“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, August 6, 2011

How Black It Was, How Black

Yet more John Banville / Benjamin Black fun and frolics, this time courtesy of The National, in an interview with Ben East in which Banville discusses his reasons for adopting a pseudonym to write crime fiction. To wit:
“I chose a different name because I was really keen to make sure people realised this wasn’t some sort of elaborate postmodern joke,” [Banville] says.
  I tell him that’s what I feared - irony-laden books from a ‘literary’ writer taking the mickey out of the conventions of crime fiction.
  “Oh no, I respect the genre too much for that,” he says. “More than respect, actually, I love crime fiction. I don’t feel bound by the conventions, either - I love working with them. Stravinksy once said that freedom is found within the rules, and it’s true. I’d like to go back to when the writer was an artisan - my perfect job would have been to be one of those writers somewhere in Hollywood, churning movies out in the 1950s, cigar stub in hand. Somebody saying to me, ‘We need two scenes by 4pm, and they’d better be funny, kid, or you’re off the picture’.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, ‘John Banville writing as Benjamin Black’ is the title of a conversation between Banville and critic Michael Wood at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, which takes place at The Parade Tower in Kilkenny Castle next Friday evening, August 12th. The festival’s brochure claims that Banville ‘has never given a dull interview’, which suggests that you’re guaranteed value for money for your €13 ticket. For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Cave



The sign on the door says ‘Toad Hall’ but I call it ‘The Cave’. Yea, verily, this is where the magic happens, on the rare occasion when it happens: the Writing Room.
  It’s a remarkably bright room for a cave, of course. For some reason I need lots of light, perhaps because most of my fiction gets written between the hours of 5am-7.30am. Light isn’t a problem during the summer months, when it’s generally bright outside by 4.30am; in the winter, though, which is always a more productive time for me, light becomes something of a metaphor, I think. Writing a novel, or the way I write one, at least, is a kind of spelunking, in which I advance further and further into the darkness of a cave with only a tiny light, aka the sentence I’m working on, to guide the way. I trip and stumble, bark my shins and bang my head on overhangs, walk into walls … and that light at the end of the tunnel, to further mangle the metaphor, is as often as not a psychopathic miner. Wot larks, eh Pip?
  As for the rest, well, you can’t tell from the photo above, but the cave is lined on three walls by books. Apart from everything else, floor-to-ceiling books make for wonderful insulation, and the most interesting wallpaper you could ever have. The shelves over the desk - the top two - are taken up by Irish crime novels, which have now begun to spill down onto the third shelf, and at the rate Irish crime writers are churning them out, I’m gonna need a bigger boat.
  The three shelves you can’t see, which lie to the right of the map in the top right of the picture, are taken up with work-related books: books for review, books to be read for interview prep, background material, etc. There is currently in the region of 75 books in that particular pile. The shelf to the top left of the computer monitor is my non-work reading, when I can fit it in; right now I’m dipping very tentatively into writing a spy novel, and I’m also in the first flush of a passionate affair with baseball, so it’s a mixed bag up there.
  The shelves to the left of the desk hold my own stuff, books I’ve been lucky enough to have published to date, occasionally in translation. So far I’ve been translated into French and Dutch (EIGHTBALL BOOGIE), with an Italian translation of THE BIG O to come early next year. As of this week, French and Italian publishers have expressed an interest in ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which officially launches next week; and an American publisher is taking a long, hard look at it too.
  I write on a PC, as you can see. The traditionalist in me wishes it was a typewriter, but about 90% of the work done on the PC is non-fiction, given that I work full-time as an arts journalist, and were I to lose the convenience of a computer, and particularly its internet connection, then the Writing Room would very quickly come to resemble a real cave. I learned to type as part of a pre-employment course I took in genealogy many moons ago, not long after bailing out of a Business-related degree I was doing at my local college; I don’t know what my typing speed is, but it’s not bad, even if the backspace key is the most worn on any keyboard I’ve ever owned.
  The monitor is ‘decorated’ with a passport picture of my little girl, Lily in the top left corner; a set of Greek kombolói, or worry beads; a tiny bas relief of a Greek fishing village, complete with windmill; and a quote from Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen: ‘I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.’
  Up on the shelf of my non-work reading material, by the way, I have a framed newspaper rip-out paraphrasing Samuel Beckett: ‘Try again, fail again, fail better.’
  Elsewhere on the desk are the writing essentials: a notepad and pen; a pack of rolling tobacco, along with papers and a lighter; and a mug of coffee. To paraphrase one of the Russians: ‘All I need to write is a man, a woman and an ashtray.’ I’ll be giving up the smokes (again) in the New Year; Lily is now old enough to ask why, if cigarettes are so nasty, as Daddy always says, he insists on smoking them. And there’s no good answer to that.
  The map on the right of the picture, by the way, is a map of Western Crete, which is where my current novel is set. The picture to the right of the PC monitor is a self-portrait by my uncle, Jimmy, who passed away three years ago. Formerly the Head Designer of Waterford Glass, Jim was something of an amateur scribbler himself, and an artist, a modest Renaissance Man in general, who was hugely inspirational and supportive of my earliest efforts to write. I like the idea that he’s keeping an eye on me as I stumble blindly through the cave.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE DEAD EIGHT by Carlo Gébler

THE DEAD EIGHT bears comparison with the work of Eoin McNamee and John Banville, both of whom have written literary fictions based on true-life crimes in Irish history. The case at the heart of Carlo Gébler’s latest novel is that of Tipperary man Harry Gleeson, who was executed in Mountjoy Prison in 1941 for the murder of Mary McCarthy.
  Gleeson was a mild-mannered farmer and a kindly neighbour to Mary McCarthy, who was framed for her murder in order to preserve the Christian reputation of the novel’s setting, the Tipperary town of New Inn.
  “THE DEAD EIGHT is not a documentary recapitulation,” Gebler informs the reader in an Afterword, “but a hybrid that combines some factual content with a great body of invented speculative material.”
  While Gleeson was the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice, Gébler’s fictional take on the story allows him to focus on the woman he was accused of murdering, Mary McCarthy, aka ‘Foxy Moll’. She too was a victim, although not simply of a brutally callous murder committed by men in order to preserve their reputation.
  Foxy Moll was mother to seven children, all of them to different fathers, and Gébler spends the first half of the story recounting Foxy Moll’s various trysts, all of which amount to a kind of prostitution, albeit one for which she was rewarded with gifts rather than money. The litany of encounters quickly becomes repetitive, as Foxy Moll is wooed, seduced and inevitably abandoned, as often as not as soon as she is made pregnant.
  Meanwhile, given that she received very little education in the orphanage where her mother left her, and that the greater part of the story is told through Foxy Moll’s eyes, Gébler’s style is authentically simplistic in its prose and necessarily limited in its worldview.
  That said, THE DEAD EIGHT is a novel which rewards patience. Pace and tension are noticeably enhanced in the novel’s second half, when two of the major players in Harry Gleeson’s wrongful conviction appear. JJ Spink is a former Republican activist who still retains a whiff of cordite, even as Foxy Moll falls for his blandishments; meanwhile, Sergeant Daly, newly stationed in New Inn, has a well-deserved reputation for bending the rules out of shape in the pursuit of his personal interpretation of law and order.
  It’s at this juncture that Gébler’s literary account begins to take on the quality of what Eoin McNamee describes as the Calvinist quality of noir fiction. Harry Gleeson’s fate is sealed as surely as if it were predestined. Justice and God are equally blind to the self-aggrandising scheming of Spink and Daly, while the New Inn community turns a cold shoulder on an innocent man in order to preserve its patina of respectability.
  It’s a powerful tale and one well told, even if the first half could have been pruned slightly for the purpose of creating a more propulsive narrative momentum, particularly as the blurb advertises the novel as an account of Harry Gleeson’s betrayal. Ultimately, however, THE DEAD EIGHT is much more interested in the fate of Mary McCarthy, and the forces - social, moral, cultural - that in the grander scheme of things made her a victim of a more far-reaching conspiracy, that of a poisonous misogyny that created the social conditions in which a woman can remain the plaything of men for so long as she remains useful, then be swept from the board like a sacrificial pawn.
  The story might span the first half of the 20th century, but it’s a tale that’s as timely and relevant as tomorrow’s headlines. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Down These Clean Streets A Man Must Go …

The reviews for DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS continue to trickle in, said tome being a collection of essays, interviews and short fiction by Irish writers on the phenomenon that is Irish crime writing. The latest comes courtesy of Michael Malone over at Crime Squad, with the gist running thusly:
“It is by turns discursive, instructive and entertaining, and is never less than fascinating. This needs to be in every crime writing fan’s library.” - Crime Squad
  We thank you kindly, sir. For the full review, clickety-click here and scroll down
  Elsewhere, and continuing in a similar vein, I recently read the forthcoming DEAD SHARP, a collection of interviews compiled by Len Wanner with a number of Scottish crime writers, including Ian Rankin, Louise Welsh, Karen Campbell, Paul Johnston and Allan Guthrie. A very fine collection it is, too, although I’ll keep my powder dry for the moment, as I’ll be reviewing it in due course. For more, clickety-click here
  Also forthcoming, although not until January, is another intriguing prospect: DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE, an investigation into Scandinavian crime writing by Barry Forshaw. Quoth the blurb elves:
DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE is a celebration and analysis of Scandinavian crime fiction, one of the most successful literary genres. Barry Forshaw, the UK’s principal expert on crime fiction, discusses books, films and TV adaptations, from Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s influential Martin Beck series through Henning Mankell’s Wallander to Stieg Larsson’s demolition of the Swedish Social Democratic ideal in the publishing phenomenon THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. In intelligent but accessible fashion, the book examines the massive commercial appeal of the field along with Nordic cultural differences from Iceland to Norway. Including unique interview material with writers, publishers and translators, this is the perfect reader’s guide to the hottest strand of crime fiction today, here examined both as a literary form and as an index to the societies it reflects. Includes Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Håkan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Camilla Läckberg, Liza Marklund, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Matti Joensuu and many others.
  Personally, and while I quite like DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE, I’d have thought a book about Scandinavian crime fiction should have been called DOWN THESE CLEAN STREETS. But that’s just me …

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Emerald Noir: The Purple Patch

As in sport, where you’re only as good as your last game, so it runs in books: every book needs to be judged on its own merits. That said, and staying with the sporting clichés, form is temporary but class is permanent. Which is a roundabout way of saying that the next couple of months should prove something of a purple patch for the Irish crime novel.
  For starters, John Connolly’s THE BURNING SOUL is published on September 1st, and at this stage you could pretty much stake the mortgage on Connolly providing one of the top quality private eye offerings of the year. Quoth the blurb elves:
Randall Haight has a secret: when he was a teenager, he and his friend killed a 14-year-old girl. Randall did his time and built a new life in the small Maine town of Pastor’s Bay, but somebody has discovered the truth about Randall. He is being tormented by anonymous messages, haunting reminders of his past crime, and he wants private detective Charlie Parker to make it stop. But another 14-year-old girl has gone missing, this time from Pastor’s Bay, and the missing girl’s family has its own secrets to protect. Now Parker must unravel a web of deceit involving the police, the FBI, a doomed mobster named Tommy Morris, and Randall Haight himself. Because Randall Haight is telling lies . . .
  A month later, Stuart Neville publishes his latest novel, STOLEN SOULS. A mere whippersnapper by the standards of John Connolly’s prodigious output, Neville’s third offering is rumoured - by Neville himself, as it happens - to be a more taut and streamlined affair that takes its cue from classic ’70s thrillers. To wit:
Detective Inspector Jack Lennon of the Belfast Police has watched the developing cooperation between Northern Ireland’s Loyalist gangs and immigrant Lithuanian criminals with unease. The Lithuanians traffic women from Eastern Europe and Asia for the Loyalists’ brothels, and they’re all making big money in spite of the recession that has stopped Northern Ireland’s peace boom in its tracks. Lennon has a more intimate knowledge of the city’s brothels than he’ll ever admit, but the surge in trafficked girls makes him question his lifestyle, especially considering he has his daughter, Ellen, to care for now. When a Lithuanian trafficker turns up dead on Christmas Eve with a shard of glass embedded in his throat, Lennon’s plans to spend the holiday with Ellen are put in jeopardy. The dead man was the younger brother of a ruthless Lithuanian crime boss, Arturas Strazdas, and the young Ukrainian woman who killed him has escaped her captors. Now Strazdas holds the Loyalists responsible and won’t let up until everyone involved has paid. A bloody gang war erupts across the city. Meanwhile, somewhere in Belfast, Galya, the Ukrainian girl, is running for her life, alone and scared, clinging to the darkest corners as the frozen streets empty for the holiday. Galya’s captors told her how the police deal with illegal immigrants, that she is a criminal in a foreign land, and the law will not help her. And now she is also a murderer. She cannot be discovered by anyone, not the cops, not the gang who held her prisoner. There is only one person she can go to: a man she met on her first day as a prostitute, a friend who gave her a crucifix and an address to run to if she ever got away. He’d saved four prostitutes before her, he’s told her, and she can be his fifth. But when Galya arrives at the address, she finds something more evil than she had ever imagined.
  Another third novel offering comes courtesy of Ava McCarthy, whose HIDE ME arrives towards the end of October, and features her series heroine, hacker specialist Harry Martinez, going undercover in the Basque region of Spain. Quoth the blurb elves:
Security expert Henrietta ‘Harry’ Martinez has arrived in beautiful San Sebastian, birthplace of her Spanish father. But she’s not here to explore her roots. She’s been hired by glamorous casino boss Riva Mills to expose a scamming crew, headed by ruthless conman Franco Chavez. When the crew’s expert hacker is brutally murdered, Harry goes undercover as his replacement. As she infiltrates the dangerous criminal organization, she begins to understand that Chavez’s schemes reach far beyond the casino sting. Suddenly trapped in a deadly global underworld that encompasses international terrorism, organized crime and drug cartels, Harry learns that when you play this game, you play for your life…
  Yet another third novel, BLOODLAND, arrives from Alan Glynn, again on September 1st - we can only hope that the Dark Lord Connolly doesn’t consign Glynn to some dank dungeon for his temerity. Coming in the wake of the critically-acclaimed WINTERLAND, and surfing the name recognition that comes with having your debut novel adapted into a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, Glynn’s BLOODLAND sounds epic, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
A tabloid star is killed in a helicopter crash and three years later a young journalist is warned off the story. A private security contractor loses it in the Congo, with deadly consequences. In Ireland an ex-prime minister struggles to contain a dark secret from his time in office. A dramatic news story breaks in Paris just as a US senator begins his campaign to run for office. With echoes of John Le Carré, 24 and James Ellroy, Alan Glynn’s follow-up to WINTERLAND is another crime novel of and for our times – a ferocious, paranoid thriller that moves from Dublin to New York via Central Africa, and thrillingly explores the legacy of corruption in big business, the West’s fear of China, the role of back room political players and the question of who controls what we know.
  Lastly, but by no means leastly, and as I mentioned last week, the inimitable Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman releases his NINE INCHES on an unsuspecting public in mid-October. Abandoning for the moment the less-than-intrepid Man With No Name hero of his recent post-modern series, Bateman returns to the iconic and only slightly more intrepid Dan Starkey, about whom the blurb elves have this to say:
Dan Starkey, the ducking and diving hapless investigator, takes centre stage again in this brilliant new novel by the master of comic crime. Radio shock-jock and self-styled people’s champion Jack Caramac is used to courting controversy - but when his four-year-old son is kidnapped for just one hour, and then sent back with a warning note, he knows he may have finally gone too far. Jack has no choice but to turn to Dan Starkey for help. Recently chucked by his long-suffering wife Patricia, Dan has finally given up on journalism and is now providing a boutique, bespoke service for important people with difficult problems. Dan resolves to catch whoever kidnapped Jack’s son - and very soon finds himself in the middle of a violent feud between rival drug gangs, pursued by jealous husbands, unscrupulous property developers and vicious killers as the case spirals ever more out of his control ...
  So there you have it: private eye novels, rollicking thrillers, conspiracy epics, and comedy thrills ‘n’ spills. Buckle up, folks, it could be a bumpy ride …

Monday, August 1, 2011

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS

Published by Liberties Press, DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY is a collection of essays, articles, short stories and interviews by Irish crime writers on the subject of the phenomenal rise of Irish crime fiction.
  Contributors include John Connolly, John Banville, Tana French, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Arlene Hunt, Alan Glynn, Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen, Jane Casey, Gene Kerrigan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Declan Hughes, Cora Harrison, Paul Charles, Colin Bateman, Alex Barclay, and many more. Michael Connelly provides the foreword.
  To purchase a copy at the Liberties Press website, please click here.

  Praise for DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS:
“An admirably thorough compendium … It’s everything you want to know about (Irish) crime fiction, its roots and varied influences, but it also offers a vivid insight into the dark heart of modern Ireland.” - Alison Walsh, Sunday Independent

“Notable for its compelling and accessible history of crime fiction in Ireland … an obligatory title for serious fans of Irish crime fiction - and there’s also enough here to hold the interest of the casual reader.” - Alex Meehan, Sunday Business Post

“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.” - Richard L. Pangburn

“[A] compelling new collection of essays, interviews and fiction from an unrivalled collection of crime writers ... An enticing cyanide-laced confection of everything from comic capers to urban noir.” - The Newsletter

“A fascinating collection … a timely and insightful examination of a homegrown literary scene that has quietly produced a formidable canon of work.” - Hot Press

“It is by turns discursive, instructive and entertaining, and is never less than fascinating. This needs to be in every crime writing fan’s library.” - Crime Squad

Sunday, July 31, 2011

All’s Fair In Love And Escaping The Slush Pile

Following on from yesterday’s post on ‘advice’ (koff) to aspiring writers, here’s an intriguing development: the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair, a gathering planned for next March at which unpublished writers can pitch their novels to a selection of agents, editors and publishers. To wit:
The inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair for first-time novelists will take place on March 10th, 2012. The Novel Fair aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents.
  A judging panel of experienced industry professionals will be asked to select a shortlist of successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market, the only requirement being that the writer has not published a novel before.
  Publishers and agents will be invited to come along on the day to the Irish Writers’ Centre and meet these writers in person. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis of their novel, the finished novel itself and biographical material.
  Representatives from Penguin Ireland, Transworld, O’ Brien Press, Lilliput Press, Hachette Books, Liberties Press, Little Island and Arlen House will be present on the day. Literary agents such as Marianne Gunn O’Connor, Yvonne Kinsella, Emma Walsh, Ger Nichol and Paul Feldstein will also be present.
  This is an incredible opportunity for first-time novelists.
  A couple of interesting things. One, it states nowhere in the terms and conditions that said writers need to be Irish, although perhaps that’s a given. Two, the closing date for Novel Fair submissions is November 11th; if your entry is accepted, you’ll need to have the novel completed by mid-January. That being roughly six months hence, it’s quite a nice deadline to impose on yourself.
  For all the details, clickety-click here