“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 13, 2011

Billy The Id Rides Again

Well, it can only go downhill from here. The launch of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL during the week was terrific fun, and this morning the first print reviews hove into sight, injecting yet another blast of adrenaline into what has already been something of a hi-octane week. First off, Kevin Power over at the Irish Times, under the very cute headline, ‘The Metafictional Adventures of Billy the Id’:
“Thus begins a fascinating hybrid of MISERY, AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, and who knows what else … There’s a thematic richness, and a level of stylistic control, to ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL that makes it soar. Far from being ‘just’ a cleverly postmodern crime novel, this book is, among other things, a meditation on the writing life; a parable about terrorism; a bleak satire of the Irish healthcare system; and a fable about life, death and family responsibility … ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL isn’t quite like anything else you’ve read, in any genre. It’s clever, intimate, passionate, and funny: altogether a wonderful achievement.” - Irish Times
  Stephen King, Flann O’Brien and John Fowles? Those burbling sounds you hear are yours truly trying to mumble my thanks whilst struggling to cope with being about two fathoms out of my depth. For the full review, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, over at the Irish Independent, Edel Coffey is in equally generous mood. To wit:
“What is most refreshing about Burke’s book is its ambition. It is rare that a so-called genre book attempts to wrest free of its constraints and do something entirely different. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a genre-buster. Clever, funny, challenging, surreal, unexpected and entirely original.” - Irish Independent
  For the full review, clickety-click here
  So there you have it. I genuinely don’t know what to say to all that, and it’s probably best if I say nowt - people in shock do tend to say the daftest things. For your usual ration of garrulous non sequiturs, tune back in tomorrow, by which time normal service should have resumed …

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Johnny Shaw

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?
It’s a tie between THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley and THE LONG-LEGGED FLY by James Sallis. THE LAST GOOD KISS was one of the first books that showed me that a crime novel could have a grounded emotional story and still be fun. And as far as Sallis goes, you might as well put every book up there. Jim Sallis (he said I could call him Jim and I have the email to prove it) is truly in his own league.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
My favorite characters aren’t people I’d want to be. They’re too messed up or violent or flawed. Great characters like Lew Griffin, Nick Stefanos, Cal Innes, Jack Carter, Hoke Moseley, etc., just don’t have fulfilling lives. So I guess I’m going to have to go with Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. At the very least, sociopaths can just get more done in the course of a day.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
You’re interviewing a guy who still buys Iron Maiden albums the day they come out. In terms of pleasures, I’m not capable of guilt. However, I will admit to a soft spot for men’s serial adventures of the ’70s & ’80s. And I’m not talking the A-list books like The Executioner, Remo Williams, or Nick Carter. I really dig the second and third tier characters like The Pusher, The Revenger, The Penetrator, and The Butcher. I mean, how can you go wrong with a book starring The Swamp Master (set in a post-apocalyptic Cajun hell—Look it up!)? I’m actually in the process of setting up an online magazine devoted to new short stories in the same vein as these characters. It’s called BLOOD & TACOS. Retro, but with new characters and new stories. As well as, reviews of some of the original paperbacks.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing a really great pub quiz question. I used to write pub quizzes on the side for fun and money. A good question was answerable, but required some thought on the part of the player. Sadly, it’s probably my best writing medium. Here is one of my best questions: What Academy Award-winning movie’s title is a homonym for two different sounds made by asses? (The answer is at the bottom)

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’m sure that half the people you interview give this answer, but I’m going to have to go with THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (I believe it was titled THE TWELVE over there) by Stuart Neville. It’s just a damn good book.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Adrian McKinty’s DEAD I WELL MAY BE. The pace and scope lends itself to a movie. It’s action-driven with just enough character to keep it grounded. The scenes are very cinematic and as you read, you can just see the whole thing. McKinty writes a mean violence.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best and worst thing about writing is that I have no one to complain to. While I have real-life problems just like anyone else, the problems that come with writing are enviable in comparison. If the worst part of my day is that I wrote a bunch of crap pages or some reviewer didn’t like my book or I’m pissy about some marketing thing, then that’s a good day. I’ve had real problems, and brother, writing ain’t one of them.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A dying man might ask for anything: forgiveness, a compassionate ear, a cold glass of water. Jimmy Veeder's father asked him for a Mexican prostitute. DOVE SEASON: A JIMMY VEEDER FIASCO is a contemporary crime novel set on both sides of the Mexican border. It has been twelve years since Jimmy set foot in the desert. But as his father's cancer spreads, Jimmy returns to share what little time they have left. He never expected to be sent into the Mexicali underworld in search of a hooker named Yolanda. With the help of an erratic-at-best childhood friend and too much beer, Jimmy stumbles among the violent, the exploited and the corrupted. The investigation and the events that follow ultimately force Jimmy to confront family secrets and question everything he held to be true about his father.

Who are you reading right now?
I’m just starting Charlie Williams’ BOOZE AND BURN (originally published as FAGS AND LAGER), the second Royston Blake book. We have the same publisher, so I was stoked (chuffed, for your readers) to get advance copies. After that, depending on reading obligations, I’ve got I WAS LOOKING FOR A STREET by Charles Willeford and KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED by Craig Johnson on the top of the stack.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. Reading is pleasure. Writing is work.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
“Drinky. Fighty. Fun.” Oh, and the answer to the quiz question is: Braveheart (Bray-Fart).

Johnny Shaw’s DOVE SEASON is published by Amazon Encore.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

ZERO Plus One

It’s all gone a bit Declan Burke on these pages for the last couple of weeks, for which I must apologise to the Three Regular Readers - please bear with me, and normal-ish service will be resumed. But then, it’s not often I get to publish a book, or more accurately have one published on my behalf, which is what officially occurred last night at the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, when Liberties Press released ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL into the wild.
  A very nice night it was too, and no one had an eye out, at least not to the best of my knowledge. The big revelation of the night was that John Connolly, when he hits form, lies not only through his teeth but through every pore of his body. That said, it was very nice to hear the very nice things he said as he launched our humble offering, especially as the Gutter Bookshop was thronged with friends and family who might have been a tad concerned that this whole writing malarkey was a complete waste of time. For me, at least. Anyway, the Dark Lord was joined by others of the Irish writing fraternity, past, present and future, including Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes, Alan Glynn, Joe Joyce, Gene Kerrigan, Frank McGrath, John Kelly, Rob Kitchen, Alan Monaghan, Seamus Smyth, Ed O’Loughlin, KT McCaffrey and John Banville. The cockles of my heart were fairly toasted by the time it was all over, and heartfelt thanks to everyone who turned out to lend their support.
  What’s rare is wonderful, which makes the publication of one of my books particularly wonderful, to yours truly if no one else. That said, the good vibes emanating from a room full of family and friends made the evening even more special. An evening to treasure, absolutely, and thanks to everyone from far and near who sent texts, emails, tweets and all manner of communications to wish us well. You were there in spirit, folks.
  I’ve had quite a few queries about the availability of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL in e-format, by the way, and last night also marked the official launch of the e-friendly version of the book. For those of you interested, the links are here:
ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL e-book on Amazon.uk

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL e-book on Amazon.us
  So there you have it: AZC, very shortly to alight on a shelf near you. All we can do now is wish it a bon voyage, a fair wind and gentle beachings …

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Doing It For The Kids

There’s a scene in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie in which - spoiler alert - the main character, the hyper-intelligent chimpanzee Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), speaks. It’s a dramatic moment, as you can imagine, although I did think the filmmakers were over-egging the pudding unnecessarily: language and speech separates humans from every other species on the planet, but verbal communication isn’t a function of intelligence only; it also depends on physical evolution, and the development of the vocal tract, which took a couple of million years in the pre-human species.
  What’s undeniable, though, is the crucial importance of speech, language and storytelling to the human race. Not long ago, an Irish Minister for Education made a pronouncement along the lines of a child deprived of books and storytelling is in effect an abused child. The words he used were a bit strong, I think, but I agree with the sentiment: every child should be exposed to books, language and storytelling from as early an age as possible. At its most basic level, a mastery of communication is essential to function in the world. For those to take to it, however, and thrive on words and stories, it’s a doorway into another world entirely, and a way of seeing the world - and in theory infinite worlds - in a whole new dimension.
  And so Lily and I trotted off to our local library a few weeks ago for the very first time, and delighted I was to discover that being three years old was no bar on her joining the library; indeed, there’s no minimum age at all. Lily has loved books for quite a while now (any kind of storytelling, actually; she’s as happy watching a princess movie on TV as she is reading), although it does make her a little sad that Daddy’s books are ‘broken’ - i.e., that they’re all words, and no pictures ...
  I have no idea of how far Lily’s love of books and stories will take her. Maybe it’s just a phase she’s going through, and she’ll grow out of it. But it’s only in retrospect that I realised that my own home was fairly stuffed with books when I was a child, and that reading stories, and being told stories, was so commonplace as to be unremarkable at the time. Part of me wishes that she engages so fully with books, language and stories that she grows up to write her own, because to my mind there’s no finer way to waste your life; although part of me, too, hopes she doesn’t, because there can be a lot of lonely heartbreak involved. Still, on this day, which is a Red Letter Day for yours truly, with my latest tome being officially launched, all I can say is that books matter far more than whether or not one more writer or less gets his book published. What matters more than anything, I think, is that the wonderful world of words and language and stories is made available to our kids. Sweet dreams, Boopster …

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ZERO Minus One

The Big Day dawns tomorrow, said day being the launch date of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and yea, verily, I’m bricking it. Hard to say why, really; at this stage, the book is what it is, and no amount of fretting is going to make it a better book. Also, anyone who turns up to the launch is very likely to be there in support mode, and anyway there’s a strict policy of no little boys allowed, lest one of them starts shouting about the emperor and his radical sartorial minimalism.
  No, it’ll all be okay on the night, once I get past the speechifying part. The idea of rambling aloud about AZC in front of a group of peers, friends and family is bowel-loosening enough, but the bit where I’ll be obliged to read some of AZC aloud? The horror, the horror …
  Anyway, there’s been a few nice snippets of promo on the interweb over the last week, quite apart from all the very generous folk who were good enough to plug the book’s publication. First up is The Sligo Champion, my hometown paper of record, who ran a short interview with yours truly, which can be found here. That’s a particularly nice buzz because, apart from having a poem published in a school magazine, my first experience of being published was in the Sligo Champion, for which I wrote up reports of junior football matches from the age of 16 onwards, a task only slightly complicated by the fact that I was generally playing in the games I wrote about.
  Meanwhile, Marshal Zeringue was good enough to ask me to submit ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL to the Page 69 Test, in which an author looks at pg 69 of his or her tome, and asks if it’s representative of the rest of the novel. A nifty notion, and you can find the results here
  Over at Pulp Pusher, the rather fine Scottish writer and sex god Tony Black was kind enough to ask me to contribute to the ongoing series, ‘Every Day I Write the Book’, in which a writer details his experience of writing over a particular week. Somehow Steven Hawking, the Blue Nile and a serial killer stalking himself across multiple parallel universes got into the mix. You can find the results here
  Elsewhere, Writing.ie is currently hosting an extract from AZC, said extract comprising what in most books would consist of the first chapter, even if AZC resolutely refuses to conform to such bourgeois concepts as ‘chapters’. If you’d like a flavour of what AZC is all about, feel free to clickety-click here
  And that’s about it. The launch, by the way, for those of you who aren’t the Three Regular Readers, takes place in the Gutter Bookshop, Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin, at 6.30pm on Wednesday, August 10th. All are welcome, and John Connolly has agreed to give the event a scintilla of respectability by saying a few words before AZC is finally unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
  As for the book itself, well, the jacket copy runs thusly:
“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Joke Before The War

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I interviewed Dennis Lehane in a public Q&A at Eason’s in Dublin, and terrific fun it was, too. Earlier that morning, I also sat down with Lehane over breakfast, interviewing him for the Irish Times. The result kicks off thusly:
If anyone is still wondering whether Ireland is closer to Boston or Berlin, Dennis Lehane suggests that a certain kind of black humour provides the answer.
  “Boston’s Irish,” says Lehane, the Boston-born son of a Cork father and Galway mother. “Irish-American, okay, but Irish. So the Boston humour, it’s the sense that you might just want to comment on the fact that the world’s going to screw you, just before the world screws you. That makes it easier.”
  Raised in South Boston, Lehane is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of THE GIVEN DAY (2008), MYSTIC RIVER (2001) and SHUTTER ISLAND (2003). The latter two novels were successfully adapted for the screen by Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, respectively, while Ben Affleck directed Lehane’s GONE, BABY, GONE. That book was one of a series of novels featuring private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, the most recent of which is 2011’s MOONLIGHT MILE.
  Over breakfast at the Merrion Hotel, Lehane is a warmly engaging font of anecdotes and forthright opinions, his no-nonsense approach to the craft of writing echoed in his considered responses and unaffectedly flat Boston vowels. For a man who has achieved at the age of 45 the kind of success most writers can only dream of, Lehane’s roots remain firmly buried in South Boston, his Irish heritage and particularly that sense of gallows humour.
  “My wife’s Italian, okay?” he says. “And she just doesn’t understand our people at all (laughs). It’s the Irish thing of, y’know, we’re not going to talk to a psychologist about our problems, we’re just going to make a joke and move on. Because it ain’t getting better. Whereas my wife will sit there and talk with her family, usually with their hands, about a situation for hours. And then she’ll be like, ‘Honey, what do you think about it?’ ‘Well, what I thought about it five hours ago.’ (laughs) I think what I love about where I grew up is that the people were terribly funny. And in a very caustic, off-hand way. And Patrick [Kenzie] has that sense of humour. The reason I was really happy to go back to Patrick and Angie with MOONLIGHT MILE was I missed telling jokes. I’d gone ten years without telling jokes in the work.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

One man. One hospital. This town ain’t big enough for the both of ’em …
Yep, it’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, a whimsical black comedy about blowing up hospitals, and Liberties Press has been kind enough to give me three copies to give away to the readers of Crime Always Pays in the run-up to said tome’s official launch on August 10th. First, the blurb elves:
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 . . .

  “A harrowing and yet hilarious examination of the gradual disintegration of a writer’s personality, as well as a damned fine noir novel … Burke has outdone himself this time; it’s a hell of a read.” – Scott Phillips, author of THE ICE HARVEST
  So there you have it. To be in with a chance of winning a free copy of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, just answer the following question:
What’s your favourite story-within-a-story novel, and why?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address (and using ‘at’ rather than @ to confound the spam munchkins), by noon on Monday, August 8th. Et bon chance, mes amis