“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, July 17, 2010

Ohmigod They’ve Shot Kenny, Etc.

Des Kenny has long been one of Ireland’s most respected booksellers, and is still regarded as such, even if the iconic Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway is now largely a web-based business. The video below has Des Kenny waxing lyrical about Ken Bruen’s latest, THE DEVIL - Ken Bruen, of course, being only slightly less famous than the bay itself when it comes to Galway landmarks. I don’t know who shot the vid, so apologies for leaving out the credits … Roll it there, Collette:
  Incidentally, long ago, when I was still young and dynamic, and Ken Bruen was kind enough to launch my debut EIGHTBALL BOOGIE in Galway, Des brought me into Kenny’s Bookshop, gave me a guided tour and had me sign a number of copies. Thrilling enough for the callow scribe I was then, but Des capped that by saying, “I’ve only one question. How the hell are you going to top EIGHTBALL BOOGIE?”
  Erm, Des? The good news is that I haven’t, so you’re not missing much.
  Meanwhile, and for a different kind of viewing experience entirely, Declan Hughes and Arlene Hunt (right) appeared on TV3’s Ireland AM last week.They were there, ostensibly, to chat about the programme’s book of the week, Bateman’s THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL. As you’ll see if you clickety-click the link, poor old Bateman hardly got a mention, as the conversation veered off almost immediately into exploring the whys and wherefores of the explosion in Irish crime fiction. Still, it’s a good chat, and anyway yon Bateman is rich as Croesus, and doesn’t need any unnecessary plugs from mere mortals.
  Rounding off this less-than-comprehensive round-up of crime fic doings in Ireland this week is an interview with Stuart Neville over at that bastion of all things Irish and manly, Joe.ie. For those of you still unaware of the fact that Neville’s COLLUSION, which is the follow-up to THE TWELVE but not strictly a sequel, will be appearing on a shelf near you next month, it’s a nice little refresher as to how the bould Stuart’s debut took on all comers last year and ended up as the LA Times’ Mystery / Thriller of the Year.
  I’m about halfway through COLLUSION right now, and it’s terrific stuff. All the pace and punch of THE TWELVE, but with a snarkier edge, particularly when it comes to detailing the more squalid aspects of The Troubles. To wit:
‘Everybody knows it all, but no one says anything. Look, collusion worked all ways, all directions. Between the Brits and the Loyalists, between the Irish government and the Republicans, between the Republicans and the Brits, between the Loyalists and the Republicans.’ Toner ran out of breath and his face reddened. He pulled hard on his cigarette and coughed. ‘All ways, all directions. We’ll never know how far it went. All the small things, all the big things. Loyalists supplying Republicans with fake DVDs and Ecstasy tablets. Republicans wholesaling laundered diesel and bootleg vodka to Loyalists. Feeding off the hate, letting on they’re fighting for their fucking causes when all the time they’re making each other rich. And the killings. How many of our own did we set up for the Loyalists to take out? How many of their own did the Loyalists set up for us? How many times did I get a taxi to some club or other on the Shankhill with a name in an envelope, and two days later, some poor cunt from the Falls gets his head took off?’
  Stirring stuff. Let’s hope no Loyalist / Republican sympathisers go rushing over to Amazon to give COLLUSION a negative review on the basis of that little lot, eh?

Friday, July 16, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Kevin Power

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 suppose everyone says THE BIG SLEEP, don’t they? It’s THE GREAT GATSBY of crime fiction. And I like to think that I’d be just slapdash enough to forget, in true Chandleresque style, who killed that chauffeur.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
James Bond. I remember being very impressed, as a kid, when I read GOLDFINGER and learned that Bond concealed his Walther PPK in a book called THE BIBLE DESIGNED TO BE READ AS LITERATURE. I think that was when I realised that true style is in the details.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
The Spenser novels by the late, great Robert B. Parker. Starting with THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT in 1973, Spenser evolved into one of the great heroes of American popular fiction. Spenser isn’t really a noir protagonist in the true sense – he never compromises, and he’s always right. The Spenser books are basically romances in which the questing hero always triumphs, which I reckon is what makes them so satisfying.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I was about thirty pages from the end of BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, I suddenly knew what the last paragraph would be, and I scribbled it down then and there. The most satisfying moment was realising everything else was done and I could finally type that final paragraph.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Declan Hughes’s Ed Loy novels are turning into a running commentary on the state of the nation, using the PI genre as a hook. I suspect Ed is the first fictional gumshoe ever to find himself in negative equity. And Hughes can really write, too.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE KILLING KIND by John Connolly. Because of the villain, mostly: Mr. Pudd, the unbelievably creepy arachnophile psychopath who kills people by jamming their mouths with chloroformed black widows. You could traumatize a lot of people by putting Mr. Pudd on screen.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I can’t see much of a downside. The best thing is when you know you’ve got something right – a sentence, a paragraph, even a section title.

The pitch for your next book is …?
I have to write the bleedin’ thing first.

Who are you reading right now?
In my non-writing life I’m supposed to be doing a PhD on Norman Mailer, so I’ve just read a memoir called MORNINGS WITH MAILER by Dwayne Raymond, who was Mailer’s personal assistant for the last four years of his life. What amazed me was the account of Mailer’s work ethic. The man revised everything five or six times, even if it was just a Christmas card.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I think if God appears, I’ll have bigger problems ...

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
I aim for clarity, honesty, and what you might call “flow” – I want people to turn the pages.

The paperback edition of Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK is published by Pocket Books.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Origins: Arlene Hunt

Being the latest 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. This week: Arlene Hunt (right), author of BLOOD MONEY. To wit:
“I grew up on a steady diet of crime fiction. From the rough and tumble streets of Hill Street Blues to the verdant lushness and academic spires of Morse in Oxford, it mattered not the location. Once there was murder and mayhem involved I was a captive audience. I devoured every crime novel I could get my hands on, reading Wambaugh and Chandler alongside Jackie magazine and Just 17. I could think of nothing I enjoyed more than a rainy afternoon sprawled out on the sofa, my nose buried in a PD James or Agatha Christie novel.
  “Stemming from this base it seemed entirely natural that I might one day grow into a crime fiction author. There was just the small matter of how to go about it.
  “Before I developed QuicK Investigations I pondered long and hard over who I wanted as my ‘good guys’. I wanted a team, I wanted them to be as real as possible. I did not want a cerebral genius like Morse or Holmes, nor a tough guy like Pike or Marlowe. I did not want a melancholy alcoholic, or a prim snoopy old lady. What I wanted was someone to whom I could relate. Someone who has to slog hard to get to the truth, someone flawed, someone who would make mistakes, someone with secrets. Someone with trust issues. I wanted a novice, willing to put the work in, willing to try.
  “Someone like me.
  “With this as my blueprint I set to scribbling and within a week I had my rookie detectives, John Quigley and Sarah Kenny. The offices of QuicK Investigations, located in a rundown building on Wexford Street, had opened for business.
  “John Quigley is a heart a thoroughly decent man. He is not the brightest, or the most driven, but at his core he is the sort of person to whom the troubled turn. If John can help you he will. Sarah Kenny was a more complicated creation. She would need to be the counter balance to John’s slightly work shy attitude and his cockiness. She would be the brooder, the one mired in a personal battlefield that required her to be sharper and more serious. Though I did not want her to come across as a harpy, she has to be the one to rein in the impulsive John. She is also the person with the maturity to handle the mundane day to day running of the office, making sure the bills get paid on time and the insurance is up to date. Y’know, all the boring stuff that John has little interest in.
  “They were to be the yin and yang of the QuicK agency. They each bring different skills to the table, as individuals they have weaknesses, as a team they are stronger. John and Sarah have evolved over the course of the books. Older now, more cynical, they are almost as real to me as flesh and blood people. It tickles me greatly when I get emails from readers asking what they are up to now, expressing dismay over happenings or sympathy for them. Sarah Kenny and John Quigley, once a daydream and a slice of wishful thinking, have become a reality.” - Arlene Hunt
  Arlene Hunt’s BLOOD MONEY is published by Hachette Books Ireland.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Will Arise And Go Now, And Go To Innisfree …

J. Sydney Jones (right), author of REQUIEM IN VIENNA and THE EMPTY MIRROR, was kind enough to host an interview with yours truly over at his blog, Scene of the Crime. The gist of Sydney’s interviews concern themselves with settings, and how a particular setting influences a novel. I talked mostly about my home town, Sligo, the setting for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG EMPTY. To wit:
“Historically, Sligo town is a fascinating place. There are records of the ancient Greeks trading at Sligo port; Sligo Abbey was founded in 1252. It’s an old town, then, and the centre of the town reflects that: the streets are narrow, and there are plenty of interesting alleyways down which a man might wander who is not himself mean. The modern town incorporates many sprawling suburbs, some of which are more salubrious than others, which again makes for an interesting juxtaposition. In certain parts of Sligo, literally crossing the road can make the difference between real estate selling for €80,000 and €400,000. That in itself creates a certain tension.
  “There’s a saying in the West of Ireland that the Celtic Tiger never learned in swim, which is why it never crossed the Shannon into Connacht (said Tiger, presumably, being too dim to use one of the many bridges that cross the Shannon). Sligo was one of those towns that didn’t benefit hugely from the boom years, although it has transformed itself in the last decade or so. Today it’s a brash, progressive place – you can sip your café mocha on the remodelled riverfront with the best of them – but there is a sense that many of the changes are superficial, and you don’t have to go very far from the centre of town before you notice the shabby and threadbare corners, the boarded-up shop-fronts. All in all, I find it a fascinating place – but then, I’m biased. I love it.”
  Not that you’d know it from the excerpt Sydney posts from THE BIG EMPTY, a Harry Rigby private eye novel of mine currently out under consideration. To wit:
It was better out in the suburbs, and it was mostly all suburbs, but the town was a heart-attack of concrete and chrome. Old streets, high and narrow, arteries that had thickened and gnarled so the traffic trickled or didn’t move at all. The light a frozen glare shot with greens and reds, blinking pink neon, fluorescent blues. Boom-boom blasting from rolled-down windows, the deep bass pulsing out muscles of sound.
  On a bad night it took fifteen minutes to crawl the two hundred yards along Castle Street into Grafton Street. The mob shuffling out of the chippers wore hoodies over baggy denims, the dragging hems frayed. Night of the Living McDead. The girls in cropped tops over bulging bellies with hipster jeans showcasing cheese-cutter thongs. In case someone might think they weren’t wearing any underwear at all, maybe.
  I skipped O’Connell Street, heading east along John Street, turning north down Adelaide and then west at the new bridge onto Lynn’s Dock, a grapefruit moon hanging low above the quays. Finn playing The Northern Pikes, Place That’s Insane. On along Ballast Quay to the docks proper, a spit of land jutting out into the sea, maybe forty acres of crumbling warehouse facing open water. Behind the warehouses lay a marshy jungle of weeds. Once in a while there was talk of turning it into a nature preserve, a bird sanctuary, but no one ever did anything about it. The birds came and went anyway.
  Down at the breakwater the Port Authority building was nine stories of black concrete, a finger flipping the bird to the town. Sligo’s Ozymandias, our monument to hubris, built back in the ’60s when Lemass had all boats on a rising tide and the docks were buzzing, a North Atlantic entry point for Polish coal, Norwegian pine, Jamaican sugar, Australian wool. Oil tankers moored down at the deepwater. Russians slipped ashore and never went to sea again. The first African, a Nigerian, was a celebrity. They called him Paddy Dubh and he never had to pay when he bought a pint of stout.
  Then the ’70s slithered in. Crude oil went through the roof. The coal stopped coming, then the sugar. The channel silted up. Paddy had to buy his own stout. Things got so bad the Industrial Development Authority had to buy the PA building and then lease back two of the nine stories to the Port Authority. Even that was a farce, the IDA loaning the PA the money to pay the lease.
  Then the ’80s, a good decade to be a weed or a rat. Everyone forgot about the docks, or tried to …”
  For the interview in its entirety, clickety-click here ...

French Kissies From The USA

It’s a karma thing, probably. The dastardly French cheat Ireland out of their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa, and then crash and burn to a humiliating first-round exit. Meanwhile, Ireland’s very own Tana French is getting all the good vibes going, particularly from US reviewers. To wit:
“While it is a basic readerly instinct to trust the first-person narrator, especially when he’s a police detective, in Ms. French’s novels, the detective-narrators are as much the sources of mystery and danger as they are bringers of light, order and law to the dark world of crime, and the endings are not tidy returns to peace and order. Those who read for the plot may be disappointed by FAITHFUL PLACE, but those who value psychological complexity and vivid characterization, who aren’t afraid to have their generic expectations turned inside out, who like their thrillers with a strong regional and literary savour, owe themselves the pleasure of Tana French.” - The Washington Times

“Some thriller writers burst onto the scene in a sudden blaze of hype, while others bubble under the level of mass awareness for years before gaining a significant following. Two authors who have been steadily attracting fans—but not much fanfare—are Tana French and Dennis Tafoya. Both are likely only to widen their audiences with their latest work.” - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
  Erm, Tom? ‘Not much fanfare’? Do try to keep up …
  Elsewhere, the Courier-Journal had this to say:
“FAITHFUL PLACE is Tana French’s best book yet (readers familiar with IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS will recognize this as an incredible feat), a compelling and cutting mystery with the hardscrabble, savage Mackey clan at its heart.”
  Meanwhile, Myles McWeeney at the Irish Independent reckons that the novel is “more a sprawling inner-city Dublin family saga than a thriller in the strictest sense of the word. But that in no way takes away from the power of this enthralling and wonderfully nuanced book. Rosie and Frank’s story, told in flashback, hooks the reader from the beginning, the characters are masterfully drawn, and the author’s ear for Dublin dialogue is pitch-perfect.”
  And here’s Adam Woog in the Seattle Times: “Irish writer Tana French hit the big time with her stunning cop-drama debut, IN THE WOODS and followed it with an equally brilliant book, THE LIKENESS. Both demonstrated French’s gift for merging the best traits of the crime genre with the compassionate insights and nimble prose associated with ‘serious’ literature. A third dazzler, FAITHFUL PLACE, puts Detective Frank Mackey, a supporting actor from THE LIKENESS, front and centre.”
  If you want to hear Tana’s dulcet tones, clickety-click here for an NPR interview conducted by Lynn Neary …
  … and if you fancy reading an excerpt from Chapter One, here’s a flavour courtesy of the New York Times, which kicks off thusly:
My father once told me that the most important thing every man should know is what he would die for. If you don’t know that, he said, what are you worth? Nothing. You’re not a man at all. I was thirteen and he was three quarters of the way into a bottle of Gordon’s finest, but hey, good talk. As far as I recall, he was willing to die a) for Ireland, b) for his mother, who had been dead for ten years, and c) to get that bitch Maggie Thatcher.
  Needless to say, Janet Maslin at the NYT gives “Tana French’s expertly rendered, gripping new novel” the thumbs up …
  So there you have it. FAITHFUL PLACE. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone

REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED is an audacious exercise in joining the dots between Ireland’s mythological heritage and the current explosion in contemporary Irish crime writing. Basically, Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone have commissioned a number of modern crime stories based on Irish mythology. Contributors include Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt, Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty, Una McCormack, Garbhan Downey, Sam Millar and Stuart Neville. Among the myths invoked are those of Diarmuid and Grainne, the Children of Lir, Queen Maeve and the Brown Bull of Cooley, the Hound of Cu Chulainn, and the Banshee.
  What editors Stone and Brennan have attempted to do is draw parallels between the narrative tensions of an ancient and modern form. Much is made, for example, of the female characters in the myths, such as Queen Maeve and Grainne, as forerunners of the manipulative and often deadly femmes fatales of crime fiction.
  It’s also true that narrative fulcrums such as greed, sex and the lust for power are timeless, as most of the stories here confirm.
  Arlene Hunt’s ‘Sliabh Ban’ is a modern take on the Queen Maeve story, in which revenge plays a considerable part in motivating the main character, whose husband has not only run off with a younger woman, but taken her prize racehorse with him. Hunt’s story is perfectly pitched between myth and modern story, particularly in terms of the tragic ending.
  On the other hand, Adrian McKinty’s story ‘Diarmuid and Grainne’ makes few concessions to the myth that inspired it. While acknowledging the elopement element of the myth, it is to all intents and purposes a hard-nosed tale of an undercover cop on the Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland making a fatal error of judgment while investigating dissident Republicans. Gritty and brutal, it belongs in the category of contemporary story, and shies clear of indulging the mythological aspects.
  John McAllister’s ‘Bog Man’, on the other hand, reverses McKinty’s approach almost entirely: his protagonist is Tarlóir, an enforcer of the peace who goes up against the Morrigan clan in the years immediately following the arrival of St Patrick. McAllister drenches his tale with ghosts, gods and the superstitions of pre-Christian Ireland. In effect, McAllister frames the ancient tale with the modern concept of the police procedural. Where McKinty takes the myth and looks forward, McAllister takes the contemporary form and looks back. Both are equally persuasive.
  Less persuasive in terms of style is Neville Thompson’s ‘Children of Gear’, a riff on the ‘Children of Lir’ story. Thompson sets his story in modern Dublin, yet uses the ancient names for his characters in a tale of a family lost to heroin. The net result is that the story never allows the reader to accept the story as fully myth or modern crime story, but that unsettling aspect contributes to the fact that Thompson’s forceful and unadorned reworking of the myth is a haunting one.
  Some stories have only a tenuous connection to Irish mythology and legend - John Grant’s ‘The Life Business’, for example, offers a couple of glancing references to St Patrick in what is otherwise a compelling coming-of-age tale. Others, such as Ken Bruen’s ‘She Wails Through the Fair’, which takes the myth of the banshee for its inspiration, are entirely suffused with by the story’s inspiration.
  Two stories, both police procedurals, are faithful to the mythology to an almost simplistic degree, yet both are the most successful at drawing out the timelessness of the myths. Brian McGilloway’s ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and Garry Kilworth’s ‘Hats Off to Mary’ seem to skim the surface of the source material: entirely contemporary, they both convey the apparent simplicities of the mythological narratives, while also sketching in the often crude motivations that lie beneath what we often simply skim ourselves when rereading mythology.
  REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED doesn’t always reach the standards set by its audacious concept. By its very nature, and the nature of the material from which the stories take their inspiration, the tone is uneven, with some stories trading in black humour, others in irreverent revisionism, and some striving too hard to locate what is essentially a prehistorical morality in a contemporary setting.
  That said, the collection is for the most part a vibrant reimagining of a body of literature that is in danger of being preserved in the literary equivalent of aspic. It is at worst a long overdue shot in the arm for Irish myths and legends, and deserves to be taken seriously as a courageous attempt to revitalise a tradition that is in danger of being smothered in academic dust. - Declan Burke

  Meanwhile, here’s a link to a piece on REQUIEMS I had published in the Irish Times last month.

  Lately I have been mostly reading: MY FRIEND JESUS CHRIST by Lars Husum, ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee, SPIES OF THE BALKANS by Alan Furst, BAD INTENTIONS by Karin Fossum and FALLING SLOWLY by Robert Fannin.