“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.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Gospel According To Marklund

I had an interview with Liza Marklund (right) published in the Sunday Business Post last weekend, and a very enjoyable interview it was to do, too. Marklund, who is a journalist and filmmaker, and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, as well as being a novelist, is a very savvy media operator, and knows how to spin a very quotable story, and she was very personable company to boot. Anyway, the opening runs thusly:
It’s becoming a bad joke. Virtually every Scandinavian writer who emerges onto the international stage is immediately branded the new Stieg Larsson, with cover stickers on their books to prove it. Liza Marklund, author of the Annika Bengtzon series of novels, is delighted by the comparison.
  “I love Stieg’s books,” Marklund says. “I didn’t know him, but we’re both from the north of Sweden, and we covered the same topics and our heroines are quite similar: larger-than-life, obnoxious women. But I’m so grateful that he wrote those books, and the success they’ve had is phenomenal.” She glances skywards. “So thank you, Stieg.”
  Marklund, at least, has earned the comparison. Bengtzon is a blend of Larsson’s most famous characters, the feisty heroine Lisbeth Salander and the crusading journalist Mikael Blomqvist, and Marklund’s persistent theme is also violence against women (the original Swedish title of Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN).
  However, her Bengtzon novels represent neither homage nor copycat cash-in. The first story, THE BOMBER, was first published in 1998, and four more Bengtzon novels arrived before Larsson’s debut appeared in 2005 …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, September 1, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Val McDermid

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?
If I was a mercenary bitch, I’d say THE DA VINCI CODE. But I’m not, so I’ll go with Reginald Hill’s ON BEULAH HEIGHT. Tender, savage, clever, funny and moving. Beautifully written and immaculately plotted. What’s not to envy?

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jim Hawkins. So I could play inside the perfect novel.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I go back to childhood and read the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent Dyer, and Agatha Christie.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I figured out a structure that would allow me to tell the story of A PLACE OF EXECUTION. That was a beautiful moment in itself, but it also made me trust myself and not worry that sometimes it takes years to find the right way to tell the story.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Oh yeah, right. Like I’m going to stick my neck out like that just before I visit Ireland ... That wouldn’t have been too tough a call ten years ago. But now? Seriously, there’s been so much quality crime fiction coming out of Ireland in the past few years it would be invidious to single out any one book. I love youse all. Well, most of youse.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
If you’d just let my throat go ... Thank you. I think Adrian McKinty’s Dead trilogy would make a great sequence of films. But so would many others. What’s more important is that Irish writers keep on writing great books.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Working alone. I love my own company but I’m also a very social animal. Sometimes I spend so long with characters I can push around that I forget how to interact properly with real people ...

The pitch for your next book is …?
A woman is going through US airport security with her kid. She sets off the metal detector and while she’s waiting in the perspex box to be patted down and wanded, someone walks up to her kid by the X-ray belt and walks off with him. As she attempts pursuit, she’s thrown to the ground and tasered. When she comes round, the kid is long gone. That’s next year’s book.

Who are you reading right now?
It’s the time of year when I read mostly debut novels so I can put together my wish-list for next year’s Harrogate Festival new blood panel. So I’ve just started the proof of a first novel called TIDELINE by Penny Hancock which is not out till January. I’ve just finished a proof of Stuart Neville’s third novel, STOLEN SOULS, which somehow sneaked into the pile. And I can exclusively reveal that it’s nail-biting, gut-wrenching and nearly made me miss my stop on the train. Next up will be something called ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL by some Irish guy who claims he’s holding my wife, my kid and my dog hostage.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’m not as arrogant as people might think I am; I’d read.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
I’d rather leave that to other people. Preferably those to whom I have already slipped a £20 note.

Val McDermid’s THE RETRIBUTION is published by Little, Brown. Val will be appearing at the Mountains to Sea Festival, in conversation with Declan Hughes, on Saturday, September 10th. For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: The ‘Blazing Saddles’ Of Crime Fiction, Apparently

It’s been another lively week for our humble tome ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which was very pleased indeed to make its bow before a South African audience, courtesy of the good works of one Mike Nicol over at Crime Beat. Mike, if you haven’t come across him yet, is a very fine writer as well as a chronicler of the South African crime fiction scene; why not drop over and say hello?
  Meanwhile, Michael Shonk was good enough to review AZC for Mystery File, where he threw up a reference that was entirely unexpected. To wit:
“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a fine example of comedic crime noir. As I was reading it, I was thinking of Donald Westlake and Parker … this is an author you need to read.” - Mystery File
  Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that AZC was conceived in part as an affectionate homage to the comedy crime caper-cum-heist, of which Donald Westlake is the acknowledged master. And the going does get pretty grim and black in places, so perhaps that’s where the Parker reference comes from. But ‘comedic crime noir’? Is it possible to blend noir and comedy? I know quite a few purists of the former who would violently disagree … That said, I’m pleased as punch to be mentioned in any circumstance in the same breath as Donald Westlake, and I thank you kindly, Mr Shonk.
  Elsewhere, a nifty five-star review popped up on Amazon, which made me laugh out loud, which is the first time I’ve ever laughed at one of my own reviews. To wit:
“As a rule, people who write novels about people who are writing novels (or music, or poetry, or who are painters, or architects or - worst of all - who are cooking nice things) should be hunted down like dogs and slaughtered like pigs. Two sample exceptions to this rule: Flann O’Brien and Declan Burke, whose ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL snatches tar-black laughs from the yawning jaws of wankiness.
“As a rule, people who say they laughed out loud while reading a particular book are lying. One sample exception to this rule: myself, reading this book.
“Burke has applied a crime writer’s deadpan dialogue and sardonic humour to the exalted mystery of artistic creation. But his take on this well-worn theme has none of the fey narcissism you’d expect from a run-of-the-mill author of landfill literary fiction. Instead of numbing us with another tasteful collage of genteel aestheticism and well-concealed swotting, Burke presents the writer’s mind as the scene of a rather botched and messy crime spree, where characters both real and fictional bicker and scheme over who gets the spoils and who gets the blame. The debt to Flann O’Brien is clear - if memory serves, de Selby may even be mentioned at one point - but unlike O’Brien’s coldly brilliant mindscapes, Burke’s creation has a heart as well as a brain.” - Podmax
  ‘Snatches tar-black laughs from the yawning jaws of wankiness’? Sir, you just made my week.
  All of which was fine and dandy-o, but then RTE’s Arena programme weighed in with a review on Monday night. I was out at the time, at John Connolly’s launch for THE BURNING SOUL, so I didn’t get to hear it, which is just as well, as my ego would very probably have gone supernova. You can listen to the full ten-minute piece here if you have the time, but the gist runneth thusly:
“A new Irish absurd, the Blazing Saddles of crime fiction … The illogicality that surrounds us, the double speak and unthink, is very much the secret subject of this book … It’s a novel that is mentally stimulating, entertaining, fun, provocative, original and ambitious.” - Arena, RTE
  ‘The Blazing Saddles of crime fiction’? My cup runneth over …
  Finally, a quick reminder that I’ll be reading from ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL at the Central Library, the Ilac Centre, in Dublin 1 tomorrow, at 1pm. I’ll be there snatching tar-black laughs from the yawning jaws of wankiness, and if that sounds remotely interesting to you, I’ll see you there …

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ken Bruen’s Cartoons

Ah, bored. Remember being bored? God be with the days when I’d be so bored I’d collapse comatose on the couch and flick through the TV channels just to see if there was anything on that didn’t involve cooking, buying property or Hitler. Halcyon days.
  Boredom’s a bit of a luxury these days, as is TV: about the only TV I watch now is the occasional baseball game on ESPN, Match of the Day on a Saturday night, and a documentary now and again. I got to watch half of a documentary on the Minoans last night, and good stuff it was too, although I stumbled off to bed once they started to get into the really good stuff, i.e., human sacrifice. Not that the human sacrifice bit put me off; more that I wanted to be alert when I come to the second half, so as not to miss the gory details.
  Anyway, I may just have to make room in the schedule for some TV on Thursday night, as I discovered whilst roaming through KT McCaffrey’s new blog. Quoth KT:
“I’m looking forward to Ken Bruen’s latest Jack Taylor episode. It’s on TV3 this Thursday at 9.30pm. Should be interesting to see how Bruen’s writing translates to the small screen. This one is called ‘The Pikemen Murders’ and will be shown over two nights.”
  Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly throws its eye over Sir Kenneth’s latest offering, HEADSTONE, with the gist running thusly:
Moments of grace are fleeting in Bruen’s world, and things rapidly head south after Taylor receives a miniature gravestone in the post, courtesy of a group of psychopaths calling themselves “Headstone.” Led by a fanatic recidivist criminal from a previous Taylor case, they target the “weak,” including the handicapped, the mentally ill, and the homeless. Now they have their sights set on Taylor and everyone close to him. That the plot is a tad cartoonish and over-the-top scarcely matters in a remarkable series that at heart is about one man’s reckoning with a lifetime of pain and loss in a rapidly changing Ireland.
  ‘A tad cartoonish’? A tad harsh, no? Especially when it’s the case that Ken Bruen tends to use plot in the way a TV chef might use a wok, a purely functional tool into which are mixed his prime ingredients of character, atmosphere and language.
  Of course, it being a Ken Bruen novel, virtually anything is possible, and without having read it yet, it’s not beyond the bounds of plausibility, given that his previous offering featured the Devil, that the storyline features actual cartoon characters.
  Ken Bruen scripting Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote? I’d buy that for a dollar, not least because I’d imagine that that perpetually irritating overgrown chicken would finally get its comeuppance …

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Adrian McKinty, Benjamin Black, Niamh O’Connor

Some reviews for your delectation, O Three Regular Readers, the first batch of which were published in the Sunday Independent earlier this month, and which concentrate on Irish crime offerings. First up, Adrian McKinty’s FALLING GLASS. To wit:
FALLING GLASS is Adrian McKinty’s sixth offering, a thriller in which an underworld enforcer, Killian, is commissioned to track down Rachel, the ex-wife of a wealthy Northern Ireland businessman, who has absconded with his two daughters. Naturally, things do not go smoothly for Killian, for the most part because a ruthless killer, a Russian soldier and veteran of the brutal conflict in Chechnya, is also on the woman’s trail. Framed by an increasingly violent game of one-upmanship, the story hurtles down the tortuously twisting byways of rural Northern Ireland.
  However, a number of elements set FALLING GLASS apart from conventional shoot-’em-up thrillers. McKinty has established himself as a writer who blends riveting plots, a muscular kind of poetry and blackly comic flourishes, investing his fully rounded characters with thoughtful insights that frequently veer off at tangents into something akin to philosophy …
  For the rest, which includes reviews of Benjamin Black’s ELEGY FOR APRIL and Niamh O’Connor’s TAKEN, clickety-click here
  Elsewhere, the Irish Times published the latest ‘Crime Time’ round-up of new titles two weeks ago, said column containing reviews of the latest offerings from Lynda La Plante, Karin Fossum, John Hart, Stella Rimington and Charles Cumming. I particularly liked Karin Fossum’s THE CALLER and Charles Cumming’s THE TRINITY SIX, with the latter review coming in the wake of the Stella Rimington, and kicking off thusly:
More deserving of the Le Carré comparisons is Charles Cumming’s fifth novel, THE TRINITY SIX. As a young man, Cumming was recruited by MI6, and his experience working for the Secret Intelligence Service is so palpable here that Cumming can at one point even afford to allow his hero, Dr Sam Gaddis, to wander into post-modern territory near the Ferris wheel made famous by Orson Welles in the classic movie ‘The Third Man’ ...
  It’d been years since I’d read a good old-fashioned spy thriller, and THE TRINITY SIX reminded me of how much I used to love them. Good timing, too, with the film adaptation of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY on the way in the next couple of weeks. Anyway, for the rest of the Irish Times column, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, if anyone can point me in the direction of some good contemporary spy thrillers, I’d be very grateful indeed …