“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, May 7, 2011

Down These Green Streets: Gerard Brennan on Adrian McKinty

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY will be published later this month by Liberties Press, with yours truly responsible, in my role as editor, for all gaffes therein. Inspired by Stuart Neville’s big-up of Gene Kerrigan’s latest novel, THE RAGE, I thought it might be a nice idea to ask some of the GREEN STREETS contributors to nominate their favourite Irish crime novel. Last week it was Adrian McKinty on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN. This week: Gerard Brennan on Adrian McKinty’s DEAD I WELL MAY BE:
“When asked to name and explain my favourite Irish crime novel I panicked a little. There are so many of them out there and I can barely choose my favourite author at the best of times. The more I think about it the harder it is to narrow down. And even now that I’ve made a decision that I’m somewhat happy about, I kind of want to cheat and name my favourite trilogy rather than my favourite book. That would be the Dead Trilogy by Adrian McKinty. But damn it, I need to learn to be more decisive. So I’m picking the first McKinty book I read. DEAD I WELL MAY BE. From that ‘Belfast Confetti’ opening, I was hooked. McKinty’s debut crime novel has a gangster vibe going for it that would appeal to those who guiltily rooted for Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Omar White (The Wire) and/or Walter White (Breaking Bad). Also included -- top notch writing, a badass protagonist and some of the most terrifying prison scenes I’ve ever read. And to the best of my knowledge, nobody gets called a Sligo cow-fucker in the first book, which has got to mean something to Declan Burke, right?” - Gerard Brennan
  Erm, no. I know nowt about cow-fuckers, in Sligo or anywhere else. Mooo-ving on swiftly …
  Staying with GREEN STREETS, the very generous folk at Shots Magazine are currently hosting a competition / giveaway for two copies of said tome, and the best bit is that you don’t even have to answer any pesky questions. Clickety-click here for your chance to win a copy
  In other news, I wandered along to the Gutter Bookshop last night to hear Brian McGilloway and Sean Black read from their new tomes, LITTLE GIRL LOST and GRIDLOCK, respectively. Well, that was the plan, but Sean Black refused to read at all, given that his American hero Ryan Lock might come off a little mid-Atlantic if rendered in a Scottish accent. All good clean fun it was too, with the McGilloway-Black double-act very neatly marshalled by resident MC Guttershop Bob, who’s not entirely unlike Sideshow Bob, with a tad less hair. Kevin McCarthy of PEELER fame dropped by, as did Arlene Hunt of Arlene Hunt fame, and a very pleasant evening was had by all. Well, by me, anyway. Best news of the night came twice, as it happens, when I was approached, separately, by two gentlemen wishing to inform me that they would be publishing novels in the very near future, both of which sounded like pretty impressive prospects. We’ll name no names as of yet; suffice to say that already it looks like the Irish crime writing debut quota is well on is way to being filled.
  While we’re on the subject of impressive prospects: Ava McCarthy’s forthcoming title, the third in the Harry Martinez series, will be called HIDE ME. It’s due in October, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Harry Martinez, ace hacker turned private eye, is hired to expose a casino cheating crew in the Basque country. Her native Dublin no longer feels like home and her already fragile relationship with her mother has broken down for good. So she figures it’s time she escaped to explore the Spanish side of her identity. Her client is Riva Mills, head of a casino empire who believes someone is using computers to cheat her roulette wheels. The head of the crew conning the casinos is Franco Chavez, and once upon a time, Riva meant the world to him. But now she’s his target and he’s out to exact a bitter revenge. When the crew’s expert hacker is brutally murdered, Harry is pulled in as a replacement. As a dangerous criminal underworld opens up for her, Harry begins to see that for Chavez, cracking the casinos is just pocket change. She is so desperate to hide away and deceive even herself, that she gets trapped in a world of global corruption, where the stakes are sky-high and the currency is death…
  ‘The currency is death’? Hmmm, sounds like an ECB / IMF bailout. Anyhoo, Ava McCarthy is just one of the panellists who’ll be taking part in an event at next weekend’s Kildare Readers’ Festival, on Saturday, May 14th, where she’ll take to the podium in the company of Alex Barclay and the aforementioned Arlene Hunt, with yours truly doing his level best to bring some badly needed glamour to the occasion and asking the occasional question. For all the details, clickety-click here
  Another potentially intriguing crime writing event is Murder in the City, which takes place on Wednesday, May 11th, under the umbrella of the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. Quoth the PR elves:
Enter the murky world of crime and murder as writers from Czech Republic, Finland, France, Italy and Scotland read and discuss their works. An atmosphere of suspense and intrigue will be created by musicians from Dublin Institute of Technology. Crime journalist and writer, Niamh O’Connor, will introduce this exhilarating cast of contemporary crime writing talent.
  Sounds like it could be a cracker. For all the details, you know what to do

Friday, May 6, 2011

We Are All In The Gutter, But Some Of Us Are Looking At The Stars

Off with yours truly this evening to the award-winning Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, where Brian McGilloway will be holding court and reading from his latest offering, LITTLE GIRL LOST, in the company of Sean Black, who may or may not be reading from his forthcoming tome, GRIDLOCK, which should be touching down at a shelf near you on August 4th. Should be a good evening, with perhaps a Pimms or two to follow, given that today is LITTLE GIRL LOST’s official publication date. If you’re around about Dublin this evening, Friday May 6th, wondering where all the Irish literary stars are hanging out, swing by the Gutter Bookshop around 6.30pm and we’ll give you directions.
  Incidentally, Brian - due to the magic of electronic recording devices and suchlike - will be interviewed by Sean Rocks on RTE’s Arena arts programme this evening. Clickety-click here at about 7.30pm for the Derryman’s dulcet tones …
  In other Irish crime fiction-related news, the very generous Michael Malone interviews yours truly over at his blog, May Contain Nuts. Sample Q&A:
Q: One of the many things in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE that fascinated me was Harry Rigby’s relationship with his psycho brother. Tell us where that came from.

A: “As with all the ostensibly bad guys in my books - Rossi in THE BIG O, Karlsson in ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL - I have a lot of sympathy for Gonzo, who is Harry’s brother in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. He’s an exaggerated version of the milder kind of sociopath that people tend to meet in their lives - the bullying boss at work, the aggressive moron who lashes out at the end of the night after one too many beers, the passive-aggressive manipulator we’ve all met at some point in our lives. Gene Kerrigan makes the point that most criminals aren’t all that different to law-abiding citizens, they simply want to pay their mortgage off quicker, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals ...”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Elsewhere, the estimable Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders fame reviewed Gerard O’Donovan’s PRIEST for the Philadelphia Inquirer last weekend. Peter being Peter, a straightforward review wouldn’t suffice, and so the novel is reviewed in the context of O’Donovan’s ambition, as quoted by Peter, to ‘put the crucifix back at the heart of Irish writing’. Which is an entirely admirable ambition, in my opinion, so long as said crucifix is being used as a stake in the heart of an Irish church that has abused the trust of its faithful by sheltering sexual deviants who preyed on vulnerable young children. But that’s just me. Anyway, you can find Peter’s review here
  Finally, good news for The Artist Formerly Known As Colin Bateman: DR YES has been short-listed for the Crimefest ‘Last Laugh’ award, a gong that Bateman has taken home in the past. By which I mean, he has won it in the past, not that he snuck in and stole it and smuggled it back to Norn Iron. Anyway, the competition will be fierce this year: also shortlisted are Chris Ewan for THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VEGAS, and the entirely bonkers OLD DOGS, by the lovely Donna Moore. Good luck to all concerned, and all the shortlists for the Crimefest weekend can be found here

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: BLOODLINE by Brian O’Connor

BLOODLINE is the debut novel from Brian O’Connor, the Irish Times’ racing correspondent. The novel opens with a bang, when a young stable-hand, Anatoly, one of a number of Ukrainians who work at Bailey McFarlane’s horse-racing yard, is discovered in a disused stable with the back of his head smashed in.
  It subsequently transpires that Anatoly was dabbling in cocaine, and that he was gay, although O’Connor goes out of his way to stress that illicit drug-taking is very much a rarity in Irish racing; indeed, he also goes out of his way to suggest that homosexuality would be considered a rarity too.
  The murder has, initially, little impact on Liam Dee’s life, but O’Connor is very good at fleshing out the effect of the violent death on the world of Bailey McFarlane’s stables. Anatoly might be a humble stable-hand, but O’Connor expertly creates a stables that is almost a tiny village in itself, and one in which the death of the young man has a traumatic impact, not least on the group of Ukrainians.
  He’s also very good at detailing the pragmatic response of those engaged with the horses, whose concern is first and foremost that the events do not impact negatively on the horses themselves. BLOODLINE is strong on the relationship between racing folk and their horses, and the nuances of the bond between riders and mounts.
  Liam Dee is horse-whisperer-in-chief, a champion jockey in his mid-thirties who is starting to experience some doubts about the wisdom of continuing his career. He’s a very likeable character, hard as nails (as you’d expect a jockey to be), but a thoughtful, empathic character too, particularly in his dealings with Bailey McFarlane. His age, and the effect of a new romance with the Ukrainian beauty Lara, results in Liam wondering if his life might not be due a new beginning. As an unusually tall jockey (‘half an inch under six feet’), Liam is constantly battling with his weight - some of the most sharply observed sections of the book detail Liam’s struggle to shed a pound or three immediately before a race, in order to make the correct weight.
  O’Connor’s insights as a racing correspondent give all of these elements an authentic feel, although it’s notable that most of the conflict Liam Dee experiences is internal. The racing world is notorious for its scandals, particularly when it comes to allegations of race-fixing, but O’Connor makes no reference whatsoever to any kind of illicit behaviour by jockeys in this respect. Indeed, he goes out of his way to emphasise their raw-boned nobility, and the camaraderie that exists between the jockeys. The racing world depicted in BLOODLINE isn’t exactly squeaky clean, but by the same token there’s much less of a whiff of sulphur than a casual reader might have reasonable expected. The characters play hard, bend the rules, and take every advantage going in a very tough sport, but there’s no suggestion that they cheat one another, or resort to artificial stimulants, etc., either for jockeys or horses.
  One of the more interesting aspects of BLOODLINE is O’Connor’s decision to people the riding stables with Ukrainian immigrants. It’s plausibly done, and at one point O’Connor has Lara, a gorgeous blonde Ukrainian, refer to her Cossack heritage to explain her expertise with horses. For all that the Ukrainians are accepted for the ability to do the job required, however, there remains an undertow of conflict. Shortly after the death of young Anatoly, a fist-fight breaks out in the yard between the Irish stable-hands and the Ukrainians. The violence allows festering resentments to come to the surface: the Ukrainians believe they are not being given their full due, while the Irish lads resent the fact that foreigners have come to Ireland to take jobs from Irish men and women, particularly at a time of economic downturn. While O’Connor is broadly sympathetic to the plight of immigrants far from home, there are also strong hints - Anatoly’s dabbling in cocaine, for example - that he is also referencing the extent to which some immigrants can bring their particular brand of criminality with them when they move to a new country.
  O’Connor has cited Dick Francis as an influence, as you might expect, and the scenes in the novel in which Liam is riding give a visceral sense of what it must be like to be aboard a ‘half-ton of horse flesh’. Similarly, the scenes in which Liam purges himself - ‘wasting’, they call it - in order to make the right weight for a ride are equally convincing. Liam more or less starves himself for most of his life, endures long slogging runs to work off weight, and tortures himself in saunas to sweat off even half a pound.
  All told, BLOODLINE is a smart, authentic murder mystery set in the Irish racing world, a quietly assured debut that whets the appetite for more. - Declan Burke

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

“Harry J. Rigby: A Passive Self-loathing Loser In A Violent, Unhappy World.”


As all Three Regular Readers will know, I had an article published in the Irish Times a couple of weeks ago on ebooks, which I mention again because it prompted journalist Helena Mulkerns to get in touch with me. Helena is currently writing a feature for the New York Times’ International Edition on the same subject, which is nice, but what was nicer was that Helena - way back in the day, before EIGHTBALL BOOGIE was published - put together a mock cover, blurb, etc., for the book, for an MA in Publishing she was taking at the time. The result is what you see above, and very smart it is too, and particularly the blurb, although the cover image is pretty funky too.
  Anyway, it’s been a busy old week for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. As I mentioned last week, and as of Sunday, I increased the ebook’s price from $0.99c to $2.99 as part of an experiment, the results of which I’ll post at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Paul Brazill posted this interview with yours truly that verges on the surreal, while Michael Malone posted Part 1 of an interview I did for May Contain Nuts, both of which were huge fun to do.
  EIGHTBALL also managed to pick up two reviews in the last few days. The first, at Mystery File, comes courtesy of Michael Shonk, with the gist running thusly:
“This is not the Ireland I grew up reading about. Not a lovable cop or leprechaun in sight. Instead there is Harry J. Rigby, a passive self-loathing loser in a violent, unhappy world, a place where everyone is corrupt and soulless. Where all you can dream for is to find one part of your miserable life that will give you reason to wake up in the morning. Even the harsh ugly land is doomed from the corrupt system that sacrifices clean air, land and water for a profit. This is a land of noir where fate is the heartless father of hopelessness … There are sections of this book that are a delight to read, usually when Harry is dealing with the crimes. There are sections of this book that can be difficult to get through, usually when Harry is whining about his personal problems. But stay with it, you will be rewarded with an exceptionally intense ending.” - Michael Shonk
  It’s an interesting warts ‘n’ all review. For the rest, clickety-click here
  Elsewhere, Tim Niland at Music and More has this to say:
“Burke writes very well, with a snarky and sardonic sense of humour, delving deep into the depths of noir that should make fans of Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie happy. The complex and ever changing narrative is wrapped up nicely in the end and overall Burke does a fine job telling a compelling crime story.” - Tim Niland
  For more, clickety-click here. And if you’re of a mind to check out EIGHTBALL, herewith be the link

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: TOPLOADER by Ed O’Loughlin

In taking the so-called ‘war on terror’ to its illogical conclusion, Ed O’Loughlin has written a very funny satire on war and its makers. Set in and around the ‘Embargoed Zone’, a walled-off territory in which an entire population is branded as terrorist, the story incorporates many elements familiar to anyone who is au fait with modern warfare and its reporting: embedded journalists, remote-control murder, realpolitik espionage, and a hapless people demonised, brutalised and pounded to despair.
  Had O’Loughlin played his strokes with a straight bat, as he did in his debut novel, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize, then it’s likely the novel would have been a powerful and worthy novelisation of contemporary conflicts from around the globe. By setting the story in the near future, however, and giving it a blackly comic tone, O’Loughlin offers a hellish vision that combines a dystopian fatalism with a ghastly surrealism.
  The result is comedy with dum-dum crosses carved into its punchlines, so that the horror explodes whenever O’Loughlin targets a new victim. Chief among these is Flint Driscoll, a blogger-journalist who blithely broadcasts his prejudiced opinions on the terrorists of the Embargoed Zone without ever planting his army-issue boots on the ground. Driscoll is aided and abetted by the conniving Captain Smith, his lackey Daddy Jesus, and their inept superior, Colonel White. Grotesques to a man, none of the characters would be out of place in CATCH 22 or DR STRANGELOVE as they set about manipulating the political situation for the sake of their personal advancement.
  While the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, however, it’s in exploring the lives of the oppressed inhabitants of the Embargoed Zone that O’Loughlin lifts his novel out of the realms of audacious farce, by investing the story with poignant and profound truths about the human condition. By contrast with Flint Driscoll, O’Loughlin has had his boots on the ground in a similar situation, when he served as Middle-East correspondent for Australia’s ‘The Age’ newspaper. Thus we get heartbreaking detail amid the headline-grabbing scenes of carnage caused by the latest rocket-firing drone, when “dozens of kites wavered red and white and gold in the last rays of sunshine, each the focus of a child’s tethered dream.”
  Meanwhile, the daily, grinding struggle for life’s basic requirements experienced by Joseph, the teenage Flora and all the other inhabitants of the Zone is compared by O’Loughlin in one memorable analogy as that of bulls in a bullring, as Flora explains to a soldier who has found himself lost behind enemy lines:
  ‘There’s a lot of money in bullfighting …There’s power, too. That’s why the Roman emperors spent all their money on circuses …’
  ‘That’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard.’
  ‘Thanks,’ she said.
  Cynical, funny, harrowing and revelatory, TOPLOADER is one of the most inventive Irish novels of recent times. - Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post.

  While we’re on the topic of TOPLOADER, one of its protagonists, blogger-cum-journalist Dr Flint Driscoll (right), offers his insights into contemporary international events via his website, blowback.net. Here, for example, is Dr Flint on the assassination - alleged - of Osama Bin Laden:
“So that’s it then. We finally got the Big O. Victory is at hand. It’s time to bring the boys and girls back home from Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and Germany. President Barack Hussein Osama finally gets Uncle Sam some genuine pay-back for 9/11, and we can close this long and painful chapter in America’s gilded history.
  “Wrong, people. Wrong.
  “I have yet to see any convincing proof that whoever they – and we don’t know who “they” really are – killed in Pakistan last night was really Osama Bin Laden. We don’t even know that a raid took place. Sure, they can show us some grainy photos of a crashed helicopter, but what does that prove? Mysterious black helicopters crash all the time in the woods near my house in Virginia. The difference is that this time the UN aren’t covering it up.
  “These are ruthless, Godless, cunning people, who will stop at nothing to cling to their dream of global jihadi liberal domination. If you can fake a long-form Hawaii birth certificate, which uses a funny type of half-laminate paper, and has a Jack Lord watermark embedded against the grain, then this sort of thing is child’s play. Wise up, my friends: remember, these are the same people who faked two entire baseball World Series in 1992 and 1993, so the Toronto Blue Jays could appear to win. As if.
  “So what really happened in Abbottabad last night? Well, I’ve been working the blogosphere all night, and I’ve come up with a pretty solid picture of the real turn of events. According to security sources whom I can’t name here, for technical reasons, the principle target of the “raid” was an Osama Bin Laden lookalike, who has been kept “on ice” by the national Democratic leadership and its Pakistani/Al Qaeda allies since shortly before the 2001 terror atrocities. With President Osama’s re-election campaign only eighteen months away, the time was ripe to cash in on this particular chip. Cue ticker-tape and hoopla. Hail to the Chief.
  “So where is the real Osama Bin Laden, you ask me? Where he’s always been. Alive and well and living in Paris, like Khomeini before him, ready to go active again whenever the anti-American global elite needs him. A guy like that is far to useful to kill for real.” - Dr Flint Driscoll
  For more in the same vein, clickety-click here

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Genii Are Out Of The Bottle

Referring to the current generation of Irish crime writers as geniuses might seem a little extravagant to the casual observer, and very extravagant indeed to anyone paying attention, although it doesn’t seem extravagant at all to yours truly, mainly because I’m never happier than when mangling the facts to fit a dodgy headline. That said, some of the most interesting voices in crime fiction today come courtesy of an Irish larynx, even if such voices have a distinctively American twang - John Connolly, Alex Barclay, Ken Bruen, Casey Hill, Declan Hughes, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty and most recently Eoin Colfer are some of the Irish writers who have set recent novels entirely or in part in the good old US of A, and it’s probably fair to say, all the while generalising wildly, that the Irish crime novel is more influenced by its predecessor from across the Atlantic rather than by similar offerings from across the Irish Sea.
  So it’s appropriate, I suppose, that the first sighting of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY should come courtesy of Amazon.com, where said tome is now available for pre-order. GREEN STREETS is a collection of essays, interviews and short stories written by Irish crime writers about the current phenomenon of Irish crime writing, which is rather impressive when you consider that a country with a population not much greater than that of the wider Chicago area has produced a generation of crime writers of the calibre mentioned above, a generation which also includes Colin Bateman, Arlene Hunt, Alan Glynn, Paul Charles, Gene Kerrigan, Brian McGilloway, Eoin McNamee, Cora Harrison, Cormac Millar, Niamh O’Connor, Kevin McCarthy, Jane Casey and Ruth Dudley Edwards, all of whom contribute to GREEN STREETS. More recent additions, who arrived too late to be considered for the book, include Conor Fitzgerald, William Ryan, Ava McCarthy, Rob Kitchin and Brian O’Connor. All told, it’s a hell of a line-up, and that’s even before we get to the maverick outriders, the likes of Twenty Major, Captain Barbelo and Garbhan Downey, who seemed determined to drag the Irish crime novel into a surreal parallel universe-shaped dark alleyway, where conventions of form and formula get the righteous shoeing they deserve.
  I’m biased, of course, but being Irish, and a crime writer, and the editor of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, I’m irrationally but inordinately proud of the variety, quality and quantity of very fine Irish crime novels that have appeared in the last number of years. Here’s hoping that GREEN STREETS will help to confirm what the cognoscenti have known for some time, that the Irish crime novel, as Fintan O’Toole writes in the book’s Afterword, “has not merely begun to blossom but has become arguably the nearest thing we have to a realist literature adequate to capturing the nature of contemporary [Irish] society.”
  Incidentally, if you’re likely to be in the Tallaght area of Dublin on this coming Wednesday, May 4th, and you fancy hearing more on the subject of Irish crime writing, Arlene Hunt and yours truly will be doing a Beauty and the Beast turn on that very subject, at Tallaght Library at 7pm. For all the details, clickety-click here …
  Elsewhere, Liberties Press - or ‘the rebel Liberties’, as I like to call them, given that they bucked the trend and made the decision to publish GREEN STREETS - are currently featuring an interview with yours truly over at their blog, where they quiz me on crime writing in general, and my own humble offerings in particular. If you’re interested, clickety-click here
  Finally, an interview of a rather less genteel kind can be found over at Paul Brazill’s blog, You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? Sample Q&A:
PDB) Is it true that Val McDermid once confused you with Dec from PJ & Duncan?
“If only. Val McDermid once confused me with Declan Hughes. When my lawyers sued for defamation, she tried to smooth it all out by deliberately confusing me with John Hughes. So that was okay, but then she made some sarky comment about how I was more ‘Sixteen Candles’ John Hughes than ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ John Hughes. I said, “Break my heart and I break your face.” So she picked me up, turned me around and used my head to plunge her blocked toilet. That was when I got the first idea for the book that became ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, actually. I owe Val a great debt of gratitude I may never be able to repay.”
  For the rest, you know what to do

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Down These Green Streets: Adrian McKinty on Flann O’Brien

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY will be published later this month by Liberties Press, with yours truly responsible, in my role as editor, for all gaffes therein. Inspired by Stuart Neville’s big-up of Gene Kerrigan’s latest novel during the week, I thought it might be a nice idea to ask some of the GREEN STREETS contributors to nominate their favourite Irish crime novel. First up, Adrian McKinty on Flann O’Brien’s comic masterpiece, THE THIRD POLICEMAN:
“Like Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Seamus Heaney, Flann O’Brien spent his formative years in the bleak, rainy moorland of western Ulster. Someday a Ph.D. student will write a thesis explaining how this dour, sodden, landscape helped produce four of Ireland’s best and wittiest writers but the mystery need not detain us - anyone who has ever tried to coax directions out of a County Tyrone farmer will understand why west Ulster humour is necessarily dark, laconic, labyrinthine and filled with irony.
  “Beckett and Wilde were at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen but O’Brien, like Heaney, was of humbler stock, born Brian O’Nolan in Omagh, in 1911. After education at parochial school Brian moved to Dublin, joined the Irish Civil Service and began writing. His first book was the precocious and brilliant AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, a surrealistic epic of Irish country life, published in 1939. Unfortunately the world had other things on its mind in 1939 and AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS died the death of most debut novels.
  “Still Flann stuck it, producing several more books including THE HARD LIFE and THE DALKEY ARCHIVE. By the late 1960’s AT-SWIM-TWO-BIRDS had been rediscovered as a classic and O’Brien reputation was solidified after the posthumous publication of THE THIRD POLICEMAN in 1967.
  “The plot of THE THIRD POLICEMAN is not easy to summarize, as it’s not only the most comic but also the most surrealistic Irish crime novel ever written. The one-legged unnamed hero (or anti-hero) of the story has murdered a man for the contents of a black box. The black box may contain money or a magic talisman or his soul or the key out of purgatory. The hero is being investigated by rural Irish policemen who are obsessed by bicycles and he in turn is obsessed by the ramblings of an insane college professor and the mysterious Third Policeman, who may be Satan or an angel or God himself. I appreciate that this doesn’t sound promising but the books is saved from becoming a pretentious period piece by its humour. THE THIRD POLICEMAN is very, very funny.
  “Admirers of THE THIRD POLICEMAN are many and it is not a stretch to suggest that Flann O’Brien is a Celtic Kafka or an Irish Borges. Predicting stuff is a mug’s game but I’d give Grand National odds that when Hannibal Lecter and even (dare I say it) Harry Potter are forgotten in the mists of time, people will still be reading THE THIRD POLICEMAN, not for some ‘Important Books’ college course, but rather for the sheer, unbridled joy of spending a while in the company of a truly weird comic genius.” - Adrian McKinty
  Adrian McKinty’s FALLING GLASS is published by Serpent’s Tail.