“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, October 8, 2011

More Power To His Elbow

Kevin Power’s BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK (2008) is a very fine novel, and one in the mould of Eoin McNamee in that it fictionalises a real-life event, getting under the skin of the newspaper headlines - and boy, were there headlines. In essence, the story Power tells is one of the Celtic Tiger’s cubs at lethal play, yet it prefigures the economic bust in the way it investigates how, in Ireland, your socio-economic position dictates how severely you will be punished if and when you transgress. Then again, what’s the point of being rich and powerful if you can’t bend the rules once in a while? Quoth the blurb elves:
On a late August night a young man is kicked to death outside a Dublin nightclub and celebration turns to devastation. The reverberations of that event, its genesis and aftermath, are the subject of this extraordinary story, stripping away the veneer of a generation of Celtic cubs, whose social and sexual mores are chronicled and dissected in this tract for our times. The victim, Conor Harris, his killers - three of them are charged with manslaughter - and the trial judge share common childhoods and schooling in the privileged echelons of south Dublin suburbia. The intertwining of these lives leaves their afflicted families in moral free fall as public exposure merges with private anguish and imploded futures.
  The excellent Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is currently filming BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK, which will appear on our screens next year as ‘What Richard Did’, courtesy of Element Pictures, whose most recent production was the black comedy ‘The Guard’. To wit:
Element Pictures are delighted to announce that Principal Photography begins this week on Lenny Abrahamson’s new film ‘What Richard Did’. Set in present-day Dublin, the story follows a group of privileged teens over the course of the summer after they leave school, focusing in particular on Richard, a popular sports star, whose life is changed forever after a senseless act of violence. ‘What Richard Did’ is directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage, Prosperity), written by Malcolm Campbell (Skins, Shameless), produced by Ed Guiney and executive produced by Andrew Lowe both of Element Pictures (‘The Guard’, ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’). It is loosely based on Kevin Powers award winning 2008 novel Bad Day at Blackrock. The film stars an ensemble of young Irish actors including Jack Reynor, Sam Keeley and Roisin Murphy as well as established talent including Lorraine Pilkington and Lars Mikkelsen (star of the Danish hit series, ‘The Killing’). The film will shoot in and around Dublin and Wicklow for five weeks and is backed by the Irish Film Board and Element Pictures.
  I’m looking forward to this one in a big way. Lenny Abrahamson made the best Irish movie of the last decade with the pitch-black comedy ‘Adam & Paul’, and it’ll be intriguing to see what he does with Power’s source material. We’ll keep you posted …

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Moon, My Butt, And Other Very Big Issues That Occasionally Block Out The Sun

I do understand that e-publishing is proving a very liberating option for many writers, and that some are doing very well indeed from e-only publishing. What I don’t understand is why JA Konrath & Co insist on polarising the issue, and pitch it is as books vs e-books, with winner take all. Isn’t it possible for a writer (and his or her publisher) to accommodate those who like to read books and those who prefer to read on an electronic device? Seems like the simplest solution to me.
  One thing I don’t like about the debate is the way the e-evangelists are delighting in the prospects of dancing on the grave of traditional publishing. Your opinion on ‘gatekeepers’ et al notwithstanding, the decline of traditional publishing will see a lot of jobs to go the wall, and a lot of talented people out of work. Is that really something to celebrate, just so that we can pay $0.99 to read THE MOON, MY BUTT, AND OTHER VERY BIG ISSUES THAT OCCASIONALLY BLOCK OUT THE SUN?
  Anyway, the latest missive from the Dark Lord, aka John Connolly, offers his thoughts on the same subject. To wit:
“It’s one of the reasons why I find myself growing increasingly angry with those of my peers who seem to have divested themselves of any loyalty to bricks-and-mortar bookstores in favour of a rush to solely electronic publishing, too ignorant to even be ashamed to use phrases like “dead tree publishing” or “legacy publishing” about the beauty and usefulness of a printed book. Hey, guys and gals: those bookstores, chains and independents, that you’ve apparently abandoned to their fate were the making of you all, and you were very willing to badger their owners into stocking your books when they were the only game in town. I’m as happy as anyone to take my royalties on e-book sales, and I’m grateful to the companies that distribute me in that form, but I firmly believe that electronic publishing and printed books can co-exist in our brave new world, and I’d dearly like to see bookstores survive to take their place in that world, because it will be a poorer, coarser place without them. End of lesson.”
  Meanwhile, Conor Fitzgerald reviewed John Connolly’s THE BURNING SOUL for the Irish Times a couple of weekends ago, when he had this to say about Connolly’s narrative style:
“THE BURNING SOUL opens with a filmic bird’s-eye view of the setting, thanks to the presence of some ravens on loan from Edgar Allan Poe. Connolly confidently guides us into their malevolent little minds, then it’s up into the cold air again, down into a car and then into a character’s mind in a blending of first-person narration and omniscience that is reminiscent of Dickens. Indeed, as the epigraph of this book consists of an excerpt from GREAT EXPECTATIONS, I am confident that Connolly knows exactly what he is doing and how much he is risking, which, for me, is the mark of a highly accomplished writer now beginning to explore the limits of his chosen form.” - Conor Fitzgerald, the Irish Times
  Dickens, no less. For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, October 6, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Lawrence Block

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?
I never know how to answer the question. There are any number of books I admire hugely, but I can’t say I yearn to have written them; what makes them work is that they were written by their own authors. So now my answer is THE DA VINCI CODE, on the basis not of its text but of its royalties.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Archie Goodwin, exc. for all the dancing.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Almost anything Charles Ardai publishes at Hard Case Crime.

Most satisfying writing moment?
I don’t believe I’ve ever had more sheer enjoyment writing than I did with Getting Off. It was enormously satisfying for me, esp. the conversations between Kit and Rita.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Tough one for me, as I’ve not read all that much in recent years. I’ve enjoyed Ken Bruen’s work, and both the Banvilles, John and Vincent. And they’re not crime novels (though I think they’d go down well with many crime fiction fans) but Thomas Flanagan’s three historical novels are high on my list of favourite books.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
One that already did, not a novel but a play, was ‘The Field’, by my late friend John B. Keane. A dear man, a wonderful writer.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best: when I’m writing, I never have the unsettling feeling that there’s something else I really ought to be doing instead. Worst: when I’m NOT writing, I always have that feeling.

The pitch for your next book is …?
THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC is just out this week. All the Matt Scudder short fiction, including two new and previously unpublished stories, all in a $2.99 eBook or $14.95 trade paperback. My next book’s not been written yet, and I don’t like to talk about them until they’re done.

Who are you reading right now?
SHOCK WAVE, John Sandford’s newest. He never disappoints.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Dunno whether it’s age or all those years in the business (not that they don’t go hand in hand) but I’ve largely lost my taste for reading in recent years. It’s rarely what I feel like doing, and I don’t finish many of the books I start. Then again, two years ago I thought I was done writing novels. (Shows what I know.) But if I have to pick one, I’ll stay with writing. After all, nobody pays me to read...

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
“Fool never quits.”

Lawrence Block’s latest offering is THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. Hard Case Crime publishes GETTING OFF.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Irish Book Awards: Or, How The Competition Is A Right Royal Buggery

I do tend to look forward to the Irish Book Awards at this time of the year, and especially in the last couple of years, ever since the IBA introduced a dedicated Crime Novel section. Not so much this year, as it happens. That’s because, for the first time in ages, I have a book that’s eligible for the IBA; and if there’s one thing worse than not having a book eligible for an award, it’s having said tome eligible, but not short-listed.
  Now, I don’t know where you stand on the subject of books awards. I tend to be of the opinion that books are not Olympic athletes, say, and that it’s very difficult to say with any precision that one book is faster, stronger or higher than another. That said, there’s no doubting that awards are terrific when it comes to raising profile and boosting sales (this will be especially true of this year’s IBA Awards, which will be televised, on November 24th, for the first time). So, and leaving my not inconsiderable ego aside, I’d love to see ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL nominated for the sake of its publisher, Liberties Press, as much as anything else.
  AZC has been pretty well reviewed since it was published in August, with the gist running thusly: ‘a triumph’ - The Sunday Times; ‘a wonderful achievement’ - The Irish Times; ‘clever, funny … entirely original’ - Irish Independent; ‘exhilarating, cleverly wrought’ - Sunday Business Post; ‘witty, philosophical and a page-turning thriller’ - The Dubliner. Which is all fine and dandy-o, and with which I’m very pleased indeed. And you’d imagine, with reviews such as that, and more, that AZC stands a very good chance of being short-listed.
  Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere as simple as that. For starters, I have no idea of the kind of criteria the IBA judges are assessing the books on. More importantly, I think, is the fact that 2011 has been yet another very good year for Irish crime writing. In other words, the competition is a right royal buggery.
  The most basic criteria is that a book needs to have been published between November 1st, 2010 and October 31st, 2011 (I’d have preferred it if only books published between, say, August 10th, 2011 and August 14th, 2011, were eligible, but there you go). That means that the following books are eligible:
THE FATAL TOUCH by Conor Fitzgerald, a very fine sequel to THE DOGS OF ROME, and one of my favourite reads of the year;
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty, a powerful thriller and one laced with philosophical insights;
TAKEN by Niamh O’Connor, her follow-up to IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN, and a hard, cold blast of rage;
THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan, his fourth novel, and probably his best;
TABOO by Casey Hill, a rip-snorting CSI-meets-serial killer tale from the wife-and-husband writing team of Melissa and Kevin Hill;
STOLEN SOULS by Stuart Neville, a stripped-down thriller in the classic ’70s mode;
A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black, the fourth offering from John Banville’s alter-ego, and his best to date;
BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, a sequel-of-sorts to WINTERLAND and an epic tale in the paranoid thriller tradition;
LITTLE GIRL LOST by Brian McGilloway, a standalone title that confirms McGilloway’s talent as a storyteller;
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer, his first adult offering and a blackly comic crime caper;
BLOODLINE by Brian O’Connor, a fast-paced debut set in the world of horse-racing;
DUBLIN DEAD by Gerard O’Donovan, a very strong police procedural;
ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee, the second of his loose trilogy of historical crime fiction;
And, last but by no means least, THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly, his latest Charlie Parker novel, and to my mind his best yet.
  That’s an impressive list of titles, and they’re just the ones I’ve read. For various reasons, mostly to do with the fact that they’re only now being published, I have yet to read THE CHOSEN by Arlene Hunt, NINE INCHES by Colin Bateman, HIDE ME by Ava McCarthy, HEADSTONE by Ken Bruen, and THE RECKONING by Jane Casey, all of which are also eligible for nomination.
  The good news, I suppose, is that at least Tana French and Declan Hughes didn’t publish books this year.
  Anyway, it’s a hell of a list. How to boil it down to a shortlist of five?
  There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. Gene Kerrigan won the award last year; can they afford not to short-list THE RAGE, particularly as it’s a better book? John Banville is up for the Nobel Prize for Literature tomorrow; should he win, how could they leave Benjamin Black off the short-list? Meanwhile, it’s a personal prejudice, but of the books I’ve read this year, the five best were written by men; would it be politic to have a short-list with no women on it? (I should say, in relation to this point, that I have yet to read this year’s offerings from Arlene Hunt and Jane Casey, both of whom have been short-listed in the past, and both deservedly so).
  So, with the very important caveat that I haven’t read all the eligible titles, and based solely on the limitations of my reading, my short-list runs as follows, in alphabetical order:
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer;
THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly;
THE FATAL TOUCH by Conor Fitzgerald;
BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn;
THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan;
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty;
ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee.
  The more numerically literate among you will notice that that’s a seven-strong list for a short-list of five. Which brings me back to my original point; even as wrapped up as I am in the prospects for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and perhaps understandably so, applying any kind of unsentimental appraisal of the year’s books suggests that I’m going to be a tad disappointed when the IBA short-lists are announced on October 20th.
  So there you have it. As for the overall winner, I’m going to go out on a limb and put my head on the chopping block (I really wish they’d move that chopping block to a less precarious position), and say that, if the decision was mine, I’d have to toss a coin between John Connolly’s THE BURNING SOUL and Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE.
  The decision, of course, won’t be mine. Once the shortlists are announced, readers come on board to vote for their favourite titles. Which suggests that the Awards will be less of an appraisal of the best books published this year, and more of a popularity contest. But that, as Hammy Hamster once said, is a story for another day …

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Trumpet Blast, Maestro, For GABRIEL’S GATE

Irish crime writers have been touching on the consequences of the economic recession for some years now - Declan Hughes, Tana French, Alan Glynn, Ken Bruen and Gene Kerrigan are among the more high-profile names, and a little bird tells me that there’s a similarly themed novel from Rob Kitchin on the way - but it appears that there’s a full-blown Recession Lit on the way. In the vanguard is Tom Galvin’s ominously titled GABRIEL’S GATE, about which the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
In 2010, when the recession took root in Ireland, the young people looked at the ground they were standing on and realised it was rotten. Rotten in so many ways, but especially in the ways made by man. So most decided it was time to do what their forefathers had done during times of famine, when the ground was rotten too, and leave. For America. And Australia. And Canada. But in the winter of 2010, a group of college students had a different idea. They weren’t going to leave. They would simply find a patch of land that hadn’t been contaminated and live off it. Just like their forefathers had always done before the land became rotten and the country corrupted by greed …
  As you might expect, the post-hippy commune doesn’t exactly work out to plan, and it’ll be interesting to see how the book reads against a backdrop of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street campaign. Vincent Browne will launch GABRIEL’S GATE for Tom Galvin this coming Thursday, October 6th, at the Doorway Gallery, 24 Sth Frederick’s Street, Dublin 2, with festivities kicking off at 7pm. All, as if it needs to be said, are welcome …

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Tsar Is Born

There was a very good interview with William Ryan in the Irish Times last week, conducted by Kevin Courtney, to mark the publication of Ryan’s sophomore offering, THE BLOODY MEADOW, a sequel to THE HOLY THIEF. The perennial evergreen of genre stereotyping raised its head, with the gist running thusly:
THE HOLY THIEF is about to be published in Russia, and Ryan is bracing himself for a spate of missives from the motherland pointing out glaring errors in geography and history. But Ryan is confident that his storytelling skill will make up for any factual inaccuracies, and happy that his serial detective is proving popular – a third Korolev novel is in the pipeline. But for him the biggest inaccuracy is that the books will, of necessity, end up being filed under crime fiction.
  “I think when you talk about genres as such . . . I can understand why publishers do it, but I think at the end of the day it’s whether you write a good book or not. I think a lot of crime writing is very, very good, and it’s a shame that it’s put into that category, particularly if you look at Irish writing at the moment. A lot of the good Irish writing, if you look at Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville and Ken Bruen, you could list 50 writers who are putting out really good stuff, and it’s a shame that you have that kind of genre thing.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, October 2, 2011

That’s Entertainment?

Maybe we can blame Graham Greene, who famously - or infamously - labelled his crime novels ‘entertainments’, although I suspect it goes back a lot further than that. I’m talking about the notion that crime novels - all genre novels, really, but we deal in crime writing here - are obliged to be entertaining, as if it’s incumbent upon crime novelists, or their books, to be clowns, regardless of how sad the clown might be behind the garish make-up.
  A recent and very positive review of Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND in the Irish Times is a case in point. Anna Carey wrote the review, and did a very fine job too, in my opinion, finishing up thusly:
“A good thriller is there to entertain the reader as well as make her think - and [BLOODLAND] is a very entertaining book.” - Anna Carey, Irish Times
  Now, I’m sure Alan Glynn was very happy with that review, but I do wonder about the distinction being made in that line. There’s no good reason, for example, why the word ‘book’ couldn’t be substituted for ‘thriller’. After all, it’s the function of every book to ‘entertain the reader as well as make her think’. Crime, sci-fi, chick-lit, literary, fantasy, romance, historical biography, quantum physics - if a book on any given topic isn’t entertaining, which is to say enjoyable to read, then why would anyone read it? Are there books that are deliberately written not to entertain? Has any writer ever sat down at the desk with the express intention of writing a book that will bore his or her reader into a coma?
  I do hate the notion of ‘special pleading’ on behalf of crime fiction, but I think there’s a case to be made for declaring a moratorium on the use of ‘entertaining’ when it comes to reviewing the genre. I mean, if the book receives a positive review, then surely the fact that the reviewer was entertained is implicit in the good vibes. The moratorium might even be extended to the phrase ‘page-turning’. No, seriously - how else are you going to read a book if it doesn’t involve turning pages?
  I suppose what I’m suggesting, and not for the first time, is that crime fiction requires a more rigorous analysis than it generally gets. ‘An entertaining, page-turning read’ is a description that could apply to any good book, from Noddy to ULYSSES. Is it the case that crime fiction is more about breadth than depth, than it’s prime function is to entertain, and saying so suffices as a valid review? Is it the case that the genre doesn’t actually require or deserve a more subtle, nuanced lexicon? Or is it the case that the genre, being perceived as little more than a lurid distraction, and particularly by comparison with other kinds of books, is being ill-served by a self-perpetuating simplification, as often as not by the readers and fans of the genre itself?
  In the last month or so, I’ve read a number of books - among them BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly, THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott, THE KILLER IS DYING by James Sallis and THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina - that are as good as any novel of any stripe I’ve read in the last few years. They are all unmistakably crime fiction titles; all are beautifully written, first and foremost; they also have in common a rare quality of psychological insight as they pursue the flaws and foibles of the human condition. All of which are the essential elements of any good novel, it seems to me.
  Anyway, I opened up talking about Alan Glynn, and there’s a lot him about right now. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with the Faber blog, The Thought Fox:
[TF] BLOODLAND has the kind of plot where tiny details at the start lead to huge revelations by the end. How hard is it when writing a story like this to keep back secrets from your readers?

[AG] “It’s not easy. I continually re-read, re-write and revise. At the same time it’s an organic process and the subconscious does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. A connection that in the context of the story might seem inevitable, something meticulously and very deliberately placed there by the author, will often in fact have occurred to me at the very last minute. Maybe it was there all along, waiting to be discovered but the poor sap at the keyboard isn’t necessarily the first one to see it. But then when it all becomes clear, you have the luxury of being able to go back and re-arrange stuff, to re-weight and re-calibrate scenes in the overall context of the story. As the writer, you just have to pay attention, which I suppose isn’t too much to ask. Another way of keeping secrets back from the reader, of course is by not knowing them yourself, as you go along. No plan, therefore, no outline. It’s a good way of keeping things fresh and unpredictable, but it’s also fraught with danger. You can write yourself into a corner. Or fall off the tightrope.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here.
  Meanwhile, you can bag yourself a free signed copy of BLOODLAND over at the Harrogate Festival’s interweb lair, with the competition running until October 9th.
  For a couple of nifty reviews to complement Anna Carey’s take in the Irish Times, there’s one here at International Noir, and another courtesy of Laura Wilson at The Guardian.
  Finally, for Alan Glynn’s take on his ‘Book of a Lifetime’, aka THE GREAT GATSBY, jump on over to The Independent
  Oh, and as I mentioned a day or so ago, I’ll be doing an event with Alan Glynn at The Rathgar Bookshop this coming Thursday, October 6th, at 7.30pm. He’ll be reading from BLOODLAND, I’ll be reading from ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and if there’s anyone still awake after that little lot, we’ll be talking about, y’know, good books and stuff. If you’re around, I’d love to see you there …