“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, June 9, 2012

Irish Crime Writing, Unicorns And Other Mythical Beasts

It’s been a funny old week, folks. I posted a couple of pieces in relation to the absence of Irish crime writers at various Irish literary festivals this summer (I use ‘summer’ in the loosest definition of the term, obviously), the gist of said pieces being that Irish crime writers are under-represented at such events, and up with this we shall not put, etc.
  As a result of the modest but positive feedback to the posts, I took myself off to make inquiries (for the most part funding-related) as to how this situation might be rectified next year, this on the basis that if you want something done, you’re best off doing it yourself. Said inquiries were well received, I have to say, and I’d be pretty hopeful, even at this early stage, that there’ll be more Irish writers represented at the various festivals next year.
  But all along, and even while engaging with this process, I was wondering if it’s the right tack to pursue.
  Are Irish crime writers entitled to believe that they have a right to be taking their place at said literary festivals?
  I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll be saying it again: there are many very good Irish crime novels being published right now. Given the size of our population, which is roughly that of Greater Chicago, the quantity of quality Irish crime novels is very impressive indeed. And this in itself, surely, says something about the culture from which this relatively new phenomenon springs.
  Are they sufficient reasons to have Irish crime writing represented at literary festivals?
  The glib and self-serving answer is, Yes, of course.
  The honest answer is, I really don’t know.
  It probably goes without saying that I’m hopelessly compromised when it comes to answering this question, given that this blog was initially set up to celebrate the fact that a number of Irish crime writers were producing world-class work.
  I still believe that. But even taking that bias on board, what I’m wondering now, and have been wondering for quite some time, is whether it’s reasonable and / or logical to attempt to encapsulate the work of a number of very good Irish crime writers in the phrase ‘Irish crime writing’.
  Personally, I think I’ve been trying to stuff a lot of square pegs into a single round hole.
  Yes, there are a lot of writers who are Irish who are publishing novels that can be considered crime or mystery fiction, or thrillers, or noir, or a half-dozen variations on all of those terms. That doesn’t automatically equate with ‘a phenomena of Irish crime writing’.
  That suggests to me that I’ve been coming at this idea of literary festivals all wrong - believing, essentially, that ‘Irish crime writing’ should be represented at such festivals by one or more of its practitioners.
  I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t been blundering up a very long blind alley. I’ve discovered some fantastic writers in the process, and read some great books, and made some good friends.
  But a blind alley is a blind alley.
  Meanwhile, out in the meritocracy of the real world, and particularly in the US and the UK, individual Irish crime writers are critically acclaimed best-sellers. This, obviously, is because of their own worth, and not because they are in the vanguard of some notional ‘Irish crime writing’ scene.
  I suppose what I’m asking myself at the moment is whether it’s worth it to continue on doing what I’ve been doing, which can very often feel like banging my head against the brick wall at the end of that blind alley.
  Those funding-related inquiries I mentioned seem as if they’ll pay dividends in a year or so - but the number of hoops I’d have to jump through to make it happen are many and complicated. I’m talking about drawing up mission statements, drafting proposals, arranging for and taking meetings - all of which are a massive drain on time and resources that I really can’t afford.
  My head says that following through on my initial inquiries is probably the smart thing to do. My heart says that it’s a good thing to do.
  My gut says, No.
  My gut is telling me that Crime Always Pays has been running for five years and more at this stage, and that with the best will in the world it delivers very little by way of real worth to the writers I mention here.
  My gut is telling me that the law of diminishing returns is at work here.
  My gut is also very aware that I’ll be starting into a new novel in the very near future, a tricky one that will be very difficult to get right. What I’ll need is time; what I won’t need is distractions.
  So I think I’m going to let the funding-related inquiries slide. The possibilities are there; if anyone is interested in taking the idea(s) further, and wants to contact me privately, I’m more than happy to pass on the contact details.
  In the meantime, I’m off on my holidays. See you back here in a couple of weeks ...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: GHOST TOWN by Michael Clifford

A venal solicitor, a woman scorned, a gangland boss, a desperate ex-con, a tabloid journalist: from the very beginning of Michael Clifford’s GHOST TOWN (Hachette Books Ireland), it’s clear that happy endings will be at a premium.
  This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Clifford’s work. A political journalist with the Sunday Times and Irish Examiner, he has also written and co-authored a number of non-fiction titles about the less edifying aspects of Irish political life in the last decade.
  The large cast of criminally-inclined protagonists who constantly butt heads here is reminiscent of an Elmore Leonard novel, although GHOST TOWN isn’t written in Leonard’s laconic, blackly humorous style. Clifford’s prose is direct and unadorned, as you might expect from a working journalist, the lack of frills and relentless narrative momentum suggesting the work of Michael Connelly.
  If there’s one novelist GHOST TOWN evokes more than any other, however, it’s Clifford’s peer, the author and journalist Gene Kerrigan. The comparison is most valid in terms of Clifford’s ability to draw characters, and particularly those we might be inclined to class as villains, in a more fully rounded way than is often the case in mainstream crime fiction. While it might be stretching the point to suggest that Clifford sympathises with those who flout and break the law, there’s no doubt that he is aware, and is keen to make the reader aware, of the extent to which crime’s roots are buried in an individual’s environment.
  The character of Joshua ‘The Dancer’ Molloy, for example, who is in many ways the novel’s fulcrum and main metaphor, was a superb prospect as a footballer in his early teens, but later succumbed to the easy money offered by a toxic version of ambition that seeps into the fabric of Dublin’s deprived housing estates. An ex-con and recovering alcoholic whose twin goals in life are to stay alive another day and be reunited with his young son, Molloy is a fragile, pitiable but ultimately defiant avatar for a modern Ireland that is still trying to find its feet after being forced to kick its addiction to cheap credit.
  Indeed, so relevant is it to Ireland’s current woes, many of which were self-inflicted, GHOST TOWN could well be set next week. Pitched against the backdrop of the recession and the ongoing seismic shudders of the burst property bubble, this is a timely tale in which - as is the case with Tana French’s forthcoming BROKEN HARBOUR - the ‘ghost estates’ that blight Ireland physically and psychologically are crumbling momunents to greed and hubris.
  In fact, the novel’s arc can be traced through its various properties. Opening on a west Dublin housing estate haunted by the victims of successive governments’ laissez faire policies, diverting through a coveted mansion in the prosperous suburbs of south Dublin secured on the promise of a property boom on a paradisical West African coastline, and climaxing on an upmarket ‘ghost estate’ where the unfinished villa-style buildings rot from neglect, the novel implicitly suggests that the various criminals who populate his pages, despite their delusions of grandeur, are little more than toys in a vast game of doll’s house.
  But who is it that plays with the dolls? And will they ever truly answer for their actions?
  Great crime fiction is honour-bound to tell the truth of its time and place, to expose the culture’s flaws and failings. On that basis, GHOST TOWN is a very fine addition to the canon of Irish crime fiction. - Declan Burke

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

A quick post today, in response to yesterday’s comments on the idea of a coordinated ‘branding’ of Irish crime fiction (see post below), in which Irish writers band together to promote Irish crime writing according to a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ philosophy. Great to see such positive feedback, by the way.
  I’ll try to answer some of the questions posed insofar as I have any answers, which I mostly don’t.
  Re: Bill Ryan’s suggestion about a ‘modest subscription’. That may be workable, certainly, but I for one would feel very uncomfortable to be in receipt of other people’s money, particularly when I know only too well the extent to which, for many, and yours truly included, the writing game is already an expensive hobby.
  I’ll post again tomorrow on this topic, when I have a bit of time to flesh out some ideas, but for now let me say that it would be possible to put into place a low-level / beta version of what I’m thinking about that wouldn’t require funding, apart from a commitment of a little time from each writer, if the interest is there. And going by the reaction to yesterday’s post, the interest is certainly there.
  Rob asks if I have comparative websites in mind. The answer is not really, but a collaborative blog such as Do Some Damage might make a good starting point.
  In terms of the possibility of official funding, I really have no idea as to whether such would be possible, and particularly in such straitened times. That said, and given the extent to which Irish crime writing is an all-island affair, it may be possible to speak with Arts Councils on either side of the border, and also to tap into funding for cross-border cultural initiatives. I have my doubts, but we’ll see.
  If anyone wants to contribute thoughts or suggestions, the comments box is open …

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

And The Last Shall Be The First, And The First Shall Be The Last

The more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the post yesterday, which mentioned various authors vis-à-vis the crime writing gong at the Irish Book Awards later this year, omitted to mention Jane Casey, despite the fact that (a) she has a very strong contender for 2012 in the third Maeve Kerrigan offering, THE LAST GIRL, and (b) she has been shortlisted two years running now.
  As it happens, I met with the London-based Jane Casey in Dublin last week to interview her about THE LAST GIRL, and asked - a little presumptuously, yes, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be shortlisted again - if she was looking forward to coming over for the IBA bunfight again. Quoth Jane:
“It’s the best night out so I’d love to, even if I wasn’t nominated. There are just so many good writers out there in the crime category. I think some of them would be justified in picketing the awards dinner if I was nominated for a third year running.”
  Heh. I love the idea that any group of Irish writers would be so organised as to coordinate anything as complex as a picket.
  Actually, now that I mention it … I’ve been mulling over the notion of putting together a website (i.e., a properly funded operation, as opposed to this half-assed blog) that would coordinate a proactive ‘branding’ of Irish crime writing to the world, much in the same way as (unfortunate analogy alert) Bord Bia coordinates and promotes the efforts of a wide range of diverse food producers.
  As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, I’m rather fond of the Irish crime novel, and believe that there are a number of world-class Irish crime writers. I also believe that one of the reasons that Irish crime writing hasn’t made the international impact that Scandinavian writing has, for example, is because the Irish crime novel is a far less homogenous beast than that of its Nordic counterpart. There’s no Scandinavian equivalent of the comic capers of Colin Bateman, Ruth Dudley Edwards or Eoin Colfer, for example, or the historical novels of Cora Harrison, Conor Brady, Benjamin Black and Kevin McCarthy; or the foreign-set novels written by William Ryan, Laurence O’Bryan and Conor Fitzgerald; the post-modern shenanigans of Ken Bruen; or the genre-blending of John Connolly.
  I could go on, but the point is made: on the face of it, attempting to ‘brand’ even those few writers would be akin to minding mice at crossroads.
  The flip side of that, of course, is that ‘diversity’ and ‘choice’ should be positive things, particularly for readers who are always on the look-out for something new.
  Could it be done? Would it be a commercially viable project? Do writers have any interest in being ‘branded’ or tarred with the same brush? Should it be every man and woman for him and herself? It would need to be funded, of course, but I don’t know if the Arts Council even has a fund for such a project; and whether, in these straitened times, it would find itself in a position to do so, even if the spirit were willing.
  If anyone has any thoughts, the comment box is open …

Monday, June 4, 2012

Her Loss, Our Gain

It feels like it’s been aaaaaaaages since we’ve seen an Alex Barclay novel, but fear not: for lo! BLOOD LOSS is on the way, and scheduled to touch down on a bookshelf near you on October 25th. Quoth the blurb elves:
FBI agent Ren Bryce takes on her most heart-wrenching case yet when a father’s work places his young daughter in terrible danger…
  Every year Mark and Erica Whaley take a trip to Colorado to celebrate their wedding anniversary. This year they have more cause than ever to celebrate – they’ve finally been granted overnight access with Laurie, Mark’s 11-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.
  But their relaxing family break is shattered when they return from dinner in the hotel to find both Laurie and her 16-year-old babysitter, Shelby, missing.
  Special Agent Ren Bryce will need to be at the top of her game to unravel the bizarre circumstances around this particular kidnapping. For it soon emerges that Mark has an awful lot to hide.
  But Ren has her own battles to fight. Without a psychologist since hers was killed four months previously, she knows she’s headed for a manic episode, and she’s not sure she wants to stop it.
  The lives of two young girls are in Ren’s hands. But she might need to save herself before she can save them.
  It strikes me that a release date of October 25th is leaving it rather fine if BLOOD LOSS is to be considered for the Irish Book Awards, which return this year to the RDS on November 22nd, especially given that Alex Barclay is a previous winner of the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award (BLOOD RUNS COLD, 2009).
  Mind you, it’s going to be a tough year again for the Crime Fiction gong, with or without Alex Barclay, and even if two other recent winners, Alan Glynn and Gene Kerrigan, don’t publish this year.
  Naturally, Liberties Press will be tossing my own book-shaped hat, aka SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, into the ring for consideration, but I think I’d be rather more surprised this year than last if SH garnered a shortlist nomination.
  In terms of actual winners, though, it’s very hard to see past BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French, the release of which in July will be less a publication and more an event. Critically acclaimed and best-selling, and already the recipient of numerous prizes, I’d be very surprised if Tana French doesn’t scoop the IBA Crime Fiction Award this year.
  If anyone is to upset the appletart, Brian McGilloway stands a very good chance with his very good THE NAMELESS DEAD, which is as strong a crime novel as I’ve read so far this year. Elsewhere, TORN by Casey Hill comes on like a crowd-pleasing serial killer / CSI story, before delivering a brutal sucker-punch; A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS by Conor Brady and GHOST TOWN by Michael Clifford represent are both very strong debuts (and may both be shortlisted in the Best Newcomer of the Year category instead); Conor Fitzgerald’s THE NAMESAKE is up to his usual excellent standard; and it’s highly unlikely that John Connolly’s THE WRATH OF ANGELS won’t be up to his usual impressive snuff. And then there’s VENGEANCE by Benjamin Black, HEADSTONE by Ken Bruen, and TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT by Niamh O’Connor … and the blackest of dark horses, THE COLD COLD GROUND by Adrian McKinty.
  All told, it’ll make a hell of a line-up.