“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.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God Bless Us, Every One!

Seasons greetings from snowy Enniskerry, folks, the picture right being the view from ye olde writing deske at CAP Towers at approximately 8am on December 22nd, and very peaceful it is too as we wind down for the year.
  It’s been an interesting twelve months here at CAP Towers, a very satisfying one, and as full of the kind of ups and downs that make life worth living as you (or I, to be precise) could wish for. I’ve done plenty of writing, had very little of it published, but that’s all part of the game; and besides, 2010 was the year when I finally, belatedly, remembered the reason I first started writing all those years ago: for the joy of putting words in their best order, a joy that is as simple as it is fiendishly complicated. Long may it continue.
  For what it’s worth, and because this is supposed to be an Irish Crime Fiction-related blog, the Crime Always Pays’ Top 10-ish Irish Crime Novels runs (trumpet parp, please, maestro) as follows:
ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee
PEELER by Kevin McCarthy
THE BURNING by Jane Casey
THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly
COLLUSION by Stuart Neville
CITY OF LOST GIRLS by Declan Hughes
BLOOD MONEY by Arlene Hunt
DR YES by Colin Bateman
THE DOGS OF ROME by Conor Fitzgerald
FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French
IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN by Niamh O’Connor
THE RISING by Brian McGilloway
THE HOLY THIEF by William Ryan
  All told, it was yet another very fine year for Irish crime fiction, and again, long may it continue.
  Finally, I’m planning to take an extended break from blogging over the coming week or so, the better to plunge into the festivities and try to keep up with the irrepressible Lily, who, at two-and-a-half, has been in the semi-delirious throes of Santa-related anticipation for the best part of the last fortnight. So I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone who stopped by here during the year, and took the time to make my time worthwhile, and particularly those of you - you know who you are - who entered into the spirit of the thing by engaging with the topics, leaving comments, and abusing your not-always-entirely-genial host. I wish you all a very peaceful Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year. Or, as the Princess Lilyput very nearly blurts out in the vid below, God bless you, every one.
  Roll it there, Collette …

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The good people at Quercus are offering three free copies of THREE SECONDS by Roslund and Hellström, said pair being a journalist and creator of Sweden’s number one cultural TV program, Kulterkanna, and an ex-criminal who founded a criminal rehabilitation program in Sweden, respectively. First, the blurb elves:
Piet Hoffman is the best undercover operative in the Swedish police force, but only one other man is even aware of his existence. When an amphetamine deal he is involved in goes badly wrong, he is faced with the hardest mission of his life: to infiltrate Sweden’s most infamous maximum security prison. Detective Inspector Ewert Grens is charged with investigating the drug-related killing. Unaware of Hoffman’s real identity, he believes himself to be on the trail of a dangerous psychopath. But he cannot escape the feeling that vital information pertaining to the case has been withheld or manipulated. Hoffman has his insurance: wiretap recordings that implicate some of Sweden’s most prominent politicians in a corrupt conspiracy. But in Ewert Grens the powers that be might just have found the perfect weapon to eliminate him ... Intelligent, gripping, brutal, THREE SECONDS is the latest thriller from Roslund and Hellström, the heirs apparent to Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell as masters of Scandinavian crime.
  To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just tell us what your fantasy crime-writing duo might be. James Ellroy and Janet Evanovich? John Connolly and Michael Connelly? Ken Bruen and Stieg Larsson? Elmore Leonard and Patricia Highsmith? Quirkiest, most apt or simply the funniest entries go into the hat, with bonus marks for a quick synopsis of your fantasy duo’s novel …
  Entries in the comment box below, please, and the closing date is noon, December 23rd. Please include an email contact address, using [at] rather than @ to confuse the spam-munchkins. Et bon chance, mes amis

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee

Eoin McNamee has forged a career from novelistic reconstructions of true crimes. RESURRECTION MAN (1994) dealt with the Shankhill Butchers, THE BLUE TANGO (2001) was woven around the murder of 19-year-old Patricia Curran in 1952, THE ULTRAS (2004) concerned itself with the British undercover operative Robert Nairac, and 12:23. PARIS. 31st AUGUST 1997 (2007) with events surrounding the death of Princess Diana.
  ORCHID BLUE, McNamee’s latest offering, is something of a sequel to THE BLUE TANGO (2001). Set in Newry in 1961, it employs the murder of 19-year-old shop assistant Pearl Gamble, and the subsequent investigation, for its narrative arc. Robert McGladdery, who was seen dancing with Pearl on the night of her murder, is considered the main suspect, but Detective Eddie McCrink, a Newry native returning to home soil from London, discovers a very disturbing set of circumstances. Not only have the local police decided that McGladdery fits the bill as murderer, but McGladdery himself appears to welcome the notoriety. Most disturbing of all, however, is the man who presides over the court case when McGladdery is brought to trial. As the father of Patricia Curran, who was murdered in very similar circumstances ten years previously, Lord Justice Lance Curran should have disbarred himself as judge. McCrink quickly comes to understand that the ‘soft spoken and implacable’ Justice Curran has actively sought the position, and is determined that whoever murdered Pearl Gamble should hang. Moreover, it’s clear from the beginning of the novel that Justice Curran and the powers-that-be, including then Northern Ireland Secretary Brian Faulkner, want to see someone hanged for the murder.
  Lance Curran’s daughter Patricia was found savagely murdered on November 13th, 1952. She had suffered 37 separate stab wounds. Iain Gordon, an Englishman stationed at a nearby RAF base, was arrested, tried and convicted of her murder. The evidence was circumstantial, however, and Gordon was released on appeal a year after his conviction. The real killer of Patricia Curran was never caught. In ORCHID BLUE, McNamee delves back into ‘the Blue Tango’ case, exploring Patricia Curran’s family history, and suggesting that her killer was well known to her, and possibly a family member.
  Students of Irish history will know that Robert McGladdery was the last man to be hanged on Irish soil, a fact that infuses Orchid Blue with a noir-ish sense of fatalism and the inevitability of retribution. That retribution and State-sanctioned revenge are no kind of justice is one of McNamee’s themes here, however, and while the story is strained through an unmistakably noir filter, McNamee couches the tale in a form that is ancient and classical, with McGladdery pursued by Fate and its Furies and Justice Curran a shadowy Thanatos overseeing all.
  McGladdery, according to the novel at least, is the perfect patsy. He is something of an unknown presence in Newry, having returned to the town from London with notions above his station, yet lacking the substance to secure or keep a job. He is vain, fascinated with lurid novels, works out as a body-builder, and keeps less than salubrious company. Perhaps it was the case that McGladdery didn’t believe that the evidence was strong enough to convict him, but for most of the investigation he appeared to delight in the attention he received. The son of a single mother, Agnes, Robert was perhaps always operating at an attention deficit, given his mother’s predilection for hard drinking and one-night stands.
  McNamee has described the noir novel as a very ‘Calvinist’ kind of storytelling, with its undertones of implacable fate and predestination. What hope is there for a person if he or she has been fingered by fate before they’re even born? And what hope if the ultimate arbiter of justice - God, for the most part, although McNamee’s arbiter of justice in ORCHID BLUE is Justice Lance Curran - is already prejudiced against the person in the dock?
  The repressed sexuality of the times, and sexual hypocrisy in particular, is a strong secondary theme in ORCHID BLUE, as it was in THE BLUE TANGO. Given the context of 1961 Newry, there’s an element of character assassination that goes along with reports of Pearl Gamble’s last movements in ORCHID BLUE - the very fact that she was at a dance, runs the theory, is akin to her ‘asking for it’. This despite the fact that Pearl Gamble was not sexually assaulted prior to or after her murder. ‘Pearl had been stripped naked,’ writes McNamee, ‘but in the words of the lead detective John Speers, ‘it was a mercy she was not outraged.’’
  In terms of McGladdery, McNamee writes: ‘It was these materials that were found when the Newry police raided Robert’s house, leading to the rumours which swept the town concerning Robert’s sexual preferences.’
  A minor character in the novel, Margaret, the girlfriend of investigating detective Eddie McCrink, is a single woman of a certain age, and so must conduct her affair with McCrink in privacy, so as not to offend the town’s sensibilities.
  The relationship between Robert and his mother, Agnes, is also given a flavour of repressed sexuality:
‘Robert would watch Agnes at her dressing table getting ready to go out … He saw it on her clothes when she came home. The zips and fasteners strained at. A button missing. Fabric pulls and ladders in the stockings … She seemed ruined in an epic way, smelling of gin and smoke, sitting on the edge of his bed … She would stroke his face and murmur his name.’
  These are all echoes of similar themes explored in THE BLUE TANGO, when the investigation of the murder of Patricia Curran gets bogged down in her sexual exploits.
  McNamee’s preference for fictionalising true-life crimes has led to comparisons with David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet and the work of James Ellroy (McNamee twice references the infamous Black Dahlia case in ORCHID BLUE), although McNamee offers a more elegant, formal style of prose. Indeed, the style is often densely lyrical. Depending on your point of view, the brevity of the sentences and the dense lyricism can lend itself to poetry or the staccato rhythms of the classical noir novel.
  Relentlessly sinister in tone and poisonously claustrophobic, the novel is equally capable of almost unbearable poignancy, such as when the emotionally brutalised Robert McGladdery writes from his prison cell:
‘My mother Agnes McGladdery what can be said about her she done her best. I wish she’d stayed home nights when I was small the wind was loud in the slates it roared dear God it roared.’
  Knowing that the novel is based on a true-life murder and its investigation, it’s difficult to read the novel without wondering where the reportage ends and the fiction begins. McNamee’s research appears to be terrific, and the period detail is beautifully wrought, but you do start to wonder about the extent to which he is editorialising when he begins to write, for example, from Robert McGladdery’s point of view.
  That said, McNamee does not overly indulge in hindsight, or explore events in 1961 from a 21st century morality. It’s also true that what was immoral in 1961 - if McGladdery, for example, was being framed for a murder he did not commit - then such an act is equally immoral in 2010.
  All told, ORCHID BLUE is a powerful tour-de-force and probably McNamee’s finest novel to date. - Declan Burke

Sunday, December 19, 2010

GREEN STREETS, Green Light

You win some, you lose some. Sauntered down to the dentist yesterday, to pick up a prescription for an antibiotic for a gum infection, and wound up in the dentist’s chair for three hours getting a double root canal treatment (Part 1). Am I the only one who sits in the dentist’s chair and, despite his best efforts, can’t help but channel his inner Dustin Hoffman?
  In better news, I heard this week that GREEN STREETS (or DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, to give it its full title) got the green light, and will be published in hardback by Liberties Press in March or April. As all three regular readers will be aware, GREEN STREETS is a collection of essays, interviews and short stories about the recent explosion in Irish crime writing, as written by the authors themselves. Contributors, in no particular order, include John Connolly, Colin Bateman, Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Declan Hughes, Niamh O’Connor, John Banville, Alan Glynn, Cora Harrison, Ken Bruen, Ingrid Black, Gene Kerrigan, Arlene Hunt, Brian McGilloway, Gerard Brennan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Eoin McNamee, Cormac Millar, and many more. I’m biased, of course, but I think it’s a terrific collection. More of which anon …
  I also signed contracts that will see THE BIG O published in Italy next year, by Comma 22, a very funky publisher that also, in its wisdom, sees fit to publish Cormac Millar, who could very probably write novels in Italian rather than wait for them to be translated.
  A good week, then, all told, especially as I’ve been cracking on with a new story of my own that I’m not entirely sure about at all, which is generally a good sign. It started out as a YA novel but has since morphed into a Big O-style caper (albeit one with a 14-year-old heroine) with added Greek gods and monsters, and heavily influenced by some teenage favourites of my own, including THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. And, I fear, a little too much by John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. Still, if you’re going to steal, steal big, right?