“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, August 18, 2012

Goin’ Underground

Another day, another debut Irish crime writer. Donegal solicitor Laurence McMorrow publishes THE UNDERGROUND (PenPress), a novella set in the US during the Reds-under-the-beds era. Quoth the blurb elves:
Late 1940’s America - and Cold War tension is rapidly escalating. J. Edgar Hoover heads up the FBI in zealous pursuit of enemy aliens and subversives. And top on the list of the FBI’s most wanted are the ‘Commies’. Having moved to New York, Maura Connolly, a well-educated young woman from Ireland, becomes deeply involved with Communism, and with one of the Party’s leading lights. As government forces close in, Maura is persuaded to go underground, and assumes a new identity and life. Her risky association with a senior FBI agent however, leads her and her comrades into great danger. Is there anyone she can truly trust? McMorrow’s novella deftly captures the paranoia and anxiety of the age, with a finely tuned sense of edginess and subterfuge.
  Commie-baiting noir? Sold!
  By the way, there’s an interview with Noir Nation here which describes Laurence McMorrow as a British writer. As I understand it, Bundoran is still a part of the Republic of Ireland, although it’s been a busy week at CAP Towers and there’s been a few developments I haven’t been keeping abreast of. Have we sold off Donegal to pay down the IMF debt? Has Ireland decided to throw in with sterling? Has Colin Bateman finally gone all colonial on our collective ass? Any and all info is very welcome …

Friday, August 17, 2012

Angels In The Architecture

There was a very fine interview in The Independent last weekend, in which John Connolly spoke with James Kidd on a variety of topics, including the forthcoming BOOKS TO DIE FOR, the blending of genres, the use of language in crime fiction, and the influence of Catholic Ireland on his Maine-set Charlie Parker novels. Here’s a taster:
Then there is THE WRATH OF ANGELS, the 10th of Charlie Parker’s haunting, scary and addictive investigations – to my mind the finest crime series currently in existence. As always, the plot marries an ingenious, if recognisable, detective story with something wicked and otherworldly. The sinister and possibly demonic Collector makes a welcome reappearance.
  “The notion of fusing genres is still something the crime-writing establishment in England is uncomfortable with. There’s a sense that it interferes with the purity of the form. It suggests a lack of faith in what I am doing.”
  Connolly’s magpie imagination is not the only reason his books are an acquired taste. His lyrical prose is an oddity in the spartan milieu of contemporary crime writing, and betrays what seem suspiciously like literary aspirations. “There is sometimes a feeling in crime fiction that good writing gets in the way of story,” Connolly says with a hint of defiance. “I have never felt that way. All you have is language. Why write beneath yourself? It’s an act of respect for the reader as much as yourself.”
  Connolly is on a roll. He explains his welding together of “rational and irrational” forms by rewinding to his Irish Catholic upbringing. “Crime fiction was born from the idea that the world can be understood by the application of logic. Irish people have always been uncomfortable with this point of view. Possibly because we are a Catholic nation, we don’t think rationality encompasses the entire world. We believe that human beings are far stranger than rational thought allows.”
  I would largely agree with that, although I think the instinct taps into a deeper well than a Catholic or Christian heritage. If you drive around Ireland today it won’t be very long before you come across a curious phenomena, that of the neatly tended field disfigured by a ragged patch of ground that remains untilled or overgrown, an untouched hump or hummock allowed to run wild. It’s not that the farmer gave up, or got lazy - these are ‘fairy forts’ or variations thereof, which local tradition or superstition claims are sacred to ‘the little folk’. Should a farmer prove foolhardy enough to mow or plough the fairies’ land, bad fortune will quickly follow.
  Now, there are few occupations more pragmatic than that of the Irish farmer - attempting to wring a living from the floating puddle that is Ireland tends to knock the romantic notions out of a man’s head very early on. If you were to suggest to one of the horny-handed sons of the soil that there are actual fairies living in such places, you would receive polite but very short shrift. And yet still, in the 21st century, the ‘fairy fort’ is common enough in the Irish landscape to be unremarkable.
  Do we believe in fairies? No. Do we really believe that the bulldozing of ‘fairy forts’ would result in curses and bad fortune? No. Do we leave the fairies and their forts alone? Yes.
  It used to irritate me, this very visible manifestation of childishly illogical superstition. Now I like it. It’s a reminder that this is an old country, older than logic and imposed order, where we’re comfortable with daily reminders of our most ancient and primal fears.
  The crime / mystery novel, largely a cultural by-product of the industrial revolution and concerned with a rational, scientific pursuit of truth - “The facts, Jack, just the facts” - seeks to confirm and celebrate a cause-and-effect world that can be laid bare and explained. Thus tamed, it need no longer be feared.
  The crime / mystery novel asserts a seductive but blatantly false thesis, essentially proposing that if we can only dig deep enough we will eventually uncover all we need to know, and especially when it comes to character and motive, the ghost in the machine.
  This, for my money, is why John Connolly’s books work so well. I have no idea if he is comfortable with this notion that much of the world, for all our advances, is unknowable, but he is willing to embrace it. That his Charlie Parker novels are still considered radical, in that they ‘interfere with the purity of the form’, says much more about the narrow parameters of the crime / mystery novel than it does about John Connolly, who is using that form to tap into the oldest kind of storytelling we have.
  For the rest of that Independent interview, clickety-click here ...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Sheila Quigley

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?
THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Once, when I was fifteen, I made the national papers for swearing. One word out of a long story, ‘Bloody’! They called me ‘Pretty Pygmalion’. Guess it will have to be Eliza Doolittle.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Stephen King, loved THE STAND.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I finally type THE END.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
That’s a hard one. Must say I love anything by Stuart Neville and Ken Bruen.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Holding your brand new book in your hand for the first time. / Batting your head against the wall when the ideas stop flowing and you’re on a deadline.

The pitch for your next book is …?
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN is No 3 in the ‘Holy Island of Lindisfarne’ trilogy, the first being THORN IN MY SIDE, No 2 just out in paperback, NOWHERE MAN.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN brings everyone together and the secret of the families who have ruled the world for 30 centuries out in the open, with shocks for all concerned. Thrilled with the final word from editor. It hits the ground running and doesn’t stop.

Who are you reading right now?
John Connolly, THE BURNNG SOUL.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
It would have to be write, or else I would probably go crazy with all of these characters in my head.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Fast, fast and faster!

NOWHERE MAN by Sheila Quigley is published by Burgess Books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Other Marian Mysteries

So there I was last week scribbling about how this is a strange but fascinating time for Irish crime fiction, and I didn’t know the half of it. For lo! Word filters through that Marian Keyes, the runaway bestseller of women’s fiction and most recently the author of the wonderfully titled how-to book SAVED BY CAKE, will publish a private eye novel next month, THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE. Quoth the blurb elves:
Helen Walsh doesn’t believe in fear - it’s just a thing invented by men to get all the money and good jobs - and yet she’s sinking. Her work as a Private Investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and now some old demons have resurfaced. Not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing persons case. Money is tight and Jay is awash with cash, so Helen is forced to take on the task of finding Wayne Diffney, the ‘Wacky One’ from boyband Laddz. Things ended messily with Jay. And she’s never going back there. Besides, she has a new boyfriend now, the very sexy detective Artie Devlin and it’s all going well. But the reappearance of Jay is stirring up all kinds of stuff she thought she’d left behind. Playing by her own rules, Helen is drawn into a dark and glamorous world, where her worst enemy is her own head and where increasingly the only person she feels connected to is Wayne, a man she’s never even met. Utterly compelling, moving and very very funny, THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE is unlike any novel you’ve ever read and Helen Walsh - courageous, vulnerable and wasp-tongued - is the perfect heroine for our times.
  So there you have it, folks. Is Marian Keyes about to become the Irish equivalent of Stieg Larsson and drag the rest of the Irish crime writers kicking, screaming and spitting cake-crumbs into the publishing stratosphere? Only time, that canary-type stool-pigeon, will tell …

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hot To Trot

The trope of the crime fiction protagonist battling his or her inner demons is a common one, as you all know, although John Connolly gave the convention an ingeniously literal twist by externalising said demons for poor, tormented Charlie Parker. More recently, for his young adult novels, Connolly has pitted the boy wonder Samuel Johnson against a host of demons, and even sent him down to harrow hell.
  Elsewhere, Ken Bruen cut straight to the chase with THE DEVIL (2011), in which poor, tormented Jack Taylor came face to face with Satan himself - or did he?
  Now Gerard Brennan publishes FIREPROOF (Blasted Heath). Quoth the blurb elves:
Hell hath no fury for Mike Rocks. He’s fireproof, an anomaly caused by a slip-up in afterlife bureaucracy. Lucifer bundles him off as an embarrassing problem with a mission to introduce Satanism to Northern Ireland. And while he’s at it, Mike can exact revenge on the men who took his life. FIREPROOF is equal parts crime fiction, dark urban fantasy and black comedy. For fans of Colin Bateman, Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski.
  So there you have it. “Scintillating, hilarious, surreal … a total blast,” declares the aforementioned Ken Bruen of FIREPROOF, and in truth it sounds a ripsnorter. Introducing Satanism to Northern Ireland? This could well be the (blackly) comic novel of the year.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Don Done Good

Kristoffer Mullin’s Sunday Times review of Matt McGuire’s DARK DAWN (Corsair) - review published yesterday, no link - is not without its caveats, but overall it’s a very positive piece. First, Matt McGuire’s credentials:
“This may be his debut, but Matt McGuire already makes a living out of crime fiction. As a doctor of English literature at the University of Western Sydney, the Belfast-born academic is something of a specialist, and has published articles on the genre.”
  The latest in a long and venerable line of dons dabbling in the dark art of the crime novel does rather well, according to Mullin, with the gist running thusly:
“O’Neill’s struggles to cope with his disintegrating marriage, juggling fatherhood with a monomania for police work, feel well observed rather than trite, bringing a Henning Mankell-style realism to the genre. McGuire has a superb feel for the pressures of policing in Nothern Ireland, still suffering a hangover from the Troubles while dealing with the modern problems of youth crime and workplace politics. He also strikes a convincing tone when delving into Belfast’s underworld […] This is a terrific debut and one that demands a sequel.” - Kristoffer Mullin, Sunday Times
  DARK DAWN is currently teetering atop Mt TBR at CAP Towers, and it’s one I’m looking forward to. I’ll keep you posted …

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Slaughter’s Hound: Bell Jars Away

As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, yours truly has a new novel published later this month, said tome rejoicing in the subtle title (too subtle, perhaps?) SLAUGHTER’S HOUND. It opens up a lot like this:
1.

It was rare fine night for a stroll down by the docks, the moon plump as a new pillow in an old-fashioned hotel and the undertow in the turning tide swushing its ripples silvery-green and a bird you’ve never heard before chirring its homesick tale of a place you might once have known and most likely now will never see, mid-June and almost midnight and balmy yet, the kind of evening built for a long walk with a woman who likes to take long walks and not say very much, and that little in a murmur you have to strain to catch, her laughter low and throaty, her humour dry and favouring lewd, eyes like smoky mirrors of the vast night sky and in them twinkles that might be stars reflecting or the first sparks of intentions that you’d better fan with soft words and a gentle touch in just the right place or spend the rest of your life and maybe forever wondering what might have been, all for the want of a soft word and a touch gentle and true.
  It was that kind of evening, alright. That kind of place.
  You ever find yourself there, say something soft, and be gentle, and true.
  Me, I found myself hunched over the charred dwarf that had once been Finn Hamilton, parts of him still sizzling in a marinade of oily flesh and melting tar, and all around the rank stench of singing hair and burnt petrol, seared pork.
  Midnight, and balmy yet.
  I’d seen him jump. Pacing the yard below, phone clamped to my ear. ‘Listen, Ben, she’s under pressure at work, okay? You need to take that on -- What? Yeah, I know. But look, sometimes your mum says things she --’
  I heard him, first. Faint but clear from nine stories high.
  ‘Bell jars away …’
  From instinct I glanced up with the next line already forming, let’s be fearless with our promises, but by then he’d jumped, a dark blur plummeting, wings folded against the drag like some starving hawk out of the noon sun, some angel betrayed.
  I guess he punched through the cab’s roof so hard he sent metal shearing into the petrol tank. All it took was one spark.
  Boom
  The blast smashed me ten feet into a heap of scrap metal, left me deafened and half blind, limbs rubbery as I scrabbled around ripping my hands on rusty steel. Stunned and flopping in the aftermath of a quake that tore my insides apart
  lie down stay down
  lungs pounded by hammers O Jesus breathe, breathe and a roaring in the ears of blood tortured to a scream
  ‘Dad?’
  coming tinny and distant
  ‘Dad? Are you there?’
  the phone two feet and a million miles away, dirt thick in my teeth
  ‘I think you’re breaking up, Dad …’
  and the taste of roasting flesh and metal thick on my tongue.
  A hot knife pierced my ribs as I reached for the phone.
  ‘Ben?’ A harsh grating. ‘Ring you back, Ben.’
  I lurched to my feet on spongy knees and stumbled across the yard towards the blaze. The air all a-shimmer so that his feet looked submerged, some weirdly wavering polyps. One of his moccasins came away as I pulled him free and at first I thought I’d ripped him in half. Then I thought he’d dropped a dwarf on the cab. Strange the things you think when you’re trying not to think at all, dragging a man from a torched wreck and his flesh frying in lumps on the melting tar.
  As I twisted my head, guts already heaving, I realised why he seemed so short.
  He’d dived, come down arrow-straight, in the final instant pulling back his arms so that the impact drove his head and shoulders back up into his chest. There was still some remnant of what had once been his neck but the head had pulped like so much ripe melon.
  I puked until the heaves came dry and then rang it in. Globs of grey grease spitting on the cab’s skeletal frame.
  So there you have it. The book launches on August 22nd, by the way, at Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street, Dublin 2. If you’re in the vicinity, I’d love to see you there.
  Meanwhile, for those of you curious about the origin of the lyrics briefly quoted above, they’re from ‘Bell Jars Away’, courtesy of the immortal Rollerskate Skinny. Roll it there, Collette …