“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 15, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: McGilloway, Paretsky, Nadelson, Hiaasen and Fitzgerald

The latest of my monthly crime fiction columns for the Irish Times appeared yesterday, featuring Brian McGilloway, Sara Paretsky, Reggie Nadelson, Carl Hiaasen and Conor Fitzgerald. It ran a lot like this:
Brian McGilloway has established a strong reputation with his Donegal-set series of Inspector Devlin novels, but LITTLE GIRL LOST (Macmillan, £12.99) is a standalone set in Derry, featuring DS Lucy Black of the PSNI. While investigating a case of a missing teenager, Black discovers a younger girl wandering through a snowstorm in her pyjamas. Her reward is an unwanted transfer to the Public Protection Unit, although Black has more pressing, personal concerns: she is the prime carer for her father, a former RUC officer who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while her ultimate superior is her mother, who walked out on Lucy’s family some decades previously. Effortlessly blending Black’s personal woes into her professional life, McGilloway weaves a taut police procedural in an unadorned style that belies the story’s complexity. With a backdrop provided by the PSNI’s ongoing evolution as a police force, and the tension inherent in the force’s attempts to police a vibrant Derry that is in the process of shaking off the shackles of its recent history, McGilloway has tapped into a fascinating and febrile setting. Black, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Jane Casey’s DC Maeve Kerrigan, a painfully self-conscious but thoroughly competent young woman whose ability to do her job has very little do with her gender. All told, it’s an impressive statement of intent from an author whose reputation grows with each successive release.
  BLOOD COUNT (Atlantic Books, £12.99) is the ninth in Reggie Nadelson’s series of Artie Cohen novels, in which the hardboiled cop investigates a series of unusual deaths in an upmarket Harlem apartment building. The fact that Artie’s on-off love interest Lily appears to be implicated in the deaths complicates matters, and renders Artie something of an ambiguous narrator, which in turn gives the reader a delicious frisson of being party to the subversion of both law and morality Nadelson unveils. It’s an issue-driven novel, as Nadelson invokes the recent history of the Soviet Union’s collapse, sleeper agents, and the complicated relationship between Communist Russia and the historically dispossessed African-Americans. The story takes place in the wake of Barack Obama’s election, which has the benefit of investing the historical elements with a contemporary immediacy, but there are times when Nadelson forsakes Artie Cohen’s hardnosed realism in order to hammer home a political message. The net result is a potentially enthralling snapshot of melting-pot New York that is at times undermined by the author’s digressions into the realms of polemic.
  Sara Paretsky is no less issue-driven in BODY WORK (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), the 14th novel to feature her iconic private eye, VI ‘Vic’ Warshawski. An artist’s right to portray herself onstage as she sees fit leads to the murder of a young woman, and Warshawski’s investigations subsequently uncover a conspiracy of silence generated by corporate giant Tintrey, a firm which offers security consultancy in Iraq. The consequences of sending unprepared and poorly outfitted men and women to war becomes a major theme, but Paretsky is too canny to allow her political concerns to dominate the narrative at the expense of pace, story and character. Warshawski, nearing 50, is a self-described feminist and street-fighter, a very modern woman who nonetheless harks back to the classic knight errants of private detective lore, as originally created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. The mix is a potent one, and BODY WORK confirms, yet again, Paretsky’s status as one of the great crime authors of her generation.
  STAR ISLAND (Sphere, £14.99) is Carl Hiaasen’s 12th adult crime novel, a blackly comic caper that features his recurring anti-hero Skink, the former Florida governor who now lives half-wild in the Everglades. A multi-character tale, it centres on wild-child pop star Cherry Pye and her ‘undercover stunt double’, Ann DeLuisa, who impersonates Cherry when the star is too befuddled with drugs and booze to function. Blackmail, kidnap and violence enter the picture when a sleazy paparazzo gets Cherry in his sights, and soon Hiaasen is merrily plumbing the sludgy depths of modern America as he pops off deadpan zingers at a host of targets, most notably the puddle-shallow cult of celebrity. Despite the many and (deliberately) implausible twists and turns, STAR ISLAND sticks to Hiaasen’s tried and trusted formula, delivering a polished comedy that will delight newcomers and satisfy established fans.
  Set in Rome, featuring an American-born Italian police detective, and written by an Irishman, THE FATAL TOUCH (Bloomsbury, £11.99) is Conor Fitzgerald’s sequel to last year’s debut, THE DOGS OF ROME. Commissioner Alec Blume investigates the murky world of art forgery, aided and abetted by his colleague Caterina Mattiola, former policeman Beppe Paolini, the mysterious Colonel Farenelli, and the memoirs left behind by a dead forger, the Irish artist-in-exile Henry Treacy. Beautifully written, the story proceeds at a stately pace which disguises an exquisitely complex plot, as Blume delicately negotiates the labyrinth that is Roman policing. Blume himself is a loner, an outsider and a potential alcoholic, but Fitzgerald cleverly reworks the police procedural’s conventions, much as the forger Treacy pays homage to the Old Masters, and makes a distinctive hero of Blume, particularly in terms of his ability to not only adjust to the corruption that is integral to Italian policing, but to employ it on his own terms. Chief among Blume’s virtues is his laconic sense of humour, which gives rise to deliciously dry and deadpan observations on virtually every page, most of them at Blume’s expense. Meanwhile, Treacy’s memoirs provide a secondary narrative strand that is equally compelling, and which neatly feed into the main story despite Treacy’s penchant for baroque and self-serving prose. The blend results in a scintillating novel that confirms and enhances Fitzgerald’s burgeoning reputation. - Declan Burke
  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.

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