“Like Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heaney, Flann O’Brien spent his formative years in the bleak, rainy moorland of western Ulster. Someday a Ph.D. student will write a thesis explaining how this dour, sodden, landscape helped produce four of Ireland’s best and wittiest writers but the mystery need not detain us - anyone who has ever tried to coax directions out of a County Tyrone farmer will understand why west Ulster humour is necessarily dark, laconic, labyrinthine and filled with irony.Adrian McKinty’s FALLING GLASS is published by Serpent’s Tail.
“Beckett and Wilde were at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen but O’Brien, like Heaney, was of humbler stock, born Brian O’Nolan in Omagh, in 1911. After education at parochial school Brian moved to Dublin, joined the Irish Civil Service and began writing. His first book was the precocious and brilliant AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, a surrealistic epic of Irish country life, published in 1939. Unfortunately the world had other things on its mind in 1939 and AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS died the death of most debut novels.
“Still Flann stuck it, producing several more books including THE HARD LIFE and THE DALKEY ARCHIVE. By the late 1960’s AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS had been rediscovered as a classic and O’Brien reputation was solidified after the posthumous publication of THE THIRD POLICEMAN in 1967.
“The plot of THE THIRD POLICEMAN is not easy to summarize, as it’s not only the most comic but also the most surrealistic Irish crime novel ever written. The one-legged unnamed hero (or anti-hero) of the story has murdered a man for the contents of a black box. The black box may contain money or a magic talisman or his soul or the key out of purgatory. The hero is being investigated by rural Irish policemen who are obsessed by bicycles and he in turn is obsessed by the ramblings of an insane college professor and the mysterious Third Policeman, who may be Satan or an angel or God himself. I appreciate that this doesn’t sound promising but the books is saved from becoming a pretentious period piece by its humour. THE THIRD POLICEMAN is very, very funny.
“Admirers of THE THIRD POLICEMAN are many and it is not a stretch to suggest that Flann O’Brien is a Celtic Kafka or an Irish Borges. Predicting stuff is a mug’s game but I’d give Grand National odds that when Hannibal Lecter and even (dare I say it) Harry Potter are forgotten in the mists of time, people will still be reading THE THIRD POLICEMAN, not for some ‘Important Books’ college course, but rather for the sheer, unbridled joy of spending a while in the company of a truly weird comic genius.” - Adrian McKinty
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “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.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Down These Green Streets: Adrian McKinty on Flann O’Brien
As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY will be published later this month by Liberties Press, with yours truly responsible, in my role as editor, for all gaffes therein. Inspired by Stuart Neville’s big-up of Gene Kerrigan’s latest novel during the week, I thought it might be a nice idea to ask some of the GREEN STREETS contributors to nominate their favourite Irish crime novel. First up, Adrian McKinty on Flann O’Brien’s comic masterpiece, THE THIRD POLICEMAN: