“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, July 16, 2011

Happy Birthday-Ish, Holden Caulfield

I had a piece in the Irish Times during the week, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of JD Salinger’s CATCHER IN THE RYE, which featured contributions from authors Sarah Webb, Ed O’Loughlin, Eoin McNamee and Belinda McKeon. It opened up a lot like this:
If you really want to know about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap …” - J.D. Salinger, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

Routinely hailed as ‘the great American novel’, J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ offers a story that is on the face of it modest in ambition and scale. First published on July 16th, 1951, it follows the disaffected Holden Caulfield on his perambulations around New York city late in December, 1949, in the wake of his expulsion from an upmarket prep school. Intended by Salinger for an adult readership, Holden’s intensely first-person tale of his experiences amid the snobs and ‘phoneys’ of his social set has fired the imagination of generations of adolescents ever since.
  “God, I loved that book,” says Sarah Webb, herself an author of young adult novels, and who first read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ at the age of 15. “I read it in one all-night sitting, gobbling up every page. The next night I turned back to Chapter 1 and started all over again. I remember slowing down towards the end, distraught to be coming to the end. I wanted the reading experience to last forever.”
  Holden Morrisey Caulfield first appeared in the short story ‘I’m Crazy’, which was published in Colliers in 1945 (a previous version had been accepted in 1941 by The New Yorker, but not published, as it was thought too bleak in tone). A reworked version of ‘I’m Crazy’ would eventually provide the material for the first chapter of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, establishing Caulfield’s expulsion from Pencey Prep, and also the unfussy, stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative that seems to bypass the critical faculties to speak directly to the teenage heart.
  The novel sells roughly 250,000 copies per year, with total sales topping 65 million …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, July 15, 2011

Zero Hour: An Invitation To The Launch Of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL

Zero hour approaches, folks. The date for the official launch of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL (Liberties Press) has been set, and it’s August 10th, at the award-winning Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin. The Dark Lord, aka John Connolly, has been good enough to agree to crack a metaphorical bottle of champagne against AZC’s bows, although given the extent of the Dark Lord’s dominions, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he didn’t have to rush off somewhere in the meantime to suppress an uprising by disaffected minions, and thus miss out on the dubious honour of being personally associated with yours truly’s humble tome.
  Anyway, August 10th at the Gutter Bookshop, with John Connolly sprinkling his inimitable brand of fairy dust, is the plan for now, and here’s hoping it all comes off.
  It should go without saying, of course - although I’ll say it anyway - that you are all invited along. If you can make it, I’d be delighted and humbled in equal measure.
  For those of you new to these pages, the back-page blurb of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL runs thusly:
Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?
  “Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”
  Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.
  Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

  “ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN
  For a variety of other writers’ opinions on ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, including those of John Banville, Reed Farrel Coleman, Melissa Hill, Colin Bateman, Deborah Lawrenson, Adrian McKinty, John McFetridge, Scott Philips and Donna Moore, clickety-click on the AZC cover to your left.
  And there you have it. Here’s hoping I’ll see you all on August 10th …

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Absolute Masterpiece Of Crime Fiction

I should declare an interest before writing this post, because John Banville (right) was kind enough to write a very generous blurb for my forthcoming tome ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. So you may want to take my opinion with a Siberian mine-sized pinch of salt. That said, I find his mischief-making contrarianism hilarious. Here’s some excerpts from his recent interview with the LA Times:
A DEATH IN SUMMER finds dour, bumbling pathologist Garret Quirke trying to get to the bottom of the apparent suicide of a Dublin newspaper owner. Banville tells readers, only partly in jest, to expect an “absolute masterpiece of crime fiction.”
  And, later:
“My books are better than anybody else’s. They are just not good enough for me,” he said.
  And here he is on bog-standard crime fiction:
Banville said he is turned off by graphic depictions of violence both in crime novels and in Hollywood movies. He derides the hugely popular Stieg Larsson novels as crude stories “written with the blunt end of a burned stick.”
  Mind you, for a man who gets regularly pummelled by crime fic fans for his snotty attitude to his mystery writing, which he writes under the open pseudonym of Benjamin Black, Banville appears to be working a two-way street:
“Black was able to help Banville,” he said over breakfast at the Knickerbocker Club on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, explaining that the Banville novel he just completed, ANCIENT LIGHT, was improved by his crime fiction. “Black has got used to doing plots and keeping all that balanced, and Banville has learned some of that from him,” he said.
  For the full interview, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Benjamin Black is spreading like a virus throughout the US. I mentioned last week that Janet Maslin was full of praise for A DEATH IN SUMMER in the New York Times, but the raves are piling up elsewhere. To wit:
The Daily Beast on ‘The New Master of Noir’;
A review from the LA Times: ‘a beach read for the brainy’;
The Chicago Tribune: ‘some of the most beautiful sentences this side of heaven's rewrite desk’;
Irish Central: ‘utterly delightful’;
  On the other side of the pond, the UK reviewers are also queuing up to lavish their encomiums:
Mark Lawson in The Guardian on ‘a fascinating addition to the ranks of the defective detective’;
Barry Forshaw in The Independent: ‘a highly professional and engaging piece of work’;
  So there you have it. Benny Blanco, on a roll. Hark, do I hear the sound of axes grinding?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All About Eve

I’m way behind the curve on Deborah Lawrenson’s latest offering, THE LANTERN, which has already been chosen as a TV Book Club pick in the UK. Still, better late than never, eh? To date Deborah Lawrenson has written historical dramas spiced with mystery - THE ART OF FALLING, the Lawrence Durrell-inspired SONGS OF GOLD AND BLUE - and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both. THE LANTERN is being pitched as a Gothic take on the historical drama, with the shadow of REBECCA falling across the Provence landscape. Quoth the blurb elves:
When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel. Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel’s last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve’s voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house’s history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers’ dark history has a chance to repeat itself.
  THE LANTERN was published last month in the UK, and will be published in the US in August. If it’s anything like Lawrenson’s previous offerings, it’ll be a cracker. You have been forewarned …

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A 51st State of Mind

When I was putting together DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, I thought Declan Hughes would be a shoo-in for an essay on the history of the crime narrative in Irish theatre. Dec Hughes was, of course, a critically acclaimed playwright before he turned to writing the Ed Loy series of novels, and there are many - yours truly among them - who hope that he might yet be persuaded to return to the craft, just so long as it doesn’t interfere with his writing novels.
  Anyway, Dec Hughes declined to write about the Irish theatre and crime, preferring instead to pen an essay on the American influence - and particularly the troika of Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald - on the contemporary Irish crime novel, and fascinating reading it makes too. The essay is up on Scribd, with the opening running a lot like this:
Irish Hard-boiled Crime: A 51st State of Mind
By Declan Hughes


Irish people can be especially prone to magical thinking, to put it at its kindest. We seem extremely reluctant to relinquish our belief in phenomena that neither experience nor reason will justify. The most notable and poignant example of this is our relentless credulity regarding the existence and quality of the Irish Summer.
  Although year after year, a solitary sunny day is followed by unending weeks of overcast skies and squally rain, hope springs infernal. In my case, this belief, or “superstition”, took root when I was thirteen, during the (genuinely) long hot summer of 1976. Every morning I would assemble a lunch and spend the day on Whiterock beach in Dalkey, alone or with friends. I swam and read and looked longingly at girls in bikinis and wondered how that, and everything else, was going to go. And that’s pretty much how I spent my subsequent teenage summers, often in delusional defiance of the weather. I never got a job, because I didn’t drink back then, could get all the books I needed from the library, experienced a certain amount of success in finding out more about those mysterious bikini-wearing creatures, and didn’t want anything else money could buy as much as I wanted to be on the beach and in the sea, even if the rain fell and an east wind tested your faith in the Irish summer to the limit.
  There was music in the air during that time, of course, and for all that punk rock had happened and post punk followed in its wake, and for all that I had developed a ferociously puritanical line in rock snobbery which permitted me to like virtually nobody except the Clash and Bruce Springsteen (which was convenient, since I could barely afford their records, let alone anyone else’s), the soundtrack I still associate with Whiterock during those years was the Eagles’ Hotel California. (You didn’t have to buy Hotel California: in the late ’70s in South Dublin, it played for free from every shop doorway and bedroom window). Cowboy boots and flared Levis and plaid and cheesecloth shirts and droopy moustaches and long hair were the order of the day for the half-generation ahead of me, and their musk of patchouli oil and dope smoke seemed like an intoxicating promise, a hazy benediction from alluring adepts of a laid-back cult I longed to join. The cult did not just dream of America, and more specifically, California; it seemed to believe it was already living there. And as I gazed out to sea on whichever blue sky day I could find or recall, I knew I was worthy of confirmation in their faith, for that was where I believed I was living too. The Ireland that presented itself to us day-to-day in the ’70s was still run by priests and nuns and decrepit old bogmen in tweed suits, and claimed by murderous bigots intent on shooting and bombing everyone who disagreed with them into a fantasy vision of the glorious republican past; nobody who dreamt of truth, beauty, youth and love could tolerate either as a reality ...
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, those of you who missed the podcast of Declan Hughes and your humble scribe shooting the breeze about GREEN STREETS on RTE’s Arena programme should clickety-click here

UPDATE: Richard L. Pangburn reviews DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS over at Little Known Gems, suggesting that the book is, “An anthology … filled with brilliant ideas and surprising points of view, an examination of Irish crime literature by those who now write it, packed with verve and humour that sparkles, a treasure chest of emerald noir.” With which we are very well pleased. We thank you kindly, sir …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Rum Do And No Mistake

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest / Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum …” The Somali pirates are popping up all over the place these days (although mostly off the coast of Somalia, it has to be said). Elmore Leonard and Stella Rimington are two authors to have set their novels against a backdrop of Somali piracy, and now sometime Dublin resident Stephen Leather is adding his pieces-of-eight’s worth with FAIR GAME. To wit:
Kidnapping is one of the cruellest crimes - lives are put at risk for cold, hard cash. But when Somali pirates seize the crew of a yacht off the coast of Africa, they bite off more than they can chew. One of the hostages has friends in high places and Spider Shepherd is put on the case. He goes deep undercover in an audacious plan to bring an end to the pirate gang’s reign of terror. But as Shepherd closes in on his quarry he realises that there’s much more at stake than the lives of the hostages and that the pirates are involved in a terrorist plot that will strike at the heart of London.
  FAIR GAME, by the way, is Leather’s eight Spider Shepherd novel, and his 25th in total, by my reckoning. Prolific stuff. “If I get any spare time I’ll be working on a new thriller set in the United States,” says Leather on his blog, “using Richard Yokely, who appears in several of the Spider Shepherd books. And I really want to do a sequel to PRIVATE DANCER. I just wish there were more hours in the day.”
  Settle down there, squire. Leave a little paper in the rain forest for the rest of us working chumps …