“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, March 5, 2011

Emerald Noir: Val McDermid Speaks

The doyenne of British crime fiction, Val McDermid (right), turns her steely gaze on the Irish crime novel next Tuesday, March 8th, in a BBC radio programme entitled ‘Emerald Noir: The Rise of Irish Crime Fiction’. Quoth the BBC blurb elves:
Peace in Northern Ireland and the economic boom and bust in Southern Ireland have led to a recent rise in crime fiction.
  Val McDermid looks at the way real life violence has been dealt with in the work of authors including Tana French, Eoin McNamee, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stuart Neville and Declan Hughes. We meet David Torrans - whose bookstore in Belfast has been fictionalised in Colin Bateman’s series of crime novels. Declan Burke - author of the blog Crime Always Pays - takes us on a tour of Dublin locations featured in crime novels from the modern Docklands offices which inspired Alan Glynn’s novel Winterland to the hotels and shops of 1950s Dublin featured in the crime fiction of Booker winner John Banville - who writes under the name Benjamin Black.
  Val asks whether the Noir novel is a protestant art form and hears how writers are trying to find new villains in a place where violence has - until recently - been part of everyday life.
  Producer: Robyn Read.
  Tuesday, 11:30 on BBC Radio 4
  Nice. It’s entirely serendipitous that the programme airs in advance of the publication next month of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY, edited by one Declan Burke (Liberties Press), a collection of essays, interviews and short stories by Irish crime writers which includes all the names mentioned above, and also John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay, Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan, Jane Casey, and many more. GREEN STREETS will be published next month, and will be the subject of a New York University symposium on the rise of the Irish crime novel at the end of April, more of which anon.
  Finally, for the day that’s in it, here’s a rather fine review by David Park in the Irish Times of Adrian McKinty’s new offering, FALLING GLASS. The gist runs thusly:
McKinty is a streetwise, energetic gunslinger of a writer, firing off volleys of sassy dialogue and explosive action that always delivers what it has promised the reader. The story is skilfully constructed, and the pace is always full throttle forwards. There is one violent scene in Mexico involving a chainsaw that is definitely not for the squeamish, but it would be unfair to think of the author as someone exclusively reliant on external action. There is, for example, an interesting psychological exploration of Killian’s re-embracing of his half-forgotten roots and the cultural values of the Traveller community. Even the dark figure of Markov, the Russian hitman, gets layered and lightened with some psychological subtleties that are the product of his relationship with his partner, Marina, and experiences of the war in Chechnya that continue to haunt him.
  For the full review, clickety-click here

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Top Ten Crime Novels: Declan Burke

It’s not a book I hear mentioned a lot these days, but Alistair MacLean’s WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is one of my favourite crime thrillers, and one I tend to indulge myself with a re-read every couple of years. Yes, I know MacLean isn’t exactly hip anymore, but, well, hip schmip. It’s a very neat piece of Bond pastiche / parody / homage, with the added bonus - by Ian Fleming’s standards, at least - of being unusually realistic for a thriller, and the setting of the west coast of Scotland is hugely atmospheric, possibly because it’s always raining.
  I first read WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL in my mid-teens, and it was hugely influential on me. I particularly liked the deadpan stoicism and ever-so-slightly knowing first-person narration delivered by the ‘hero’, the put-upon but resourceful spook Calvert. When my first novel appeared, people were generous enough to favourably mention the blatant Chandleresque rip-off, and some even mentioned John D. MacDonald and Jim Thompson (the latter due to the epigraph I used, probably), but even moreso than Chandler, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was heavily influenced by Colin Bateman’s DIVORCING JACK and Alistair MacLean’s WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL - hence the ‘EIGHT’ in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. To wit:
WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL by Alistair MacLean
I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, but when I read this at a young age it seemed to me a low-fi James Bond novel, and all the more enjoyable for it. In fact, it’s Bond laced with Chandlerisms, set in a superbly drawn Scottish landscape of islands, crags, inlets and castles, and combines the page-turning quality of the high-concept thriller with a grittily realistic spy tale reminiscent of Le Carré.
  Anyway, the reason I mention WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is that the good people at Book Aware asked me to contribute my Top Ten Crime Novels to their list, as flagged earlier this week by Ken Bruen’s Top Ten Crime Novels. For the full list of my own Top Ten, which includes James Ellroy, Adrian McKinty, John McFetridge, Jim Thompson, The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman and Barry Gifford, clickety-click on Book Aware here
  Book Aware is hosting a series of such lists, with the aim of supporting Sightsavers, which has the vision of ‘a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and where visually impaired people participate equally in society. Help Sightsavers help people enjoy the world of books too.’ Any writers wishing to help out Book Aware and Sightsavers by contributing their own Top Ten Favourite Novels should contact Neil at neil(at)galwayprint.ie.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Irish Times’ Crime Beat # 2,037

Being the latest in yours truly’s crime fiction round-ups for The Newspaper Formerly Known as the Old Lady of D’Olier Street. To wit:

Urban Waite’s THE TERROR OF LIVING (Simon & Schuster, £12.99, pb) derives its momentum from the intersecting arcs of three men: Bobby Drake, a deputy in Washington State, who stumbles across a drug-smuggling operation high in the mountains on the US-Canadian border; Phil Hunt, an ex-convict who subsidises his small-time ranching with an occasional trip across the border muling heroin; and Grady Fisher, a psychotic killer detailed to retrieve the missing heroin and murder anyone who might implicate his employers. Those broad strokes run perilously close to the plot of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2005), and largely accounts for the comparison to Cormac McCarthy in the novel’s blurb. While THE TERROR OF LIVING lacks McCarthy’s lyricism, the writing is pleasingly spare, muscular and lean, the characters sharply and for the most part sympathetically drawn, and the narrative a compelling blend of breathless plotting and existential angst. Beautifully descriptive in capturing the details of Seattle’s rural hinterland, THE TERROR OF LIVING is a remarkably assured debut.
  Louise Penny’s sixth novel, BURY YOUR DEAD (Sphere, £7.99, pb), is something of a curio, and not just for its Quebec setting. Featuring Penny’s recurring series protagonist, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté, the novel is comprised of three distinct investigations, with Gamache, off-duty and recuperating after an operation went disastrously wrong, surreptitiously investigating the murder of a Quebecois historian who was obsessed with Samuel de Champlain, the legendary founder of Quebec City. Most intriguing, however, is the narrative strand in which Gamache, second-guessing his own investigation in Penny’s previous novel, THE BRUTAL TELLING (2009), sends his second-in-command, Beauvoir, to the bucolic village of Three Pines to unofficially re-open the case. Penny’s interweaving of her various strands is ambitious, and there’s much to enjoy in her affectionate and elegant descriptions of Quebecois foibles and the bitter Canadian winter. That said, first-time readers might find themselves confused by Penny’s rewriting of a previous novel’s plot, and there are times when the story reads like a too fervent homage to Agatha Christie, not least in the finale when not one but two groups of suspects are brought together to hear a detective announce the identity of a murderer.
  Peter Leonard’s ALL HE SAW WAS THE GIRL (Faber and Faber, £12.99, pb) also reads like something of a homage, in this case to Elmore Leonard, Peter Leonard’s father. American student McCabe gets kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity in Rome; once released, McCabe sets about retrieving the ransom from the Mafia-connected gang who kidnapped him. A multi-character narrative incorporates Angela, a Mafia don’s daughter, flamboyant Detroit mobster Joey Palermo, ex-Secret Service agent Ray, and Sharon, Ray’s wife and Joey Palermo’s current squeeze. The various narrative arcs converge on Rome and its rural hinterland, both of which Leonard is adept at evoking despite his pared-down style and use of the American vernacular. A bright and breezy comedy crime caper, albeit one which boasts a deadpan tone and blackly comic touches, the story moves at a furious rate as the characters ricochet around Rome. It’s all highly entertaining even if, in the most odious comparison possible, the novel lacks the heft of an Elmore Leonard novel, particularly in terms of the absence of any sense of real menace from the gangsters McCabe and Ray encounter.
  The killer whose murder propels Laura Wilson’s A CAPITAL CRIME (Quercus, £12.99, pb) also lacks menace, although given that Wilson has based her novel on a true crime that occurred in post-WWII London, and that the murderer is a pathetically child-like creature, the novel is all the more fascinating for its absence. The third novel to feature Wilson’s DI Stratton, after STRATTON’S WAR (2008) and AN EMPTY DEATH (2010), the novel opens with Stratton charged with assembling the evidence that will reinforce John Davies’ confession that he strangled his wife and baby daughter. Satisfied that the facts mostly add up, Stratton sees Davies hanged, but subsequently comes to suspect a miscarriage of justice. Meticulously researched, A CAPITAL CRIME is suffused with an almost claustrophobic sense of post-war London, a city still suffering from the impact of rationing and only reluctantly coming to terms with the decline of Britain’s empire. Stratton himself is an immensely likeable character, an amiable and morally upright policeman who is only too aware of his own flaws. Wilson neatly contrasts Stratton’s ongoing mourning for his dead wife with his daughter’s dawning awareness of her lesbian sexuality, blending the personal with the more political aspects of Stratton’s professional self-doubt in a very satisfying historical police procedural.
  Set in rural Mississippi, Tom Franklin’s CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER (Macmillan, £11.99, pb) opens with the shooting of small town mechanic Larry Ott, a semi-recluse who has long been suspected of the abduction and murder of a local girl some decades before. Local deputy Silas Jones is reluctant to lead the investigation into the shooting, as he and Larry were childhood friends before an ugly racial incident drove them apart, but the disappearance of another young girl overrules Silas’s personal distaste for the case. Ostensibly a police procedural, Franklin’s third novel deploys the genre’s narrative conventions as a framework for a much deeper exploration of the psychology of small-town America and its recent racist past. Both Larry and Silas are superbly drawn and fully fleshed characters, their personalities and conflict chthonic to rural Mississippi but luminously relevant, in Franklin’s hands, to any locale on the planet. Factor in a mesmerising evocation of rural Mississippi, language of sinuous and shimmering elegance, and a finely tuned ear for the nuances of dialogue, and you have a novel that is an early contender for one of the great novels of the year. - Declan Burke

  This article was first published in The Irish Times

The Dublin Book Festival: Yep, It’s One Last Heist …

If you’re in Dublin on Saturday, March 5th, and it’s raining, and you’re on the lam from the Dibble, you could do a lot worse than hide out at City Hall on Dame Street, where Niamh O’Connor, Gene Kerrigan and Paul Charles will be plotting one last heist, aka taking part in a panel discussion on ‘Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century’ as part of the Dublin Book Festival. The more eagle-eyed of the Three Regular Readers of these pages will notice that that title is eerily similar to the sub-title of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY, a collection of essays, interviews and short stories edited by yours truly, to be published by Liberties Press in May, and thus won’t be even the slightest bit surprised to learn that your humble host will be chairing the discussion. The discussion runs from 2-3pm, and admission, I’m delighted to say, is free.
  I’m looking forward to the gig very much, I have to say. Gene Kerrigan’s forthcoming tome THE RAGE is hotly anticipated around these parts, and only yesterday a certain Stuart Neville was giving it two thumbs aloft in one of the comment boxes hereabouts. Niamh O’Connor’s second novel, TAKEN, arrives in May with a lot to live up to, given that her first, IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN, was one of the best debuts I read last year. Finally, Paul Charles, whose most recent offering is FAMILY LIFE, is a veteran of the Irish crime writing scene, and one of its most articulate interviewees. I’ve heard all three speak about writing and the crime novel at various points in the recent past, and all have fascinating insights, not least in terms of the relationship between the crime novel and the real crime on which it feeds.
  The Dublin Book Festival runs from Wednesday 2nd March to Sunday 6th, and incorporates a wide range of events and writers of all stripes and none. For all the details, clickety-click here; for the Dublin Book Festival blog, clickety-click here …

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

It’s been a turbulent old week for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. As most of the Three Regular Readers will be aware, EIGHTBALL went live as an ebook on Kindle UK, Kindle US and many other formats on Monday, at the knockdown, recession-friendly price of €0.99c. That was a buzz in itself, not least because the book got a brand spanking new cover for itself; I am by no means sartorially inclined, but I do love a nice new jacket once in a while. Nicer still was the fact that the book picked up a couple of five-star readers’ reviews in its first days, and that sales appear to be steady if not earth-shattering.
  Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the cogs and gears were whirring at a furious rate. When I got in touch with the publisher of the hard copy EIGHTBALL to tell them about the impending ebook odyssey, I was offered the opportunity to buy up the existing stock of the book at a scandalously low price. Now, the alternative to me buying up the stock was that the books would end up pulped at some point, and the idea of all my little babies being orphaned and crushed was simply unbearable. And so we agreed a reasonable price, and now I own the rights to EIGHTBALL.
  Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the cogs and gears of the universe were whirring at a furious rate. I got up the following morning to find an email from my agent waiting for me, saying that a well known and very respected UK production company had been in touch with him enquiring about - dum-dum-DUM! - EIGHTBALL. Now, I’ve been in this position before, both with EIGHTBALL and THE BIG O, and nothing has ever come of it; still, it was a nicely serendipitous validation of my decision to buy out the rights to the book.
  Anyway, the cogs and gears, etc., and the stock was delivered, and very nice it was too to see all those orphan-type rascals home again. Trouble is, we don’t have room for them all here at our modest orphanage. So we had a chat, me and the orphans, and I’ve agreed to find them all a good home; and because I managed to buy them back at a very reasonable rate, I’m in a position to give them away, free, gratis and for nothing - although, the postal people being who and what they are, I’ll need to charge for the post-and-packing, which comes to €4.50 / £3.80 / $6.20.
If you’re wondering whether or not the book is worth the post-and-packaging, here’s what a selection of generous people had to say about it:
“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and it’s called Declan Burke. Here is talent writ large - mesmerizing, literate, smart and gripping. If there is such an animal as the literary crime novel, then this is it. But as a compelling crime novel, it is so far ahead of anything being produced, that at last my hopes for crime fiction are renewed. I can’t wait to read his next novel.” - Ken Bruen, author of THE GUARDS

“Burke writes in a staccato prose that ideally suits his purpose, and his narrative booms along as attention grippingly as a Harley Davidson with the silencer missing. Downbeat but exhilarating.” - The Irish Times

“Harry Rigby resembles the gin-soaked love child of Rosalind Russell and William Powell ... a wild ride worth taking.” - Booklist

“A manic, edgy tone that owes much to Elmore Leonard … could be the start of something big.” - The Sunday Times

“One of the sharpest, wittiest books I’ve read for ages.” - The Sunday Independent

“EIGHTBALL BOOGIE proves to be that rare commodity, a first novel that reads as if it were penned by a writer in mid-career ... [it] marks the arrival of a new master of suspense on the literary scene.” - Hank Wagner, Mystery Scene

“The comedy keeps the story rolling along between the sudden eruptions of violence … Burke’s novel is not just a pulp revival, it’s genuine neo-noir.” - International Noir
  So there it is. EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, at $0.99c / £86p on ebook; or free, not including post-and-packaging, in its original dead tree incarnation. Anyone interested in picking up a copy of the latter should email me at dbrodb(at)gmail.com. And make haste, people - those orphan-type rascals are eating me out of house and home …

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Favourite Crime Novels: Ken Bruen

Ever wondered what Ken Bruen’s favourite crime novels are? Book Aware is currently hosting My Ten Favourite Crime Novels by Sir Kenneth of Bruen, and his fans will be unsurprised to learn that James Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS (“Then and now, the bar to which all mystery should mystery aspire.”) is nestling in there comfortably. But lo! What fresh lunacy is this? BARBELO’S BLOOD? SATAN’S LAMBS?
  For the full list, clickety-click here
  Incidentally, Book Aware is hosting a series of such lists, with the aim of supporting Sightsavers, which has the vision of ‘a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and where visually impaired people participate equally in society. Help Sightsavers help people enjoy the world of books too.’ Any writers wishing to help out Book Aware and Sightsavers by contributing their own Top Ten Favourite Novels should contact Neil at neil(at)galwayprint.ie. You know it makes sense.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Back To The Future (Of Irish Crime Fiction)

UPDATE: On my way to bed late last night, after sticking it out to see Stephen Donnelly get elected by about 90 votes, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was at #2,214 on the Amazon UK charts, and #9,998 on Amazon US. Which won’t exactly set the world alight, but I’m delighted, not least because the book has already garnered two readers’ reviews, neither of which I penned myself. And then, last thing, I got a message courtesy of Facebook, in which one Val McDermid announced that she’d bought EIGHTBALL, and was looking forward to it. All of which made for a very nice end to the day …

As the more eagle-eyed of CAP’s Three Regular Readers will be aware, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE has a brand spanking new cover, with which I am well pleased. The design celebrates the launch of the e-book of said tome, which Ken Bruen in his wisdom declared ‘the future of Irish crime fiction’. Meanwhile, the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
‘Down in the Old Quarter, two times out of three you flip a double-headed coin, it comes down on its edge.
 ‘Last time, it doesn’t come down at all ...’


When the wife of a politician keeping the government in power is murdered, Sligo journalist Harry Rigby is one of the first on the scene. He very quickly discovers that he’s in out of his depth when it transpires that the woman’s murder is linked to an ex-paramilitary gang’s attempt to seize control of the burgeoning cocaine market in the Irish Northwest. Harry’s ongoing feud with his ex-partner Denise over their young son’s future doesn’t help matters; and then there’s Harry’s ex-con brother Gonzo, back on the streets and mean as a jilted shark …
  That Gonzo, eh? He’s a caution, and no mistake … Anyway, and much as I hate the necessary evil of self-promotion, it’s customary at such moments to blow whatever trumpets we have, so if you have an aversion to trumpets, I suggest you plug your ears. To wit:
Praise for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE:

“I have seen the future of Irish crime fiction and it’s called Declan Burke. Here is talent writ large - mesmerizing, literate, smart and gripping. If there is such an animal as the literary crime novel, then this is it. But as a compelling crime novel, it is so far ahead of anything being produced, that at last my hopes for crime fiction are renewed. I can’t wait to read his next novel.” - Ken Bruen, author of THE GUARDS

“Burke writes in a staccato prose that ideally suits his purpose, and his narrative booms along as attention grippingly as a Harley Davidson with the silencer missing. Downbeat but exhilarating.” - The Irish Times

“Harry Rigby resembles the gin-soaked love child of Rosalind Russell and William Powell ... a wild ride worth taking.” - Booklist

“A manic, edgy tone that owes much to Elmore Leonard … could be the start of something big.” - The Sunday Times

“One of the sharpest, wittiest books I’ve read for ages.” - The Sunday Independent
  One of the great things about e-books, of course, is that you don’t have to take the author’s or anyone else’s word for their quality (or otherwise) - you can just clickety-click on the book and download a sample chapter or five for free. EIGHTBALL can be found in a variety of e-versions:
EIGHTBALL BOOGIE via Kindle UK / Kindle US (€0.99c)
EIGHTBALL BOOGIE on many other formats (via Smashwords)
  And that’s the hard sell for today, folks, and I do appreciate your taking the time to read thus far. Oh, one more thing - the new cover for EIGHTBALL is the work of JT Lindroos, whom I highly recommend as a top-notch pro and all-round good guy. If you’re in the market for a book cover, I suggest you check out JT’s work first
  Finally, over to you. Any and all comments on the cover are welcome, as are comments on EIGHTBALL itself; and any tips or advice about how to get in touch with e-friendly readers will be gratefully received. I thank you kindly in advance …

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Once More, From The Top Loader

Ed O’Loughlin came storming out of the gates a couple of years back with NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, which garnered a 2009 Booker Prize longlist nomination, not bad going at all for a debut novel. His forthcoming tome, TOP LOADER, sounds a right rip-snorter, and is described in the jacket copy as ‘A darkly comic masterpiece in the tradition of M*A*S*H, CATCH-22 and SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5’. Crikey. Quoth the blurb elves:
Spying inside the Embargoed Zone is an expensive business, not to say risky, and Agent Cobra wants his wages in full. But his down-at-heel spymaster can only offer payment in kind - and the first thing he finds in an unattended storeroom. And so both men are sucked into the mysterious Toploader project, a race to retrieve a deadly secret from inside the world’s first - and best - walled-off terrorist entity. Also caught in the crossfire are a resourceful teenage girl, a gung-ho reporter, a hapless drone-pilot and at least one very unfortunate donkey. Toploader is about to make their lives a lot more dangerous, and an awful lot more bizarre …
  NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND was given something of an edge given that former journalist O’Loughlin reported from Africa for the Irish Times for some years. He also worked as the Middle East correspondent for Melbourne’s The Age, which suggests that that yon ‘Embargoed Zone’, aka ‘the world’s first - and best - walled-off terrorist entity’, may or may not be based on the Gaza Strip.
  Either way, if NOT UNTRUE is any guide, O’Loughlin can write the hell out of a book, and ‘a darkly comic’ tale set in the Middle East sounds like a hell of a prospect. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes …