“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 10, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Margie Orford

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?
WOLVES EAT DOGS by Martin Cruz Smith.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Arkady Renko (goes with the above). But some days I feel more like Cruella deVille. I never want to be Bambi’s mother.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
The Guardian.

Most satisfying writing moment?
My first royalty check.

The best South African crime novel is …?
THIRTEEN HOURS by Deon Meyer.

What South African crime novel would make a great movie?
THIRTEEN HOURS will be a great movie – it is in production right now. And I think BLOOD ROSE, my second novel, which is busy being cast right now, won’t be too shabby either. As one of the producers told me, with true producer tact: ‘We like your South African stuff – it’s like Wallander with good weather.’ Who could argue with that?

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Few people think you actually do any work (the worst thing). Being able to nap at your desk (which is probably why people think you don’t work).

The pitch for your next book is …?
Isolde Wagner, a gifted but vulnerable young woman drops out of her life, leaving behind friends, family and career as a classical musician to join a reclusive sect. After she cuts all ties, her anxious mother asks Clare Hart to find her, to persuade her to make contact. But Clare is not sure if Isolde is alive or dead and whoever has had a hand in her vanishing does not want the truth revealed.

Who are you reading right now?
ALL ABOUT LOVE: ANATOMY OF AN UNRULY EMOTION by Lisa Appignanesi (there are very few crimes that don’t have their origin in love).

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’ve taken God on before and I came out alright, so I think I would challenge him to an arm-wrestle. I win – I get to write AND read. He wins – well, I get to rewrite his book. There are a couple of bits I think could do with some tweaking.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
One reviewer said my writing induced ‘ball-crushing fear’ - I’m happy with that.

Margie Orford’s DADDY’S GIRL is published by Atlantic Books.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is a Review: SARAH THORNHILL by Kate Grenville

SARAH THORNHILL is the third of a ‘loose trilogy’ of novels Kate Grenville has written about Australia’s colonial past, and the interaction between white - mainly British - settlers and the indigenous native Aboriginal people, although it can easily be read as a standalone novel.
  THE SECRET RIVER, Grenville’s fifth novel, was published in 2006. It concerned itself with a character called William Thornhill, a settler on the Hawkesbury River, investigating how Thornhill evolved from a deported convict to a respectable land-owner. William Thornhill is based in part on Kate Grenville’s great-great-great-grandfather. THE SECRET RIVER won a number of prizes, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
  Grenville subsequently published SEARCHING FOR THE SECRET RIVER, a non-fiction account of the research she did for THE SECRET RIVER, following that up with THE LIEUTENANT (2008). The second in the loose trilogy, it is set 30 years before THE SECRET RIVER, and details the relationship between a soldier and a young Aboriginal girl of the Gadigal tribe. The book is based on the notebooks of the historical figure Lieutenant William Dawes.
  SARAH THORNHILL (2011) follows on directly from THE SECRET RIVER. Sarah Thornhill is William Thornhill’s daughter, and is in part based on Grenville’s great-great-grandmother. Other characters in the novel, including Jack Langland and John Daunt, are also based on historical figures.
  Essentially, the story is a coming-of-age tale, with Sarah’s experience of her pioneer life shaped but by no means defined by her relationships with three men: her father, her lover and her husband. But while the story does concern itself with the vagaries of very different kinds of love, the ‘secret river’ of the first in the trilogy’s novels refers to the Aboriginal bloodline and history that has been carried down through the generations since Australia was first colonised, and Grenville is at pains to explore the fraught relationship between black and white in early Australia.
  Essentially, she is putting human faces on the colonial experience, and while her settler characters are for the most part very sympathetically drawn (apart from those guilty of class snobbery), there is no doubt that her true sympathies lie with the displaced and dispossessed natives.
  In terms of her style, Grenville (who has previously won a number of literary prizes, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for THE SECRET RIVER) has set herself something of a challenge in terms of allowing Sarah Thornhill narrate this story. Sarah is the daughter of a prosperous landowner, but is nonetheless uneducated in terms of a classical education. Despite this, Grenville gives Sarah a unique way of seeing the world, and allows her to express herself in an earthy kind of poetry. It’s a fine line to tread, but Grenville strikes a beautiful balance; Sarah is not so given to flowery utterances that we fail to believe in her, but her thought process is interesting enough, and so evocatively delivered, that she quickly becomes an enthralling character.
  Sarah’s pragmatism, meanwhile, is reflected in the descriptions of the Australian Outback. Grenville doesn’t neglect to mention the mud and the dust, the flies, the loneliness of its vastness, but neither does she fail to give its raw beauty its full due.
  All told, SARAH THORNHILL offers a unique voice telling a fascinating story against a turbulent and occasionally harrowing backdrop. Warmly recommended. - Declan Burke

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A White Knight Rises

I don’t read an awful lot of historical crime fiction, but THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye (Headline Review) has persuaded me that I very probably should. A fascinating backdrop, neatly observed historical detail, an intriguing protagonist, and beautifully written, with the added bonus that many of the characters speak ‘flash’, aka the argot of New York’s criminal underworld: it’s a potent blend. Quoth the blurb elves:
August 1845 in New York: enter the dark, unforgiving city underworld of the legendary Five Points ... After a fire decimates a swathe of lower Manhattan, and following years of passionate political dispute, New York City at long last forms an official Police Department. That same summer, the great potato famine hits Ireland. These events will change the city of New York for ever. Timothy Wilde hadn’t wanted to be a copper star. On the night of August 21st, on his way home from the Tombs defeated and disgusted, he is plotting his resignation, when a young girl who has escaped from a nearby brothel, crashes into him; she wears only a nightdress and is covered from head to toe in blood. Searching out the truth in the child’s wild stories, Timothy soon finds himself on the trail of a brutal killer, seemingly hell bent on fanning the flames of anti-Irish immigrant sentiment and threatening chaos in a city already in the midst of social upheaval. But his fight for justice could cost him the woman he loves, his brother and ultimately his life ...
  The book is published in March, and I’m not the only one who likes it: “THE GODS OF GOTHAM is a wonderful book. Lyndsay Faye’s command of historical detail is remarkable and her knowledge of human character even more so. I bought into this world in the opening pages and never once had the desire to leave. It’s a great read!” - Michael Connelly.
  So there you have it. Incidentally, the book reminded me very strongly of Dennis Lehane’s THE GIVEN DAY, but also Adrian McKinty’s THE COLD COLD GROUND, particularly in terms of Tim Wilde’s fish-out-of-water quirks and foibles and Faye’s use of real historical figures, and Wilde’s pursuit of a killer pulling the political strings of sectarian hatred. All in all, it’s a hell of a book.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Claire For Take-Off

Claire McGowan publishes her debut novel THE FALL this week, with the official launch - according to William Ryan over at the Irish Crime Writing Facepage - taking place at 6pm on Wednesday evening (February 8th) at Goldsboro Books, 23 - 25 Cecil Court , London WC2N 4EZ. Herewith be the blurb elves:
Bad things never happen to Charlotte. She’s living the life she’s always wanted and about to marry wealthy banker, Dan. But Dan’s been hiding a secret, and the pressure is pushing him over the edge. After he’s arrested for the vicious killing of a nightclub owner, Charlotte’s future is shattered. Then she opens her door to Keisha, an angry and frustrated stranger with a story to tell. Convinced of Dan’s innocence, Charlotte must fight for him - even if it means destroying her perfect life. But what Keisha knows threatens everyone she loves, and puts her own life in danger. DC Matthew Hegarty is riding high on the success of Dan’s arrest. But he’s finding it difficult to ignore his growing doubts as well as the beautiful and vulnerable Charlotte. Can he really risk it all for what’s right? Three stories. One truth. They all need to brace themselves for the fall.
  Despite the fact that the novel is not, apparently, a story about how Mark E. Smith resorts to murder to get mainstream radio air-play, the early word on THE FALL is good - a certain Peter James, for one, is impressed: “One of the very best novels I’ve read in a long while ... astonishing, powerful and immensely satisfying.” - Peter James
  Oh, and in case you were wondering: yes, as seems to be the case with virtually all the ladies of Irish crime fiction, she’s gorgeous too. How do we hate thee, Claire McGowan? Let us count the ways …

Monday, February 6, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Sarah Webb

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?
HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh. OK, it’s not your average crime novel, the spy is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in New York and spies on her neighbours, but it’s one of my favourite books of all time. There’s revenge, punishment, heartbreak and retribution. I’d highly recommend it to any reader, young or not so young.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
That’s a great question, Declan. In a lot of the books I adore, terrible things happen to the heroine - Alice, Rachel (in RACHEL’S HOLIDAY by Marian Keyes), Benny (CIRCLE OF FRIENDS by Maeve Binchy), Katniss (HUNGER GAMES), so I’ll say Posy in BALLET SHOES as I wanted to be a ballerina as a child. (Sorry, not very crime-y or kickass I know!)

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I spend a lot of time reading books for children and teenagers for work and enjoyment, so reading adult fiction is my guilty pleasure. I love good popular fiction by Marian Keyes or Katie Fforde. On the crime side, I used to be a huge Patricia Cornwell fan in the early days, and I’ve just started THE PLAYDATE by Louise Miller, a chilling psychological thriller about a child who goes missing which is excellent so far.

Most satisfying writing moment?
A good day at the desk, getting my 2,000 words done, that’s what I love. For me, that’s the real joy of a writing life.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy. Yes, it’s fantasy-thriller-crime, yes, it has a skeleton detective, but it’s hilarious, clever and very entertaining. (If I had to pick a book for adults, it would be John Connolly’s EVERY DEAD THING, which unleashed the brilliant character that is Charlie Parker)

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst - the doubt and the insecurity. You are only as good as your last book. Best - the licence to create, and the amazing people you meet - other writers, readers, booksellers, publishers.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Wanted: Two girls to time-share one amazing dress, guaranteed to change your life. All enquiries - ask inside. (And no, they don’t get murdered ‘inside’, it’s popular fiction!) Julia Schuster, floundering amidst family troubles and problem drinking; Arietty Pilgrim, lonely and insecure; Pandora Schuster, the sister from hell: can they ever be friends? THE SHOESTRING CLUB, one extraordinary dress, one life-altering friendship.

Who are you reading right now?
BLACK HEART BLUE, a remarkable book by Louisa Reid, part horror story, part mystery, part coming of age novel. It will be published in May and it’s utterly brilliant. And THE PLAYDATE (see above). I tend to have a couple of books on the go at the same time.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
They are so closely linked, but I’d have to say read. Life wouldn’t be worth living without reading every day, it keeps me sane.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Full of potential.

Sarah Webb’s THE SHOESTRING CLUB is published by Pan Macmillan.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Warm, Warm Reception

The latest crime fiction column appeared in the Irish Times yesterday, featuring reviews of the latest titles from Elmore Leonard, Margie Orford, Ann Cleeves, Parker Bilal, Patricia Cornwell and Adrian McKinty. This being, ostensibly, an outlet for Irish crime writing, and THE COLD COLD GROUND being a terrific novel which has had a very warm reception to date, I’ll focus on the McKinty. To wit:
The Carrickfergus writer Adrian McKinty plunges into the dark heart of Northern Ireland’s Troubles in THE COLD COLD GROUND (£12.99, Serpent’s Tail), as Det Sgt Sean Duffy finds himself investigating a series of linked murders against the backdrop of the hunger strikes in the spring of 1981. The setting represents an extraordinarily tense scenario in itself, but the fact that Duffy is a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant RUC adds yet another fascinating twist to McKinty’s neatly crafted plot. Written in a terse style, the novel is a literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre’s conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written THE COLD COLD GROUND. - Declan Burke
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  For those of you who have read THE COLD COLD GROUND, and fancy a dip into the work-in-progress of its sequel, clickety-click here