“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 28, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 61 HOURS by Lee Child

Lee Child’s 14th offering reads like High Noon blended with the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, in which our strong, silent hero finds himself stuck in a blizzard-trapped town, reluctantly helping out the beleaguered local police force.
  Child is an unusual thriller writer in that his novels - which all feature the same protagonist, Jack Reacher - are sometimes told in the first person voice, others in the third. 61 HOURS is a third-person narrative, which affords an emotional distance from Reacher. This is not strictly speaking a necessary device, as Reacher is an impassive character who is rarely if ever given to emotional displays.
  That said, Reacher is himself a likeable character. Although he has been compared to James Bond, his status as a drifter (albeit an ex-military man) precludes him from carrying weapons in 61 HOURS. He proves himself very resourceful in other ways, however, and his eye for detail - and Lee Child’s impressive research - is frequently entertaining.
  On the downside, the fact that he is a series character lessens the tension somewhat, given that Jack Reacher will inevitably reach the end of the story in one piece, regardless of how high are the odds stacked against him. Mind you, 61 HOURS ends with an explosive climax, from which it’s difficult to see Reacher escaping. (We’re promised another Jack Reacher novel in six months’ time, so you would have to assume that he survives.)
  Child also creates a number of interesting secondary characters, chief among them the local deputy of police Peterson. A hardworking, blue-collar guy, Peterson represents the morality of the piece, along with Janet Salter, an aging librarian who has witnessed a murder and is under police protection. The Chief of Police, Holland, is potentially a more fascinating character, given that his moral compass is skewed, but Child tends to create characters who are either all good or all bad. A Mexican drug lord called Plato accounts for the latter in this novel; again a potentially interesting character, his story becomes little more than a litany of ruthless and often lethal actions as the narrative progresses.
  61 HOURS is neither emotionally nor morally complex. That may well be the price readers of high-concept thrillers pay, but there are clear hints that Child is capable of far more complex work than is evidenced in this novel. Despite the attention to detail, and the fact that Child roots the story in an utterly plausible reality, there’s a cartoon quality to Jack Reacher and his world in terms of its black-and-white depictions of good and evil.
  For that reason, 61 HOURS demands a suspension of disbelief from the reader that can be hard to sustain. As a kind of trade-off, Child maintains a blistering pace throughout, employing brevity when it comes to chapter length, with each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger.
  The caveats are minor, though. This was my first Jack Reacher novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Child’s style is terse and economical, and while the book is a page-turner, the swift pace never felt rushed. - Declan Burke

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Killer Inside Me (18s)

Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a soft-spoken, well-mannered Southern gentleman as he patrols his small Texas town, but Lou is not all that he seems. Ordered to run Joyce (Jessica Alba), a local prostitute, out of town, Lou batters the woman to death, then shoots dead the man infatuated with her - even though Lou himself was having an affair with Joyce.
  Based on a Jim Thompson novel, The Killer Inside Me is told through Lou’s eyes, and features a voiceover from Affleck that offers a chilling insight into the banal evil of a man who is a homicidal psychotic. Affleck’s understated performance is perfectly pitched, creating a sympathetic portrayal of a character who is utterly repulsive - the scene in which Affleck beats Alba to a pulp is harrowing, even by contemporary cinema’s standards. And yet the audience can perfectly understand why Lou’s sweetheart, Amy (Kate Hudson), might fall for him: he is tender, intelligent and well-educated.
  The director, Michael Winterbottom, recreates the small-town Americana of the 1950s with an unerring eye, giving the movie a dreamy quality that regularly flips over into nightmare whenever the switch flips in Lou’s head. A good cast provides excellent support, with Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman and Brent Briscoe all paying the price, in one form or another, for attempting to thwart Lou’s plans.
  Be warned that this is not one for the faint-hearted, as the violence has a perversely intimate quality to it that makes it utterly shocking. That said, as a crime thriller and a forensically telling psychological exploration of psychosis, The Killer Inside Me is a viscerally engaging experience. **** - Declan Burke

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hit And Myth

Just how timeless, exactly, are the themes of noir? That’s a question implicitly explored by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, co-editors of REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED: IRISH CRIME, IRISH MYTHS, a collection of short crime stories which draws on Irish mythology for inspiration, and features Ken Bruen, Arlene Hunt, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, Garbhan Downey and Sam Millar, among others. The book gets an outing in the Arts pages of today’s Irish Times, with the intro kicking off thusly:
Star-crossed lovers on the lam. It could be Red and Mumsie in Geoffrey Homes’ BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH; Doc and Carol in Jim Thompson’s THE GETAWAY , maybe Bowie and Keechie in Edward Anderson’s THIEVES LIKE US, or any number of classic noir tales.
  But Diarmuid and Grainne?
  REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED: IRISH CRIME, IRISH MYTHS is a compilation of contemporary short crime stories based on Irish myths and legends.
  “There are many parallels between contemporary crime tales and Irish mythology,” says Gerard Brennan, who is co-editor of the collection, along with Mike Stone.
  “Consider one of the most powerful icons of crime fiction: the femme fatale. Seductive, irresistible and deadly . . . this description hangs well on the great queen and Irish war deity, Morrigan, who amongst her many adventures steals from the mighty CĂșchulainn, offers him her love, and when spurned, engineers his death.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We Need Kevin To Talk About Kevin

If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, May 26th, you could a lot worse than toddle along to the launch of Kevin McCarthy’s PEELER, which takes place at the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar with festivities kicking off at 6.30pm. For what it’s worth, I’ve read the novel, and I think it’s a terrific debut. Meanwhile, the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
West Cork. November 1920. The Irish War of Independence rages. The body of a young woman is found brutally murdered on a windswept hillside. A scrap board sign covering her mutilated body reads ‘TRATOR’. Traitor. Acting Sergeant Sean O’Keefe of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), a wounded veteran of the Great War, is assigned to investigate the crime, aided by sinister detectives sent from Dublin Castle to ensure he finds the killer, just so long as the killer he finds best serves the purposes of the Crown in Ireland. The IRA has instigated its own investigation into the young woman’s death, assigning young Volunteer Liam Farrell - failed gunman and former law student - to the task of finding a killer it cannot allow to be one of its own. Unknown to each other, an RIC constable and an IRA Volunteer relentlessly pursue the truth behind the savage killing, their investigations taking them from the bullet-pocked lanes and thriving brothels of war-torn Cork city to the rugged, deadly hills of West Cork.
  Hats off, by the way, to Kevin McCarthy for doing it the hard way. In Ireland, attempting to create a sympathetic character from an RIC Sergeant - who works alongside Black-and-Tans - is a hard sell, even today. But then, Sean O’Keefe is a complex character. A police officer upholding law and order on behalf of the Crown, he’s nonetheless a proud Irishman and Catholic - and that’s before you get into the ramifications of a story in which the Crown and the IRA are after the same killer. It’s a volatile mix, and Kevin McCarthy does it full justice. I’m already looking forward to seeing his next offering …

Nobody Move, This is a Review: ELEGY FOR APRIL by Benjamin Black

John Banville’s alter ego is back with a fourth Benjamin Black novel, the third in the Quirke series. This time, the pathologist has been in situ at an institution called St John of the Cross, drying out. When he comes home, his daughter asks him to investigate the disappearance of her best friend, April Latimer, a well-connected junior doctor at the same hospital where he works.
  April is independent-minded and is considered to have something of a ‘wild’ reputation in the conservative social atmosphere of Dublin in the 1950s, dictated by a patriarchal Catholic hierarchy which is headed by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who pops up fictionally as a confidante of April’s family. (Other real-life characters of the time also find their way into the story, which can, at times, feel like over-embellishment).
  Quirke humours his daughter, and quickly gets to work doing what he does best: poking around, conducting post-mortems on people’s buried secrets and asking questions in an intensely claustrophobic city where a scandal can be hushed up with one phone call from a government minister’s office to a newspaper editor. What he eventually uncovers is deeply unsettling and, combined with Black’s superb characterisation and sense of place, ELEGY FOR APRIL will insinuate itself into the dark crevices of your mind like the novel’s ubiquitous Dublin fog. - Claire Coughlan

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jack The Giant-Killer

Another year, another CrimeFest. I didn’t make it to Bristol this year, unfortunately, given that I couldn’t justify the trip on the basis that I haven’t had a book published since God was a boy, and I have to say that I missed the buzz. Not least of which is the anticipation of gaping in amazement at Donna Moore’s latest epic adventure in footwear. Ah well, maybe next year.
  Anyway, the good news is that The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman scooped the Last Laugh Award for THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL, said gong being awarded for ‘the best humorous crime novel first published in the British Isles in 2009’. The win is hugely deserved - TDOTJR isn’t just laugh-out-loud funny, it’s also a clever deconstruction of the crime narrative. Quoth yours truly:
THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL is the whimsical title to Bateman’s latest offering, and the second title in a year from a new Bateman series which features a hero who goes under the moniker of Mystery Man. I use the word “hero” advisedly: Bateman’s protagonist is the owner of a Belfast bookshop specialising in crime fiction, and a man who likes to dabble in puzzles and the solving of crimes unlikely to put him in any serious danger. He is a whinging hypochondriac, a coward and misogynist, a bookworm nerd who nonetheless gets the girl and saves the day. He may well turn out to be Colin Bateman’s most endearing creation …
  Well done, that man. Incidentally, it’s appropriate that the news of Bateman’s win came to me via The Rap Sheet, which venerable organ (oo-er, missus, etc.) is today celebrating its fourth birthday. Drop on over and blow out Jeff Pierce’s candles (oo-er, missus, etc.) …
  As for my own weekend, I spent it muddling about in the garden. The weather was terrific (apparently we’re promised, according to the BBC’s meteorologists, the best summer in 130 years - woot!), the barbie was dragged out and dusted down, and much mowing, planting, seeding, pruning, clipping, digging and generalised mooching about was indulged in. The results (see below) mightn’t be as impressive as Bateman’s gong (oo-er, missus, etc.) or Donna Moore’s shoetastic adventures, but humble as it is, it’s mine own, etc.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Trafficked (18s)

Alone, frightened and unable to speak English, Tayo (Ruth Negga, right), a young Nigerian girl who has been trafficked into Ireland, escapes from the back of a van in a Dublin alleyway. Picked up off the streets by street-level Mr Fixit Keely (Karl Shiels), Tayo finds a place to stay, work in a lap-dancing club, and the possibility of happiness - which in Tayo’s case means earning enough money to allow her twin sister to come live in Ireland. But Tayo has reckoned without Keely’s capacity for double-dealing, the persistence of her would-be pimp to see his ‘property’ returned, and the relentless nature of a malign fate.
  Written and directed by Ciaran O’Connor, Trafficked is the closest Irish cinema has come in many years to a bona fide film noir. Although made almost eight years ago, and as such is something of a period piece examining the seedy underbelly of the Celtic Tiger, its subject matter is timely, and indeed timeless.
  While the classic noir trope of expressionist lighting is absent, and Tayo far removed from the glamorous femme fatale, the film contains many of the noir staples: bottom feeders scraping a living from the mean streets, star-crossed lovers on the lam, the depressingly inevitable sense that fate will have the final say despite the best efforts of the protagonists.
  O’Connor’s seedy Dublin is convincingly portrayed, although there is a preponderance of self-consciously poetic shots of the grim setting, while Negga and Shiels are convincing as a mismatched pair thrust together by circumstance, with the latter in particularly fine form as the charismatic lowlife Keely.
  That the couple manage to scrape some tenderness from their brutal lifestyle adds to the film’s appeal, but this is in the final reckoning intended as a slice of gritty realism, and diehard noir fans will revel in an ending that pulls no punches. *** - Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday