“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 24, 2012

Do You Remember The Good Old Days Before The GHOST TOWN?

A fine old time was had last Wednesday night at the Hodges Figgis ‘Crime Night’, and very nice it was to meet with some familiar names, and put faces to said names. It was a tidy turn-out, too, and I sincerely hope that everyone who turned up enjoyed it as much as I did. Most enjoyable, perhaps, was the fact that the evening’s moderator, Professor Ian Campbell-Ross, declared yours truly the ‘senior member’ of a panel that included Arlene Hunt and Conor Brady, which was the first and very probably the last time I’ll be referred to as such in the presence of an ex-Irish Times editor.
  One person I didn’t get to speak with, unfortunately, was Michael Clifford, who was there on the night but who slipped away very quickly at the end. Which is a shame, because Michael Clifford is yet another Irish crime fiction debutant, with GHOST TOWN (Hachette Ireland) due in May. Herewith be the blurb elves:
A Dublin gangland king pin on the chase. A corrupt property mogul on the run. A hungry crime journalist determined to put his destroyed career back on track. And the return of the ‘Dancer’ - Joshua Molloy, small-time Dublin ex-con, recently out of prison, off the booze, determined to stay on the straight and narrow. When Molloy hires Noelle Higgins, a solicitor and boom-time wife with a crumbling personal life, to help find his young son, both are soon drawn into a web of treachery and violence, where Ireland’s criminal underworld and fallen elite fight it out to lay claim to what’s left from the crash: €3 million in cash, in a bag, buried somewhere in the depths of rural Ireland. From Dublin to Spain and finally a debris-strewn ghost estate in Kerry, GHOST TOWN is the fast-paced and tightly written debut thriller by leading Irish journalist and commentator Michael Clifford.
  Clifford is one of Ireland’s most respected journalists and commentators, currently writing for the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times, and the author of some non-fiction books in the recent past: LOVE YOU TO DEATH: IRELAND’S WIFE KILLERS REVEALED and (as co-author) BERTIE AHERN AND THE DRUMCONDRA MAFIA and SCANDAL NATION. Mark it down on your calendar, folks - GHOST TOWN is a very intriguing prospect indeed …
  Incidentally, Clifford isn’t the only Irish writer to trade in ghost estates for his fiction, with Tana French and Rob Kitchin’s latest offerings also employing the abandoned developments literally and figuratively. “Speak,” as Hamlet might have said were he wandering around the desolate wastelands of suburban Ireland, “I am bound to hear …”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Kindleness Of Strangers

I had a piece published in the Irish Times today on ebook pricing, which featured contributions from Stuart Neville, Arlene Hunt, Allan Guthrie, Eoin Purcell and John Mooney. The gist, essentially, can be summed up by the pull-quote used for the piece, which runs as follows: “Isn’t it reasonable for readers to expect ‘deep discounts’ on ebooks, given that a publisher’s costs are comparatively lower than for a print edition of exactly the same book?” The answers, as you might expect, were many and varied, and in some cases quite surprising. For the full piece, clickety-click here
  As it happens - and this may be a good omen - today was also the day that Liberties Press delivered a ‘deep discount’ on the ebook version of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which is now retailing for $2.99 on Amazon.com, and (roughly, as I can’t see the pricing for ebooks on Amazon.uk) £2.50 on Amazon.uk.
  I’d suggested the price drop about three weeks ago, to coincide with the North American publication of AZC, but things being what they are, and everyone being so busy, it’s taken until now for the price reduction to kick in. Which is a pity, because it would’ve been nice to have AZC arrive in North America with a little wind in its sails - but hey, the important thing is that it’s now abroad on the high seas, as it were, and bound for ports unknown, heavily dependent on the (koff) kindleness of strangers …
  If I may be so bold (koff-koff) as to offer you the most recent reviews for said humble tome:
“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 … Noir fans may not care for this one, but lovers of literary fiction will find much to savour.” - Booklist

“Burke sprinkles his way-outside-the-box noir with quotes from Beckett, Bukowski, and other literary names as he explores the nature of writing and the descent of personal darkness. Those looking for a highly intellectual version of Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF will be most satisfied.” - Publishers Weekly

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL starts a slow burn that ultimately builds to a literally explosive conclusion … Wickedly sharp, darkly humorous, uncommonly creative and brilliantly executed.” - Elizabeth A. White

“Stylistically removed from anything being attempted by his peers … [a] darkly hilarious amalgam of classic crime riffing (hep Elmore Leonard-isms and screwballing) and the dimension-warping reflections of Charlie Kaufman or Kurt Vonnegut. Like the latter’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL sees another Billy “come unstuck” in what is, frankly, a brilliant premise.” - Sunday Independent
  The book is currently at # 240,091 on the US Kindle charts, and # 37,514 on the UK Kindle charts, and is currently working off a five-star average on eight reviews, so it’ll be interesting to see if the drop in price drives up the sales rate - or, put another (and more important) way, gives more people the opportunity of reading the book. Which would be very nice indeed. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes …
  Oh, and while I have you - I’ll be appearing at the Hodges Figgis Crime Night tomorrow night, Wednesday, February 22nd, in the very fine company of Arlene Hunt (THE CHOSEN) and Conor Brady (A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS). If you’re around Dublin tomorrow evening, we’d love to see you there …

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, 4pm, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is currently # 20,885 on Amazon.com, and # 7,463 on Amazon.uk. Oh, and apparently the book is priced at £1.95 on Amazon.uk, and thanks for the tip-offs, chaps.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Veritable Gale Of Gaels

How many crime novelists can one small country throw up? The flood of debutant Irish crime novels continues to swell, the latest coming courtesy of Mick Donnellan, whose EL NIÑO (Original Writing) hits the Atlantic seaboard at the end of February, when the novel gets its official launch in Galway. Quoth the blurb elves:
Charlie is a pick-pocket with a complicated past. He steals El Niño’s wallet, then falls in love with her. She’s wild, beautiful; intoxicating. He’s a recovering alcoholic and needs to stay away from the pubs. Their relationship takes flight and is full of passion and possibility. But soon Charlie’s demons come back to haunt him. P.J., a member of an old crime gang he used to work with, offers Charlie some work – a once-off robbery that seems well planned and very profitable. But it doesn’t turn out that way and one of the crew is arrested. P.J.’s boss is Kramer – a vicious thug that Charlie grew up with in his hometown of Ballinrobe. They’d gone their separate ways when Kramer began dealing cocaine and started a gang war that nearly cost Charlie his life. Now he’s back and he’s sure Charlie is talking to the police – an unforgivable crime in gangland. It seems there are no ‘outs’ and all the couple can do is try and escape, but fate seems to have other plans …
  EL NIÑO is set on the mean streets of Galway and Ballinrobe, and it remains to be seen how the Godfather, aka Ken Bruen, reacts to someone cutting in on his turf. As for the novel itself, well, you can clickety-click here for a sample if the spirit so moves you …

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE BERLIN CROSSING by Kevin Brophy

THE BERLIN CROSSING opens with a short prologue set in 1962, as an East German soldier on duty on the Berlin Wall shoots dead a man who is trying to cross the no-man’s land into West Berlin. Oddly, the man appears to smile as he dies.
  The story then moves forward to Brandenburg in 1993. The Berlin Wall has fallen, and many of the former GDR’s citizens resent the way in which their history is being written by West Germans, or ‘Wessies’. Michael Ritter, an English language teacher and a published author of a collection of short stories, ‘Workers’ Dawn’, is informed that his teaching contract won’t be renewed, largely in part because Ritter was a former Party member in the GDR and is seen as politically suspect in the newly unified Germany. Ritter has long detested the Westernisation of the former East Germany, and particularly the crass commercialism that has colonised his country, and his sacking only confirms his prejudices. Shortly afterwards, Ritter’s mother dies, sending Ritter off on a search for a Pastor Bruck of Bad Saarow with her dying words, which suggest that Pastor Bruck will be able to shed some light on the identity of the father Ritter has never known. Michael’s quest sends us back in time to 1962, when the novel takes on some of the tropes of the classic Cold War spy novel.
  This, the middle section of the novel, is why THE BERLIN CROSSING is being pitched in certain quarters as a thriller of the Le Carré variety, but I think it will become quickly obvious to any fan of the classic spy thrillers that that’s not the kind of novel Brophy had in mind. Certainly, he seems more than happy to play with the tropes and conventions of the spy novel - the secret service ‘spooks’ in London recruiting unwilling spies via blackmail; the East Berlin setting; the secretive missions, false identities and ‘dead letter’ drops; the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia - but any fan of Le Carré, Ambler et al will be underwhelmed by THE BERLIN CROSSING as a spy novel.
  For one thing, only the middle section, or ‘book’, can be considered a spy thriller. Secondly, and despite Brophy’s ability to recreate both a relatively modern Germany and its Cold War counterpart in East Berlin, the story does lack that quality of under-the-skin paranoia and claustrophobia that the great thriller writers bring to their work. It’s also true that there’s a lack of plausibility about the events that transpire in East Germany that would be highly unusual among the best practitioners of the spy novel.
  By the same token, I did get the impression that Brophy was incorporating these tropes into a novel that has other fish to fry. THE BERLIN CROSSING is, I think, fundamentally a novel about identity, and an individual’s attempt to find his place in a ceaselessly changing world. This search for identity is bound up in a love story set against the Cold War backdrop; it’s fair to say, I think, that the romantic aspect of the novel is equally, if not more, important to Brophy as the spy novel aspect.
  Michael Ritter is a fascinating character for his take on the East German experience of the newly unified Germany in 1992. It’s far more common to read of former East Germans who were terrorised and tortured, physically and / or psychologically, during this period of Germany’s history. Ritter, however, is proudly East German; he defends the GDR’s reputation and the means used to protect the country against its aggressors. Moreover, he’s disgusted by the blatant inequality caused by the influx of capital into East Germany.
  Equally interesting is the minor character of Pastor Bruck, whose presence pervades the novel like no other character apart from Michael Ritter himself. As a confirmed socialist and patriotic East German, Michael is suspicious of religion as the opium of the masses when he first meets the Pastor in Bad Saarow:
He and his kind had won; his miserable stained glass was a symbol not of survival but of loss. I could feel the hate welling inside me, inside the regret, boiling over it, swallowing the regret, swallowing me. I hated this grey cleric, this grey stone building. (pg 45)
  Soon, however, Michael is grudgingly accepting the sacrifice Pastor Bruck has made on behalf of his own family (the pastor has had his back broken by the Stasi). Later, Michael comes to realise that it is the Pastor’s Christian instinct that allows him to help Roland to escape from the Stasi in East Berlin. While Michael doesn’t become a convert to religion, he does come to accept the parallels between the Christian philosophy and the all-for-one basic tenet of his cherished socialism.
  There’s also a neat dovetailing between the religious aspect to the novel and that of its form as a kind of spy novel, given that the spy novel is generally about peeling back layers of deceit to get at a fundamental truth. Twice Brophy cites Pontius Pilate before Christ, the first being in the words of Pastor Bruck:
‘The old question, Herr Ritter.’ The smile almost sorrowful. ‘What is truth?’ And two thousand years after Pilate, we still cannot answer it.’ (pg 51, italics Brophy’s)
  In the latter stages of the novel, Pilate’s enquiry after truth is again cited, which suggests that Brophy wants to emphasise this particular point.
  Ultimately, Kevin Brophy has delivered an intriguing novel about identity that is loosely swaddled in the trappings of the spy novel. - Declan Burke