“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 19, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Tyler Dilts

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?
Probably one of my two all-time favourites - either Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST or James Lee Burke’s HEAVEN’S PRISONERS. These two books had a greater influence on my own writing than just about anything else.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
This is a tricky question. I wouldn’t really want to be a character in most of my favoorite books because usually they suffer a great deal and very bad things tend to happen to them. I love Dave Robicheaux, but I wouldn’t want to trade places with him. So, definitely someone with a happy ending, or multiple happy endings. Spenser, maybe?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I teach English at a university, so I think most of my colleagues would consider almost everything I read a guilty pleasure. To name names, though, Stieg Larsson is probably my current favourite. I do read a lot of thrillers and graphic novels, but I don’t really feel the pleasure is guilty at all, because there’s so much high quality writing across just about every genre these days.

Most satisfying writing moment?
The first time I held a copy of A KING OF INFINITE SPACE in my hand.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Ken Bruen’s THE GUARDS.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Tana French’s IN THE WOODS. It would have to be a European production, though, because I can’t imagine an American version staying true to the novel.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst is the sitting still. I think best when I’m moving. Walking is especially good. But when I sit still, my brain seems to slow down. The best is when a scene or a moment really comes together, especially after ten or eleven drafts.

The pitch for your next book is …?
In THE PAIN SCALE, as Danny Beckett recovers from the events in A KING OF INFINITE SPACE, he’s faced with the toughest case of his career - the murder of a young mother and her two children, which leads him into a tangled plot that involves him with adversaries ranging from Ukrainian killers to United States congressmen.

Who are you reading right now?
I just started Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, and so far, it’s living up to the hype. And at the beginning of every summer, I start itching for the new James Lee Burke novel, so I can hardly wait for THE GLASS RAINBOW.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Reading. Just last week, I said to someone I wish I could quit my job and just read all the time. It’s been a bit longer since I’ve said that about writing.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
A former teacher and current friend of mine, Long Beach poet and fiction writer Gerry Locklin said A KING OF INFINITE SPACE had a “powerful personal intensity.” I’ve always liked that.

Tyler Dilts’ A KING OF INFINITE SPACE is published by AmazonEncore.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Origins: Ava McCarthy

Being the first in what will probably be yet another short-lived series, in which yours truly reclines on a hammock by the pool with a jeroboam of Elf-Wonking Juice™ and lets a proper writer talk about the origins of his or her characters and stories. First up: Ava McCarthy (right), author of THE COURIER. To wit:

“Harry Martinez has been with me a long time. Actually, that’s not true - I only created her in 2004. But it feels like she’s always been here. The seeds of her character first sprouted while I researched an earlier novel. One of my characters was a small-time hacker (don’t ask me why), and the more I researched hacking, the more fascinated I became. I loved the whole idea of someone intruding on a system, creeping around like a burglar, covering their tracks, peeking at sensitive data. The concept fairly rippled with tension and danger, and suddenly, Harry Martinez sprang to life. I could picture exactly how she would be: an ace hacker; a forensics whiz; resourceful, independent, enduringly curious, and with just a touch of larceny in her soul. I can still remember the goose bumps I’d felt at my discovery: I’d created my own techno private eye.
  “People often ask me why I chose the boyish name Harry, and for a long time, I didn’t have an answer. Instinctively, I knew the name was right, but I couldn’t for the life of me explain why. One publisher even rejected THE INSIDER, the first book in the series, on the basis that he “couldn’t be doing with a girl called Harry.” I cursed him roundly, but I didn’t change her name. Obviously, on one level I wanted to convey tomboy characteristics: Harry is gutsy, resourceful, unsentimental and feisty. But why I felt a woman couldn’t exhibit these qualities while going by the name of Susan, I couldn’t quite rationalise. Until recently, that is, when someone mentioned that her daughter loved the girl called George from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. The rush of insight was like a cartoon light bulb in my head. I’d grown up on Enid Blyton; I’d admired George enormously. She was fiery and obstinate, loyal and brave. Her real name was Georgina, but she never answered to anything except George. Was she the first childhood role model for Harry? The subconscious weaves its fabric in unexpected patterns. Maybe I’m right after all, and Harry has been with me a long time.
  “The Harry Martinez books start from tiny ideas, random notions that happen to make me curious. Back in the day, I used to be a physicist, so I like to know how stuff works. THE INSIDER, for instance, began with a curiosity about insider trading. I researched the mechanics of it and by the time I’d understood the characters inhabiting that world, I knew I wanted to write a story around them. The second book in the series grew from a curiosity about diamonds. I looked under the hood, digging deep below surface clichés, and learned about the world of underground mines, expert diamond cutters and international diamantaires. And out of that world evolved the story of THE COURIER. For the third book, I’m sniffing around several trails, including scam artists and the Basques of northern Spain. Who knows where that will lead …
  “But that’s just the hammer and chisel side of things. Otherwise known as The Plot. While my conscious self hews out great chunks of action, my subconscious just keeps on weaving. Knit one, purl one. And as the story plaits together, a pattern of emotional nuances will emerge almost in spite of me, until finally it dawns on me what I’m really writing about. With THE INSIDER, for instance, I came to understand that apart from insider trading, I was writing about the relationship between an estranged father and daughter. In THE COURIER, my subconscious turned to the complexities of mothers and daughters, and the struggle for self-belief. In the third book in the series, I have recently realised that, apart from scam artists and the Basques of northern Spain, I’m exploring the whole notion of family and identity.
  “So while Harry came to life for me in a single, goose-bump moment, the inkling for a story doesn’t arrive all at once, and sometimes the hammer and chisel can even bend it out of shape along the way. But if I manage to hold onto the emotional vision by the end while staying true to Harry’s character, then I consider that a success.” - Ava McCarthy

  THE COURIER is published by Harper.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Review From The Blue House

God bless the interweb. Back in the day, and in the normal run of things, THE BIG O (being a co-published title with no marketing budget behind it when it first appeared in 2007) might have picked up a few press reviews and then crawled away into a dark corner to die. Happily, and given the ever growing network of bloggers and webnauts that exists among readers and writers, reviews still occasionally pop up. The latest comes courtesy of Rob Kitchin, a fellow scribe who blogs at The View from the Blue House, with the gist running thusly:
“THE BIG O is a comic crime caper – think of Carl Hiassen strained though a noir filter. The story is broken into a succession of short scenes each written from the perspective of one of the six principle characters. The structure works to provide a nice, quick pace and enables Burke to flesh out the characterisation, where each person is slightly larger than life with certain foibles … The only thing that grated after a while was the use of coincidence, which was clearly deliberate but edged towards excessive … THE BIG O is a very enjoyable read and a comic crime caper that is genuinely comic.” ****
  Obviously, it’s nice to know that Rob Kitchin liked - for the most part - the novel, and very generous he was too. What I liked about the review, though, is that few punches were pulled, when it would have been easier for Rob to gloss over what he didn’t like and simply emphasise what he did like (full disclosure: I’ve met Rob Kitchin once, and thought he was a nice bloke). He’s not the first to point out that the story of THE BIG O turns (gyrates) on an excessive use of coincidence; and whether that conceit was deliberately intended or not, readers are fully entitled to find it grating, irritating or simply unbelievable. They’re also fully entitled to call me on it.
  For what it’s worth, I think that that kind of robust critique is welcome and entirely healthy. It certainly beats having him gush about my book and me gush about his (Rob Kitchin has just published his second novel, THE WHITE GALLOWS), an all too common practice these days, and one that serves neither writer nor reader.
  On an altogether more rarefied level, the venerable Sarah Weinman recently blogged on a similar theme, when she mused aloud about ‘awards fatigue’. The gist of the piece was the proliferation of crime fiction awards (Anthonys, Barrys, McCavitys, Shamuses, Edgars, et al), the difficulty in differentiating one from another, and the overall worth (or otherwise) of having so many awards, all in the context of whether or not the awards are successful in raising the profile of the winning and nominated authors with an audience beyond that of crime fiction aficionados.
  Both EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O were nominated for awards, bless their cotton socks, so I’m in a position to say that, yes, it’s lovely just to be nominated. By the same token, and looking at the big picture, there appears to be a very real danger that crime writing, even with the very best of intentions, is creating a closed-loop feedback of mutual celebration. In a nutshell - and this is where Rob Kitchin comes in - when everything is good, nothing is good.
  Running parallel to the mutual celebration is the occasional statement from an author or critic from outside the crime fiction circle, which suggests that crime fiction isn’t as well written as it might be, or is too formulaic and predictable, or too simplistic in terms of form to reflect the complexity of the human condition. The reaction tends to be one of closed ranks, and dark mutterings about snobbery and prejudice, and reverse-snobbery accusations about ivory towers and self-indulgence.
  In one sense, that’s actually nice to see - it demonstrates the all-for-one and one-for-all nature of the crime fiction community. It’s failing, however, is that it’s a short-term view. All criticism is valid, and particularly when it offers opinions we’d rather not hear. We’re coming up hard now on the centenary anniversary of what I consider to be the birth of the modern crime novel - those collections of pulp short stories that would eventually crystallise into novels by Paul Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, et al - and yet the form, structure, intent and ambition of the crime novel has hardly changed in almost one hundred years. Content has changed to reflect contemporary concerns, certainly, but society, culture and civilisation have mutated in ways that would have been scarcely conceivable even to Jules Verne in his pomp.
  Is the proliferation of awards doing the crime novel any favours? Are we being honest enough with ourselves as to the enduring worth of crime fiction? Are we too stubbornly closing ourselves off to valid criticism that threatens (and apologies for the tortured metaphor) to prick the bubble of our closed-loop feedback?
  I’ll be honest with you: I want more from the crime novel. I want more than a response of ‘Oh, it’s the classical Greek structure’ when someone complains about simplicity of form. I want more than ‘Oh, it’s what the market demands’ when someone complains about shallow characterisation. I want more than ‘Oh, the crime novel is traditionally a conservative art form’ when someone complains about predictability. And I definitely want more than ‘Oh, you don’t want to make the reader so much as blink’ when someone complains that the writing wants for challenging prose or narrative conceits.
  Oh, and I’d also like a week in the Greek islands, preferably paid for by some commercially suicidal publisher who wants to publish one of my novels.
  Any takers?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA by Isabel Allende

Slavery is an ugly concept that strikes to the very heart of the human experience. In this her 15th novel, Isabel Allende focuses on the impact of slavery on women and children in particular. As the daughter of a slave, her heroine Tété, who is known to her nearest and dearest as Zarité, is born into slavery. When French plantation owner Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the Caribbean island of Saint-Domingue in 1770, he buys Tété to serve as his wife’s maid.
  The intertwined destinies of Tété and Valmorain form the narrative spine of ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA. It’s an epic tale set against a fertile historical backdrop, which incorporates the slaves’ revolution on Saint-Domingue, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Allende explores all strata of society, creating a panoply of characters that includes priests, doctors, prostitutes, buccaneers, soldiers, society madams, slave overseers and radicalising abolitionists. For all its grand sweep, however, the novel is an intensely personal tale of Tété’s struggle to survive, endure and finally escape the shackles of slavery.
  The story is told for the most part in a formal third-person narrative, but Allende blends the political and the personal by allowing Tété to occasionally step forward from the teeming dramatis personae and deliver first-person accounts.
  Allende’s vivid prose makes this an intoxicating read at times, whether she’s describing the lushly beautiful hinterland of Saint-Domingue (the island that would later be divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic) or the heartbreaking cruelty meted out to slaves on the merest whim of their owners. The tale itself, meanwhile, has a compelling quality as the relationship between Tété and Valmorain becomes intensely personal, and blood-lines blur as emancipation becomes a political reality.
  Most notable of all, however, is Allende’s barely restrained sense of moral outrage at the fate of the slaves who were doomed to work themselves to death on the sugarcane plantations of Saint-Domingue. While she refers for the most part only elliptically to the horrendous tortures and deaths perpetrated by the white masters, the complete physical, sexual and psychological control exerted over Tété makes for utterly depressing reading. Or would do, were it not for Tété’s unbreakable will and her unshakeable faith in her own worth.
  In preaching her gospel, however, Allende has a propensity for veering into a didactic mode that sits uneasily with the novel’s internal logic. Tété’s personal accounts offer a deeper understanding of the character’s motivations, for example, and are particularly heart-rending when she speaks of the children she has had by her master. However, it is never explained as to how a plantation slave garnered the education that might allow her write so persuasively, while the prose employed is too fluent to be convincing as an oral account.
  There are times, too, when Allende’s prose becomes unnecessarily fervid. Describing Tété’s forbidden dalliance with the revolutionary slave Gambo, for example, she writes:
“ … she swung astride him, ramming into herself that burning member she had so longed for, bending down to cover his face with kisses, lick his ears, caress him with her nipples, rock on his hips, squeeze him between her Amazon’s thighs, undulating like an eel on the sandy floor of the sea. They romped as if it were the first and the last time, inventing new steps in the ancient dance.”
  There is also a shallow quality to the characterisation of the minor players, who tend to be all good or all bad, depending on their emotional intelligence and their sensitivity, or otherwise, to the slaves’ plight. Valmorain, on the other hand, is a fascinating character precisely because he is neither good nor bad. Instead he is a weak and vain man who allows evil be done in his name, and one from whom - appropriately, given his historical context - a simplistic and reductive redemption is ultimately withheld.
  All told, however, ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA makes for an enthralling read, an unusually thought-provoking page-turner. While Allende makes deft use of contemporary allusions - the appalling poverty of what would one day become Haiti, some minor flooding in New Orleans - there is no doubting the relevance of the central thrust of her story, which is that slavery is no less a blight on humanity now than it was in the past. - Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Women Read Crime Fiction

I got a press release during the week - I don’t think it’s fair to mention the publisher, nor the writer it was plugging - that offered the following reasons as to why women are hooked on crime fiction:
1. Our relationship with the prospect of danger; from a young age women are primed to expect fear.

2. Escapism; pure enjoyment.

3. Anti-romance.

4. Possibility of learning survival tips to use if we’re kidnapped.
  All three regular readers of CAP might want to believe that I inserted # 4 just to make sure they were paying attention, but I’m afraid not: somebody, somewhere, believes women are so thick - or perhaps just the ones that read crime fiction? - that they read crime novels for survival advice.
  As for the other reasons: aren’t men primed from an early age to expect fear? Don’t they read for escapism and enjoyment? Aren’t men - historically, fatally - anti-romance?
  Honestly, folks, some days you wonder why you do it …

Roses Are Red, Orchids Are Blue …

The chandeliers at CAP Towers fairly jingled with delight this morning, after Eoin McNamee’s forthcoming ORCHID BLUE popped through the letterbox. Not only was I being treated to an advance-advance copy (the novel isn’t published until November), but I didn’t even know there was a McNamee novel forthcoming. Quoth the blurb elves:
January 1961, and the beaten, stabbed and strangled body of a nineteen year old Pearl Gambol is discovered, after a dance the previous night at the Newry Orange Hall. Returning from London to investigate the case, Detective Eddie McCrink soon suspects that their may be people wielding influence over affairs, and that the accused, the enigmatic Robert McGladdery, may struggle to get a fair hearing. Presiding over the case is Lord Justice Curran, a man who nine years previously had found his own family in the news, following the murder of his nineteen year old daughter, Patricia. In a spectacular return to the territory of his acclaimed, Booker long-listed THE BLUE TANGO, Eoin McNamee’s new novel explores and dissects this notorious murder case which led to the final hanging on Northern Irish soil.
  McNamee has carved out a tasty little niche for himself writing fictions based on true crimes (THE BLUE TANGO, RESURRECTION MAN, 12:23), and ORCHID BLUE is at base camp as we speak, testing its crampons and donning an oxygen mask in preparation for its fast-track assault on Mount TBR. Wish it bon chance, people: this is one that simply won’t wait …

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cassidy’s Boy

Yet another interesting debut to watch out for: Yvonne Cassidy’s THE OTHER BOY, which flashed across the CAP radar late last week. The early word is that it’s a literary psychological thriller, and the name ‘Tana French’ leaps to mind when perusing the blurb elves’ witterings below. To wit:
“‘You know that moment between sleep and waking? I read somewhere that the first thing that comes into your head is what you desire or fear the most. I don’t know if that’s fully right though because for years when I opened my eyes I used to think of Mark.’
  “I’m JP Whelan and I said that, the thing about Mark, to my shrink. He’s always trying to get me to talk about what happened all those years ago, when we were just kids.
  “I wasn’t always seeing a shrink, I wasn’t even always JP, I used to be John-Paul. Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you about all that, about my life with Katie and Abbey in London or before then, back in Dublin, with Dad, listening to the Beatles and how those were the only times I really felt safe.
  “But then I’d have to tell you about my brother Dessie and what happened with Mark.
  “But it doesn’t all fit into some neat little box, my story. I wish it did. So if you really want to know the truth, you’re going to have to find out for yourself, because even now I’m not sure what the truth is.”
  Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of hard work to me. “If you really want to know the truth, you’re going to have to find out for yourself …”. You think James Patterson and Dan Brown got richer than Croesus by asking people to find stuff out for themselves? Eh? And it’s not like life isn’t busy enough without having to down tools during a book and go finding stuff out. Gah, grumble, rhubarb, etc. …

Sunday, June 13, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Gerard O’Donovan

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?
So many, from DOUBLE INDEMNITY to LA REQUIEM via the Ripley trilogy and Rebus series. Recently, Peter Temple’s THE BROKEN SHORE was enviably great.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Chili Palmer on a good day, Joe Pike on a bad one.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Tabloid reporters.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Getting published, especially by Sphere here and Scribner in the US.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Any of Brian McGilloway’s novels.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE PRIEST, but if that’s not allowed, Gene Kerrigan’s LITTLE CRIMINALS.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Effort / reward – and the tightrope between them.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Here, mister, do you want to buy a really cracking crime thriller ...

Who are you reading right now?
Michael Connolly (THE SCARECROW), Simon Lewis (BAD TRAFFIC) and Ruth Dudley Edwards (AFTERMATH).

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read, although I think God might have other issues to tackle me on first.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Roller… coaster… ride.

Gerard O’Donovan’s THE PRIEST is published by Sphere.