“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, October 30, 2010

The Ghoul-Light Of Murder

Given that Declan Hughes has written, in CITY OF LOST GIRLS, one of the finest Irish novels of 2010, it’s entirely appropriate that he should review for the Irish Times Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE, which will very probably be the finest Irish novel of the year. The gist runneth thusly:
“Alongside Peace and DeLillo, the noir influence of James Ellroy is also discernible in this haunting novel’s elegant, fateful, inexorable progress, not only in the comparison between Pearl Gamble and Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, but also in the mesmerising, almost hallucinatory beauty McNamee conjures from such dark material: “The bride and groom . . . looking into the flash as though dazzled by the promise of the life to come. Robert and Pearl the sombre reverse of that promise. Fixed in the ghoul-light of murder.” Eoin McNamee is a magnificent writer, and ORCHID BLUE may be his finest novel yet.” - Declan Hughes
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, McNamee continues his perambulations around the country promoting ORCHID BLUE, appearing at Dublin’s Gutter Bookshop on Tuesday, November 9th, and Belfast’s No Alibis on Wednesday, November 10th. Trust me, if you haven’t read Eoin McNamee before, the comparisons with David Peace and James Ellroy are well founded, even if McNamee writes in a more formal, elegant style. The danger that comes with dipping into McNamee, of course, is that you’ll find yourself compelled to rush out and pick up his entire canon of work, but we’ll worry about that another day. Mind you, if you want to make a head start, I thoroughly recommend THE ULTRAS, which is as good a novel, crime or otherwise, as has been written in the last decade.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Irish Book Awards: And The Winner Is …

The Irish Book Awards shortlists were announced last night, with the details coming courtesy of Irish Publishing News, and congratulations to all nominees, and particularly RTE’s Ryan Tubridy, whose JFK IN IRELAND was nominated in three categories, despite being published on October 28th - the day the awards shortlists were announced. Which isn’t bad going, and reflects incredibly well on the (koff) perspicacity of the judging panel. Not that I begrudge Tubbers his nominations, I like him a lot as a radio presenter, and he’s done more than his fair share to promote Irish books over the years. Still, nominations in three categories, for a book published on the day of the award nominations? It wouldn’t be like the Irish Book Awards folk to be chasing the RTE imprimatur, would it?
  Anyhoo, onto the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year category, in which six novels are represented. To wit:
CITY OF LOST GIRLS by Declan Hughes
TIME OF DEATH by Alex Barclay
FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French
THE MISSING by Jane Casey
DARK TIMES IN THE CITY by Gene Kerrigan
THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville
  Given the nature of such lists, and the fact that last year was the strongest yet for Irish crime writing, there’s bound to be a bit of ‘Oi, but where’s …?’ etc. And, while it’s hard to quibble with most of the nominations, there are some notable absentees. No Ken Bruen, for starters. No Colin Bateman. No Adrian McKinty, Arlene Hunt or Brian McGilloway, all of whom published the finest novels of their career to date in the last twelve months. There’s also no PEELER by Kevin McCarthy, which was one of the best Irish crime novels of 2010, nor THE HOLY THIEF by William Ryan (which was nominated for a CWA award), and ditto for Conor Fitzgerald’s very fine THE DOGS OF ROME. McCarthy, Ryan and Fitzgerald are debutant writers, of course, but they don’t show up in the Best Newcomer of the Year either, although it’s good to see that Niamh O’Connor’s IF I DON’T SEE YOU AGAIN does make a showing there, as does Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE.
  The glaring absentee for me, though, is Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND, which has a strong claim on being the best Irish crime novel of the last five years, let alone the last twelve months. Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to me, but then what would I know, I’m just blinded by bitterness that they didn’t take my Kindle-only publication of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS under consideration. Boo, etc.
  Elsewhere, it’s nice to see that Ed O’Loughlin’s NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND made the Best Newcomer list, although it’s more than disappointing that it’s not nestling in the Irish Novel of the Year category. I’ve only read two in that category, Paul Murray’s SKIPPY DIES and Colm Toibin’s BROOKLYN, and while SKIPPY DIES is a terrific book, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND is by any measure superior to the vastly overrated BROOKLYN. Incidentally, and while we’re on an Alan Glynn-related rant, WINTERLAND deserved its place in the Irish Novel of the Year category as well as the Crime Fiction one.
  Staying with the Best Newcomer award for a moment, does anyone seriously believe that Amy Huberman’s debut offering was a better novel than Peter Murphy’s JOHN THE REVELATOR? Like, seriously?
  Elsewhere, Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: MORTAL COIL turns up in the Children’s Book of the Year (Senior) category, and here at CAP we send out all kinds of good vibes to Benji Bennett, whose self-published ADAM’S PIRATE TREASURE made the Junior category.
  Finally, how did Ruth Dudley Edwards’ epic AFTERMATH: THE OMAGH BOMBING (which won the CWA non-fiction prize) not manage to make it into the Non-Fiction Book of the Year category? What were the judges thinking of? Too busy ensuring that Amy Huberman’s HELLO HEARTBREAK was squeezed into two categories, perhaps, in order to provide a little glamour for the awards ceremony?
  Two words, folks: FOR. SHAME.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Digested Read: THE ELEPHANT TO HOLLYWOOD by Michael Caine

Yep, it’s that time of the week again. Herewith be the latest in an increasingly improbable line of Digested Reads, aka the Book du Jour in 300 words. This week: THE ELEPHANT TO HOLLYWOOD by Michael Caine. To wit:

“Moy nayme is Maurice Micklewhite. Not a lot of people know that.
  “Whoops, no - let’s start again …
  “Moy nayme is Moichal Cayne.
  “Tasty.
  “Early years, blah-de-blah, ’umble beginnings, rhubarb, loverly jubbly.
  “So - Zulu. ‘At one hundred yards! Volley fire, present! Aim! Fire!’ Loverly.
  “That Johnny Foreigner doesn’t much loike cold steel up ’is jacksey, does he?
  “Alfie, eh? The stories oi could tell … Oh, roight, that’s the whole point, innit?
  “Birds, booze, birds … Nice blummin’ film it was, too.
  “Wot’s that? The Italian Job? ‘’Ang abaht, boys - oi’ve got an idear.’ Think Lawrence Olivier could’ve delivered a line loike that? Fat flummin’ chance.
  “So where wuz we? Roight, yeah - Get Carter. ‘Yer a big man but yer in bad shape. Wiv me it’s a full-time job. Now be’ave.’ Think Shakespeare could’ve written lines like that? Be’ave.
  “The Man Who Would Be King, eh? That Connery, he’s a caution. The stories I could tell … Scottish, though. Can’t be ’elped. Least said, soonest mended, as my dear old sainted mother used to say.
  “The Eagle has Landed. Me, play a Kraut? Yer ’avin’ a larf, aintcha?
  “Yeah, so, ’Ollywood. Fame, fortune, blah, rhubarb, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. That Steve Martin, eh? ’Ad us in stitches, he ’ad. He was funny then, mind.
  “Did I mention the Oscars? Both of ’em? Think Olivier’d win two -- Oh, roight.
  “Okay, so that’s all the stuff we covered in the first autobiography. Now for the new gear …
  “Hmmmmmmmm.
  “Roight, so ’ere’s a few of me favourite recipes. Food, eh? Loverly jubberly.
  “And ’ere’s just a few of me favourite films. Films, eh? Loverly.
  “Batman, yeah. ‘Some men just want to watch the world burn, sir.’ Connery, mainly. Scots git.
  “Wot’s that? Inception? Nah, mate, not a bleedin’ clue.
  “The End.”

  The Digested Read, in one line: “’Ang abaht boys, I’ve got the same blummin’ idear as last time!”

  This article was first published in the Evening Herald.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Eoin McNamee

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?
If it’s in the genre heartland, any Ross McDonald Lew Archer.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Travis McGee in the Chookie McCall days.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Sven Hassel.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Finishing THE ULTRAS.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE BUTCHER BOY by Pat McCabe.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
All of them.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing is money. Best thing is apprehending the transcendent.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Lance Curran as counsel for the prosecution in the Robert the Painter case.

Who are you reading right now?
Susan Sontag, ON PHOTOGRAPHY. “... as if seeing itself, pursued with sufficient avidity and single-mindedness, could indeed reconcile the claims of truth and the need to find the world beautiful.”

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Without question, write.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Looking for mystery.

Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE is published by Faber and Faber.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Gospel According To James

James Ellroy (right) was in town a couple of weeks ago, promoting THE HILLIKER CURSE, and the Evening Herald very kindly sent me along to interview him. The result went a lot like this:
May 28, ’04. Sacramento on a spring heat wave. 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.” - James Ellroy, The Hilliker Curse
First, the facts: James Ellroy’s mother, Geneva ‘Jean’ Hilliker, was murdered in 1958, when Ellroy was ten years old. Her killer was never caught. The boy ran wild, stalked women, broke into their houses to peep and prowl. Drug and booze addictions followed. He published his first novel, Brown’s Requiem, in 1981. Twelve more followed, including his breakout novel LA Confidential (1990) and the ‘Underworld’ trilogy of American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001) and Blood’s a Rover (2009), all of them riffing on a theme of brutal men avenging vulnerable women.
  Ellroy also wrote My Dark Places (1996), a memoir of the time he spent unsuccessfully investigating his mother’s death. The novel The Black Dahlia (1987), inspired by the true-life murder of actress Betty Short, was dedicated ‘in blood’ to the memory of Geneva Hilliker.
  The charge of exploiting his murder’s death is not one that Ellroy shies away from in his second memoir, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women. When his then wife Helen Knode presented him with a photograph of himself taken in the immediate wake of his mother’s death, and asked him what he was thinking, Ellroy replied with a succinctly cold one-word answer: ‘Opportunity.’
  “Yeah, opportunity,” he says, easing back into the plush couch. Cue-ball bald, wild of eye, he is not in the least bit self-conscious about dissecting his mother’s murder amid the muted conversations of The Westbury’s lobby, where we meet shortly after Ellroy walked out on an interview with Today FM’s Matt Cooper after a short but robust exchange. “In Blood’s A Rover, Joan tells [the young, Ellroy-esque voyeur] Don Crutchfield, ‘Your options are do everything or do nothing.’ With my mother, my options are do everything or do nothing. I have decided to do everything. It’s who I am. I’m a pro-active, assertive kind of man, and it wasn’t until I realised that my mother and I comprised more of a love story than a death-and-murder story that I was able to conceive this book.”
  But hadn’t he already covered that ground in My Dark Places?
  “Well, I realised that I had earned - as arrogant as this sounds - the universal significance necessary to write a viable memoir, which has to be about something bigger than you, or you’re full of fucking shit. Misogynistic violence in My Dark Places versus the conjunction of men and women in The Hilliker Curse. I realised this book could be something I’ve never done before, which is an autobiographical essay. By that I mean this: I get to be the younger Ellroy describing his crazy shit, and the older, more mature Ellroy commenting editorially upon it.”
  The younger man, as Ellroy documents in forensic detail, was tortured by self-conjured demons. All things considered, would that younger Ellroy think that the older man had burned up those demons in laying the ‘Hilliker curse’ to rest?
  “Yes. I put those demons to very, very good use. What I say in the book is that the fount of my will was and is the ability to exploit misfortune. And I could write about my mother or ignore my mother, I could tell my mother’s story, I could address it once, reinterpret it a second time … I had options. And I think I chose the right one.”
  In terms of style, The Hilliker Curse is less frenzied than Ellroy’s recent fiction.
  “I am giving the reader a helping hand,” he says. “I am giving the reader more emotional breathing room, more rumination. It all comes back to the two Ellroy motifs - the immediacy of the physical description, when I’m younger or in early middle age, and the rumination. You get the highfaluting riff and you get the fuck-shit-fuck-motherfucker stuff interchangeably, and it works. It works here because it is the voice of a dying breed of man. I think that a lot of the mixed reviews in America to date are because it’s written in such a blunt, heterosexual, white male language. And there’s another issue that attends this, which is that it’s not the least ironic. It’s romantic. This book says There Is Someone Out There - Find Her. Go To Any Lengths. Whatever It Costs. Whatever It Takes.”
  The ‘Her’ is Erika Schickel, Ellroy’s current partner, and who is in the process of leaving her husband for the writer. “I reject this woman as anything less than God’s greatest gift to me,” he writes near the end of The Hilliker Curse. “She is an alchemist’s casting of Jean Hilliker and something much more. She commands me to step out of the dark and into the light.”
  “The thing that’s bothered me about the critical reception so far,” says Ellroy “is that people find it a sleazy book. In fact it’s a tender book, and Erika and I are real. I wrote the relationship up to where we were when I had to turn the book in for publication, so I guess people are allowed to be sceptical, given the empirical evidence of my bad behaviour that precedes it. But Erika and I will flourish. I know we’re going to last.”
  Is he happy?
  “I’m happy. And I’ve been happy for a long time because I go out and take a bite out of the world, and I kick the shit out of the world, and I express my emotions, tell Matt Cooper to fuck off …”
  So what’s next for James Ellroy?
  “I’m going to write bigger, more romantic books. I will not be coy, I will tell you for attribution what I’m doing next. I am going to write a second LA Quartet. I am taking characters from the first Quartet - The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz - and the Trilogy - American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood’s A Rover - and placing them in LA during the month of Pearl Harbour as much younger people. World War II will also be a character in the book, and it’s that month, of Pearl Harbour in December 1941, in real time.”

  The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy is published by William Heinemann (hb, 224pp, £16.99)

Sidebar: James Ellroy on …

God
“I’m rarely asked about it, but it’s in the novels that I’m a Christian. The men who learn self-sacrifice later rather than earlier, who make the big gesture so that others may live. Atonement, redemption - it’s always been there.”

Jonathan Franzen
“Jonathan Franzen - he’s so full of shit. He pulls this crap on his British publisher, with the typos, they have to pulp 80,000 books, it costs them a quarter of a million pounds? Fuck Jonathan Franzen.”

Beethoven
“I first heard Beethoven in 1960, some fifty years ago, and I flipped out. I love the Romantic composers, Beethoven most of all. He’s been a constant companion of mine all my life. He has in many ways provided the soundtrack for my life with women.”

Cormac McCarthy
“Cormac McCarthy is a stunning American original, he deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature. But he won’t win it, for four reasons: he’s male, he’s white, American and presumably heterosexual … I got pissed off, when I tried to read The Crossing, at the twelve or fourteen pages of Mexican Spanish. What the fuck? My name’s not Juan Ellroy.”

This feature first appeared in the Evening Herald