“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, July 14, 2012

Any Port In A Storm

Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR (Hachette Ireland) was reviewed today in the Irish Times by Bernice Harrison, and very well received it was too. What I particularly liked about the review was Bernice’s addendum at the end, which runs thusly:
“There’s a frequent lament that artists have been slow to respond to our economic depression, but the commentators who take this view surely haven’t immersed themselves in the work of our excellent new generation of crime writers, several of whom, including Tana French, set their work very much in the here and now. In BROKEN HARBOUR, as well as delivering a gruesome murder scene and some clever sleuthing, she picks away at the psychological damage the economic meltdown has done behind the glossy front doors of the new suburbia.” - Bernice Harrison, Irish Times
  That’s fair comment, I think. Not every Irish crime writer is interested in pulling up the carpets and writing exposés of our current woe, etc., but a significant number are, and are doing very interesting work.
  Equally interesting, perhaps, is the news that Fintan O’Toole has been appointed Literary Editor at the Irish Times. In an op-ed piece which appeared in the Old Lady in 2009, O’Toole was one of the first of the establishment commentators to recognise that Irish crime writing was saying important things, concluding his piece with the line, ‘In creating an Ireland with no faith in authority and no belief that the bad guys will be vanquished by naming their names, they get closer to reality than most literary fiction has managed.’
  That article is now behind a firewall, but if you can find DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS in a library, the article was republished therein.
  Meanwhile, for the rest of Bernice Harrison’s review of BROKEN HARBOUR, clickety-click here

  UPDATE: The Observer weighed in on BROKEN HARBOUR yesterday, with the gist running thusly:
“BROKEN HARBOUR is a tale about the different facets of obsession and insanity, and it winds up to a finale that is almost too distressing. The best yet of French’s four excellent thrillers, it leaves its readers – just like the Spains – “throat-deep in terror”.” - Alison Flood

Friday, July 13, 2012

Irish Ways And Irish Laws

I really don’t mention Cora Harrison as often as I should on these pages, possibly because she lives way out west in County Clare’s beautiful Burren, far beyond the reach of the radar perched precipitately atop CAP Towers.
  Be that as it may, Cora Harrison quietly works away producing very fine historical fiction featuring her series protagonist Mara, the lady judge who operates according to Ireland’s old Brehon laws at a time when London’s colonial ambitions are starting to make themselves felt abroad. It’s a fascinating backdrop which is explored again in the latest Mara offering, LAWS IN CONFLICT, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
February, 1512. Mara, Brehon of the Burren, judge and lawgiver, has been invited to the magnificent city state of Galway, which is ruled by English laws and a royal charter originally granted by Richard III. Mara wonders whether she can use her legal knowledge to save the life of a man from the Burren who has been caught stealing a meat pie, but events soon take an even more dramatic turn when the mayor’s son is charged with a heinous crime. Sure there is more to the case than meets the eye, Mara investigates . . .
  Cora also writes award-winning YA novels, both mysteries and young Jane Austen stories, but it’s her adult historical novels that have garnered the serious praise in the US. To wit:
“Harrison, like Peter Tremayne in his Sister Fidelma series, provides a superior brand of historical mystery.” - Booklist

“Harrison combines meticulous period detail with a crafty puzzle and a sage, empathetic sleuth.” - Publishers Weekly
  So there you have it. If it’s a well-crafted tale set against a complex political backdrop and a stunning landscape you're after, clickety-click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Matt McGuire

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?
Peter Temple, TRUTH. An Aussie crime novel that won the Miles Franklin Award in 2010, their version of the Booker Prize!

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Dracula.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.

Most satisfying writing moment?
A very short email from an agent to whom I had sent the 3 chapters of my first book - ‘Is very good. Send rest. Peter.’

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Colin Bateman, MYSTERY MAN.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing - the blank page. Best thing - the blank page.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Police corruption in the new Northern Ireland. Can you ever really shake off the hand of history?

Who are you reading right now?
Northern Irish writer David Park’s new novel, THE LIGHT OF AMSTERDAM.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Tight, lean, original.

DARK DAWN: KILLING IN COLD LIGHT by Matt McGuire is published by Corsair, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, price €16.99

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: THE LAST GIRL by Jane Casey

THE LAST GIRL (Ebury Press) is Jane Casey’s fourth novel, and the third in the DC Maeve Kerrigan series of novels. The first two books in the series, THE BURNING and THE RECKONING, were shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year award at the Irish Book Awards.
  THE LAST GIRL opens with DC Maeve Kerrigan responding to the scene of a murder in the upmarket neighbourhood of Wimbledon in London.
  The family of barrister Philip Kennford has been attacked. His wife and one of his daughters have been brutally slain, stabbed and slashed to death. A second daughter, Lydia, has escaped the killer’s frenzy. Kennford himself is discovered unconscious in his bedroom, bruised but otherwise unhurt.
  Naturally, the suspicions of Kerrigan and her immediate superior, Derwent, are raised, and they believe that Kennford has murdered his wife and daughter. Very quickly, however, they discover that Kennford has what amounts to a small army of enemies who might have been inclined to vent their rage on his family …
  A relatively young woman in a male-dominated world, Maeve Kerrigan has to work very hard to be taken seriously by her male colleagues. She is helped in this by the fact that her ultimate superior, Superintendent Godley, respects Kerrigan’s abilities and intelligence, and has the capacity to see beyond her gender. On a day-to-day basis, however, Kerrigan is often the butt of sexist jokes. Happily, she’s more than a match for her male colleagues in his regard, and holds her own - in public, at least. The sexist ‘banter’ is augmented by the occasional jibe about Kerrigan’s parents, and Kerrigan’s Irishness.
  While Kerrigan copes very well in public with the ‘banter’ and jibes, she is a much more sensitive soul in her internal monologues. She doubts her own abilities, even as she proves herself to those around her. She worries that her skills aren’t up to the task, and that she might fail the victims of murder as a result. These are very human frailties, and make Maeve Kerrigan a very empathic character indeed.
  Kerrigan also finds her personal and professional life in a constant state of collision. In THE LAST GIRL, she is in a long-term relationship with Rob, who was formerly a Detective Inspector. He had to leave the Met’s Murder Squad once their relationship became known.
  Much of the personal aspect of THE LAST GIRL is driven by Maeve’s fear that her relationship with Rob, if it works out, and if marriage and children follow, will mean the end of her own career. Certainly she fears losing her ‘edge’. Thus Maeve Kerrigan is a pleasingly complex and at times counter-intuitive character, and not a woman who conforms to many of the genre’s stereotypes.
  It’s something of a trope in the crime novel that a female protagonist will be better at noticing the small details that escape a man, and that the overlooked details are often crucial to the solving of a case. This can be an interesting development, if handled well, as it contrasts the priorities of the male and female gaze. That said, you run the risk of too-broad generalisations if you begin suggesting that men and women write different kinds of novels.
  In the case of Maeve Kerrigan, Jane Casey is perfectly happy for Maeve to notice the small details that go unnoticed by her male colleague, Derwent. By the same token, Maeve herself doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed in a largely male-dominated arena. Thus Maeve goes out of her way to poke fun at the notion of women’s female intuition, as she does on pages 64 / 65:
  “ … Godley didn’t think it was a good idea to let Derwent loose on someone who’s bound to be feeling a bit vulnerable.”
  “Whereas I’m notoriously sensitive, being a woman.” [said Maeve]
In a sense, Jane Casey is having her cake and eating it here, given that Maeve Kerrigan is particularly sensitive to detail and other people’s emotional states. By the same token, it’s refreshing that Casey is happier rejecting the stereotypes than she is confirming them.
  Meanwhile, Casey allows Maeve certain feelings of insecurity, or even inferiority, that may well chime with those of her readers. In particular, Maeve is deeply uncomfortable - as in, way out of her depth - when it comes to wealth and class. The initial investigation takes place in a Wimbledon described by Maeve like this:
“Up the hill. Up into the rarefied air of Wimbledon Village, the pretty, exclusive little enclave where expensive boutiques, delis, galleries and cafes catered to the tastes of the locals and their apparent desire to spend my annual salary on fripperies and cappuccinos … It was leafy and lavish and a different world from where I lived, even though that was only a few miles away as the crow flew.” (pg 4)
  And later:
“I very much disliked being made to feel inferior because of my accent or my job or the fact that I was clearly impressed by my surroundings. Class was still an issue and only those who never needed to worry about it in the first place thought it wasn’t. I had to make a special effort to keep myself from sounding nettled.” (pg 76)
  On the evidence of THE BURNING and THE LAST GIRL, Maeve Kerrigan seems to me to be an unusually realistic and pragmatic character in the world of genre fiction: competent and skilled, yet riddled with self-doubt and a lack of confidence, she seems to fully inhabit the page.
  This was a pacy and yet thoughtful read, psychologically acute and fascinating in terms of Maeve’s personal development, particularly in terms of her empathy with the victims of crime. I’ll be looking forward with interest to Jane Casey’s next book. - Declan Burke

  For an interview with Jane Casey published last month in the Sunday Business Post, clickety-click here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Town That’s Big Enough For All Of Us

Glenn Harper remains one of the sharpest of observers of international crime fiction over at the aptly named International Noir Fiction, and he most recently trained his sights on Michael Clifford’s GHOST TOWN. The gist runs as follows:
“Clifford’s book bears closest resemblance (among current Irish crime writers) to the work of Gene Kerrigan, and that’s a very high standard that GHOST TOWN definitely lives up to. The story moves rapidly forward, keeping the lives of all the characters (particularly Molloy and his lawyer but also many minor characters) moving forward at every point, even when their stories overlap. I can highly recommend GHOST TOWN as a great read as well as a vivid portrait of the current Irish situation, in fictional form.” - Glenn Harper
  For the rest, and for an intriguing selection of contemporary international crime writing, clickety-click here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Colorado Girl

I’m currently reading Alex Barclay’s BLOOD LOSS, so I won’t say too much about it right now, but here’s a nice piece on setting - and specifically that of Breckinridge, Colorado - Alex wrote for Killer Reads. It opens up a lot like this:
Colorado is where people go to disappear.
  “It was a throwaway remark from a detective friend, but as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to hide a killer there. I planned to give Colorado a special guest appearance in a New York-based novel. Instead, I created a whole new series, with a new heroine, FBI Special Agent Ren Bryce, working for a violent crime squad based in Denver. Colorado deserved a starring role. What I needed next was a small-town crime scene. And it was then that I discovered what came to be one of my favourite places in the world: Breckenridge, a small and beautiful resort town ninety miles west of Denver …”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, July 8, 2012

On The Triviality Of Perfect Writing

I had an interview with Conor Fitzgerald (right), the author of THE NAMESAKE, published in the Evening Herald over the weekend, which reminded me of how easy it can be to misinterpret a writer’s intentions.
  An Irishman living in Italy, Conor Fitzgerald sets his novels in Rome, with an American-born police detective, Alec Blume, for his protagonist.
  The quality of his prose is one the many reasons I enjoy Conor Fitzgerald’s books, and it’s understandable that Fitzgerald - son of the poet Seamus Deane, and a former translator of James Joyce’s work - might be more careful than most when it comes to crafting a sentence, given the layered intricacy of the ‘Irishman writes American-born character in Rome’ set-up. When I suggested as much, however, I got this response:
“I try not to be over-careful,” he says, “because I see danger in it. If you get to perfect writing of a sort, it becomes trivial. A good example is someone I like, and know, Julian Barnes.”
  Julian Barnes, of course, won the Booker Prize in 2011.
  “He writes exquisite sentences, one after the other after the other, and at the end ...” He tails off with a shrug. “And then, when you go back to your real classics, your Dickens or Dostoevsky, they’re a mess. Bad sentences and careless plotting and dubious characters and improbable coincidences -- and that’s when you realise that the really, really great books are full of flaws, and the really perfect little ones are quite often forgettable. I mean, Ian McEwan -- all he can do is write sentences.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here.
  For a short review of THE NAMESAKE, clickety-click here.