“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 15, 2011

On Putting The ‘Ooooo’ Into Spooks

It’s a little early for Halloween, but if you’re in Dublin city centre next Thursday night, October 20th, you can get a jump on the festival of ghosts, spooks and ghouls in the first of the National Library of Ireland’s ‘Autumn Chillers & Thrillers’ series in the company of the Dark Lord, aka John Connolly (right). To wit:
Autumn Chillers & Thrillers

Many of Ireland’s hottest chiller, thriller and crime writers will feature in a new series of public interviews at the National Library of Ireland beginning later this month.

  On Thursday, October 20th, 2011 at 8pm, leading crime writer John Connolly, whose series of Charlie Parker novels has a strong supernatural dimension, will host ‘An Evening of Ghost Stories’ with Dr. Darryl Jones, Head of the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, where he was founding director of the postgraduate programme in Popular Literature. Dr. Jones’ definitive scholarly edition of THE COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF MR JAMES, the foremost writer of ghost stories in English, will be published by Oxford University Press next month.
  Sounds like the good stuff, alright, although I’d quibble with the ‘strong supernatural dimension’ description - lately, or so it seems to me, John Connolly has refined the supernatural aspect of his earlier Charlie Parker novels, so that he’s now using the gothic tropes to go after a far more profound effect. There’s a scene in THE BURNING SOUL in which Charlie Parker comes downstairs in the middle of the night to find his TV on, cartoons playing, this in the midst of pursuing a case in which a young girl has been abducted. It’s a chilling piece of writing, certainly, but what it suggested to me was that Connolly wasn’t simply invoking ghosts and suchlike, but going after a far more subtle quality, attempting - successfully, in my opinion - to verbalise a sense of otherworldliness that is neither supernatural nor religious, although you could argue that it has a spiritual dimension. Maybe that’s just me, and maybe I should lay off the Kool-Aid while reading John Connolly, but I honestly think that viewing such aspects of his work, particularly over the last three or four novels, simply as ‘supernatural’ is to miss out on a far more delicate process of investigation that lies somewhere between a rationalising philosophy and an instinctive grasping after the ineffable.
  Anyway, next Thursday is the first of a series of ‘Autumn Chillers and Thrillers’ events planned by the National Library of Ireland. The second will take place on November 20th, and feature Gene Kerrigan, while the third takes place on December 15th, and will feature Alex Barclay, Arlene Hunt and your humble host. More details on those closer to the time. For all the details and booking information for next Thursday’s event, clickety-click here

Friday, October 14, 2011

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: Destined To Become A Cult Classic, Apparently

You’ll forgive me again for indulging myself (again), I hope, but it’s been another fine week for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, with a number of flattering reviews popping up on the world wide web. First off, Kevin McCarthy - a very fine author in his own right - was good enough to take the time to post his thoughts to Amazon, in the latest five-star review for said tome. To wit:
“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is that rarest of things - a novel that makes you stop and think and scramble to finish at the same time … I generally cannot abide novels about men (it’s always men) writing novels, but ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL takes that tired premise, shoves a tank of Silene gas right up its you-know-what and sets the detonator. A novel of ideas as well as a first-rate thriller, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL sees Burke stretching the crime thriller genre until it snaps and then sewing it back together with some of the finest prose and funniest dialogue you’ll encounter this year. I can’t recommend this book enough. Destined to be a cult classic.” - Kevin McCarthy
  I thank you kindly, sir. And then there was Marleen, over at More Than A Reading Journal:
“I know I’ve said it before, but this is most definitely a book unlike any I’ve read in the past … All the blurbs about this book describe it as being “laugh-out-loud funny”, “full of the blackest humour” and “outrageously funny”. I, however, didn’t get the humour in this book. I found the story to be original, disturbing, thought-provoking and inventive.” - Marleen, More Than A Reading Journal
  Funny, schmunny, right?
  Finally, uber-blogger and short story writer Paul D Brazill gave AZC a fair wind and calm seas over at Mean Streets, the gist running thusly:
“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is in the same capable hands that created the classic comic crime double header of THE BIG O and CRIME ALWAYS PAYS. The hands of a master storyteller. And with those hands, Declan Burke has crafted an exciting, hilarious, thoughtful and moving story that will surely stand up to - and deserve - a lot of re-reading. I’ve read a lot of cracking novels this year but ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is my favourite. And it could well be yours, too.” - Paul D Brazill, Mean Streets
  As if all that wasn’t enough - and really, when is enough ever enough - there were also a couple of very nice mentions for DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, the first coming courtesy of Laura Root at Euro Crime:
“DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS is an excellent, varied collection of essays and short stories, looking at Irish crime fiction in both its historical and present day context, with much of interest to anyone interested in modern day Ireland and its cultural life. It is very much a book to dip into, rather than to read straight through in one setting. The authors by and large convey their wealth of knowledge in a highly readable, enjoyable style, and it's a great idea to include short stories in this compilation, as a nice counterpoint to the various analyses of Irish fiction.” - Laura Root, Euro Crime
  We thank you kindly, ma’am. And Jon L. Breen at Mystery Scene Magazine was also impressed, his review kicking off in a vein like this:
“This is one of the most entertaining, informative, and critically astute recent books on crime and mystery fiction, all from an Irish point of view and written in variants of that eloquent and melodic national prose style.” - Jon L. Breen, Mystery Scene Magazine
  So there you have it. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL and DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS - good vibes all round, and yours truly set up for a very pleasant weekend indeed. I sincerely hope yours is just as good …

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Galvinising The Irish Publishing Industry

Crikey, but Vincent Browne is a busy man, these days. Not content with running a media empire and persecuting the presidential candidates on TV, he’s also opened what appears to be a sideline in launching books. Last week he did the honours for Tom Galvin’s GABRIEL’S GATE; tomorrow evening, Friday October 14th, he’ll be at the Guinness Storehouse to officially launch Gerry Galvin’s KILLER A LA CARTE. The Big Question: is Vincent Browne on a one-man mission to (koff) galvinise the Irish publishing industry? Answers on used, non-sequential notes to the usual address, please …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Lee Child

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

Forgetful Editor’s Note: I met with Lee Child (right) yesterday afternoon, to interview him about his latest novel, THE AFFAIR, and a very interesting conversation it was, too. In fact, the only bum notes were when he referred to knowing me, and my work, on a couple of occasions during the chat. Afterwards, not wanting to break the flow during the interview, I pointed out that he was confusing me with my bete noire, Declan Hughes. No, he said, it was Declan Burke he meant; he knew of me through Crime Always Pays, and had in fact filled in a Q&A for the blog last year. Which suggests, if there was ever any doubt about it, that Lee Child is far more professional, and significantly more a gentleman, than yours truly. As a form of penance, then, I hereby reprint said Q&A. To wit:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Either THE DAMNED AND THE DESTROYED by Kenneth Orvis, or DADDY by Loup Durand, or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris. In the same way that people who like a) skiing and b) skateboarding and c) wearing baggy clothes invented snowboarding, I try to use the planetary pulls of those three novels to create my own orbit. Which will be completely incomprehensible to anyone who has actually read my books, but that’s what’s happening in my head.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Little John from the Robin Hood legend. Cheerful, tough, and a bit thick.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Barbara Taylor Bradford, and multi-generational sagas in general. Especially about rags to riches and long-delayed revenge by wronged girls.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Generally or specifically? Generally, when I’ve got the first couple thousand words down, and I can sense the story stretching ahead, and I haven’t screwed it up yet. Specifically, the end of the first chapter in PERSUADER. Even I was excited.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’m half-Irish myself, and therefore half-entitled to feel that Irishness can work just as well - or even better - out there in the diaspora, maybe a generation or two from the auld sod itself, where all its doom and boneheaded cussedness and fatalism and stoicism and tribalism stands in stark relief against a more neutral setting. So, MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane. Or, if you insist on an Irish writer with Irish characters in Ireland, I liked IN THE WOODS by Tana French a lot. But it wasn’t essentially Irish, was it? Could have worked in Manchester or Baltimore or Sydney or Christchurch. So how about THE BIG O by Declan Burke?

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
MYSTIC RIVER, see above. And it was a fine movie.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Anyone who has had another job knows there’s nothing bad about it. Best? It’s all good.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Find out if Jack Reacher survived 61 HOURS.

Who are you reading right now?
An ARC of BROKEN by Karin Slaughter.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
If God appears I’ll have a whole lot more to worry about than that. Like revising a whole lot of assumptions. Or complaining to my dealer. But - I would choose reading, of course. I like reading other people’s stuff a thousand times better than typing out my own crap.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Good enough, sometimes.

Lee Child’s THE AFFAIR is published by Bantam Press.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tombstone Blues

A tale of two covers, no less. I wasn’t the only one to be a tad underwhelmed by the early artwork for Ken Bruen’s latest Jack Taylor novel, HEADSTONE (see below), but thankfully Jack has got the kind of cover he deserves - the previous offering looked like some kind of refugee from the 1950’s, as designed by someone high on diddley-aye. Not that we ever judge a book by its cover (koff), but these things do matter.
  Anyhoo, what’s between the covers is far more important, and HEADSTONE has enough of the good stuff to impress the Philly Inquirer. To wit:
Acclaimed Irish crime writer Ken Bruen has won numerous awards for his hard-charging, dark thrillers, which have been translated into ten languages. In Headstone, an elderly priest is nearly beaten to death and a special-needs boy is brutally attacked. Evil has many guises and Jack Taylor has encountered most of them. But nothing before has ever truly terrified him until he confronts an evil coterie named Headstone, who have committed a series of random, insane, violent crimes in Galway, Ireland. Most would see a headstone as a marker of the dead, but this organization seems like it will act as a death knell to every aspect of Jack’s life. Jack’s usual allies, Ridge and Stewart, are also in the line of terror. An act of appalling violence alerts them to the sleeping horror, but this realization may be too late, as Headstone barrels along its deadly path right to the centre of Jack’s life and the heart of Galway. A terrific read from a writer called “a Celtic Dashiell Hammett,” HEADSTONE is an excellent addition to the Jack Taylor series. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  Meanwhile, Ken is interviewed over at The Atlantic, a piece worth clickety-clicking to get to only for the sight of Ken Bruen in full-on Nosferatu mode. If HEADSTONE is half as gothic as the pic, it’ll be a right royal horror. The interview, by the way is titled, ‘Irish Crime Writer Ken Bruen on Alcoholism, Sick Priests and Neo-Nazis’. Herewith be a flavour:
I think readers who have a sentimental view of Ireland are a bit shocked to find out how corrupt the clergy in your novels are. Are you exaggerating there?

“When I began THE GUARDS, around 2000, the clergy were still bullet-proof, but as I wrote THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS (2003), scandals were becoming known. More and more horrors emerged. I know personally many who suffered from them. Even now—even now!—they still cover up, lie, obstruct, and their arrogance is truly appalling. I know some great priests, and they suffer due to the sheer grandiosity of the leaders of the church. (But) the scum of the earth, the child molesters, still remain largely unpunished and unnamed. There are people who refuse to believe the horrendous truth, and when PRIEST (2006) came out, a women spat on me in the main street.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Tom Phelan

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?
REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier. Written long before all the modern digital props became available to modern writers, this is a book to sink into a very soft mattress with and to be savoured for story, language, and ingenuity.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Jim Hawkins in TREASURE ISLAND [by Robert Louis Stevenson]. God, the excitement when I was twelve. Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Hispaniola, the sails, the wind in the rigging, pieces of eight, the map, all the very evil and terrifying pirates, the ever-present danger …

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Mystery novels. Once I begin one I do not put it down. They are a sinful distraction and should be banned. All mystery writers should be taken up in the Rapture along with their books.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Blocked, I decided to write out a joke I’d heard from a priest in an elevator in Mineola in New York. As I wrote, new characters appeared and the joke lasted for three chapters. By that time a story had taken shape, and it became my first published novel, IN THE SEASON OF THE DAISIES.

The best Irish crime novel is…?
I’ve spent my life being modest, supposedly because it’s a virtue. I’m 70 now and it’s time for me to commit the cardinal sin of pride. My latest novel, NAILER, of course, is the best Irish crime novel.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Again, let me take pleasure in a terrible sin. NAILER would make a great movie. I’m waiting for Godot to call me from Hollywood but he’s probably waiting for something to happen first.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is the self-doubt (who out there gives a damn?). Best is when I read back over what I have written and cannot remember having written some of it, and it’s good.

The pitch for your next book is…?
After many years, two emigrants return to their native Irish village, one from India, one from the U.S. Both are insufferable elitists. The village people, always divided along religious lines, come together to conceal what befalls the two interlopers. The novel is called LIES.

Who are you reading right now?
THE FOURTH BOOK OF RABELAIS and THE BURDEN OF PROOF by Scott Turow. Rabelais for the language, the analogies, and his wonderful scatology; Turow to give me a break from mining Rabelais’s now (generally) forgotten 16th-century references.

God appears and says you can only write or read. Which would it be?
Read. All those wonderful books and so little time, as some basketball player said about blondes. I could read dozens of books a year, but it takes me at least a year to write one.

The three best words to describe your own writing are…?
Leaving myself vulnerable and naked to critics, I immodestly and trepidatiously declare that my own writing is funny, poetic, and unflinching.

Tom Phelan’s NAILER is published by Glanvil Press.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Have Nothing To Fear But The Fear Index Itself

I sometimes wish that I hated my job. That I’d come home in the evening fairly simmering with resentment, ready to pound all the anger and rage out of my system, taking it out on the keyboard first, and then the characters created. Rage, I think, makes for the most interesting stories.
  Unfortunately for my writing prospects, I like my job. Some days I love it. Last Friday being a case in point, during the course of which I legitimately spent two hours watching a good movie (‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’), an hour or so reading a good book (THE AFFAIR by Lee Child), and an hour or so chatting about books and writing with Robert Harris, whilst interviewing him to mark the publication of his latest offering, THE FEAR INDEX (which is very good indeed). He was a nice guy: urbane, modest, self-deprecating to a fault. I don’t know, if I ever became rich and famous through writing, I think I’d be an egomaniacal prick.
  Actually, as all Three Regular Readers already know, I am an egomaniacal prick. All I need now is the wealth and fame. Don’t hold your breath …
  Anyway, my short review of THE FEAR INDEX appeared on Saturday in the Irish Times, along with reviews of Sophie Hannah’s LASTING DAMAGE, Liza Marklund’s EXPOSED, and Jon Steele’s THE WATCHERS, along with a quick review of the Len Wanner-edited DEAD SHARP, which is a series of interviews conducted with Scottish crime writers including Ian Rankin, Allan Guthrie, Louise Welch, Paul Johnston and Karen Campbell. The review of THE FEAR INDEX runs thusly:
Robert Harris is renowned for his historical novels, although his eighth offering, THE FEAR INDEX (Hutchinson, £10.99), could hardly be more contemporary and relevant. Set in Geneva, in the world of high finance, it centres on Dr Alexander Hoffman, who was once a prodigy at Cern but who has since learned to adapt his scientific theories to profit from the world’s trading markets. The novel opens with a break-in at Hoffman’s mansion, with Harris establishing a tone of paranoia that quickly escalates, as Hoffman’s persecution by an anonymous enemy increases in tandem with the collapse of the global economy. It sounds perverse to describe THE FEAR INDEX as an old-fashioned techno-thriller, but while the computer-based, self-generating algorithms Harris describes are at the cutting edge of technology, the theme itself is old, dating back to when primitive man first picked up a stone and realised the double-edged potential of a weapon. Harris writes with a deceptively languid elegance, so that the novel straddles not only the crime and sci-fi genres but also that of literary fiction. A satisfying read on a number of levels, it is strongest as a character study of a man who discovers, pace Hemingway, the true meaning of the phrase “grace under pressure”.
For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Childish Sense Of Humour

Lee Child doesn’t have much of a reputation for being a funny writer. For all his various talents, no one has ever said to me, ‘Hey, that Lee Child, he’s hilarious.’ But I don’t know. I’m reading THE AFFAIR right now, and maybe it’s just me, but I’m finding Jack Reacher’s deadpan, laconic delivery very funny indeed. To wit:
I finished my breakfast before I spoke again. French toast, maple syrup, coffee. Protein, fibre, carbohydrates. And caffeine. All the essential food groups, except nicotine, but I had already quit by then. I put my silverware down and said, ‘There’s really only one obvious way to cut a woman’s throat …’ (pg 88)
  Like I say, maybe it’s just me.
  Anyway, Lee Child will be in Dublin this coming Wednesday, October 12th, to promote THE AFFAIR. I’ll be sitting down with him for an interview, which is something I’m looking forward to very much, but he’s also doing a few public appearances. He’ll be in the Dubray bookstore on Grafton Street at 1pm, for signings and a chat, and later that evening he’ll be taking part in a public interview at Eason’s on O’Connell Street, the event kicking off at 7.30pm.
  Incidentally, if you haven’t dipped into Lee Child yet, THE AFFAIR would be a good place to start. It’s a prequel-of-sorts, being set in 1997, six months before the first Jack Reacher novel, KILLING FLOOR, and - or so I surmise, being only halfway through at this point - explains how Jack Reacher, currently an undercover MP investigating the murder of a young woman in a Mississippi town, became a loner-drifter.
  Of course, I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one …