“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, November 27, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Tony Bailie

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 SAVAGE DETECTIVES by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. Although not strictly a crime writer, Bolaño was hugely influenced by the genre. This large, sprawling novel follows the lives of two South American poets from the perspective of a whole range of narrators who drift in and out of their lives. It starts off in Mexico in the 1970s and follows its central characters to Europe, The Middle East and Africa. The diverse narrative voices can be a bit disconcerting and they often focus on their own stories and barely mention the main protagonists. It demands that the reader work and almost become a detective, trying to sift through the testimonies and piece together the movements of the two poets.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Pepe Carvalho, who appears in a series of novels by the late Spanish novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Carvalho lives in Barcelona [a decided advantage when you are sitting in Co Down on a rain-sodden November morning], enjoys gourmet cooking, fine wine, becomes involved with cases that are never that difficult to solve and seems to get laid a lot without trying too hard.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I've a soft spot for science fiction but only now and again ... Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels [not the sword and sorcery stuff], Robert A Heinlein and a bit of Philip K Dick. It is interesting how their speculation about a multiverse, which they first aired in the 1960s, now seems to be gaining credibility with modern science.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Five thousand words in a night-long session which just flowed and became the basis of my short story The Druids’ Dance, published in the anthology REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, which was published earlier this year. Usually I write in spurts and splice the results together. Although I don’t regard myself as a crime writer as such, REQUIEMS was an opportunity to experiment in the genre and to meet and be published alongside some of the best crime writers on the Irish scene at present.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
REDEMPTION by Francis Stuart. Set in late 1940s, it tells the story of an Irishman who spent the war years in Germany and who returns to Ireland, which had remained neutral. It strips back the shallow moral values of quiet rural Irish town for which the war was just a rumour and which are exposed when a girl, of easy virtue, is murdered. It is told from the point of view someone who witnessed the total breakdown of human civilization in war-ravaged Europe. Stuart remains a sore point with many people in Ireland because of his war-time activities in Nazi Germany, but that doesn’t devalue his novels, which often confront easy assumptions about right and wrong.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
A story by Gerard Brennan called Hard Rock which first appeared on the ThugLit website, and which is due to appear in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME next year, would make an excellent movie, although possibly with a triple-x rating. My first novel, THE LOST CHORD, told the story of a debauched Irish rock star who ‘disappeared’ and the persistent rumours that he was still alive. However, the characters who appear in Gerard’s story make my characters seem like members of Westlife … it was the most depraved, disgusting and sick piece of writing I have ever read. Fair play to him.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The widespread recognition, the constant offers of film deals, publishers and agents battering at my door offering huge sums of money for my next novel … it can be both a curse and blessing.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Part adventure story, part psychological thriller and part new-age philosophy, ECOPUNKS is an environmental parable for the 21st century.

Who are you reading right now?
A biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn by the English novelist DM Thomas. Solzhenitsyn fought for the USSR during the Second World War but was arrested for criticising Stalin and sentenced to eight years hard labour in a gulag and then exiled to Kazakhstan when he was released, where he nearly died from cancer. He used his experiences as the basis of his novels and reportage but fell foul of the Soviet regime in the 1970s and was exiled to the West, where he rounded on the lack of integrity of Western governments who thought he would be a literary battering ram to attack communism with. A truly epic life.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read ... It would be a relief, in some ways.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gnarled, tortured prose. It’s not really, but I just liked the sound of that … better than ‘can’t really spell’.

ECOPUNKS by Tony Bailie is published by Lagan Press.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Irish Book Awards: DARK TIMES Never Seemed So Good

A ray of light in these dark times: Gene Kerrigan’s DARK TIMES IN THE CITY deservedly won Best Crime Novel at the Irish Book Awards last night. The shortlist was, as I’ve mentioned before, missing such luminaries as John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Arlene Hunt and Alan Glynn, but then last year was a very strong year indeed for Irish crime writing, and the very strong shortlist did include Tana French, Declan Hughes, Alex Barclay, Stuart Neville and Jane Casey. All of which should give Gene an extra fillip as he plonks his award on the mantelpiece. Mind you, Gene being an unusually modest man, there’s every chance said gong will be put away out of sight, lest anyone remark upon it and force Gene to admit that, yes, he’s actually a very fine writer indeed. Hearty congratulations to the man, and commiserations to all the runners-up …
  I reviewed DARK TIMES almost two years ago now, and had this, among other things, to say:
“Cruelly authentic, the novel refuses the simplistic pieties of either the genre’s form or society’s wishful thinking. DARK TIMES IN THE CITY is a very fine crime novel, but it’s also one of the very few novels of any stripe to hold up a mirror to the dark heart of modern Ireland’s boom-and-bust.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Elsewhere, by which I mean my own little world, it’s been a busy, funny and often odd week or so. Yesterday, my former agent, who still holds some of the European rights to THE BIG O, rang to say that the contracts for the Italian version of said tome had arrived, and was I available to sign on the dotted line? Erm, yes, please. The money involved, of course, would hardly stretch to cover some decent lattes and a plate of spag bol, but at this stage, money is not the point. It’ll be fantastic to see THE BIG O in Italian, especially as I have a particular fondness for the country, and it also means that I’ll have been translated into three languages, as EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was published in Holland some years ago, under the title SPEEDBALL. The third language I’ve been translated into, as any of my editors will attest, is English.
  So that was nice. If you have any Italian friends who might enjoy a crime-comedy romp featuring a one-eyed Siberian wolf called Anna, feel free to give them a heads-up.
  Meanwhile, Paul D. Brazill did me proud with a review of the sequel to THE BIG O over at his interweb lair, aka You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? To wit:
“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is the follow up to Burke’s splendid THE BIG O and it almost actually IS that oxymoron ‘a screwball noir’. There’s a LOT going on, and it does take a bit to get used to the frantic pace, but it’s a satisfying read that still makes you want more. CRIME ALWAYS PAYS: A SCREWBALL NOIR is a cracking, fast paced, clever and very droll road movie with a top drawer cast - especially Sleeps!” - Paul D. Brazill
  Which, again, is very nice, and thank you kindly, sir. Funnily enough, Sleeps is probably my favourite character from CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, and at one point I was even thinking of calling the book SLEEPS THE HERO. Sadly, for everyone already fumbling for their credit cards in their rush to secure a copy, the book is only available as an e-book, or as a download to your PC, and will set you back a whopping $1.99. If you’re still determined to read it, however, all the details can be found here
  Finally - and this may cause Ms Witch to prick up her ears, if no one else - I had something of an unusual request last week. In essence, it was from a publisher of children’s books, wondering if I’d like to meet to discuss the possibility of my writing a book for young adults. Now, writing a book for kids has been something that’s been flickering on the very edge of my radar ever since the Princess Lilyput arrived, but I’ve never spent any time thinking seriously about it. Right now, I can’t think of anything else. The idea I hatched has gone forward for consideration, but already I think that I’m going to write the story no matter what the decision is, because I’m entirely enthralled by it. For one thing, it’ll be a massive challenge to write a whole novel without recourse to foul language; for another, it’ll be an equally massive challenge to try to write something that will capture a young reader’s imagination. I have no faith in my ability to achieve either, but I like the idea of trying. Plus, given the rate at which I tend to write and get published, two-year-old Lily should be just the right age to identify with the 13-year-old heroine when the book finally appears. Or, as is far more likely, sneer at it with a carefully honed teenage disaffection …

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The North Will Rise Again, Again

Apologies to all Three Regular Readers for the intemperate outburst regarding Irish politics yesterday, a post I had to take down on the basis that it was attracting all kinds of bizarre comments, most of them even more radical in terms of visiting violence on Irish politicians than my own. Normal service is hereby resumed …
  I’ve mentioned Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE on these pages more than once in the last few weeks, but it really is a terrific read. If you don’t believe me, check out John Burnside’s review in The Guardian last week. The gist runneth thusly:
“Northern Ireland, 1961. The body of a young woman, stripped naked, brutally beaten, stabbed and finally strangled, is discovered in a stubble field after a dance at Newry Orange Hall. Though the police have nothing to go on other than the most circumstantial evidence, the whole town agrees that the killer is a young bodybuilder and ne'er-do-well named Robert McGladdery …
“It is this sense of how the defining moments come to be agreed – of how they are essentially defined by the ruling class – that illuminates ORCHID BLUE, so that what begins as a crime thriller gradually builds not only into a political novel of the highest order but also that rare phenomenon, a genuinely tragic work of art.” - John Burnside
  Nice. Meanwhile, I was delighted to see Stuart Neville’s very fine COLLUSION reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times at the weekend, although it has to be said, it was less of a review and more of a synopsis. To wit:
The violence in Stuart Neville’s novels about Northern Ireland is about as nasty as it gets in noir crime fiction. But while the bloodshed in Neville’s first novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, was viewed from the perspective of a professional killer named Gerry Fegan, in COLLUSION (Soho, $25), a law enforcement officer is drawn into the brutality, which only adds to the sense of despair. Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, a Belfast policeman with an unsavory past, has a chance to redeem himself by coddling an informant with intelligence on local gangsters doing business with a Lithuanian mob. But in the process Lennon learns of more serious criminal collusion involving “the cops, the Brits, the Irish government, the party” — not to mention the mob bosses.
  This corruption can be traced all the way back to the Troubles and to one particular bloodbath that made fugitives of Lennon’s estranged lover and daughter. In his frantic efforts to find them, the detective turns to Fegan, the assassin, who is his only hope of finding out why that old atrocity is being revisited. What he doesn’t hold out any hope for is an end to the cycle of violence — not in Northern Ireland, where even today, in the midst of peace, organized crime is relentlessly intruding. - Marilyn Stasio
  Now, I’m sure Stuart Neville isn’t exactly complaining, but I was left scratching my head as to the point of a ‘review’ like that. Maybe I’m being obtuse, but if I hadn’t read the novel, I’d be no wiser as to if it was actually any good, and if so, why. Which is the point, is it not, of a review?