot, character, setting, etc., in his debut THE HOLY THIEF. The historical setting is particularly interesting, being Moscow in the mid-1930s, when Comrade Stalin was just starting to flex his genocidal muscles. To wit:
Q: Why did you choose to write your book set in the midst of Stalin’s ‘great terror’?

A: “I think it’s a fascinating period of history. The gradual shift away from the early ideals and hopes of the Revolution to the absolute oppression of the thirties was a tragedy for many Soviet citizens, and one that was repeated around the world from Albania to Cambodia. I find it amazing that the Orthodox religion, despite its savage persecution, has emerged possibly stronger than ever in Russia, so Korolev, the main character in the novel, was intended to reflect that undercurrent of religious belief that always existed even at the height of the Terror. He’s an ordinary person living in an extraordinary time, trying to make sense of the world he finds himself in and doing his best to survive without compromising any more than he has to.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Incidentally, Barry Forshaw likes it ...
“Ryan demonstrates considerable skill in evoking this benighted period, along with a deftness at ringing the changes on familiar crime plotting moves. The auguries for a series, of which The Holy Thief is the first book, are very promising indeed.” - Barry Forshaw, Daily Express
  Meanwhile, I’m curious. The plot of THE HOLY THIEF revolves around a missing religious icon of the Orthodox Church, the quasi-mythical Kazanskaya, and it’s not often you come across a crime fiction protagonist exercised by a strong religious faith, as Korolev is. Anyone have any other suggestions?

A Minister For Propaganda Elf Writes …


As all three regular readers will be aware, most CAP readers only stop off at this blog in order to click through to Lilyput’s World, which blog contains the continuing adventures of a little girl’s quest to pack as much fun into each and every day as is humanly possible. The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve taken down that link, and those of you who are regular visitors to Lilyput’s World may also have noticed that you’ve been blocked out. There are no sinister reasons behind the change, I’m glad to say; it’s just that the Princess Lilyput has started to get a little fussier about who gets to visit her court. If you’d like to be added to the VIP list, please feel free to drop me a line at dbrodb[at]gmail.com, and I’ll be delighted to do so. In the meantime, boopy-doop.