Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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 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.