“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, February 19, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Lesley Thomson

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 WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins. I read this in a weekend when I was in my early twenties. Count Fosco can still give me nightmares.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Lucy in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. She is courageous and generous and makes the most of life. While being the youngest in a big family, she has a great sense of self. I would still like to be Lucy.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
It used to be crime fiction of any kind. I am no longer apologetic about how I spend my time, and free of a punitive voice, read what I like. Any vestiges of guilt are confined to Hello magazine at the dentist.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing one chapter of A KIND OF VANISHING to the soundtrack of Kate Bush singing ‘Under the Ivy’. I was focussed, immersed in the story and moved by the music: I did it in one draft.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
FELICIA’S JOURNEY by William Trevor. Another book I wish I had written. However, I am glad to have been a reader, deep in Trevor’s world, unsure what would happen next.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
As above. The tension and the banality that Trevor sets up would transfer effectively to the big screen. I know it was made about eleven years ago. I have not yet seen it.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
This is where my guilt resides. It hangs like a pall of smog for words that are not being written as I read, walk, eat: do anything except face the blank ‘page’. The page is no longer blank and I am miserable about what I have written. I plod on as the smog descends. After a while the sun comes out. There is air in the room. My characters take on lives of their own. The world is a richer place, as a writer, I can express experience in words as well as by living and reading.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Put aside a rainy afternoon, choose your favourite food and find your favourite place. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

Who are you reading right now?
THE EYES OF THE SKIN: ARCHITECTURE AND THE SENSES by Juhani Pallasmaa. A Finnish architect who writes about how we engage with buildings and with the world. It is an inspiring, life-enhancing book. Alongside this I am tucking into the COLLECTED GHOST STORIES by M. R. James. A fabulous treasure trove of creaking mansions and faceless phantoms be-knighting crusty archaeologists who should be minding their own business. I love James’s intimate story-telling style.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write, but what sort of God would do that to me?

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Compelling. Challenging. Witty.

Lesley Thomson’s A KIND OF VANISHING is published by Myriad Editions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

There Will Be MEADOW

William Ryan’s debut, THE HOLY THIEF, was very well received indeed, and was nominated for a CWA gong. Those who enjoyed Ryan’s exploration of Stalinist Russia won’t have long to wait for the follow-up: Captain Alexei Korolev returns in September, in THE BLOODY MEADOW. Quoth the blurb elves:
Following his investigations in THE HOLY THIEF, which implicated those at the very top of authority in Soviet Russia, Captain Alexei Korolev finds himself decorated and hailed as an example to all Soviet workers. But Korolev lives in an uneasy peace – his new-found knowledge is dangerous, and if it is discovered what his real actions were during the case, he will face deportation to the frozen camps of the far north. But when the knock on the door comes, in the dead of night, it is not Siberia Korolev is destined for. Instead, Colonel Rodinov of the NKVD security service asks the detective to look into the suspected suicide of a young woman: Maria Alexandovna Lenskaya – Masha, a model citizen. Korolev is unnerved to learn that Masha had been of interest to Ezhov, the feared Commissar for State Security. Ezhov himself wants to matter looked into. And when the detective arrives on the set for Bloody Meadow, in the bleak, battle-scarred Ukraine, he soon discovers that there is more to Masha’s death than meets the eye …
  Incidentally, I particularly enjoyed the New York Times review of THE HOLY THIEF in which the reviewer criticised Ryan’s work on the basis that Korolev, a red-blooded Russian, doesn’t scoff enough vodka, even though said Korolev was half-mangled for the duration. Hopefully Korolev will be downing pints of the stuff in THE BLOODY MEADOW, to the point where he’s so bladdered even a reviewer can’t fail to notice. It’s the little things, hic, that matter, see …

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Country For Old Men

I’ve read some Henning Mankell novels in the past, but THE TROUBLED MAN is the first Kurt Wallander story I’ve dipped into; and even though reviews are embargoed until March 31st, I’m sure his publishers won’t mind me saying that, 100 pages or so in, it’s a terrific read so far.
  It has a lot in common with James Lee Burke’s THE GLASS RAINBOW, which I read last week and thoroughly enjoyed. Both Wallander and Dave Robicheaux are thoughtful, reflective men; both Mankell and Burke are unobtrusively brilliant stylists; both writers, it’s fair to say, are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, which is probably why both novels find their protagonists meditating on their own mortality, and the decline and fall of Western civilisation in general, as filtered through Sweden and Louisiana, respectively. Both THE TROUBLED MAN and THE GLASS RAINBOW are excellent examples of novels that employ the tropes of crime / mystery fiction as a jumping-off point for novels that have ambitions above and beyond the conventions of genre fiction (another current example is Tom Franklin’s excellent CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER). Both rather brilliantly lend the lie to the perception of crime / mystery fiction as a game for young men and women, in which dynamic characters dash from one shoot-out to another, dodging bullets and leaping from burning buildings, breaking heads and hearts with equal aplomb.
  Despite the creaking bones and elegiac tones, few novels I’ve read recently have been as dynamic as THE TROUBLED MAN and THE GLASS RAINBOW. Both stories have a propulsive momentum and a page-turning quality that has as much to do with the fine writing and insightful asides as the unravelling of their respective mysteries. Perhaps it’s because both Wallander and Robicheaux are concerned about their legacies, and as such are avatars for their creators (THE TROUBLED MAN is being flagged as the last ever Wallander novel). Maybe I’m reading too much into the stories in that respect; perhaps it’s simply the case that both Mankell and Burke are seasoned professionals and providing exactly what the reader wants and needs; but there’s no doubt that both novels offer a reading experience that’s significantly more satisfying that most crime / mystery offerings I’ve read recently.
  Anyway, I’m scheduled to interview Henning Mankell tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to teasing out some of those issues. In the meantime, if you have any questions you’ve ever wanted to asked Henning Mankell, just leave a note in the comment box and I’ll do my best to work them in.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Lissa Oliver

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?
I guess it would have to be HIGH STAKES, the first Dick Francis I read, which got me hooked! THE book I would most like to have written is Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE - not a crime novel, but one I continually aspire to.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Erm ... a tough one. All the characters I really love in fiction are tortured souls. As a coward who enjoys a happy life - not for me! So, it has to be Terry Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg! Who wouldn't want to be Nanny Ogg?

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
No guilty pleasures, every story making it to print is a good one. Inappropriate for my age, perhaps? TEDDY ROBINSON, my first love, by Joan G. Robinson. Romance would be a guilt, but definitely not a pleasure!

Most satisfying writing moment?
The whole process of writing CHANTILLY DAWNS. It was what I set out to write and the characters just took over. The most satisfactory moment of any piece of writing is that final full stop. To sit back and think, “There …”.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
You've got me there. I don’t really read crime and Dick Francis only ever scraped in for the horses. That would have to be a pass, sorry. Even the crime I write about in the horseracing world is fantasy. It takes a great brain like Dick Francis (and me!) to make horseracing corrupt!

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I haven’t read any, but they would all have potential. A good author makes their reader visualise the story, so the film is only a step away. The production company is usually a bit further ...

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I can’t think of a worst thing. That’s because I don’t actually mind missing meals or eating burnt food. My family might have a ‘worst’ view point! The best thing is that I can wake up in the morning and type until I go to bed at night, and when I’m not typing my characters are always with me. It’s being able to play Devil with characters’ lives (playing God would be too simple) and sharing those stories with other people.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A young apprentice jockey finds his life intertwined with obsession, danger and envy ...

Who are you reading right now?
Terry Pratchett.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
It’s lucky I’m an atheist, then! No one could stop me from writing, the story would always be in my head, defying them. And no one could ever part me from my books.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Empathetic, gripping, unexpected

Lissa Oliver’s CHANTILLY DAWNS is published by Book Republic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hooked, Line and Sinker

“All children, except one, grow up.”
  It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, but PETER PAN hasn’t aged a day. JM Barrie’s children’s classic originated with a story published in ‘The Little White Bird’ in 1902, made its debut as a play in 1904, and finally appeared as the beloved book in 1911, under the title PETER AND WENDY.
  As the author of a couple of hard-boiled crime novels, I occasionally get asked about my favourite novel. PETER PAN, I say, and brace myself for the inevitable squinty-eyed glare from under a raised eyebrow. Am I being ironic? Did I mishear the question? Have I gone senile, and am I reverting to infantilism?
  No, no and not quite yet. There’s no other way of putting this, so I’m just going to go ahead and say it: PETER PAN is the best novel ever written, bar none.
  Why so? Well, first off it’s a rollicking tale, as you already know. Boys and girls who fly off to a magical islands, there to encounter fairies, pirates and Red Indians, wild beasts for the hunting and a ticking crocodile, and an anarchic band of lost boys led by the irrepressibly brave swashbuckler, Peter himself, nemesis of the unspeakably evil and sadistic Captain Hook. It’s funny, dangerous and tragic; it features betrayals and outrageous reversals of fortune, the poignancy of loss, death and even a resurrection.
  There’s a good chance, of course, that you know the story from the 1953 Disney cartoon, or from the countless adaptations of the book, or contemporary movies such as ‘Hook’ (1991), ‘Peter Pan’ (2003) or ‘Finding Neverland’ (2004). If that’s the case, you won’t know that the novel itself is exquisitely written by a writer at the very top of his game. Stuffy literary types arguing that James Joyce’s ULYSSES, say, or Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, are better written, neglect the scientifically proven fact that PETER PAN is one million times more enjoyable than WAR AND PEACE, and just under one trillion times more comprehensible than ULYSSES.
  Furthermore, neither WAR AND PEACE nor ULYSSES, nor any other novel to the best of my knowledge, have been central to the funding of a children’s hospital, as is the case with London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, which has been in receipt of the royalties from PETER PAN since 1929. It’s a particularly poignant relationship, given that the Peter Pan story Wendy’s mother knew as a child was that Peter went part of the way to heaven with children who died, so that they wouldn’t be frightened on the journey.
  It’s no small coincidence that one of the heroines of PETER PAN is called Tiger-Lily, and that my own daughter is called Lily. So you can imagine my delight went I arrived at the crèche last week to find one of Lily’s carers reading PETER PAN aloud to a small circle of bowed heads, all utterly rapt.
  I’d presumed Lily was still too young for PETER PAN - it gets quite dark in places, after all. But no. In the car on the way home, I asked about Captain Hook. “He’s scrummied up in the crockdile’s tummy, yum-yum!” she crowed.
  One hundred years on, the tale of the boy who never grew up is still wowing children all over the world. More importantly, perhaps, it’s helping sick kids to get better and grow up at Ormond Street Hospital.
  This year, do yourself a favour and treat a kid you know, perhaps even your own inner child, to PETER PAN. Would that we all stayed so young with such grace.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The ever generous Katrina Alvarez gets in touch to offer free copies of Noah Boyd’s new thriller, AGENT X, the sequel to Boyd’s New York Times bestselling debut, THE BRICKLAYER. Quoth the blurb elves:
FBI-agent-turned-bricklayer Steve Vail once helped the FBI solve a brilliant extortion plot. It was supposed to be a one-and-done deal. But when he’s in Washington, D.C., to see Kate Bannon—an FBI assistant director—on what he thinks will be a romantic New Year’s Eve date, suddenly things get complicated. The FBI has another unsolvable problem, and it has Vail’s name written all over it.
  A man known as Calculus, an officer at the Russian embassy, has approached the FBI claiming that he has a list of Americans who are selling confidential information to the Russian SVR. In exchange for the list, he is asking for a quarter of a million dollars for each traitor the FBI apprehends. But then Calculus informs the FBI that he has been swiftly recalled to Moscow, and the Bureau suspects the worst: the Russians have discovered what Calculus is up to, probably have access to his list, and will be hunting the traitors to kill them unless the FBI can find them first.
  The FBI realizes that it has to keep the operation quiet. Once again, Vail is the perfect man, along with Kate Bannon, who would be anyone’s first pick for help on an impossibly dangerous case. But finding the traitors isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be downright deadly. And if the Bricklayer survives, he will have to come up with a few tricks of his own.
  AGENT X is a heart-pounding thrill ride with an authenticity only a writer who’s an FBI veteran can provide, and Steve Vail—a man Patricia Cornwell calls a “new American hero”—is one of the smartest, toughest, and most compelling new characters to come along in many years.

  Noah Boyd is the author of the New York Times bestseller THE BRICKLAYER and a former FBI agent who spent more than twenty years working some of the Bureau’s toughest investigations, including the Green River Killer case and the Highland Park Strangler case (which he’s credited with solving). He currently works on cold cases when he’s not writing.
  So there you have it. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of AGENT X, just answer the following question:
What’s the best spy thriller you’ve read to feature those pesky Russians?
  Answers in the comment box below, please, along with a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confound the spam munchkins). The competition closes at noon on Wednesday, February 16th; et bon chance, mes amis.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writing.ie - We Have Lift-Off

writing.ie - aka ‘the home of Irish writing online’ - went live over the weekend, hosted by the ever resourceful Vanessa O’Loughlin. The website aims to be ‘a resource that will grow week by week to include all aspects of writing’, and incorporates guest bloggers, workshops and courses, events listings, ‘Meet the Author’ sections, and more.
  Yours truly has a piece in there, an interview with THE BURNING author Jane Casey (right) that first appeared in the Evening Herald. Quoth Jane:
“My husband is a criminal barrister,” she says, “and he always gets very annoyed when you get this incredibly gothic killer with a complex backstory in books and films. He says, and it’s true, that people who kill in this fashion do it because they enjoy it, full stop. So I wanted to write about the reality of what it’s like to look for someone who just likes to kill.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  It’s only fair to say that Vanessa admits that the project is very much in the embryonic phase, but even at first glance the site seems to be top-heavy with women writers - of the 15 authors currently featured, only three are men. A reflection of the fact that women are better at this interweb networking malarkey? A refreshing change from mainstream literary print publications, where men tend to dominate unfairly? Just one of those early kinks that will get ironed out as time goes by? Or a pragmatic acknowledgement that women buy more books, and particularly fiction, than men?
  Pop on over to writing.ie and make up your own mind …