“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, September 17, 2011

On Taking Pride In Prejudice

I’m not saying that John Boland is a crap reviewer, necessarily, and he’s as entitled to his opinion as the next man, but it’s worth pointing out that he took a pop at Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND in the Irish Independent a couple of weeks ago on the basis that it was longer, more ambitious and more geographically diverse than the books he liked to read as a younger man. No, seriously. The review is here
  This week he takes a swipe at DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, opening up thusly:
Both critically and commercially, Irish crime writing has never had it so good and Irish crime authors have benefited from the boom it’s been enjoying over the last decade or so.
  Why, then, do so many of them whinge about not being taken seriously -- or, at least, not as seriously as they take themselves?
  In his editor’s note at the start of this ragbag of essays and stories by various Irish crime writers, Declan Burke concedes that it may be “stretching a point” to suggest they are “prophets without honour in their own country”, but he goes on to stretch it anyway -- finding it “a little bit odd” and “not a little unfortunate” that they’re “more celebrated outside of Ireland than they are at home”.
  Is this true? I thought they were doing pretty well for themselves here.
  Clearly, though, it rankles with some of them that they’re treated like second-class authors …
  Now, I know it’s the done thing to just take your lumps when you get a bad review, brush it off and get on with it. But what actually rankles is when someone reviews a book according to preconceived notions, or an agenda, and deliberately misreads the text in order to prove their point.
  Because here’s the thing, John - Irish crime authors are more celebrated outside of Ireland than they are at home. If you’d like a little proof, just dig out the ‘Emerald Noir’ documentary Val McDermid put together for BBC 4 last February, celebrating the rise and rise of Irish crime writing - maybe I missed it, but I can’t remember a similar radio doc being made for Irish radio. Or click on this link here, which will tell you all you need to know about how New York University is hosting a symposium this coming weekend on Irish crime writing - again, I might have missed it, but I don’t think any of the Irish universities have marked the coming of age of the Irish crime novel in a similar way. If you need still more proof, take the time to dig out all the awards that Irish crime writers have been nominated for in the last decade in America, home of the hardboiled crime novel, the most recent example of which was the LA Times’ Crime Novel of the Year award earlier this year, when a shortlist of five writers was made of three American writers and two Irish, Stuart Neville and Tana French. Or, if you choose, just take a look at the Irish Top Ten fiction lists over the last year alone, where you’ll find plenty of crime writers hitting the Top Ten, but very few Irish crime writers. Or there was last month’s announcement that both Benjamin Black and Casey Hill will have their novels adapted for TV in the UK. Perhaps Irish broadcasters were trampled underfoot in the stampede to bring those writers’ to the small screen, but suffice to say that both series will be broadcast courtesy of the UK, not Ireland.
  Yes, John, Irish crime writers are ‘doing pretty well for themselves’ (one guy, I think his name is Alan Glynn, even had his novel THE DARK FIELDS adapted as a major Hollywood movie earlier this year). The fact remains, though, that Irish crime writers are more celebrated outside of Ireland than at home.
  I was also a little taken aback by the snide tone of Boland’s review. To wit:
Some of these are comic, and all the more so for not being meant that way, as in Tana French’s argument that crime writing has become the genre that “examines the tensions and fears of a society” and that it’s also “where the crucial issues of any nation’s identity get explored”. So, not just French, but Balzac, too.
  Laugh? I nearly emigrated. Interesting, of course, that in his rush to deploy a piss-poor pun on Tana French’s name that any self-respecting crime writer would baulk at, John Boland cites Balzac rather than any of the heavyweight contemporary Irish literary writers. As fine a writer as he is, Balzac is hardly a poster-boy for how the modern novel, Irish or otherwise, engages with current concerns.
  But stay! Because John has a word or two to say on that topic too:
Yes, the ills of today’s post-boom Ireland form the backdrop to many recent crime novels but the plot remains the key thing, and while seedy politicians and venal developers feature in these stories, their roles are seldom more than decoratively expedient -- gaudily drawn villains in tales that are much less interested in (or capable of) exploring the roots of our current malaise than in working towards the tense denouement demanded by a tried-and-trusted formula.
  ‘But the plot remains the key thing …’ Here’s a question: Since when did ‘plot’ become such a dirty word in literature? Has literary fiction disappeared so far up its own fundament that a good plot is now fair game for sneering at?
  As for crime fiction being ‘tales that are much less interested in (or capable of) exploring the roots of our current malaise than in working towards the tense denouement demanded by a tried-and-trusted formula’, well, where to start?
  I suppose we could start by pointing out that, broadly speaking, the classic three-act drama of order-chaos-order (the latter featuring redemption / retribution / catharsis) has been with us since the Classical Greeks, and by those lights is indeed a ‘tried-and-trusted formula’. We could also ask, in all sincerity, where the literary novels ‘exploring the roots of our current malaise’ are, and what the literary writers have to offer in this regard that the crime writers don’t, the vast majority of literary authors being no more or less blessed with penetrating economic insights than their crime-writing brethren, or the vast majority of economists, for that matter.
  I could go on, but the review is here if you want to read it, and I’ve a busy afternoon ahead, what with that Ph.D in Economics to study for, that overview of the use of dramatic momentum in Classic Greek tragedy to brush up on, and that essay I have to write for Book Reviewing 101: ‘Taking Pride In Prejudice’.
  Gosh, it really is all go when you’re an Irish crime writer …

Friday, September 16, 2011

“Dante Is Well Served Here, All Around.”

I’m feeling a bit guilty, if I’m honest, about snowing the Three Regular Readers with reviews of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. But here’s the thing: I don’t get a book published very often, and as far as I know, this may well be the last book of mine that will ever hit a shelf. So, in part, I kind of owe it to the book to spread the word as far as I can; more importantly, and given that Liberties Press were good enough to take a gamble on publishing it when no other house would touch it with the proverbial barge pole, I definitely owe it to Liberties to parp the trumpets at every opportunity.
  Anyway, the latest review to pop up comes courtesy of Richard L. Pangburn at Little Known Gems, who appears to have given AZC quite a close reading, and particularly in terms of the ‘writer vs his muse’ aspect, in which context he cites Cormac McCarthy, Lawrence Block and Dante. The full review can be found here, with the gist running thusly:
“On its surface it crackles with wit, aphorisms, black one-liners, erudite literary allusions, popular culture references, and frequently surprising wordplay … laced with autobiographical asides and very dark humour involving terrorism, fatherhood, hospitals, the relationship between creation and destruction in parable, and much more … ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a literary novel and a darkly humorous work of philosophy. It easily falls into that sub-category of intellectual noir … Dante is well served here, all around.” - Little Known Gems
  All of which is very nice indeed, and I thank you kindly, sir.
  Meanwhile, Tony Bailie of the Irish News published an interview with yours truly yesterday. Here’s a sampler:
Declan Burke’s surreal take on the noir genre is generating rave reviews – including thumbs up from John Banville, Ken Bruen, John Connolly and Colin Bateman – and the character-confronting-the-author twist has seen Burke being compared to Flann O’Brien.
  “I’m a big fan of Flann O’Brien, and particularly AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS – I’ve always loved that idea of messing about with the way you can tell a story and especially the idea that the characters in a book are entitled to have their say about how the story is going,” Burke says.
  “You can get a bit heavy about it and talk about how it’s an expression of free will, with the writer being ‘God’ and the characters ‘human beings’ – I mean, if your life is a story, don’t you feel like you’re entitled to have some say in how it‘ll work out?
  “I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Right, I’m going to write a Flann O’Brien book.’ The way the story came out is the way it needed to be to tell this particular story. Besides, that kind of narrative playfulness is far older than Flann O’Brien. It’s nearly as old as the novel itself, going all the way back to Tristram Shandy.”
  For the rest, courtesy of Tony Bailie’s blog (the Irish News being a subscription site), clickety-click here

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Russia With Blood

I mentioned last week that William Ryan’s THE BLOODY MEADOW gets its Irish launch today, at O’Mahony’s Bookshop, 120 O’Connell Street, Limerick, and the mood should be buoyant, to say the least, given the early buzz. To wit:
“THE HOLY THIEF was both bleak and savage … In an interesting change of pace which suggests the author has more than a formulaic series planned, in this second instalment Ryan has produced a film-noir-ish rewrite of the old-fashioned locked-room mystery, complete with creepily gripping, and ultimately gruesome, cops and robbers chase through the great catacombs on which Odessa sits, while Stalin’s man-made terror-famine, which scorched through the Ukraine half a decade before the book opens, is only gestured at, in elliptical speech and ultimately in the characters’ motivations.” - The Spectator
  Tasty. And there’s more:
“THE HOLY THIEF, set in Stalin’s Russia, was one of last year’s most impressive crime fiction debuts. THE BLOODY MEADOW, William Ryan’s follow-up, does not disappoint … Ryan has obviously done much research into that sinister period of Russian history and manages to convey its claustrophobic atmosphere brilliantly.” - The Times
  All of which is very nice indeed; consider this fan’s appetite well and truly whetted. For more of the same, clickety-click here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

“A Broken Mind Is A Very Attractive Thing To A Woman.”

I had a piece published in the Irish Examiner the weekend before last, which centred on Irish women crime writers, and exploring the reasons why crime fiction written by women comes at the crime narrative in a way that’s distinct from the male take on the genre. It featured a rather fabulous photo-shoot styled by Annmarie O’Connor (right), which starred Arlene Hunt, Ava McCarthy, Niamh O’Connor and Alex Barclay as latter-day femmes fatales, and opened up a lot like this …
A WOMAN’S work is never done, especially when that work involves excavating the fears, hopes and traumas that lie at the heart of crime fiction.
  Alex Barclay, Arlene Hunt, Niamh O’Connor and Ava McCarthy are four of the leading lights of the current wave of Irish crime writing — women who prove that the female author is very often deadlier than the male.
  “Crime novels are about life, death, love, loss and broken minds,” says Alex Barclay. “A broken mind is a very attractive thing to a woman, because there is a compulsion to understand it. I’m not saying that no man is wired that way, just that more women are.”
For the rest, clickety-click here

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who Is This Man Joseph Hone?

It’s fair to say that the world - niche as it is - of Irish crime writing never fails to surprise me. Late last week, it came to my attention that Lilliput Press has just published a novel called GOODBYE AGAIN by Joseph Hone, with the blurb suggesting that the novel might - just might, mind, given Lilliput’s predilection for publishing literary fiction - be considered a crime thriller. To wit:
Ben Contini, a disenchanted painter of considerable talent, has just buried his mother. Rifling through the attic of her Kilkenny house he stumbles across a Modigliani nude, worth millions. Determined to learn the provenance of the painting, he and Elsa, a disturbed and secretive woman who accosts him at the funeral, become embroiled in the sinister world of Nazi art theft. But they are not the only one with an interest in the painting ... Together they set off on a frantic journey that leads them from Dublin to France via the Cotswolds, down the Canal du Midi into Italy. The intrigue surrounding the shadowy half-truths about their exotic families becomes increasingly sinister as Ben and Elsa are forced to confront their pasts and their buried demons. Set in the 1980s, this is a fantastic new book from established thriller writer Joseph Hone, who weaves a breathless, galloping intrigue packed with narrative twists and sumptuous evocations of Europe’s forgotten past.
 ‘Established thriller writer’? Surely not, thought I, being so well-versed (koff) in all things Irish crime fiction. But lo! A little investigation - very little, to be perfectly frank - unearthed the following on Wikipedia:
Joseph Hone (born February 25, 1937) is a writer of the Spy Novel. His most famous novels featured a British spy called Peter Marlow. The first of the series was THE PRIVATE SECTOR (1971), set in the Six Day War. Marlow’s story continues in THE SIXTH DIRECTORATE (1975), THE FLOWERS OF THE FOREST (a.k.a. THE OXFORD GAMBIT) (1980), and THE VALLEY OF THE FOX (1982). Today, Hone’s novels are out of print. During his heyday, in the 1970s, however, he was favourably compared with writers such as Len Deighton, Eric Ambler and John le Carré.
  Impressive enough, but over at the Faber Finds blog, Jeremy Duns waxes rather more than lyrical about one Joseph Hone. Quote:
“A third of the way through THE PRIVATE SECTOR I thought I was reading a beautiful marriage of Orwell’s BURMESE DAYS (in its evocation of profound British colonial torpor) and John Fante’s ASK THE DUST (in its rendering of a hopeless, near-rebarbative love affair). But that is before the spy game truly gets underway, and Hone shifts gears to show his expertise in that department too.”
  Crikey. Elsewhere, Duns quotes a Washington Post review of THE PRIVATE SECTOR:
“There are moments in this book – indeed, whole chapters – where one is haunted by the eerie feeling that Joseph Hone is really Graham Greene, with faint quarterings of Lawrence Durrell and Thomas Pynchon. His tone is nearly perfect – quiet, morbidly ironic, beautifully controlled and sustained, moodily introspective, occasionally humorous and more often bitter, with a persistent undertone of unspeakable sadness and irrecoverable loss.”
  So that’s me and my ignorance well and truly told. Sounds like Joseph Hone might be one of the great lost Irish thriller writers, and that GOODBYE AGAIN is well worth a whirl. I’ll keep you posted …

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Cool Before The Storm

There’s a hurricane raging outside as I write (no, seriously), but I’m already in serene-style eye of the storm mode right now, for lo! Another nice review of our humble tome, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, popped up yesterday, this one courtesy of the Sunday Business Post. The gist runs thusly:
“Declan Burke plunges into surreal realms in this exhilarating, cleverly wrought novel … Burke clings to his swerving, wild plot throughout, dragging the reader, enthralled but slightly disorientated, to a worthy conclusion. Comparisons to Flann O’Brien’s AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS are obvious, yet Burke’s canny control of his novel - if not quite his characters - means they’re positive ones.” - Julian Fleming, Sunday Business Post
  I thank you kindly sir, although my heart did skip a beat when I read that ‘if not quite his characters’ bit, presuming that it meant the characterisations in the novel aren’t up to snuff. And then I realised, okay, it’s because the characters in the novel rise up against their predetermined Fate and / or the wishes of their Creator, and strike out on their own …
  Anyway, there was another very nice plug yesterday for AZC, in the Sunday Independent, courtesy of Alison Walsh’s round-up of autumn books to watch out for, when AZC was mentioned in the company of John Connolly, Alan Glynn, Colin Bateman and William Ryan. Which is very nice company for any book to keep. For the full list of tomes you should be reading, clickety-click here
  Finally, Mike Nicol at South Africa’s Crime Beat was kind enough to feature an extract from AZC late last week, said extract being the first in a series of offerings from new and current titles from a selection of Irish crime writers. If you fancy a quick dip into AZC, you know what to do

UPDATE:
I had a very nice surprise when I wandered into town yesterday morning, and discovered that some kind soul working in Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street had placed ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL in the front window (above); and not only in the front window, but just outside the front door (alongside THE BLOODY MEADOW by William Ryan); and not only that, but adjacent to DOWN THESE GREEN STEETS, which was also adorning the H&F front window. All of which was very nice indeed. I thank you kindly, folks …
  Meanwhile, Glenna Jacobs over at Various Random Thoughts was good enough to post her thoughts on AZC, the gist of her impression being that AZC was ‘the most unusual, twisted book I’ve ever read’, which is one of the nicest compliments I’ve had to date, this on the presumption that said quote was in fact intended as a compliment. Either way, I like it, and I thank you kindly, ma’am …

Sunday, September 11, 2011

John Connolly: A Genre Of One?

I’ve mentioned before that I think John Connolly’s latest, THE BURNING SOUL, is one of his finest offerings yet, and it would appear that I’m not alone. Quote Joe Hartlaub over at The Book Reporter:
“The work of John Connolly is becoming more and more entrenched as a genre of one. His Charlie Parker novels are at once some of the darkest and most beautifully written books one is likely to encounter … Connolly’s characterization is marvellous and unforgettable, and his plotting first-rate - think Stephen King and George C. Higgins somehow sitting down and collaborating. But it’s his prose - so black, so rich, so deep -that keeps readers coming back.” - Joe Hartlaub
  Very nice indeed; and Mr and Mrs Kirkus, if a little more conservative, are in broad agreement:
“Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker thriller offers a powerful story line that weaves together suspense, mystery and a small touch of the supernatural … An intelligent, plausible thriller, both harrowing and memorable.” - Kirkus Reviews
  Meanwhile, and while we’re on the subject of fine reviews, the inestimable Glenn Harper of International Noir recently weighed in with his verdict on Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE. Quoth Glenn:

“THE RAGE is very good indeed, and I found in it some of the grim poetry of the first two books, as well as a very original approach to crime writing, responsive to both the demands of storytelling and the truth of a realistic portrayal of a very specific social milieu.” - Glenn Harper

  For the rest, clickety-click here