“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 21, 2011

Down These Green Streets: Kevin McCarthy on George V Higgins

Being the continuing stoooooooory of a quack who has gone to the - whoa. Different blog. This is the latest in an irregular series in which contributors to DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS pick their favourite Irish crime novel. Last week it was Ken Bruen on (koff) EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. This week, it’s Kevin McCarthy, the author of PEELER, on George V Higgins’ THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. To wit:
“STRETCHING things a little, I have chosen George V Higgins’ THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE as my favourite Irish crime novel. Born in Boston to Irish immigrant parents, Higgins served as a federal prosecutor in the US District Attorney’s office, writing novels in his spare time. It is said that he had written 16 before his first, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, was published to great acclaim in 1972. Drawing on his experience as a prosecutor - Higgins worked many notorious mob cases in New England - the novel charts the progress of gun dealer Eddie Coyle as he brokers and buys weaponry for a crew of bank robbers, touts to cops and feds, and confides in his bartender friend Dillon. All this is as one might expect from a serving federal prosecutor, but stylistically - and this is where Higgins is particularly Irish - the novel owes more to Joyce than Chandler. From the opening page, the story is told almost entirely in dialogue:
Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns. ‘I can get your pieces probably by tomorrow night. I can get you, probably, six pieces. Tomorrow night. In a week or so, maybe ten days, another dozen …’
  “Eddie and his friends ramble, digress, yarn and almost inadvertently add to the dense weave of the narrative. It is a novel that demands careful reading and faith in the novelist. It is dense, gripping, gritty and sad. It’s hard work that repays the reader with a smeared glimpse of how crime works in the real world, driven by self-interest, self-preservation and more than a little self-loathing. And that’s only the cops and feds ...” - Kevin McCarthy
  Kevin McCarthy’s PEELER is published by the Mercier Press.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Blitz

Based on Ken Bruen’s novel of the same name, Blitz (18s) opens with a very Irish swagger, as rogue London copper DI Brant (Jason Statham) confronts three young car-jackers while wielding a hurley. A hurley, he tells them, is used in an Irish sport called hurling, which is halfway between hockey and murder. His off-beat credentials established, along with his role as vigilante cop, Brant proceeds to investigate the serial killing of London cops by a killer calling himself ‘the Blitz’ (Aiden Gillen), aided by his new superior, Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), who is himself an outsider within the force, due to the fact that he’s gay. A satisfyingly meaty tale, Blitz is directed with no little verve by Elliott Lester (‘Love is the Drug’), who blends idiosyncratic characters, a blistering pace and an intriguing whiff of right-wing polemic to create a fascinating thriller. There’s more than a touch of Dirty Harry about DI Brant, but Statham’s understated take on the role, and some very neat comic timing when delivering deliciously black one-liners, give the character a fresh feel. Considine provides strong support, as does David Morrissey as a reptilian tabloid journalist, while Gillen visibly relishes the opportunity to go full-tilt bonkers as the sociopathic killer. A sub-plot concerning itself with one of Brant’s colleagues, WPC Falls (Zawe Ashton), could have been excised, but otherwise Blitz is a powerful thriller that delivers a scabrous social commentary alongside the sturm und drang of Brant’s self-destructive force of nature. Oh, and watch out for a neat little cameo from Ken Bruen himself, as a - what else? - priest officiating at a funeral. - Declan Burke

  Blitz goes on general release from May 20th.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Make Mine A Neat Scotch

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, I’ve been banging on at some length recently about DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, which is a collection of essays, interviews and short stories about Irish crime writing by the Irish crime writers themselves, with yours truly as editor. Happily, great and / or deranged minds think alike, for lo! News comes from Scotland of a tome called DEAD SHARP, edited by Len Wanner and published by Two Ravens Press. To wit:
So much more than just a collection of in-depth interviews with Scotland’s bestselling crime writers, DEAD SHARP is also a distinctive and edgy investigation of Scotland as a changing nation. Brimming with pithy, witty and sometimes just plain weird revelations, these interviews provide a unique and unforgettable insight into how writers think, and into the professional secrets of some of the genre’s greatest exponents. Includes interviews with:
Ian Rankin
Stuart MacBride
Allan Guthrie
Karen Campbell
Neil Forsyth
Christopher Brookmyre
Paul Johnston
Alice Thompson
Louise Welsh
“Len Wanner is the perfect interrogator, subtle, accommodating and incisive, and these interviews elicit many layers of deep, dark and vital intelligence.” – John Banville, author of The Sea

“This is fascinating reading and a real treat. A rare insight into the minds of a diverse group of crime writers, writing in one genre, living in proximity, but all with utterly different, individual voices.” – Peter James, author of Dead Like You

“These interviews cut to the very marrow of Scottish crime writing, deep, incisive and bloody. Bloody good fun too.” – Colin Bateman, author of Mystery Man

“Time was, the best and brightest author interviews were contained in three books: John Williams’ Badlands, and Craig McDonald’s Art in the Blood and Rogue Males. But blasting into the Zeitgeist is Len Wanner’s amazing, in-depth, funny and compassionate collection, showing a side of these authors previously unseen. A stunning, dark jewel in the library of great interviews.” – Ken Bruen, author of London Boulevard and Blitz

“Incorporating a comprehensive range of Scottish author interviews, all of them possessing a different slant on the business of professional writing, Wanner has compiled a must-read anthology of the witty, the wise, the weird and the wonderful. Wanner has encouraged his interviewees to illuminate, edify, entertain and amuse us, and yet has also persuaded them to give us something of real worth. Not only for the aspirant, but also for the weatherworn professional, there is a refreshing vitality and energy present in the text, as if we were right there listening, as if this was for our ears only. Highly recommended, not only as a fascinating peek behind the Oz curtain, but also as a journal of achievement from some of our brightest and best.” – R.J. Ellory, author of A Quiet Belief in Angels

A graduate of University College Dublin, Len Wanner holds an honours degree in German and English, an MA in Modern English, and is currently completing a PhD on Scottish Crime Fiction at the University of Edinburgh. As founder and editor of the online journal thecrimeofitall.com, he has conducted over 450 interviews with international crime writers. He has also been a juror for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and a freelance translator for Irish author Ken Bruen.
  Sounds like a cracker. The book is scheduled for release in August, by the way, so form an orderly queue now …

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

He’s a nice guy, Eoin Colfer. I sat down with him last week to interview him about PLUGGED, and was more than a little disconcerted to realise that he looks - with a new and neatly trimmed beard (not pictured, right) - not unlike Al Pacino’s younger brother. The quietly spoken one, who doesn’t need to beat his chest and hoo-yah! every five minutes.
  The result of that conversation will be turning up one these pages in a couple of days from now, but as always, many important things got left behind on the cutting floor when the interview went to press. Here’s Eoin on Ken Bruen, to whom PLUGGED is dedicated:
“The story I tell is that he’s the only writer I’ve ever written a fan-letter to. This was before I knew him. When I read THE GUARDS, I just couldn’t believe it, because you’re expecting one thing - and you get that - but you also get so much more. What I like about Jack Taylor is that he doesn’t really do anything, he just kind of walks around and goes to the pub, and things just happen to him. On occasion he’ll make the effort, but you’re basically rambling around Galway with this guy, and yet it’s incredibly entertaining and also touching, and you just know that it isn’t going to end well. It’s a bitter-sweet thing. If you read that series of books and someone comes into it you like, just don’t get attached to them, because if Jack likes them, they’re doomed. So it’s a weird way to read a series. It’s a bit like the way Dickens wrote about London, when people were afraid to like his characters, in case Charles decided to kill them off (laughs). So yeah, I’m a huge Ken fan. It’s just a nod, but then I wouldn’t want to copy him, even if I could. He’s copied so much now, and that’s when you know you’ve made an impact. He’s a real writers’ writer. I travel around the States a lot, and every crime store you go to, they love him. People here don’t realise how popular he is. Everybody loves Ken. An incredibly generous man, too, with his praise and his time, and his willingness to work with other people.”
  Hard to argue with that. I liked PLUGGED a lot, by the way. Here’s an excerpt from the review I wrote for the Irish Times:
“The result is a gloriously ramshackle comedy crime caper; as a narrative vehicle, the story is a getaway car careering downhill and losing wheels at every corner. Colfer, however, is too experienced a storyteller to get carried away himself. The propulsive chaos masks a palpable appreciation of the crime novel itself, not simply in terms of his playful subversion of the genre’s tropes, but also in Colfer’s willingness to warp the parameters of what is essentially a conservative narrative form.”
  Anyway, after the interview was finished, Eoin asked if I’d like a signed copy of PLUGGED to give away on Crime Always Pays. Erm, yes, please. To be in with a chance of winning said tome, just answer the following question:
PLUGGED is Eoin Colfer’s first foray into adult crime fiction. What non-crime author would you like to see turning his or her hand to crime writing, and why?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address, using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam monkeys. The closing date is noon on Friday, May 19th. Et bon chance, mes amis …

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome To Ireland, Ma’am

Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Ireland today, and naturally there’s more of a fuss being made of her visit than if she were the Queen of Sweden, say, or Swaziland. Eight hundred years of oppression, the Famine, the Black and Tans, Bobby Sands, yadda-yadda-yadda. I know that some handful of headbangers are apoplectic about the fact that the Republic of Ireland is welcoming the Queen of England to our country, and I also know that there are people who are fairly a-quiver with excitement at the prospect. Most people, as far as I can make out, are pretty blasé about it all - history is a fine thing, certainly, but it don’t boil no potatoes.
  It’ll be interesting to hear what the Queen has to say when she visits Croke Park, for sure, and there’s no doubting the historic importance of the optics of her visit, but really, very little will change. Ireland will go on treating Britain like some kind of older sibling, vaguely resentful of the bullying that went on years ago, a little envious perhaps of its self-confidence, all the while stealing its clothes and playing its games and supporting its teams - unless, of course, it’s England that looks like winning a World Cup - and tapping it up for jobs and the odd five billion now and again.
  As an Irishman, it should go without saying that if I could wave a magic wand, as Declan Kiberd said during the week, and erase the colonialism, the Famine, the Partition and the Troubles, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. The world is the way it is, and what’s gone, to paraphrase the song, is gone and lost forever. The question is whether we want to live in the past or look to the future. Some people are happier wallowing in the mire of history, given the certainty of its prejudices; some people are happier looking forward. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m one of the latter.
  I’ve liked most English and / or British people I’ve met, and I love the culture - I support Liverpool FC; I love The Stones and The Beatles, The Smiths and Joy Division; I love the novels of David Peace, Lawrence Durrell, William Golding, John Fowles, Graham Greene, and many, many more. I grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton, Match of the Day and Top of the Pops. Any time I’ve visited Britain, I’ve been treated with the kind of courtesy and good manners that the Irish are supposed to be famous for. I’ve never been particularly interested in the monarchy, and I’m opposed in principle to the idea that people are born to rule, even in a titular sense; but that’s neither here nor there for the next few days.
  The Queen of England has come to visit the Republic of Ireland, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be treated with the same respect and courtesy she offered Michael Fagan, when she chatted with him for ten minutes when he dropped by her bedroom unannounced. Welcome to Ireland, Ma’am - I sincerely hope you enjoy your stay.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summertime, And The Killing Is Easy …

Yours truly had a rather nice surprise today, when the post arrived and the latest offering from Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, dropped out of an envelope. A DEATH IN SUMMER boasts a fabulous cover and has all the makings, if the blurb elves are to be believed, of being a rather neat satire on ye olde Big House mystery. To wit:
When newspaper magnate Richard Jewell is found dead at his country estate, clutching a shotgun in his lifeless hands, few see his demise as cause for sorrow. But before long Doctor Quirke and Inspector Hackett realise that, rather than the suspected suicide, ‘Diamond Dick’ has in fact been murdered. Jewell had made many enemies over the years and suspicion soon falls on one of his biggest rivals. But as Quirke and his assistant Sinclair get to know Jewell’s beautiful, enigmatic wife Françoise d’Aubigny, and his fragile sister Dannie, as well as those who work for the family, it gradually becomes clear that all is not as it seems. As Quirke’s investigations return him to the notorious orphanage of St Christopher’s, where he once resided, events begin to take a much darker turn. Quirke finds himself reunited with an old enemy and Sinclair receives sinister threats. But what have the shadowy benefactors of St Christopher’s to do with it all? Against the backdrop of 1950’s Dublin, Benjamin Black conjures another atmospheric, beguiling mystery.
  I’m already taking away three Irish crime novels on holiday as part of my freshly patented ‘100% Only Top Quality Books And Suffer No Fools On Holiday’ campaign, said tomes being FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty, THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan and BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn. But I’m extraordinarily tempted to slip A DEATH IN SUMMER into the bag too, not least because the blurb is very suggestive of an Agatha Christie homage / pastiche. But that’ll make it 27 books in the bag, and who the hell can read 27 books in a fortnight? I mean, seriously, 26 is my absolute limit …

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: McGilloway, Paretsky, Nadelson, Hiaasen and Fitzgerald

The latest of my monthly crime fiction columns for the Irish Times appeared yesterday, featuring Brian McGilloway, Sara Paretsky, Reggie Nadelson, Carl Hiaasen and Conor Fitzgerald. It ran a lot like this:
Brian McGilloway has established a strong reputation with his Donegal-set series of Inspector Devlin novels, but LITTLE GIRL LOST (Macmillan, £12.99) is a standalone set in Derry, featuring DS Lucy Black of the PSNI. While investigating a case of a missing teenager, Black discovers a younger girl wandering through a snowstorm in her pyjamas. Her reward is an unwanted transfer to the Public Protection Unit, although Black has more pressing, personal concerns: she is the prime carer for her father, a former RUC officer who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while her ultimate superior is her mother, who walked out on Lucy’s family some decades previously. Effortlessly blending Black’s personal woes into her professional life, McGilloway weaves a taut police procedural in an unadorned style that belies the story’s complexity. With a backdrop provided by the PSNI’s ongoing evolution as a police force, and the tension inherent in the force’s attempts to police a vibrant Derry that is in the process of shaking off the shackles of its recent history, McGilloway has tapped into a fascinating and febrile setting. Black, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Jane Casey’s DC Maeve Kerrigan, a painfully self-conscious but thoroughly competent young woman whose ability to do her job has very little do with her gender. All told, it’s an impressive statement of intent from an author whose reputation grows with each successive release.
  BLOOD COUNT (Atlantic Books, £12.99) is the ninth in Reggie Nadelson’s series of Artie Cohen novels, in which the hardboiled cop investigates a series of unusual deaths in an upmarket Harlem apartment building. The fact that Artie’s on-off love interest Lily appears to be implicated in the deaths complicates matters, and renders Artie something of an ambiguous narrator, which in turn gives the reader a delicious frisson of being party to the subversion of both law and morality Nadelson unveils. It’s an issue-driven novel, as Nadelson invokes the recent history of the Soviet Union’s collapse, sleeper agents, and the complicated relationship between Communist Russia and the historically dispossessed African-Americans. The story takes place in the wake of Barack Obama’s election, which has the benefit of investing the historical elements with a contemporary immediacy, but there are times when Nadelson forsakes Artie Cohen’s hardnosed realism in order to hammer home a political message. The net result is a potentially enthralling snapshot of melting-pot New York that is at times undermined by the author’s digressions into the realms of polemic.
  Sara Paretsky is no less issue-driven in BODY WORK (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), the 14th novel to feature her iconic private eye, VI ‘Vic’ Warshawski. An artist’s right to portray herself onstage as she sees fit leads to the murder of a young woman, and Warshawski’s investigations subsequently uncover a conspiracy of silence generated by corporate giant Tintrey, a firm which offers security consultancy in Iraq. The consequences of sending unprepared and poorly outfitted men and women to war becomes a major theme, but Paretsky is too canny to allow her political concerns to dominate the narrative at the expense of pace, story and character. Warshawski, nearing 50, is a self-described feminist and street-fighter, a very modern woman who nonetheless harks back to the classic knight errants of private detective lore, as originally created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. The mix is a potent one, and BODY WORK confirms, yet again, Paretsky’s status as one of the great crime authors of her generation.
  STAR ISLAND (Sphere, £14.99) is Carl Hiaasen’s 12th adult crime novel, a blackly comic caper that features his recurring anti-hero Skink, the former Florida governor who now lives half-wild in the Everglades. A multi-character tale, it centres on wild-child pop star Cherry Pye and her ‘undercover stunt double’, Ann DeLuisa, who impersonates Cherry when the star is too befuddled with drugs and booze to function. Blackmail, kidnap and violence enter the picture when a sleazy paparazzo gets Cherry in his sights, and soon Hiaasen is merrily plumbing the sludgy depths of modern America as he pops off deadpan zingers at a host of targets, most notably the puddle-shallow cult of celebrity. Despite the many and (deliberately) implausible twists and turns, STAR ISLAND sticks to Hiaasen’s tried and trusted formula, delivering a polished comedy that will delight newcomers and satisfy established fans.
  Set in Rome, featuring an American-born Italian police detective, and written by an Irishman, THE FATAL TOUCH (Bloomsbury, £11.99) is Conor Fitzgerald’s sequel to last year’s debut, THE DOGS OF ROME. Commissioner Alec Blume investigates the murky world of art forgery, aided and abetted by his colleague Caterina Mattiola, former policeman Beppe Paolini, the mysterious Colonel Farenelli, and the memoirs left behind by a dead forger, the Irish artist-in-exile Henry Treacy. Beautifully written, the story proceeds at a stately pace which disguises an exquisitely complex plot, as Blume delicately negotiates the labyrinth that is Roman policing. Blume himself is a loner, an outsider and a potential alcoholic, but Fitzgerald cleverly reworks the police procedural’s conventions, much as the forger Treacy pays homage to the Old Masters, and makes a distinctive hero of Blume, particularly in terms of his ability to not only adjust to the corruption that is integral to Italian policing, but to employ it on his own terms. Chief among Blume’s virtues is his laconic sense of humour, which gives rise to deliciously dry and deadpan observations on virtually every page, most of them at Blume’s expense. Meanwhile, Treacy’s memoirs provide a secondary narrative strand that is equally compelling, and which neatly feed into the main story despite Treacy’s penchant for baroque and self-serving prose. The blend results in a scintillating novel that confirms and enhances Fitzgerald’s burgeoning reputation. - Declan Burke
  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.