Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Road Less Chosen

One of the unsung success stories in Irish crime writing in 2011 was Arlene Hunt’s decision to set up her own publishing company, Portnoy Publishing, for her latest title, THE CHOSEN. I sat down with Arlene last month, to interview her for the Irish Examiner, and the result ran a lot like this:
“Jessie’s very much a product of her own making,” says crime author Arlene Hunt of her latest heroine, “because she’s rebuilt her whole life. She’s where she wants to be, and with the man she wants to be with, doing the job she wants to do. And she would have cheerfully carried on that way for the rest of her days, if she’d been let.”
  Hunt is talking about Jessie Conway, a dedicated special needs teacher in a small American town who has fame thrust upon her when she instinctively acts to prevent a Columbine-style massacre in the school where she works.
  Hunt has previously penned five best-selling titles in her Dublin-set ‘QuicK Investigations’ series, which star the private eye pairing of John Quigley and Sarah Kenny. Her new book, The Chosen, is set in the US, but that’s not its only unusual aspect.
  Despite being an established author with one of Ireland’s biggest publishing houses, Hunt made the decision to take the road less travelled for The Chosen, and set up her own publishing company, Portnoy Publishing, with her husband and business partner, Andrew.
  “People do think that it’s a little curious,” says Hunt, “because I turned down a two-book deal to go my own way, but it’s a calculated risk. With a two-book deal, you’ve got security for two years, but you also lose the rights to your book for seventy years. And with the tipping-point coming for digital books, I just wasn’t prepared to do that.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Write Stuff

I’ve been meaning to mention the Irish Crime Fiction Facebook group for ages now, said group being helmed by the inimitable Mick Halpin, aka Critical Mick, and a fine resource for writers and readers alike it is too. Just before Christmas, the Mickster posted a piece about an upcoming crime-writing course to be held at the Irish Writers’ Centre, a timely intervention given that Irish crime fiction is (koff) about to take centre-stage in 2012 (see post below).
  Anyway, the course will be presented by Cormac Millar (right), and the gist runs thusly:
This course aims to be useful to anyone interested in writing crime fiction. Over eight weeks, it explores topics such as finding story ideas, developing plot and structure, genre, characterization, dialogue, description and scene writing, social and political themes, finding the narrative voice, editing and continuity, writing a pitch and a blurb, approaching agents and publishers. These questions will be approached through formal presentations but also through questions, group discussions, writing assignments and exercises.
  24th January - 13th March: Tuesdays 6.30-8.30pm. €220/€200 members
  The presenter, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, teaches Italian at Trinity College Dublin. As Cormac Millar, he has published two crime novels with Penguin.
  For all the details, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Cormac contributed a talk to ‘Crime and the City’ last year, as did yours truly, a series hosted by Dublin City Libraries that included writers of crime fiction and non-fiction, experts in the field of drug-related crime, and a former governor of Mountjoy Prison. For audios of those talks, and the transcripts, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On The Irish Crime Novel and Institutional Cultural Caution

I find myself in a very unusual situation as 2011 draws to a close, because I’ve never before had novels published in consecutive years. Four years separated EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, and it was another four years before ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL landed on bookshelves last year. And yet, if all goes to plan, my fourth novel should arrive some time around the middle of 2012.
  This is, of course, very good news for yours truly, not least because books in consecutive years might create some kind of momentum. Even so, I’m feeling a little bit fraught at the moment. This is partly because there’s still a job of work to be done on the new book, with semi-final revisions due before it goes off to the editor at the end of January, but it’s mainly due to the fact that the new book - formerly known as THE BIG EMPTY, and currently labouring under the working title of SLAUGHTER’S HOUND - is a very different kind of book to AZC.
  As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a novel that has a little fun with straightforward narrative and conventional tropes, being a story in which an author who bears a very strong resemblance to one Declan Burke is confronted by a character from an abandoned novel, said character being a possibly homicidal hospital porter to demands to be rewritten as a more likeable sociopath, and who promises to make the rewrite worthwhile by blowing up the hospital where he works.
  Before it was published, I was worried that AZC might fall between two stools. Those readers who don’t read crime fiction might not have bothered with it, on the basis that it is essentially a crime novel, once you strip away the bells and whistles; and crime fans who prefer their stories told in a straightforward way could well have shrugged and moved on to something more conventional. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the book was, for the very great part, pretty well received, and that most reviewers were happy to champion the more offbeat aspects of the story.
  Of course, that kind of thing can backfire badly. If I can (immodestly) point you towards the Publishers Weekly review, which is the most recent review AZC has received, the reviewer suggests that, “those looking for a highly intellectual version of Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF will be most satisfied.” Which was nice to hear, although my first instinct was to wonder whether the phrase ‘highly intellectual’ wouldn’t put off more people than it might attract.
  The new book, on the other hand, is far more straightforward a story than AZC. It’s a sequel-of-sorts to my first book, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, and features erstwhile ‘research consultant’ (aka freelance journalist and occasional private eye) Harry Rigby, who has recently been released after serving a term in a prison for the criminally insane. And even if Rigby’s killing of this brother at the end of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE makes him, as one character points out, ‘the least private eye in the business, and Rigby is driving a taxi to earn a living as the novel opens, it is to my mind a private eye story, and proceeds within the parameters of that kind of tale.
  So right now I’m a little concerned that those readers who liked ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL for the way it messed around with story and storytelling might be disappointed by the fact that SLAUGHTER’S HOUND has very little interest in meta-narrative et al, and aims instead to tell a hard-boiled tale of fatalistic noir. We shall see.
  I’m prompted to wonder about such things by a piece in today’s Irish Times by Mick Heaney, which looks back on the Irish arts world and the way in which, as Heaney says, “2011 felt like a pivotal year, during which Ireland’s cultural landscape started to take on new, as yet unformed, contours.” The piece takes into account film, music, theatre and the visual arts, and has quite a bit to say about literature too.
Heaney name-checks some established and new names in Irish literary fiction, before having this to say:
“These works suggest Irish literary fiction – the jewel in the crown of Irish writing over the past 20 years – is in a healthy state, but its primacy is quietly being questioned by another, less vaunted, genre.
  “Crime fiction continued to thrive last year, with writers such as John Connolly and Stuart Neville, and newer arrivals such as William Ryan and Conor Fitzgerald, showing how Irish authors can compete in this huge international market.
  “DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, an anthology of home-grown crime writing edited by novelist Declan Burke, showed how such writers can weave contemporary issues and darker themes while maintaining entertainment value. Such work may not have quite the same highbrow appeal as “serious” fiction, but the fact John Banville’s latest volume, A DEATH IN SUMMER, was published under his crime-writing nom de plume, Benjamin Black, is further indication of how the genre has taken centre stage in the public imagination.”
  I’m intrigued by the line about ‘how such writers can weave contemporary issues and darker themes while maintaining entertainment value.’ I’ve gone on record here many times to say that the Irish crime novel is important in terms of how it is documenting the upheaval in Irish society, although it’s interesting that of the five writers Heaney mentions by name, three set their novels outside of Ireland, and one sets his stories in 1950s Ireland. Of the batch mentioned above, only Stuart Neville’s STOLEN SOULS was a contemporary Irish tale.
  I’m also wondering about the primacy of the elements of that line, and whether crime writers are obliged to first create an entertainment, and then invest that entertainment with ‘contemporary issues and darker themes’; or whether the onus is on the crime author to write about ‘contemporary issues and darker themes’, in the process making them entertaining.
  I’m wondering about this because I can write about contemporary issues and dark themes until the cows come home. It’s the making them entertaining bit that keeps me awake at night.
  In terms of the bigger picture, such questions are becoming increasingly important, I think. The Irish crime novel has been in the ‘promising’ phase for quite some time now, without ever fully delivering on that promise and crossing over into the realms of fiction to be taken seriously. This may well be because the crime novel is doomed to be considered entertainment first and foremost, and thus irrelevant in terms of what it has to say about the culture and society from which it springs. Just before Christmas, for example, I had a very interesting conversation with a literary editor of one of the Irish Sunday broadsheets, who said that they’d nominated a certain literary title as their book of the year, this on the basis that it was the only novel they’d read that had something to say about modern Ireland, and even though said novel was set in the past. What was implicit in that statement was that crime novels by the likes of Gene Kerrigan, Niamh O’Connor, Adrian McKinty, Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville and Alan Glynn, just to mention some high-profile names, were excluded from ‘book of the year’ consideration because they were crime novelists, even though they all had very pertinent things to say about Ireland in 2011.
  Such an attitude, from an ostensibly well-read person who is after all a literary editor, is entirely dispiriting; or would be, if the times weren’t so dramatically a-changing. To quote again from Mick Heaney’s piece:
“Taken separately, these disparate developments in the literary, theatre, music and visual spheres are exciting; viewed together, they can be seen as the first tectonic shifts in a culture as affected by doubt and upheaval as the wider economy. After all, the current cultural climate was essentially shaped during the extended period of turmoil and decline that ran from the oil shocks of 1973 to the chronic recession of the 1980s, which swept away the institutional cultural caution of before.”
  Next year will be a tough one for Ireland Inc., and all who sail in her; and so will the following year, and the year after that. Ireland is not Greece, as our politicians are fond of telling our overlords in Brussels and Frankfurt, this because the Irish are accepting their harsh and unfair economic medicine without taking to the streets, going on strike and burning banks and bondholders alike.
  But if it all looks very placid on the surface, those tectonic plates are shifting. Essentially, there’s a whole new order up for grabs, politically, economically, and in terms of how we speak to ourselves about ourselves.
  Writers, to paraphrase the Chinese saying, always live in interesting times, and the crime novel is perfectly positioned right now to colonise the Irish literary landscape over the next few years, to speak to us all about who we are, how we got here and where we are going.
  Here’s hoping it rises to the challenge of the new cultural climate, as the current institutional caution is swept away.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Happy CAP Christmas

Well, it’s that time of the year again. It’s been a great year here at CAP Towers, folks, although it wouldn’t have been half as much fun without the Three Regular Readers (you know who you are) along for the ride. I thank you all from the bottom of my black, pitiless heart.
  I’m looking forward to the break, I have to say. It’s been a busy, busy year - although that, in these straitened times, is not a bad complaint to have. And next year should be every bit as busy, if not busier - and I can’t wait. I sincerely hope that you all have a very happy Christmas, and a prosperous New Year.
  God bless us, every one.
  Lily? Over to you, my love …

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Thoughts On The Pricing Of E-Books

I came across a Twitter comment during the week, which was retweeted by Mike Cane, from a woman who had drawn a line in the sand on the price of e-books. She was happy enough paying anything up to $5.99 for her e-books; beyond that, she just wasn’t prepared to go.
  Given that I recently upped the price of the e-book version of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE to $7.99, as part of my ongoing experiment in e-publishing, I found her attitude fascinating.
  I should probably give you some context to this ‘experiment’, by the way. I first e-published EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, after buying out the rights from the publisher, at $1.99. It sold pretty well at that price, and I even got a royalty cheque from Amazon after six months. Around about then, I bumped up the price to $3.99, just to see how sales would fare. Not very well, as it turned out. The book still sold, but in nowhere near the same numbers. And so, being a perverse sod at the best of times, last month I bumped the price up to $7.99. Sales, as you can probably guess, fell off a cliff. I think I’ve sold three copies since the price went to $7.99.
  I should also say that, given that I work full-time, and write in my spare time, I don’t have a lot of time left over for promoting the e-version of EIGHTBALL. And the last couple of months, while the book has been retailing for $7.99, have been particularly busy. Perhaps sales might have been a little better had I invested a little more time in reminding people that EIGHTBALL is there. We’ll never know.
  I should also say, before going any further, that different writers have different reasons for publishing e-books. Some are e-only writers, and are bent on earning a living from their writing. Some, like myself, are part-time writers who publish (some of) their backlist at a discount price in the hope of drumming up some word-of-mouth and momentum on their writing careers. Others are full-time writers earning a living writing conventional books, whose publishers also offer their books in e-format. And on it goes.
  The point being, ‘writers’ are not a monolithic bunch who all earn the same amount of money from their writing. The same applies to publishers, some of which belong to vast corporations, while others are of the small but perfectly formed variety, struggling to make ends meet and publish interesting books. Many others inhabit the middle-ground between those extremes.
  And yet, there is a growing number of readers who insist that the price of an e-book should be this and no more.
  Now, I do appreciate that the middle of one of the worst recessions / depressions in living memory is a very bad time to be arguing the case for raising the price of anything, and particularly a luxury item such as a book. Some people, of course, would argue that a book is not an luxury, but an essential, but that’s a debate for another day. The bottom line is that, for most people, the money they spend on books comes out of their disposable income, which to all intents and purposes makes it a luxury item.
  I can also appreciate the main argument some readers put forward for cheaper e-books. If, say, Lee Child’s latest thriller is retailing at $18.99 as a conventional book because of his publisher’s costs when it comes to printing, distribution, etc., then the e-format should be considerably cheaper, given that there are no printing and distribution costs.
  Having said that, and without pretending to know how Lee Child’s publishers work, it’s also true that the conventional and e-version copies of Lee Child’s latest book comes at the end of a long chain of events, most of which cost quite a bit of money, given that the services involved are provided by skilled professionals, not least of whom is Lee Child himself.
  Ah, say the e-readers, but why not cut out all those pesky middle-men? Why doesn’t Lee Child just write his book and upload it directly as an e-book? He already has the brand, and even if he’s selling his book at a reduced price, he’s taking home all the profit, which means that readers and writer both profit.
  That’s fine in theory, but again, and without pretending to know anything about Lee Child, it presumes that Lee Child is a skilled editor and designer, typesetter, marketing specialist, etc.
  Ah, say the e-readers, but the costs of such skilled professionals are one-offs. If Lee was to out-source all the requirements he isn’t capable of providing himself, and write a couple of cheques, he’s home and hosed. Apart from the fee he pays to the various e-publishers, he’s taking home all the profit.
  Again, in theory, this is very true. Unfortunately for most writers, they’re not Lee Child. They don’t have his brand. They don’t have his financial resources. Neither do they have his gift for writing a cracking thriller, but that, again, is a conversation for another day.
  Simply put, and like the vast majority of writers, I’m not in Lee Child’s league. If publishing exists as a pyramid structure, with a lucky (and very hard-working) few at the apex, then I’m down in the dirt scrabbling for purchase on the steep incline.
  When it came to e-publishing EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, I was in a better position than most. The book had already been published, and I was in possession of a pdf that was already type-set to a professional standard. The book also benefited from some blurbs that had been provided for the conventional version. I did, however, commission a new cover for the book, which means that despite receiving that royalty cheque from Amazon (it was for $100), I’m still in the hole, eight months later, to the tune of over $200.
  Given the cost of living here in Ireland, and that I’m a husband and father with all the responsibilities that entails, I would need to sell roughly 35,000 copies of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE per year, at its original price of $1.99, in order to avoid seeing my daughter live in a cardboard box. Even at $3.99, I’d need to sell 25,000 copies. That’s a hell of a lot of books to sell in order to break even. And at $7.99, I’d still need to sell 8,000 copies, or thereabouts, to achieve the same.
  Go ahead and ask the vast majority of writers how they’d feel about selling 8,000 copies of their book per year. But do me a favour and have an oxygen mask handy. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any untimely strokes.
  There are a number of aspects to the e-pricing debate that seem a little odd to me. The first is that e-publishing was originally trumpeted as a means of bringing reader and writer closer together, because writers could by-pass the whited sepulchres of the traditional publishing houses and connect directly with their readers, via the intertwined electronic miracles of e-readers and the Web. Instead, it appears that many readers are taking the hump with writers because they won’t play ball and give them quality books cheaply, while writers are taking the hump because readers want quality books on the cheap.
  This clash may be a consequence of many e-reading fans being early adopters, the kind of Web-savvy people who jumped on the idea of combining the potential of the internet with their love of reading, and see e-books as the idea synthesis. Being Web-savvy, of course, they don’t expect to pay very much for the digital content they read; indeed, they seem a little bit shocked they’re expected to pay anything at all.
  The other odd thing, from a personal point of view, is exemplified by the drop-off in sales for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE once its price started to go up. The e-book fan (or anyone with even the vaguest grasp of economics) will very probably be screaming right now at the screen a variation on, ‘It’s the economy, stooopid.’
  I understand that. I really do. But from my point of view, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE is the same book regardless of whether it’s $1.99 or $7.99: it’s not a quarter as interesting, or funny, or thrilling, at the cheaper price, and it doesn’t come in at 25,000 words rather than 85,000 words.
  It’s not my place, by the way, to say that EIGHTBALL is interesting, funny or thrilling. I’m just saying that whatever qualities the book had at the $1.99 price, those qualities remain the same regardless of whether I charge $7.99 or give the book away for free.
  I suppose my central concern, when it all boils down, is that fans of e-books are confusing cost and value. That’s not to say that very good books aren’t being sold for $1.99, or $0.99, or even being given away free. But it’s patently self-limiting for a reader to impose an arbitrary price of (say) $4.99 on a book, and state that he or she refuses to pay any more, regardless of the quality of that book.
  This becomes especially resonant, I think, when we move away from the realms of fiction, and particularly genre fiction, to talk about the kinds of books that require serious research, which in turn requires investment. But that, again, may be a debate for another day.
  For now it seems that many authors are happily collaborating in a race to the bottom on price. The mantra is very much quantity over quality, to the extent that many writers, in a desperate bid to get noticed and put one foot on the bottom rung of the slippery ladder, are now giving away their books for free.
  There’s a certain kind of logic to this, although it only exists inside the e-publishing bubble, which appears determined to eat itself. Because once you give away one book for free, the expectation is that all your books will come at no cost, an expectation that derives from an entirely understandable mentality that runs, ‘Well, if you don’t value your work, why should I?’
  Ultimately, and pursuing the deranged logic that characterises the e-publishing frenzy on lower and lower pricing to its bitter end, can it be very long before e-fans are demanding that writers pay them - not very much; perhaps as little as $0.99 per book - for the privilege of reading their books?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CAPNYA: Or, The Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award!

A trumpet-parp please, maestro. The votes are in, the counts have been tallied, the hanging chads ignored, and the winner emerges triumphant. The short-list consisted of THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly, THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan and FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty, and - ta-da! - it’s FALLING GLASS that wins the hardly-coveted-at-all Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award!
  Now all I need to do is come up with some kind of trophy to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, it’s a hearty congrats to Adrian McKinty, not least, as I’ve said before, because 2011 was yet another very fine year for Irish crime writing. Incidentally, FALLING GLASS has already secured the significantly-more-coveted Audible.com Best Mystery / Thriller of the Year. Which just goes to prove that the readers of this blog, if not its host, have impeccably good taste …
  I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised, by the way, if McKinty’s forthcoming tome, THE COLD COLD GROUND, doesn’t feature on a number of 2012’s Best Of lists. It’s due in January, and I’ve already gone on the record about it on these pages, with the gist running thusly:
“The hunger strikes mark the bleakest period of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, and it’s entirely fitting that Adrian McKinty should be the writer to plunge into that darkest of hearts. It’s a rare author who can write so beautifully about such a poisonous atmosphere, but McKinty’s prose is a master-class in vicious poise as he explores the apparent contradictions that underpin Ulster’s self-loathing. Be in no doubt that this novel is a masterpiece: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great ‘Troubles’ novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written THE COLD COLD GROUND.”
  Very pleased I was, not to mention a little gobsmacked, to see a line from that little lot quoted on the back cover blurb of THE COLD COLD GROUND when it fell through my letterbox last Monday morning. But don’t take my word for it. The various blurbs also feature Stuart Neville (“A razor-sharp thriller with style, courage and dark-as-night wit … brilliant”) and Brian McGilloway (“A brilliant piece of work which does for Northern Ireland what [David] Peace’s Red Riding Quartet did for Yorkshire”).
  So there you have it. THE COLD COLD GROUND by Adrian McKinty. Don’t say you haven’t been warned …
  As for my own favourite novels of the year, well, 2011 was a year in which I was fairly spoiled. They are, in roughly the order I read them:
THE TERROR OF LIVING by Urban Waite;
CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin;
THE GLASS RAINBOW by James Lee Burke;
CITY OF THE DEAD by Sara Gran;
THE TROUBLED MAN by Henning Mankell;
THE FATAL TOUCH by Conor Fitzgerald;
THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by Keigo Higashino;
THE CALLER by Karin Fossum;
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty;
THE WATCHERS by Jon Steele;
LASTING DAMAGE by Sophie Hannah;
BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn;
THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly;
THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott;
A SINGLE SHOT by Matthew F. Jones;
DADDY’S GIRL by Margie Orford;
  Winnowing those down for the purpose of picking my overall favourite, I find myself stuck on three titles:
CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin;
THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly;
THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott;
  Trust me, on this much at least: blow your book token vouchers on those three titles, and you won’t be disappointed.
  Finally, it’s over to you, dear reader. What was your favourite crime title of the year? The comment box is now open …

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mark Of Cain

The Swedish wing of the Irish crime fiction cabal, TS O’Rourke, is at it again. For lo! TS follows up his novella CANDY SAYS KILL with another short ‘n’ snappy shot of noir, aka the novella SUNSET STRIP. Quoth the blurb elves:
A travelling businessman meets a beautiful young Latina from the wrong side of the tracks. She follows him back to his hotel on Sunset Boulevard and they have sex. But then everything starts to go wrong. Waking from a drug-induced sleep, he finds his life turned upside-down and all reason gone from his world. Caught in an impossible situation and running out of time, he searches frantically for a way out …
  In terms of his bleak noir vision, stripped-back prose and being something of an early adopter of Irish crime fiction (his first hard-boiled tale, GANGLANDS, was published all the way back in 1996), TS O’Rourke qualifies as the Irish equivalent of Paul Cain. If you’ve an interest in Irish crime literature, you really can’t afford not to check him out

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bateman: Give Him An Inch, Etc.

The latest ‘Crime Beat’ column appeared in the Irish Times on Saturday, offering short reviews of the latest offerings from Michael Connelly, Aly Monroe, Susan Hill, Roslund & Hellstrom, George Pelecanos and The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman. I’ll quote you the Bateman, if I may:
Another former journalist, Colin Bateman, resurrects the mouthy newspaperman Dan Starkey for his first outing in six years in NINE INCHES (Headline, £19.99). No longer a reporter, Starkey has set up as a private detective, in which capacity he is commissioned by a shock-jock radio host, Jack Caramac, to discover who kidnapped his young son. A slew of nefarious characters hove into sight as Starkey’s investigation moves from the well-heeled suburbs to working-class loyalist enclaves, in the process proffering a rather jaundiced view of the officially peaceful Northern Ireland landscape. Oddly, the ex-paramilitaries Starkey encounters are far more terrifying than those he outwitted when Bateman was writing during the Troubles, perhaps because, back then, there was always the hope the psychopathic parasites might melt back into the shadows when the new dispensation dawned. Dotted with Starkey’s blackly comic observations, NINE INCHES is an unsettling, breathless and very funny novel.
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: The ‘Publishers Weekly’ Verdict Is In

Well, now. You’ll excuse me, I hope, for running two ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL-related posts in a row, but I woke this morning to a very nice early Christmas present indeed. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, AZC has gone off on its travels to the North American continent; and while the book has received a very gentle handling on this side of the Atlantic, so far at least, I did wonder as to how it might be received in the spiritual home of the hard-boiled crime novel.
  Here’s hoping that the first review sets the tone, because Publishers Weekly has stepped into the breach early, with its verdict running thusly:
In this ambitious meta-thriller from Irish author Burke (THE BIG O), the unnamed narrator, a stand-in for the author, meets a character from an unfinished novel of his, Karlsson, “a hospital porter who assisted old people who wanted to die.” Karlsson, who now likes to be called Billy, is intent on blowing up the hospital with everyone in it, but he has more cerebral concerns. Author and character meet again and again in online chatfests, where they discuss their options, and soon start Sermo Vulgus, a novel-within-the-novel. Should fictional characters live, die, or never be born? Burke sprinkles his way-outside-the-box noir with quotes from Beckett, Bukowski, and other literary names as he explores the nature of writing and the descent of personal darkness. Those looking for a highly intellectual version of Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF will be most satisfied. (Feb.) - Publishers Weekly
  Crikey. Stephen King? ‘Ambitious meta-thriller’? ‘Highly intellectual’? That’s the Christmas ruined for everyone around me. I’ll be bloody insufferable after that little lot …
  Meanwhile, one of the hardest working men in crime fiction, J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet and January Magazine fame, includes DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS in his round-up of the best ‘books—all of which were published this year, but none of which has yet seen print in the States—that would be worth your crossing the Atlantic to buy’ for the Kirkus Reviews blog. Herewith be the gist:
“Using essays, interviews and short stories, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS seeks to prove the distinctiveness of Irish crime writing (that its DNA, for instance, includes “extra chromosomes for metaphor, legend and wit,” to quote from Michael Connelly’s introduction) at the same time as it makes the case that mysteries concocted by authors who bleed Guinness can be appreciated by readers who live half a world away from the Old Sod.”
  For all of J. Kingston Pierce’s choices, clickety-click here

Friday, December 16, 2011

“She Wears Diamonds / She Wears Rubies / She Wears Stones As Big As My Ones …”

I had one of those very-strange-but-wonderfully-weird moments yesterday, when you step into a lift and find yourself suddenly joined by one of the heroes of your youth. For lo! There I was, holding the lift door open (that’ll be ‘elevator door’ for our North American cousins), and who should pop into the life but Tom Dunne, formerly the lead singer of Something Happens! (the exclamation mark is integral to the band name, punctuation-fiends), one of those bands I loved and cherished as a spotty yoot. ‘Erm, how’s it going?’ says I. And without so much as pausing for breath, Tom Dunne says, ‘I’ve just started reading your book.’
  Did I look around for a fainting couch? No, I did not. I mumbled something about how I hoped it didn’t ruin his Christmas entirely, tried to get out of the lift on the wrong floor, and generally basked in the glow that comes with fierce blushing.
  A lovely, lovely moment.
  Roll it there, Collette: “She wears diamonds / She wears rubies / She wears stones as big as my ones …”
  Later that evening I met with The Dark Lord, aka John Connolly, for a coffee and a chat about A BLOODY BRILLIANT TOP SECRET PROJECT I CAN’T TELL ANYONE ABOUT JUST YET, and very nice it was too. The coffee and the chat, that is, and the way said project is coming together. It’s a book, I can tell you that. And once I see it all put together and shiny on its shelf, which should be in the latter part of 2012, I’ll be investing in a whole fleet of fainting couches. Can’t wait.
  Off then to Kildare Street and the National Library, for a conversation hosted by John Murray of RTE Radio on the subject of how women crime authors write differently to men when dealing with violence. Flanked by the lovely Arlene Hunt and the equally lovely Alex Barclay, I was, it’s fair to say, something of a tarantula on a slice of angel food. Still, it was a smashing night out, and very enjoyable, not least because we adjourned to the pub afterwards in the company of the inimitable Joe Joyce and the excellent Derek Landy. The conversation turned, as is its wont, to the subject of ’80s pop music, during the course of which I discovered that I wasn’t the only person in Ireland to have loved the David & David album ‘Welcome to the Boomtown’; not only that, but one of the people present was in touch with one of the Davids, and would be forwarding me an email contact in due course.
  Jayz. As Van the Man once said, mother never told me there’d be days like these …
  Roll it there, Collette …

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Phew! It’s Tana French’s Scorcher …

I have no idea if the image on your right will be the official cover for Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, but I kind of hope it is - it’s all very dramatic, indeed, and pretty timely in terms of where we are in Ireland, with storm clouds overhead and the waves crashing up onto the shores.
  Anyway, the novel isn’t due until next June (boo), but it will feature a minor character from Tana’s previous / current offering, FAITHFUL PLACE, one Scorcher Kennedy, and the blurb elves have been busy already, with their combined best efforts reading a lot like this:
In Broken Harbour, a ghost estate outside Dublin - half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned - two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad’s star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once. Scorcher’s personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family, one summer at Broken Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk …
  Can’t wait to see this one. And with Conor Fitzgerald’s THE NAMESAKE and Adrian McKinty’s THE COLD COLD GROUND already on the way, Laurence O’Bryan’s THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE due in January, and the perennial offering from John Connolly in the shape of THE ANGELS OF WRATH, 2012 is shaping up to be yet another cracking year for Irish crime fiction …

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Jon Steele

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 LONG GOODBYE by Raymond Chandler.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Peter Pan. He can fly, he fights pirates, he won’t grow up.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
MULLINER’S TALES by P.G Wodehouse. One story before bedtime. Add a cup of hot chocolate and life is about as good as if gets.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When a sentence falls on the page and you have no idea where it came from, but it’s perfect.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes. (no kidding) Everything about it appeals to the altar boy I used to be.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Keith Baker’s INHERITANCE. I read it and could see it on the big screen at the same time.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The loneliness.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Buy this book or I’ll shoot your dog.

Who are you reading right now?
Mario Vargas Llosa’s CONVERSATIONS IN THE CATHEDRAL.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d tell him to fuck off.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Lost. Searching. Redemption.

Jon Steele’s THE WATCHERS is published by Bantam.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop The Press! ’Tis The CAPNYA Short-List …

And so to the short-list for the less-than-coveted Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award - or CAPNYA, if you prefer. I ran a proposed long-list a week or so ago, and with the votes in (it was a very low voter turn-out, incidentally; I blame the weather), only three titles received more than one vote. So it makes sense, I guess, to make those three titles the short-list. And so - a trumpet-blast please, maestro - they are:
THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly;
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty;
THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan.
  Bearing in mind that there’s nothing remotely scientific about the polling method, and that the voting will be necessarily skewed by the fact that I’ve mentioned my own personal favourites here on CAP more often than others on the long-list, it’s interesting (to me, at least) that none of those three titles made the short-list for the Irish Book Awards’ crime fiction gong.
  It’s also worth saying that all three are terrific novels, and well worth winning an award in any given year, regardless of the competition.
  Anyway, on to the business end. Please feel free to vote for any of those three titles as the best Irish crime novel of 2011, via the comment box below. Oh, and if you don’t, I’ll come over all Brussels on your collective ass and start imposing my own verdict on the democratic process. Don’t say you haven’t been warned …

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Dreamt I Dwelt In Hallowed Halls

Off I go this morning to the hallowed halls of Trinity College, Dublin (right), where I’ll be sitting down in the company of some unsuspecting students to chat about ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL in particular and Irish crime writing in general. Which should be fun, not least because the occasion will be hosted by Professor Ian Campbell Ross, who wrote the comprehensive introduction to DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY. I thought I knew a thing or two about Irish crime writing before I read Professor Ross’s introduction, and reading it confirmed that, yes, I know a thing or maybe two.
  So that’s today’s excursion accounted for, and if I survive the academic grilling, it’s upward and onward to the no less hallowed environs of the National Library on Thursday evening, for the latest instalment of ‘Thrillers and Chillers’. To wit:
Chillers and Thrillers
Does the female writer of crime fiction have an edge over her male counterparts? This question and more will be discussed on Thursday, December 15th by a panel of writers including Alex Barclay, author of BLOOD RUNS COLD, Arlene Hunt, author of the recently published THE CHOSEN, and Declan Burke, a leading crime fiction writer who has also written on the very topic of how women address the crime narrative in a different way to men, and author of the recently published ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.
  So there you have it. For all the details on the ‘Thrillers and Chillers’ evening, which takes place at 8pm on Thursday, December 15th at the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, just clickety-click here

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hell Is Perfect People

Peter James’ (right) new novel, PERFECT PEOPLE, is something of a departure from his Roy Grace series of novels. It’s a thriller, but it blends elements of sci-fi and horror as it takes on the very timely topic of genetic engineering.
  I had the opportunity to sit down with Peter James a couple of weeks ago, to interview him for the Irish Examiner. I asked him if the novel is intended as a kind of morality play, a warning against the potentially hellish consequences of humans playing God. He had this to say:
“It’s not so much a warning book, no,” he says. “I think what I wanted to say in this book is that this is the future that we are staring at right now, like it or not. I mean, you and I could set up a genetics laboratory here,” he gestures around the Gresham’s lobby.
  “You don’t need an awful lot of space, all you need is a telomerase machine, some pipettes, a computer, some Petri dishes, and not that much else. So, really, it’s not going to be controllable. Right now, you can go to a laboratory in Los Angeles and chose your baby’s hair colour, skin tone, eye colour. And there are disease genes you can have eradicated, cystic fibrosis is pretty close to being knocked out of the genome as we speak. When I started writing this book, it was sci-fi, no doubt about it. Right now, it’s all possible.
  “We’ve got to the point now where science is out of control,” he says. “We’ve lost the plot of trying to keep our understanding of really where we are with it. There’s a fascinating statistic I once heard, which is that Aristotle was the last human being whose generation would have been capable of reading everything that had been written in their lifetimes. Copernicus, in 1490, his generation would have been the last capable of reading everything produced in their own language during their lifetimes. These days, it’s impossible for one person to know everything that’s going on.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, December 9, 2011

What JC Did Next

There’s a very nice interview with The Dark Lord, aka John Connolly, in the current edition of Hot Press (worth the price admission, alone, for the picture of JC doing his ‘demure’ pose), in which he waxes lyrical about his current tome, THE BURNING SOUL. He also drops a hint or two about the next Charlie Parker title, due next year. To wit:
His preferred method of relaxation is to keep working. While he swears he’ll keep his family happy by putting the pen down over Christmas, he reveals that he’s made inroads into the next Parker book. Tentatively scheduled for release in September 2012, with a working title of THE WRATH OF ANGELS, Connolly promises a return to more supernatural fare and a sequel of sorts to 2005’s THE BLACK ANGEL. There are other projects on the horizon too, and you can expect further adventures of Samuel Johnson, hero of Connolly’s newest franchise, albeit one aimed at a younger audience.
  For the full interview, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On Small But Perfectly Formed Readerships

I mentioned last month that Adrian McKinty’s very fine novel THE COLD COLD GROUND is coming your way in January, but there’s also some excellent news about his 2011 offering, FALLING GLASS. For lo! Audible.com has picked FALLING GLASS as its Best Mystery / Thriller of the Year. Nice one, my son.
  Naturally, the award has sent McKinty into a dizzying downward spiral of self-examination over at his blog, wherein he talks about the titanic effort required to write novels when the world at large, for the most part, doesn’t seem to care. He then goes on to say this:
“But maybe the struggle is the point. I bet if I put my mind to it I could write a knock-off Michael Connelly or Lee Child and make boatloads of cash. But I don’t want to. I’m not that much of a cynic and books are too important to me. I don’t want to write for money or for the whims of editors in corner offices, I want to write the books that move me and make me think and make me excited. My readers get invested not just in the characters and the story but also in the words and sentences that make up the story. My readers like irony and judicial profanity. My readers like a good joke and a well turned phrase. My readers admire wit. My readers know who Seamus Heaney is. My readers DON’T HAVE TO HAVE EVERY LAST THING EXPLAINED TO THEM. My readers aren’t prudes. My readers don’t have to be told why its wrong to pour a shamrock on the head of a pint of Guinness. My readers can spot the gag in the sentence that begins chapter 2 of FALLING GLASS. My readers can recite poems from memory. My readers aren’t frightened by a page without dialogue. My readers can name the Presidents back to 1932. My readers are sometimes poleaxed but seldom banjaxed. My readers are a select group and, you know what, I’m really glad about that. Slainte.”
  God bless you, sir, and long may you run.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Once Moe With Feeling

Reed Farrel Coleman is a busy, busy man these days. Last month he released the standalone title GUN CHURCH as an audio book; this month sees the latest Moe Prager, HURT MACHINE, land on a bookshelf near you, courtesy of Tyrus Books. Will it be the last in the Moe series? Quoth Reed:
“HURT MACHINE is the 7th novel in the Moe Prager Mystery series. When the series began with the original novel, WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE, Moe was in his thirties. He had just been forced to retire from the NYPD due to an inglorious injury and knee surgery. He was alone, childless, in search of a future without his beloved job. In Hurt Machine, Moe is in his sixties. He and his brother own a large chain of wine shops. He’s been twice married, has one daughter on the verge of marriage, and has only worked one case as a PI in the last several years. Let’s face it, it’s tough to write a credible PI series when your protagonist takes long naps and worries about his Lipitor dosage. Yes, Moe Prager is coming around that last turn.
  “In HURT MACHINE, his daughter is two weeks away from her wedding when Moe receives very grave news about his health. Things get even more complicated when his ex-wife and former PI partner, Carmella Melendez, shows up after a nine year absence, asking for a desperate favour. A favour Moe is not inclined to grant. It seems Carmella’s estranged sister has been murdered outside a popular Brooklyn pizzeria, but no one, not even the NYPD, seems very motivated to find the killer. Why? That’s the question, isn’t it?
  “Fans of the series needn’t worry, though. The series isn’t coming to an end with HURT MACHINE. I plan on two more novels in the series. ONION STREET, the Moe book I’ve recently begun, is a prequel and will feature Moe just before he joins the NYPD. He’s an 18 year-old student at Brooklyn College and one of his closest friends gets in way over his head. As for the last book in the series … we’ll just see. It’s been a hell of a ride and I don’t know that it will be that easy to let go of my old pal, Moe.” - Reed Farrel Coleman
  Yes, yes - but is it any good? Well, Publishers Weekly likes it, for starters

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Keeping Things Just The Right Side Of Ridiculous

And on flows the flummery. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL has had a pretty decent run of it in the last couple of weeks (furiously blushing cover, right), with some very nice reviews popping up here, the Sunday Times declaring it one of its Books of the Year here, and the book itself setting sail for the continent of North America, as recounted here.
  Last weekend was particularly good for our humble tome, however, as Stuart Neville popped up in the Irish Times’ round-up of writers’ favourite books of the year, in which he gave a fully deserved big-up to Tom Franklin’s wonderful CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER, and then went on to say this:
“Declan Burke’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL (Liberties Press, €12.99) is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a cigarette paper. A story in which a character steps into the real world to guide a novelist through a rewrite of his own tale could easily veer into the realm of the pretentious in the hands of a less able author, but Burke manages to keep things just on the right side of ridiculous. I recently found myself trapped on a delayed train for six hours. Thank God I had this sublimely crazy book to keep me sane.”
  I thank you kindly, Mr Neville, not least for allowing me to associate with such august company.
  On Sunday, the Sunday Independent published a very nice interview with yours truly, courtesy of Hilary White, in which I held forth on writing, giving up cigarettes, becoming a dad and why crime writers are a pretty nice bunch of people, possibly because they leave all their nasty stuff on the page. To wit:
“There is a theory that goes along those lines, yeah, because you’re venting all the dark aspects of your psyche on to the page, and when you walk away you’ve left your vices behind. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL toys with that idea, that the writer’s psyche is split and the good person he wants to be is writing this bad character that he could easily be -- and may already be -- out of his system.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Monday, December 5, 2011

Playing Patsy

I ran a Q&A with John J. Gaynard a couple of weeks ago, which very nearly sparked off a war in the comments box between John and a couple of French chaps unimpressed with his take on the French sense of humour. Anyhoo, John J. Gaynard’s current offering is THE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE, which sounds a fascinating prospect - and delivers handsomely, according to Kirkus Reviews. To wit:
THE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE, John J. Gaynard
Booze, brawls, sex and schizophrenia—such is the artist’s life in Paris, according to this raucous satire.

When Patsy Burke, a world-famous Irish sculptor living in France, wakes up in his hotel with his body torn and bloody and no recollection of how it got that way, he’s not particularly surprised. A raging alcoholic given to beating up pimps in Paris dives, he’s used to blackouts and drunk tanks. Unfortunately, his latest bender has left a dead man in its wake, and Patsy’s attempt to piece together what he’s been doing for the last few days triggers a reckoning with his past and his demons. Said demons take the form of bickering voices inside his head, including Caravaggio, a Nietzchean figure who eggs on Patsy’s fistfights and womanizing; Goody Two-Shoes, a prim woman who castigates his atrocious treatment of friends and lovers; a wispy romantic named Forget Me Not; and a scary demiurge called the Chopper, whose insistent promptings to behead women with a meat cleaver are barely fended off by the remnants of Patsy’s sanity. These clashing personae narrate Patsy’s violent picaresque and roiling internal conflicts; he’s bombastic, selfish, preening and cynical, yet steeped in Irish-Catholic guilt. (His downward spiral was touched off when he learned that a statue he made of Jesus being sodomized by two monks—meant as a protest against clerical abuses—is now presiding over orgies conducted by Vatican pedophiles.) Patsy’s saga is plenty lurid—”You bit off his right ear and you spat it out”—yet the author’s pristine prose keeps it under control. Despite the tale’s almost Dantean excesses, Gaynard makes the tone ironic and droll—during an odyssey through the Parisian demimonde, Patsy finds himself discussing Marxist development economics with a glamorous prostitute—and registers delicate shadings of his antihero’s psychic travails. The result is an entertaining, over-the-top farce that still draws readers in with pathos. - Kirkus Reviews
  Interesting stuff. I mean, it’s not often you stumble across a review of a crime novel that name-checks Jesus, Karl Marx, Caravaggio, Nietzsche and Dante, is it? Or am I just leading too sheltered a life these days?
  For more on John J. Gaynard, check out his Good Reads page

Sunday, December 4, 2011

CAPNYA; Or, The Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award

Well, it’s that time of the year again, folks, when we have a look back at the Irish crime titles released in the last twelve months or so, and make a ham-fisted attempt at deciding which was the best of the lot for the not-entirely-coveted Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award - or CAPNYA, if you prefer. I say ham-fisted, because all such ‘awards’ are by definition a lottery of subjective opinions, opinion being a polite word for prejudice; the good news there is, opinions are free, and so is leaving a comment in the box beneath this post. So, if you have a few moments to spare, and have an opinion on what might be the best Irish crime title of 2011, please join in the fun.
  To make it (slightly) interesting, and because the real object of the exercise is to bring the titles of great books to the attention of those who might have missed them first time around, I’m going to ask you to name your top three books, in 1-2-3 order, with the person who gets closest to the right 1-2-3 bagging themselves a signed copy of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL by yours truly (runner-up gets two signed copies, etc.). In the event that two or more contributors tie, the names will go into a bobbly hat.
  The list of books below isn’t so much a longlist as a suggested reading list, and please feel free to include any title that isn’t on it in your 1-2-3. I’m going to run this post for two weeks, with the winner to be announced on Monday, December 19th, and maybe for giggles I’ll post a ‘short-list’ of the most popular books this time next week.
  Incidentally, I’ll be leaving myself and ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL out of the competition. As always, this has less to do with transparency and accountability and the democratic process than it has to do with the horrendous embarrassment that would come with my not winning an award I’m hosting on my own blog. You know it makes sense.
  Anyway, on with the list, which is presented in alphabetical order:
NINE INCHES, Colin Bateman;
A DEATH IN SUMMER, Benjamin Black;
THE POINT, Gerard Brennan;
HEADSTONE, Ken Bruen;
THE RECKONING, Jane Casey;
PLUGGED, Eoin Colfer;
THE BURNING SOUL, John Connolly;
THE FATAL TOUCH, Conor Fitzgerald;
BLOODLAND, Alan Glynn;
TABOO, Casey Hill;
GOODBYE AGAIN, Joseph Hone;
THE CHOSEN, Arlene Hunt;
THE RAGE, Gene Kerrigan;
HIDE ME, Ava McCarthy;
LITTLE GIRL LOST, Brian McGilloway;
FALLING GLASS, Adrian McKinty;
STOLEN SOULS, Stuart Neville;
BLOODLINE, Brian O’Connor;
TAKEN, Niamh O’Connor;
DUBLIN DEAD, Gerard O’Donovan;
THE BLOODY MEADOW, William Ryan;
  So there you have it, folks. Vote early, vote often, and let the games commence …

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou

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?
POMPEII by Robert Harris, set in the year of my birth – not totally crime-crime but an engineer has to solve a mystery and does. It has a magic cake mix for me, ancient history and superb writing.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Princess Leia from the Star Wars series. She wears great bikinis, gets up close and uncomfortable with Jaba the Hutt (who, in reality, outside my delusions, looks more like me) and lives through it. And she has doughnuts over her ears, so she’s never short of a snack.

Who do I read for guilty pleasure?
Other people’s clever quotes. Why guilty? I never remember them. The one I keep close even though how close it is to the original saying, who knows, is one by Confucius: ‘He who flatters a man is his downfall. He who tells him of his faults is his maker.’

Most satisfying writing moment?
The dawning belief that I really wouldn’t go to hell if I wrote about rude words and sex in my stories. I tell my shocked (female) friends, ‘It was God that put the sex in man, and it’s not God’s fault (or mine) if men found rude words to describe it.’

The best Irish crime novel is …
WHO SLAUGHTERED THE CELTIC TIGER by Weall Wantaknow. (Cecilia Ahern is here [in Cyprus] in translation! Bet Irish crime isn’t.) However, I read reviews and there are some fine Irish writers of the genre on the scene if reviews are to be believed. I’m not lickin’ up, honest, I loved ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL but that was far more than just a novel with a crime. That story goes under cerebral genre. It had so much of the “wow, that’s cool, intelligent writing, that’s something deep to think about” element that is not the stuff of the ‘ordinary’ formulaic crime read. And I’ve read more formula crime than babies have formula. I loved the Wexford series (years ago – nothing to do with Wexford in Ireland, sorry) because of the late but smashing George Baker in the role.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
The Quartet from my book TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE. Frank McNally described that as, ‘A dark and twisted tale of secrets, misunderstandings and blighted lives …’ It has all the elements: sex, animals eating human flesh, (which no good crime story should be without!) and people gnawing on each other’s psyches … and a murder.

Worst/best thing about being a writer?
Worst: I lose patience when I can’t type as fast as my brain wants to give out. Best: Getting a book into actual print, holding your dream, as it were.

The pitch for your next book is …
It’s a story of the supernatural and how fascination with celebrity manages to take over the minds of kids to such an extent that the connection disrupts their lives, and the dead star that just won’t lie down and leave them and their shrink alone.

Who are you reading right now?
No one, I’m on the trot trying to promote moi!

God appears and says you can read OR write. Which would it be?
That’s a shite question. (Rude sentence optional.) It’s as the old song says, like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel … If you write you are reading what you put down, yes? So, one would cancel out the other, right? Or is it early onset Alzheimer’s with mise? I hope St Peter has better questions when I arrive at The Gate; I’m not very bright with trick questions.

Three best words to describe your writing …
Brilliant, beautiful and bullshit.

Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou’s TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE is published by Armida Publications.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: We’re Coming To (North) America

It’s been a very busy week, I have to say, but even so there’s really no excuse for my having missed out on the fact that ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL was officially made available in North America on last Monday, November 28th. Be assured that I’ll be placing myself very firmly on the naughty step just as soon as I’ve finished writing this post …
  But less of the self-flagellation, and more self-promotion. As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, AZC received a very nice big-up last weekend, when it was selected as one of the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Books of the Year’, in a short but perfectly formed précis that began, ‘One of the most memorable books of the year, in any genre, was Declan Burke’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL …’.
  Erm, you had me at ‘memorable’.
  Meanwhile, and continuing on a theme of shameless self-promotion, there are quite a number of reviews of said tome available to your left. It has also garnered a number of reviews on Amazon.uk and Amazon.com, all of which are of the five-star variety, and not one of which (I promise) was written by yours truly, or any of my family or friends, or indeed, any of the book’s publicists. It’s a little sad that you need to actually say these kinds of things these days, but it appears that that’s the way the world is going, or has gone. Oh, and by the way - if you’ve read the book, and liked it, please feel free to post a review to Amazon. Your reward will be in heaven.
  AZC is also available in e-format here, and if you prefer not to shop with Amazon, it’s also available via Book Depository here.
  Finally, if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, and / or you’re a reviewer for a media outlet, website or blog, and you’d like to receive a review copy of AZC, drop me a line at the email address above and I’ll do my level best to ensure you get a copy. Don’t all rush at once, of course, or else you’ll crash the serv -
  Gah. Too late. Oh well, normal-ish service will be resumed as soon as possible …

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The PEN Is Mightier Than The Sword

I’m a wee bit conflicted, I think, about the overlap between crime fiction and true crime. It’s difficult to argue against the notion that fiction writers are influenced, to some extent at least, by the real crimes that take place beyond their writing caves; by the same token, I’m a bit wary of drawing parallels between a rise in murder statistics, say, and the number of novels being written about murders. Mostly, I think I’m a bit squeamish about the idea that fiction writers can trade in the very real misery and pain that is the consequence of many kinds of crime, all for the sake of it what is, for the greater part, entertainment and profit.
  Anyway, such notions may or may not be discussed at next week’s Irish PEN Event, ‘Crime Writing - Fiction and True Crime’, which takes place at the United Arts Club, 3 Upper Fitzwilliam St., Dublin 2, at 8pm on December 8th. The event will feature three Irish writers: Arlene Hunt, whose current novel is THE CHOSEN, and which opens with a Columbine-style high school massacre; Sandra Mara, a private investigator whose most recent title is DEAD MEN TALK; and Abigail Rieley, a freelance journalist and court reporter who has published two non-fiction crime titles, THE DEVIL IN THE RED DRESS and DEATH ON THE HILL.
  Sounds like a fascinating evening in prospect. All the details, including booking details and fee, can be found on the Irish PEN website

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Have Nothing To Fear But The Fear Index Itself

I sat down with Robert Harris (right) a couple of weeks ago, to interview him for the Irish Examiner about his latest title, THE FEAR INDEX, and a very enjoyable conversation it was too, incorporating, among other things, the global economic crisis, the Third Reich, his relationship with Roman Polanski, and wayward neutrinos that appear to be travelling faster than the speed of light. It kicks off a lot like this:
“IT’S A colossal story,” says author Robert Harris of the global economic crisis, which forms the backdrop to his latest novel, THE FEAR INDEX. “In its way it’s a much, much bigger story than 9/11. But because it lacks, as it were, the burning towers and the iconic images, we tend to underestimate it. The governor of the Bank of England said yesterday that it’s possibly the worst financial crisis the world has ever seen. So I’m pleased to have written this book, because I’ve always seen myself as a political writer above all else, and it seems to me that this crisis is where politics is right now.”
  Harris began his career as a political writer as a journalist and BBC television reporter, publishing a number of non-fiction titles between 1982 and 1990. “All I’ve ever wanted to do in life is write,” he says, “but I needed to earn a living.” It was his work on SELLING HITLER (1986), an investigation into the hoax ‘Hitler diaries’, that led him to write his first novel, FATHERLAND (1992).
  “In the course of researching [SELLING HITLER],” he says, “I came across all the plans Hitler had for what the world would be like in the Third Reich, and I thought that would be interesting to explore as a non-fiction book. Imagine taking all the sketches and the maps, and the architectural designs, and creating a kind of ‘guide’ to a world that never existed. And then I realised I really couldn’t answer fundamental questions about this world — if one assumes that the world would have settled down to a Berlin-Washington axis, what would have been said about the fact that all the Jews had disappeared? How would that be handled in international relations? Would it be treated the same way as all the people killed by Mao, or what happened in Stalin’s Russia? Would détente have triumphed?
  “So I ended up walking through the looking-glass into a fictional world. And when I got there, I enjoyed it so much that from that moment on, that was all I wanted to do. But it all came through the desire to use fiction as a tool to explain the politics of now and history, and in a way, I’ve always gone on doing that. I’m interested in power, that’s my furrow to plough, as it were.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Gast: Well And Truly Flabbered

I had an unusually busy Sunday yesterday, given that my good lady wife had taken herself off for a well-deserved relaxing weekend in Beirut (!), so it wasn’t until late in the evening, killing time waiting for Match of the Day 2, that I got to glance at the Sunday Times’ Culture section, and particularly the ‘Best Books of the Year’ feature flagged on the cover. Ho, said I, what’s the chances of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL popping up there?
  Erm, quite good, as it happens. For lo! AZC was the lead-off title in the Crime Fiction round-up. To wit:
“Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre, was Declan Burke’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL (Liberties Press). A writer is talked into rewriting an unpublished novel about a hospital porter who dishes out mercy killings - by a one-eyed man claiming to be that same porter. Burke splices insights into the creative process into a fiendishly dark thriller that evokes the best of Flann O’Brien and Bret Easton Ellis.”
  Consider my gast well and truly flabbered. Given the reviews it has received to date (see left), and its short-listing for the Irish Book Awards, AZC had already wildly over-achieved on expectations. But a ‘Best Book of the Year’ in the Sunday Times? Truly, my cup runneth over …

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Craftsman Cometh

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, Stuart Neville’s current offering is STOLEN SOULS, and a very fine thriller it is, too. I reviewed it as the lead title in this month’s Irish Times ‘Crime Beat’ round-up, which can be found here
  Meanwhile, I interviewed Stuart a couple of weeks back, and he had this to say about his next title:
“My next book is called DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD, and it’s set primarily in and around Dublin in the weeks before JFK’s visit in 1963. It’s a bit of a globetrotter of a novel, seeing as it stops off in Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Uruguay along the way. It focuses on some interesting people who were resident in Ireland at the time, and features several real historical figures as characters, including one of the most notorious Irish politicians of the late twentieth century. The protagonist is Albert Ryan, a young G2 officer, who first appeared as a much older man in my story The Craftsman, a short film of which is currently in post-production.”
  Sounds like an absolute cracker. That story, The Craftsman, by the way, appears in DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY (Liberties Press). And, as Stuart announced over on his Facebook page a couple of days ago, there’s a short film being adapted from The Craftsman, with the trailer looking a lot like this. Roll it there, Collette …

The Craftsman from Adam Bowler on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: John J. Gaynard

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

Editor’s Note: I received a rather interesting review of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL by John J. Gaynard during the week; when I investigated further, I discovered that John J. Gaynard is himself the author of what sounds like a rather fascinating novel. Now read on …

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
The Bible. Although I’d put more effort into improving on the lazy Sunday draft that gets the whole thing off to the sexist, incestuous, start and I’d make sure that it’s, Abel, the eater of sacrificial meat and not Cain, the vegetarian brother, who gets murdered. The book’s greatest accomplishment, apart from the spinoffs, is that you’ve got this schizophrenic Stalin-like figure, sending down floods of hate, revenge, betrayal and plagues of locusts, whenever it suits him, while the head-scratchers in the Gulag he’s created can’t come up with the right question: “Did we invent him or did he invent us?” Every good cop who turns up, in the shape of a prophet, gets sold out by his own side. But the main reason this is the book I would have liked to write is the sales and the number of boondoogles you’d get invited to. The Bible study industry is still bigger than the James Joyce or Shakespeare industries.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Gulley Jimson, the painter, in the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary’s 1940s trilogy: HERSELF SURPRISED, TO BE A PILGRIM and, in what I think is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, THE HORSE’S MOUTH. At the beginning of THE HORSE’S MOUTH, Gulley Jimson has just got out of jail. Collectors would pay thousands for any painting he could produce. But Jimson couldn’t give a damn about them, he paints for himself, not for anybody else, the problem is he hasn’t got a penny to buy brushes, paint or a palette. He borrows or scams money from any old acquaintance who will still talk to him, similar to a character in a Ken Bruen novel, and tries to get back some of the paintings he gave away before he went broke. His new passion is for painting on people’s walls. I suppose you could call him the original tagger. He destroys himself, but he never has a minute of guilt or regret. His whole life is either spent getting his hands on a brush and paints, or in painting itself and nearly getting killed by the people who think he’s desecrated their houses. It’s one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read. At the end, when he’s on his deathbed, a nun criticizes him for laughing instead of praying and he tells her that they’re the same thing.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Suzanne Tyrpak, the author of DATING MY VIBRATOR. DATING MY VIBRATOR is a small book of hilarious short stories about a lady who went through a messy divorce, hit the online dating sites and then discovered, as do many innocent young divorcees, that all men, not only the ex-husband, are congenital liars. The book’s about the mental and physical deficiencies of the sex-hungry slobs the hero meets, and you couldn’t call any of the descriptions complimentary. After the book came out, one of the slobs recognized himself in one of the stories, and since then he’s been giving Suzanne really bad reviews on Amazon, and any other website he can come across. There’s a big phenomenon in France of women becoming call girls after they’ve had some experience on online dating sites. They say they might as well get paid for doing what they have to do anyway

Most satisfying writing moment?
There have been many of them, ranging from when I got a story published in the old London Evening News, through when I got my first satirical article published by Le Monde, or when a French translation of Allen Ginsberg’s meeting with Ezra Pound was published. In those days I was using a nom de plume. The latest most satisfactory moment is when I saw the Kirkus Review of THE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE. Maybe once in a lifetime you get a reviewer who really understands what you were trying to write: “A rich, darkly comic send-up of the art world and the megalomaniacal souls that populate it.” The only quibble I might have with that review is that it might not prepare readers for the novel’s really dark side.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Of all time, I would say THE INFORMER by Liam O’Flaherty. The best one I’ve read over the past few years is Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE, published in the States as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST. I like a novel that contains an element of psychopathy and some good fight scenes. The fight, or maybe I should say massacre scene, towards the end of THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is second to none.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Every day I realize that there are a hell of a lot of Irish crime novels I still haven’t read. Tana French’s IN THE WOODS would make a great movie, but you’d have to make sure that Cecilia Ahern wasn’t taken on to write the script.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing, apart from French women writers who’ve fallen out of love with you making you a character in their books, is that it’s easy to become isolated from the rest of humanity. To avoid that I get up very early, every morning in Paris and I spend a couple of hours doing a café crawl, meeting up with friends like taxi drivers, plumbers, illegal African immigrants working on the building sites, and transsexual night club bouncers or heterosexual hostesses, who clock off at six o’clock in the morning and who like to sit around and talk shop in the cafés for a couple of hours before they head home for bed. One of the transsexual bouncers used to run the newspaper shop in the European Commission building in Luxemburg and, s/he tells me, the stuff that went on there was weirder than any club in the whole of the European Union. Once the office workers come out, at about eight-thirty, I head back to my own work. One of my favorite songs is Jacques Dutronc’s, “It’s 5 a.m. Paris Awakes”. It’s about a young man walking down from Pigalle, as it used to be, after a night in the clubs. The best thing is raising your head after ten or eleven hours of work and realizing that you’ve been so captivated by what you’re doing that you’ve lived life to the full. Then you can sit down to three or four hours of reading before you go contentedly to bed.

The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s going to be about a testosterone-fuelled Irish Guard, Timothy O’Mahony, who first came to life in my first novel, ANOTHER LIFE. O’Mahony is the son of a French woman and an Irish father, from Charlestown. After a scandalous liaison with a Northern Irish woman politician, he was demoted from a senior position in Dublin and exiled to the Garda station in Bangor, Erris. He’s now put in charge of investigating the murder of a young African girl, whose body washed up on the shoreline of County Mayo. The story will take O’Mahony into that part of French life in which presidential candidates, policemen, prostitutes and jaded middle-class political groupies engage in group sex, freemasonry, corruption and conversations about Ireland’s refusal to extradite people strongly suspected of killing beautiful French women. Any resemblance to what is going on at the moment in Ireland, France, or what recently happened in New York, will be purely fortuitous. I’m still deciding to what extent O’Mahony will be allowed to participate in the group sex.

Who are you reading right now?
I just finished reading the Australian crime writer Peter Temple’s THE BROKEN SHORE. It’s the prototypical hard-bitten crime novel, with a lot of guilt about how much unspoken homosexuality underlies the Australian need for mateship. The dialogue reminded me of Allan Guthrie’s writing. I just started on William Boyd’s ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS, because I’ve always liked the comic element of Boyd’s novels and then I’ll probably read the recent Goncourt Prize winner, THE FRENCH ART OF WAR, even though, the other day, when I asked a guy in a train sitting with the book in front of him and looking out the window, how he was enjoying it he told me he hadn’t been able to get past the first two pages …

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d tell her to go to hell. If she wouldn’t take that for an answer, I would opt for writing, write her out of her own story and then go back to reading.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Whatever it takes! At times, the story needs sex, booze, brawling and schizophrenia, and at other times it needs some pathos.

John J Gaynard’s THE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE is published by Createspace.