“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.

Friday, February 3, 2012

First We Take Manorhamilton

Maybe it’s because my life is turning into one long senior moment, but I can’t remember too many Irish spy novels from recent times, although at a pinch, Eoin McNamee’s THE ULTRAS might qualify (McNamee also writes dedicated spy thrillers under the pseudonym John Creed, along with a series of kids’ spy stories). Meanwhile, back in the ’90s, Keith Baker published three spy titles, among them ENGRAM; and Philip Davidson published a series of very well received spy novels featuring MI5’s Harry Fielding. And then there is the enigma that is Joseph Hone, whose most recent offering, GOODBYE AGAIN, was published by Lilliput late last year.
  Anyway, there’s a new Irish spy thriller on the block, in the shape of Kevin Brophy’s THE BERLIN CROSSING (Headline Review), with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
Secrets and spies, love and tragedy in Stasi East Germany. Brandenburg 1993: The Berlin Wall is down, the country is reunified and thirty-year-old school teacher Michael Ritter feels his life is falling apart. His wife has thrown him out, his new West German headmaster has fired him for being a socialist, former Party member and he is still clinging on to the wreckage of the state that shaped him. Disenfranchised and disenchanted, Michael heads home to care for his terminally ill mother. Before she dies, she urges him to seek out an evangelical priest, Pastor Bruck, who is the only one who knows the truth about his father. When Michael eventually tracks him down, he is taken on a journey of dark discoveries, one which will shatter his foundations, but ultimately bring him hope to rebuild them.
  The early word has been a little mixed, with the Sunday Times and the Irish Independent both suggesting that Brophy’s promise might be better served by a more focused second offering, but The Guardian quite liked it, in the process referencing (as did the Sunday Times and Irish Independent) John Le Carré. To wit:
“It may be technically flawed, but its humanity, attention to period detail and sheer guts will win you over. In the end, this is a story about reconciliation, not just between the former east and west, but between the lies of dogma and the real lives of others who turn out to be us.” - Kapka Kassabova
  So there you have it. The story, incidentally, moves from Berlin to London and on to Galway, although I’d have much preferred it had THE BERLIN CROSSING culminated in a shoot-out in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, so that the title of this post might have made a little more sense. Oh well, you can’t have everything …

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hey Jo, Where You Goin’ With That Gun In Your Hand?

It’s turning into Ladies’ Week here at Crime Always Pays, and not before time, say I. Mick Halpin over at the Irish crime fiction Facebook page brings my attention to the fact that there’s a new Jo Birmingham novel on the way from Niamh O’Connor (right), her third, called TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT (Transworld Ireland). Quoth the blurb elves:
Behind the façade of Nun’s Cross, an exclusive gated development in South Dublin, lurks a dark secret. The body of one of its residents, Amanda Wells, is found in a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains, a plastic bag stuffed in her mouth. When her neighbour, Derek Carpenter, disappears, he becomes the prime suspect: he was questioned about the disappearance of his sister-in-law, Sarah, many years earlier. It seems like an open and shut case, but DI Jo Birmingham is not so sure, and she has her own personal reasons to prove Derek innocent: it was her husband Dan who had cleared Derek of Sarah’s disappearance. But when Jo starts digging, she unearths more than she bargained for, and her own fragile domestic peace comes under threat. And the one person who could help Jo crack the case, Derek’s wife Liz, is so desperate to protect her family that she is going out of her way to thwart all efforts to establish the truth. Can both women emerge unscathed?
  There’s a depressing familiarity to the phrase ‘body found in a shallow grave in the Dublin (or Wicklow) mountains’ these days, and it’ll be interesting to see what O’Connor - true crime editor with the Sunday World - carves from the stark facts and newspaper headlines. TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT isn’t due until June, but it’s certainly one for your calendar …

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Break Out The Bunting And Red Ribbons

It’s a good week for debut Irish crime writers. Claire McGowan (see Q&A below) launches her first novel today, in London, and news reaches us of yet another debutant, Louise Phillips (right), whose RED RIBBONS will be published in October by Hachette Ireland. Quoth the blurb elves:
A girl’s body is found in the Dublin mountains. The reasons behind the killing are unclear, as criminal psychologist Julie Pearson tries to unravel the mystery of Caroline Devine’s murder. Why were the girl’s hands and body placed the way they were in the grave? And why did the killer plait the 12-year-old’s hair with red ribbons after she died?
  Julie, in her mid-30s, is married to Declan Cassidy and has one son, Charlie. During the investigation, her life, both past and present becomes linked to the crime and the murderer in a way which has potentially devastating results.
  Suspect William Cronly, a private man, lives his life by routine, from how he brushes his teeth, to the time of day he pulls the window blinds up or down. William now lives in the city, but his original home ‘Cronly Lodge’ in Wexford, holds secrets which he needs to protect.
  The murder investigation spreads to Italy, as police link the current crime to the death 40 years previously of Silvia Vaccaro, a 12-year-old girl whose skeletal remains were discovered 30 years after her disappearance in Suvereto, Tuscany.
  Ellie Brady, is a long-term patient at St Michaels’ asylum, who was convicted of murdering her daughter Amy 15 years earlier. Through a relationship built up with her new psychiatrist, Dr Samuel Ebbs, she reveals events surrounding the death of her daughter, which not only establishes her innocence, but also a connection with the murder of schoolgirl Caroline.
  How are these characters linked? Will Ellie Brady finally be believed? And can Julie discover the truth behind the killing of Caroline before the murderer strikes again?
  “With overtones of Sophie Hannah and Tana French,’ says Hachette Ireland Editorial Director Ciara Doorley over at Inkwell.ie, “Louise is a supremely talented writer. She subconsciously creates parallels between her characters, and this really challenges the reader. Her writing is tense, atmospheric and we’re really excited to be launching a new voice in Irish crime.”
  Tana French and Sophie Hannah? Crikey. No pressure there, then …

Monday, January 30, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Claire McGowan

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?
I just read Mo Hayder’s TOYKO and it blew me away, to the point that I set it aside and thought, ‘I wish I could write like that’. It was a gripping story, a brilliant evocation of a place, a fascinating character study, and a hugely moving and emotional read. I’m in awe.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Nobody in a crime novel, that’s for sure. Even if you’re not a murder victim you’ll most likely be horribly traumatised by something. Probably someone from a Jilly Cooper novel, dripping in champagne and perfume, a hugely talented rider / TV producer / opera singer, and ending up madly in love with a gorgeous film director / polo player / musician. Sometimes it’s nice to read an unreservedly happy ending.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
As you can see above, I’m a big fan of Jilly Cooper, when I want to read something gripping, heart-warming, and glamorous. I’ve re-read most of hers at least ten times. I don’t feel guilty about it though. I feel guiltier about buying Heat magazine instead of all my unread copies of the London Review of Books.

Most satisfying writing moment?
I think it’s when a new story starts to take shape in your mind, and you feel excited about working on it, heart racing, palms sweating. When I’m editing I sometimes dream about leaving the old boring book for a thrilling new one. But you have to try to work things out.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’ve heard it described loosely as one, so I’ll risk saying Roddy Doyle’s THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS. I like books that can make me cry, and that one did, a lot. I can still recite bits of it from memory and I read it years ago.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
I just read Stuart Neville’s COLLUSION, and thought it would work very well as a film, especially the dramatic end scene. I’d love to see someone make a crime series set in Ireland. Surely it’s about time.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is working on something creative all day, and immersing yourself in a story. Oh, and being able to work in your pyjamas, of course. The worst thing is the insecurity of always wondering are you any good, will people like what you do, is someone reading your book right now and enjoying/not enjoying it, can you write another book that works, etc. You can talk to people about what you’re doing, but it doesn’t always help, so most of the time, you’re on your own.

The pitch for your next book is …?
My next book is about a woman whose life is turned upside down when her mother dies and she finds out who her father really is. As she learns that nothing in her apparently ordinary life is what it seems, she and her young daughter are thrown into terrible danger. It’s a psychological thriller with echoes of REBECCA and JANE EYRE.

Who are you reading right now?
An Irish writer, as it happens – William Ryan’s THE BLOODY MEADOW. So far it’s great- I could tell from page one I was in the hands of an expert.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
These are hard questions, aren’t they? Can I get a note from my Mum so I don’t have to answer? If you insist, probably reading. It would be sad, but I know I’d never produce anything good if I just wrote in a vacuum.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Unsettling. Emotional. Foreshadow-y (or a good word I learned today and plan to use more – ‘presageful’).

Claire McGowan’s debut novel The Fall is published by Headline.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL: The Booklist Verdict Is In

It’s been a while, although not nearly long enough, some might say, since we’ve had some ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL-related flummery here, but the book officially goes on sale in the United States and Canada next Friday, February 3rd (where the hell did January go?), so it’s incumbent upon me to point you in the direction of some recent reviews of said tome. I’ve already mentioned that Publishers Weekly gave it the thumbs up, and Elizabeth A. White was also good enough to say some very kind things about AZC a couple of weeks ago. With which, as you can imagine, I am mightily pleased.
  Meanwhile, the most recent review comes courtesy of Booklist, with the gist running thusly:
“Metafiction? Postmodern noir? These and other labels will be applied to Burke’s newest; any might be apt, but none is sufficient. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is largely a literary novel that draws on history, mythology, and literature to insightfully discuss writing, books, parenting, relationships, health care, and dying with dignity. Bits of Burke’s comic noir (THE BIG O, 2008) appear, but they serve to subvert the form. Noir fans may not care for this one, but lovers of literary fiction will find much to savour.” — Thomas Gaughan, Booklist
  Which is, again, very nice indeed, and I thank you kindly, Mr Gaughan.
  Incidentally, THE BIG O picked up a review the other day, and one which touches in part on an issue raised here a few weeks back, given that the reviewer announces at the beginning of the review that he / she gave up reading halfway through, largely put off by the fact that the book is infested with sexism. “I wouldn’t normally review a book I disliked this much,” the review concludes, “but it’s frustrating to find an author who can clearly write, but who can’t make an intelligent creative decision.” Which may well be the epitome of the back-handed compliment.
  Anyway, back to ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. The book gets its official North American release on Friday, as I say, and loath as I am to ask favours of CAP readers, I’d be obliged if you could spread the word by any means available to you. Tell a friend (or an enemy, if you read it and didn’t like it), mention it on your blog, post a review to Amazon, etc, or simply send up a barrage balloon with the book cover emblazoned on the side (or both sides, if your budget will stretch). As always, any and all help would be very greatly appreciated.
  Here endeth the flummery.