“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 24, 2010

Top O’ The World, Ma!

Aka, ‘Top O’ the World, Omagh’. Via the ever diligent Peter Rozovsky comes the news that feisty whippersnapper Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards scooped the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger at Harrogate for her monumental work AFTERMATH: THE OMAGH BOMBING AND THE FAMILIES’ PURSUIT OF JUSTICE, and hearty congrats to her. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer lady. Word has it that Stuart Neville was on hand to manfully handle the obligatory jeroboam of champagne, and that a good night was had by all.
  Incidentally, I finished Stuart Neville’s COLLUSION during the week, and the good news is that it’s a better novel that his award-winning debut, THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST), which I remember Ruth Dudley Edwards praising to the skies for its compassion early last summer. Ah, serendipity.
  Meanwhile, and in a not particularly impressive showing for Irish writers, William Ryan was shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for his debut THE HOLY THIEF. I liked that one a lot, too.
  Elsewhere in Irish crime fiction this week, Maxine Clarke reviewed Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND for Euro Crime, with the gist running thusly:
“WINTERLAND is a brilliant book … There are just so many things to like about this book, which is exciting, gripping and perfectly structured as well as having great emotional depth and insight. If you only read one book for the rest of the year, make it this one.” - Maxine Clarke, Eurocrime
  Nice. And Bernice Harrison was impressed with Arlene Hunt’s BLOOD MONEY over at the Irish Times. To wit:
“Hunt is a skilled crime writer, able to build and sustain suspense – but never at the expense of credibility – and her dialogue zings with authenticity. The clever plot is carried by a cast of deftly drawn characters, who are all as recognisable as the Dublin locations Hunt puts them in. And there’s humour here, too, mostly in Quigley’s realisation that he’s in danger of becoming a sad, lonely loser and, if he’s not careful, a cliche of a private investigator. He’s a character worth watching out for in future.” - Bernice Harrison, Irish Times
  Speaking of Arlene Hunt, she was on the Ireland AM couch over at TV3 last week, alongside Declan Hughes, chatting about Ireland AM’s Book of the Month, Bateman’s THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL. This week it was the turn of The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman himself, who reckons that his speciality subject, were he ever to go on Mastermind, would be Liverpool Football Club rather than crime fiction. Yep, I always knew the man had impeccable taste.
  Oddly enough, co-presenter Mark Cagney suggested that while “you could throw a rock out that door and hit a female Irish crime writer,” there seemed to be a lack of male Irish crime writers once you get past Bateman, John Connolly and Benjamin Black.
  Erm, well, there’s the guy you had on last week, Mark, called Declan Hughes. And Brian McGilloway, who’s been on the show at least twice, and possibly three times. And then there’s Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty, Paul Charles, KT McCaffrey, Alan Glynn, William Ryan, Gene Kerrigan, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Kevin McCarthy, Garbhan Downey, Rob Kitchin, Gerry O’Carroll, Robert Fannin … and they’re just the writers who’ve published a novel in the last year or so. Mark? Sack your researcher, post-haste.
  For the vid of Bateman in all his glory, clickety-click here

Friday, July 23, 2010

It’s Not Quite Dead Yet

I don’t know about you, but I like good books. I’m not too demanding: a gripping story, fascinating characters and an inventive use of language are generally enough to make me happy. Like, say, Adrian McKinty’s debut, DEAD I WELL MAY BE, which at the time I read it seemed not entirely unlike a Bourne novel rewritten by Cormac McCarthy.
  The folks at National Public Radio seem to like it too, given that the novel has been chosen as one of its ‘Killer Thrillers’ - “the 100 most pulse-quickening, suspenseful novels ever written”, according to the NPR.
  Marvellous news for McKinty, and for Tana French and Ken Bruen, both of whom are also flying the Irish flag. Or so you’d think. Quoth McKinty over at his interweb lair:
“Somehow DEAD I MAY WELL BE has been long listed as one of National Public Radio’s ‘Killer Thrillers’. I say somehow because unlike every other book on the list DEAD I WELL MAY BE isn’t even in print anymore.”
  Now, between you and me, the fact that DEAD I WELL MAY BE went out of print isn’t just a disgrace, it’s something of a metaphor for how rotten is the state of Denmark, if we can in turn accept ‘Denmark’ as a metaphor for ‘the publishing industry’. In fact, so disgraceful is it that I can’t muster the requisite anger and indignation - it’s kind of bone-crushingly depressing, to be honest. I can rant and rave about the fact that I can’t get published, and people are perfectly entitled to say, ‘Listen, mate, you’re actually not very good - get over yourself.’ They can’t say that to McKinty, because the man is a brilliant writer, and has the critical kudos and awards to back him up.
  What to do? Well, you can vote for DIWMB over at the NPR site here - the poll closes on August 2nd. And once you’ve done that, you can hoppity-skip-jump over here, because it appears the good folk who decide such things are reprinting DEAD I WELL MAY BE. And not a moment too soon, even if it is (or appears to be) a POD edition.
  God bless your cotton socks, NPR.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Boy From Atlantis

Yon Eoin Colfer’s a busy man these days. Not only did he launch the latest Artemis Fowl novel by ‘virtual live’ webcast on Tuesday, he was yakking it up at Harrogate this morning (Thursday) and then zooming across to Dublin to launch ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX at Eason’s at 6.30pm. Has Eoin learned a thing or two from Artemis about time-travel, the art of bi-location and sundry other handy tips ‘n’ tricks? Or is Eoin so stinkingly rich these days he can afford his own private Lear jet? Personally, I’m hoping it’s the latter …
  Anyhoo, ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX. What the jiggery-poo is all that about, then, blurb elves?
ARTEMIS FOWL’S CRIMINAL WAYS HAVE FINALLY GOT THE BETTER OF HIM . . . Young Artemis has frequently used high-tech fairy magic to mastermind the most devious criminal activity of the new century. Now, at a conference in Iceland, Artemis has gathered the fairies to present his latest idea to save the world from global warming. But Artemis is behaving strangely – he seems different. Something terrible has happened to him . . . Artemis Fowl has become nice. The fairies diagnose Atlantis Complex (that’s obsessive compulsive disorder to you and I) – it seems dabbling in magic has damaged Artemis’ main weapon: his mind. Fairy ally Captain Holly Short doesn’t know what to do. The subterranean volcanoes are under attack from vicious robots and Artemis cannot fight them. Can Holly get the real Artemis back before the robot probes destroy every human and life form?
  As always, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, Yes, she very probably will …

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Origins: Garbhan Downey

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: Garbhan Downey (right), author of THE AMERICAN ENVOY. To wit:

“I never base my characters on actual people – apart from one, which I’ll get to in a minute. But I do accept that now and again my heroes and villains unwittingly adopt attributes of punters I’ve met in real life.
  “Five years ago, for example, a retired IRA man asked me to sign a copy of OFF BROADWAY – a book of short-stories set in the North’s post-ceasefire underworld. I looked at him deadpan and wrote, “To X, an inspiration”. I then handed the book back to him, saying nothing. In fairness, he had the grace to burst out laughing – and told me he was away to ring his lawyer.
  “It would be silly to deny that life inspires art. The Barkley family – a gang of dirty businessmen who appear in all six of my novels – share many traits with the rash of carpet-baggers who infest modern Ireland. “Sparkly”, “King-Size” and “Darkly” Barkley have each been responsible for shed-loads of scams, which are thinly disguised accounts of real-life cons I was never to expose as a newspaper editor.
  “Sparkly runs a host of quasi-legal shop-fronts for the Boys; King Size is a race-fixing jockey with sidelines in property development and blackmail; while Darkly is a consultant or, if you’d prefer, “the type of guy who stands in front of the brothel and offers to sell you your photo back”. And though I never met a triumvirate quite so crooked in my day job, I’m sure there are a few out there who will occasionally wince with recognition – and perhaps even a little pride – as they’re reading the books.
  “Unlike in the real world, however, I have taken great care to spoon out proper retribution to my Barkleys: suspending one from a window-ledge; affixing another to a bunny-boiling wife; and infecting a third with a vicious STD. None of them, you’ll be pleased to learn, live happily ever after – indeed, two don’t live at all any more ...
  “The Hurleys – who are central to both RUNNING MATES and THE WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES - are a mostly-decent republican clan, representing those in Northern society who struggle valiantly to put the old ways behind them but occasionally fall back into bad habits. Or, as they’re more often referred to nowadays – “the government”.
  “The Hurleys, as you’d expect, are known as “The Hurlers” as a tribute to our national sport and a formerly-preferred method of chastisement. But it is important too that characters develop with the changing times. Hence, Harry the Hurler, the family patriarch, becomes entangled with a glamorous senior police chief; his brother Gerry gets himself a “late-learners degree” and becomes an MLA in Stormont; Jimmy Fidget, the youngest, has a guilt-induced breakdown before setting up his own security company; while Donna, the white sheep, shacks up with the Taoiseach. And again, I would insist that the Hurleys are certainly not based on real people, despite several claims to the contrary (and two unproven lawsuits).
  “Lou Johnston, aka Letemout Lou, the leading lady in several of my books, is a bossy and beautiful lawyer-turned judge, who - despite her cranky shell - is kindness itself. I would stress for the record, however, that although I myself am married to a beautiful lawyer who is kindness itself, any and all resemblances are purely coincidental. (Note to editor – I took great care to drop “bossy” from that second clause...)
  “The identities of my players are very important to me – I have to have a firm grip in my head as to who they are, when I’m writing them. So it helps if the names are obvious and pertinent: Tommy Bowtie is a solicitor; Shakes Coyle is a dried-out drunk; Getemup Gormley is the failed bank-robber; Time-Gents is a barman; Hate the World is a hitman; Nora Tora Tora has a bad temper; Ruth Ball, the man-eater, becomes “Buster”; Chiselling Phil is a barrister-turned-negotiator; Stammering Stan is a not-very-confident newsreader; the priest who “cures” homosexuals is Fr “Bend-em-Back” Behan; and the Taoiseach’s intelligence expert is John the Bugger.
  “Derry people, I believe, are particularly talented at summing up people in a single word or pithy phrase. They work hard at it. I once asked in a pub why a particular man was known as “Jimmy Choo-Choo”, to be told that he had taken part in a training course at the railway station 20 years previously. It always makes sense. A prominent Glasgow republican, now living in Derry is, naturally, known by locals as “Taff”.
  “My late brother was an artist at it. He was never bested for the mot juste – so much so that I once even dedicated a story to Rónán “Give Everyone a Middle Name” Downey. I remember sitting with him as we listened to a very stoned friend attempt to sing “Just a Gigolo”. Rónán immediately dubbed him John “I Ain’t Got No Body” Smith*. The name stuck.
  “On only one occasion did I directly transpose a real person into a novel. He was heavily fictionalised, though for obvious reasons I am happy that he will never out himself as my muse.
  “I have to confess it was Mark Durkan, the Foyle MP, who put the idea into my head. We were swapping yarns in Radio Foyle one morning, when Durks started chatting about a constituent who, when asked to leave his office, went down on all fours and ran around the desk, barking like a dog.
  “I couldn’t resist it. In my first novel THE PRIVATE DIARY OF A SUSPENDED MLA, I just had to give him a cameo role. A man whose mission in life is to torment rising political stars. A man who breaks the wing-mirrors off your car, if you don’t come quick with the bail money. A headcase among headcases. The nemesis of all would be young Kennedys. The curse of all Camerons.
  “Step forward Mister J. “Bite Me” O’Boyle. You know who you are.” - Garbhan Downey

  * Identity changed to protect the victim.

  Garbhan Downey’s THE AMERICAN ENVOY is published by Guildhall Press.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: J. Sydney Jones

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?
Can we stretch it to thrillers? HARRY’S GAME, by Gerald Seymour. He can do dialogue and pacing like no other. Or perhaps Le Carré’s A MURDER OF QUALITY. Ditto the dialogue. You can almost taste it.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Prince Myshkin. He runs under the radar.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Guilty as accused: mysteries and thrillers.

Most satisfying writing moment?
I’ve published a dozen books over the years, but getting my first royalty check for my narrative history, HITLER IN VIENNA, thirty years after publication was definitely a high point. No lie. That book was sold I don’t know how many times from the German original, translated, sold in revised editions (without my blessings) and I never saw a dime. Only financials for years were the photo rights I had to pay for with each new edition. But patience pays out. I now can afford five bottles of plonk.

No. On second thoughts, I believe I will frame the check.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is promotion - endless, ceaseless (is it even productive?) promotion. The best is that feeling of getting it right, nailing a scene or character with exactly the right words.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Here’s for book four of my Viennese Mysteries series, set around 1900: THE KEEPER OF THE HANDS is a murder mystery that quickly morphs into a thriller of assumed names, false identities, and internecine turf battles between espionage arms of the state, employing the technology and tradecraft of a century ago. It is also a work of social and political commentary in which the demands of state power trump the privacy of its citizens, a scenario that is prescient of our own times.

Who are you reading right now?
Perhaps this is my guilty pleasure: I always have several books going at the same time, fiction and nonfiction. Nabokov’s SPEAK MEMORY, THE AGE OF WONDER by Richard Holmes, and Jonathan Littel’s THE KINDLY ONES.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Neither. Don’t believe in God.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
I’m breaking the rules (so I can’t count, so sue me) and quoting from Kirkus about my last novel, REQUIEM IN VIENNA: “Sophisticated entertainment of a very high caliber.”

J. Sydney Jones’ THE EMPTY MIRROR is published by Minotaur Books.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Gravy Train Is Leaving The Station

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … Back when I was still young, dynamic and bearded, I lived in Portstewart in Co. Derry, doing my level best to avoid lectures at the nearby university of Coleraine. Of marvellous assistance in my endeavours to avoid toil of any kind were my housemates and fellow Panucci Brothers (above) - l-to-r: Davy ‘the Reader’ Panucci, Dec ‘the Alibi’ Panucci, Barry ‘the Hat’ Panucci, and Mik ‘the Orange’ Panucci, and Barry ‘De Niro’ Panucci. And, yes, we were all old enough to know better, even back then.
  Anyway, we got some bad news last year about Davy Gray, aka Gravy Day. I’ll let Gravy pick up the story:
“In February 2009, two weeks before my 36th birthday, I collapsed in work and was taken by ambulance to Belfast City Hospital. The next day following an MRI scan I was given the devastating news that the scan revealed a significant tumour on the right side of my brain. To say this was a shock is obviously a huge understatement. I had not experienced any of the symptoms associated with a brain tumour, and had led what I considered to be a fit and healthy lifestyle.
  “After a few days I was moved to the neurology unit of Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital but after performing a biopsy the neurosurgeons at the Royal told me they considered the tumour to be inoperable - in their opinion the risk of causing brain damage during surgery was too high.
  “Despite this setback, I decided to get a second opinion and was referred to a surgeon at The Beacon Hospital in Dublin. After examining my case, the surgeon in Dublin told me that, in his opinion, surgery offered "no significant risk" and he agreed to operate on me. In April 2009 after a major operation, my tumour was successfully removed. In June I began a 6 week course of concurrent radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. This was followed by 6 months of chemotherapy, the last dose of which I received in January this year. To our enormous relief, a scan at the end of January was completely clear and showed no sign of disease.

THE CHARITY - “Every year in the UK, 16,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour and more people under 40 die of a brain tumour than from any other cancer. Despite these statistics, brain tumour research is woefully under-funded and lags significantly behind other cancers.
  The Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust is the leading adult and childhood brain tumour charity dedicated to scientific research and patient support in the UK. To date the charity has spent £5m on innovative, world class research projects led by top UK and international scientists.
  “The charity’s aim is to raise awareness, significantly fund brain tumour research and to give support to brain tumour patients, their friends and family, and to give hope to brain tumour patients in the future. Further details at www.braintumourtrust.co.uk

THE EVENT - “The 26th annual Warrior’s Run takes place on 28th August 2010 in Strandhill, Co.Sligo. It’s a gruelling 15km run from the beachfront in Strandhill to the peak of Knocknarea mountain, around Queen Maeve’s Cairn and back down to the beachfront again. The race is classified as a road and hill race or multi-terrained - nine of its kilometres are on paved roads, but six kilometres in the middle include a 700 foot climb through fields and along loose gravel and heather paths. I have competed in the race several times in the past and always find it a huge challenge but great fun too! Further details are at www.warriorsfestival.com

HOW TO DONATE - “To donate online please go to www.justgiving.com/warriorsrun. Donations are in sterling, but for those of you in the eurozone or elsewhere on the globe, justgiving.com accepts payments by all major credit cards and by PayPal.

PLEASE DIG DEEP AND DONATE TO THIS VERY WORTHY CAUSE!”
  Much as I hate to use this here interweb yokeybus to flog anything but my own paltry tomes, I’m agreed with Gravy that this is a worthy cause. Over to you, folks …

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Thin Blue Blood

Kevin McCarthy points us in the direction of Edward Conlon, scion of a long line of Irish-American cops, and recommends BLUE BLOOD, Conlon’s memoir of his time as an NYPD cop. Sounds like a right corker - here’s the intro to Brian Schofield’s excellent review of the book in the Sunday Times:
In the unlikely event that you should ever shoot a New York police officer, it might be helpful to know the lengths to which their colleagues will go to catch you. In one particularly dogged pursuit, the force bought a nightclub and populated it entirely with undercover officers posing as mafiosi. Night after night, for months, a young wannabe wiseguy called Henry Vega socialised with the mock mobsters, chasing an invitation to become a “made man”. Eventually, he sought their trust by bragging about the time he shot a cop — only to discover, in a blur of badges and guns, that he was the star of his own personal Truman Show.
  That might sound like the overcooked plot of a TV police series, but the source is BLUE BLOOD, Edward Conlon’s memoir of seven years as a New York policeman, which oozes a credibility that’s beyond question. This ribald, unsparing description of life in the NYPD blue was a publishing sensation when it hit bookshops in America in 2004, garnering fans from Jay McInerney to James Frey.
  But at that time it was considered too detailed and parochial for British tastes. Then came The Wire, a television show that proved that a fanatically accurate portrayal of American cop talk, drugs trafficking and police office politics could draw a small but manically dedicated UK audience. So now Blue Blood has crossed the pond — but this gritty, grimy epic is no cheap cash-in, more of a high-water mark of realism and insider knowledge, against which the television shows have to measure up …”
  Conlon’s advice to anyone who’s watched too many cop shows on television is strident: “You want to know what my job is like? Go to your garage, piss in the corner, and stand there for eight hours.” - Brian Schofield, the Sunday Times
  For the review in its entirety, clickety-click here
  Apparently Conlon has now written a novel, called RED ON RED, which is due to be released early next year. Could be a cracker …