“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, January 14, 2011

Don’t Mourn. Organise.

Yesterday I read yet another well-meaning op-ed piece in the Irish Times on the current state of this benighted isle, which claimed that the Irish peopled feel ‘humiliated’ by recent economic events, which culminated in the EU / IMF bail-out of Ireland.
  Now, the first thing to say about that is that Ireland wasn’t bailed out by the EU / IMF. The Irish banks were bailed out, so as to save the lily-white asses of those European bankers who loaned vast sums of money to Irish bankers without first checking to see if the Irish bankers were possessed, at the very least, of the wit to use an abacus. The Irish people will pay for it, certainly, and will continue to do so until such time as we get a government with the cojones to tell the EU / ECB to go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, tell the gamblers who took a punt on Irish banks that they lost, and that the casino is now closed for essential repairs.
  The second thing, arguably more important, is that no one I know feels even remotely ‘humiliated’ by the economic wreckage. Why should they? They had nothing to do with dodgy lending practices, and certainly didn’t benefit from same. No, everyone I know is angry at the fact that the country was (and still is) being run by a greedy, corrupt and cretinous golden circle of politicians, money-men and sundry fuckwits who treat the place like their personal fiefdom. I can’t and won’t speak for exactly how everyone else is feeling, but I can tell you how I feel: a cold, black, poisonous rage.
  I’ve been reading reports that suggest that the Fianna Fail meltdown in the coming election could be so profound as to result in as few as nine FF TDs being returned to the next Dail. In my opinion, that’s not nearly enough. The coming election is the best opportunity the Irish people will ever get to wear Fianna Fail down to the very nub, and with the grace of all that is sacred, wipe it out entirely. Nits, as they say, grow into lice. Or, in the last words of Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn. Organise.”
  All of which is to say that Gene Kerrigan’s latest offering has the perfect title: THE RAGE. Gene’s previous novel, DARK TIMES IN THE CITY, was a brilliant slice of urban noir, and was nominated last year for a CWA gong; as a journalist, Gene Kerrigan has been reporting for more years than he cares to remember on the (putting it politely) follies and foibles of our governing class, and I’m already sweaty-palmed at the prospect of discovering exactly what he has to say, in the guise of fiction, about what’s happened to Ireland in the last couple of years. Quoth the blurb elves:
Vincent Naylor is a professional thief, as confident as he is reckless. Just ten days out of jail, and he’s preparing his next robbery. Already, his plan is unravelling. While investigating the murder of a crooked banker, Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey gets a call from an old acquaintance, Maura Coady. The retired nun believes there’s something suspicious happening in the Dublin backstreet where she lives alone. Maura’s call inadvertently unleashes a storm of violence that will engulf Vincent Naylor and force Tidey to make a deadly choice. THE RAGE is a masterpiece of suspense, told against the background of a country’s shameful past and its troubled present.
  Gene? Bring. It. On.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

People In Glass Books Shouldn’t Throw Grenades

To the best of my knowledge, which is fairly limited at the best of times, there are no glasshouses in Adrian McKinty’s forthcoming tome, FALLING GLASS. Very probably no grenades, either. Although there’s very likely some people. And glass, falling. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that today’s headline makes even less sense than usual because my synapses are going off like a trailer park 4th of July at the prospect of a new McKinty novel. Quoth the blurb elves:
Richard Coulter is a man who has everything. His beautiful new wife is pregnant, his upstart airline is undercutting the competition and moving from strength to strength, his diversification into the casino business in Macau has been successful, and his fabulous Art Deco house on an Irish cliff top has just been featured in Architectural Digest. But then, for some reason, his ex-wife Rachel doesn't keep her side of the custody agreement and vanishes off the face of the earth with Richard’s two daughters. Richard hires Killian, a formidable ex-enforcer for the IRA, to track her down before Rachel, a recovering drug addict, harms herself or the girls. As Killian follows Rachel’s trail, he begins to see that there is a lot more to this case than first meets the eye, and that a thirty-year-old secret is going to put all of them in terrible danger …
  Lovely, lovely, lovely.
  It’s looking like another bracing year for Irish crime fiction, folks. My extensive research* reveals that Tana French and John Connolly will be doing the needful, as is traditional at this point, with BROKEN HARBOUR and THE BURNING SOUL, respectively (and the Dark Lord chipping in the YA HELL’S BELLS for good measure); Gene Kerrigan returns with THE RAGE; Eoin Colfer publishes his first adult crime novel, PLUGGED; Niamh O’Connor has her second novel, TAKEN, published; Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND is on the way; Ava McCarthy’s third novel (where does the time go?) will be THE DEALER; Brian McGilloway publishes the standalone LITTLE GIRL LOST; Benny Blanco is back with A DEATH IN SUMMER; Conor Fitzgerald’s sophomore offering will be THE FATAL TOUCH; William Ryan is back with THE BLOODY MEADOW; while perennial faves Colin Bateman, Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes have yet to show their hands, on Amazon at least. And then there’s the intoxicating prospect, as always, of debutants arriving to swell the numbers of the Irish crime fic crew.
  Last and most definitely least will be DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY, a rattle-bag collection of essays, interviews and short stories about the phenomenon of Irish crime writing, by the Irish crime writers themselves, a collection that includes offerings from (deep breath): John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Niamh O’Connor, Tana French, Gene Kerrigan, Eoin McNamee, Adrian McKinty, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Alex Barclay, Ken Bruen, Cormac Millar, Professor Ian Ross, Cora Harrison, Paul Charles, John Banville, Ingrid Black, Colin Bateman, Kevin McCarthy, Jane Casey, and more. The book will be published by Liberties Press, in April, with your humble host as editor.
  So, a good year in prospect already, and it’s still only halfway through January. Will 2011 be the year Irish crime fiction breaks out a la Scandinavia? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …

  * a three-minute click-frenzy around Amazon, natch.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The good people at Serpent’s Tail have been kind enough to offer Crime Always Pays three free copies of Sam Hawken’s THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ, a debut no less than a personage than Sir Kenneth of Bruen describes as, “A beautiful, compassionate, gruelling novel, as ferocious to read as it is soul wrenching … This book will haunt you for a long, long time.” Quoth the blurb elves:
Since 1993 over 400 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez. Residents believe the true number of disappeared stands at 5,000. When a new disappearance is reported, Kelly Courter, a washed-up Texan boxer, and Rafael Sevilla, a Mexican detective, are sucked into an underworld of organised crime, believing they can outwit the corruption all around. THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ follows these two men obsessed with seeking the truth about the female victims of the Mexican border wars.
  To be in with a chance of winning a copy of THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ, just answer the following question:
What one Mexico-set novel, other than Sam Hawken’s debut, should we all read before we die?
  Answers via the comment box below, please, making sure to include a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confuse the spam monkeys). All entries go into my bobbly hat. Competition closes at noon on Thursday, January 13th. Et bon chance, mes amis

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Peter Leonard

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 FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. My father, Elmore Leonard, gave me the book right after it came out. He said, “Read this. You won’t believe how good it is.” And he was right.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
James Bond. Looks like he has a pretty good time.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I read ‘People’ magazine, which chronicles the comings and goings of American movie stars, important stuff like who’s dating whom, where they vacation, what clubs they frequent.

Most satisfying writing moment?
My agent called telling me St. Martin’s Press had made an offer on QUIVER,
my first novel.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE GUARDS by Ken Bruen. Jack Taylor is a wonderful character, and Ken is a hell of a writer. His prose is gritty, violent and funny. I read it in one sitting.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
IN THE WOODS by Tana French.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst is probably the sting of a bad review. The best, I get paid to invent characters and tell stories. What could be better than that?

The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s 1971. A Holocaust survivor’s daughter is killed in an auto accident by a German diplomat. Harry Levin, a scrap metal dealer from Detroit, goes to Washington D.C. to claim his daughter’s body and find out what happened. A D.C. detective named Taggart tells Harry the incident has been covered up by the U.S. State Department. The diplomat, who was drunk, has been released from police custody and given immunity. Harry flies to Munich to get revenge and learns that the diplomat, Ernst Hess, figures in his past.

Who are you reading right now?
MR. PEANUT by Adam Ross.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. It’s too compelling to give up.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Character-driven suspense.

Peter Leonard’s ALL HE SAW WAS THE GIRL is published by Faber and Faber.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS by Declan Burke

When a heist goes west, Karen and Ray head south - next stop, the Greek islands. On their trail are Karen's ex-con ex- Rossi, his narcoleptic wheelman Sleeps, jilted cop Doyle, and Melody, an indie filmmaker with an eye for the wide angle and a nose for the big score. The Monte Carlo grand prix of road-trip comedy capers, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is a furiously fast and funny screwball romp that barrels through Amsterdam and Rome in a welter of double- and treble-crosses in the company of a motley crew, all with their eyes on the prize of riding off with the loot into that glorious Santorini sunset ...

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS on Amazon Kindle US

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS in many other e-formats


Praise for CRIME ALWAYS PAYS:
“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is part road movie and part farce, reminding me sometimes of Elmore Leonard, sometimes of Allan Guthrie, sometimes of Donald Westlake and sometimes of the Coen brothers - sometimes all at once.” - Glenn Harper, International Noir

“The end result is a little like what might be expected if Elmore Leonard wrote from an outline by Carl Hiaasen ... [It’s] about the flow, the feel, the dialog, the interactions among characters, not knowing who's working with - or against - who, the feeling that anything might happen at any moment. It’s as close to watching an action movie as a reading experience can be.” - Dana King, the New Mystery Reader

“The comparisons to Elmore Leonard's style are warranted and deserved, but Burke has managed to put his own unique spin on it ... For anyone looking for some escapism, a great read, and a lot of fun, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is for you.” - Smashwords review (*****)

“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is a fun yet complex novel, which definitely falls under the heading of screwball ... The unique mixture of a fun cops and robbers caper and the complex plot and character relationships makes this novel highly enjoyable and worth a read, or even a re-read.” - Smashwords review (****)

“FIVE stars for sure!” - Smashwords review (*****)

THE BIG O by Declan Burke

Karen can’t go on pulling stick-ups forever, but Rossi is getting out of prison any day now and she needs the money to keep Anna out of his hands. This new guy she’s met, Ray, just might be able to help her out, but he wants out of the kidnap game now the Slavs are bunkering in.
  This is the story of a tiger kidnapping seen through the eyes of a wide cast of characters. It jumps from Karen and Ray to Detective Doyle, Frank—the discredited plastic surgeon who wants his ex-wife snatched—and Doug, the lawyer who convinces him to do it. Then there’s the ex-wife herself, who just happens to be Karen’s best friend. Can Karen and Ray trust each other enough to carry off one last caper? Or will love, as always, ruin everything?

THE BIG O at Amazon UK

THE BIG O at Amazon US

Praise for THE BIG O:
“If Elmore Leonard met Jim Thompson down a dark alley at midnight they might emerge a week later with thick beards, bloodshot eyes and the manuscript for The Big O … raises the bar on its first page and keeps it there till the last word.” – Eoin Colfer

“Imagine Donald Westlake and his alter ego Richard Stark moving to Ireland and collaborating on a screwball noir and you have some idea of Burke’s accomplishment.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is one of the sharpest, wittiest and most unusual Irish crime novels of recent years … Among all of the recent crop of Irish crime novelists, it seems to me that Declan Burke is ideally poised to make the transition to a larger international stage.” – John Connolly

“Burke has married hard-boiled crime with noir sensibility and seasoned it with humour and crackling dialogue … fans of comic noir will find plenty to enjoy here.” – Booklist

“Carries on the tradition of Irish noir with its Elmore Leonard-like style ... the dialogue is as slick as an ice run, the plot is nicely intricate, and the character drawing is spot on … a high-octane novel that fairly coruscates with tension.” – The Irish Times

“Irish thrillers don’t get much more hard-boiled than this gritty, violent and wildly hilarious kidnap caper.” – Irish Independent

“A plot that takes off at a blistering pace and never lets up. The writing is a joy, so seamless you nearly miss the sheer artistry of the style and the terrific, wry humour.” - Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“With a deft touch, Burke pulls together a cross-genre plot that’s part hard-boiled caper, part thriller, part classic noir, and flat out fun. From first page to last, THE BIG O grabs hold and won’t let go.” – Reed Farrel Coleman: Shamus, Barry, and Anthony Award-winning Author of THE JAMES DEANS

“Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is full of dry Irish humour, a delightful caper revolving around a terrific cast … If you don’t mind the occasional stretch of credulity, the result is stylish and sly.” – The Seattle Times

“Delightful … darkly funny … Burke’s style is evocative of Elmore Leonard, but with an Irish accent and more humour … Here’s hoping we see lots more of Declan Burke soon.” – Kansas City Star

“Declan Burke’s crime writing is fast, furious and funny, but this is more than just genre fiction: Burke is a high satirist in the tradition of Waugh and Kingsley Amis . . . but he never forgets that his first duty is to give us a damn good read.”—Adrian McKinty, author of THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD

“Faster than a stray bullet, wittier than Oscar Wilde and written by a talent destined for fame.” - Irish Examiner

“THE BIG O is everything fans of dark, fast, tightly woven crime fiction could want ... As each scene unfolds, tension mounts and hilarity ensues.” – Crime Spree Magazine

“Burke has [George V.] Higgins’ gift for dialogue, [Barry] Gifford’s concision and the effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak. In short, THE BIG O is an essential crime novel of 2007, and one of the best of any year.” – Ray Banks, author of DONKEY PUNCH

“THE BIG O is a big ol’ success, a tale fuelled by the mischievous spirits of Donald E. Westlake, Elmore Leonard and even Carl Hiassen … THE BIG O kept me reading at speed – and laughing the whole damn time.” – J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine, ‘Best Books 2007 - Crime Fiction’

“THE BIG O has everything you want in a crime novel: machinegun dialogue, unforgettable characters, and a wicked plot. Think George V. Higgins in Ireland on speed.” – Jason Starr, author of THE FOLLOWER

“Burke shows remarkable skill at weaving a complex story from multiple points of view and pulling the strands together in an engaging fashion, and he clearly has the genius required to pull off a large-scale story.” - Spinetingler Magazine

“This is an extremely funny crime novel that takes Irish crime fiction in a whole new direction. Under the cracking comedy of the book lurks some very subtle and highly skilful plotting and prose.” - Brian McGilloway, author of BORDERLANDS

“Burke effortlessly ratchets up the tension, rings the changes of the perceptions of reality between the characters, provides an element of farce, a few choice set-pieces, some neat observations of domestic minutiae, and keeps the laughs coming.” – Euro Crime (1)

“THE BIG O has a wonderfully tight and convoluted plot that plays out like a movie … The bad guys are endearing, the good guys are wicked … A kidnap caper that is very funny, exhilarating, violent and snappy … A hell of a lot of fun.” – Euro Crime (2)

“It’s hard to praise THE BIG O highly enough. Excellent writing, great characters, superb storytelling – all played out at a ferocious tempo. By turns it’s dark, funny, moving, brutal, tender and twisted. A book that makes one hell of an impact. More Declan Burke please.” - Allan Guthrie, award-winning author of TWO-WAY SPLIT

“A kidnap caper with style and plotting more like Elmore Leonard (or maybe Donald Westlake) … a kaleidoscopic narrative that moves forward at a rapid pace … a crime farce of the first order.” - International Noir

“The deliciously complicated plotting, the wry dialogue and the sympathy Burke engenders for his cast of characters made this one of the most fun and purely pleasurable reads I’ve had in a while.” – Detectives Beyond Borders

“A polished, sharp as a tack and witty caper novel … If you’re a fan of the likes of Steve Brewer and Carl Hiaasen, you’ll devour THE BIG O ... Declan Burke is undoubtedly a writer to watch.” - Reviewing the Evidence

“Recalls Elmore Leonard’s more humorous works … It’s a perfectly realized, twisted little 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that slowly snaps together, with more than a few surprises along the way … The humour is of the dark and wicked kind, but both it and the inevitable violence are handled in a refreshingly subtle manner, more ice pick than chainsaw.” – Mystery Scene Magazine

“THE BIG O is one big-old crazy caper with an eerie hint of Elmore Leonard and a brash, bold, ball-bustin’ tempo … As a stylist, Burke is as kick-ass Irish as the great Ken Bruen … The really big appeal of THE BIG O, however, is that there is simply nothing like it – nothing close – on the bookshelves today.” – Crime Scene Scotland

“Declan Burke writes like Raymond Chandler on crystal meth. This character-driven mystery has the velocity of Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch combined with the stylish prose and effortless dialogue of Elmore Leonard at his best.” – Tim Maleeny, author of GREASING THE PINÃTA

“THE BIG O is a fun-filled and intense joyride ... The humour’s great, but there’s a lot of poignancy too … The dialogue is wicked and the prose slick and stylish. This man’s going to go a long way.” – Crime Scene Northern Ireland

“Outstanding ... If you are a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard fan, don’t miss this dark, wacky story of bad people plotting bad things … Burke’s dialogue is spot on, as are his characters … This is a biting, wickedly funny noir farce that builds to a knock-out ending.” – Shelf Awareness

“Declan Burke is regularly compared to Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, even though THE BIG O is only his second novel. Anyone that new receiving that kind of praise has earned a skeptical eye, just as Leonard and Westlake have earned their legends. Burke and his cast of losers are up to it.” – New Mystery Reader

“A classic underworld caper … with a freshness and often satirical edge that distinguishes it … A hell of a lot of fun to read.” – The Poisoned Pen

“A noir hybrid of murder and merriment … as if Quentin Tarantino and Buster Keaton had a love-child who could write … There have been few novelists who could plot tightly, create well-developed characters and write laugh-out-loud dialogue – Burke is a welcome new addition. – Mystery on Main Street

“Burke’s the latest – and one of the best – bad-boy Irish writers to hit our shores … the dialogue is nothing short of electric. This caper is so stylish, so hilarious, that it could have been written by the love-child of Elmore Leonard and Oscar Wilde.” – Killer Books

“THE BIG O: absolutely wonderful Irish hardboiled novel … Elmore Leonard crossed with Ken Bruen and Fredric Brown!” – Murder One

“THE BIG O is the stuff Tarantino or Guy Ritchie would make into a film, a great fun film like Snatch, Layer Cake or Get Shorty. Filled with as many great characters as Pulp Fiction … [it] would inspire a classic full of tough crooks, wisecracks, drugs, flash and boobies.” – Critical Mick

“A lightening-paced new kidnap caper … with its precision engineered plot, oodles of incident and moments of rampant hilarity, THE BIG O displays a particularly filmic sensibility, part film-noir, part Pulp Fiction – but totally entertaining.” – Verbal

“An exhilarating, hilarious and unmistakably Irish escapade in crime fiction ... a very funny thriller, packed tight with cracking moments and sizzling dialogue.” - Village

“This book is a blunt, rude, crude, politically incorrect, raucous, rumbustious, rollicking, romp of a crime caper novel.” – Crime Scraps

“The real treat in THE BIG O is the dialogue. Burke has a knack for sharp banter, and it is a rare chapter that doesn’t have a witty exchange between characters … It’s clear that he’s a writer who deserves a wider audience.” – Independent Crime

“Clips along at a tremendous pace … the dialogue is snappy, stylistic and sometimes laugh-out loud-funny … [a] slightly lunatic caper, albeit this time with a twist in the guts at the end.” – AustCrimeFiction

“Declan Burke has managed to get away with breaking all of the rules with his fun comedic thriller … THE BIG O moves quickly as it continually keeps you in stitches. This hilarious novel is filled with plenty of drugs, sex, and even a little rock ‘n’ roll.” – Nights and Weekends

“A tale that begins with criminal intent and snowballs into a messy denouement that leaves little doubt about Burke’s skills as a writer of an ironic and entertaining thriller.” – Curled Up With A Good Book

“THE BIG O is twisty, hilarious, sharp, dialogue-heavy, and a fucking breeze to read … a very real charm that is no-bullshit irresistible.” - Nerd of Noir

“THE BIG O is an absolute joy. A hangover cure, even.” - You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You?

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 1222 by Anne Holt

A train crash high in the Norwegian mountains leaves the train driver dead and the passengers marooned in the small village of Finse, 1222 metres above sea level and accessible only by rail. One of the passengers is Hanne Wilhelmsen, a former policewoman who retired four years previously, after a bullet severed her spinal cord, and is now confined to a wheelchair. A worsening blizzard means that immediate rescue is out of the question for the passengers, but events take a lethal turn when a charismatic priest, Cato Hammer, is shot dead on their first night in the hotel. A second murder, of Hammer’s close associate, quickly follows. Can Hanne Wilhelmsen discover who the murderer is? And who are the mysterious men in black who have barricaded themselves into the hotel’s upper floors?
  Anne Holt has been described as ‘the next Stieg Larsson’, which appears to be a label attached to every Scandinavian crime writer these days. She probably has a very good chance of becoming the next Stieg Larsson, not least because her publishers are putting a huge push behind this novel, with further translations to arrive in 2011. Holt not only has eight novels in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series behind her, she also has a second series, the Vik / Stubo series, of which there have been four novels to date (latest one published in 2009).
  Holt has an insider’s eye for issues of crime and punishment. She worked with the Oslo Police Force from 1988 to 1990, which earned her the right to practice as a lawyer. She started her own law practice in 1994. She served as Minister for Justice from November 1996 until February 1997, a very short period which was ended by illness.
  I was initially sceptical about 1222, as it seemed to me to be very derivative. The fact that Hanne is confined to a wheelchair should make her a fascinating character, as she must depend on her cerebral rather than physical efforts in order to impose herself on the situation in which she finds herself. Unfortunately, the character reminded me very much of Ironside, a wheelchair-bound Chief of Detectives who featured in a TV series starring Raymond Burr which ran in the US from 1967 to 1975.
  It’s also true that Hanne isn’t the most empathic character I’ve ever read. A reclusive character, she neither seeks nor celebrates human contact other than that of her lesbian partner Nefis and her beloved daughter Ida. In fact, she actively rebuffs people’s attempts to get to know her, and has withdrawn into herself ever since her accident. It’s fair to say, and something of an understatement, that Hanne does not suffer fools gladly. She is, not to put too fine a point on it, a difficult character to dislike.
  Happily (!), the murder of the priest Cato Hammer slowly reawakens Hanne’s old policing instincts, and her experience of being forced into company gradually thaws her frosty nature.
  A second murder quickly follows the first, at which point - given the circumstances Hanne and her fellow travellers are in - I started thinking of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. To be fair, Holt acknowledges this, and goes so far as to reference Christie’s novel on pg 124:
I thought about Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
  I immediately tried to dismiss the thought.
  And Then There Were None is a story that doesn’t exactly have a happy ending.
Of course, by pg 124, there are 118 guests locked into the hotel wing with Hanne, so it might have been something of a whopping novel had she engaged with bumping them all off one-by-one …
  Having said all that, it’s more than a month since I’ve read 1222, and it has stayed with me in a way I didn’t expect it to. One factor, I think, is that Holt is particularly strong when it comes to describing the atrocious weather conditions that buffet the hotel, and does a terrific job of enhancing the mounting tension by referencing the ever-worsening weather. In fact, each chapter is prefaced with a reference to the Beaufort Scale, and the impact on the human being of snow-driven winds.
  I also found the novel interesting in the way it used the trapped passengers to present a cross-section of Norwegian society, and at times it can read as a kind of social realist critique of Norwegian societal tensions, most of which were new to me. Holt is at times very critical of the Norwegian people, or at least certain aspects of the Norwegian mentality. Her criticisms largely stem from the fact that, according to Hanne Wilhelmsen at least, Norwegians can be docile sheep, but can be moved from docility to hysteria in a very short period of time. This, to be fair, is probably an accurate criticism of any group of any one nationality.
  The passengers do embrace a wide swathe of society. There are priests, and some older, religiously inclined, lay people. There are businessmen, a teenage sports team, and a group of older teenagers on their way to a rock concert. There are a few foreign nationals. There are doctors, on their way to a conference. There are also some locals trapped in the hotel, including the manager, a lawyer, and a mountain man. There is a feminist TV personality. All told, Holt appears to have covered quite a few of society’s bases. Few of the minor characters behave admirably in times of crises.
  There’s also a strong religious thread running through the novel, and particularly a theme of discredited religious institutions, which offers another layer to the conventions of Hanne attempting to discover who the murderer is. The two priests in the novel, Cato Hammer and Roar Hanson, both end up murdered. Early on, there are blatant signs that the clergy is not universally respected. A teenager, Adrian, swears forcefully at one of the priests in public, and yet he is not overly rebuked for his action. In general, the clergy and their small flock are more to be tolerated and pitied than admired.
  Equally interesting is the minor character Kari Thue, particularly in terms of her ability to foment fear and discord, and her representation of right-wing intolerance. Hanne herself is fascinated with the character of Kari Thue. She despises what Thue stands for, as the minor TV and media celebrity gathers around her a small retinue and protests about the living conditions - by which she means, implicitly, the fact that she’s expected to share space with two characters who are believed to be Muslim, possibly Kurdish (and again, religious tensions surface). In fact, Hanne so despises Kari Thue that she finds herself wishing that Thue had murdered Cato Hammer, and begins to bend the facts in order to point the finger of blame at Thue.
  Hanne Wilhelmsen’s lesbian partner, incidentally, is a practicing Muslim called Nefis. There’s a very nice long paragraph on pg 145 which describes Nefis’ beliefs, which begins:
For Nefis, Islam is the strict love of her father and the sound of the soles of her brothers’ shoes on the floor as they laughed and chased her around the palatial house where she grew up …
  Overall, 1222 is a solid example of the reluctant detective protagonist in crime fiction, even if Hanne Wilhelmsen a little too derivative for my liking (although I did get the impression that Holt was paying homage to the conventions of the classic mystery novel). Holt is also a little too fond of strewing red herrings through the story - the sub-plot about the mysterious men in black on a floor overhead is unnecessary, for example. The writing itself is workmanlike, although that may well be as a result of its translation than Holt’s own style, while the backdrop to the novel, the glimpse we catch of a cross-section of Norwegian society and how it behaves under pressure, is actually more interesting than the main plot itself. - Declan Burke

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Burke On Burke; Or, Why Some Writers Are Too Good To Read

Many, many moons ago, when I was still young enough to read without prejudice or expectation, I picked up a book called ‘The James Lee Burke Collection’. I was poor then, or a little poorer than I am now, and three novels in one book represented value for money that was impossible to resist, especially as I was browsing in a second-hand bookstore at the time. The collection comprised TO THE BRIGHT AND SHINING SUN, LAY DOWN MY SWORD AND SHIELD, and THE LOST GET-BACK BOOGIE.
  If you’re a James Lee Burke fan, you don’t need me to tell you that the collection, even if I’d paid a hundred quid for it, would have been good value for money. Even the cover was fabulous, featuring a moody, sepia-toned black-and-white shot of a wrecked and gun-shot car abandoned on desert flats, a dark and stormy sky brewing overhead. As for the novels themselves, well, you could have substituted the car on the cover for any of the protagonists. Men gnarled and worn down, sand-blasted by lives lived too hard on the edge of nowhere. When I think of those novels now I think of Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy, of Richard Ford’s THE ULTIMATE GOOD LUCK, of Raymond Carver and Hemingway’s TRUE AT FIRST LIGHT.
  That’s not to suggest that James Lee Burke is a writer on a par with literary giants such as McCarthy, Carver, Ford and Hemingway, or trying to sneak Burke, who is marketed as a crime writer, into the literary pantheon through the back door. I’m saying, definitively and brooking no argument, that James Lee Burke writes novels so good that he’s entitled to have the likes of McCarthy, Carver et al compared (favourably) to James Lee Burke, and I can only pity anyone who is so blinkered as to be blind to that fact.
  The first time I walked into a bookstore after EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was published (a fine emporium in Galway called Charlie Byrne’s, as it happens), said tome was nestling on the shelf beside those of James Lee Burke. Even at the time, high on the improbability of it all, I didn’t kid myself that EIGHTBALL deserved to be in the same shop, let alone on the same shelf; still, it was nice to see it there, if only for the incongruity. Even now, looking at the copy of The James Lee Burke Collection I’ve fished down off the shelf, I’m getting a shiver of anticipation at re-reading those novels yet again at some distant point in the future.
  So how come I’ve never read a Dave Robicheaux novel? Well, it’s complicated. Partly it’s to do with the sheer volume of Robicheaux novels (18 at the last count) and no longer having the kind of reading time that would allow me dive in with THE NEON RAIN and work my way forward; but mainly it’s because the writer part of my brain (tender, fragile, endlessly prone to self-doubt) understands that repeated exposure to James Lee Burke does very little to promote confidence in a writer. To read one great novel is one thing, and there are few pleasures to beat accidentally stumbling across a terrific novel; and nothing pleases me more, when I do discover a great novel, than to be in a position to trumpet the good news from the rooftops. But to willingly subject myself to repeated excellence such as James Lee Burke offers? At least Cormac McCarthy has the good grace to publish a novel only once every five or six years, or more; and Hemingway and Carver had the good grace to die, and so on; but Burke does it year after year after year.
  I do look forward to that distant point in the future, when the kids are reared and my fortune made, and I’m sitting on the balcony of my pension on a remote Greek island, a pomegranate sun sinking into the bottle-green sea, and reaching up to the bookshelf for THE NEON RAIN. Until then, though, I think James Lee Burke will have to wait, even if the signed copy of THE GLASS RAINBOW I received from Irish crime fiction’s most dedicated friend, Noo Yoik’s Joe Long, sits temptingly on a shelf within easy reach …
  All of which is a roundabout way of pointing you towards a rather fine piece the Dark Lord John Connolly published at his interweb lair, which is the introduction he wrote to a new and limited edition of THE GLASS RAINBOW published by Scorpion Press. To wit:
“For many of my generation of mystery writers, James Lee Burke is the greatest living author in our field, and one of the most accomplished literary stylists in modern American letters. For better or worse, I would not be writing without his influence, and all that I have written, I have written in his shadow. To borrow a phrase used by Jack Nicholson of Marlon Brando: “When he dies, everybody else moves up one.”
  “Burke’s preeminence is due, in no small part, to the manner in which he came to the mystery novel. Before publishing, in 1987, The Neon Rain, the first book to feature the recurring character of Dave Robicheaux, he had read little in the genre, the work of Raymond Chandler and James Crumley apart, so he approached the task of writing a mystery largely freed from any obligation to the perceived requisites. The books that have emerged in the decades since are, in a sense, only incidentally mysteries: they are, first and foremost, literate, literary, socially engaged novels. To read them is to encounter a great novelist applying his gifts to a sometimes underrated form, reinventing and reinvigorating it by his presence …”
  For the rest, clickety-click here