“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 26, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Sean Patrick Reardon

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?
I am by no means an aficionado of crime novels, but I would have liked to have written [Mario Puzo’s] THE GODFATHER.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Easy, Jay Gatsby.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Bret Easton Ellis. His sequel to LESS THAN ZERO just came out and I’m looking forward to seeing what happened to all the characters.

Most satisfying writing moment?
I was toiling away on the novel, participating and wasting a lot of time on writer’s forums and one day I purchased Stephen King’s ON WRITING. It was the best money I ever spent and from that moment on, I felt empowered, enthusiastic, and had hope that I might just be able to pull it off.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
At this stage of the game, I’m like a schoolboy trying to learn from the many talented Irish crime headmasters I have come to know and read lately. If I had to pick one that has really moved me, it would be RESURRECTION MAN by Eoin McNamee.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I really, really wish Guy Ritchie would take on Declan Burke’s THE BIG O.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Self-doubt and editing are the worst. The best thing by far is the sense of accomplishment. Even if no one ever reads my novel, I set a goal of trying to do it, put in the time and effort, and I’m really proud of myself.

The pitch for your next book is …?
When wealthy Russian mobsters contract L.A psychologist Joel Fischer to develop a device to manipulate minds, the DreemWeever exceeds all expectations. Everything is on track for delivery and a big payday, until two adventurous stoners steal his Dodge Challenger that, unknown to them, contains the DreemWeever in its trunk. Fischer and his crew have two days to get it back or he dies.

Who are you reading right now?
HARD MAN by Allan Guthrie, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS by Declan Burke, and WAKE UP DEAD by Roger Smith. All are excellent and all the crime authors I’m discovering of late make me feel like I did as a kid when I discovered a new band.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Reading. Since I was a child, reading has taken me to foreign lands, exposed me to different cultures, and introduced me to all sorts of interesting characters (real and imaginary). Plus, I could never write, if I didn’t read.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Cinematic, Rock-n-Roll, Twisted.

Sean Patrick Reardon’s MINDJACKER is available via Smashwords.

Friday, June 25, 2010

There Will Be Fresh Blood

Waterstones’ ‘Fresh Blood’ campaign, currently in its second year, aims to showcase ‘some of the best new crime writers around’. The fact that one quarter of this year’s list is taken up by Irish writers is a sign of just how healthy 2009 was for Irish crime writing: step forward Alan Glynn (WINTERLAND), Gene Kerrigan (DARK TIMES IN THE CITY) and Stuart Neville (THE TWELVE, aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST).
  Unsurprisingly, all three novels finished in the top four (along with John Connolly’s THE LOVERS) in the inaugural ‘Crime Always Pays Irish Crime Novel of the Year’, with THE TWELVE topping the poll - no mean feat for a debut novel. Mind you, and as I said at the time, the fact that WINTERLAND was published in November worked against it, voting-wise, and I have no doubt it would have polled even better had it had a longer shelf-life.
  Anyway, the bottom line is that all three are terrific novels. Clickety-click here for a review of THE TWELVE, and here for a review of WINTERLAND, and here for DARK TIMES IN THE CITY. Or better still, go out and buy them, all three.
  Oh, and if anyone reading this has read any (or all) of the titles, don’t be shy about telling us what you thought about them. You know what to do …

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fallacy Of Millions; Or, How Ledgers Have Become The Publishing Industry’s Preferred Reading

Laura Miller wrote a piece on e-publishing for Salon.com during the week, during the course of which she railed against those aspiring authors who are already celebrating the impending demise of the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ - agents, editors, publishers - of the publishing industry.
  The ‘gatekeepers’, she argues, perform an invaluable service to readers by filtering an occasional diamond from the vast numbers of manuscripts that constitute the ever growing slush pile. In abandoning the traditional publishing model and going straight to (electronic) print, she says, authors are simply exposing readers to the slush pile. The net effect of ‘civilian’ readers being so exposed, she says in a rather apocalyptic finale, is one of “crushing your spirit instead of refreshing it … How long before you decide to just give up?”
  As it happens, I broadly agree with Laura Miller on e-publishing. Any business conducted without some form of quality control won’t be in business for very long.
I did take exception, however, to one word in Miller’s piece, and it’s contained in the following excerpt:
“Digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that’s threatening the traditional industry,” a recent Wall Street Journal report proclaimed. “Self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.” To “circumvent” means, of course, to find a way around, and what’s waiting behind all those naysaying editors and agents, the self-publishing authors tell themselves, are millions of potential readers, who’ll simply love our books! The reign of the detested gatekeepers has ended! - Laura Miller
  That word, as you’ll probably have guessed given the title of this post, is ‘millions’.
  Before I started this blog, back in 2007, I knew no more than a handful of writers. At this point, I probably know hundreds. Some of them have had one book published, others are bestsellers.
  I also have friends who are aspiring writers. In fact, I met two of them on separate occasions during the last week, and while we talked about other stuff, as you do, just to be polite, the general thrust of the conversations centred on books and writing.
  The theme was largely one of frustration: not being able to find time to write (pesky children); not being able to find an agent; not being able to get our books published. The usual war stories. And then there’s the other frustrations: the idea that won’t behave itself and sit quietly on the page; the virtues, or otherwise, of excessive plotting; the words that come, okay, but like Yeats’ peace, dropping slow; the conflict between establishing a compelling pace while still maintaining quality on a word-by-word basis. And all the other issues of craft that tend to pop up when you’re spitballing over a cup of coffee.
  Here’s the thing, though: in all the years I’ve been listening to writers, publishing or aspiring, small, big or mid-list, I’ve never once heard the phrase, “I’d love to sell a million copies.” Neither, for that matter, have I ever heard a reader say, “I want to read a book written by a writer who’s sold a million copies.”
  Maybe I’m hanging out in the wrong coffee shops, but the writers I know talk about interesting ideas, about different ways of telling a story, about phrasing and style, about the use of language.
  Readers - and I’ll always be more of a reader than a writer - tend to talk about good books, interesting characters, moral dilemmas, beautiful writing.
  The industry, meanwhile, is at another table, very probably in another coffee shop, talking about bottom lines and sales figures and marketing and promotion and million-selling behemoths.
  I’m not naïve. I understand publishing’s economies of scale. And I do appreciate that we’re living through a global recession. But it seems to me that there’s an ever-widening disconnect between the publishing industry and the people - writers and readers - it depends upon.
  Good books are still being published, certainly, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the quality control ‘gatekeepers’ are these days more interested in maximising profits from the likes of Dan Brown, James Patterson and Stieg Larsson than they are in investing in novels and authors that are unlikely to sell a million copies per book.
  Yes, I understand that such writers finance a publisher’s speculative investment on an unknown writer. But the inexorable logic of the current model is that more and more funds must be pumped into the brands and franchises to keep the ledgers balanced, with the result that investment in aspiring, new and mid-list writers is drying up. If you don’t believe me, ask Charlie Williams.
  Rob Kitchin, himself an aspiring author, blogs about yours truly over at The View From the Blue House. In effect, he’s bemoaning the fact that CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, the sequel to THE BIG O, is only available via e-publishing. Which is nice, but Rob isn’t really writing about me. He’s writing about authors who are, as he says,
“ … marginalised by an industry that is increasingly seeking to de-risk their investment by judging authors and their works against a narrow set of criteria, rather than nurturing and supporting them. There are plenty of authors and bands who have worked away producing acclaimed work for years, perhaps not making mega-bucks but nonetheless not losing anyone money, before going stratospheric. If a condition of a writing career is immediate success then there is every danger of producing an entire generation of one book authors, killed off and demoralised before they’ve had chance to blossom into mature, successful writers with an established reader base. It’ll also work to reproduce a certain kind of formulaic writing and stifle creativity and risk-taking – think of Hollywood film making at the minute.”
  Laura Miller is correct to suggest that a lack of regulation, or quality control, is likely to bedevil the coming boom in e-publishing. By the same token, the evidence of bookstores - and certainly the bigger chains - suggests that when the publishing industry uses the phrase ‘quality control’, it’s control rather than quality that’s uppermost in their minds.
  If the industry is truly concerned about readers giving up on reading, then its big problem is not e-publishing. It’s the wall-to-wall bullshit lining bookstore shelves from New York to Sydney.
  Lashing out at scapegoats might temporarily deflect attention away from the fallacy at its core, but if the industry truly believes that stamping its feet on the little people represents progressive thinking, then we’re all - readers, writers and ‘gatekeepers’ alike - in bigger trouble than anyone imagined.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE USES OF PESSIMISM by Roger Scruton

Philosopher, journalist, novelist, political activist, Oxford professor: Roger Scruton is a man of many interests, most of which he invokes in his latest non-fiction treatise on the state of the world.
  Following on from his most recent offerings, ENGLAND: AN ELEGY (2006), CULTURE COUNTS: FAITH AND FEELING IN A WORLD BESIEGED (2007), and BEAUTY (2009), THE USES OF PESSIMISM is a polemic against the ‘unscrupulous optimists’ who propagate false hopes without considering the consequences of their unbridled optimism. Scruton sets out his stall in the preface: “I have no doubt that St Paul was right to recommend faith, hope and love (agape) as the virtues that order life to the greater good. I have no doubt too that hope, detached from faith and untempered by the evidence of history, is a dangerous asset, and one that threatens not only those who embrace it, but all those within range of their illusions.”
  Citing the French Revolution, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia as examples, Scruton argues that offering a utopian ideal without factoring in a necessary dash of pessimism leads to untold suffering, not least because the idealists refuse to acknowledge the shortcomings of their ideal, and the historical shortcomings of unfettered idealism in general. When Robespierre et al failed to deliver liberté, égalité et fraternité, for example, the response was not an examination of the revolution’s core beliefs to see where it had come up short, but the lopping off of those heads that dared to point out the failings.
  Warming to his theme, Scruton then points the finger at more contemporary manifestations of ‘false hope’. Modern educationalists, for example, are derided for fostering a culture in which individual excellence is considered divisive within a classroom. The EU project also gets it in the neck. Scruton draws parallels with the genocides and gulags that flowed from the Communist Revolution. “Of course,” he says in relation to the EU, “the goals are less ignoble and the results more benign. Nevertheless, there seem to be few if any ways in which mistakes can be rectified or the people who make decisions held accountable for the results of them. […] However foolish it may be for the European institutions to take charge of some matters best dealt with by the Member States, no power, once transferred, is ever recaptured. Ridiculous regulations can be duly laughed at from top to bottom of the Union; but the laughter rings hollow, since it meets with no response. A cavernous void lies at the heart of the European process, a void into which questions are constantly called out by the people, and from which no answer ever returns.”
  That ‘less ignoble’ and ‘more benign’ might suggest that the author has his tongue partly in his cheek, although Scruton, a Conservative socio-economic thinker, is never happier than when adapting Edmund Burke’s observations on the French Revolution to the latest example of anti-democratic utopianism. He makes some compelling arguments here, however, first setting forth his theme on the dangers of false hope, then outlining the means by which the ‘unscrupulous optimists’ tend to refute opposing arguments, or negate those arguing entirely (the perverse logic of which inevitably leads to the guillotine, the gulag or the concentration camp). The latter half of the book, and despite Scruton’s sober style, is a deliciously provocative deconstruction of perceived truths that have embedded themselves in Western civilisation, often to the detriment of the culture fostering them.
  Deliberate obfuscation emanating from academia; the ‘false expertise’ that constitutes theology; multiculturalism; the moral relativism that unpicks generations of practical wisdom; the Western liberal guilt that actively conspires in the rise of a radical Islamism that wishes for nothing more than the destruction of Western civilisation: all these, and more, are examined under the harsh light of Scruton’s Conservatism.
  The result is a challenging read, although Scruton, in his determination to ram home a point, occasionally overreaches himself. “To doubt the equivalence of gay sex and heterosexual marriage is to evince ‘homophobia’,” he writes, “the moral equivalent of the racism that led to Auschwitz. Likewise, public criticism of Islam and Islamists is a sign of ‘Islamophobia’, now a crime in Belgian law; and ‘hate speech’ laws are on the statute books of many European countries, making the mere discussion of issues that are of the greatest concern to our future into a crime.”
  Such statements are useful in that they alert the reader to the need to add a pinch of salt, along with Scruton’s prescription for a dash of useful cynicism, when reading THE USES OF PESSIMISM. That said, this is a bracingly enjoyable venting of Conservative spleen, not least because Scruton’s Canute-like stand against the prevailing tide of neo-liberal orthodoxy is very probably doomed to be ridiculed and marginalised by the very means he outlines himself. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Foxing Clever

The Thought Fox - aka Faber editor Katherine Armstrong - posts a piece on her blog titled ‘In Praise of Emerald Noir’, in which she offers a list of the ‘25 best writers of Emerald Noir’. It’s a comprehensive list - so comprehensive, in fact, that it even includes yours truly - with proceedings kicking off thusly:
“I grew up in Northern Ireland in the eighties and nineties, which was probably not Judith Chalmers’ first point of call for Wish You Were Here but still, it was home. As most people will remember, Northern Ireland during that period was an interesting place to be if you were particularly keen on scaring yourself silly. The television most evenings would have talk of car bombs, murders, knee-cappings and other assorted terrorist activities. Going to school in Belfast every day on the train you became used to having to get a replacement bus service due to bomb scares. For anyone who wanted to skip class the various alphabetical groups bent on death and destruction could guarantee that no one would question your excuse for being late – there always seemed to be a bomb scare somewhere.
“Throughout the difficult years there were books that focused on the Troubles – you know the stuff – where an English spy from British Intelligence would invariably fall in love with a Catholic girl who would betray him to the IRA and he’d be executed. But there was a huge gap in the market for really good home grown crime fiction. Over the past twenty years or so there has been an emergence of what has become known as Emerald Noir. It’s gritty, it’s realistic, and contemporary Ireland – both north and south – is a whole lot better for it …”
  For the full list of 25 Irish crime writers, clickety-click here
  Naturally, and given the nature of such things, even a list of 25 Irish crime writers is going to miss out on a few names that really should be in there. John Connolly doesn’t make the cut because he doesn’t set his novels in Ireland, but Armstrong’s roll-call of honour doesn’t include Julie Parsons, Paul Charles, Liam O’Flaherty, Garbhan Downey, Ava McCarthy, Peter Cunningham, Hugo Hamilton, Rory McCormac, Vincent McDonnell, Cora Harrison, or - shock, horror! - Twenty Major. On the upside, it’s nice to see that the list does include Eilís Dillon, Eugene McEldowney, Jim Lusby, Andrew Nugent and Vincent Banville, all of whom tend to get overlooked in discussions about Irish crime writing.
  Perhaps understandably, the list is also short on recent debutants, such as Niamh O’Connor, Kevin McCarthy, Gerard O’Donovan, Gerry O’Carroll and Rob Kitchin. There are also a number of mavericks who deserve a plug, like TS O’Rourke, John Kelly, Patrick McGinley and Seamus Smyth, all of whom were writing Irish crime fiction when it was neither popular or (even less) profitable.
  So there you have it. Any names that should be on that list, but aren’t? You know what to do …

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Loveliest Review In The World

Some reviews are good, some are bad, others are quirky. This review of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS popped up on Smashwords over the weekend, and is without doubt the loveliest review I’ve ever had. To wit:
When I was a kid and it was too hot to play outside, I would talk my mother into giving me a quarter if I didn’t have one, and then I’d grab my bike and hightail it down to the drugstore.
  By the time I hit the railroad tracks I’d be sweating. But downtown they had big trees with lots of shade and the pedalling would be easier.
  I would walk into the drugstore and head down to the comic rack. I would get what I could get for my quarter and head back. Going back I would pedal harder, full of anticipation. Just before I got to the house, I’d make a quick stop at the gas station and get a soda (ok, I had an extra dime.)
  I’d get home, turn on the fan, open that soda, spend a little time looking at that glossy cover and then I’d turn to the first page.
  Man, life couldn’t get better than that.
  Well, this is better than that. Shake a couple of bucks out, grab a Coke and have yourself a nice afternoon in the shade. ***** - Francis Roderick

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kafka, Stalinism And Serial Killers: Yep, It’s The Irish Crime Novel

Yesterday I had the very rare joy of a Saturday afternoon all to myself, when I could have (a) toddled off to Dalkey to listen to Declan Hughes and John Connolly wax lyrical about ‘the 10 Crime Novels to Read Before You Die’, (b) watched a World Cup game in its entirety, or (c) got horizontal on the couch and cracked open Robert Fannin’s FALLING SLOWLY. I was very tempted to go for (a), but being a lazy bugger, and being all World Cupped out after England’s tragi-comic adventure against Algeria, I eventually opted for (c). A good choice, as it happens, and the early signs are promising in a Kafkaesque way. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, if anyone was at the Connolly / Hughes gig, and made a list of their 10 novels to read before you die, I’m all ears …
  Incidentally, Crime Watch hosted a John Connolly ‘9MM’ interview earlier this week; clickety-click here for more. And THE WHITE GALLOWS author Rob Kitchin also found himself staring down the same barrel: you can find his answers here.
  Staying with interviews, Sue Leonard recently quizzed William Ryan for the Irish Examiner, when William had this to say about the origins of his debut, THE HOLY THIEF:
“I’d read Isaac Babel’s short stories and was working on a screenplay of his life (Babel was executed in Russia’s reign of terror). I found that whole period in Russia fascinating.
  “I took a hero – Korolev, working with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, who is not the brightest. I threw him in this situation and waited to see what would happen. I’m interested in dictatorship; in how ordinary people behave in extraordinary situations.
  “You were required to give absolute loyalty in the Stalinist period. They were prepared to do bad things, believing that the end justified the means. Communism was a religion really. It offered paradise on earth and in the near future. The only way they could function was to believe, ‘This must mean something’.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Finally, TV3’s Morning Ireland programme hosted Gerard O’Donovan during the week, with Gerard offering insights into the whys and wherefores of his debut novel, THE PRIEST, and why he decided (with his tongue firmly stuck in cheek, presumably) to ‘put the crucifix back at the heart of Irish writing’. More seriously, the conversation then goes on to investigate the challenge of writing a credible crime novel in Ireland that features a serial killer, particularly as Ireland has never had - officially, at least - a bona fide serial killer.
  So: why hasn’t Ireland had its very own serial killer? Is it because we’re all too nice ‘n’ cuddly ‘n’ twinkly-eyed ‘n’ pleasantly drunk to bother? Or because there’s always been any number of ‘causes’ available to offer an umbrella of political respectability and sectarian motivation if you’re of a mind to snuff people out?
  For Gerard O’Donovan’s TV3 interview, clickety-click here

  Lately I have mostly been reading: THE USES OF PESSIMISM by Roger Scruton; THE WINGS OF THE SPHINX by Andrea Camilleri; TINKERS by Paul Harding; and THIEF by Maureen Gibbon.