“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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Digested Read: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson

I can’t remember the last time I got into a taxi in which the cabbie was reading a novel (if ever, but then I don’t take a lot of taxis), but I did so today and - quelle surprise - he was reading a Stieg Larsson book. Liking it a lot, too, although - oddly enough - he’d skipped DRAGON TATTOO and gone straight to THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.
  Anyhoo, apologies for the Stieg Larsson overload this week but we haven’t had a Digested Read in quite a bit, and I quite liked the movie version of THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, which should be screening at a Cineplex near you. To wit:

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

They were the best of men, they were the worst of men. Actually, thought Lisbeth Salander, scratching the left wing of her tattoo with the dragon-scratcher app on her iPhone 6g, all men were sadistic pig-dog rapist scum.
  All apart from Blomqvist, she thought some more.
  Why is that? she thought a little more, wonderingly.
  Well, one thing was certain, she thought to herself, and herself only, as she lit a fresh cigarette with the cigarette-lighter app on her new iVolvo 7g, she would find out by hacking the mainframe of the hidden supercomputer built by sadistic pig-dog Russian sex traffickers. And then they would all die. Die! Diiiieeeee!!!

Blomqvist left the office of Millennium magazine after bringing down the latest government with yet another searing exposé of how the Minister for Umlauts had snaffled an extra Swedish meatball during last Saturday’s trip to IKEA. He was bored, now. What he really needed was to meet a few sadistic pig-dog rapists to prove what a good man he was, by comparison.
  But stay! Was that a message coming through on his Dangleberry 9000e? It was! Don’t believe the media (except Millennium), he read without speaking aloud, I didn’t kill those pig-dog rapists. I am innocent. Your endlessly resourceful alter-ego, Lisbeth.
  Blomqvist smiled a wryly smiling smile. Mothers, he thought, lock up all your sadistic pig-dog sons.

Salander came to in a shallow grave near Brännellsgrytängenvoldemortenskällengen, just down the road from Töp. Her pig-dog Russian sex-trafficker father and pig-dog Bond villain half-brother had neglected to kill her all the way, she thought. The fools! Now she would run away and live to fight another - No! Wait! Why not attack them both, just as she was, shot and bleeding and nigh-on dead?

Blomqvist tenderly lifted Lisbeth into the Sikorsky S-76C+ iHelicopter. I have a dream, he thought thoughtfully, a song to sing, to help me cope, with anything. Except pig-dog rapists, of course. That’s Lisbeth’s gig.

The End, he thought with a wry smile.

THE DIGESTED READ, IN A LINE: HE was a mild-mannered journalist, SHE never outgrew her sullen Goth phase: when they met, it was MÖIDER!

  This article first appeared in the Evening Herald.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DANNY BOY Redux: The 2.0 Reboot

As all three regular readers will be aware, Thursday on CAP has become something of an irony-free zone, largely because I’m in the process of redrafting a novel and offering up said redrafts to the public at large and then ducking to get out of the way of the barbed-wire bouquets.
  The extract below is yet another fresh start. For those precious few of you - how few! how precious! etc. - who have been paying attention to date, the first section predates the man-on-balcony-with-gun opening of previous offerings, although that strand of the narrative will eventually find Dan standing on a balcony with a gun in his hand.
  The second section then flashes back to Dublin some months previously, as we begin to discover how and why Dan travels to Loutro, and winds up on a balcony with a gun in his hand. The plan for now is for the story to progress via flashbacks / flash-forwards, until such time as the twin narratives intersect.
  The pic, by the way (© www.west-crete.com), illustrates the ‘high country’ in which we first encounter Dan, which for the purpose of the story is situated high above Loutro, a tiny village on the south coast of Crete.
  Please feel free to leave a comment registering your approval and / or disgust, and also feel free to do so anonymously, if you prefer.
  And now, Dear Reader, it’s over to you ...


DANNY BOY: A NOVEL

Loutro. Friday June 24, 2009:

We rode down from the high country with the child turtled on the mare’s withers, her fingers braiding its mane and only the pink of her knuckles to say she still lived. The patient mare allowing for our slumped and shifting weight. The blood on its flank my own good blood.
  A lowering sky hung down with its guy ropes unstrung and my delirium was such that it could have been dusk or dawn, the grey mist patched with cloud or peak.
  ‘Not long now,’ I told the child.
  A lie, or as good as, but no child should know the truth of the world as it is and will always be. Some time later she coughed, a thin pewling, and fell silent again.
  ‘Not long now,’ I said, ‘not long.’
  Not long now, not long. My own heartbeat, good yet.
  While I bleed I live, and while I live she lives, and that’s all there is to that.
  The mare plods on down the scarp. Wild flowers appear, yellows and reds so flimsy they hang bowed by dew. Dawn, then.
  The sky is pinking by the time I see the first scars of civilisation, a stone terrace long abandoned to windborne chance and maquis. At first I thought it the shed skin of some mythical snake. Weary now beyond the edge of mind. Where thought is instinct reflexed on itself, so that thinking is doing. Such is life with a bullet in your gut and a child to see delivered safe. What needs and no more.
  Beyond the terracing the track winds between the humped backs of drystone walls. Outhouses with glassless windows and hungry doors that put me in mind of Carthage and the insatiable Moloch, so that I closed my mind’s ear to screaming children fed to the fire as faggots of pink and melting flesh. The mare’s steps echoing back from whitewashed walls long since gone mossy and grey.
  In a doorway a man stands hunched with his head beneath the low lintel, back braced against the frame. A small cup to his lips. The horse crosses the square and stops and snorts. A fine spray flies. The child barely stirs.
  The man unfolds from the doorway and stands looking up at us shading his eyes, head tilted to one side, his gaze flowing from me to the girl to the blood on the mare’s flank. Shaking his head slowly all the while, as if the scene was a novelty viewed through a kaleidoscope and by so shaking he might rearrange the elements into another picture entirely.
  ‘You chust would not listen,’ he whispers, ‘would you?’
  Saying it to me but for himself also. To the empty sky that only ever listens.
  My tongue has swollen behind cracked lips. When I speak it’s no more than a croak. ‘They’re coming, Berte.’
  He nods and flicks aside the grainy dregs and places his cup on the windowsill and calls inside. Steps forward reaching up and tries to pry the girl loose, but her fingers are gnarled ivy in the coarse mane. It takes some moments to free them but then she’s gone and I allow myself to go too, by degrees, angling forward and down until my awkward weight is too much for even that patient mare and she shies and tosses me the final few feet.


Dublin. Monday March 21, 2009:

‘You can start recording now, Browne.’
  ‘Sir.’
  ‘For the record let it be stated that this is an interview with Dan Noone pursuant to a statement in the case of the State versus Anthony Whelan. DI Brady and DS Browne attending, Dan Noone voluntarily present without legal representation. Can you confirm that, Dan?’
  ‘That is correct.’
  ‘No need to be so formal, Dan, we’re only having a chat. You know the drill, right? Get all our ducks in a row first. The statement’ll come later.’
  The interview room: a basement bunker, stark and drab, beige breeze-block with chocolate trim. A fluorescent light humming.
  ‘It might help if you close your eyes, Dan. It’ll feel weird at first but - there you go, good man. Now, tell us what you see. Just let it come.’
  Black ice.
  ‘In your own words, now. Nothing fancy.’
  Black ice on Christmas Eve.
  ‘Take your time, Dan. No hurry. I know it’s tough.’
  Bare branches. Bony fingers. Headlights drilling a tunnel from the dark.
  ‘Just relax, Dan, and --’
  ‘We were heading for home from Midnight Mass.’
  ‘Now you have it. From where to where?’
  ‘Kilquade to Enniskerry. Up the N11, in along the twenty-one bends. Could’ve done it in my sleep.’
  ‘We’ll lose that last bit, Browne. Okay, Dan, go on. What time is it?’
  ‘Eleven-thirty or thereabouts. Maybe a little later.’
  ‘Because Midnight Mass …’
  ‘In Kilquade Midnight Mass starts at 10pm.’
  ‘Good stuff. Okay, so who’s in the passenger seat?’
  ‘Rach.’
  ‘Rach being …?’
  ‘Rachel. My wife.’
  ‘And what’s Rachel doing?’
  ‘Twisting in her seat. Leaning back to see past the headrest.’
  ‘Why?’
  ‘To sing.’
  ‘Who’s she singing to?’
  God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing ye dismay.
  ‘Who’s Rachel singing to, Dan?’
  ‘Pooh Bear.’
  ‘Pooh Bear, okay. But who’s holding the bear?’
  ‘The Boop.’
  ‘The what?’
  ‘The Boop. Emily, our baby girl.’
  ‘Good man, Dan. Let’s stick with actual names for now. What’s Emily doing?’
  ‘Nothing. Trying to sleep. It’s way past her bedtime.’
  ‘So what happens then?’
  It’s too late anyway, Rach. Doesn’t matter. She can wait for morning.
  ‘Stay with it, Dan. What happens then?’
  Remember Christ the Saviour was born on Christmas Day.
  ‘Dan? What happens next?’
  ‘I look across at Rachel and say --’
  ‘No, you don’t. Your eyes are on the road, both hands on the wheel. What do you see?’
  ‘Blue-white light.’
  ‘Halogen lights?’
  ‘A flash. Strafing.’
  ‘Strafing, that’s good. What then?’
  ‘I don’t know. This is where it all goes blank.’
  Wrenching the steering wheel before I knew what it was. Already too late.
  ‘You can’t remember anything?’
  ‘Nothing. Sorry.’
  It came hurtling out of the bend, cutting the corner. Ploughed us nearside in front of the rear wheel arch.
  ‘Just relax, Dan. Let it come.’
  ‘I’m telling you, there’s nothing.’
  Slewing across the slab of black ice, invisible under a mulch of dead leaves. Back tyres sliding out as I threw the wheel against the skid, the car turning back on itself going over the low ditch.
  ‘You know the drill, Dan. Anything at all you can give us could be useful.’
  A shudder as we punched through the low metal railing. Then the sickening lurch into space, the stony riverbank thirty feet below.
  ‘I know. But there’s nothing.’
  We hit like a paper lantern scissoring closed.

  © Declan Burke, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Girl With The Midas Touch

Stieg Larsson, eh? “I LOVE HIM!” “BUT I HATE HIM!” Etc, ad nauseum.
  But what do crime writers think of Stieg Larsson? I had a piece published a couple of weeks ago in the Irish Examiner, in which I asked Val McDermid, John Banville, Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville and Eoin McNamee why they believe Stieg Larsson became such a runaway phenomenon, and what they think of his work themselves. It ran a lot like this:
The Girl With the Midas Touch: The Stieg Larsson Phenomenon

Ask any tattoo artist and they’ll tell you that demand for dragons has gone through the roof. The reason, of course, is the phenomenal success of Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium’ trilogy of novels: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST have sold almost 30 million copies in over 40 countries.
  Larsson’s popularity is about to go truly stratospheric, however. The second movie based on the travails of investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander opens August 27th, a Hollywood adaptation of the first novel will star Daniel Craig, and there are rumours that Larsson’s former partner, Eva Gabrielsson, is currently writing a fourth novel based on an unfinished story Larsson left behind before his untimely death.
  As has been the case with best-selling crime authors Dan Brown, James Patterson and John Grisham, however, Larsson’s work has sharply divided his fellow writers. Some hail the Millennium trilogy as a new departure for the crime fiction genre, while others dismiss it as derivative, clunky and overblown.
  “I read the first volume when on holiday and found it ‘very readable’, which as well as an encomium is a sort of insult, in my lexicon,” says John Banville, who writes crime novels under the nom-de-plume Benjamin Black, the latest of which, ELEGY FOR APRIL, is published this month. “I thought it greatly over-written - it could have fitted very nicely into 175 pages or so - and simple-minded in its plotting.”
  Val McDermid, who recently won the ‘Diamond Dagger’ for lifetime achievement awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association, and whose latest offering is TRICK OF THE DARK, places the ‘Millennium’ trilogy in the wider context of best-selling novels. “What I think Larsson has done is similar to what JK Rowling did so spectacularly well,” she says, “he’s synthesised the most successful elements of other people’s writing into something that has the ability to reach a mass market. There’s nothing especially revolutionary about his work - it’s unusual to see a man writing with such strong views on misogyny, but women thriller writers have been doing that for a long time now without generating such amazement.”
  “I think the trilogy succeeds despite itself,” says Eoin McNamee, whose ORCHID BLUE will be published in November. “The work is rife with banalities and clichés - the major plot lines clunk, the male protagonist is a twitching bundle of liberal political fancies, and illiberal sexual fantasies, sometimes sad and sometimes deeply uncomfortable. You find yourself stopping dead at points and wondering how an editor could have let particular sequences through.”
  Meanwhile, Stuart Neville, whose sophomore novel COLLUSION was published last month, is not impressed by Larsson’s reputation as a campaigning novelist. “I’ve seen the screen version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO,” he says, “and listened to the audio book, and I’m not a huge fan of either. In particular, I find it hard to square what I’ve seen and heard with Larsson’s rep as a liberal feminist. Lisbeth Salander seemed more like a schoolboy fantasy to me, and there were parts of the film that struck me as out-and-out misogyny.”
  Colin Bateman, himself a perennial best-seller, is less critical of the film. “I started the first book and didn’t get anywhere with it,” he says, “but I can say that about a lot of books. Then I saw the first movie and quite enjoyed it, though to tell you the truth subtitles tend to lend an intellectual quality to movies they probably don’t deserve - it could quite easily have been an extended episode of a British cop show, with added S&M.”
  So why have the novels been so phenomenally successful?
  “The books,” says McNamee, “have the quality that distinguishes great crime writing - atmosphere. It’s not so much the physical as the psychic landscapes evoked. The air of fatigued Calvinism and social progressivism gone past its usefulness. The themes of sex and family that you find in the genre from John D. McDonald to James Lee Burke. Beneath the sometimes overwrought architecture of the books, there’s a feeling of real harm abroad, of transgressive whispering in the shadows. You have the sense of an absent God, innocence abandoned, of children being sinned against in the darkness.”
  “I think he’s a terrific storyteller,” says McDermid, “and he’s created a pair of protagonists who really have the power to make us care what happens to them. I like his ideas, and I wish he’d lived to explore further the issues he was clearly so passionate about. I also wish he had lived long enough to work with an editor to make the books sharper and less baggy. What I think is excellent news for crime writers is that it has woken up a wider audience to the power of the contemporary genre.”
  “I think it’s based on a reversal of genders,” says Banville, “the hero is a feminine type but acceptable to men, and the heroine is far more ferocious than any man, but justifiably so. Also, she is the irresistible nemesis that we all secretly long to be. And, of course, the back-story is one of horrifying and almost unimaginable violence, which is something we glory in. Future generations may dub ours the Age of the Wests, Fred & Rose, and wonder at our taste for vicarious blood-letting.”
  McNamee also identifies Lisbeth Salander as the crucial element in Larsson’s success. “You can almost hear the gear change in the first book as Larsson realises that she’s much more interesting than the male protagonist,” he says. “The character manages to rise above the hovering banalities of the spiked and tattooed punkette, and raise a skinny fist against an indifferent universe. She’s not Marlow or Lew Archer but she has the gravitas of those solitary, compromised figures, moving easily from the bed-sit world of misfit computer hackers to the shadowed big houses of the well-got. That’s the genius of the trilogy - it’s all very modern, very Calvinist, very noir.”
  Bateman, whose latest ‘Mystery Man’ novel DR YES is published later this month, has a typically idiosyncratic take on the Larsson phenomenon. “With all their ‘Blumquists’ and ‘Rhomohedrons’, the novels aren’t always an easy read,” he says, “so I suspect they are THE BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME of crime novels, purchased but not always read. Whereas I’m just not purchased.”
  This feature first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Tickets

John Banville (right) will be appearing at this coming weekend’s Mountains to Sea literary festival in Dun Laoghaire, presumably in his Benjamin Black incarnation, given the latest BB offering, ELEGY FOR APRIL, is currently appearing on shelves near you. In the ‘My Week’ feature in last weekend’s Sunday Times, JB / BB had this to say:
“I began the book - it irks me that I have not yet found a title - on May 4. I’m told that real crime novelists grind their teeth in fury when I speak of writing the BB books quickly, but the great Simenon used to knock off a Maigret in a couple of weeks, and would have considered me a slacker and a sloth.”
  Anyhoo, JB / BB will be appearing - alongside a host of non-crime fiction writers - on Saturday and Sunday. Among the notable crime writers will be Kate Atkinson, whose latest offering, STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, is as brilliant as its title is quirky.
  What I’m looking forward to most, however, is the conversation between Stuart Neville and Eoin McNamee. Stuart published COLLUSION, the follow-up to THE TWELVE, earlier this year, and a terrific read it is too, while Eoin publishes the excellent ORCHID BLUE in November. Ensuring that there’ll be no eye-gouging and below-the-belt strokes between the pair will be Squire Declan Hughes, who will moderate the conversation in an appropriately (we hope) immoderate style.
  The good news is that there are a limited number of free tickets available for this particular gig. If you’re interested, contact Bert Wright on bwcc(at)eircom.net and let him know your details …

Monday, September 6, 2010

Make Mine A Shandy

An intriguing proposition hoves over the horizon, being Michael Sheridan’s true crime offering MURDER AT SHANDY HALL: THE COACHFORD POISONING CASE. To wit:
Cork, May, 1887. Murder stalks the countryside. Against a tranquil rural backdrop the sleepy County Cork village of Dripsey, near Coachford, a sensational Victorian murder is played out with a potent mix of love, lust, betrayal, and ultimately naked hatred. The entry of a young and beautiful governess into Shandy Hall, the home of a retired British Army surgeon Dr Philip Cross, acts as a catalyst for an act of horror that prompts suspicion, an exhumation, an inquest, and a charged courtroom drama that grabs newspaper headlines all over the world. The nation is transfixed by details of a murder which shatters the Victorian ideal of the home as a safe haven of privacy and comfort, and besmirches the blue-blooded reputation of an aristocratic line. The cast of real characters includes a cruel killer, cloaked in respectability; a beautiful and naïve governess; a blameless wife; a brilliant young pathologist; a canny and clever murder detective; two accomplished courtroom adversaries; a caring and emotional judge; and a notorious hangman. The unravelling of this true-life murder mystery will send a chill through your bones.
  Sheridan’s previous books include DEATH IN DECEMBER: THE STORY OF SOPHIE TOSCAN DU PLANTIER and A LETTER TO VERONICA: THE LAST DAYS OF VERONICA GUERIN, both true crime accounts. He’s not shy about raising the bar on himself, either. In his introduction, he has this to say:
“There is nothing ever new under the sun and the fact of murder echoes in our ears, in hour hearts and in our minds. And yet [murder] is an enduring mystery - one that drove the greatest writers over the generations, like Dickens, Dostoevsky, Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle, Camus, Capote and Mailer to even greater heights of expression to get to its essence.”
  So - can Michael Sheridan’s SHANDY HALL cut the mustard alongside the greats? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …