“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 28, 2012

Making His Bones

KT McCaffrey is one of the unsung heroes of Irish crime writing, quietly ploughing his own furrow with the Emma Boylan series, in which Emma - an investigative journalist - shines a light into some of Ireland’s darker corners. THE TARA BONES is the eighth in the series, by my reckoning, and the blurb elves have been wittering thusly:
When a number of young women go missing, investigative journalist Emma Boylan explores the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. When one of her articles, focusing on the release of a sex offender, is published, it incites a vigilante-style protest in his neighbourhood. Accused of irresponsible journalism and condemned by the forces of law and order Emma, is undeterred and unearths some terrifying secrets, discoveries that expose her to a fate similar to those she seeks to investigate. THE TARA BONES takes you on a voyage of unexpected twists and turns as it confronts the abuse meted out to the missing women, in an atmosphere of unnerving suspense.
  Incidentally, KT is also an painter, who has created a series of portraits of Irish writers. If you’re curious as to how Ken Bruen looks in oils, clickety-click here

Friday, July 27, 2012

Blood Meridian; Or, The Ribbon Redness In The East

Lately it seems as if there’s hardly a week that goes by without another Irish crime novel dropping through the letterbox, and as often as not said novel will be from a debutant writer. Such was the case earlier this week when Louise Phillips’ RED RIBBONS (Hachette Ireland) arrived, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
A SERIAL KILLER

When the body of a missing schoolgirl is found buried in the Dublin Mountains, her hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair, the hunt for her killer reaches epic proportion with the discovery of a second girl’s body 24 hours later.

THE CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGIST

Desperate to find the murderer, police call in criminal psychologist Kate Pearson, to get inside the mind of the serial killer before he strikes again. But the more Kate discovers about the killings, the more it all begins to feel terrifyingly familiar as her own past threatens to cloud her investigations.

AN ACCUSED WOMAN

Ellie Brady has been institutionalised for 15 years, for the killing of her twelve-year-old daughter, Amy. After all this time, does Ellie hold the key to finding the killer of the Dublin schoolgirls?

What would you do if you were accused of killing your own daughter? What if those closest to you turned their back on you? And when everyone stopped listening, what next, when even you believe you’re guilty?
  So there you have it. RED RIBBONS is published on September 3rd, and for those of you wondering who Louise Phillips is, herewith be her official bio:
Born in Dublin, Louise Phillips returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. That year she was selected by Dermot Bolger as an emerging talent in the county. Louise’s work has been published as part of many anthologies, including COUNTY LINES from New Island, and various literary journals. In 2009, she won the Jonathan Swift Award for her short story ‘Last Kiss’, and in 2011 she was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform. She has also been short-listed for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK, and long-listed twice for the RTE Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. RED RIBBONS is her debut novel. Her second novel, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, will be published by Hachette Books Ireland in 2013.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wake Up, It’s Time To Die

It’s a rather nerve-wracking time right now at CAP Towers. BOOKS TO DIE FOR, which I’ve co-edited with John Connolly, will be published at the end of August, but even as you read this the contributors’ copies are winging their way around the globe, the reviewers’ copies are landing with a hefty thump in many hallways, and the genie is very much out of the bottle. Quoth the blurb elves:
With so many mystery novels to choose from and so many new titles appearing each year, where should the reader start? What are the classics of the genre? Which are the hidden gems? In the most ambitious anthology of its kind yet attempted, the world’s leading mystery writers have come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that often reveal as much about themselves and their work work as they do about the books that they love, more than 120 authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Christie to Child and Poe to PD James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlowe to Peter Wimsey, BOOKS TO DIE FOR brings together the cream of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought . . . I want more!
  This, of course, is always the period of phoney war. That agonizing time when you’ve done all you can to make a book as good as it can be, when editors and designers have wrought their magic, and the book seems to exist in a kind of limbo between what you hope it is and how the rest of the world will perceive it.
  There is nothing more to do but fret and sweat, and try not to obsess over the most minute of details.
  Unusually for me at this point in the proceedings, and alongside all the usual traumas, I’m feeling a quiet pride for helping to bring BOOKS TO DIE FOR to this stage. That’s the case even though there’s an added pressure on this occasion, because BTDF isn’t just my book, and won’t simply stand or fall on how my efforts. To a large extent, I think, the book belongs to everyone who contributed to it, and to the crime fiction / mystery community at large, writers and readers alike.
  But even while acknowledging that, and accepting that BTDF isn’t perfect - no book is, and I’d imagine that there will be very few well-informed crime / mystery readers who won’t read it and wail, ‘But what about [insert overlooked tome here]?’ - it still feels pretty good to have helped to bring the book this far. It was a fraught experience at times, and a steep learning curve, but it was terrific to be involved in it, and particularly to observe, in John, a writer at the top of his game and how he goes about his business.
  Being the generous soul he is, John Connolly won’t tell you that he pretty much shouldered said hefty tome up the hill and over the finish line in a kind of Sisyphus-taunting performance, but he did, and did so in some style too. For my own part, I like to think that I brought a little panache in the way I stood back and watched and admired, and occasionally applauded. It’s also true that Clair Lamb’s input was prodigious, crucial and never less than excellent.
  Anyway, as I say, the genie is out of the bottle now and on its way to a bookstore near you. Launch dates for BOOKS TO DIE FOR in South Africa, Dublin and Belfast can be found here, and there’s oodles of information on the book, its contributors and the books and authors they wrote about, here and here. I sincerely hope you enjoy …

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

O Danny Boy Woodrell

Senator Eoghan Harris made an impassioned pitch in last weekend’s Sunday Independent for Daniel Woodrell to be considered an Irish writer - “or at least an Irish reader.” To wit:
Doyle Redmond, the chief character in GIVE US A KISS, is an educated ‘hillbilly’ (an intimate term like ‘Paddy’ which Ozarkers resent on the lips of outsiders) who deliberately damps down his vocabulary when at home. And while Doyle is a novelist he’s also someone the Kansas police want to talk to.
  But when Doyle holes up in a shack in the Ozarks he lovingly lays out “the books I never left behind, and made any crap hole I landed in home to me”. Look at the list and you will see why Woodrell should be accorded an honorary status as an Irish writer -- or at least an Irish reader.
  “There were a couple of Elizabeth Bowen novels, a quartet by Edward Lewis Wallant, one volume of Pierce Egan’s Boxiana, The Williamsburg Trilogy by Daniel Fuchs, Carson McCullers’s oeuvre, a stack of Twain, a batch of Erskine Caldwell’s thin li’l wonders, some Liam O’Flaherty and John McGahern and Grace Paley and Faulkner, all of Chandler, and a copy of Jim Harrison’s A Good Day to Die.”
  Woodrell is not only the senator’s favourite crime novelist, he’s his favourite novelist, full stop.
  That, it’s fair to say, is not something I might have expected to hear from an Irish senator in my lifetime. For the rest of the piece, clickety-click here.
  Senator Harris is in for a treat this September, because the great Daniel Woodrell will be appearing at the Mountains to Sea Literary Festival in Dun Laoghaire, on Sunday September 9th at 4.30pm.
  I’m delighted to say that your humble host will be reading alongside Daniel Woodrell - and that, it’s fair to say, is not something I might have expected to hear from myself in my lifetime. Arts journalist and broadcaster Sinead Gleeson will be playing the genial host, and already it’s shaping up to be one of the highlights of my year. For more information, and booking, etc., clickety-click here.
  Finally, and while we’re on the subject of the Mountains to Sea Festival, I’ll be hosting a crime writing workshop on Saturday, September 8th, during which I will “guide participants through the principles of good crime writing and will talk about the particular nuances of this popular form and explore the craft of the genre, outlining the elements that comprise a compelling novel.”
  Of course, I could just tell you now to read Daniel Woodrell’s entire canon and achieve pretty much the same result. But where’s the fun in that?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Anthony Quinn

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?
Anything by Graham Greene, because his shading of good and evil still resonates strongly today. Has there ever been a better writer of noir?

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn - a life spent constructing hayricks and reading poetry in the hedgerows, with a pitchfork to hand for devilment at night.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Social media websites are a terrible distraction when you have writer’s block at the computer. Dickens and Shakespeare were so prolific only because their inkwells weren’t full of friends and followers jostling for their attention.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Successfully forging a doctor’s prescription. No, seriously, when a background character you thought insignificant suddenly takes over a page and then an entire chapter.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I know this is the golden age of Irish crime fiction with authors such as mine host’s ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL redefining the genre itself, but I think the best Irish crime novel is still out there, lurking in the subconscious, waiting to be written …

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Any of Stuart Neville’s thrillers, which read as vivid cinematic treatments of Northern Ireland.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst thing is the daily confrontation with a blank page. Best thing is filling same – even though you might feel like flushing it down the loo the next day.

The pitch for your next book is …?
My historical thriller BLOOD DIMMED TIDE is currently doing the rounds. WB Yeats and his assistant ghost-catcher are summonsed to Sligo by the restless spirit of a girl whose body is mysteriously washed ashore in a coffin from the previous century. They are led on a gripping journey through the ruins of Sligo’s abandoned estates and into its darkest, most haunted corners as the country descends into a bloody war of independence.

Who are you reading right now?
Cormac McCarthy’s early ‘Appalachian noir’.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I’d pick ‘read’ rather than ‘write’, and hope it’s not an Old Testament God, otherwise he’ll condemn me to an eternity of reading my own work as a just punishment for attempting to get it published.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Everything is practice.

Anthony Quinn’s DISAPPEARED is published by the Mysterious Press.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Other Lady Of The Shades

He has written crime novels before, of course, with the City Trilogy, but Darren Shan is best known for his series (plural) of horror books for young adults, which have sold in excess of 25 million copies to date.
  LADY OF THE SHADES (Orion) sees Darren back in the world of adult crime fiction, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
Ed, an American author on the hunt for a story for his next book, arrives in London looking for inspiration. A stranger in a strange city, he’s haunted by a deadly secret that refuses to stay buried, and no matter how hard he tries he cannot escape the manifest sins of his past. What Ed wants is answers, what he finds is something he definitely didn’t bargain for: the beautiful and untouchable Andeanna Menderes. Andeanna is a woman who is dangerously bound to one of London’s most notorious crime lords, and if they are caught together it could mean death for them both. Ensnared in an illicit affair that can only be conducted in the shadows, Ed’s world is turned upside down as a series of shattering revelations blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not ...
  The book combines ‘the darkness of John Connolly and the quirkiness of Neil Gaiman’, apparently, and you’ll be able to see if LADY OF THE SHADES lives up to that kind of billing on August 30th. Which means that Darren Shan is the latest potential contender for this year’s crime fiction category at the Irish Book Awards. No kidding, that’s going to be the most fascinating line-up since Brazil 1970 …

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reviewing The Evidence

There were a couple of very interesting reviews of Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD (Granta Books) in the Irish Independent and Irish Times yesterday. What piqued my interest was that the phrase ‘crime fiction’ was conspicuous by its absence in both cases, even though our eponymous heroes are police detectives. Quoth the blurb elves:
Hawthorn and Child are mid-ranking detectives tasked with finding significance in the scattered facts. They appear and disappear in the fragments of this book along with a ghost car, a crime boss, a pick-pocket, a dead racing driver and a pack of wolves. The mysteries are everywhere, but the biggest of all is our mysterious compulsion to solve them. In HAWTHORN & CHILD, the only certainty is that we’ve all misunderstood everything.
  It’s not true, of course, that every novel to feature a police detective (or two) is a crime or mystery novel. Neither is it true that a book becomes a crime novel simply because crimes are committed or investigated during the course of the story. So I’m not entirely sure that HAWTHORN & CHILD qualifies as an Irish crime novel, or that Keith Ridgway would want it to be considered as such. Keith Ridgway is Irish, the novel is set in London, and Ridgway writes in the literary genre (I’ve already seen a call for it to be longlisted for the Booker Prize on Wednesday). That said, an earlier novel, THE PARTS, also dabbled in crime fiction tropes; and anyway, who the hell really knows what’s bubbling away at the back of a writer’s mind?
  Here’s a flavour of both reviews:
“Ridgway’s new book, HAWTHORN & CHILD, is strange, unsettling, fragmented, confusing, at times dreamlike (these are all good things, by the way). You won’t find sentimental stories of Irish emigrants here, nor self-flagellating clich├ęs about dysfunctional families. […]
  “The story, or rather stories, concern two London policemen, the titular detectives Hawthorn and Child. It opens with them being called to a shooting, but this is just the beginning for a series of incidents both violent and tender, strange occurrences, stranger characters, shifts in time, shifts in perspective, shifts in tone and tempo.
  “The different threads are connected, but tenuously so, though of course this is deliberately done: it’s not as if Ridgway has lost control of his own stories.
  “The book makes the reader work hard, much like its two heroes: sifting through the facts, piecing together clues, trying to shape a cohesive narrative out of seemingly random bits of information. And it’s all the more satisfying for that.” - Darragh McManus, Irish Independent

“HAWTHORN & CHILD is a working partnership of two very different policemen. Together they patrol a seething present-day, utterly tangible London by car [...]
  “It is a novel of contrasts: darkness and light. The daily and mundane balanced against the sheer hell of evil. One man, who is good with accounts, has secured an easy life – admittedly working for a gangster – but then he finds himself pinned under a car that could fall on him. Elsewhere a baby who is about to be rescued is thrown down a stairs. A woman who lives in a neat, spacious flat hangs herself over a cooker while the gas rings burn her from beneath.” - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
  I haven’t read the novel yet - I’ll be trotting along to my local independent bookseller tomorrow, as fast as my little legs will allow - but it sounds like a fascinating prospect, similar in theme and tone to two of my favourite novels from last year, Sara Gran’s CITY OF THE DEAD and James Sallis’ THE KILLER IS DYING. Both were vaguely surreal in their approach and existential in tone, but - and here we can draw parallels in an Irish context with Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN, or the work of Ken Bruen, Eoin McNamee and Colin Bateman’s ‘Mystery Man’ series - tapped into an uncompromising realism in acknowledging that, despite our culture’s plaintive protestations to the contrary, justice is a fiction, evidence is arbitrary, and any conclusions drawn can only be subjective and thus fictions in their own right. All of which, of course, is the true subject matter and governing philosophy of every great crime novel.
  If HAWTHORN & CHILD is in the same ballpark, I’m in for a treat.