“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, June 12, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Brooklyn’s Finest (18s)

Three Brooklyn cops have very different careers: Eddie (Richard Gere), about to retire, no longer cares about doing the right thing; undercover drug agent Sal (Ethan Hawke) is bending the rules until they break; while Tango (Don Cheadle) is so far undercover that he’s beginning to forget who the good guys are.
  Antoine Fuqua’s sprawling tale is a mini-epic, with the three parallel narratives playing off one another and intersecting in a final, cataclysmic finale. It’s been quite a while since Fuqua’s Training Day (2001), which was his finest hour until now, but he brings a similar quality of intensity and gritty reality to this production.
  The film asks interesting moral questions of its protagonists. While the narrative is ostensibly about the war taking place either side of the thin blue line, in reality the story is more concerned with characters who are at war with themselves. To a large extent, the conflict in Brooklyn’s Finest is internalised, which is a difficult concept to portray convincingly on screen.
  All three leads put in fine performances, with Gere and Hawke surprisingly impressive after years of mediocre work. Richard Gere, in particular, turns in an eye-opening performance: overtly passive, given that his character is simply clock-watching until he can retire, Gere invests his deadpan role with a rare depth, particularly in the few scenes he shares with Eddie’s hooker-squeeze, Chantel (Shannon Kane), where Eddie’s sense of longing for something - anything - he can commit to is palpable.
  Also impressive is Ethan Hawke, whom we tend to associate with fey, sensitive characters. Fuqua - who previously worked with Hawke on Training Day - draws a compelling performance from the actor, who creates a character who is to be pitied and sympathised with despite his dirty dealings.
  The supporting cast plays an unusually strong part, with Wesley Snipes, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lili Taylor and Ellen Barkin all good value for money.
  The movie is arguably too long for its own good, but each separate strand works on its own merits, and it seems churlish to suggest that any of the triptych should be cut back. Fuqua combines a steady pace with dynamic editing to create a tension that seeps through all three stories. He also keeps the story rooted in the gritty, scuzzy details of life on the streets and invests proceedings with a degree of realism that is at times disturbing, all the while blending the cops’ domestic and professional lives, and the subtle ways in which the line between right and wrong can be blurred. - Declan Burke

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Fowl Beast, His Hour Come Round At Last …

Leaving aside the Artemis Fowl series for one moment, anyone who has read Eoin Colfer’s (right) HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS will know that he has a genuine affection for the tropes of crime fiction. The short story ‘Taking On P.J.’ in the Ken Bruen-edited DUBLIN NOIR further suggests that Colfer has the chops to write for an adult audience as well as a YA one. So the news - which comes via The Bookseller, although CAP first mentioned it way back in November 2007 - that Colfer is to publish an adult crime thriller is long overdue. To wit:
Headline has acquired Eoin Colfer’s first foray into adult fiction, a noir crime-thriller entitled PLUGGED, for publication next year. Marion Donaldson bought British Commonwealth rights for an undisclosed sum, in a deal conducted by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor. The deal was completed yesterday afternoon (9th June). The deal does not affect Colfer’s ongoing relationship with Penguin, which publishes his children’s books.
  Donaldson said: “[Writing for adults] was just something he decided to have a go at, and he has done it completely brilliantly. We were very keen right from the start, as everyone is such a huge fan of his children’s series Artemis Fowl. Obviously, this is intended for the adult market - there is a certain amount of violence in it - but you can still hear his voice in it, and people who have grown up on Artemis Fowl will be drawn to it. It’s very different [to his children’s books], but it has that tone.”
  PLUGGED is set in New York and New Jersey, and the main character is an Irish man “who lives just this side of the law but gets embroiled in things outside of the law”, Donaldson said.
  It will be a lead title for Headline next year, with a paperback to follow later in the year or 2012, she added. Although the deal is just for one book, Donaldson said the team “would hope he would write more”. She added: “We would love to see him continue with the character, although there is no commitment to write more books - we are just very excited to have one.”
  All of which is fine and dandi-o for Eoin Colfer, but that’s yet another quality name to be added to the seams-bursting list of top Irish crime novelists. Think of the fan club meetings, people! Much more of this and we might have to use an open-air phone-box next year …

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Jeff Andrus

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
I am John Tracer. But somehow he stays the same while I just keep getting older.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
It more like, Who do I look at for guilty pleasure? The short list includes Jenna Jameson, the little blonde who mixes paint at Ace Hardware and an extraordinary Eucharistic minister at St. George’s.

Most satisfying writing moment?
In the western Proud Men, Charlton Heston said a line in which I used a cousin’s name, a throwaway for me, but Chuck spoke with such chilling conviction about the man’s rapacious appetite for other people’s land, I had to call my cousin and apologize before the piece aired. Of course, I wasn’t really sorry at all.

The best Irish crime novel is…?
I can’t speak about Irish crime fiction, but I think Ireland’s most eloquent alcoholic bomb-maker was Brendan Behan. I particularly admire BORSTAL BOY and CONFESSIONS OF AN IRISH REBEL.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
MALIBU PALMS. The narrator is a drunk, and the author happens to be the grandson of a bronc buster named Harney. When my mother was growing up, she was told never to tell anyone she was Irish. Being half-Mexican was OK. Boy, have times changed.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
My folks thought I was going to be a physician when I grew up. When they finally realized that I meant to be a writer, they took it as a sure sign that I would turn out to be a drunk and homosexual. They got half of it right.

The pitch for your next book is…?
The Shroud of Turin is a priceless Christian relic that means absolutely nothing to Harv Weisman, a secular New York cop who immigrated to Israel to work for Mossad as a way of avenging the murder of his wife and children by terrorists. Harv is skeptical about the power of any faith until The Shroud is stolen and used to blackmail the land of his fathers.

Who are you reading right now?
THE KOREAN WAR: PUSAN TO CHOSIN: AN ORAL HISTORY by Donald Knox.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
God always stays in character. He wouldn’t do that.

The three best words to describe your own writing are…?
“...whimsical, lurid, offbeat.” - The Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 1996.

Jeff Andrus’ MALIBU PLAINS is published by Booksurge Publishing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Laugh? I Nearly Emigrated

Colin Bateman (right) was kind enough to give me a very generous plug last week, in a piece he wrote for the Guardian’s Book Blog, in which he claimed that comic crime fiction is a ‘new and challenging’ way of dealing with what can often be moribund clichés in the crime writing genre. Peter Rozovsky picked up the ball and ran with it over at Detectives Beyond Borders, where the conversation became a debate about the use and abuse of gratuitous violence in crime novels, and particularly against women.
  There’s no doubt that employing comedy in crime fiction is a high-wire act. Crime is a very serious business, in more ways than one; violence, rape, torture and murder are not matters to be taken lightly. My big problem, as a writer, is that I love the crime novel form, and that I find it very difficult to write without trying to be funny. I have tried to write stories that are serious in tone, but I get bored very quickly, and find myself repressing the instinct to poke fun at the foibles of the characters, their ambitions and hubris. That puts me in an awkward position, not least because a good friend of mine died violently many years ago, and it goes against the grain to underplay the consequences of violence of any kind.
  My first novel, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, was an attempt to write an homage-of-sorts to the novels of Raymond Chandler - in other words, the novel was serious in its intent, but its protagonist, Harry Rigby, was prone to comic quips and asides to the reader. As best as I can remember without rereading it, the story contains two murders, both of which, I hope, receive their full due in terms of their consequences. The story also contains occasional outbreaks of non-lethal violence, most of which is perpetrated against Rigby, and again, I tried to do justice to the reality of my own experience of physical violence - that it is brutal and nasty, and as psychologically unsettling as it is physically debilitating. That said, Rigby at one point ships a bullet in his gut and - after a brief period of recuperation - goes merrily on his way. Plausible? Definitely not, according to a number of reviewers. By the same token, none of the violence is gratuitous, nor is it excessively detailed or gruesome.
  By the time I came to write my second novel, THE BIG O, I was a little worn out by the forensically detailed emphasis on violence and murder in the novels I was reading, and particularly burnt out by those authors who were gleefully celebrating the extent to which their novels were plumbing the depths of human depravity. The form I decided on was a homage-of-sorts to Elmore Leonard, with a nod to Barry Gifford, but I also set myself the challenge of writing a crime novel that contained no murders at all, and the bare minimum of violence. Apart from self-inflicted harm, the novel contains two actual episodes of violence: a dog has its eye removed with a fork, and a man - one of the bad guys - gets shot in the knee. By the standards of the kill-count in the crime novel today, that’s positively quaint.
  The comedy aspect was a bit more challenging. Many reviewers commented on the number of coincidences in the novel: some were willing to play along with the conceit, others found it a bit wearying. My intent, for what it’s worth, was to write a comic crime novel according to the classical definition of comedy - i.e., in classical Greek drama, tragedy is considered to be undeveloped comedy. In the context of the novel, a group of characters scheme and plot towards the finale, growing increasingly desperate to achieve their aims even as fate - in the form of those coincidences - becomes a noose around their necks. I suppose the general idea was that of ‘Men plan and gods laugh’ - either way, the concept was one of poking fun at the illusion of human control over our actions and their consequences in what is essentially a blind and pitiless universe.
  My third novel, aka BAD FOR GOOD, which is currently out under consideration, is an attempt to get at a different kind of comedy. Again, it’s a crime narrative, in which a hospital porter deranged by logic decides to blow up the hospital where he works, in order to illustrate how all civilisations (in this case, Western civilisation) are undone from within rather than destroyed by external forces. The humour is decidedly darker than previously; the protagonist, Karlsson, allows for no limits on his imagination when it comes to inventing ingenious ways to persecute his superiors. But the form, too, is an attempt to move away from the traditional crime novel narrative. It’s a meta-fiction, in which failed writer Declan Burke finds his own person, and that of his family, under attack by his deranged creation, Karlsson. The idea is to fold back the violence writers propagate onto the writer himself, and to have Declan Burke live with the consequences of his wilful depravity. Whether the conceit works is up to others to decide, but for now I’m happy that the story is at least an attempt to come to terms with the responsibility a crime writer bears in terms of the ways in which he or she employs violence in their novels.
  Anyway, that’s my two cents on the comic crime novel. I should point out, by the way, that my own experience of writing and publishing comic crime novels has been that while readers tend to like them as a change of pace from more serious fare, they’re not generally taken all that seriously by the industry’s mainstream, either by publishers or readers. That may well be because of the way I’ve written those particular novels, or because people don’t as a rule take comedy seriously. I’d imagine it’s very probably a combination of both. Bateman, whose debut novel DIVORCING JACK poked fun at warring paramilitaries and won the Betty Trask prize, and whose THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL recently won The Last Laugh award at CrimeFest, is one of the few exceptions. And that’s a shame, I think. Writers of serious crime novels who overdose on gratuitous violence and torture porn are no more realistic in terms of the truth of crime than comedy writers who exaggerate the tropes and blend genres. The funniest novel I’ve read so far this year has been Anthony Zuiker’s DARK ORIGINS, a laughably bad tale of an anally-obsessed serial killer mastermind, at the conclusion of which I had the overwhelming desire to take a shower. At the very least the comedy writers, bless their cotton socks, are serious about making you laugh.

Myth This One At Your Peril

Yours truly had a piece in the Irish Times a couple of weeks ago about REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, a collection of contemporary crime stories based on Irish myths and mythology. The launch of said tome, which is co-edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, takes place this coming Thursday, June 10th, at No Alibis in Belfast, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
No Alibis Bookstore is pleased to invite you to the launch of Irish crime fiction anthology, REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, on Thursday 10th June at 6:30PM.
  Along with co-editor Gerard Brennan (of Crime Scene NI fame), we’re expecting appearances from the following contributors: Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Arlene Hunt, T.A. Moore, Tony Bailie, John McAllister and Garbhan Downey, so this is sure to be an evening to remember.
  Book your spot now by emailing David (david@noalibis.com), or calling the shop on 9031 9607.
  Lately I have been mostly reading: THE LAST CHILD by John Hart, THE HOLY THIEF by William Ryan, ISLAND UNDER THE SEA by Isabel Allende, THE LADY OF SORROWS by Anne Zouroudi, THE PLEASURE SEEKERS by Tishani Doshi, NEMESIS by Lindsey Davis, and THEODORE BOONE by John Grisham.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brighton’s Rock

Peter James’ (right) latest novel, DEAD LIKE YOU, just went straight to No. 1 on the UK hardback fiction list. Not that he’s boasting, mind, although there is the small matter of the achievement preventing James Patterson from zipping straight to No. 1 for the first time in 10 years. Anyhoo, here’s an interview with Peter James from last weekend’s Sunday Independent, which kicks off thusly:
Do you know how much your body’s organs are worth? According to Peter James, in the hands of illegal organ traffickers, your parts are worth roughly one million dollars.
  The best-selling novelist is a man of many and diverse interests, including criminology, the paranormal and science. He’s also a movie producer who holds a racing driver’s licence. His late mother was glove-maker to the Queen. He once owned a Second World War bomber plane ...
  In short, James is an interesting man. Articulate, cultured and softly spoken, the 61-year-old divides his time between his homes in Notting Hill, London, and Brighton, which he shares with his partner, Helen.
  “Brighton’s great,” he says of the setting for the Roy Grace series of Dead novels. “I think a sense of place is as important as character. A lot of the great crime novels that I’ve admired, such as Rebus in Edinburgh, Hiaasen’s Miami, Ed McBain in New York, and so on, are very true to their setting. And Brighton for me is perfect ... For nine years running it was the ‘injecting drugs death capital’ of the UK. We lost it last year to Liverpool,” he grins disarmingly, “but we got it back this year.”
  James got his first writing break in 1971, on a pre-schoolers TV programme in Canada called Polka Dot Door. Despite subsequently writing and publishing three spy thrillers, however, commercial success eluded him.
  “The real tipping point for me,” he says, “was when I was pouring my heart out to a friend of mine, who was writing jacket blurb at Penguin. And she said, ‘Why are you writing spy thrillers?’ So I said, ‘Because I read somewhere there was a shortage.’ And she said, ‘You’ll never make money from writing something because you think it will pay. You have to write what you’re passionate about.’ That was the best advice I’ve ever had …”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE PLEASURE SEEKERS by Tishani Doshi

Spanning four decades from 1968 to the present day, Tishani Doshi’s debut novel is a tale of forbidden love as experienced by one Indian family. Babo Patel travels from Madras to London in the late 1960s, to work and study, and finds himself adrift in an alien environment. The Patels are a Jain family, but Babo indulges in cigarettes, alcohol and meat. Most horrifying to his family, however, is the news that Babo has fallen in love with a foreigner, the Welsh girl Sian.
  The Patel family, led by the patriarchal Prem Kumar, lay down certain conditions for Babo and Sian. The couple pass their test with flying colours; and not only that, when Sian eventually comes to visit Babo in Madras, she decides that she wants to live in India when they get married, and raise their children there.
  Although she is an award-winning poet, Doshi doesn’t overburden her story with metaphor and simile, as might have been expected. Despite the central theme, that of forbidden love, Doshi maintains a light touch throughout that often borders on whimsy. There is also plenty of humour, a good deal of it directed at perceptions and prejudices, particularly those preconceived notions of India that Westerners tend to harbour. That said, Doshi also has a fine time inverting the snobbery, and showing the Patel family to be as ignorant about Britain and Western customs as Westerners are about India.
  The setting, on the south-east coast of India, is pleasingly exotic, particularly as the story takes us back to the ’60s and ’70s. Doshi sketches a bustling, colourful city of Madras without ever overloading the detail, allowing us to absorb the strange and wonderful sights through Sian’s eyes.
  The story also moves back and forth to Britain, first to London - a rather grey and drab London, despite the fact that Babo and Sian meet at the height of the Swinging Sixties - and then the village of Nercwys in Wales, Sian’s home place. While Nerccwys is pleasingly quaint and rural, it suffers by comparison with Madras, and particularly with Anjar, its rural equivalent in India, where Babo’s beloved grandmother Ba lives.
  As well as the main characters of Babo and Sian and their daughters Mayuri and Bean, Doshi also introduces us to a teeming cast. Chief among them are Sian’s parents Bryn and Nerys, who are understandably worried about how their daughter is going to make a life for herself in a strange culture; Babo’s brothers and sisters, who are a raucous bunch; and Babo’s grandmother, Ba, who plays a quasi-mystical role. She can, for example, smell people coming while they are still miles away, and has a sixth sense for danger, particularly when it is likely to impact on her extended family. Of all the secondary characters, Ba is the most vividly drawn; indeed, there are times when she is the most illuminating of all Doshi’s characters.
  While the novel makes for pleasant reading, there is a telling lack of friction in the story. Few obstacles are put in the lovers’ way once they pass their initial test; Sian adapts to living as a Jain wife in Madras with what appears to be effortless ease; the pair meet with very little in the way of bigotry or prejudice; fate does not intervene to invest the tale with a tragic twist. The narrative unfolds very smoothly, and while there are deaths to be mourned as the years pass and people age and sicken, the tale lacks the kind of tension that develops when a character’s morals, principles or even physical limits are tested. The one hurdle the couple have to overcome is dealt with very early in the story, and it is cleared with considerable ease. While that makes for a romantic tale, it doesn’t make for a very satisfying one. The novel does end with a cataclysmic event, but it arrives far too late to influence the tone of the story.
  The absence of significant tragedy and conflict in the narrative may well reflect Doshi’s own experience of growing up a ‘hybrid’, as she puts it, in a mixed-race marriage. If that is the case, then it’s hard to begrudge her what appears to have been an idyllic childhood. As the old cliché has it, though, happy childhoods don’t necessarily make for great novels.
  THE PLEASURE SEEKERS is many things - sweet, nice, exotic and endearing. But despite its theme of forbidden love, this is not a novel to excite the passions. - Declan Burke