“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.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Down These Teen Streets

You’d have to feel sorry for the Belfast Tourist Board. Just when things are starting to look up for the city, along comes the likes of Colin Bateman, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville with their gritty ‘n’ grimy crime novels to lower the tone all over again. Not helping matters in the slightest is one Gerard Brennan, who has made the leap from dedicated blogger to fully fledged author with his debut novel, WEE ROCKETS, which concerns itself with teenage tearaway Joe Philips and his criminal tendencies. Herewith be a sample:
Chapter 1

The streets of Beechmount stank of wet dog. The effect of drying rain in early summer. Light faded from the West Belfast housing area. Joe Philips yawned and slumped against the redbrick alley wall. Half past ten at night. He wanted to be in bed, cosy and watching a DVD until he drifted off to sleep. But he was the leader. The rest of the gang expected him to be there.
  At least it was holiday time. No school to mitch in the morning. He popped his head around the corner and glanced down the avenue.
  “I see one,” he said.
  They all looked up to him. Literally. In the last few weeks he’d taken what his ma called a growth spurt. He’d use his share of tonight’s money to buy longer trousers. Too much white sock showed between his Nike Air trainers and his Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
  “Anyone else about?” Wee Danny Gibson asked. He snubbed a half-smoked fag on the alley wall and tucked the butt behind his ear.
  “No, just the aul doll. Easy enough number.”
  Wee Danny nodded and the rest of the gang twitched, murmured and pulled hoods up over lowered baseball caps. Ten of them in all, not one above fourteen years old.
  “Right, let’s go,” Joe said.
  They spilled out of the alley and surrounded the blue-rinse bitch like a cursing tornado. She screamed, but they moved too fast for the curtain-twitchers to react. Broken nose bleeding, she dropped her handbag and tried to fend off kicks and punches. Wee Danny scooped it up and whistled. They split in ten different directions. The old granny shrieked at them. They were gone before any fucker so much as opened his door …
  For a longer excerpt, clickety-click here
  Incidentally, Gerard Brennan’s novella THE POINT won the prestigious Spinetingler award for Best Novella of 2011. For more, clickety-click here

Friday, March 9, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Dana King

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?
Probably either THE MALTESE FALCON [by Dashiell Hammett] or THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE [by George V. Higgins]. Everything written after each of them had to deal with the comparisons, and each of them changed some aspect of crime fiction writing forever.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
My right brain says Chili Palmer in GET SHORTY [by Elmore Leonard]. No one is cooler, or had more fun making lemonade from lemons than Chili. My left brain says Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct novels, for being the guy everyone depended on to be stable and reliable.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. They’re more like contemporary thrillers than the sometimes ambiguous, gritty things I usually read, but Child’s clarity and simplicity of approach are refreshing every so often. They’re modern day American Westerns with an invincible hero, and great fun to read because so much of each book keeps you wondering how Reacher is going kick this guy’s ass. Not if; how. Child doesn’t get enough credit for what a good writer he is. He always stays out of the way as the author, lets the story play out through Reacher’s thoughts and actions.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Getting the release and check from Todd Robinson of the late, sorely missed, Thuglit, when he selected a short story of mine for one of his ‘Blood, Guts, and Whiskey’ collections.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Of those I’ve read, I’d vote for Declan Hughes’s ALL THE DEAD VOICES. All of the Ed Loy books are good, but the way this book uses background from The Troubles is wrenching, and also informative for someone who grew up far away from them. John Connolly’s THE BLACK ANGEL also struck a chord with me, but I don’t know that I consider Connolly to be crime fiction so much as paranormal / PI / I sure hope none of this is true.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Depends on where the movie is made. For an American film, Adrian McKinty’s THE DEAD YARD would work well, especially if someone like the Coen brothers made it. In the movie were made on your side of the sheugh (thanks to Adrian McKinty for teaching me that term), I’d vote for Declan Hughes’s THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. Americans don’t seem to want to make movies anymore with the kind of subtlety it needs. Same thing with THE BIG O. We’d make it a farce because it’s funny, but it’s not a farce. The humour has to be treated just so. I thought Ken Bruen’s LONDON BOULEVARD would be a great movie as I was reading it, but that movie has been made, so it’s off the list. I’ve yet to see it, so I can’t say whether a great movie was made. If it wasn’t, it should have been. Everything is there.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst is about halfway through the first draft, when I’m convinced whatever I’m working on is a piece of shit and I might want to start over. The ability to read other writers’ blogs and interviews on the Internet has taught me I am not alone here. That helps a lot. The best was when several writers I regard as my betters went out of their way to compliment and promote WILD BILL. It was rewarding beyond any expectations and made all the work and waiting worthwhile. I hope to be able to repeat that with WORST ENEMIES and going forward. Thanks for giving me a leg up with getting the word out.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Small town cops aren’t in as far over their heads as some people think, but knowing who did something and proving it are two different things.

Who are you reading right now?
I finished John Connolly’s THE WHISPERERS late last night. Adrian McKinty’s FALLING GLASS is next. (No, I didn’t set those up to look good on CAP. I really was reading THE WHISPERERS when you asked about the interview, and FALLING GLASS arrived in the mail a day or so before.)

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read. My writing would soon bore me if I had no one else to recharge my batteries. I never tire of reading.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Tight. Realistic. Sardonic.

Dana King’s WORST ENEMIES is a Penns River Novel.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Banks For The Memories

I don’t profess to know how prizes and awards are decided, or what the machinations are, but you certainly couldn’t accuse the folks behind the Orange Prize of not being up to speed. For lo! Aifric Campbell’s third offering, a timely novel set in the world of investment banking titled ON THE FLOOR (Serpent’s Tail), was officially published on March 1st, and here it is, on March 8th, already long-listed for the Orange Prize. Impressive, no?
  Anyway, Aifric is interviewed over in the Telegraph today, on International Women’s Day (hi, Mum!), speaking about what it’s like to be a woman operating in a male-dominated world. Quoth Aifric:
“I was always interested in writing about the City because it’s a closed world. But it took a long time because it’s difficult to make that world explainable to people outside it,” she said.
  “And I specifically wanted to write about women at work because I don’t think we read enough about that in fiction. If a woman is in a male-dominated world, what does she discover about herself?”
  Funnily enough, I was just thinking yesterday about the possibilities of a novel about an express parcel delivery dispatcher who takes a high-powered rifle and goes postal because she’s a woman in a mail-dominated world. Any takers?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Whither The Mavericks?

I’m reading Barry Forshaw’s DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE at the moment, and a fine piece of work it is too, being a forensically detailed account of the rise and rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. One interesting aspect is the short interviews dotted throughout the text with British-based editors who have signed Scandinavian authors, who respond to Forshaw’s question of whether the current trend for Scandinavian crime fiction is running out of steam with variations on a standard response of, ‘Well, all good things must end, but my guy / gal is different to the rest because …’ Yes. But you would say that, wouldn’t you?
  The book has got me thinking about the future of Irish crime fiction, though - or rather, about the fact that ‘Irish crime fiction’ doesn’t really have a future. A couple of weeks ago I posted a comment on a website which was asking about which country was likely to break through as the ‘next Scandi crime’ phenomenon, suggesting that it had to be Ireland. Now I’m not so sure; in fact, I’m pretty certain it won’t happen.
  That’s not to say that Irish writers aren’t on a par with their peers all over the world; they are, and then some. I honestly believe that some of the Irish crime writers currently plying their trade are some of the finest writers working in the genre.
  The problem, in terms of the break-out to mass commercial success, is also one of Irish crime writing’s greatest strengths: its diversity.
  Over the last year or so I’ve read novels by Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg, Roslund & Hellström, Liza Marklund, Jan Costin Wagner, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Anne Holt. Some were better than others; some were very good indeed.
  What struck me most forcibly, however, is how narrow are the parameters of Scandinavian crime fiction. That’s not to say that all the writers are working off the one palette - Karin Fossum’s novels are very different to Liza Marklund’s, for example, and there’s a marked difference in the urban- and rural-based police procedurals written by Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg, respectively.
  Essentially, though, the Scandinavian novels I’ve read have been for the greater part characterised by the classic crime fiction model: a state-sanctioned investigator (cop, private eye, lawyer, etc.) charting the symptoms of turbulence in society and persuading us that the (admittedly tarnished) status quo is better than the alternative.
  There’s nothing wrong with that story-telling model, of course. I’m a fan of many writers who employ it. But it does seem to me, from my limited reading of Scandinavian crime writing, that there’s a homogeneity to the ‘brand’.
  I find that odd. It’s not as if the current crop of Scandinavian crime writers only began writing last year, or the year before. Hakan Nesser published his first novel in 1988; Henning Mankell’s first Wallander novel appeared in 1991; Karin Fossum’s first Inspector Sejer novel arrived in 1995; Anne Holt’s first novel came in 1993. Which is to say that the earliest pioneers have been working in the field for the best part of two decades. Shouldn’t a few mavericks have appeared at this stage, writers keen to subvert the established form by playing with narrative structure, or humour? Are there any Scandinavians working in the historical crime fiction realms that predate WWII, say? Is it the case that there are Scandinavian writers who take a decidedly post-modern take on the crime narrative, in the way Ken Bruen or Colin Bateman does, or in the way that John Connolly blends genres, but simply aren’t translated into English?
  Where are the Scandinavian comedy crime capers? The classical noirs that take the part of the wretched and doomed criminal as he seeks in vain for an escape from the labyrinth?
  If they’re out there, and I’m simply not aware of them, please do let me know.
  In the meantime, the whole reason I started writing this post was to celebrate the fact that Eoin Colfer’s postmodern comedy crime caper about a wretchedly balding bouncer, PLUGGED, has been shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prizes in the ‘Mystery / Thriller’ category. The full shortlist runs as follows:
STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer
11 / 22 / 63 by Stephen King
SNOWDROPS: A NOVEL by AD Miller
THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina
  Nice one, Mr Colfer sir. The prizes will be awarded on April 20th, by the way, and here’s hoping that Eoin will emulate Stuart Neville, whose THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST) won said category back in 2009.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beware The Ides Of, Erm, June

It’s off to the Mansion House on Dublin’s Dawson Street tomorrow evening, Monday, March 5th, where Conor Brady will be launching his debut novel, A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS, at 6.30pm. All are invited, of course, unless you’re total bloody riff-raff - it is the Mansion House, after all.
  Anyway, herewith be the blurb elves:
In the 1880s the Dublin Metropolitan Police classified crime in two distinct classes. Political crimes were ‘special’, whereas theft, robbery and even murder, no matter how terrible, were ‘ordinary’.
  Dublin, June 1887: the mutilated bodies of a man and a child are discovered in Phoenix Park and Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow steps up to investigate. Cynical and tired, Swallow is a man living on past successes in need of a win.
  In the background, the city is sweltering in a long summer heatwave, a potential gangland war is simmering as the chief lieutenants of a dying crime boss size each other up and the castle administration want the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee to pass off without complication. Underneath it all, the growing threat of anti-British radicals is never far away. With the Land War at its height, the priority is to contain ‘special’ crime. But these murders appear to be ‘ordinary’ and thus of lesser priority. When the evidence suggests high-level involvement, and as the body count increases, Swallow must navigate the waters of foolish superiors, political directives and frayed tempers to investigate the crime, find the true murderer and deliver justice.
  A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS captures the life and essence of Dublin in the 1880s and draws the reader on a thrilling journey of murder and intrigue.
  I read A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS last week, and although I can’t say too much about it for the moment, given that I was reading it for the purpose of review, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, not least for its depiction of Dublin in 1887, and the political and social undercurrents of that time.
  Meanwhile, New Island have been kind enough to offer me three copies of A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS to give away through Crime Always Pays. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following question:
New Island will later this year republish one of Irish crime fiction’s prototype classics (it’s all very hush-hush for now). What out-of-print crime fiction title (bonus marks for Irish titles) would you like to see back on the shelves?
  Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-urchins), by noon on Monday, March 12th. Et bon chance, mes amis