“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 19, 2011

Less Is Moore

With all the hoo-hah over the Irish Book Awards, it very nearly snuck under my radar that Bloomsbury is in the process of reissuing a series of Brian Moore’s novels, including NO OTHER LIFE, THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE and I AM MARY DUNNE. Of chief interest to crime fans will be THE STATEMENT, which was originally published in 1995, and about which the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
Condemned to death in absentia for crimes against humanity, Pierre Brossard has lived in the shadows for more than forty years. Now, at last, his past is threatening to catch up with him. A new breed of government officials is determined to break decades of silence and expose the crimes of Vichy. Under the harsh glare of the Provencal sun, Brossard is forced to abandon the monastery where he has been hiding and turn to old friends for support - but can he really outrun his past?
  Brian Moore, who was born in Northern Ireland and emigrated to Canada in 1948, cut his teeth as an author writing crime novels, under the pseudonyms Bernard Mara and Michael Bryan. Frequently and favourably compared to Graham Greene, Moore was, like Greene, disposed towards writing both literary titles and more thriller-style tales. His best books, in my opinion, combined his gift for language and a serious moral investigation with a stripped-back, less-is-more narrative - the ideal crime thriller, in other words, as in the case of Moore’s political thrillers, LIES OF SILENCE and THE COLOUR OF BLOOD.
  I picked up a copy of THE STATEMENT in a second-hand bookshop in Dun Laoghaire yesterday, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in, just as soon as I get all the work-related reading on the shelf out of the way. Which means, I suppose, that THE STATEMENT will be this Christmas’s reading treat, although I’d already lined up some Charles McCarry, Megan Abbott, Daniel Woodrell and James Sallis for that particular indulgence …

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Guys: No Longer Finishing Last, Apparently

It would take a better man than yours truly not to be even slightly disappointed by the events which transpired at the Concert Hall in the RDS last night. For lo! It came to pass that BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn (right) scooped the Ireland AM Crime Fiction gong at the Irish Book Awards, in the process putting to the sword his fellow nominees Casey Hill, Jane Casey, William Ryan, Benjamin Black and your humble correspondent.
  Yes, it’s true that Team Liberties Press went along more in hope than expectation, but even so, it would have been nice to win. The good news is that Alan Glynn is one of life’s good guys; and while that really shouldn’t matter, it kind of does. The guy is a gentleman, in all senses of the word, and I was very pleased indeed to see him ascending the steps to pick up his award.
  Just as importantly, or more importantly at the moment, perhaps, BLOODLAND is a terrific novel, and a very worthy winner of the award. I reviewed said tome on these pages a couple of weeks ago; if you’ve yet to read it, I humbly suggest you do so as soon as your TBR list allows.
  Meanwhile, spare a thought for Jane Casey. She’s been shortlisted for the prize two years in a row now, and has left empty-handed on both occasions. Here’s hoping that next year will be her year …
  As for the evening itself, I had an absolutely smashing time. It was terrific, as always, to catch up with the likes of Alan and Jane, and Bill Ryan, and to meet Casey Hill - aka Melissa and Kevin Hill - for the first time. Arlene Hunt was there too, and Bob Johnston of the Gutter Bookshop; I met with Sarah Webb, and briefly got to congratulate Sarah Carey, whose THE REAL REBECCA won the Young Adult award; the inimitable Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie was there; and the marvellous Margaret Daly, and Cormac Kinsella and Declan Heeney, valiant soldiers in the book-promotion business all. I also got to meet, very briefly, with one of my childhood heroes, Ronnie Whelan, formerly of Ireland and Liverpool FC - and when I say ‘meet’, I mean I barged up to him, grabbed his hand, and muttered something about being a huge fan when I was a kid. All very embarrassing, of course, moreso for Ronnie than myself, probably, but a real thrill all the same. They really don’t make them like Ronnie Whelan anymore.
  And then there was our own table, which was for the most part taken up by the Team Liberties, including Caroline Lambe, Alice Dawson, Daniel Bolger and publisher Sean O’Keefe. The craic, as they say, was only mighty, and great fun was had by all, and I was delighted that they all turned up mob-handed to lend their support and enjoy the night in their own right. It was a pity we couldn’t take away an award to reward their faith and commitment to ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, but then, you can’t have everything, and we did get tiramisu, and a very strong rumour that AZC will be published in India in the near future. So these things do even out in the end.
  So there you have it. The heartiest of warm congratulations to Alan Glynn on his well deserved win last night, and upward and onward for the rest of us. There is, after all, next year to look forward to.
  Meanwhile, here’s a wee taste of what Ronnie Whelan was capable of, with THAT goal against Russia at Euro ’88. Roll it there, Collette …

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yes, Cinderella, You Shall Go To The Ball …

And so dawns the day of the ball, during the course of which this particular Cinders is hoping that a crack squad of Fairy Godmothers will appear and sprinkle him with the necessary fairy dust. Yep, it’s the Irish Book Awards, and as all Three Regular Readers will be aware, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL has been shortlisted in the Crime Fiction section, alongside A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black, TABOO by Casey Hill, BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, THE BLOODY MEADOW by William Ryan and THE RECKONING by Jane Casey. The event takes place in the salubrious surroundings of the Concert Hall at the RDS, aka The Royal Dublin Society, and in truth I’m feeling mightily conflicted.
  Why so? Well, for starters, the event is black tie. I’ve never worn a tuxedo before, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the sight of a load of blokes crammed into ill-fitting penguin suits always looks a bit ridiculous. There’s also the fact that said suits are generally ill-fitting because most blokes have rented their tuxedos, which kind of defeats the purpose. The whole point of a tux is that it’s an expensive bit of kit, and the whole point of wearing one is to announce to the world at large that you’ve got the wherewithal to afford such an expensive piece of kit. Renting one seems to defeat the purpose, no? And then there’s the dicky-bow, which is by some distance, I think, the most preposterous piece of apparel ever invented. Not that that will be an issue for me. I absolutely refuse point blank to wear a dicky-bow. If it’s a black tie they want, then it’s a black tie they’ll get. And if that means that I turn up looking like I’m attending a funeral, then so be it.
  I’m a little bit nervous too, if I’m honest. I’ve been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards before, some years ago, for my debut offering, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. That year the competition was every bit as tough as it is this year, the shortlist being comprised of Ken Bruen, Michael Collins, Ingrid Black and yours truly. Naturally, I didn’t win. I don’t expect to win this year, either; for what it’s worth, my gut instinct tells me that Casey Hill will walk away with the award, although it might also be worth watching out for Jane Casey, given that this is her second year in a row to be nominated. Mind you, I’ll only be really surprised if AZC wins; the shortlist really does comprise a fine body of writers. And I think it’s fair to say that had the shortlist been composed of an entirely different six authors, it would have been equally strong.
  But this is where I’m also a little conflicted, because the prize will be awarded according to a public vote. Which essentially means that the award will go to whoever it is on the list has the most friends. I did my best to play along with the concept, letting people know at every opportunity that they could vote for their favourite book / writer, etc., but to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it. I think I’d have much preferred it had the shortlist been decided by public vote, and the award itself decided by a panel of judges. There’s a big difference between a book being the best book and the most popular book. Not that I’ll be complaining if by some chance my half-assed marketing campaign propels AZC to the top of the pile; all the same, I’d much prefer it got there on merit, as opposed to my persecuting people I know to vote for me.
  Mostly, though, I’m feeling conflicted this morning because I’m currently working on a follow-up to AZC; although the conflict arises partially because the book isn’t a follow-up or any kind of logical follow-on from that book. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, for those of you who don’t know, isn’t a conventional crime novel, playing as it does with meta-fiction and multiple narratives, and generally being more than a little bit bonkers as a hospital porter sets out to blow up his hospital. The current book, which I’m redrafting, is actually a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, currently rejoicing in the working title THE BIG EMPTY, which follows former research consultant (aka private eye) Harry Rigby as he finds himself, yet again, up this oxters in illicit drugs and nefarious characters. Which is to say, it’s a comparatively straightforward crime novel narrative, even if things are rarely straightforward when Harry Rigby gets involved, and I really don’t know if it’s a good idea to follow an unconventional book like ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL with a conventional tale like THE BIG EMPTY.
  It’s been something of a slog, this redraft, I have to say. Matters are not helped by the fact that this is the sixth redraft, or thereabouts, which means that virtually every page feels as flat as a map of canals. In fact, practically every line feels dust-dry, dead. Which is usually a good sign, and means that I’m rapidly getting to the point where I’ll have to let the book go; in fact, late last week I sat down at the desk and opened up the file, and got the old familiar feeling of my guts sloshing around. When reading your own stuff makes you feel physically sick, then you know it’s coming time to let go.
  I passed the sixty-thousand word mark earlier this week, which means the beast’s back is broken; and even though I know I need to write an entirely new ending, of roughly fifteen thousand words, the end is in sight, and I should - all going well - have this draft finished in time to take an actual holiday over the Christmas period.
  Will it be any good? My head says yes, this on the basis that people seemed to like the previous books; my heart says no, on the basis that I always think that this book is going to be the time I’ll be found out as a charlatan and spoofer. Conflicted? Oh yes.
  So that’s the context in which I’ll be heading to the Irish Book Awards this evening, knowing in my heart, no matter what happens, that I’m a charlatan and spoofer. The only consolation there, I suppose, is that most of the writers I meet tonight will be feeling exactly the same thing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Psychological Thrillers And Catullian Verse

Here’s a rather interesting prospect, as noted in the ‘Loose Leaves’ section of the Irish Times last Saturday. Simon Ashe-Browne won the 2011 Dundee International Book Prize with NOTHING HUMAN LEFT, a prize awarded to the best unpublished novel in the UK, and which scooped him £10,000. So who is this Simon Ashe-Browne? Quoth the Lisa Richards Agency blurb elves:
Simon Ashe-Browne is a writer and actor based in Dublin. He was Overall Winner of The Sean Dunne Young Writers Awards in 2003, and is a contributor to THE IRISH CATULLUS, or ONE GENTLEMAN OF VERONA, a trilingual volume of Catullian verse edited by Ronan Sheehan.
  Crikey, etc. Anyway, Simon’s debut novel sounds like it might well be a right belter. To wit:
Kids can be so cruel. One minute you’re the class clown and the next - you’re nobody. Jonathon, a.k.a. ‘the Doc’, stopped being funny months ago. Think he’ll give up without a fight? That’s not how the Doc operates … Instead of ducking gracefully out of the limelight, this clown is scrabbling for centre stage. Watch the Doc as he walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy, tumbling into an increasingly dark world of pranks gone wrong, fuelled on the dark circus of movies, pop culture and schoolboy bravado. Is the Doc a born performer or a natural psychopath? You decide. A fearless psychological thriller from Dundee International Book Prize winner Simon Ashe-Browne.
  So there you have it. Yet another debutant Irish author, yet another intriguing prospect, and damn fine cover to boot. I mean, ‘a fearless psychological thriller’ from a writer of Catullian verse? How, pray tell, could you possibly resist?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Can’t Spell Megan Without, Um, Mega

Before I read THE END OF EVERYTHING, Megan Abbott was one of those writers I’d been meaning to get to for a couple of years - fair to say, I think, that her reputation (BURY ME DEEP, QUEENPIN) precedes her. Anyway, THE END OF EVERYTHING more than matched my expectations; actually, it’ll probably be my favourite read of the year. Here’s a short review from this month’s Irish Times’ crime fiction column, which was published last Saturday:
Megan Abbott’s THE END OF EVERYTHING (Picador, £7.99) is another unusual offering, a novel about the abduction of a pubescent girl by a male neighbour as seen through the eyes of Lizzie, the best friend of the abducted girl. This is Abbott’s fifth novel, and it’s a superb piece of characterisation, which is given an added dimension courtesy of Lizzie’s entirely frank account of her growing sexual obsession with the father of the abducted girl. It’s an unsettling tale, as the reader is torn between Lizzie’s endearing naivety and her beautifully detailed reminiscing about her idyllic suburban life, and the darkness that lurks behind the apparently normal facades of her neighbourhood, which Lizzie insists on probing. Laced with poetic asides, and shot through with black humour and a bleak acceptance of the dangers that accompany a young woman’s puberty, THE END OF EVERYTHING is one of the most compelling novels you’ll read this year.
  Of course, the trouble with reading a terrific novel like that is that you immediately want to go back to the start of the author’s back catalogue and dive in. A luxury that a lack of time, unfortunately, doesn’t allow me these days. The good news there, I suppose, is that Megan Abbott has a new title, DARE ME, on the way next summer, which should nicely brighten up those long, damp, dreary Irish summer days.
  Elsewhere in the Irish Times’ column, I reviewed THE RETRIBUTION by Val McDermid, THE AFFAIR by Lee Child, THE KILLER IS DYING by James Sallis, THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina and STOLEN SOULS by our own Stuart Neville. Top stuff, all in all; one of the best month’s reading I’ve had in a long, long time. For the full piece, clickety-click here

Monday, November 14, 2011

Origins: Reed Farrel Coleman On GUN CHURCH

Once in a while here at Crime Always Pays, I like to hand the reins over to an actual writer who knows what she or he is talking about. ‘Origins’ is a (very) occasional series in which an author talks about the inspiration - character, plot, setting, whatever - for their latest novel, in this case the venerable Reed Farrel Coleman, on GUN CHURCH. To wit:
WONDER BOYS Meets FIGHT CLUB, With Guns
By Reed Farrel Coleman

“I’m an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University and I teach writing classes for Mystery Writers of America University—a kind of travelling roadshow MWA offers as a great member benefit. In any case, one of the things I inevitably discuss with students is the elevator pitch or, to put it another way, a very brief description of what your book is about. This is not a description of what happens in the book. It’s not a plot summary. It’s one line that conveys the gist of the novel. Writers, even seasoned and experienced ones, often struggle with this concept. The odd thing about GUN CHURCH is that not only did its entire plot pop into my head when I had the inspiration to write it, but the elevator pitch appeared immediately as well: WONDER BOYS meets FIGHT CLUB, with guns.
  “First, a brief summary, so you can get some idea of where I’m coming from. Kip Weiler is a washed up ’80s literary wunderkind fallen on hard times. Twenty years past his last novel, Kip’s foibles have landed him in the rural mining town of Brixton. He teaches creative writing at the local community college. One day, Kip saves his class from potential violence. For this he gets his second fifteen minutes of fame and, more importantly, the urge to write again. Little does Kip know that the book he is working on may be the blueprint of his own demise. Kip gets deeply involved with two of his students and a cult-like group that is obsessed with the intrinsic nature of handguns. The world gets very weird when art begins to imitate life imitating art.
  “So, back to how this all came about. Six years ago I was at a mystery conference, sitting in the audience as my close friend and fellow author, Jim Born, gave a weapons and self-defence demonstration. During the Q&A part of the demonstration, someone in the audience asked a question about how far shotgun pellets spread and at what rate. Jim said something like, “You’d have to be a real gun expert to answer that one.” And bang! (no pun intended), the plot of GUN CHURCH and the elevator pitch popped into my head. I’ll never know why, exactly. It just did.
  “Unfortunately, it took me six years and about twenty drafts to get it right. Strange thing is, I can usually write a series novel in 4 to 6 months, not years. But I didn’t have the chops to pull off the novel as originally conceived. There are many moving parts, lots of characters, a book within a book, tons of Irish dialect, third and first person narration … Talk about giving yourself a challenge, but it was absolutely worth it. Much like writing TOWER, the stand-alone I did with Ken Bruen, GUN CHURCH proved to be a means through which I became a far better and skilful writer. The chops I didn’t have when I began the project, I developed because of the project.” - Reed Farrel Coleman
  For a free sample of GUN CHURCH at Audible.com, along with a couple of very nice big-ups from Daniel Woodrell and Don Winslow, clickety-click here

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time To Talk Turkey

There are a number of interesting aspects to Laurence O’Bryan’s debut thriller, THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE, not all of them related to the novel’s plot. For starters, the back cover of the ARC I’ve been sent tells us that O’Bryan is ‘the second writer to be discovered through the Authonomy programme’. It’s also the first book I’ve ever seen to mention an author’s Twitter followers, claiming over 13,000 on behalf of @LPOBryan (as it happens, the number is now in excess of 15,000). The emphasis on marketing capacity is further enhanced by the fact that THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE has its own book trailer and a number of story-related puzzles for readers to solve. All in all, it’s an impressive set-up for a debutant writer.
  But what of the story itself, I hear you yodel. Well, the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
Buried deep under Istanbul, a secret is about to resurface with explosive consequences … Alek Zegliwski has been savagely beheaded. His body is found hidden near the sacred archaeological site of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. When Sean arrives in the ancient city to identify his colleague’s body, he is handed an envelope of photographs belonging to Alek and soon finds himself in grave danger. Someone wants him dead but why? Aided by British diplomat Isabel Sharp, Sean begins to unravel the mystery of the mosaics in the photographs and inch closer to snaring Alek’s assassin. Evil is at work and when a lethal virus is unleashed on the city, panic spreads fast. Time is running out for Sean and Isabel. They must catch the killer before it’s too late. An electrifying conspiracy thriller which will entice fans of Scott Mariani, Sam Bourne and Dan Brown.
  So there you have it. Is Laurence O’Bryan the Irish Dan Brown? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …
  Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for a taster, you can read the first chapter of THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE here

ADVERTISEMENT: ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL and the Irish Book Awards

The Bord Gais Irish Book Awards take place on November 17th, and the winners of the various sections will be decided by public vote. All the categories can be found at the link below, with BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, TABOO by Casey Hill, A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black, THE RECKONING by Jane Casey, THE BLOODY MEADOW by William Ryan and ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL by Declan Burke shortlisted in the Ireland AM Crime Fiction category. If you’ve read any of the above titles, and would like to vote for them, clickety-click here