“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 19, 2011

Guest Post: Russel D. McLean’s Top 10 Crime Novels

So Declan Burke has foolishly agreed to let me set up camp here at CAP for one day during my inaugural, recession-beating “blog tour” (i.e., I couldn’t afford flights to do a physical one) for the US release of THE LOST SISTER. But as I explained to Dec, I didn’t want to make the whole tour about “me me me” because I’d very quickly run out of things to say. And I don’t want to be constantly shilling the book (although the whole point of this tour is to get spread the word – so if you’re in the US you can go buy a startlingly nice hardback from those fine people at St Martin’s, and if you’re in the UK the book’s in handsome paperback from the lovely chaps at Five Leaves Publications). So Dec suggested I could talk about other people’s books.
  “How about,” he said, “One of those top ten crime fiction lists? The books you love?”
  Which sounded a great idea in principle. Except for the fact I had far more than I wanted to talk about and every time I started writing one book down, another popped in my head. So what I’m saying is, perhaps the number 2 and number 1 slots aside, this list is always in flux, but I composed it using the novels that had made me fall in love with the genre or that I just keep coming back to. The ones that made me look at the genre with fresh eyes or that people tell me I won’t shut up about.
  Some of the choices might be predictable (despite some folks’ moaning, there’s a very good reason why certain texts should be considered classics – they’re just bloody good, end of discussion) and some texts people will wonder why I excluded but in the end you have to compose these lists based on how you feel. And while some of the books may have people raising eyebrows, in one or another they had a huge effect on me when I read them… they evoke certain times and places in my reading life.
  So here it is: Ten Books that have had an effect upon your humble guest blogger’s writing and reading practices:

10) ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT by Christopher Brookyre.
Brookmyre’s epic and gut-bustingly funny standalone novel is at once funny, brutal and unsettling in a way only Brookmyre seems to be able to manage. Think Die Hard. On an oil rig in the middle of the north sea. Only instead of John McClane, we’ve got Scotland’s answer to Bill Hicks. And instead of a corporate party we’ve got a Glaswegian school reunion. It’s a blisteringly funny book and you’ll never look at action movies the same way again once you’ve finished it. This was one of the first crime novels I read (other than Anthony Horrowitz’s Diamon Brother’s books when I was a nipper) that made me realized you could do comedy and crime together. And its one of the few books to raphsodize over Die Hard 2 and its wonky Bullet Deadliness Quotient. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

9) RIDING THE RAP by Elmore Leonard.
Yeah, there’s a lot of other Leonards that are, perhaps, considered more classic, but this is the one that burned its way into my teenage brain. I first read it laid up with a fever, and when I was better I came right back to it to see if I’d maybe just imagined how damn good it was. I hadn’t. Written during the period where Leonard seemed the coolest writer on the planet, it also features one of my favorite psychopaths Bobby Deo. The scene where Deo practices his draw so he can take on Raylan Givens in a gun battle is a classic piece of dramatic misdirection and a scene that still remains in my head decades later.

8) THE HACKMAN BLUES by Ken Bruen.
So many people choose THE GUARDS as their favourite Bruen, but this one spoke to me with an immediacy I hadn’t encountered before in a UK-based novel. Controversial on its release, with a heart of darkness I’d never really encountered before, especially from a novel set in the UK, I’d say THE HACKMAN BLUES is required reading for anyone interested in Brit noir (and yes, Bruen’s Irish, but the novel’s set in London, so there: it counts as a UK novel due to setting)

7) DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS by Walter Mosely.
Mosely is a writer who just pulls me in every damn time. His debut novel is not just a damn good crime novel, but also an evocation of a place I could never have known. It’s a testament to Mosely’s skill that he makes the black LA of the 1940’s feel utterly universal. I’ve used this book now a couple of times with reader’s groups and every time the discussion flows about moral choice, about class, about prejudice and so much more.

6) IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD by James Lee Burke.
ELECTRIC MIST (as we shall shorten the title to) was the book that made me fall in love with Burke’s lyrical prose. With its hints of the supernatural, there’s an air of slight surrealism to the novel that serves perfectly well to highlight the flaws in the fascinating detective Robichaux. Not everyone digs Burke, some citing his literary style as being a bit too full-on, but if you only try one I’d usually say ELECTRIC MIST is the way to go.

5) SLAYGROUND by Richard Stark.
Again, as with Leonard, there are probably better Stark novels, but I’m going for the ones that affected me here, and this is the first Stark I remember reading. Set entirely in a fairground, this finds professional thief Parker using his environment to his advantage when a job goes wrong and he finds himself trapped in the fair being chased by cops and gangsters. Like all Stark novels, this is the closest we get to an action movie on the page. It’s tight, controlled and really rather inventive.

4) A DANCE AT THE SLAUGTERHOUSE by Lawrence Block.
Matt Scudder has remained a constant in my life since I started reading crime fiction (even though there are a few that fall short of excellent, he hits better than any other series protagonist I’ve read). It’s hard to choose just one of these novels, but DANCE AT THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE was one of the first books that really kicked me in the head, both with its perfect prose and its dark plot. For me, Scudder provides the link between the old school of hardboiled eyes and the new. He’s the point where the genre regained a sense of realism from the two-fisted adventure stories it had started to become mired in.

3) THE BLACK DAHLIA by James Ellroy.
A lot of people go for LA CONFIDENTIAL, and while it’s an amazing book, THE BLACK DAHLIA’s where my dad started me on Ellroy and where I tend to direct newcomers to the man. The hallmarks of Ellroy’s distinctive style are all in place here, and the story is a blistering and brutal evocation of time and place that leaves it marks long after you close that final page. An incredible and deeply personal novel. Just, please, for the love of God don’t watch the movie, which seems to become an unintentional black comedy thanks to the increasingly bizarre directorial decisions of Brian De Palma.

2) THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.
Still stands up amazingly well to the test of time despite the impersonal distance of the prose from the characters’ internal states. Seriously, takes a bit of getting used to when you’re so used to being close to characters’ motivations and thoughts. But it’s a tight, brilliantly controlled novel with a brilliant central character. Required reading for anyone who even thinks about writing a private eye novel.

1) THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler.
Yes, yes, I know, *yawn*, predictable choice, but the fact remains that I can’t get enough of Chandler’s writing. His control of dialogue, his brilliantly witty metaphors, all of that stuff that seems so clichéd now would never have become so without Chandler getting in there first. THE BIG SLEEP is just a damn perfect novel and while Chandler maybe couldn’t rein in his plots (who did kill the chauffeur?) he more than makes it up for that with his cast of characters and, of course, Marlowe, one of the finest PIs ever to walk the mean streets. Without him, I think many of today’s crime fiction protagonists would never have come to be.

Russel D McLean’s THE LOST SISTER is published by St Martin’s Press.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Origins: COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! by Alexander O’Hara

Editor’s Note: In a rather pleasing development, the sub-sub-genre of Irish crime writing seems to be throwing up some writers who are either maverick geniuses (genii?) or permanently bombed out of their gourd. The first such to come to my attention was the redoubtable Captain Joseph Barbelo with BARBELO’S BLOOD; the latest crazily shining rough diamond is Alexander O’Hara, aka Darragh McManus. To wit:

Origins: COLD! STEEL!! JUSTICE!!!

Okay, this might get a little confusing. My name is Darragh McManus and I’ve just published a comic crime novel called COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! Except the author is actually called Alexander O’Hara, and the book was originally called The Nutcracker. And wasn’t a book at all, but a movie script.
  Sorry. Let me start over. COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! has just been self-published by me (as in Darragh) as an e-book at Amazon.com for Kindle and Smashwords.com for other formats. I used the Alexander O’Hara nom du guerre to differentiate “funny me” from “serious me”; as has been discussed here before, the “industry” doesn’t like eclecticism in writers. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll just invent a new writer altogether.
  The bumpf – written either by Darragh or Alexander, I actually can’t remember anymore – goes something like this: “COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! is a rollicking, rocking riot of raw, roaring reading, about renegade detective Christian Beretta, his resurrected-from-the-dead sweetheart, his partner with an over-eating problem, and the evil Mayor who wants control of the drugs trade – and wants Beretta deader than dead… In Paradise City, all hell is about to break loose!”
  And the whole thing of the film script? Our story begins – and the story began – all the way back in 1999 during downtime in my first real job. There was a lot of downtime, and The Nutcracker was a lot of fun to write. (The title, by the way, refers to our hero’s trademark method of “interrogation”: squeezing the baddies’ testicles in a tourniquet. It gets results, dammit!).
  I basically took every cliché I could think of, from every piss-poor, straight-to-video 1980s cop movie I’d ever seen, and played around with them. End result: something like The Naked Gun crossed with The Simpsons crossed with Monty Python crossed with that drunken conversation in the pub one night about which Z-list actor you’d cast in a remake of Bloodfist 9: The Killening.
  So you’ve got a loose cannon cop who’s been kicked off the force for – yes – being “just too violent”. And a grizzled Italian Chief of Police, feisty and beautiful journalist girlfriend, tubby black sidekick who’s a solid family man, sleazy Mexican drug lord, camp European assassin, deranged media billionaire, huge-toothed chat-show host, insanely sexy femme fatale who wears rubber cat-suits quite often, and so on and so forth.
  For Beretta, I wanted a guy who looked, sounded and acted more-or-less like Dirty Harry having an especially bad goddamn day. But better-looking, and considerably dumber, and probably a wee bit more warm-hearted, underneath all the macho bluster. His name had to reflect that, so I picked something both tough (Beretta, as in the pistol) and soft (Christian, or Chris as he’s known to loved ones – this sounds like the name of a tousle-haired little boy, or that cuddly, bespectacled man in your office who always wears a colourful tie with short-sleeved shirts.)
  Then I took all these eejits and started writing about them; it was pretty much as simple as that. Of course, I needed a storyline of some sort, on which to hang all the surreal lines, slapstick gags, amusing non-sequiturs and self-referential in-jokes. So I thought to myself, what are these dreadful movies always about? Answer: a big drugs deal, generally involving “the merchandise”.
  That was about it, and that was about all I needed. The plot, amazingly, made some sense by the time I’d finished; it had structure and pacing, things happened in a vaguely chronological order, there was a beginning, middle and end. Too many spoofs, I’ve since been told, concentrate on japery at the expense of an actual storyline; The Nutcracker had one, albeit the most daft and ridiculous storyline you’ve ever encountered.
  You want a mad Kerry-born Mayor who wants to televise the trial and execution of criminals? You got it. An army of castrated international guns-for-hire, led by a man called Englebert who bears a disturbing resemblance to a young Julian Sands? You got that, too. A conversation between our heroes that lasts for fifteen minutes, during which they’re continuously taking the longest pee in history? Sure, why not. A flashback scene where Beretta enters a moment of Zen totality and shoots six ducks from the sky without looking? What the hell, let’s throw that in there as well.
  Eventually, the thing was written. I sent it to Roger Corman’s long-time associate, Frances Doel; she was charming and friendly on the phone and I never heard from her again. A few other producer types had nice things to say about it, but I kind of realised after a while that The Nutcracker, as a movie, fell uncomfortably between two stools: too stupid to be respected, too clever to sell to a stupid movie audience.
  Readers, though, are a different kettle of fish. Despite what the “industry” might presume, readers like all sorts of things from books. They like to be challenged. And when it comes to comedy, they don’t necessarily want all the jokes teed up 15 minutes beforehand, then quickly followed by canned laughter, real or metaphorical, to really hammer the point home. They’re okay, I think – I hope? – with a book that’s dumb but clever in its dumbness but dumb in its cleverness but simultaneously clever and dumb.
  So I took the original script and fleshed it out as a novel, adding descriptive prose, more dialogue, inner monologue, character motivation, and about eight thousand fresh jokes. Well, when I say “fresh”, I mean “not in the original script”. They’re not fresh in the sense that I – and, indeed, other writers – haven’t used them before. More than once.
  Finally, I changed the title. The Nutcracker was a bit vague and allusive; it made sense, and was amusing, to me, but I didn’t know that everyone else would get it, or like it. At least not until they got to the actual nut-cracking part, round about the end of Chapter 5. So I racked my brains for something that captured the dumbness, crassness, obviousness and weird obsession with exclamation marks that characterise all my favourite rubbish ‘80s cop flicks. You know, masterworks like Unkillable Bastard!, Rampage of Destruction IV!!, and of course, Gutz ‘n’ Bulletz 2: The Return of Fat Larry!
  The end result was COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!!: the book of the movie of the comic of the book of the screenplay of the movie of the game of the TV show. Of the book. And it’s funny: DEAD FUNNY. Guaranteed, you will laugh at least once per paragraph. That’s right, PER PARAGRAPH – no mealy-mouthed “per page” promises here – or your money back. (Note: guarantee is not a guarantee. CAP accepts full responsibility for any disappointment caused. Caveat emptor, terms & conditions apply, exit on your left, etc etc etc.)
  And so here we are: me, Alex, Christian, India the fiery girlfriend, Spud the tubby sidekick, O’Flannigan the crazy Mayor, the castrated assassins, the Oedipal-fixation Mexican gangster who gets incinerated in his own car to the strains of Herb Alpert playing The Girl from Ipanema … and hopefully a whole bunch of you, the paying customer.
  Welcome to Dice City, everybody. Where justice walks tall, quips smart, busts shit up on a regular basis and totes a hand-cannon so fucking enormous that the toting itself carries a minimum ten years. Cold! Steel! Justice!!!: sooner or later, everybody gets delivery of theirs. Fuck yeah!!
  Thanks for listening, Darragh. (PS: I mean Alexander. I think.)

  COLD! STEEL! JUSTICE!!! by Alexander O’Hara is published on Kindle.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: A Cead Mile Failte From Ireland

“I didn’t want to write about the mean streets until we had them,” Ken Bruen once said, when asked why he had set his early novels in London rather than Ireland. “But by God, we’ve got them now.”
  That we have, and one consequence is DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY, which will be published by Liberties Press in April. Quoth the blurb elves:
A fantastically detailed book consisting of essays, interviews and short fiction regarding Irish crime writing in the 21st century. Contributors include distinguished crime writers such as John Connolly, John Banville, Tana French and Alex Barclay. This book suggests crime fiction is now the most relevant and valid form of writing that can deal with modern Ireland in terms of the post-‘Troubles’ landscape and post-Celtic Tiger economic boom. The book takes a chapter-by-chapter approach, with each chapter and author discussing a different facet of Irish crime writing; for example, Declan Hughes discusses the influence of American culture on Irish crime writing and Tana French reflects on crime fiction and the post-Celtic Tiger Irish identity.
  The collection is something of a Who’s Who of contemporary Irish crime fiction, with contributions (in order of appearance) from John Connolly, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Kevin McCarthy, Cora Harrison, Adrian McKinty, Cormac Millar, Alan Glynn, Eoin McNamee, Jane Casey, Declan Hughes, Alex Barclay, Colin Bateman, Paul Charles, Niamh O’Connor, Gerard Brennan, Ingrid Black, John Banville, Stuart Neville, Gene Kerrigan, Gerry O’Carroll, Arlene Hunt, Andrew Nugent, Brian McGilloway, Neville Thompson, Tana French and Ken Bruen. It also features a foreword by Michael Connelly, an introduction by Professor Ian Ross of Trinity College, an appreciation of crime narratives in theatre and film by Sara Keating and Tara Brady, respectively, and an afterword by Fintan O’Toole.
  Given the constraints of space, and the relatively slow pace of publishing and the much more rapid rate at which Irish crime writers are appearing, the collection can’t claim to be comprehensive. As editor, I’d have liked to have included writers such as Garbhan Downey, Ava McCarthy, Bob Burke and Rob Kitchin. Meanwhile, debut novels from Brian O’Connor, Casey Hill, Gerard O’Donovan, William Ryan and Conor Fitzgerald have only appeared in the last nine months or so.
  That said, GREEN STREETS is as comprehensive and contemporary as was possible given the constraints mentioned, and I’ll be delighted to see it land on the shelf next month. Relieved, I think, more than anything else, not least because there were times when it seemed as if the collection would never see the light of day, but very proud too. Although I should say, I feel proud on behalf of the writers involved rather than for myself, because I have no sense of ‘ownership’ of the book, in the way I would if the book was a novel of mine. The collection belongs to the contributors, who chose their own speciality topic, or preference, and I hope that the collection will go some way to ensuring that a body of very fine writers finally get the kind of credit here in Ireland that they already enjoy in the US, the UK, and further afield.
  Ireland is a pretty small place, it’s true, but even at that there’s no community of Irish crime writers per se, no single cohesive theme running through the body of work, no regular meetings of like-minded folk (or if there is, they’re not telling me about it). What I hope the book marks, other than the obvious development of a distinct body of Irish crime fiction, is the sheer diversity of styles, themes and tones: historical fiction, high-concept thrillers, police procedurals, private eyes, comedy capers, gritty noir, post-modern investigation, paranoid conspiracy, serial killers, post-‘Troubles’ novels, and more. Indeed, the diversity is such that some of the writers have no interest at all in rooting their novels in Ireland.
  So there it is: DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY. If there are any bloggers and / or reviewers out there interested in receiving an ARC, just drop me a line at the usual address or leave a message in the comment box, with the appropriate contact details. And a céad míle fáilte, aka a hundred thousand welcomes, to you all from CAP Towers on St Patrick’s Day …

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

He may be one of the best in the business, but Adrian McKinty hasn’t forgotten his roots. No sir / ma’am. All the way from Australian comes the generous offer from said McKinty of free copies of his latest novel, FALLING GLASS, for readers of Crime Always Pays. Quoth the blurb elves:
An old associate of regular hero Michael Forsythe, Killian makes a living enforcing other people’s laws, collecting debts, dealing out threats. Forsythe sets Killian up with the best paid job of his life. A prominent, politically connected Irish businessman, Richard Coulter, needs someone to find his ex-wife and children. Reluctant to take it, but persuaded by the money, Killian takes the job. Once on the trail, Killian discovers the real reason Coulter’s ex is running, and helps her take refuge amongst his people - a community of Irish Travellers, who close ranks to look after them. McKinty is at his continent-hopping, pacy, evocative best in this new thriller, moving between his native Ireland and distant cities within a skin-of-his-teeth time-frame.
  Sounds tasty. David Park, writing in the Irish Times, liked it a lot. To wit:
“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 rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, to be in with a chance of winning a free copy of FALLING GLASS, just answer the following question:
What actor, and why, should play McKinty’s ‘unfuckingkillable’ hero Michael Forsythe when the inevitable movie happens?
  Answers in the comment box below, please, leaving a contact email address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam munchkins) by noon on Monday, March 21st. Et bon chance, mes amis

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Illuminating THE DARK FIELDS

‘Limitless’, the movie version of Alan Glynn’s THE DARK FIELDS, gets its release in the US on Friday, and in the UK and Ireland on March 23rd, and very enjoyable it is too - a seductive tale of drug-induced super-human intelligence that quickly spirals out of control into a paranoid conspiracy thriller. To wit:
Limitless (15A)
Struggling writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has his life transformed when an old acquaintance hooks him up with NZT, a drug so new it hasn’t been patented. The super-drug allows Eddie to access 100% of his consciousness, as opposed to the 20% used by non-NZT users, and suddenly Eddie is wooing back his ex-girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) and moving into the world of high finance as he beats Wall Street at its own game. But ever drug has its come-down, and NZT’s is particularly vicious - soon Eddie finds himself embroiled in violence and murder, and facing a very early death. Based on Irish novelist Alan Glynn’s THE DARK FIELDS, the movie comes charging out of the gate as if its makers themselves were on some kind of super-drug, a fast-paced, smart and engaging thriller that exerts a fascinating grip - who, after all, wouldn’t want to turn into a world-beater overnight, and at the drop of a tiny pill? Cooper is in particularly fine form as Eddie, convincingly downbeat in the beginning, when he looks like a hobo, but equally believable as a super-human font of all knowledge, and he gets strong support from Cornish, even if her character tends to flit in and out of proceedings. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro, playing financier Carl Van Loon, is rather laidback here, although it’s still his most enjoyable performance in some years. The movie starts to lose focus once Eddie begins to experience time-slips and blackouts, and while the creeping sense of drug-induced paranoia is effectively done, the screenwriters attempt to cram too much story onto the screen, which results in plot digressions, red herrings and half-finished storylines. Overall, though, it’s a hell of a trip. ****
  Incidentally, THE DARK FIELDS has been re-released as LIMITLESS to coincide with the movie’s release, and it’ll come as no surprise to learn that the book is a superior experience to the movie (watch out, by the way, for the neat touch in the film when Eddie publishes a book called ILLUMINATING THE DARK FIELDS). Meanwhile, clickety-click here for Alan’s account of the tortuous process of watching THE DARK FIELDS slowly wend its way towards the silver screen …

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Jo Nesbo

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 KILLER INSIDE ME, Jim Thompson

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Dexter. Kidding. Or am I? ...

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t. Other things, yes, but not reading.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I wrote the lyrics for a song called ‘Rhumba with gun’.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE WHISPERERS.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Not having a boss / No bad things.

The pitch for your next book is …?
“Harry Hole is back.” Hey, that was easy.

Who are you reading right now?
A Pink Floyd biography.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Oh, God. Write.

Jo Nesbo’s THE LEOPARD is published by Harvill Secker

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stuck Behind The EIGHTBALL: An Interview With, Erm, Declan Burke

I filled in a Q&A for a specialist ebook blog about a month ago, when I was about to publish EIGHTBALL BOOGIE to Kindle, but the Q&A hasn’t appeared yet, so I’m just going to go ahead and run it up here instead. To wit:

What can you tell us about Eightball Boogie?

‘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 …

“The change in the Irish criminal landscape that followed the various ceasefires in Northern Ireland is still ongoing, and is something that fascinates me. I wanted to write a story about how gangs who were previously politically motivated - officially, at least - turned to more prosaic criminality once their political justifications for drug-running, bank-robbing, hijacking et al were removed. I also love Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe novels, and the black-and-white noir movies, and I wanted to write a story that played out as if it were a classic private eye story set in modern Ireland. In other words, the story is very much a contemporary one, but I wanted to pay homage to the books and movies I’ve always loved. It was a really fun thing to write, I have to say.”

How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?

“That’s a difficult question for me to answer, as is any question to do with the craft of writing - I’m an impulsive, instinctive writer, which often works to my detriment, as it often involves extensive re-writes. Basically, I suppose, I tend to try to push the characters to their extremes, without ever pushing them beyond the bounds of the story’s internal logic. In other words, I like to paint myself into corners and then challenge myself to get back out of those corners in a way that’s both interesting and plausible. That way, I’m keeping myself on my toes. If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, then it’s highly unlikely that the reader will either. And tension, ultimately, derives from not knowing what’s coming next.”

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

“I guess characters tend to develop themselves, to a large extent. They always start off as a seed as a real person, or a combination of real people, although those people may be as different as someone you know as well as your wife, or someone you only once glimpsed turning a street corner. Very quickly, though, characters tend to become themselves and to fight for their own identity - trying to get a character to do something ‘out of character’ can be an exhausting and ultimately pointless exercise. I’m not trying to suggest that they ‘write’ themselves, because the writer is always in total control of what the story is and where it’s going; and, of course, the essence of a good story is when a character does encounter events or scenarios that cause him or her to behave in a way that they might never have considered before. But if you’ve established a character as a certain kind of person, and to the extent that the reader believes in that person and who they are, then having them behave in an antithetical way is akin to saying that they have blue eyes, and then later changing their eye colour to brown. I really don’t know what the answer to this is; as with virtually everything else to do with writing, in my experience at least, it’s all about the writer’s ‘feel’. It’s not really something that can be measured or explained in clear or exact terms, I think.

“As for differentiating characters, well, that’s a matter of observation. There are six billion people on the planet, and counting; every one of them is as unique as a fingerprint. It’s the easiest thing in the world to simply look around you on a daily basis and mentally note interesting physical features, or the way a woman wears a scarf, or how a man walks, and so forth. One tip I heard early on when I was trying to write characters that I found useful was to base your ‘good’, or empathic, characters on the personality traits of people you don’t like, and vice versa. It’s actually a surprisingly good way to give characters unexpected depth.”

Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

“You. Anyone reading this right now. Anyone at all. I don’t have an ideal reader, not by any means. It might sound like bunkum, but I still get a massive thrill when someone mentions that they read my book. It’s even better when they say they liked it, of course, but people are generally nice wherever you go, and it’s rare that someone will tell you they read your book in order to then say it was garbage.

“I do have a guy - maybe this is what you mean by an ideal reader - who reads over my shoulder when I write, a former editor of mine when I was writing theatre reviews for the Sunday Times’ Culture section, the Irish edition of the Sunday Times. He was a pretty good editor, and tough with it - you really had to be on your toes, every week, or he’d pull you up on the slightest inconsistency, or misuse of language, or whatever it happened to be. So he’s the guy who metaphorically reads over my shoulder while I’m writing, a kind of avenging guardian angel ready to swoop down on anything that’s loose or clichéd or unnecessary. Sometimes that can be a pain - most times it is a pain - but my ideal is to get to a point where I can write a novel where even he would nod approvingly. So maybe he’s my ideal reader.”

What was your journey as a writer?

“Well, it’s still on-going. The convention is that you’re only as good as your last book; as far as I’m concerned, you’re only as good as your next book. It’s like Beckett said - “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” I think if you’re a writer - or pretty much anything, really - and you think you’ve become as good as it’s possible to be, and that your journey is over, then it’s time to start thinking about a whole new journey, or a different way of making it.

“Going way back, though, I always loved to write - I was that geeky kid in English class who couldn’t wait for essay homework to be given out on a Friday afternoon, so I could go off and write a short story over the weekend. And I guess, without ever thinking about it then in concrete terms, that I always wanted to write a book. We had a class in school in Irish (gaeilge), which is officially Ireland’s first language, although relatively few people are fluent in it; anyway, the class is compulsory in Irish education. I used to spend my Irish classes writing spoof versions of Shakespeare plays blended with Monty Python stories, the plays being produced by the cast of the Muppet Show. No, seriously, etc. And then I’d get together with a few friends in front of a tape recorder, and we’d record an audio version of the play. A couple of years later, I was at college, and the first week we were there I was chatting to a guy about this; and the girl in the row in front, she was from the other side of the country, she turned around and said, “Did you write that? I heard that.” I couldn’t believe it; gobsmacked was the word. I have no idea of how the tape, or a version of it, got into her hands, but I still vividly remember the feeling that came with it. So maybe that was the first time I realised what it might be like to publish a real book.

“I kept on writing through college, and managed to finish a novel a year or so after I finished college, and although it was complete rubbish, it did confirm for me that at the very least I had the stamina to write a story of novel length. A few years after that, I got the idea for Eightball Boogie. It started out as a short story homage to the classic scene in private eye novels, in which the client appears in the private eye’s office with a case; and I liked the character of Harry Rigby so much that I decided to keep going with it, just to see how he’d fare out. I finished the novel about eighteen months later, not really having any idea of what I was doing, and sent out some chapters to two Irish agents; about six months later I’d had a rejection from one, and had almost forgotten about the other. I really had no expectations of the story; it was just a fun thing to do. Anyway, the second agent liked the sample I’d sent, and asked to see the rest, and about a year after that, in 2003, Eightball Boogie was published.

“I’ve written six novels since, although only two have been published: The Big O in 2007, and Crime Always Pays in 2009. My latest novel will be published later this year; formerly known as The Baby Killers, it now revels in the working title Absolute Zero Cool. It’s about a hospital porter deranged by his singular brand of logic, who decides to blow up the hospital where he works. It’s a comedy, by the way. John Banville has described it as a cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien, with which I am well pleased.”

What is your writing process?

“I have a full-time job as an arts journalist, and my wife and I have a baby girl, so I need to squeeze my writing time in around the margins of the day-to-day stuff. So my ‘process’ tends to be adaptable. When I am writing, though, by which I mean when I’m fully committed to a novel, then I write from about 5.30am to 7am, or 8am. I’m not a natural writer, at least not in the way that someone like Lawrence Durrell was, who could write 10,000 words at a sitting and then scrap the entire block the next day if he wasn’t happy with it, and write another 10,000. I tend to grind the words out very slowly, and it’s very much three steps forward, two steps back. I set myself a target of 500 words per day, and if I write 1,000 words, then that’s a very good day indeed. It takes a year or so to get a first draft together, and then I’ll let that sit for a few months, and go back to it with (hopefully) fresh eyes. After that, it’ll take as many drafts as it takes to get it right, or to the point where I think any more tinkering will be pointless or self-defeating.”

What authors most inspire you?

“Well, different writers inspire me for different reasons. When things aren’t going well, and I find myself bitching about all the pressures that are keeping me away from writing, I try to keep Jim Thompson in mind, and the times when he’d come home from the drudgery of his day job and lock himself in the bathroom with the typewriter on his knees, and start writing. Then there are writers like James Ellroy and Cormac McCarthy, who can tell a terrific story while manipulating language in a wonderfully inventive way. I love Lawrence Durrell for his facility with language, even though his novels aren’t particularly interesting plot-wise. John Connolly is a big inspiration, firstly as the first of a new breed of Irish crime writers to excel by the standards of the American crime novel, but also for his willingness to try different things, as with The Book of Lost Things, and his newer novels for young adults. But those names are just the tip of the iceberg - there are many, many writers I’d look to for inspiration, and each one for a different reason.”

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

“I’m going to pick a few, if that’s okay. Peter Pan by JM Barrie is an exquisitely written fairytale, it’s probably my favourite story. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - when I read the first paragraph of that novel for the first time, I had the very weird sensation that I was coming home, which is something I’ve experienced only rarely with a novel. Another one was The Magus by John Fowles, a brilliant example of a literary thriller, with the added bonus of being set in the Greek islands - although the last quarter of it, to my mind, is superfluous (Kingsley Amis, on being asked shortly before he died if he would change anything about his life, thought for a moment and said, “Well, I wouldn’t read The Magus again.”). But, as with inspiring writers, there are dozens and dozens of books I’d love to have written - The Catcher in the Rye, Treasure Island, LA Confidential, When Eight Bells Toll by Alistair McLean, Adrian McKinty’s As Dead I Well May Be, Pronto by Elmore Leonard, The Double Tongue by William Golding … it’s a very, very long list.”

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

“As an arts journalist, I have some decent contacts in the Irish media, but when Eightball Boogie was published, the publisher pretty much told me to sit on my hands, that they would take care of the marketing and promotion themselves - apparently it was considered unseemly for an author to get his or her hands dirty that way. I’ll never make that mistake again. Eightball got some terrific reviews, and was short-listed for the Irish Books Awards that year, and yet the amount of promotion and marketing it received was minimal at best. Which was, as you can imagine, very frustrating.

“When it came to The Big O, I co-published the novel with Hag’s Head Press on a 50-50 costs-and-profits basis, and we had literally no budget for promotion. So I established the Crime Always Pays blog, in part to promote The Big O, in part to celebrate Irish crime writing, and went forth into the blogosphere to spread the word. That was, and continues to be, a very rewarding experience. The online crime writing community was very welcoming, very helpful, and it played no small part in The Big O being picked up by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US on a two-book deal. Which was great in itself, but the bonus that I didn’t expect was that I’d meet so many like-minded people, and develop such strong friendships online. Of course, I’m very happy to receive mainstream (print) reviews too, and The Big O did very well in that respect; but the big advantage of promotion and / or marketing online is that it doesn’t feel like it’s promotion and marketing - it’s more of an on-going conversation, with an ever-expanding number of friends.

“When I published Crime Always Pays as an e-book, I couldn’t foresee at the time that it would coincide with a particularly busy period in my personal life, which meant that everything superfluous - writing, promotion, blogging, etc. - went by the wayside for a while. So I didn’t really have the time to invest in promoting Crime Always Pays, which is one of my few regrets about publishing it as an e-book.”

Why publish on Kindle?

“I suppose it would be quicker to give my reasons for not publishing on Kindle. I love print books, as most readers do, but what’s fundamental to me about books are the stories and the quality of writing. In other words, it’s the content rather than the delivery system that matters most, and at the same time, the e-book format incorporates a convenience and accessibility that the traditional book (and bookstore) doesn’t have. As well as that, I love the immediacy of e-publishing, and the freedom it affords an author to bypass the traditional publishing model, if he or she so chooses, and speak directly to the reader. It’s a brave new world in publishing at the moment, and the e-book format seems to me to be delivering what a whole new generation of readers require, and particularly a generation reared to be technology-friendly.

“But I think the potential inherent in e-books offers even more than that. My agent, Allan Guthrie, likens the impact of e-publishing to that of the introduction of paperback originals in the 1940s and '50s, particularly in terms of the horrified response from the conservative elements of the publishing industry, but I’d suggest that the long-term impact will be even more dramatic than that. I think, given the potential of the Kindle and various e-readers, and particularly in terms of the format and delivery system, a radical new way of storytelling is about to dawn, akin to the one that occurred when the oral tradition of storytelling developed into to classical theatre. In other words, I think the potential is there for a much more inclusive, immersive and interactive kind of storytelling. It’s very early days yet, of course, but e-books offer the opportunity to a writer to tell a story that incorporates sound and vision, digressions into other stories and information resources … It’ll get complicated, but I think storytelling is about to advance onto an entirely more complex plane.”

What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

“Well, it’s very early days for me in terms of Kindle publishing, so I wouldn’t presume to offer advice to anyone. For what it’s worth, though, my experience is that self-publishing to Kindle isn’t the quick-fix route to publishing that some people might think it is. If you believe that, then your potential readers are going to see that very quickly, and will move past your books to read someone who takes the publishing process every bit as seriously as the traditional publishers do. In other words, the fundamentals are every bit as vital: a good story, well written; a professional approach to editing, formatting, sub-editing; particular attention given to your first contact with potential readers, i.e., the cover. I’d also suggest that, once the book is published, that the writer bear in mind that self-promotion and marketing are just as important as the book itself; even if it’s the best book ever written, it needs to be brought to the attention of potential readers, or otherwise it’ll just wither away. As for any other advice, well, I’m very much at the beginning of a steep learning curve, so I’d appreciate any and all advice any readers can give me.” - Declan Burke

EIGHTBALL BOOGIE: on Kindle UK, Kindle US, many other formats, and free as a hard copy paperback.