“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, June 11, 2011

PLF: RIP

It’s with sadness that I interrupt this blog’s usual programme of log-rolling, trumpet blowing and self-aggrandising braggadocio to bring you the news of the passing of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor (pictured right, centre front row), who died yesterday at the advanced age of 96, and is very probably compiling exploratory notes on Heaven as we speak. To call him a travel writer is to understate the case by a considerable margin; Patrick Leigh Fermor, or more simply Paddy, was sui generis.
  Best known for his two-part trilogy A TIME OF GIFTS and BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER (although the third part is finished, apparently, and will be published in due course), Fermor’s MANI and ROUMELI - both accounts of remote parts of Greece - were the books that first seduced me, and introduced me to the travel writing of his friend and foil Lawrence Durrell, and that of Norman Lewis.
  Had he left behind only his writing, Fermor’s legacy would be assured. But Fermor wasn’t only a writer, and his exploits for the SOE during WWII, and particularly the part he played in the outrageously daring smash-and-grab that abducted General Kreipe from German-occupied Crete in 1944, is the stuff of Boy’s Own adventure stories. Indeed, Dirk Bogarde played the part of Fermor in the film subsequently made of the epic tale, which was adapted from Billy Moss’s ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT.
  Writer, soldier, hero, and a man amongst men, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s like will never be seen again.
  For more, clickety-click here

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Log-Rolling In An Istanbul Smoking Lounge

I was in the smoking lounge at Istanbul Airport a couple of weeks ago, as isn’t my wont, during a layover for our flight to Northern Cyprus, when I got an email from Kevin McCarthy, he of PEELER fame, that pretty much made my holiday even before it properly began. I’d given Kevin an m/s of my forthcoming ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL as part of my ongoing campaign to generate blurbs that might pique readers’ interest, with the proviso that if he didn’t like it, he was perfectly entitled to assert his right to remain silent and / or take the Fifth. I should also point out, in the interests of accountability and transparency, that I liked Kevin’s debut PEELER very much, and said so when I reviewed it for the Irish Times, and that I’ve since met with him a few times and shared a couple of beers. So you might want to factor in all the potential for log-rolling when I present Kevin’s verdict below. To wit:
“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is that rarest of things - a novel that makes you stop and think and scramble to finish at the same time. A novel of ideas as well as a first rate thriller, it sees Burke stretching the crime thriller genre until it snaps and then sewing it back together with some of the finest prose and funniest dialogue you’ll encounter this year. It’s a novel that reveals the perverse combination of anomie and lunatic optimism that all novelists feel when in the throes of creation. A brilliant x-ray revealing Greene’s shard of ice in the heart of every writer; the secret sharer in the dark cabin of the novelist’s imagination. Quite simply, one of the finest Irish novels written in a long time.” - Kevin McCarthy
  So there you have it. I thank you kindly, sir.
  By the way, the inimitable Critical Mick reviewed PEELER over at his interweb lair recently, with the verdict running thusly:
“Speaking as both a history nerd and a book nerd, there’s nothing better than discovering a new novelist who completely satisfies both interests. Kevin McCarthy has interwoven literature and historical research, fiction and reality. PEELER is a cracking good tale - an eye-opener in many ways. Consider it personally recommended from me to you - PEELER is the first addition to Critical Mick’s list of Best Books Read in 2011.”
  Meanwhile, and just as my spirits were flagging out in Cyprus, I got a google alert for Eoin Colfer, which proved to be an interview with Eoin published by Kirkus Reviews. The relevant (to me, at least) gist ran thusly:
PLUGGED nails that staccato noir style that keep crime novelists and airport bookstores in business. Stylistically, where do you draw inspiration for the writing of this novel?

“I have been immersing myself in this style for decades and for at least one of those would not read anything but crime. If nobody died horribly, I did not want to know. Of course I loved the classics, but we have our own classics standing the test of time right now: Michael Connelly and John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Mark Billingham, Ridley Pearson, Carl Hiaasen, Declan Burke, Colin Bateman … I want to get on a shelf with these guys and take a photo.” - Eoin Colfer
  Steady on, Tiger! Oh, you mean you want to take a photo of the books … right.
  Anyway, you can take it that I’m pretty damn flattered to be mentioned in such august company. Providing, of course, that Eoin wasn’t confusing me with either Declan Hughes or Edmund Burke. Which happens more often that you’d think. The latter, mostly.
  The Big Question: is log-rolling the new Irish national pastime and / or only growth industry in these benighted times, and should we lobby for it to be introduced as an Olympic sport? Over to you, people …

Thursday, June 9, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Joseph Finder

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?
John Fowles’ THE MAGUS. Does that count? If not, maybe THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain. Or Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE. Or how about THE DAY OF THE JACKAL? THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE? I could keep going, but it’s starting to get depressing. There are some really terrific crime novels.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Too many to choose from. But I guess I’d say the Jackal. I like the fact that he’s always “dining excellently” and hiring gunsmiths to design a sniper rifle that looks like a crutch and having kinky sex. I once built a French vacation with my wife around places the Jackal went. My wife and daughter and I have a ritual when we travel. When we’re in a foreign airport, we each choose someone most likely to be the Jackal. It might be a Franciscan nun or an old lady in a wheelchair. Whoever seems the most unlikely. Charles De Gaulle Airport is especially good for this game.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t believe in guilty pleasure. No pleasure should bring us guilt. As a guy who writes novels that are sold in airports, I’m no snob about reading popular fiction, though I have no patience for bad prose. I like some comic books and graphic novels, but they’ve gotten so sophisticated these days that they’re worlds from the Superman and Archie and Richie Rich comics I read as a kid. Some people might be surprised that I’m a big fan of Brian Azzarello’s graphic novels. 100 BULLETS was brilliant.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Nothing compares to getting so lost in a scene that I look up and a couple of hours have gone by. That’s what gets me through all the frustration.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I haven’t read enough Irish crime novels, but Declan Hughes’ CITY OF LOST GIRLS was fantastic.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Tana French’s THE LIKENESS could be a great psychological thriller.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst: People expect you to pick them up from the airport because you don’t have a real job. The best: being your own boss. And in the category of worst and best: the hours. Theoretically I set my own, but I’m never really not working.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Nick Heller continues his one-man battle against jerks, bullies, and liars at home and abroad.

Who are you reading right now?
Walter Tevis’s THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT. How did I miss that? Charles Cumming’s THE TRINITY SIX was a great old-school spy thriller. I’ve been rereading Chandler and John D. McDonald. Man, were they good writers.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. No question about it. You know, I’m a decent cook, and sometimes our dinner guests compliment me by saying, You should open your own restaurant. To which I reply, why the hell would I want to work that hard when I’d much rather eat a great meal prepared by someone else? Writing is one of the best jobs in the world, because you get paid to make stuff up. But it’s still a job. Reading, on the other hand, is like dining at a restaurant. Someone else does the hard work so you can sit back and enjoy the meal.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Surprise, reverse, reveal. They’re posted on my desk.

Joseph Finder’s BURIED SECRETS is published by Headline.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Daddy Never Told Me There’d Be Days Like These …


On the occasion of the launch of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY (Liberties Press) at the Gutter Bookshop, Dublin (left to right): Ken Bruen, Lily Burke, Declan Burke, Eoin Colfer. Just of out shot: John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Gerard Brennan, Jane Casey, Alan Glynn, Alex Barclay, Cormac Millar, Kevin McCarthy, Claire Coughlan, Ingrid Black, Gene Kerrigan, Dave Torrans, Tony Black.
  More to follow …
  Later: more pics from last night’s launch of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, these courtesy of the award-winning Bob of the Gutter Bookshop. Incidentally, anyone who’d like a multiple-signed copy of said tome should get in touch with Bob and Anne here


  (above, left-to-right): Professor Ian Ross, Arlene Hunt, John Connolly, Declan Hughes …


  … and (left-to-right): the semi-legendary and quasi-mythical David Torrans of No Alibis whilst on a jolly to Dublin, and some Ken Bruen guy who snuck in and started signing books before we could stop him …
  More to come …

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Down These Green Streets: Michael Connelly Speaks!

All Three Regular Readers will excuse me, I hope, for running two consecutive posts on DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, but it’s not often that a book appears with my name on the cover, and given that today marks its official launch, the fact is that I’m giddy as a three-legged donkey on ice. If you’ll bear with me, normal-ish service will be resumed on Wednesday, but in the meantime I offer for your delectation the Introduction to DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, which is penned by no less a personage than the great Michael Connelly (right). To wit:
Introduction
By Michael Connelly


“At first I thought I didn’t belong here. My name got me the invite but the truth was that I didn’t belong. I am a full and direct descendant of Ireland all right. My grandparents were Scahan, McEvoy, McGrath and Connelly, but still, what did I know of the true Irish experience? I’d been to Dublin and Belfast, quaffed a Guinness at the place on the river where it’s made and drank another pint at Davy Byrnes in an effort to conjure the ghost and inspiration of Joyce. But it hardly qualified me to introduce this book.
  “But then I started reading the stories and the essays and I came to realize there is a universal language in the crime story. What Tana French does in Dublin I try to do in Los Angeles. What John Connolly (spelling not withstanding) hopes to say with Charlie Parker is what I want to say with Harry Bosch. Same goes with Black, Bateman, Burke, and any of the other writers whose work is contained here in. We’re all in this together and there is only the language of storytelling.
  “Great storytelling knows no boundaries such as oceans or borders. It is universal and it is in embedded in the twisting helix of our DNA. It is arguable that the Irish DNA is indeed different, that it has extra chromosomes for metaphor, legend and wit. For such a relatively small place, its impact on and contribution to the world of literature has been disproportionately huge.
  “So, too, now in the shorter field of crime fiction. What you have in this book is the acknowledgement of some of the finest writers in the world in the understanding of the crime story’s important place in literature. These writers know the secret. That the examination of a crime is an examination of society. The form is simply the doorway we go through as we enter lives and worlds as fully realized as any in fiction, as we examine issues and societies and moral dilemmas that are important to all of us. I am drawn to these stories as an outsider with this inside information. As someone who knows the power and importance of what these pages hold.” - Michael Connelly
  We thank you kindly, sir. Meanwhile, the launch of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS takes place today, Tuesday June 7th, at the Gutter Bookshop, Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, with festivities kicking off at 6pm. All are more than welcome, and for a full list of the attending authors, who will be signing copies en masse, see the post below …

Monday, June 6, 2011

Down These Green Streets And Into The Gutter

And so the big day approacheth. Tomorrow, June 7th, sees the official launch of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY, said launch taking place at the award-winning Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin, at 6pm. As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS is a collection of essays, interviews and short stories by Irish crime authors addressing the phenomenon that is the quality and quantity of Irish crime writing that has emerged in the past decade or so.
  It goes without saying that all are welcome, and I’m hoping for a large turn-out, given that many of the contributors will be in attendance, including John Connolly, Tana French, Ken Bruen, Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, Alan Glynn, Alex Barclay, Eoin McNamee, Brian McGilloway, Niamh O’Connor, Jane Casey and Gerard Brennan, with Eoin Colfer proving gracious enough to agree to launch the tome on behalf of Liberties Press. I’ll be mooching around in the background too, but don’t let that put you off …
  It feels as if tomorrow has been a long time coming, and I’m sure the abiding feeling will be one of relief, given that it’s about three years or so since I first had the idea for GREEN STREETS. I’ll be proud of the book too, of course, but in an oddly dislocated way, I think: my name is on the cover, as editor, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the book belongs to the authors, and that the pride will stem from a delight in seeing a body of writers giving voice, in a range of diverse ways, to the very personal inspirations, compulsions and justifications for doing what they do. It’s hard to say how the book will be received, given that it’s something of a rattle-bag without any real precedent, but for now I’m just happy to see it on the shelf and take its place in the world.
  All the attending authors will be signing copies, by the way, with hardback and paperback editions available. Given the assembled talent, tomorrow evening represents a unique opportunity for crime fans to get their hands on a tome signed in multiple fashion by some of the best writers in the business. Oh, and there’ll be glasses of plonk too. How could you possible resist?
  For those keen to know more, I’ll be on The Last Word with Matt Cooper tomorrow evening, Tuesday, basking in the reflected glory of one John Connolly, who may be persuaded to contribute a few words to the discussion; and for early risers, I’ll be on TV on Wednesday morning, on TV3’s Ireland AM at 8.15am, shuffling nervously and hoping not to say anything too stupid in the company of Eoin McNamee.
  If you can’t make the launch, feel free to cross your fingers on our behalf. All good wishes gratefully accepted … And if you've a mind to order a copy, just clickety-click on the interweb lair of Liberties Press here ...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Here Comes The Summer


And so we’re back, to a grey and dreary Irish summer. You very probably didn’t notice, but I was away for the last two weeks, on holidays in Northern Cyprus, and a terrific time was had by all. Good food, more-or-less constant sun, fabulous views from the terrace of splendid sunsets (sample pictured, above), plenty of reading time, and plenty of time too to spend with Mrs Lovely Wife and the Princess Lilyput. All told, it was a nigh-on perfect holiday in a place with a fabulously interesting recent history, more of which anon …
  In the meantime, it’s on with the job of this blog, which is to big-up good books for the discerning reader, one of which is the latest from Benjamin Black, A DEATH IN SUMMER. Black - aka John Banville - got the royal treatment in the Irish Times yesterday, with an excellent interview by Sara Keating dovetailing with a review of A DEATH IN SUMMER by John Boyne.
  I know there are crime readers out there who resist Benjamin Black on the basis that John Banville has in the past been - allegedly - snobbish about ‘slumming it’ when he writes crime fiction, but in my very limited experience, while interviewing Banville for the DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS collection, he was entirely candid about the notion that Banville and Black write two different kinds of books, one self-consciously literary, the other self-consciously genre. From yesterday’s interview:
“I suppose some of my John Banville books could have been written by Benjamin Black: THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, maybe, THE UNTOUCHABLE, because they are to some extent crime books. I am not necessarily saying that one [type of book] is better than the other. They are just two different ways of writing.”
  Meanwhile, John Boyne had this to say in his review of A DEATH IN SUMMER:
“John Banville, a man for whom the term ‘serious literary figure’ might have been invented, often speaks of these books in a slightly offhand way, as if they were of less worth than his ‘Banville’ novels. This brings to mind Graham Greene, a writer who also divided his work into literary fiction and ‘entertainments’, although, when one considers that the entertainments included THE MINISTRY OF FEAR and OUR MAN IN HAVANA, one might think that Greene was doing himself a slight disservice.” - John Boyne
  Set in 1950’s Dublin, and featuring the amateur sleuth Quirke, the Benjamin Black novels have the outward appearance of sepia-tinged cosies. But - and without giving away too many spoilers - the ending of A DEATH IN SUMMER features the most hard-boiled, stomach-churning noir finale to any novel I’ve read this year, bar none.
  I’ve gone on record before to say that I’ll always enjoy the Banville novels more than the Black novels, but if A DEATH IN SUMMER is any indication of where Banville is going with the Black novels, I’m no longer sure that that’s the case. I certainly think that A DEATH IN SUMMER is worth the consideration of any serious crime fiction reader, and that it rewards a patient reading.