“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 12, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Brian O’Connor

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 MALTESE FALCON has got to be the coolest ever. And it got the best movie adaptation too.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Has to be Sam Spade, right? I’d have to work on the Bogie lisp though.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
To hell with guilt: the Flashman series is the funniest thing on paper!

Most satisfying writing moment?
Re-reading bits of my first book ADD A ZERO recently and not having to do so though my fingers!

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Since my other half is Niamh O’Connor, I would say it has to be IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN. Now, put that shovel and bag of lime down, dear.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Any new book that features murder on the Curragh, racism and a tincture of tasteful sex against a background of Irish racing should be snapped up immediately by a major Hollywood studio for an obscene amount of money.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst is facing into a day when the pressure is on and you need a thousand words. The best is having managed to squeeze out that thousand.

The pitch for your next book is …?
“Seriously, Johnny Depp has agreed to play the main guy in a movie of it.”

Who are you reading right now?
I’m re-reading Groucho Marx’s autobiography, GROUCHO AND ME. He always was going to be the Marxist that would survive the test of time.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read, every time.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Very. Reasonably. Priced.

Brian O’Connor’s BLOODLINE is published by Poolbeg.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: FAULKS ON FICTION: GREAT BRITISH CHARACTERS AND THE SECRET LIFE OF THE NOVEL by Sebastian Faulks

Lists are fine things, particularly if you’re in an argumentative mood, and FAULKS ON FICTION, being a list of great fictional British characters, is especially provocative. Faulks, the author of ‘Birdsong’ and other very fine novels, has divided his book into four headings: ‘Heroes’, ‘Lovers’, ‘Snobs’ and ‘Villains’, offering seven examples in each section. Thus the book takes us on an odyssey through British literature that begins in the Caribbean with ROBINSON CRUSOE and meanders right through to the present day, culminating in Faulks’ take on Barbara Covett, the villain of Zoë Heller’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL.
  Along the way we encounter some of the greats of the British novel, including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Henry Fielding, Emily Brontë and Thomas Hardy.
  Given that the book was written as a tie-in with the recent BBC series of the same name, the style is unsurprisingly light and breezy. It’s also very readable, in part because Faulks spends a good chunk of his introduction debunking the various literary critiques that bedevilled the development of the novel in the late 20th century. It may be ‘old-fashioned’ he says, but he is determined to treat the characters as if they were real people, gauging their worth in terms of the impact they’ve had on the reading public.
  It’s a laudable ambition, although Faulks’ modus operandi works better for some characters than others. When writing about personal favourites, such as Emma Woodhouse or Sherlock Holmes, Faulks is intensely engaging (although prone to hyperbole: “Is there no flaw in this dazzling, Mozartian performance?” he wonders of Jane Austen’s EMMA). On the other hand, some chapters have a cursory feel, and read like little more than synopses with occasional digressions.
  What is most disappointing about the collection is its predictability. “The novel was, from the start, a popular and middle-class form,” says Faulks during his chapter on Fielding’s TOM JONES, and his selection of characters seems determined to prove that the novel - or more properly, the literary novel - is still very much a middle-class obsession. The roll-call of names will be familiar to most readers, from Daniel Defoe to Dickens, Jane Austen and Emily Brontë to William Golding and Doris Lessing, up to the present day and Martin Amis, Alan Hollingsworth and Monica Ali.
  In fact, and despite the ‘British’ flavour promised in the subtitle, the collection is a very English one, even when the characters under discussion are marooned on a desert island, mired in the Indian Raj, or immigrants from Bangladesh.
  Furthermore, there is very little that is challenging to the status quo. No Lawrence Durrell, for example, who was being touted in the 1960s as the next James Joyce. Indeed, there’s no James Joyce. John Fowles merits only a line or two; Mary Renault only one, and that in terms of her early, ‘lesbian’ novels. Olivia Manning goes unmentioned, as does Kazuo Ishiguro, while Jonathan Swift, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson merit only token references, if that.
  Stevenson, perhaps above all others, has good reason to be miffed at his exclusion. Long John Silver and the Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde doppelganger are two of the most memorable characters in the history of the novel, and it beggars belief that not even one of Stevenson’s heroes or villains was deemed worthy of inclusion.
  One non-literary character who did sneak into the collection is James Bond, in the ‘Snobs’ section of the book. Unfortunately, Faulks does himself - and his argument in favour of literary snobs - no favours by spending most of the chapter talking about his own very enjoyable experience of writing a Bond novel, DEVIL MAY CARE (2009). Not that there is anything wrong with the chapter per se, but it’s telling that Faulks’ mini-biography at the end of the book lists all of his own novels bar DEVIL MAY CARE.
  This snobbishness about the literary novel reaches a climax late in the collection, when Faulks discusses Wilkie Collins’ THE WOMAN IN WHITE, which is regarded as one of the earliest examples of the thriller. Rather than celebrate the crime genre on its own terms, however, Faulks prefaces his exploration of the novel’s villain, Count Fosco, by recounting how plot-driven novels fell out of favour in the 20th century, only to be reinvigorated not by the various genre fictions of crime, science-fiction and romance, but by Proust’s A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU and Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY. Were he not so serious, the proposition would be laughable.
  At times, Faulks is so beautifully precise that you almost forgive him his blinkered outlook. The happy-go-lucky Tom Jones is “a jolly cork on a choppy sea”; writing about love, or Graham Greene’s version of same, Faulks says, “All culture is for it; almost all history is against it.”
  Such insights are few and far between, however. FAULKS ON FICTION makes for an entertaining read, but it’s little more than a primer for those who have forgotten the main plot points of some of the great English novels. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Putting The Art Into Artemis

I’m generally not too fussed about cover art, I have to say, but once in a while a book comes along that reminds me why I should be. Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL celebrates its 10th anniversary with a series of revamped covers, and it’s fair to say that the designer(s) earned his or her corn. Jaw-droppingly beautiful stuff, and congratulations to all involved.
  For the rest of the Artemis Fowl redesigns, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Eoin Colfer popped up in the pages of the Irish Times last week with his contribution to World Books Day, in a feature which asked writers about the one book they think everyone else should read. Eoin picked THE GUARDS by Ken Bruen. To wit:
“I am a big fan of genre fiction. I suppose the books I like best are the ones that surprise me, which is a little ironic for someone who reads genre stuff. I like books where you think you know exactly what you are getting and suddenly find yourself thrown for a loop as the author injects some reanimating concoction into the formula’s corpse. Lately I have been reading a lot of crime, and more specifically Irish crime. We have several writers making their mark internationally for the very reason that they have brought something fresh to the genre. Declan Burke, Colin Bateman and John Connolly are a few of the breakthrough stars, but for me the man that stands out is the Galway noir-king, Ken Bruen. If you are a crime aficionado and you have not read Bruen’s Jack Taylor series, then you are seriously missing out. I remember picking up THE GUARDS, which is the first book in the series, at Dublin airport, and subsequently staying awake all the way across the Atlantic just to finish it. I was expecting standard private-investigator fare, laced with laconic humour, which would have been fine, but what I got was sheer dark poetry. It was a tale of addiction, loss and Ireland, without the leprechauns. This book was so good it prompted me to write my first fan letter, which Ken actually responded to. THE GUARDS will blow you away. Usually I would round off with a sentence beginning with, “If you liked so and so, then you will love THE GUARDS,” but this time I cannot do it, because there is nothing like Bruen’s work. You have to read him to understand. I have bought about 20 copies of this book for friends and every one of them now worships at the dark and bloody altar of Bruen, whose writing is a lot less melodramatic than mine without a single mention of dark and bloody altars.”
  That’s all very nice, isn’t it? Personally, I’m particularly chuffed with the way Eoin lumped me in with Ken Bruen, Colin Bateman and John Connolly, although - as always - I’m inclined to believe it was a typo, and that Eoin meant to reference Declan Hughes.
  Anyway, keep a weather eye out for Eoin Colfer’s first adult crime novel, PLUGGED, which will be winging your way in May. Herewith be all the details

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Emerald Noir: A Gem By Any Other Name

As flagged elsewhere on these pages, Val McDermid presented a rather fine BBC4 radio programme (produced by Robyn Read) on the phenomenon of Irish crime writing yesterday morning called ‘Emerald Noir’, although the demands of the lunatic asylum known as CAP Towers meant that I didn’t get to hear it until this morning, courtesy of the BBC iPlayer.
  A comprehensive romp through modern Irish crime writing it is, too, with Val covering the influence of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, the boom-and-bust of the Celtic Tiger, and the crime novel as a Protestant art form. There are even shades of Winston Churchill, as Val compares Ireland to the Balkans as a place unable to contain the history bursting from its seams. Contributors include Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman, Declan Hughes, Eoin McNamee, Tana French, Stuart Neville, No Alibis owner David Torrans, and one Declan Burke, who is the editor of an - allegedly - ‘influential’ blog on the subject.
  John Connolly fans may be a tad disappointed that the Dark Lord doesn’t feature in person, but never fear - virtually everyone quotes John Connolly at some point.
  Meanwhile, Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards has the good grace to mention DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, the collection of essays, interviews and short stories by Irish writers on the subject of Irish crime writing in the 21st century, which will be published by Liberties Press next month. Nice one, Ruth.
  Elsewhere, Gerard O’Donovan - author of THE PRIEST - had an interview with Val McDermid in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph on the same subject. Quoth Gerard:
“Writers such as Tana French, whose Dublin-based psychological thrillers have topped the US fiction charts, and Stuart Neville whose soul-searing tale of a former terrorist haunted by his victims, THE TWELVE, have been swamped in critical acclaim. Writers such as the pioneering Ken Bruen and Colin Bateman, Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, Declan Burke, Niamh O’Connor, Brian McGilloway and, dare I say it, myself are attracting not just local but worldwide attention. The Irish economy may be on its knees, the political system in tatters, confidence at an all-time low. But in crime fiction at least Ireland has never been so vibrant.”
 For the rest of the feature, clickety-click here ...
  So there you have it. Irish crime fiction: the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees or the dog’s bollocks? YOU decide.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Alan Monaghan


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 NAME OF THE ROSE, by Umberto Eco. It’s got Sherlock Holmes in it, y’know ...

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Either Jack Aubrey or Stephen Maturin, depending on the sort of day I’m having.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
P.G. Wodehouse.

Most satisfying writing moment?
It’s the same moment that comes along from time to time. The one when you get a sentence so right that you can’t stay in your chair.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’m afraid I haven’t read much crime since I was a kid, so I’ve missed the whole Irish Crime Renaissance. On that basis, I’d have to say DRACULA – and, hey, if Dracula wasn’t a criminal, then who was?

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Ehhh ... DRACULA? Only set in Dublin, with Van Helsing as one of those pissed barstool philosophers we’ve all met.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst is that it’s such damn hard work – and almost completely solitary. The best is that it’s such damn hard work – you get a great sense of achievement when you’re actually able to finish a book.

The pitch for your next book is …?
It’s the best one yet!

Who are you reading right now?
George MacDonald Fraser. The man is much better than I expected – he has a truly great ear for regional dialects.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Probably read – because once you lose the ability to read, the ability to write won’t last long anyway.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Clear. Smooth. Precise. Some of these may be more like aspirations.

Alan Monaghan’s THE SOLDIER’S RETURN is published by Pan Macmillan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

“Attack Ships On Fire Off The Shoulder Of Orion …”

Yours truly had a feature on the influence of Philip K. Dick (right) on a whole generation of sci-fi movies published in last Saturday’s Irish Times. It ran a lot like this:

He Saw Things You Wouldn’t Believe

Philip K Dick’s twisted take on the world produced a wealth of ideas that inspired everything from ‘Blade Runner’ to ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, writes Declan Burke

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a movie adapted from a novel will generally prove inferior to its source material. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, although the most consistent exception is that of Philip K. Dick.
  Some of the most intriguing sci-fi movies of the past three decades have been adapted from, or inspired by, Philip K. Dick’s stories, among them Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). The most recent adaptation, The Adjustment Bureau, is a case in point. Set in contemporary New York, it stars Matt Damon as David Norris (no, really), an aspiring senator (yes, seriously) who meets the vivacious Elise (Emily Blunt). The chemistry between them is immediate and potent, but obstacles to their romance keep cropping up. We quickly learn that said obstacles are being strewn in their path deliberately by an ‘adjustment team’, whose job it is to ensure that the grand plan, or Fate, is not knocked out of kilter by those irritatingly frequent events we ascribe to chance, coincidence or luck.
  When confronted with the truth of reality, and allowed a peek behind the illusion that is our perception of the world, Norris wonders if the ‘adjustment team’ are ‘some kind of angels’. Determined to fight for Elise despite the team’s dire warnings as to what will happen if he doesn’t accept his fate (“All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her,” Norris says), the hero poses the movie’s central question: whatever happened to free will?
  That’s a conundrum that has exercised writers from Kafka to Shakespeare, Dostoevsky to Conrad, and many more besides. Unfortunately, Philip K. Dick’s prose errs on the prosaic side, at best. At worst, it’s akin to reading coal. And yet, as the movies above suggest, Dick was a fount of compellingly original ideas. He was brilliantly flawed, and produced novels and stories of flawed brilliance, to the extent that the blend of sublime concepts and workmanlike prose might have been written by an author with a split personality.
  It’s a perception Dick was keen to cultivate. During a speech given in France during the 1970s, Dick alluded to his parallel existences when he said, “Often people claim to remember past lives; I claim to remember a different, very different, present life.” Such statements lend themselves to the popular perception of Dick as acid-addled guru to the Californian counter-culture of the 1960s. In point of fact, Dick was not a habitual user of psychotropic drugs (amphetamine was his drug of choice), and his own sense of multiple personalities was rooted in a much more poignant event. Philip Kindred Dick was born six weeks premature, as was his twin sister, Jane; Jane died five weeks later. Dick’s life and work were profoundly marked by her absence; until his death, he and his writing were often haunted by a ‘phantom other’.
  These days the politically correct term for sci-fi is speculative fiction, and Dick - along with authors such as Stanislaw Lem, Kurt Vonnegut and Olaf Stapleton - was as much exercised by the metaphysical potential in the sci-fi novel as he was with space travel, shiny gadgets or galaxy-spanning soap operas. In Total Recall (1990), based on Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, there is no good reason why the hero, Douglas Quaid, travels to Mars, other than space travel to exotic destinations was expected from writers working in the genre. What truly fascinates Dick in this story is the futuristic concept of implanted memories and virtual existences, which allows the author to explore the very essence of what it means to be an individual human being, the memories - real or otherwise - that constitute our sense of identity.
  That Dick struggled his entire life to establish his own sense of identity, a battle he eventually lost to delusion and paranoia, gives Total Recall a certain poignancy, even if the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ‘everyman’ Douglas Quaid mitigated against the finer nuances. That the film was taken out of David Cronenberg’s hands and given to Paul Verhoeven didn’t help. Here’s hoping the forthcoming remake, due in 2012 and starring Colin Farrell, will offer a more intuitive reading of the unwitting hero’s psychological frailties.
  The issue of identity was raised again in another adaptation, A Scanner Darkly (2006), directed by Richard Linklater and starring Keanu Reeves as an undercover vice cop who loses his sense of who he is so completely that he winds up investigating himself. A blackly comic tale of sensory distortion and hallucogenic paranoia, the film further benefited from Linklater’s decision to use Rotoscoping animation, a subtly distancing effect which presents the immediately recognisable actors (Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jnr) as avatars of their characters.
  Identity is also central to the theme of Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott and based on Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. Its main protagonist, Deckard (Harrison Ford), is a bounty hunter pursuing rogue androids who are virtually indistinguishable from human beings. As in The Adjustment Bureau, Dick here investigates the concept of free will, as the artificially intelligent androids - led by killer Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) - attempt to live their short lives to their full capacity. What differentiates humanity from androids who can not only think like humans but also experience the full gamut of emotion, and are all too aware of their own mortality? Deckard, who may or may not be an android himself, has no answer.
  Philip K. Dick only ever saw a twenty-minute reel of Blade Runner; he died some weeks before the film was released. The phildickian view of the universe would prove influential, however. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) owed as much to Phil Dick as it did to George Orwell, while a variety of films, not all of them strictly sci-fi, owe Dick a huge debt: Andrew Nicol’s Gattaca (1997), Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998), Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy (1999 onwards), David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999), Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001), Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009), and Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010).
  Philip Kindred Dick died a lonely death, convinced despite his multiplicity of parallel lives that his true nature was unknown and unknowable. With the release of The Adjustment Bureau, however, a remake of Total Recall due next year, a prequel to Blade Runner mooted and a TV series of ‘The Man in the High Castle’ currently in production, Dick’s twisted, complex and layered take on reality appears set to garner him a whole new generation of kindred spirits. - Declan Burke

  This feature was first published in the Irish Times.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Everything Goes Better With An E

A missive drops into the Inbox from Mark Coker of Smashwords, announcing that the ‘Annual Read an E-Book Week’ kicks off today, Sunday 6th. Naturally, I’m going to take that as a licence to plug the bejaysus out of my own e-book offering, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, about which I’m sure the Three Regular Readers are already sick and tired of hearing about. That said, the book did pick up a couple of very nice readers’ reviews over on Kindle UK during the week, and it would be remiss of me - with my Reluctant Self-Promoter’s cap on - not to give them an airing. To wit:
“You want a book with heart, humour and brains then look no further than EIGHTBALL BOOGIE … I am quite frankly in awe of Declan Burke’s ability with a sentence. His writing is at turns lyrical and succinct; his dialogue snaps in your ear and his characters are so real they stay in your head long after you’ve turned the last page. Simply can’t praise this writer enough. Get yourself a copy now!” - Michael Malone

“I loved the book. It wasn’t just the cool dialogue that got me. The twisty-turny plot kept me guessing right up to the final pages. Okay, so that’s supposed to happen in crime fiction, and should be a given rather than a point of praise, but I think Burke is especially adept at this … I hope with a bit of much-deserved interest in this new Kindle release Burke will launch a whole series of Rigby novels.” - Gerard Brennan
  I thank you kindly, gentlemen. If that has whetted your appetite in any way, then please clickety-click here for more information
  Meanwhile, Adrian McKinty’s new offering FALLING GLASS is also available as an e-book. Scroll down to the post below for yesterday’s Irish Times’ review of same, then clickety-click here for some e-McKinty action
  Elsewhere, my interest has been piqued by THE RISE AND FALL OF GER MAYES, by Ruby Barnes. Not the snappiest of titles, it’s true, but I do like the cut of Ger Mayes’ jib. Quoth the Kindle blurb elves:
The streets of Dublin teem by day with workers, intertwined with a seamier underside of beggars, criminals and drop-outs. Gerard Mayes, a man with an ego the size of Everest but living a very average life, walks amongst them, bathed in the delusion that society owes him more. Ger is a modern, metropolitan slacker. He considers himself the jester at work but the other bottom feeders that share a cubicle with him think he’s the joke. Ger’s a misfit and malcontent who would never appear on anybody’s radar until, that is, he murders a beggar during a mugging gone wrong. We know that Ger’s life is going to unravel, but the consequences of that murder also bring the Sword of Damocles down upon the heads of those closest to him. This is the story of a common man who steps over the line and commits the seven deadly sins. Someone has to pay the price.
  I hosted a panel discussion yesterday on Irish crime writing on behalf of the Dublin Book Festival, which was graced by Paul Charles, Niamh O’Connor and Gene Kerrigan, and one of the topics discussed was the extent to which crime writers have engaged with modern Ireland, both its precipitous economic rise and disastrous crash, whereas literary Ireland has yet to grasp the nettle. Seems to me that THE RISE AND FALL OF GER MAYES, in prospect at least, stares contemporary Ireland in the eye, although - there being no sampling option available - I have no idea as to how well or otherwise the book is written.
  Still, there’s a bright ‘n’ shiny new Kindle winging its way towards me as you read, courtesy of the ever-generous Mrs Lovely Wife, and I’d imagine THE RISE AND FALL OF GER MAYES will be the first purchase I’ll be making. If anyone out there has read it, I’d love to hear your opinion …