“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, October 15, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A (Short) Review: THE HILLIKER CURSE: MY PURSUIT OF WOMEN by James Ellroy

James Ellroy has written about the impact of his mother’s murder in the memoir MY DARK PLACES (1996), and dedicated his novel THE BLACK DAHLIA (1987) to her memory. THE HILLIKER CURSE: MY PURSUIT OF WOMEN (William Heinemann, £16.99) is another memoir, but here Ellroy broadens his remit to discuss how Geneva Hillker’s murder in 1958, when Ellroy was ten years old, set the life-long agenda for his relationship with the opposite sex. Rigorously honest about his early days of criminal activity, voyeurism, drug abuse and anti-social behaviour, it’s equally candid when Ellroy documents how the failures of his personal relationships fuelled his fictional fantasies of brutal men going to war on behalf of vulnerable women. Then there’s the allegation that Ellroy has exploited his mother’s death: “I read from MY DARK PLACES,” he writes. “The six thousandth public performance of my dead-mother act … A man called me glib. I brusquely rebuked him. I said she was my mother - not his. I said I’d paid the price - and he hadn’t.” The prose is Ellroy’s usual cocktail of slang, mangled idiom and staccato rhythms, an electrifying blend that fuels the most compulsively self-flagellating memoir you’ll read this year. - Declan Burke

  For a longer take on THE HILLIKER CURSE, Peter Murphy’s review in last weekend’s Irish Times is well worth checking out …

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Eamonn Sweeney

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?
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. Superbly written, tremendous dialogue, perfectly paced, a horde of memorable characters, not a wasted or graceless sentence in it. The gold standard.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
The eponymous protagonist of COCKFIGHTER: musical genius, unlikely babe magnet, sporting gentleman, a soul utterly unfazed by setbacks and troubles. Created by the great and greatly under-rated Charles Willeford.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
He wrote them in a hurry, I read them in a hurry, but I get great pleasure out of the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon. But I always feel relatively virtuous reading anything. If I want to feel guilty I play Missile Command or Galaxian on the computer.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Hearing that my first novel, WAITING FOR THE HEALER, was going to be published.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
OPEN CUT by JM O’Neill. The greatest Irish writer most people have never heard of. This and DUFFY IS DEAD are not just the best London Irish novels ever written but two of the best novels ever written about London. That he’s not much better known is, well, criminal.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR by Gene Kerrigan. And, on the grounds that the parentage rule has done great good for this country, A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR by Dennis Lehane, whose father comes from over the road in Clonakilty.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best is the freedom. The worst is the uncertainty. Two sides of the same coin really, I suppose.

The pitch for your next book is …?
DOWN DOWN, DEEPER AND DOWN: Ireland in the seventies, war, sex and corruption, oh baby it was a wild world. Or, if this counts as the current book, the novel I’m working on is called BORDERTOWN BLUES. Pitch: Ireland in the seventies, war, sex and corruption, oh baby it was a wild world.

Who are you reading right now?
The Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo. Fantastic stuff, THE MAN ON THE BALCONY would be in the runners-up slot behind Eddie Coyle. Sjowall and Wahloo are the Beatles, Henning Mankell is Oasis. I like Oasis, but the original of the species is, to use football parlance, different class.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
A bit unreasonable of the guy, considering I’m one of the declining number of people who still believe in him. Read, I could dictate the books to someone else.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Still getting there.

Eamonn Sweeney’s DOWN DOWN, DEEPER AND DOWN is published by Gill & Macmillan

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Long Tale

Some days, said he, at the risk of blowing things out of all proportion, I think I know how those Chilean miners might feel. I’m talking about ye olde wryting, of course, which is not a case of life or death, but is - if I can paraphrase Bill Shankly on football - much more important than that.
  Trapped underground, scrabbling around in the dark, desperately hoping for a shaft of light / ray of hope … These are things that I think most writers have in common with the Chilean miners, if only in a metaphorical sense. Unless, of course, you’re a writer who prefers to do his or her scribbling in a collapsed mine a mile underground, in pitch darkness, in which case I salute you. Shine on, you crazy diamond.
  Anyhoo, it looks like the Chilean miners will soon be emerging blinking into the light, and God bless them all. Meanwhile, my very own sliver of hope was delivered last week, courtesy of The Irish Echo, when journalist Peter McDermott asked a number of people to recommend some titles in the crime genre. Joe Long, Noo Yawk bon viveur-about-town and long-time friend to Irish crime writers, and now an ‘Irish noir aficionado’, apparently, made eight recommendations, all of them Irish. To wit:
1. “Every Dead Thing,” by John Connolly; 2. “City of Lost Girls,” by Declan Hughes; 3. “Borderlands,” by Brian McGilloway; 4. “The Big O,” by Declan Burke; 5. “Undertow” by Arlene Hunt; 6. “Dark Times in the City,” by Gene Kerrigan; 7. “The Ghosts of Belfast,” by Stuart Neville; 8. “Winterland,” by Alan Glynn.
  Which is very nice indeed. Sometimes all that’s needed to get you to the desk for another month of pointless, pitiless grind is the merest flicker of hope, just the faintest reminder that someone, somewhere has read your book(s), and liked it / them, and is willing to embarrass themselves in public by saying so aloud. And not only that, but THE BIG O is mixing in some rather fine company there - in fact, I’d go so far as to say that those seven names are amongst the finest practitioners of the dark art operating today.
  So God bless you too, Peter McDermott, and especially ‘Irish noir aficionado’ Joe Long. If anyone bumps up against the Long Fella at B’con (it’ll very probably be in the bar - he’s the sociable kind), buy him a drink for me. A Guinness, preferably.
  The Big Q: what Irish writers could / should Joe Long have included in his Top 8? I’ll start you off with Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND …

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: TRICK OF THE DARK by Val McDermid

Given Val McDermid’s reputation as a ‘bloodthirsty lesbian’, TRICK OF THE DARK is a surprisingly genteel novel. That’s partly because the setting is for the most part the dreaming spires of Oxford, but also because the violent deaths / murders that form the narrative spine of the story have all happened before the novel begins.
  Even when those murders / deaths are explored in flashback or second-hand accounts, however, they are noticeably less gory and lurid than those generally to be found in McDermid’s canon. In fact, some of the deaths could easily be explained away as accidental.
  This is a neat little conceit from McDermid. Her protagonist, Charlie Flint, is suffering a mid-life crisis and her confidence in her ability is at an all-time low. Is Charlie hoping too hard that the deaths she uncovers are all murders, in order to get her life and career back on line? Or is she in fact dealing with an exceptionally clever psychopath who is superbly skilled at covering his or her traces?
  Another clever conceit McDermid employs is to have the main suspect for the murders / deaths, Jay Stewart, write a memoir in the first-person. Jay has her own reasons for concealing her motives for various events in her life, as she can’t afford to reveal her true colours to her new lover, Magda, who is the daughter of Corinna, her ex-tutor at St. Scholastika’s, and who Jay has very good reason to hate given that Corinna cut Jay out of her life while Jay was still a student. At least, that’s the reason Jay offers for not being entirely truthful in her memoir. But has she something more sinister to hide?
  One interesting aspect to the story is virtually all of the main characters are lesbians. And while it may not be politically correct for an out-and-proud lesbian such as Val McDermid to badmouth the sisterhood, she’s perfectly happy to portray her characters here inhabiting both ends of the moral spectrum. Indeed, some of them are positively boring by the standards of a crime novel.
  A further dimension to this is the fact that the story is as concerned with domestic relationships as it is with crime and the investigation of murder. Charlie, for example, has been married to her partner Maria for seven years as the novel opens, and yet one element of her mid-life crisis involves her romantically pursuing Lisa, a motivational speaker who appears to be toying with Charlie’s emotions. Meanwhile, the supposed psychopathic killer Jay is enjoying the first flush of a torrid romance with Magda, and despite the reader’s reservations about Jay, it’s very difficult not to empathise with her personal good fortune.
  The framework of the novel is that of an old-fashioned ‘whodunnit’, with Charlie Flint as the traditional gifted amateur sleuth in the mould of Miss Marple. This may come as a surprise to fans of McDermid, or fans of the Wire in the Blood TV series which is based on her novels, but there TRICK OF THE DARK has an undeniably quaint feel to it. That’s not to say that McDermid has lost her edge, or relevance - the story is peppered with biting social commentary, and McDermid is as strong as always on the frustrations of contemporary policing and investigation. Rather, McDermid appears to have deliberately scaled back her fearsome reputation and written a novel that could quite easily appeal to fans of Inspector Morse.
  McDermid is a wonderfully vivid prose stylist. Most of her main characters are fully formed and well fleshed out, and the backdrop - whether Oxford or the islands off the coast of Scotland - colourfully rendered. That said, neither the complex nature of the relationships explored here, nor the descriptive passages, are allowed to slow the narrative pace. TRICK OF THE DARK is a compulsive page-turner.
  There are some awkward moments, however. A Catholic hatred of homosexuality - necessary to advance the plot - is overplayed, especially as the characters responsible for this attitude reside in an ostensibly liberal academic milieu. An extended sequence in which Charlie encounters another character on a Scottish island feels forced, and is patently shoe-horned in to advance the narrative. And there’s difficulty too, for the seasoned crime fan, in accepting the guilt of the character whom the reader is expected to believe is a psychopathic killer, not because she is poorly drawn, but simply because that solution - in the context of a ‘whodunit’ crime novel - is made far too obvious from an early part of the story, and no other alternatives are proposed until the denouement.
  All told, and those caveats aside, TRICK OF THE DARK bears scrutiny with McDermid’s very strong canon of work. If the novel is rather less hardboiled than McDermid’s fans have come to expect, then the author’s skill as a storyteller more than compensates. For the moment, the novel is a standalone, but McDermid leaves plenty of room and material to ensure that the character of Charlie Flint could very easily return. It’s to be hoped that she does. - Declan Burke