“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 30, 2012

A Critical Juncture

Another day, yet another Irish crime writing debutant. CRITICAL VALUE by DC Gogan comes to my attention via the good works of Bryan Roche over at the Irish Crime Writing Facebook page, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
A research project on homicidal fantasies ...
A murdered woman in the largest university in Ireland ...
Does a psychology student’s thesis hold the key to catching a killer?

Adam Twohig is in his final year of Psychology at University College Dublin. He never settled into the college lifestyle, never plugged into the social scene, and never excelled at his studies. Which is why he’s puzzled when Greg Taylor comes to him looking for help with his thesis.

Greg is studying the homicidal fantasies of UCD students, getting hundreds of written accounts of students’ darkest, murderous desires. When high-profile Entertainments Officer Christine Harvey is savagely murdered, the investigating detective wants access to his data. At first Adam thinks that the police are clutching at straws, but another murder on campus draws him deeper into the investigation.

The secrets buried in Greg’s data force Adam into an unlikely alliance between the Irish police and two FBI agents on the hunt for a serial killer, and put him and his friends in the sights of a murderer whose depravity seems to stand outside everything Adam knows about human psychology.
  Sounds intriguing, not least because it’s been quite a while - when Cormac Millar last deigned to grace us with his presence, basically - since we’ve had a good old-fashioned campus novel.
  What’s most interesting to me, though, is that it’s still only June and I’ve already seen or heard of eleven - now twelve - Irish crime writing debuts. Some are traditionally published, others are e-book only, one - Seamus Scanlon’s - is a collection of short stories; but regardless of format or form, 2012 marks something significant in the development of the Irish crime novel.
  To the best of my knowledge, the list of Irish crime debutants in 2012 runs as follows:
A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS by Conor Brady;
BLOOD FROM A SHADOW by Gerard Cappa;
GHOST TOWN by Michael Clifford;
EL NINO by Mick Donnellan;
CRITICAL VALUE by DC Gogan;
THE FALL by Claire McGowan;
EVEN FLOW by Darragh McManus;
BLOOD RED TURNS DOLLAR GREEN by Paul O'Brien;
THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE by Laurence O’Bryan;
RED RIBBONS by Louise Phillips;
DISAPPEARED by Anthony Quinn;
AS CLOSE AS YOU’LL EVER BE by Seamus Scanlon.
  If I’ve missed out on anyone, or if you have a novel on the way later in the year, please drop me a line and I’ll include you on the list.
  Meanwhile, Louise Phillips (crimescenewriter@gmail.com) is putting together a series of features on debutant Irish crime writers for the writing.ie site. If you’re a new Irish crime writer, why not drop over to writing.ie and introduce yourself? I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear from you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway

THE NAMELESS DEAD (Macmillan) is the fifth in Brian McGilloway’s Donegal-set series to feature Garda Detective Ben Devlin. He is also the author of a standalone novel, LITTLE GIRL LOST (2011).
  Whilst investigating a tip-off on the small island of Islandmore, in the middle of the River Foyle, the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains discovers the body of a man believed to have been murdered by the IRA some thirty years before. They also turn up a number of other corpses, those of infants, all of whom appear to have suffered from a condition that would have killed them at birth - apart from one, which appears to have been strangled to death.
  Detective Inspector Ben Devlin, operating out of Lifford on the border with Northern Ireland, wants to investigate the death of the strangled infant. Unfortunately, the legislation is crystal-clear: any evidence uncovered by the CLVR cannot lead to prosecution.
  Devlin, a devout Catholic and a family man, refuses to allow the matter to rest, determined that the infant, and those others buried with it, will not be left in the limbo of the nameless dead …
  Brian McGilloway has established a strong reputation in recent years as a thoughtful, intelligent crime novelist whose stories, set on the border - between Lifford and Strabane and the Republic and Northern Ireland, but between old and new Ireland too - are told with a quiet authority.
  One of the most interesting features of his novels is that Devlin is the antithesis of the traditional crime fiction policeman, who tends to be dysfunctional, alcoholic, haunted by demons, and a loner.
  Devlin, by contrast, is a happily married man with a quiet but strong religious faith, who works well as part of a team, and particularly with his peer on the other side of the border, the PSNI’s Jim Hendry. These characteristics feed into how the Devlin novels evolve: Devlin is doggedly in pursuit of rightness and justice not simply as theories or philosophies, but because he believes that it is in their observance that society functions best.
  Naturally, as a policeman, Devlin tends to see society at its worst; as a novelist, McGilloway crafts his stories so that the political is very much personal for Devlin, as various aspects of investigations impact on his own family home, and Devlin is forced to question his own morality. For example, when his daughter is physically assaulted by a teenage thug, everyone - his peers, his daughter, his wife - expects Devlin to break the law in order to revenge his daughter. Can he allow himself do that and still exert moral power in his own home, and in his own conscience?
  What sets THE NAMELESS DEAD apart, however, is its subject matter: the fate of the ‘nameless dead’, the forgotten infants, one of which is murdered, gives the novel an elegiac tone, and a poignant one; there were a number of times when I found myself reading with a lump in my throat.
  The Ian Rankin-esque title is fully deserved: THE NAMELESS DEAD is one of the most insightful and affecting novels you’ll read this year. - Declan Burke

Thursday, June 28, 2012

If The Cappa Fits, Wear Him

Chalk up another on the ever lengthening list of Irish crime writers. For lo! Gerard Cappa gets in touch to tip us off about his debut offering, BLOOD FROM A SHADOW, which sounds like a very contemporary thriller indeed. Quoth the blurb elves:
2012. War weary Americans hail the endgame in Iraq and Afghanistan. But al Qaeda must avenge Bin Laden with a new 9/11. And the old enemy, Iran, teases towards nuclear capability. So the war on terror continues, but it must be kept in the shadows now. The Presidential machines cannot allow a mistake, there is an election to be won. Con Maknazpy is weary too, still searching for his own peace. A hero in his native New York’s famous 69th Regiment, he just wants to retreat into the shadows of the streets he knows so well. But Maknazpy is no ordinary man: he has been anointed with destiny. It’s in his blood and in the shadows of his soul. And the ghosts of the past and the future mark out that destiny, in blood. Blood that takes him to Ireland, Rome and Istanbul before he finds his own truth in the shadows of his Yonkers childhood. Maknazpy’s destiny is to be a savior, but can he save himself?

BLOOD FROM A SHADOW is an Irish-American story, and that history and culture is threaded through the tale, but the frame of reference owes as much to more modern influences. Think Jim Thompson, James M Cain and Chester Himes. Chinatown, Three Days of the Condor and Bodyheat. Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects. Where reality is created from confusion and lies, and the hero is always the last to know.
  Sounds like an absolute belter, if it delivers on that set-up. Has anyone out there read it? If so, you know where to find us …

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jeeves? The Luger

The Glebe ‘Cultural Summit’ takes place in Donegal next month, as part of the Earagail Arts Festival, incorporating discussions on books, film and ‘the Next Door Neighbours’ - i.e., the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
  It all takes place at Glebe House and Gallery, a rather lovely little spot on the fringe of Glenveagh National Park. The former home of artist Derek Hill, the house is now maintained as a museum by Heritage Ireland. We were there a couple of weeks ago, and got the guided tour - there’s a Picasso, a Renoir, a beautiful Evie Hone, and much more - although the artist that caught my eye was John Craxton, whose ‘Shepherds Near Knossos’ decorates this post, and about whom you will be hearing more of in my next novel.
  But I digress. Its title apart, which has me instinctively reaching for my Luger, the ‘Glebe Cultural Summit’ has a very nice array of Irish talent on board. Peter Murphy, Mary Costello and Paul Lynch engage in a discussion called ‘New Irish Writing - Post-Boom Narratives’; director Lenny Abrahamson is interviewed in ‘Storytelling on Film’, with a particular stress on the forthcoming What Richard Did, which is adapted from Kevin Power’s very fine novel BAD DAY IN BLACKROCK; and a trio of our finest crime scribes, Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes and Paul Charles, take part in ‘The Rise of Irish Crime Fiction’.
  For all the details, and how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hark! What Ancient Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

It’s a busy old summer for Jongamin Blanville. As John Banville, he publishes ANCIENT LIGHT next month, on July 5th; meanwhile, the latest Benjamin Black novel, VENGEANCE, has been garnering some very nice reviews indeed. To wit:
“The story is engaging. Instinctively, the reader knows what to expect, and still is surprised. The liquid precision of the writing presents convincing characters. It renders the drama of their lives as strangely matter-of-fact while fully illuminating the forces at work. We are deftly led through a complex entanglement of charged but often spent relationships. There is a blunt empathy with the principal characters that is curiously affecting. Effortlessly, it would seem, and never wanting, Banville’s description of the physical world is superb.” - Philip Davison, Irish Times

“Warring families, spinster sisters, jealous husbands, betrayed wives, wicked step-mothers, identical twins -- these are the stuff of comedy and tragedy from Plautus onwards (and they were not original to him either).
  “The great ‘French polisher of Italian farce’, aka Shakespeare, traded in similar plots. After wringing our hearts with his star-crossed lovers, he rewrote the play as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is not the plot that counts, it is how it is presented.
[Benjamin] Black is a master of presentation. The nudges and the winks, the red herrings and the wool-pullings are all consummately done.” - Gerry Dukes, Irish Independent
  So there you have it. Plautus via Shakespeare, no less, for Benjamin Black. God only knows how ANCIENT LIGHT will be received …

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jane Says

I had an interview with Jane Casey (right) published in the Sunday Business Post a couple of weeks ago - there’s no link, I’m afraid, so I’ve republished the piece in its entirety here. To wit:

It is one of literature’s great tragedies that not every writer can manage to look like a wig-wearing bag.
  “I always get comments about not looking or sounding like a crime writer when I do events,” says Jane Casey. “I haven’t yet managed to find out how I should look and sound. Agatha Christie looked like a bag with a wig on it, after all.
  “It’s not a comment that I mind, much,” she continues. “But I did an event last year where I was reading with three other authors, all male, and I thought that in comparison to them I sounded like I was reading a school project. So maybe I still need to work on the gravitas.”
  THE LAST GIRL is Jane Casey’s fourth novel, and the third to feature her series heroine Maeve Kerrigan. London-born to Irish parents, Maeve is a Detective Constable with the London Metropolitan Murder Squad.
  Born and raised in Ireland, now living in London, Jane got the highest mark in English in her Leaving Certificate year, and received a medal to mark the achievement from Seamus Heaney. She read English at Oxford (where she would read crime novels whilst supposedly writing her thesis on Beowulf in the Bodleian Library) before completing a MPhil in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College, Dublin.
  Given her classical education, what was it about the crime novel that drew her to write in the genre?
  “I can’t think of anything more telling about society than what we hold to be criminal acts,” she says. “Crimes occur because of how people live and how they relate to one another, essentially, which is the basis of literature. Go back to the start of literature itself and you find one of the first dramas, Oedipus, is based on the crime of patricide and its aftermath. Within the parameters of the genre you can write about more or less anything because crimes occur at every level of society.
  “Some of the sharpest social commentary can be found in crime novels. I’m not totally sure why it’s seen as being ‘light’ or ‘entertaining’ in comparison with more challenging fiction, because you don’t get much darker than murder.
  “It’s a generous type of literature for a writer,” she says, “because it can include pure tragedy alongside broad humour, or lyrical description followed by brutal dialogue. There are conventions to be observed but there’s no single style of writing that defines the genre. So there’s a freedom there to do what you want.”
  According to those very genre conventions, Maeve Kerrigan, as a young woman in an Old Boys’ world, should be utilising her feminine wiles to stay one step ahead. Time and again, however, Maeve herself is to be found mocking her supposed ‘female intuition’.
  “A large part of Maeve’s survival strategy is her ability to see a put-down coming and dodge it,” says Jane. “She wouldn’t like to think that she’s good at her job because of her female intuition, but then she likes to see herself as one of the boys. She’s young. She hasn’t yet realized that she doesn’t have to fit in with them.”
  Perhaps Maeve Kerrigan aspires to a similar quality of gravitas as Jane Casey when dealing with her male colleagues, but it can be argued that such a character development would hugely diminish Kerrigan’s appeal. Maeve Kerrigan is an ambitious and dedicated policewoman, but she is possessed of an endearingly charming irreverent streak and a wilful refusal to accept arbitrary limitations that is as destructive in her professional life as it is in her personal affairs.
  She is also, and unusually, exercised by the long-term impact of crime on its victims. Married to a criminal barrister, Jane Casey is privy to the harsh realities of the legal system.
  “Victims and their families are really invisible in the legal system,” she says. “The prosecution acts on behalf of the state, not the wronged individual, and the rights of the defendant are considered at all points. It’s a bruising world to encounter. A lot of the characters in THE LAST GIRL have been through the criminal justice system and haven’t seen anything remotely resembling justice.”
  THE LAST GIRL opens with the discovery of the bodies of a mother and daughter in their plush Wimbledon home, both of whom have been stabbed to death. Upstairs lies the unconscious and bloodied form of Philip Kennford, husband and father, and a successful criminal barrister with a reputation for arrogance and sexual predation.
  “There are certain professions that attract charming sociopaths, and the Bar could be one of them,” says Casey. “Barristers are generally delightful to talk to and full of good stories, but they do like to be right all the time and their work involves winning or losing – you don’t get many draws. It’s a challenging, responsible job that demands a certain toughness, which is interesting in itself. I’ve heard tales of barristers behaving extremely badly in their personal and professional lives, but the only sociopath I’ve ever met myself is not a barrister.
  “Obviously,” she adds with a mischievous grin, “Philip Kennford is not based on my husband.”
  Twice nominated in the crime fiction category for the Irish Book Awards, for THE BURNING (2010) and THE RECKONING (2011), Jane Casey is one of the brightest stars in the Irish crime writing firmament. But where some publishers are suggesting that Ireland is not ‘sexy’ enough a setting to market to an international crime reading audience, Casey’s publishers have made a virtue of Maeve Kerrigan’s Irishness, going so far as to include a Personnel File on the inside cover of THE LAST GIRL with her Irish parentage highlighted.
  “My publishers would love me to write a Maeve story set in Ireland,” says Casey. “I wouldn’t do it for the sake of having an Ireland-set book, though. It would have to be the right story.”
  In part, Maeve Kerrigan’s distinctiveness depends on the novels’ London setting.
  “Maeve is a misfit in various ways and one of those is her own sense of estrangement. She doesn’t fit into the very British world of the Metropolitan Police, but she isn’t like someone who’s grown up in Ireland either. I think she does have uniquely Irish qualities, in that she has empathy in bucket-loads and a strong desire to understand the people she encounters through her job, whereas her colleagues tend to take people at face value. She’s also tied to her family very much, whereas - and this is a sweeping generalization - the British don’t seem to have such a sense of obligation to their parents. You have the feeling that Maeve’s parents have made sacrifices for their children, among them leaving Ireland and settling in London, and they expect to be paid back by their children achieving in life. Maeve has chosen a path they don’t understand, probably deliberately, just to get out from under that weight of expectation.
  “Maeve’s background is also important to how she’s perceived by her colleagues. It’s still common for Irish people to be seen as charming but untrustworthy, fundamentally unreliable. So she has all of that prejudice to deal with too.”
  Crime writers too face a certain amount of prejudice: charming books, perhaps, but fundamentally unreliable as literature.
  “There are plenty of very good writers out there who are happy to define themselves as crime writers,” says Casey, “I’m proud of the title myself and I’d be sorry to lose it. But the definition of a crime novel is changing all the time. That boundary between literary writing and crime writing is thin, and the crime-writing community tends to be welcoming to ‘real’ writers who want to try crime. I’m not sure if the same is true going in the other direction …
  “As a genre, it’s probably not valued as highly as it might be, at least in terms of the way it is criticised and discussed in the media. But readers of crime fiction are a sophisticated and discerning lot – pleasing them is enough of a challenge for me. I write the books I want to write.”
  As a former children’s books editor, that includes writing a new Young Adult novel. It also means that a woman who has become a mother since her first novel was published feels fully entitled to adapt her thematic concerns to her new circumstances.
  “The narrator in my first book, THE MISSING (2009), is a young woman who doesn’t understand her mother’s inability to move on after the disappearance of her young son. The character of the mother is one of the most damaged I have created, and yet now I realise I didn’t even get close to conveying the agony you might feel if your child disappeared.
  “I couldn’t write the book now as I did then,” she says, “but that’s probably true of every book by every writer. They’re all the product of your experience. At the moment I don’t think I could write about a child suffering.” Another mischievous grin, a flash of irreverence. “Maybe that means I should tackle it.”

  Jane Casey’s THE LAST GIRL is published by Ebury Press

  This interview was first published in the Sunday Business Post