“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I’ve been a contributor to January Magazine’s ‘Best Books’ feature for the past few years, although this year, given how busy it was in the run-up to Christmas, I completely forgot to submit my suggestions for the best books of the year. Which was a little disappointing, but lo! It seems that I haven’t been entirely left out of the process. Michael Gregorio was kind enough to pick ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL as one of his favourites of 2012 in the Crime Fiction section, with the gist running thusly:
“I’ll start by repeating a statement I’ve made before: ‘ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a wild, zany read, and I loved it.’ … The language is rich, the story is anarchic, the dialogue sparkles and the laughs are frequently side-splitting […] It’s as cool and bare and original as Waiting for Godot, but it offers a lot more laughs.” - Michael Gregorio
  I thank you kindly, sir: that’s a very sweet note upon which to end the year, especially as AZC finds itself in some very good company, which includes Megan Abbott, James Lee Burke, Tana French, Steve Mosby, CJ Sansom, Gillian Flynn and Arnaldur Indridason. Happy days.
  Upward and onward, then, to 2013, and a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all. See you on the other side, folks …

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Let Us Prey

John Connolly’s eleventh Charlie Parker mystery, THE WRATH OF ANGELS (Atria / Emily Bestler Books), appeared on this side of the pond waaaay back in August, but it’s only now - or on January 1st, to be precise - making landfall in North America. Quoth the blurb elves:
In the depths of the Maine woods, the wreckage of a plane is discovered. There are no bodies, and no such plane has ever been reported missing, but men both good and evil have been seeking it for a long, long time.
  What the wreckage conceals is more important than money. It is power: a list of names, a record of those who have struck a deal with the devil. Now a battle is about to commence between those who want the list to remain secret and those for whom it represents a crucial weapon in the struggle against the forces of darkness.
  The race to secure the prize draws in private detective Charlie Parker, a man who knows more than most about the nature of the terrible evil that seeks to impose itself on the world, and who fears that his own name may be on the list. It lures others, too: a beautiful, scarred woman with a taste for killing; a silent child who remembers his own death; and a serial killer known as the Collector, who sees in the list new lambs for his slaughter. But as the rival forces descend upon this northern state, the woods prepare to meet them, for the forest depths hide other secrets.
  Someone has survived the crash. Something has survived the crash.
  And it is waiting …
  I didn’t get to read THE WRATH OF ANGELS when it first appeared, because these days I get to read very little that isn’t commissioned; and given that I worked on BOOKS TO DIE FOR with John, I had to turn down a commission from the Irish Times to review ANGELS. Which is a terrible pity, because John’s books have been some of my reading highlights over the past few years. Anyway, things are a little quieter than usual at the moment, so I’m very much hoping to sneak in THE WRATH OF ANGELS before January goes all busy on my ass.
  In the meantime, if you fancy a glance at the first chapter of THE WRATH OF ANGELS, just clickety-click here

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher (12A) opens with the murder of five civilians by Iraq War sniper veteran James Barr (Joseph Sikora). When Barr is quickly tracked down by Pittsburgh PD detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), the case against him seems cast-iron, but Barr requests that Emerson and the District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) send for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former military MP who once investigated Barr for multiple homicides in Iraq. Can Reacher, working for Barr’s defence attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), prove the innocence of a man he knows to be a cold-blooded killer? Adapted from the best-selling novel One Shot by Lee Child, and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Jack Reacher is a thriller that works on a number of levels. A fast-paced tale full of twists and turns, it allows Cruise play a kind of private eye, with the full quota of laconic quips and comebacks we expect from such characters, while action fans will get their kicks from the various fist-fights, car chases and shoot-outs. The story also functions as an exploration of the nature of justice itself, however; neither Reacher nor Helen Rodin are convinced of their client’s innocence, neither are particularly naïve when it comes to the workings of the US justice system, and yet both are adamant that due process must be served on behalf of a man who cannot defend himself. It’s an intriguing blend, and Cruise appears to revel in the role of avenging angel: “I’m not a hero,” he warns one opponent, “I’m a drifter with nothing to lose.” Part Dirty Harry (1971), part Shane (1953), Jack Reacher is a surprisingly dark and complex anti-hero for what is ostensibly a mainstream blockbuster. Expect to see a lot more of him over the coming years. **** - Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

God Bless Us, Every One

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk-tank … Okay, not actually. But it is that time of year, the season of hope, and peace and goodwill to all men and women - aka the week or so when the CAP elves take a header into the vat of elf-wonking juice that has been brewing nicely since the summer solstice.
  I have to say, I’m very much looking forward to the break. It’s been a great year for yours truly, a hugely enjoyable experience of books published and awards won (okay, one award won), and good reviews and bad reviews, and good people met with, and talked with, and all of it bound up in books - and all of it exhausting. I sincerely hope that you had as enjoyable a year, and that next year will prove to be every bit as interesting and challenging and fun.
  A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all, folks, and I look forward to seeing you back here early in the New Year. In the meantime, here’s the Chief Entertainments Elf to serenade you in joyfully tuneless fashion for the season that’s in it. Roll it there, Rudolph …

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Legend Is Born

I mentioned the other day, while chatting about Jane Casey’s forthcoming YA tome HOW TO FALL, that a couple of other high profile Irish crime writers would be publishing YA titles in 2013. And lo! No sooner had the piece gone up on the blog than notice arrived of Alex Barclay’s latest offering, CURSE OF KINGS: THE TRIALS OF OLAND BORN (HarperCollins Children’s Books). Quoth the blurb elves:
In the tone of The Hobbit, comes the first thrilling story in an epic fantasy adventure, from a major new voice. Fourteen-year-old Oland Born lives in dark times, in a world ruled by evil tyrant, Vilius Ren. Vilius and his fearsome, bloodthirsty army have wrecked the prosperous kingdom of Decresian, once ruled by good King Micah. Oland himself has been kept as Vilius’s servant in grim Castle Derrington, and he knows little about his past – or why Vilius keeps such a sharp, close eye on him. One night, Oland finds a letter addressed to him, from the long-dead king. No sooner has he read the message than a mysterious stranger tries to kidnap him. Oland runs, the dead king’s warning ringing in his ears. If Oland is to live he must restore the shattered kingdom. This is his quest. This is his curse. Let the trials of Oland Born begin . . . The setting is a hugely atmospheric fantasy world of medieval castles, Romanesque games arenas, supernatural forests and harsh seas. Terrifying hybrid creatures and monsters abound – and Oland’s greatest ally is a girl called Delphi who has dark secrets of her own.
  Sounds intriguing, I have to say - but then I’m biased, being something of a fiend for myth and legend. Anyway, CURSE OF KINGS will be published on January 31st, just in time to pull us all out of the New Year blues. No pressure, Alex …

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Best Things In Life Are Free … BOOKS (TO DIE FOR)

’Tis the season to be jolly, and give presents, and even if I do tend to struggle with the ‘jolly’ bit on occasion, the BOOKS TO DIE FOR (Hodder & Stoughton) team will hopefully make up for that today. For lo! I have a (multiple) signed first edition of BOOKS TO DIE FOR to give away, which will warm the metaphorical cockles of any crime fiction fan’s heart. First, the blurb elves:
With so many mystery novels to choose from and so many new titles appearing each year, where should the reader start? What are the classics of the genre? Which are the hidden gems? In the most ambitious anthology of its kind yet attempted, the world’s leading mystery writers have come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that often reveal as much about themselves and their work work as they do about the books that they love, more than 120 authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Christie to Child and Poe to PD James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlowe to Peter Wimsey, BOOKS TO DIE FOR brings together the cream of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought . . . I want more!
  So there you have it. To be in with a chance of winning this unique prize, just answer the following question:
What one crime / mystery novel do you think every crime / mystery fan should read?
  Answers via the comment box below, please, leaving a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confuse the spam munchkins), by noon on December 31st. Oh, and if you fancy a second bite at the proverbial cherry, we’re also giving away a signed BTDF over here. Et bon chance, mes amis

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Fall For Springtime

At this rate I’m never going to be on trend. Jane Casey is the latest Irish crime scribe to turn her hand to writing young adult novels with HOW TO FALL (Corgi), following in the footsteps of John Connolly, Eoin McNamee, Cora Harrison, Colin Bateman and Adrian McKinty - and I’m reliably informed that two more of our high profile authors will be publishing YA titles in 2013. (Eoin Colfer, of course, being obstreperous and from Wexford, moved in the other direction, from writing YA to adult crime).
  I’d love to write a children’s book, but I’d imagine it’s a very difficult thing to get right, especially if you can’t allow your characters swear like stevedores when you run out of polite things for them to say.
  Anyway, HOW TO FALL will be published at the end of January, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
When fifteen-year-old Freya drowns, everyone assumes she’s killed herself, but no-one knows why. Her cousin, Jess Tennant, thinks she was murdered - and is determined to uncover the truth. On a summer visit to sleepy Port Sentinel, Jess (who bears a striking resemblance to her dead cousin) starts asking questions - questions that provoke strong reactions from her friends and family, not to mention Freya’s enemies. Everyone is hiding something - and Freya herself had more than her fair share of secrets. Can Jess unravel the mystery of her cousin’s death? A mystery involving a silver locket, seething jealousy and a cliff-top in the pitch black of night?
  Sounds like a cracker. There’s an early review of HOW TO FALL over at Chicklish (“Reader, I snogged him!”) which augurs well …

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: KILLING THE EMPERORS by Ruth Dudley Edwards

No lover of the politically correct, Baroness Ida ‘Jack’ Troutbeck makes it her life’s work to skewer society’s sacred cows. From academia to the House of Lords, and all points in between, Jack Troutbeck believes that the world of power and privilege is full of cant and hypocrisy.
  In KILLING THE EMPERORS (Allison & Busby), Jack announces to her friends that it’s time to take up the cudgels against the latest manifestation of ‘cultural idiocy’, that of contemporary conceptual art, as represented by artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin.
  Shortly after, the Baroness goes missing. Her friends are concerned, and become more so when famous names and faces from the world of conceptual art - artists, critics, curators, buyers - are also reported missing.
  It quickly becomes apparent that a Russian oligarch called Sarkovsky is responsible. An enthusiastic collector of modern art, and a recent ‘companion’ of Jack Troutbeck, Sarkovsky was hugely dismayed to discover that his multi-million investment in art is - according to Jack - largely worthless.
  It’s fair to say that Ruth Dudley Edwards is no fan of modern art, and KILLING THE EMPERORS won’t be winning any awards for its subtlety. The novel opens with a short version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, from which the title of the novel is taken. After a short prologue in which the first murder victim is discovered, Chapter One opens thusly:
‘I used to want to kill the talentless so-called artists,’ said Baroness Troutbeck, ‘but now I want instead to fill the tumbrils with the critics, the dealers, the curators, and all the rest of the charlatans and dunderheads peddling trash in the name of contemporary art.’ (pg 23)
  Edwards does not shy away from naming and shaming. Artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst are name-checked, as are collectors and curators such as Charles Saatchi and Nicolas Serota. All of them are damned as ‘charlatans and dunderheads’ who have perverted successive generations of artists with their notion that art is what the artist says it is.
  Jack Troutbeck is much more conservative in her understanding and appreciation of art, preferring the works of those artists who can actually paint, sculpt or play music to those who bypass the craft and simply peddle ideas, or concepts.
  I found it all hugely entertaining - although in saying so, I should probably admit to my own bias against conceptual art. KILLING THE EMPERORS isn’t a conventional crime / mystery novel, being much more of a polemic concerned with satirising conceptual art than it is with constructing a mystery to be solved. That said, I found it to be terrific fun, occasionally laugh-out-loud, and wonderfully subversive. - Declan Burke

Monday, December 17, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Quentin Bates

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?
There are so many. Normally it’s the one I’m reading at the moment. It’s more thriller than crime, but let’s say THE DAY OF THE JACKAL.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
The narrator in THE IPCRESS FILE, Harry Palmer in the films. He cooks to perfection, duffs up villains with aplomb and is never lost for an answer, plus being irresistible to passing supermodels. All of which I fail dismally at. Otherwise I’d settle for Josef Svejk.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Viz. Mrs Brady first, then Eight Ace.

Most satisfying writing moment?
That point when it all starts to gel and you know it works.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
I haven’t read enough of them to make an informed judgement, but that ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is something I’ve ordered people to read. Who wrote that one?

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Again, haven’t read enough of them to say for sure. But I’d love to see one of Benjamin Black’s books filmed, if the character of Quirke and the atmosphere of ’50s Dublin would translate to film. I reckon it’d be either brilliant or terrible, no middle ground there.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best bit is when someone goes out of their way to tell you just now much they enjoyed the story you’ve written, especially when it’s someone who took a chance on a writer they hadn’t heard of before and found they couldn’t put the book down. The worst bit is when it isn’t coming together, fighting the temptation to brood as the kettle boils yet again.

The pitch for your next book is…?
If you don’t want your wife to find out you’re being blackmailed, or wind up embarrassingly dead, maybe you should have been more careful where you put it? It’s set in Reykjavik at that dark, nervous time of year when the post-Christmas Visa bill is about to hit the doormat. (CHILLED TO THE BONE, out in April, UK & US)

Who are you reading right now?
Xavier-Marie Bonnot, Barbara Nadel, PG Wodehouse.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
That’s a hell of a choice. If it happens, I’ll just toss a coin. Either would be terrible. Mind you, if I could only read, at least there’d be a chance to make a dent in the sprawling to-be-read piles.

The three best words to describe your own writing are…?
May contain nuts.

Quentin Bates’ current novel is COLD COMFORT.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

30 Shades of Great: The Best Books Of 2012

It’s that time of the year again, folks, where I tell you what I read this year, and you tell me, this on the basis - presumably - that it’s marginally more interesting than telling one another about our dreams. That said, it’s always nice to be able to talk about good books, and I read a reasonable number of good books during 2012 - roughly a quarter of what I read would be worth reading again, I think. Oh, and as you’ll notice, some of the books below weren’t published in 2012; some were re-reads, others I was reading for the first time. Either way, they’re great books. And now, on with the show …

January
THE SILVER STAIN by Paul Johnston. A very fine private eye novel set on Crete. Fact: those nine words are my recipe for the perfect book.

February
THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye. A very impressive debut. Historical crime novel, incorporating the earliest incarnation of the NYPD. Great period detail.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander. Pitch-black comedy about a man who discovers Anne Frank living in his attic, typing out her memoir. Probably the funniest book I read all year.

March
THE IRON WILL OF SHOESHINE CATS by Hesh Kestin. Set in New York in the 1960s, and concerned with a most unlikely Jewish mobster, Shoeshine Cats. Actually, this was the funniest book I read all year.

April
THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald. I think Conor Fitzgerald could be the greatest of the current generation of Irish crime writers. This is the third of his Rome-set police procedurals. It’s brilliant.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson. I’ve been getting a bit bored with the rather homogenous Scandinavian crime scene of late, but Persson is doing something very interesting. Highly recommended.

May
A LILY OF THE FIELD by John Lawton. I’ve always been a sucker for a great spy novel and this is a great spy novel, with the added bonus of a backdrop of classical music. Marvellous.

I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET by Adrian McKinty. I read this one as a manuscript, which means I won’t be able to review it when it comes out in January. A pity, because Adrian McKinty is the reason Conor Fitzgerald isn’t the best of the current generation of Irish crime writers.

DARE ME by Megan Abbott. THE END OF EVERYTHING was my favourite novel of 2011; this is set in the murderous world of cheerleading, and delivers some of the most fascinating characters of 2012.

THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway. I’ve liked Inspector Ben Devlin more with each passing novel, but THE NAMELESS DEAD is a powerful novel with real emotional depth. If I was only allowed to re-read one Irish crime novel from 2012, this would be it.

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach. Along with spy novels, I’m also a sucker for baseball novels. Chad Harbach’s debut is much more than a baseball novel, but any book with a genius shortstop as its central character is jake with me. My most purely enjoyable read of the year, I think.

June
HHhH by Laurent Binet. A fascinating exploration of the attempted assassination of uber-Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, this is also an intriguing examination of the author’s right to tell a story, and the extent to which he or she should depend on the cobwebs of memory. Wonderful stuff.

BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French. A marvellous police procedural, this also doubled up as a heartbreaking take on the human cost of the Irish economic bust. Also the most frightening book I read all year.

July
BLOOD LOSS by Alex Barclay. On the one hand a compelling police procedural set in a Colorado skiing town, on the other a fascinating glimpse into a damaged mind that is fully aware it is damaged.
Edge of the seat stuff, this.

HAWTHORN & CHILD by Keith Ridgway. I’m still not fully sure why I liked this so much, although I suspect it’s because Ridgway took a very risky / adventurous plunge in terms of narrative. Akin to a contemporary Beckett, I think.

August
BRENNER AND GOD by Wolf Haas. What I loved about this Austrian-set tale of the abduction of an infant was the narrator’s voice - quirkily omniscient, and yet with a real whisper-in-the-ear quality. A very difficult style to pull off, but Haas does it beautifully.

LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane. The second part of the trilogy that began with THE GIVEN DAY, and while I prefer the first, LIVE BY NIGHT is a vividly delivered epic tale. Wonderful.

THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE by Marian Keyes. My very first Marian Keyes novel turned out to be a private eye tale, which was nice, but what makes this stand out is its harrowingly accurate depiction of depression. Hilarious and gut-wrenching, often in the space of the same paragraph.

September
CREOLLE BELLE by James Lee Burke. The Robicheaux plots might be starting to repeat themselves a little bit by now, but when you can write as beautifully, and poignantly, as Burke, who cares?

October
TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. A fabulous fantasy about America’s potential as a cultural melting-pot, I loved this for the self-mockery of its high-flown language.

MORTALITY by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens writes about dying as he’s dying. Stunning, heartbreaking, uplifting.

RATLINES by Stuart Neville. By all accounts the first of a trilogy, this spy novel set in Ireland in 1963 has it all: intrigue, twists, pace, power.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR by Artemis Cooper. If you read this biography thinking it was a novel, you’d never believe it. Fermor packed about seven lives into his ninety-odd years, and Cooper does him full justice.

November
GONE AGAIN by Doug Johnstone. Not due until next March, I think, but one of the best paranoid thrillers I’ve read since the last time I closed an Alan Glynn book.

STANDING IN A DEAD MAN’S GRAVE by Ian Rankin. Rebus is back. Let me say that again: Rebus is back. ’Nuff said.

December
THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly. There’s an elegiac quality creeping into Connelly’s Bosch novels I hadn’t noticed before, and which gives the books an added heft that they were brilliant without. Superb.

SMONK by Tom Franklin. CROOKED LETTER blew me away when I read it a couple of years ago; I read HELL AT THE BREECH last year, and just finished SMONK. Reminiscent of early Cormac McCarthy, but funnier.

  So there you have it. If you want to let us all know what your favourite books in 2012 were, feel free to leave a comment in the box below, or a link to your own list on your blog, website, etc.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: RUSH OF BLOOD by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham is best known for his award-winning series of DI Thorne police procedural novels, but RUSH OF BLOOD (Little, Brown) is his second standalone thriller.
  The story opens in Florida, where three British couples - Angie and Barry, Ed and Sue, and Marina and Dave - are on holiday when a teenage girl, Amber-Marie Wilson, disappears from their holiday resort. The girl is later discovered murdered.
  Detective Jeff Gardner takes a personal interest in the case, mainly because if he doesn’t, Amber-Marie’s mother, Patty-Lee, will be left totally bereft.
  On their return to the UK, the British couples resume contact with one another over a series of dinner parties, which expose the quirks and frailties of their personal relationships. This is heightened by the fact that another young girl goes missing in the UK, in similar circumstances to the Florida case.
  Jenny Quinlan, a young trainee constable, is given the job of querying the British tourists as to their movements while in Florida when the trans-Atlantic connection becomes evident. The increased scrutiny puts the couples under pressure, and cracks quickly begin to appear in their stories. But which of the six is the child-killer?
  Mark Billingham’s 12th crime novel is an expertly plotted ‘whodunit’ thriller, although it’s fair to say that Billingham is here far more interested in characterisation than he is in constructing a puzzle-based plot. All six main characters are fleshed out beautifully, particularly in terms of how they behave in a class-based hierarchy, while the subsidiary characters of Jeff Gardner and Jenny Quinlan are also well handled.
  Billingham also includes a ‘seventh’ character - the voice of the killer, delivered in italics, explaining as the story progresses as to why he or she killed the girls.
  Equally entertaining, for the crime aficionado, is the running commentary on the conventions of the crime novel itself. Most of these come courtesy of the killer, in which traditional motives and modus operandi are dismissed as the stuff of melodrama, although both Jeff Gardner and Jenny Quinlan reference TV shows and books when comparing fictional policing with its real-life counterpart. It’s intriguing to wonder whether Billingham is conducting a conversation with the reader, his fellow crime writers, or himself …
  All told, RUSH OF BLOOD is a terrific thriller on a number of levels: as a whodunit puzzle, as a character-based investigation into social interaction, and as a clever and occasionally cutting commentary on the contemporary crime novel. - Declan Burke

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On First Novels And Kitchen Sinks

“It really shouldn’t work,” begins Karen Chisholm’s review of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE over at AustCrimeFiction, which sounds a tad ominous, and things aren’t improved much when Karen starts listing the ways in which EIGHTBALL and its protagonist, Harry Rigby, really shouldn’t, erm, work.
  Happily, Karen’s time wasn’t entirely wasted in reading the novel. To wit:
“It’s undoubtedly something to do with the crisp, sharp, pointy, sticky, dark, hilariously funny writing throughout the book … Sure the plot probably needed a tourist guide, a very good torch and maybe a cheat sheet, but I ... simply ... did ... not ... care. I loved the whole package and frankly, had a ball reading it.” - Karen Chisholm, AustCrimeFiction
  Which is very nice indeed. Books-wise, the last couple of months at Chez CAP have been largely taken up with BOOKS TO DIE FOR and SLAUGHTER’S HOUND (the sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE), and you do tend to forget that you have other books out there, like children grown up and gone off to discover the world, and reviews like Karen’s function a little like postcards from a distant land, or the past, or somewhere they do things differently.
  At the Crime Night event at Tallaght’s recent Red Line Books Festival, I asked Niamh O’Connor if there was anything about her first book she’d like to change. She said no, and asked if I’d like to change anything about my first book, and I said yes, pretty much everything. As Karen Chisholm points out (very nicely) in her review, the characters in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE crunch their way through the story across the porcelain shards of what feels like a million metaphorical kitchen sinks, said sinks having been (metaphorically) thrown by yours truly in a desperate bid to keep the book interesting.
  In short, it’s a hyper-ventilating love-letter to the crime novel in general and those of Raymond Chandler in particular, although it’s probably fair to say that I took his tongue-in-cheek advice on what to do should the pace ever flag - have a man come the door with a gun in his hand - a little too seriously. And yet, for all its faults I love it still. The way you might love a child, keenly aware of the ways in which it isn’t perfect, but loving it all the more because of its imperfections rather than despite them.
  For a sample chapter or three from EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, please feel free to clickety-click here

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ryan’s Slaughter

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Stuart Neville’s latest offering, RATLINES, is due in January, and that it’s a terrific read, and I’m delighted to see that I’m not alone in believing that its protagonist, Albert Ryan, will be with us for the long haul. For lo! The early word is in, and it’s very impressive indeed. To wit:
“Thrilling ... Readers will hope to see more of Ryan, a formidable yet damaged hero.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Wildly entertaining, RATLINES is a superb mystery but in addition, a spotlight on a slice of Irish history largely ignored.”
—Ken Bruen, Shamus Award-winning author of The Guard

“Another moody winner mixes Nazis into Neville’s usual Irish noir.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Stuart Neville’s books just get better and better and RATLINES is simply superb.”
—Mark Billingham, bestselling author of Rush of Blood

“RATLINES is a belter: fast, furious, bloody and good.”
—Ian Rankin, New York Times bestselling author of Exit Music
  Sweet. Quoth the blurb elves:
Ireland 1963. As the Irish people prepare to welcome President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, a German national is murdered in a seaside guesthouse. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, Directorate of Intelligence, is ordered to investigate. The German is the third foreigner to die within a few days, and Minister for Justice Charles Haughey wants the killing to end lest a shameful secret be exposed: the dead men were all Nazis granted asylum by the Irish government in the years following World War II.

A note from the killers is found on the dead German’s corpse, addressed to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite commando, once called the most dangerous man in Europe. The note simply says: “We are coming for you.”

As Albert Ryan digs deeper into the case he discovers a network of former Nazis and collaborators, all presided over by Skorzeny from his country estate outside Dublin. When Ryan closes in on the killers, his loyalty is torn between country and conscience. Why must he protect the very people he fought against twenty years before? Ryan learns that Skorzeny might be a dangerous ally, but he is a deadly enemy.
  So there you have it. With Adrian McKinty’s I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET and Stuart Neville’s RATLINES both appearing in early January, I think it’s already safe to say that 2013 will be a very good year indeed for Norn Iron crime fiction …

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Hear The Bandwagon In The Street

Adrian McKinty has been receiving very fine reviews for many years now, but it appears that the Sean Duffy series of novels are moving him onto another level entirely, and not a moment too soon. His forthcoming opus, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET, is the second in the Duffy series, and bears a couple of very short but very sweet encomiums. To wit:
“It blew my doors off.” - Ian Rankin

“I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is one hell of a story.” - Daniel Woodrell
  Nice. Herewith be the blurb elves:
Sean Duffy knows there’s no such thing as a perfect crime. But a torso in a suitcase is pretty close. Still, one tiny clue is all it takes, and there it is. A tattoo. So Duffy, fully fit and back at work after the severe trauma of his last case, is ready to follow the trail of blood - however faint - that always, always connects a body to its killer. A legendarily stubborn man, Duffy becomes obsessed with this mystery as a distraction from the ruins of his love life, and to push down the seed of self-doubt that he seems to have traded for his youthful arrogance. So from country lanes to city streets, Duffy works every angle. And wherever he goes, he smells a rat ...
  So there you have it. SIRENS is released on January 10th, which means you have plenty of time to pick up the first Sean Duffy novel, THE COLD COLD GROUND, before it arrives. For what it’s worth (two cents, actually), here’s my two cents on said tome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Vote Early, Vote Fowl

You will remember, no doubt, all that hoo-hah about the Irish Book Awards last month, which largely involved dressing up in our best frou-frou frocks (right), air-kissing our way around the RDS, and not winning very much. Boo, etc.
  Anyway, one consequence of the IBA Awards is that all the winners from the various categories on the night are now all in contention for the Irish Book of the Year gong. These include John Banville’s ANCIENT LIGHT, Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, Donal Ryan’s THE SPINNING HEART and Maeve Binchy’s A WEEK IN WINTER, but given that Eoin Colfer was the only soul brave enough to wear a cravat on the night of the IBA Awards, we’re going to recommend that you vote for ARTEMIS FOWL: THE LAST GUARDIAN, which was the winner in the senior Young Adult category.
  For all the details - it’ll take about ten seconds - clickety-click here

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Good Readers As The Greatest Reward

I’m quite fond of the notion that a book is only half-written by its author, and that it only begins to come alive when someone turns the first page and starts to read. It follows, then, that a book is only as good as its readers allow it to be - although it’s also true, as a kind of corollary, that an especially attentive and receptive reader may make a book better than it actually is.
  Such is the case, I fear, with the reviews SLAUGHTER’S HOUND picked up during the past week, with three readers picking up on different aspects of the novel. To wit:
“This is a dark tale, and it gets progressively darker as it goes along. In the middle, it reminded me a bit of Ross Macdonald, and also of his Irish literary descendent, Declan Hughes, with its tale of doomed families and the ruin that attends them. But there is a kind of go-for-broke quality to this book that I haven’t really found in the aforementioned illustrious writers’ work, and it took me till nearly the end of the book to realize that Burke has laid it all out for us in the very title of the work, and in a helpful author’s epigram, in which he notes that the great warrior Cú Chulainn’s name really means Hound of Ulster and that he owned a number of war hounds called archú, who were known for their love of slaughter … It is a tale steeped in the tradition of the Irish myth cycles, where deeds are great, but, well, bloody.” - Seana Graham

“This novel is a tragedy, which takes place in a town called Sligo, a location that could be Thebes or any other place in the world where the frailties of good men and women are exploited by the eternal cynics and they become the playthings of the gods, where a man can sleep with his mother without knowing she is his mother or kill his father without knowing whom he is killing, and be punished as if he had knowingly committed the two heinous crimes. As he twists and turns in the nets that have been set for him, the hero’s every good intention or action goes wrong, and Harry Rigby reminds you at times of Job and at other times of Oedipus. His every decent human trait, such as loyalty or friendship, is exploited by the people around him and each betrayal plunges him a little further into the circles of hell … Highly recommended.” - John J. Gaynard

“SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is yet another ‘How the hell does he do that?’ offering from author Declan Burke, whose book ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL has already secured a spot on my Top 10 Reads of 2012 list. More than just a crime fiction / noir novel, SLAUGHTER’S HOUND vividly brings to life the post-investment boom hangover much of Ireland is experiencing, personified by the Hamilton family. Once obscenely wealthy, the family is now teetering on financial ruin and, as Rigby learns, also has some incredibly dark secrets stashed away in the closet along with the skeletons. Lead by its ice princess matriarch, Saoirse, the Hamiltons add a Shakespearean level of drama, complete with a conniving attorney.
  “The story which unfolds is a beautiful balance of tremendous heart and horrific violence.” - Elizabeth A. White
  As you can imagine, that’s all very pleasing indeed.
I was certainly aiming, with SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, to splice together aspects of modern noir and classical tragedy, not least because the forms have so much in common. As Seana and Elizabeth point out, I was riffing on the motif of ‘doomed families’ that feature in the work of Ross Macdonald and Declan Hughes, although I’d be the first to say that SH comes up very short by comparison with both. Seana also mentions the epigram at the beginning of the book, and its reference to the Irish myth cycles, and I was conscious of that historical narrative too; but for a very long time, as John Gaynard detected, the epigram for SLAUGHTER’S HOUND came courtesy of Horace Kallen, from his intriguing THE BOOK OF JOB AS A GREEK TRAGEDY, which I wrote about here last January.
  So there you have it. Apologies for the trumpet-blowing, folks, but there are days, many days, when writing offers precious few tangible rewards. Good readers, on the other hand, are the greatest reward any writer can hope for.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Canadian-Italian Job

Recently returned from Caen University, where he featured - along with The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman and Declan Hughes - in a weekend-long conference on Irish crime fiction, the very fine scribe Cormac Millar continues his international bridge-building by welcoming Canadian-Italian author Antonio Nicaso (right) to Dublin’s Trinity College on Monday, December 3rd.
  A renowned Mafia expert, Nicaso will be giving a talk on ‘Mafia: Fiction and Reality’, which incorporates the international phenomenon of organized crime and not just the Italian variety.
  The event takes place in the Robert Emmet Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College at 7:15pm on the evening of Monday 3 December 2012. For more about Antonio Nicaso, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thus Spake Mr & Mrs Kirkus …

J. Kingston Pierce compiles his Top Ten Crime / Mystery novels of 2012 over at the Kirkus Reviews blog, and you won’t be even remotely surprised to learn that a certain BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French shows up. More intriguing, perhaps, is the fact that there’s a second Irish crime novel on the list, and one that seems to have flown under many radars this year: Anthony Quinn’s debut, DISAPPEARED. To wit:
“Quinn enriches DISAPPEARED with Irish history and does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension as his plot unfolds.” - J. Kingston Pierce
  Very nice indeed. For more on DISAPPEARED, clickety-click here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Flesh And Blood And Ink

Those crazy kids and their rock ‘n’ roll tattoos, eh? Norn Iron scribe Gerard Brennan displays an admirable level of commitment to his books in getting FIREPROOF punched into his arm, which may well be the most quixotic gesture I’ve seen this year, given its combination of flesh, blood and ink. For the full story, clickety-click here
  Has anyone else ever tattooed themselves with their own books? Or with any literary reference? I’ve got one of Wile E. Coyote, which isn’t very bookish, although I do think that Wile. E is the very essence of Beckett given his ‘fail, fail better’ modus operandi …

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Bottling The Spirit Of Raymond Chandler

We may not have brought home the proverbial bacon from the Irish Book Awards on Thursday night, losing out in the Crime Novel category to Tana French’s excellent BROKEN HARBOUR, but it’s fair to say that the weekend wasn’t entirely wasted. On Thursday, the Irish Times published a Christmas gifts supplement, in which a number of writers were asked to suggest books as presents. BROKEN HARBOUR was among Marian Keyes’ picks, as was THE LAST GIRL by Jane Casey and GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, although she opened up, bless her cotton socks, with SLAUGHTER’S HOUND. To wit:
“SLAUGHTER’S HOUND starts with a body diving from a building and a car exploding, and the action doesn’t let up until the last line. But what sets this novel apart is its tone, which is being called ‘Irish noir’: it’s dead-pan and sardonic, and although it’s often very, very funny, this is a grim and gritty read.” - Marian Keyes, Irish Times
  I was, as you can imagine, absolutely delighted by that - it does ye olde confidence no harm at all to have a writer of Marian Keyes’ calibre say such things.
  In the same section, incidentally, John Connolly picked CREOLE BELLE by James Lee Burke, LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane and HHhH by Laurence Binet - with all of which I heartily concur.
  Then, today, the Sunday Times published its annual selection of the year’s finest books, and lo! SLAUGHTER’S HOUND popped up in the ‘standout works of genre fiction’, being the Crime Fiction choice. To wit:
“It takes a writer of rare skill to make modern-day Sligo feel like 1940s California, but Declan Burke has clearly bottled the spirit of Raymond Chandler for SLAUGHTER’S HOUND. When Harry Rigby sees his best friend dive off a building onto his taxi - blowing up a load of grass in the process - the former private eye is launched into a dark, twisting screwball caper of gang bosses, a rich family in the clutches of Nama, a fiery Cypriot beauty, and a very unsympathetic detective.” - Kristoffer Mullin, Sunday Times
  So there you have it. SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, by the way, has just been published in the US and Canada, and has picked up four five-star reviews to date. If you’ve read the book and liked it, and have the time and inclination to say so, I’d really appreciate your review over here. I thank you kindly …

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Irish Book Awards: Yep, It’s Third Time Unlucky

Show me a good loser, as Vince Lombardi once said, and I’ll show you a loser. Which is irrefutably true. It’s also true, if we can continue the football analogy, that there’s no shame in being beaten by a better team, and BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French was a very worthy winner of the Ireland AM Best Crime Novel award at the Irish Book Awards last night.
  I’ve said all along this year that BROKEN HARBOUR is a tremendous piece of work, and while it’s always disappointing not to win once you make it onto the shortlist - last night was my third time unlucky at the Irish Book Awards - it was no mean achievement to make it even that far, particularly when you consider some of the very fine novels that didn’t. Anyway, hearty congratulations to Tana French, and sincere commiserations to my fellow nominees Niamh O’Connor, Benjamin Black, Louise Philips and Laurence O’Bryan.
  Meanwhile, I was delighted to see Eoin Colfer win in the Young Adult section for the final Artemis Fowl novel, and John Banville win the Best Novel category with ANCIENT LIGHT. For all the Irish Book Award winners, clickety-click here

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: MORTALITY by Christopher Hitchens

“Like so many of life’s varieties of experience,” writes Christopher Hitchens in Mortality (Atlantic Books), “the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off.”
  Born in Portsmouth in 1949, author, journalist and essayist Christopher Hitchens was one of his generation’s best known intellectuals. A friend and peer of Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan, the British-born Hitchens, who successfully applied for American citizenship in 2007, famously criticised Mother Teresa and Lady Diana, harangued US President George Bush for his policies yet supported the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, and was notorious for the strength of his convictions when it came to opposing religion - his book God is Not Great (2007) sold in excess of half a million copies.
  A regular on TV chat shows and a sought-after presence on the international lecture circuit, Hitchens contributed to a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, among them Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, the Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman.
  He seemed a force of nature, but in June 2010 his voracious appetite for alcohol and cigarettes finally caught up with him. “I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death,” he says in the opening line of Mortality, with the deadpan humour that pervades even the darkest chapters. “But nothing prepared me for the early morning in June when I came to consciousness feeling as I were actually shackled to my own corpse.”
  Shortly afterwards, the author receives confirmation that he is suffering from oesophageal cancer with complications, and that his life expectancy can be measured in months rather than years. Mortality, which is by turns a heartbreaking and uplifting book, and which first appeared in series form in Vanity Fair, is essentially a memoir of his dying.
  It takes a rare quality of courage to look in the mirror, see death gazing back and not flinch at writing down its starkest details. Hitchens is merciless as he sketches in his own failings - the hair and weight loss, the loss of appetite that in no way diminishes his body’s fondness for vomiting, the occasional moments of existential dread. Even as he writes in his measured and urbane style, he records the increasing difficulties he is having with the physical process of writing. Even worse, for this veteran of lecture and television debate, a man with an actor’s ability to project his personality to the furthest reaches of any chamber or hall, is the prospect of the oesophageal cancer eating away at his voice. “What do I hope for?” he asks. “If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.”
  He remains clear-eyed throughout, determinedly unsentimental, taking full responsibility for the behaviour that has brought him to this pass. “I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction,” he says, acknowledging that he has been ‘knowingly burning the candle at both ends’ for most of his adult life, “and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal it bores even me.” He mocks the temptation to feel sorry for himself. “Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? […] But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.”
  Indeed, despite the physical toll exacted by the cancer and its various treatments, Hitchens remains rigorous in his thought process throughout. When one of the Christian ‘faithful’ posts a website contribution declaring that throat cancer is the perfect way for God to dispatch a man who used his voice to deny God’s existence, and that hellfire awaits, Hitchens calmly responds with a query as to why it wasn’t his thought-generating brain that God chose to destroy. He knows, of course, that he is wasting precious breath. “To them, a rodent carcinoma really is a dedicated, conscious agent - a slow-acting suicide-murderer - on a consecrated mission from heaven.”
  Meanwhile, the well-wishers are almost as draining on his emotional reserves. From far and wide, from friend and former foe alike, come heartfelt promises of prayers, prompting Hitchens to wonder why people of such faith would want to see their prayers undo God’s great plan. “A different secular problem also occurs to me,” he adds mischievously. “What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.”
  With his mind still nimble, it’s difficult for the polymathic Hitchens to keep his eye focused on his navel for very long. A comment about his physical appearance will lead on to an extended digression about the nature of prayer in the Old Testament; when he assesses his increasingly remote chances of survival, given the development of cutting-edge techniques, it results in a disquisition on the morality and ethics of using stem-cells in cancer research.
  At 91 pages, Mortality is a short book, and even at that it feels brief - although Hitchens bubbles with such brio that it would probably have felt as such had it been three times its length. But even if it is a slim volume, it exerts a powerful gravity, drawing the reader inexorably into the heart of Hitchens’ plight and making of his own death a universal experience. The last chapter is the most unsettling, a chapter of scribblings and half-written lines and concepts that weren’t fully fleshed out in time to make the body of the book proper, so that it reads like the mental flutterings of a fading consciousness, still randomly generating ideas, memories and emotions as the life-force slips away gently into the ether.
  Harrowing at times, hilarious at others, Mortality is a delicate, profound and surprisingly tender love letter to life at the very moment of its leaving. You will hardly read a more important book this year. - Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

But Seriously, Folks …

I had an interview with The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman published in the Evening Herald during the week. Currently promoting THE PRISONER OF BRENDA, which blends classic crime / mystery tropes with blackly comic scenarios, Bateman is a former winner of the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ prize awarded at Crimefest. But is comic crime fiction taken seriously by readers? To wit:
Despite his runaway success, however, Bateman still encounters purists who object to the combination of crime fiction and humour.
  Do readers take comedy crime seriously? “I think the very few readers who buy it do,” he says. “You would guess from sales in general that readers prefer their crime fiction deadly serious and quite bloody, and that may just be the fact of it, or because that is what’s put in front of them.
  “I think that if crime that is quite serious, but happens to be funny as well -- I mean, Raymond Chandler was funny, wasn’t he? -- was promoted with a bit of muscle then it could sell extremely well.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Democracy Is Coming / To The IBA …”

Editor's note: The public vote for the Irish Book Awards closes on Sunday, November 18th. Here’s a post from a couple of weeks back, in which I suggest a couple of books and writers that I think are worth your hanging chad …

I’m not hugely enthralled, I have to say, with the idea that the prizes in the Irish Book Awards will be decided, in part at least, by a public vote. I do appreciate that a public vote means raising the profile of the Awards, and by extension that of all the writers involved, and that this can only be a good thing; and God knows the publishing industry in Ireland, and all who sail in her, could do with all the help they can get right now.
  That said, it just doesn’t feel right to harangue people to vote for your book. For starters, I’m not very good at asking people for favours. If I was, I wouldn’t have retreated into a silent room to fabricate fantastical versions of reality; I’d have gone into politics, and told the whole world any old lie they wanted to hear.
  It’s also true that anyone who spends any time on Twitter or Facebook, et al, is badgered on a daily basis to vote for people and things they’ve never heard of before, which rather undermines the whole basis of the award process in the first place. Literary awards aren’t some kind of Olympic Games, in which there’s only one clear winner; but even allowing for the inevitable intrusion of taste, opinion and prejudice, a literary award should aspire to reward quality rather than quantity. I don’t believe it should become a popularity contest, especially as we already have the bestseller lists as a reasonable guide to a writer’s popularity (or - koff - lack of same).
  And even if you confine your ‘Vote for Me-Me-Me!’ requests to those people who have already read and liked your book, that’s a bit much too. You’ve already asked people to pay good money for the book, and to devote their precious reading time to your tome. To ask any more is a little rude, I think.
  Mind you - and this may sound perverse, or even hypocritical - I do like the notion of the various shortlists being established by public vote, with a panel of judges then deciding which of the shortlisted offerings is the best. Does that make any sense? Or is it just replicating the issues outlined above, but at an earlier stage in the process?
  Anyway, I won’t be asking you to vote for my own book this year, but given that the system is what it is, I’m more than happy to point out some shortlisted books that I’ve read and enjoyed, and which you might well enjoy too if you haven’t already. To wit:
In the Popular Fiction category, Marian Keyes is nominated for THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE, which is a very funny take on the private eye novel but one that’s pretty dark and poignant too. Incidentally, Melissa Hill is shortlisted here as well, for THE CHARM BRACELET; I haven’t read it, but I was surprised that Casey Hill’s TORN didn’t make the Crime Fiction shortlist.

Over in the Novel of the Year category we have Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD, another crime-influenced tome, albeit a crime novel in which all the conventional narrative gambits have been excised. A very interesting offering. I’ve also read Kevin Barry’s DARK LIES THE ISLAND, which I’d be inclined to vote for out of sheer devilment, simply because it’s collection of short stories shortlisted for novel of the year.

In the Crime Fiction category, I’ve gone on record many times to say that Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR is a superb piece of work, and well worth your time. Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, it’s easily the most terrifying book on any of the shortlists this year. Also in contention is TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT by Niamh O’Connor, a writer I’ve huge admiration for.

I haven’t read any of the titles in the Sports Book of the Year category, but if Keith Duggan’s surfing tome THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY is half as good as his weekly columns in the Irish Times then it’s probably an instant classic. Also, it rips its title from THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which means Keith Duggan should be conferred with sainthood in time for Christmas.

In the Children’s Book of the Year category it’s very difficult to see past Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LAST GUARDIAN, which is a stonking good read, very funny, and a satisfying climax to the Artemis Fowl epic cycle. I loved it.

Finally, the Bookshop of the Year category features ye olde Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin, which has hosted more book launches of mine than I care to remember (two, to be precise). A fine emporium, and well worth your patronage.
  So there you have it. The Irish Book Awards - vote early, folks, but not often

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BOOKS TO DIE FOR: The Washington Post Verdict

I’ve mentioned before how busy it is at CAP Towers these days, but really, that’s no excuse for my not mentioning the lengthy review BOOKS TO DIE FOR received from Michael Dirda in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago. The gist runs thusly:
“There are 119 contributors here, from 20 countries, and the general standard of the essays is high, most of them arguing for the depth and sophistication, the literary quality, of their chosen book or author … In short, BOOKS TO DIE FOR is, even given its biases, as good a collection of short essays on crime fiction as one is likely to find.” - Michael Dirda, Washington Post
  As you can imagine, we were, and remain, very pleased with that. Of course, as with virtually every other reader of BOOKS TO DIE FOR, Michael has his quibbles with some of the contributions, and even more quibbles with some of the classic crime / mystery novels that didn’t make it into the book. For the full review, clickety-click here
  This coming Friday, November 16th, I’ll be hosting a conversation with some of the contributors to BOOKS TO DIE FOR as part of the Red Line Book Festival in Tallaght. Co-editor John Connolly, Mark Billingham, Niamh O’Connor and Declan Hughes will be discussing their favourite crime / mystery novels of all time, and chatting about the elements that make up the great crime / mystery stories.
  The Red Line Festival bods have been kind enough to issue yours truly with five pairs of tickets for the event, and to be in with a chance of winning a pair, just answer the following question:
Of all the great crime / mystery novels ever written, which one do you love the most?
  Answers via the comment box below, please, leaving a contact email address (using [at] rather than @ to confuse the spam monkeys) by noon on Wednesday, November 14th. Et bon chance, mes amis

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Origins: Darragh McManus on EVEN FLOW

“The genesis of my thriller EVEN FLOW lies a fair way in the past. All the way back to 2002, in fact, when I returned from honeymoon with half an idea in my head for a story, or at least its opening scene: a group of yuppie assholes, abusing two call-girls at a stag party. Then three vigilantes blow the door off the hinges and stride into this beautiful apartment, clad in tuxedos and balaclavas, and announce that they’re here to punish the men responsible.
  “The story flowed from there, as the 3W Gang – named for gay icons Wilde, Whitman and Waters – embark on a campaign of terror against homophobes and misogynists. They’re urban guerrillas, violent Situationist pranksters, radical feminists, the children of Baader-Meinhof, the New Man in excelsis. They’re ironic and smart-assed and angry and brave; they’re Gen X with a gun and a willingness to use it. As the blurb puts it, they’re Germaine Greer crossed with Kurt Cobain crossed with Dirty Harry.
  “Except that’s not really where the story began. We have to go back eleven more years, to 1991, when I was a first year student at University College Cork. Around April, rumours started circulating about a spate of so-called ‘queer-bashing’ attacks on gay students by local ignoramuses. This was shocking, first because Cork then was a very safe place – you’d walk from town at any time, day or night, and never see trouble – but also because it so went against the grain of how we thought and felt about homosexuality.
  “I wasn’t gay, and don’t think I knew any gay students, but that didn’t matter: someone’s sexuality was just accepted as a part of them, a thing – an irrelevance unless you personally fancied someone but she didn’t fancy men back, or whatever. It was normal to not give a rat’s ass whether a person was gay or not. It was definitely abnormal to beat them up if they were.
  “Anyway, I remember thinking, half in jest but possibly all in earnest, “You know what’d be cool – if there was a gang of queer-basher bashers. Enlightened men, but considerably tougher than me, who went around selectively punishing homophobes in the kind of language they understand.” So, fast-forward to 2012 and the 3W Gang are, essentially, doing just that.
  “Except … that’s not fully right, either. Because around the same time, I did a module in black American literature, and read Toni Morrison’s great novel Song of Solomon, in which one of the characters, Guitar Baines – love that name – joins a sort of terrorist group which hits back in kind at racist attacks. As in, the KKK kills a black man, Guitar and his guys kill one of the KKK. This is to balance things out, he says. The universe is out of kilter otherwise, if grievous wrong is done with no redress.
  “So there was that too – my vigilantes strive for an ‘even flow’, a rebalancing, an equalisation. But there were more events, other times. Yes, I know this is all starting to sound a bit like the “literary inspiration” version of Inception: an origin inside an origin inside an origin. But that’s how EVEN FLOW came to me, I’m realising now.
  Grunge music, and how it was discordant and loud and muscular, but at the same time gentle and considerate and introspective. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag and all those great, ballsy, pioneering feminist women. Emmeline Pankhurst and the other Suffragettes, who were willing to literally die for their convictions.
  “And more, and more … Mary Wollestonecraft. The Stonewall rioters. David Bowie, Robert Mapplethorpe. The Smiths. Don DeLillo. The journalist Jack Holland. Allen Ginsberg. Robert Graves. REM. Clint Eastwood. Margaret Atwood. Anthony Burgess. Ulrike Meinhoff. Batman. V for Vendetta. James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett, Andrew Vachss, William Gibson, Alan Moore. Taxi Driver, Falling Down, Point Break, The Crow, Munich, Dead Man’s Shoes, Hard Candy.
  “Where do the origins of EVEN FLOW lie? In the whole progress of my life, I suppose; in all the things I read or saw or heard or pondered or argued or rejected; in the streams and dynamics of the world that preceded me and then shaped me. A world where a simple sense of fair play, for men and women, straight and gay, seemed normal – was normal. A world where ignorance and brutality and hatred and fear were instantly identifiable as fucked up and just wrong. A world where these things still exist, sadly, but less and less, as the decades pass. I think. I hope?
  “A world moving towards a happy time when men like Wilde, Waters and Whitman are no longer necessary.” - Darragh McManus

  For more by Darragh McManus, clickety-click here

Friday, November 9, 2012

Always Judge A Book By Its Covers

Someone was asking on the interwebs yesterday about book covers, and which are the most impressive, those from the US or the UK. I think the folks behind Stuart Neville’s forthcoming opus, RATLINES (Harvill Secker in the UK, Soho in the US) have done a very nice job in both cases, but generally speaking, I’m in favour of US covers. Herewith be the blurb for RATLINES:
Ireland 1963. As the Irish people prepare to welcome President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, a German national is murdered in a seaside guesthouse. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, Directorate of Intelligence, is ordered to investigate. The German is the third foreigner to die within a few days, and Minister for Justice Charles Haughey wants the killing to end lest a shameful secret be exposed: the dead men were all Nazis granted asylum by the Irish government in the years following World War II.

A note from the killers is found on the dead German’s corpse, addressed to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite commando, once called the most dangerous man in Europe. The note simply says: “We are coming for you.”

As Albert Ryan digs deeper into the case he discovers a network of former Nazis and collaborators, all presided over by Skorzeny from his country estate outside Dublin. When Ryan closes in on the killers, his loyalty is torn between country and conscience. Why must he protect the very people he fought against twenty years before? Ryan learns that Skorzeny might be a dangerous ally, but he is a deadly enemy.
  I’ve read RATLINES, by the way, and it’s very, very good - a terrific thriller-cum-spy novel that appears to have set up Albert Ryan for what could become a very interesting series.
  Back to the US / UK ‘debate’, and there’s one advantage that US books have over their counterparts on this side of the pond that leaves me weak at the knees. I’m not usually a geek for book production, I’m not a collector or any kind of serious bibliophile, but lawks awmighty, the very sight (better still, the finger-riffling touch) of a deckled-edge cut on the paper sends serious shivers through my system. Sad, I know, but there it is. We can choose what we like but not what we love.
  Anyway, RATLINES is published in early January, 2013. If I were you, I’d be pre-ordering my copy now …

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Talkin’ Hound Dog Blues

Those of you concerned by global warming may want to look away now. For lo! Much hot air will be generated by yours truly over the next week or so, as I take part in a number of speaking engagements, during the course of which I will be reading from my latest tome, SLAUGHTER’S HOUND. To wit:
On Thursday, November 8th, I will be interviewed by Edel Coffey as part of Fingal’s Writing 3.0 Festival, which will take place at 8pm at Blanchardstown Library. For all the details, clickety-click here

On Tuesday, November 13th, I’ll be reading from SLAUGHTER’S HOUND at Sligo Library at 6pm as my contribution to Library Week. Given that I haunted this particular building as a child, and that much of my formative reading was sourced from Sligo Library, I’m very much looking forward to this event. That said, reading from a book set in Sligo to a Sligo crowd is a daunting prospect. Hopefully they’ll all still be buzzing on the endorphin rush of Sligo Rovers winning the League for the first time in 35 years and give me an easy ride …

On Friday, November 16th, I’ll be hosting Crime Night at the inaugural Red Line Festival in Tallaght, Dublin, chairing a panel composed of John Connolly, Mark Billingham, Niamh O’Connor and Declan Hughes, all of whom will be talking about their favourite crime novels and the books that inspired them to first pick up a pen. For all the details, clickety-click here
  So there you have it. If you’re likely to be in the vicinity of any of those events, we’d love to see you there …

Friday, November 2, 2012

Virtue In The Short Form

The Mysterious Press will next week published a series of ‘bibliomysteries’, a four-part set of novellas from Jeffrey Deaver, Anne Perry, CJ Box and our own Ken Bruen. The hook is that they’re all books in which the central mystery is related to a book, or books. Ken Bruen’s offering is THE BOOK OF VIRTUE, and the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
A young man who has been brutally abused by his father is given his estate. A book. A single book. It was a beautiful book, bound in soft leather with gold leaf trim. On the cover, in faded gold, was the single word, Virtue. Where had the book, or even the idea of a book, come from? His father’s idea of reading never went beyond the sports page.
In the unique, poetic voice of Ken Bruen, one of today’s most brilliantly original crime writers, THE BOOK OF VIRTUE offers mystery, crime, suspense, violence, and humour.
  For more, clickety-click through to the Mysterious Bookshop web lair

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Putting The ‘Laughter’ Into ‘Slaughter’

‘Writing 3.0’ is the rather bold title of the 2012 Fingal Annual Writing Festival, which runs from November 2nd - 10th and describes itself thusly:
Writing 3.0 initially evolved from the well established ‘Finscéal: A Writer’s Trail of Fingal’ an initiative for writers and readers throughout Fingal since 2005. The shift to Writing 3.0 in 2010 conceptualised the writing process in the twenty-first century; how it evolves from the blank page across a range of technologies associated with creativity that potentially reaches vast audiences. Writing 3.0 2012 continues its focus on the writing process today, with Fingal Libraries Department and Fingal Arts Office collaborating once again to extend the emphasis on writing towards performance and uplifting experiences. This year we have programmed workshops and performances on rap, coding for computer games and animation, improvisation, songwriting, screenwriting and performance poetry, as well as the traditional focus on writing and reading poetry and fiction.
  It’s a heady brew, and I’m very much looking forward to taking part when I take to the stage at 8pm next Thursday evening, November 8th, for a reading from SLAUGHTER’S HOUND and an interview in the company of Edel Coffey, when we’ll do our level best to put the ‘laughter’ into ‘slaughter’. If you’re likely to be in the vicinity of Blanchardstown Library next Thursday, I’d love to see you there. All the information and booking details can be found here
  In other news, SLAUGHTER’S HOUND received a rather interesting review from Dana King. To wit:
“The writing … is dead-on and perfect for the situation. Burke is able to capture the occasional absurdity of Rigby’s early situation and inexorably ratchet up the tension to the darkness that captures the end of the book […] Rigby’s actions become progressively more violent until gruesome is not too strong a word. It’s a risk worth taking for those who like their crime fiction to look at the effects of a story’s events on both the doer and those who have been done.”
  Dana reckons that SH is a ‘seamless blend’ of Ray Chandler and Ray Banks, although he does concede that such a blend won’t be to the taste of every reader. For the full review, clickety-click here
  Finally, the lovely people at TV3’s Ireland AM programme - who sponsor the Crime Fiction gong at the Irish Book Awards - were kind enough to invite me along to their couch for interview yesterday morning. As always, the experience was a hugely enjoyable one, although Mark Cagney’s insistence that Harry Rigby is a colder-than-usual killer had me feeling that I was sitting on a different kind of couch entirely by the time it was all over. Watch out for all the other nominees on the Ireland AM Best Crime Fiction Novel list, who will be taking their place on the couch in the next couple of weeks. And if you think you can stand it, here’s the link to yesterday’s interview

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Woe To Live On

Back in September I had the very great pleasure of reading alongside Daniel Woodrell (right) during the Mountains to Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire. Even more enjoyable was the couple of hours before the event, when we sat down for a chat over some lunch, conducted an interview for the Irish Times, and then sat around some more, talking books and writing and whatnot.
  He’s a good guy, Daniel Woodrell. Understated, funny, with no affectations. The kind of quietly spoken that comes with carrying a big stick - or in his case, a big, big talent. I liked him a lot. And then, last week, after the interview finally appeared in the Irish Times, I received an email from him to say thanks, he liked the piece. A classy touch, and a pleasant surprise, but not really surprising, if you follow my drift.
  Anyway, here’s an excerpt from said Irish Times interview:
Despite announcing his ambition to be an author as early as the third grade, Woodrell turned his back on writing in his teens. “I dropped out of school when I was 16, when I gave up on the idea of being a writer, but I came back to it when I was 21,” he says. “I thought, No, I’m gonna sink or swim. I’m going all-in, see if I can do this or not. Which was good. I needed something severely challenging that I was willing to give myself to. I’d run a little wild around then. But that’s what those years are for, right?” Yet another throaty laugh. “So long as you don’t get too long of a sentence, you’re alright.”
  After a period in the Marines, Woodrell moved from the Ozarks to San Francisco and settled in to learn his craft. “As a high-school drop-out, I knew I wanted to write, but I wasn’t overly confident that I was going to be writing anything serious. I was happy enough with the idea that I could be a penny-a-word guy and survive.”
  At that point he wanted to write about anything – or any place – that wasn’t home. “Well, I was trying to survive as a writer and I knew that the nation in general doesn’t care about what happens in the Ozarks. I mean, I don’t want to be callous about it, but we all seemed to get over the Oklahoma bombing pretty quickly, and we’re never going to get over 9/11. Y’know? And so all of us out there are aware that you have to really be into writing about it, because there’s no advantage to it.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Get It On, Bang A Gong …

The warmest of congratulations to all the authors shortlisted for gongs at the Irish Book Awards launch last Thursday. It’s no easy thing, writing a book; and it’s harder still these days to get a book published. To write it well enough that it is recognised as worthy of a prize is certainly worth celebrating.
  It’s fair to say, I think, that the books nominated in the Crime Fiction category caused a number of finely plucked eyebrows to be raised at CAP Towers. Herewith be the list:
VENGEANCE by Benjamin Black.
SLAUGHTER’S HOUND by Declan Burke.
BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French.
THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE by Laurence O’Bryan.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT by Niamh O’Connor.
RED RIBBONS by Louise Phillips.
  Some of the crime fans I’ve spoken with have expressed surprise that two debut novels - by Laurence O’Bryan and Louise Phillips - made it onto the list, especially as there is a category dedicated to Newcomer of the Year, although I’d be inclined to applaud the fact that the judges were prepared to include books by newly minted authors (I was lucky enough to have my debut, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards when it came out in 2003). Besides, it looks like 2012 might well go down as a particularly quirky year for the Irish Book Awards - the Best Novel category, for example, contains no less than three collections of short stories, by Emma Donoghue, Joseph O’Connor and Kevin Barry.
  It might also be argued that Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD and Marian Keyes’ THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE should have been nominated in the Crime Fiction category rather than Best Novel and Popular Fiction, respectively.
  Back with the Crime Fiction category, there are some glaring absences - although to be fair, I have no idea if any of the following books were even submitted for consideration. That said, a potential alternative shortlist would be a rather impressive thing, comprised of the following:
BLOOD LOSS by Alex Barclay.
A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS by Conor Brady.
THE LAST GIRL by Jane Casey.
THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald.
THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway.
THE COLD COLD GROUND by Adrian McKinty.
  There were also very fine novels this year from Michael Clifford (GHOST TOWN), Claire McGowan (THE FALL), Casey Hill (TORN), Matt McGuire (DARK DAWN) and Anthony Quinn (DISAPPEARED).
  As for the actual Crime Fiction list, I was particularly pleased to see Niamh O’Connor finally receive the recognition she deserves. I was also very pleased to find my own name there, as you may imagine, especially as SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is a very different book to my previous offering, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which was also nominated last year. Mind you, I’ve said all along this year that it’ll take a hell of a book to beat Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, and given that the only Irish crime novel capable of doing so - Adrian McKinty’s THE COLD COLD GROUND - hasn’t been shortlisted, I’d imagine that Tana French will be scooping the gong on November 22nd.
  So there it is - my two cents on the IBA Crime Fiction shortlist. If anyone has any thoughts, the comment box is open …