“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, November 12, 2011

The Fertile, Fertile Ground

I interviewed Stuart Neville a couple of weeks ago, to mark the publication of STOLEN SOULS, and during the course of the conversation we discussed the fact that his new novel is a less political beast than his previous offerings, THE TWELVE and COLLUSION. Stuart had this to say:
“I know other writers are working in different directions on this,” he says. “I’ve just finished reading Adrian McKinty’s new book, THE COLD COLD GROUND, in which he dives headlong into the thick of the Troubles and the hunger strikes, which is admirable, I think. I do think the Troubles will be quite fertile ground for writers the further we move away from them, and the freer we are to write about them with a more dispassionate gaze.”
  We’ve already had some very fine novels set during the Troubles, of course, including Eoin McNamee’s RESURRECTION MEN and THE ULTRAS, and David Parks’ THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, and Colin Bateman’s DIVORCING JACK. Adrian McKinty’s latest offering, THE COLD COLD GROUND works the same kind of ground covered by McNamee, setting his fictional tale against a historical backdrop, in this case the hunger strikes of 1981. My take runs thusly:
“The hunger strikes mark the bleakest period of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, and it’s entirely fitting that Adrian McKinty should be the writer to plunge into that darkest of hearts. It’s a rare author who can write so beautifully about such a poisonous atmosphere, but McKinty’s prose is a master-class in vicious poise as he explores the apparent contradictions that underpin Ulster’s self-loathing. Be in no doubt that this novel is a masterpiece: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great ‘Troubles’ novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written THE COLD COLD GROUND.”
  For more in a similar vein, from far better scribes and I, clickety-click on Adrian’s blog.
  Meanwhile, the novel is published on January 5th by Serpent’s Tail. If your New Year’s resolution is to only read great books next year, THE COLD COLD GROUND is the perfect place to start

Friday, November 11, 2011

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: And The Winner Is …

A little bit of house-keeping today, folks. I ran a competition last week to celebrate being short-listed in the Irish Book Awards, offering a signed copy of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL and asking people to nominate their favourite crime novel of the year so far. Thanks a million for your response, and for some very interesting suggestions, although I should say that the ‘judging’ process is entirely unscientific and very biased indeed. In other words, I’m going to award the signed copy to Michael Malone, this on the basis that he picked THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott, which blew me away when I read it last month. It really is a superb novel - and, oddly enough, one of the least crime-driven crime novels I’ve read all year. Anyway, a signed copy of AZC is winging its way to Michael Malone as you read …
  Incidentally, if anyone is really, really desperate to get their hands on a signed copy of AZC, I’m reliably informed that they are available at the Liberties Press website
  Elsewhere this week, I was delighted to appear on TV3’s Ireland AM to promote both AZC and the Irish Book Awards. Ireland AM sponsors the crime fiction section at the IBA, although I think it’s worth pointing out that the programme - and Mark Cagney in particular - have been very supportive of Irish crime writers since long before the sponsorship began. If you’re remotely interested in seeing yours truly on the TV, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, AZC received a very nice review from Sarah over at Crime Pieces. What I liked about it most was that Sarah came across the book courtesy of someone else posting about the Irish Book Awards short-list, and decided to read the book as a result. Which is, of course, the true purpose of any kind of award, I think. As nice as it would be to actually win the prize, I’m delighted that as a result of the nomination, AZC is now coming to the notice of readers who might not otherwise have heard of it. Of course, it’s also very nice that said readers actually like the book once they get to read it. Anyway, Sarah’s full review can be found here
  Finally, there’s still a week to go to the closing date for voting in the Irish Book Awards, which take place on November 17th. If you’d like to vote for anyone on the crime short-list, which also includes Benjamin Black, William Ryan, Jane Casey, Casey Hill and the inimitable Alan Glynn, just clickety-click here

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Portnoy’s Not Complaining

It’s fair to say it’s been a busy couple of months for Arlene Hunt. Not only has she published her latest offering, THE CHOSEN, but she and her husband decided to bypass the traditional publishing route to set up their own publishing company, Portnoy Publishing (and no, it’s not a Philip Roth reference). Happily, all the hard work seems to be paying off: THE CHOSEN is the ‘Book of the Month’ for TV3’s Ireland AM book club, which is fantastic exposure for the book, Arlene and Portnoy.
  The good news for readers is that there’s more than a terrific read in prospect if they get involved. If you pen a review of THE CHOSEN and submit it to Ireland AM, you’ll be in with a chance of winning a laptop. Nice. For all the details, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Arlene was on RTE’s Arena arts programme recently, talking with presenter Sean Rocks about THE CHOSEN, and the decision to go it alone set up her own publishing company, despite the fact that she’d been published for many years previously by one of Ireland’s most respected publishing houses. Given all the yakkity-yak about the future of publishing and the changing dynamic of the relationship between authors and publishing houses, it makes for fascinating listening. Clickety-click here for more

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

TV Or Not TV

Jane Casey was on ye olde Twittere yesterday, claiming that the last time she was on TV3’s Ireland AM programme, she was grinning like some kind of loon. I’d have had said she was smiling as mysteriously as Mona Lisa, but what do I know? Anyway, Jane was back on Ireland AM yesterday morning, to talk about her latest offering, THE RECKONING, this part of Ireland AM’s series of interviews with the nominees on the shortlist for the Irish Book Awards crime fiction list, which the programme sponsors.
  You can find Jane’s interview at the link here, and Ireland AM have also very kindly cached the interviews with all the other nominees, including Casey Hill, William Ryan and yours truly, with Alan Glynn’s turn in the spotlight coming this morning.
  Meanwhile, anyone interested in voting for any of the nominees - which also includes Benjamin Black - can do so by clickety-clicking here

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: CELL 8 by Roslund & Hellström

I don’t know about you, but whenever I get in the mood for a good old-fashioned sermon, I amble on down to my local church. It doesn’t happen that often, I have to say, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I generally like to make up my own mind on the big issues.
That’s not really an option in CELL 8, the new title from the Swedish writing duo, Roslund   & Hellström, whose THREE SECONDS was a runaway success last year. CELL 8 opens, in a section titled ‘Then’, with a man called John on Death Row. John’s friend, Marv, is about to be executed. The story then opens up into a section titled ‘Now’, in which singer called John, working on a ferry headed for Stockholm, viciously assaults a ferry passenger whom he sees sexually groping a fellow passenger.
  The novel then introduces Ewert Grens, a Stockholm police detective who investigates the potentially fatal assault on the ferry passenger. It is quickly established that John Schwarz, the man responsible for assaulting the passenger, is an American living in Sweden on a false passport. It is further discovered that Schwarz is in fact John Meyer, a man who died some years previously of a heart attack while on Death Row in Ohio.
  The hows and whys are explored during the rest of the novel, although plot is secondary to theme in CELL 8, which is an extreme example of a certain kind of contemporary crime fiction, wherein which a story is grafted onto the bare bones of a polemic. In essence, Roslund and Hellstrom have constructed a lecture on the evils of the death penalty, and the even worse evil of Sweden conspiring to send a murderer to Death Row, and dressed it up as a novel.
  It’s a prescriptive kind of fiction, the kind beloved of a certain kind of middle-class writer and reader, and one in which no one is left in no doubt as to where the authors stand vis-à-vis the high moral ground. According to Roslund & Hellstrom, the death penalty is A Very Bad Thing, regardless of the kind of criminal sentenced to death.
  It’s disappointing, for example, that the authors go out of their way to assert the innocence of John Meyer, so that the reader is never given the opportunity to question their position. CELL 8 would have been a much more interesting read, and the characters far more complex, had the Swedish police detectives found themselves in a position whereby they were resisting the extradition of a recidivist child rapist-murderer, for example. It might also have been more interesting had one of the Swedish characters broken ranks to voice an opinion other than the standard liberal line, but again, all four characters are resolute in their opposition.
  In fact, there is very little conflict at play here. The authors presume that the reader is as fully supportive of a ban on the death penalty as they are, and proceed to sneer at anyone who might think otherwise. The real villain of the piece is the father of the murdered girl, Edward Finnigan, who is demonised for wanting to see the killer of his daughter put to death. So convinced are Roslund and Hellstrom of their moral position, that they go so far as to equate the Swedish authorities’ deportation of Schwarz / Meyer to Russia with sending him to Guantanamo Bay, in the same breath referencing unofficial Swedish collusion with the Nazis during WWII.
  The fact that the two main characters in the novel aren’t particularly interesting doesn’t help matters much. Despite his colourful background, John Schwarz / Meyer is a very limp and passive character, who, suffering from claustrophobia, simply folds under the pressure of being consigned to a cell by the Swedes, and promptly tells them everything they need to know.
  Far more important to Roslund & Hellström is the character of Ewert Grens, who leads the Swedish investigation, and is their voice of liberal reasoning. Unfortunately, Grens is the kind of detective we’ve met far too often in the crime novel. He is a loner who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and treats both his superiors and his own team with contempt. In fact, he considers virtually everyone else on the planet to be an idiot. Despite the fact that Grens is ostensibly overburdened with a workload, he is most irritable when he is interrupted from listening to his favourite music in his office, to which on occasion he can be found dancing to, alone. Grens, presumably, is intended to be a quirky, rule-breaking maverick, but he comes across as petulant, unprofessional and, given his lack of empathy for the rest of the human race bar his wife, who lives semi-comatose in a nursing home, utterly unsuited for his job. Ewert Grens is probably the least convincing character I’ve read in a novel in years.
  These things might be forgivable if the plot was sufficiently interesting that characterisation isn’t an issue. Again, and while the story moves along quickly enough, it grows ever more implausible as it gains pace. Once the authors confirm that Schwarz and Meyer are the same man, they replace that mystery with a measure of narrative tension by claiming that the USA will consider it a major diplomatic incident if Sweden doesn’t hand over Schwarz / Meyer in a matter of days, as opposed to the months and even years such things take in real life.
  Even if you do buy into that scenario, however, the latter stages of the novel are - literally - laughably preposterous. I won’t give away any spoilers, but had the Tooth Fairy turned up to play a part, it would be scarcely less believable.
  In essence, CELL 8 is a lecture on how the world would be a much better place if only we all conformed to the authors’ principles. The novel is overly concerned with how we should live, whereas good crime fiction - or any kind of novel, for that matter - is concerned with the messiness of how we really live, for good or ill, and mostly ill.
  It’s ironic, in fact, that Roslund and Hellström go out of their way to mock Edward Finnigan’s recital of the Biblical dictum of an eye for eye. It may be a liberal polemic against the death penalty, but CELL 8 is no less fuelled by an overweening sense of righteous moral certainty than the Old Testament itself. - Declan Burke

Monday, November 7, 2011

NINE INCHES And Counting

I mentioned last week that DIVORCING JACK, by The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman, has been republished, this in tandem with Bateman’s current release, NINE INCHES. The new tome features DV’s Dan Starkey, although the former wise-cracking journalist is now a wise-cracking private eye (of sorts), in Bateman’s 26th novel to date. Twenty-six? I’ll be delighted if I manage to get six published in my entire life.
  Anyway, I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Bateman for the Irish Examiner recently, to mark the publication of NINE INCHES, with said interview opening up a lot like this:
“A few years ago I was in Amsterdam promoting a book,” says crime writer Colin Bateman, “and got held at knife-point by a couple of guys when I was going back to my hotel late at night. They wanted my wallet. A hero or a fool might have tried to disarm them. Dan Starkey would undoubtedly have handed over his wallet, and then gotten stabbed for being cheeky. In real life, I screamed like a girl, and they were so surprised I was able to just walk through them, wallet nice and safe.
  “Um, I’m not sure what my point is with that story,” he says. “Maybe it’s that fiction is a mixture of real life, fantasy and bizarre circumstance.”
  It’s certainly the case with Colin Bateman’s anarchic brand of fiction. His latest novel, NINE INCHES, is his 26th in total, a formidable body of work that began with DIVORCING JACK in 1994. That novel featured the wise-cracking journalist Dan Starkey, who returns in NINE INCHES after a six-year hiatus …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, my humble tome ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL has been short-listed in the Crime Fiction category at the Irish Book Awards, and very pleased I am about that. To celebrate, I’m giving away three signed copies of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which has, all false modesty aside, been rather well received by the critics. The latest review comes courtesy of Alan Griffiths over at Brit Grit, with the gist running thusly:
“I rattled through AZC. It’s highly original, witty, laugh-out-loud at times, thought-provoking and sprinkled with cracking dialogue that, I think, is a hallmark of Declan’s writing. AZC is a terrific read.” - Alan Griffiths, Brit Grit
  I thank you kindly, sir. Incidentally, Michael Malone also has some rather nice things to say about AZC over at May Contain Nuts
  Elsewhere, the general thrust of the AZC reviews have run something like this:
“Karlsson is a thrilling creation, up there with the Patrick Batemans of literature … a masterpiece of unsavoury reflection on history and Darwinism blended with a hefty dose of sociopathy, yet always leavened with pitch-black wit … Funny and disturbing, it also straddles a fine line between the absurd and the profound. It never forgets the conventions of crime fiction, while simultaneously subverting them. A triumph.” - Sunday Times

“Thus begins a fascinating hybrid of MISERY, AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, and who knows what else … 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

“What is most refreshing … 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

“Declan Burke plunges into surreal realms in this exhilarating, cleverly wrought novel … Comparisons to Flann O’Brien’s AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS are obvious, yet Burke’s canny control of his novel means they’re positive ones.” - Sunday Business Post
  For more in the same vein, clickety-click here
  To be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, just answer the following question:
What’s the best crime novel you’ve read in 2011?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving an email contact address (using [at] rather than @ to confound the spam monkeys) by noon on Thursday, November 10th. Et bon chance, mes amis
  Finally, if you’ve read AZC, and would like to vote for it in the Irish Book Awards (you don’t have to be Irish, by the way, or living in Ireland), then clickety-click here

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dreaming Of Gene-y

Gene Kerrigan’s hard-boiled novels have been one of the more enjoyable contributions to the current wave of Irish crime writing, although it’s fair to say that Gene has been writing about crime for longer than he probably cares to remember - his non-fiction titles, HARD CASES and THIS GREAT LITTLE NATION (co-written with Pat Brennan), are minor masterpieces of their kind.
  Always a man worth listening to on the topic of crime, its causes and consequences, Kerrigan is the latest contributor to the National Library of Ireland’s series of talks on crime fiction, and he’ll be front and centre this coming Thursday to talk about how the crime novel is the new ‘social novel’, no doubt referring to his current offering, THE RAGE, in the process. To wit:
On Thursday, November 10th, 2011 at 8pm, Gene Kerrigan will talk about his work and how the crime novel is one of the best mirrors on contemporary society. As a journalist, he has covered politics, crime and scandals for over thirty years, and his skills as a social commentator have established him as one of Ireland’s most gripping crime writers with a range of best-selling novels including LITTLE CRIMINALS and THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR. He was the winner of the Ireland AM Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year 2010 for his book DARK TIMES IN THE CITY.
  For all the details, including information and booking, clickety-click here