“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Top Ten Crime Novels: Declan Burke

It’s not a book I hear mentioned a lot these days, but Alistair MacLean’s WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is one of my favourite crime thrillers, and one I tend to indulge myself with a re-read every couple of years. Yes, I know MacLean isn’t exactly hip anymore, but, well, hip schmip. It’s a very neat piece of Bond pastiche / parody / homage, with the added bonus - by Ian Fleming’s standards, at least - of being unusually realistic for a thriller, and the setting of the west coast of Scotland is hugely atmospheric, possibly because it’s always raining.
  I first read WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL in my mid-teens, and it was hugely influential on me. I particularly liked the deadpan stoicism and ever-so-slightly knowing first-person narration delivered by the ‘hero’, the put-upon but resourceful spook Calvert. When my first novel appeared, people were generous enough to favourably mention the blatant Chandleresque rip-off, and some even mentioned John D. MacDonald and Jim Thompson (the latter due to the epigraph I used, probably), but even moreso than Chandler, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was heavily influenced by Colin Bateman’s DIVORCING JACK and Alistair MacLean’s WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL - hence the ‘EIGHT’ in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. To wit:
WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL by Alistair MacLean
I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, but when I read this at a young age it seemed to me a low-fi James Bond novel, and all the more enjoyable for it. In fact, it’s Bond laced with Chandlerisms, set in a superbly drawn Scottish landscape of islands, crags, inlets and castles, and combines the page-turning quality of the high-concept thriller with a grittily realistic spy tale reminiscent of Le Carré.
  Anyway, the reason I mention WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is that the good people at Book Aware asked me to contribute my Top Ten Crime Novels to their list, as flagged earlier this week by Ken Bruen’s Top Ten Crime Novels. For the full list of my own Top Ten, which includes James Ellroy, Adrian McKinty, John McFetridge, Jim Thompson, The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman and Barry Gifford, clickety-click on Book Aware here
  Book Aware is hosting a series of such lists, with the aim of supporting Sightsavers, which has the vision of ‘a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and where visually impaired people participate equally in society. Help Sightsavers help people enjoy the world of books too.’ Any writers wishing to help out Book Aware and Sightsavers by contributing their own Top Ten Favourite Novels should contact Neil at neil(at)galwayprint.ie.

2 comments:

Bob said...

Some great choices there Dec. Hard to argue with any of them. And it's good to see MacLean getting a mention. Like you, I devoured his books in my early teens also. Well worth a revisit every now and again.

J.T. said...

Great list, and love the fact you mention MacLean. My dad had a shelf full of his books, and as a 10-12 year old I went through every one of them up to BEAR ISLAND, after which I think the quality went downhill fast.

Besides EIGHT BELLS, I particularly remember NIGHT WITHOUT END, THE SATAN BUG and THE GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS as all being my favorite books growing up. I'm a bit hesitant to try them again, though, after 30 years.