“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.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Sam Hawken

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?
Probably Dave Zeltserman’s PARIAH, as it’s gotten consistently rave reviews from everyone who’s read it and is emblematic of the quality of his overall output. It’s a book that would make me look really good, like I know what I’m doing.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Peter Pan. I get to live forever and never grow old, fight with pirates, hang out with Indians and mermaids and fairies and be the leader of my own little band of ne’er-do wells? That’s a good life.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
It’s not so much of a who as a what. I don’t have any go-to authors for my “junk” reading, but I’ll pick up a Star Wars novel and consume it with gusto when I need a palate cleanser.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Selling THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ to Serpent’s Tail. I sweated blood writing that thing and was glad to see it out of my hands. Having it sell as quickly as it did, to such an enthusiastic reception by the publisher ... that made it worthwhile.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that question. My only exposure to Irish crime novels has been via Ken Bruen, who said some very nice things about THE DEAD WOMEN, so I would probably dip into his back catalogue to make my selection. A cop-out answer, I know.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
LONDON BOULEVARD would make a good movie. What? They’re already making it? Never mind, then.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing about being a writer is the actual writing process. I hate writing, but I love having written. That’s the best part: being able to present to the world a completed work that lives up to your expectations. It may not live up to other people’s expectations, but it’s a good feeling while it lasts.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A story of the US/Mexican border and those who would sacrifice anything to make it to the Land of Opportunity. Told in three parts, from the perspectives of three very different people.

Who are you reading right now?
I’m actually reading a Star Wars novel by Sean Williams right now. And before that I read another novel in the same series from Sean Williams. I’m in a junk-food reading phase at the moment.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Oh, I would definitely read. As I say, I detest writing, so giving it up wouldn’t be a sacrifice for me at all. I’d still have stories I’d want to tell, but I would keep them to myself.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Spare. Functional. American.

Sam Hawken’s THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Irish Times’ Crime Beat

Frank Parrish is a NYPD detective in RJ Ellory’s SAINTS OF NEW YORK (Orion, £12.99, pb), a man who becomes obsessed with the murder of teenage girls. Parrish is initially a conventional character, a hard-drinking loner who subverts the justice system, but it’s hard not to share his obsession, particularly as the young women are being killed for the purpose of snuff movies. Parrish is also haunted by his father’s reputation as one of the eponymous saints, a legendary cop who played a major part in breaking the Mafia’s stranglehold on organised crime in New York, although Frank is convinced that his father was a Mafia pawn. A pleasingly methodical and realistic police procedural, ‘Saints of New York’ is equally impressive as a psychological study of a man on the edge of the abyss, and Ellory invests his gripping plot and strong characterisations with an existential angst that at times makes for harrowing reading.
  Last seen in GONE, BABY, GONE (2008), Dennis Lehane’s private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro return in MOONLIGHT MILE (Little, Brown, £15.99, pb). The pair have given up their dangerous lives, and have settled into domestic bliss, but Patrick finds himself dragged back into the squalid world he once knew when Amanda McCready, the four-year-old girl he returned to her unfit mother in GONE, BABY, GONE, goes missing again. Likeable but lethal Slavic mobsters provide the narrative tension, and Lehane maintains a page-turning pace courtesy of Patrick’s laconic narration, a downbeat and blackly humorous style that is entirely appropriate for Lehane’s depiction of the banality of evil. Oddly, however, there is a sense that danger is always kept at arm’s length. Recently a father, as is Lehane himself, Patrick prioritises his family over his self-imposed duty to the missing girl. While this may well be an eminently pragmatic way of dealing with drug-fuelled killers, and further subverts the fictional private eye’s time-honoured but implausibly noble instincts to solve a case at all cost, it does have the effect of blunting the novel’s impact.
  Teresa Solano’s A SHORTCUT TO PARADISE (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99, pb) is a Barcelona-set comic crime offering which heralds the return of the non-identical detective twins Borja and Eduard. The pair are commissioned to investigate the murder of Marina Dolc, bestselling populist writer, on the night she received a prestigious literary award. Was one of Dolc’s rivals the killer? The reader knows from the outset that the hapless novelist (and runner-up) Amadeu Cabestany wasn’t responsible for Dolc’s death, but Cabestany affords Solana ample opportunity to loose comic barbs at the literary snobbishness that denigrates genre fiction in general and crime fiction in particular. The joke wears thin after a while, but Solano also has important things to say, albeit in a deceptively light and humorous fashion, about the global economic downturn, and how formerly upstanding citizens can be driven to criminal actions by forces beyond their control. Given that one of crime fiction’s most important functions is social commentary, Solana’s novel offers a valuable insight into contemporary Spanish life.
  Susanna Gregory’s A BODY IN THE THAMES (Sphere, £19.99, hb) offers an equally fascinating glimpse of a particular time and place, in this case Restoration London. The sixth outing for professional intelligencer - aka spy - Thomas Chaloner, it takes for its backdrop the peace negotiations between the English and the Dutch during the long, hot summer of 1664, as both countries, in theory at least, strive to avoid war. Chaloner investigates the death of his former brother-in-law, Dutch diplomat Willen Hanse, who may well have been murdered by war-mongering hawks from either delegation. Wonderfully researched, the novel is pungent with historical detail, nuggets of which provide any reader who is even vaguely familiar with modern London with plenty of material to delight in. Unfortunately, Gregory’s prose, and particularly her dialogue, is rather stilted, while most of the characters - although based on historical personages - are little more than stiffly drawn ciphers for greed, power and lust.
  Sam Hawken’s debut THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ (Serpent’s Tail, £10.99, pb) offers another compelling setting, Ciudad Juarez on the US-Mexican border, a city in which locals believe the number of women who have disappeared since 1993, probably murdered, exceeds 5,000. The novel opens with punch-drunk American boxer Kelly Courter attempting to trace his missing girlfriend, Paloma, although the issue is complicated by the fact that Paloma is the sister of Estéban, Kelly’s friend and sometime partner in illicit drug-dealing. These facts are known to Rafael Sevilla, a Juárez police detective, who also takes an interest in Paloma’s disappearance, an interest that is as personal as it is professional. Hawken trades in gritty realism and a haunting sense of loss and hopelessness, and while the novel is very much a singular achievement, it does bring to mind favourable comparisons with Richard Ford’s THE ULTMATE GOOD LUCK (1981).
  The latest in Joseph Wambaugh’s series of ‘Hollywood’ novels, HOLLYWOOD HILLS (Corvus, £16.99, hb) brings together a colourful collection of LAPD cops who work out of the notorious Hollywood Station, splicing their more bizarre tales of working the La-La-Land beat with those of scammers, thieves and reprobates. The multiple storylines and initially bewildering cast of characters may leave some readers disorientated at the beginning, but Wambaugh is a masterful storyteller (this is his 18th novel), and it’s not long before the various elements coalesce into a dazzling mosaic that offers caper-style comedy, downbeat heroics, heartbreakingly authentic detail and unconventional but effective police procedural work. For those unfamiliar with the ‘Hollywood’ novels, Elmore Leonard may prove a useful reference point, with the crucial difference being that Wambaugh’s characters understand that Hollywood is a surreal stage, and that each must play their part to the hilt. - Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE LEOPARD by Jo Nesbo

Suffering the professional fall-out from his last case, when he tracked down the serial killer known as the Snowman at great personal cost, Oslo Crime Squad detective Harry Hole has absconded to Hong Kong, there to wallow in the squalor of an opium haze. When fellow Crime Squad detective Kaja Solness finally tracks him down, she has bad news: not only is Harry’s aged father dying, but another serial killer appears to be at large in Norway. Can Harry find it within himself to rise to the occasion once more?
  THE LEOPARD is the eighth of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels, and the first thing to be said about it is that it’s a very big book indeed. At 624 pages it’s rather more than a door-stop; it’s a small suitcase, and will account for most of your carry-on luggage should you decide to take it away on holidays for a beach read.
  If you do take it away, it’ll make for a very good beach read indeed, albeit a rather dark one. Nesbo sets up THE LEOPARD in the initial stages as a conventional serial killer novel, with Hole in pursuit of a particularly fiendish murderer. Indeed, there’s a quasi-gothic feel to the opening section, in which the opium-raddled Hole (shades of Sherlock Holmes) investigates murders which have been enacted by a device called a ‘Leopold’s apple’, which originated in the colonial days of the Belgian Congo. A metal ‘apple’ is placed in the victim’s mouth; when a string is pulled, 24 spikes shoot out of the ‘apple’ and into the victim’s head. Death isn’t necessarily instantaneous; one of the victims, for example, drowns while choking on her own blood.
  There’s a disjointed feel to the opening 100 pages or so, as Nesbo re-establishes Hole in Oslo. This is in part because there’s a political aspect to the novel, as the very existence of the Crime Squad is threatened by Kripos, led by Mikael Bellman. Bellman, for reasons not fully explained, wants Kripos to take over all the murder cases in Norway, and Bellman becomes as much of a nemesis to Harry as the killer he is investigating.
  Another reason for the stop-start momentum in the early stages is Nesbo’s insistence on mythologising Harry. Hole is already a legend in Norwegian policing, the man who brought down the terrifying Snowman, along with other high profile criminals, as established in previous novels. To a large extent, Hole is a conventional protagonist in the police procedural sub-genre: a loner, a rebel against the system, a hard-drinking addict to justice for its own sake, a man wounded by life and carrying a torch for a lost love, a man not noticeably handsome yet irresistible to women. On page 91, for example, the world-weary Harry finds himself attracted to his co-worker, Kaja Solness:
It was pathetic, but his heart had been beating a bit faster while he waited for her. Fifteen years ago that would have annoyed him, but he had resigned himself and accepted the banal fact that a woman’s beauty would always have this modicum of power over him.
  There’s something irritatingly trite, almost adolescent, about Nesbo’s insistence that one of the fundamental drives of any man should be ‘banal’, and that beauty has only a ‘modicum of power’ over him. Harry believes he should be above what he perceives as the petty messiness of life and love; Nesbo wants us to believe that Harry is a kind of super-man. Again, on page 63:
Harry jumped up so quickly he went dizzy, grabbed the file, knew it was too thick, but still managed to tear it in two.
  Another aspect of the early stages of the novel that’s a little hard to swallow is Harry’s relationship with Katrine Bratt, a former fellow police detective with Crime Squad, now in a mental institution after her brush with the Snowman in Nesbo’s previous novel. Naturally, there is a sexual attraction; what’s less convincing is that the recovering Bratt proves to be something of a whizz at uncovering essential information on the internet whenever Nesbo needs the plot to move forward, despite the fact that she can only access a communal computer in the mental institution’s day-room.
  Once the novel settles into its stride, however, and providing you’re happy to accept Harry’s high-falutin’ notions of himself, THE LEOPARD quickly becomes an enjoyable sprawling epic. It’s a globe-trotting tale too, moving from Hong Kong to Norway and on to the Congo and Rwanda, although most of the action and investigation takes place in Norway. Nesbo delights in unleashing a whole shoal of red herrings, although to be fair he does put the reader on high alert from the early stages, when a character we believe to be a sinister sociopath, and possibly a killer, turns out to be a victim. From that point on it’s wise to take nothing for granted, and Nesbo even goes so far as to have the great Harry himself deceived on a number of occasions.
  It’s to Nesbo’s credit that THE LEOPARD is a hugely ambitious novel; given his success to date (five million books sold, and counting), the easy option would have been to simply repeat his formula. Yet THE LEOPARD offers much more than the conventional police procedural; while the investigation itself is realistically pain-staking, and subject to a number of reverses, there are other dimensions to the story, such as Harry’s relationship with his dying father. That relationship, almost inevitably, given Hole’s persona, is characterised by conflict, but it also adds a poignant touch that at times borders on the sentimental, and provides a neat counterpoint to the rigidly professional way Harry goes about his investigation.
  His relationship with Kaja Solness offers another aspect, although this one is less convincing. Solness is hauntingly beautiful, as fictional policewomen tend to be, and is an interesting character in her own right, given that her own motives and ambitions don’t always chime with Harry’s. It’s probably not giving away too much to reveal that Harry and Kaja are drawn to one another, and the conventions of the novel almost demand it; that said, their attraction, when it finally blossoms into the white-heat of lust, becomes too emotionally intimate and profound to be convincing. Again, there’s the sense that Nesbo is shoe-horning his characters into a particular situation in order to move the plot along.
  That said, THE LEOPARD is largely an enjoyable read. Harry eventually exerts the gravity of a black hole, providing you’re willing to play along with his self-reverential opinion of himself; the characters are for the most part well drawn and fully fleshed, although Harry’s policeman nemesis, Mikael Bellman, is a little too crudely constructed, being a philanderer and potential if not actual sexual deviant, and a man willing to betray all and sundry in order to further his career. Meanwhile, large chunks of the novel take place in the ‘wastelands’ of northern Norway, a virtually lawless place reminiscent of the old Wild West, and Nesbo’s descriptions of the physical landscape are brilliant at communicating their bleak, haunting beauty.
  The cover of THE LEOPARD comes complete with a stamp declaring Nesbo ‘the next Stieg Larsson’, a statement that may well be true in terms of Nesbo’s future popularity, although even the most casual reading will confirm that Nesbo is by far the superior writer. THE LEOPARD is easily as complex and ambitious a novel as any of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, but it’s a much more enjoyable read, not least, I suspect, because of the excellent work by Don Bartlett, a regular translator of Nesbo’s work novels. Personally, I preferred THE SNOWMAN, Nesbo’s previous offering, on the basis that it was tauter and more streamlined, but there’s no doubt that fans of Stieg Larsson will find plenty to enjoy here. - Declan Burke

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Tony Black regularly gets raves from the likes of Ken Bruen and Irvine Welsh for his Gus Dury novels, but he’s stepped away from the persecuted Gus for his latest outing, TRUTH LIES BLEEDING. Quoth the blurb elves:
Tony Black moves away from the noir of his Gus Dury novels with this terrific police procedural featuring Detective Inspector Rob Brennan. Four teenagers find the mutilated corpse of a young girl stuffed into a dumpster in an Edinburgh alleyway. Who is she? Where did she come from? Who killed her and why? Above all, where is the baby to which she has obviously recently given birth? Inspector Rob Brennan, recently back from psychiatric leave, is still shocked by the senseless shooting of his only brother. His superiors think that the case of the dumpster girl will be perfect to get him back on track. But Rob Brennan has enemies within the force, stacks of unfinished business and a nose for trouble. What he discovers about the murdered girl blows the case – and his life – wide open.
  The good people at Preface Publishing have been kind enough to offer Crime Always Pays three copies of TRUTH LIES BLEEDING to give away free, gratis and for nuffink, and to be in with a chance of winning a copy, all you have to do is this:
Recommend for the delectation of your fellow readers another novel with a title containing the words ‘Truth’, ‘Lies’ and / or ‘Bleeding’ (bonus points for novel titles that offer combinations of said words).
  Answers in the comment box below, please, leaving a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confuse the spam munchkins). All submissions go into my bobbly hat. Closing date is noon on Thursday, January 27th, et bon chance, mes amis.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And So To The Oscars …

Time for some badly needed glitz and glam here at grimy CAP Towers, and some crystal ball gazing in lieu of all that depressing crime fiction malarkey. Yup, it’s the Oscar nominations, and Crime Always Pays’ rather wonky take on same. To wit:

Best Actor
Javier Bardem “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg “The Social Network”
Colin Firth “The King’s Speech”
James Franco “127 Hours”

Javier Bardem was brilliant in the haunting ‘Biutiful’, as he generally is, but the chances of the Best Actor gong going to a foreign film are slim. Jeff Bridges was hilarious in ‘True Grit’, but the role lacks poignancy, and Bridges, along with Bardem, may well be too recent a winner to reward again. James Franco did a terrific job of sustaining audience empathy in what was essentially a one-man show in ‘127 Hours’, and Jesse Eisenberg was a revelation as Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network’, but both may be too young to get the nod. Which leaves us with Colin Firth’s superb performance in ‘The King’s Speech’. Firth has always been a likeable actor, but he moved up a couple of gears with ‘A Single Man’ (2009), and his turn as the stuttering king in waiting should be good enough to land him the Oscar.


Best Actress
Annette Bening “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence “Winter’s Bone”
Natalie Portman “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams “Blue Valentine”

I just wasn’t convinced by Natalie Portman in ‘Black Swan’. Playing the part of a ballerina struggling to get to grips with her role, she looked to me like an actress struggling to get to grips with her role. Annette Bening’s performance in ‘The Kids Are All Right’ was solid, but Julianne Moore’s was the eye-catching turn there, and Bening’s selection makes no sense. The perennially stiff and frosty Nicole Kidman was perfectly cast as the grieving mother in ‘Rabbit Hole’, and deserves her nomination, and Michelle Williams confirmed that she’s a brilliant actress in ‘Blue Valentine’ (odd that the superb Ryan Gosling didn’t get a nod for his role there). Head and shoulders over them all, however, was Jennifer Lawrence’s eye-poppingly brilliant turn in ‘Winter’s Bone’.


Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale “The Fighter”
John Hawkes “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush “The King’s Speech”

A tough one to call. The fact that the excellent heist movie ‘The Town’ got largely shut out means you’d like to see Jeremy Renner get the nod, but John Hawkes was superbly sinister in ‘Winter’s Bone’. Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo was the best thing about ‘The Kids Are All Right’. In reality, it’ll come down to Christian Bale’s “squirrelly as fuck” turn as Dickie Ekland in ‘The Fighter’ and Geoffrey Rush’s laconic subversion in ‘The King’s Speech’. My heart says Bale, especially as the character of Dickie is the most fascinating aspect of ‘The Fighter’, but my head says Rush.


Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter “The King’s Speech”
Melissa Leo “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver “Animal Kingdom”

It’s entirely probable that Amy Adams and Melissa Leo will split the vote for ‘The Fighter’; and I haven’t seen ‘Animal Kingdom’ yet, so I have no opinion on Jacki Weaver. That leaves us with Hailee Steinfeld in ‘True Grit’, which is an odd nomination, given that she is in fact playing the lead role in the movie; that she’s terrific as the heart and soul of the movie, though, is beyond argument. Too much, too young? Probably. I’ve never really warmed to Helena Bonham Carter as an actress, but she mutes the shrill button as Bertie’s supportive wife in ‘The King’s Speech’, and may well be due an Oscar for services rendered to the industry.


Animated Film
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“The Illusionist”
“Toy Story 3”

Only two things to be said here. One, it’s a crying shame that both ‘Megamind’ and ‘Tangled’ didn’t make the list. Two, ‘Toy Story 3’ is a locked-down, cast-iron plunger for the Oscar.


Best Director
Darren Aronofsky “Black Swan”
David O. Russell “The Fighter”
Tom Hooper “The King’s Speech”
David Fincher “The Social Network”
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen “True Grit”

Firstly, it’s a crying shame that Debra Granik isn’t here for ‘Winter’s Bone’. Otherwise, it’s terrific, as always, to see the Coen brothers up for another Best Director gong, but ‘True Grit’, marvellous fun though it was, just didn’t deliver the truly great movie I was expecting. Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ can’t be faulted for lack of ambition, but I still can’t decide whether Aronofsky deliberately allowed the film to mutate into an overblown gothic melodrama for the last half-hour in order to reflect Nina’s disturbed mental state, or if he simply bit off more than he could chew and let it all run away from him. David O. Russell’s ‘The Fighter’ is a solid and hugely enjoyable boxing flick made in the image of its hero, slugger Micky Ward, but it would have been a far more interesting film had Micky’s brother, crack addict and failed contender Dickie, been the focus. David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ is superbly executed, and a far more entertaining film than any movie about Facebook has any right to be, but Tom Hooper’s ‘The King’s Speech’ has an emotional resonance that should play well with the Academy.


Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Extending the Best Picture category to accommodate ten nominations is a farce, and takes a lot of the tension out this particular choice. The hype surrounding ‘Black Swan’ threatens to take it all the way to the podium, but it’s proving divisive with critics and audiences alike, and will probably stumble. ‘True Grit’ isn’t strong enough to make it worth the Academy’s while rewarding the Coen brothers again, and so soon after ‘No Country for Old Men (2007). ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘The Social Network’ are both strong contenders, and there’s a very good chance that the buzz surrounding ‘The King’s Speech’ will peak at the right time. For me, the two best movies of the year were ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Winter’s Bone’, and I’d be equally happy to see either win, not least because it’d suggest the Academy was finally starting to think outside the box; and if I had to choose one over the other, I’d plump for ‘Winter’s Bone’.

Finally, congratulations to Ireland’s own Michael Creagh, who was nominated in the Short Film category for ‘The Crush’. Nice one, squire.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Molto Benny

Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, returns to the fray this year with A DEATH IN SUMMER, which sounds like it could be terrific fun. Quoth the blurb elves:
When newspaper magnate Richard Jewell is found dead at his country estate, clutching a shotgun in his lifeless hands, few see his demise as cause for sorrow. But before long Doctor Quirke and Inspector Hackett realise that, rather than the suspected suicide, ‘Diamond Dick’ has in fact been murdered. Jewell had made many enemies over the years and suspicion soon falls on one of his biggest rivals. But as Quirke and his assistant Sinclair get to know Jewell’s beautiful, enigmatic wife Françoise d’Aubigny, and his fragile sister Dannie, as well as those who work for the family, it gradually becomes clear that all is not as it seems. As Quirke’s investigations return him to the notorious orphanage of St Christopher’s, where he once resided, events begin to take a much darker turn. Quirke finds himself reunited with an old enemy and Sinclair receives sinister threats. But what have the shadowy benefactors of St Christopher’s to do with it all? Against the backdrop of 1950’s Dublin, Benjamin Black conjures another atmospheric, beguiling mystery.
  All of which sounds like a tongue-in-cheek Agatha Christie homage and / or parody, which would be no bad thing. And, given that John Banville toiled for many years with ink-stained fingers among the great and good of Irish journalism, it’ll be interesting to see if ‘Diamond Dick’ is modelled on any of said great and good.
  Meanwhile, and not wanting to waste a cheese-tastic Italian headline pun, Conor Fitzgerald publishes the second in his Rome-set Alec Blume series, THE FATAL TOUCH. To wit:
In the early hours of a Saturday morning, a body is discovered in Piazza de’ Renzi. If it was just a simple fall that killed him, why is a senior Carabiniere officer so interested? Commissioner Alec Blume is immediately curious and the discovery of the dead man’s notebooks reveals that there is a great deal more at stake than the unfortunate death of a down-and-out ... What secrets did he know that might have made him a target? What is the significance of the Galleria Orpiment? And why are the authorities so intent on blocking Blume’s investigations?
  I thoroughly enjoyed Fitzgerald’s debut, THE DOGS OF ROME, and I wasn’t alone. “A powerful and hugely compelling novel. Dark, worldly and written with tremendous style and assurance,” reckoned William Boyd. “The American-born Blume is an engaging hero who might just have to potential to fill the gap left when Michael Dibdin’s death ended his Italian detective Aurelio Zen’s investigations,” vouchsafed the Sunday Times. “Blumein’ marvellous,” Crime Always Pays barely restrained itself from quipping.
  Conor Fitzgerald as the new Michael Dibdin? I’ll buy that for a dollar …

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sugar And Spice And All Things Nice …

… that’s what little girls are made of. Brian McGilloway’s LITTLE GIRL LOST, on the other hand, appears to be made of rather sterner stuff. Quoth the blurb elves:
During a winter blizzard a small girl is found wandering half-naked at the edge of an ancient woodland. Her hands are covered in blood, but it is not her own. Unwilling or unable to speak, the only person she seems to trust is the young officer who rescued her, Detective Sergeant Lucy Vaughan. DS Vaughan is baffled to find herself suddenly transferred from a high-profile case involving the kidnapping of a prominent businessman’s teenage daughter, to the newly formed Public Protection Unit. Meanwhile, she has her own problems: caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken father, and avoiding conflict with her surly Assistant Chief Constable – who also happens to be her mother. As she struggles to identify the unclaimed child, Lucy begins to realise that this case and the kidnapping may be linked – by events that occurred during the blackest days of the country’s recent history, events that also defined her own girlhood. LITTLE GIRL LOST is a devastating page-turner about corruption, greed and vengeance, and a father’s love for his daughter.
  Fans of McGilloway’s Inspector Devlin may be disappointed to learn that LITTLE GIRL LOST is not the latest in that particular series, but is instead a standalone novel (or very possibly the first in an entirely new series). For what it’s worth, I’m always intrigued when a writer decides to stretch him or herself by stepping out of their comfort zone. The Devlin series is a critically acclaimed one, and has nabbed a number of short-list nominations for McGilloway, so I’m sure it would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to stick with the tried and tested, especially as he’s still a relatively young writer. Kudos to him, then, for striking out in a new direction; and kudos too to his publisher for embracing the change, particularly as the current climate in mainstream publishing is characterised by caution and conservatism.
  The bottom line, I suppose, is that a good writer is a good writer, regardless of his of her characters, themes or settings. In the past I’ve heard John Connolly declare that the way to build a successful publishing platform is a number of novels that deliver ‘the same again, only different’ - which advice may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, given that Connolly himself is prone to diversions such as THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS and THE GATES (the former, incidentally, will be getting a mass paperback release in the US this year, while the latter gets a sequel, HELL’S BELLS, in May).
  As an occasional author myself, I like to mix it up. EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was / is a first-person private eye novel; THE BIG O was / is a multi-character crime caper; and BAD FOR GOOD (aka THE BABY KILLERS) was / is … well, I’m still not entirely sure what that sucker is, although it does revel in the subtitle ‘A Gonzo Noir’. Meanwhile, I’ve written a sequel to THE BIG O, and I’ve written two more first-person private eye novels, but the idea of getting locked in to one character or type of story is not something that appeals; the story I’m ‘working on’ now is as different to the stories I’ve already written as BAD FOR GOOD was different to THE BIG O. I suppose it comes down to the fact that, as a reader, I like to read widely, in all genres and none; so it’s hardly surprising that when I do turn to writing, that I prefer to write different kinds of stories too.
  The Big Q here, though, is whether Brian McGilloway’s fans will be happy to take the new direction on board when LITTLE GIRL LOST is published in May. If a new Chandler novel, for example, was discovered, would I be delighted or disappointed to learn that it wasn’t a Marlowe novel? The question, I suppose, is whether we read an author for the author or for his characters. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how McGilloway, a very highly rated writer here at CAP Towers, handles his new material. Roll on May …