“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, October 6, 2012

On Intelligent Reading

I had an interview with Howard Jacobson published today in the Irish Examiner, in which he speaks of intelligent reading as a dying art, which put me in mind of John Boland’s review of SLAUGHTER’S HOUND a few weeks ago in the Irish Independent. At the time, I mentioned that John didn’t much care for SLAUGHTER’S HOUND; and it should go without saying, although I’ll say it anyway, that John is as entitled as anyone else to dislike any book; moreover, being a reviewer commissioned to express his opinion, he is duty bound to say so as honestly as possible.
  In fact, all Three Regular Readers of this blog will know that I have for some time been an advocate for a more rigorous quality of review when it comes to crime and mystery writing, and the review in the Irish Independent certainly provided that. Not only was the reviewer afforded plenty of space, the review itself was quite detailed. Having established that the protagonist, Harry Rigby, is inherently implausible on the basis that he is both capable of thuggish violence and a basic grasp of poetry and philosophy, John concludes as follows:
“Indeed, more persuasive is the response of teenage Grainne, who midway through the book tells Harry: “You’re a horrible human being” -- a judgment the reader had already made after noting the abuse he had just meted out to his ex-partner and to the troubled son he professed to care about.
  “There’s no reason, of course, why the principal character of a book has to be endearing or even likeable (Richard Stark’s icily amoral killer, Parker, comes to mind), but there’s no indication here that the author finds his vengeful anti-hero inherently repellent or that he wants the reader to judge him in any negative way.
  “Matters aren’t helped by the fact that every single other character is just as aggressively unpleasant. The result is as bleak a picture of contemporary Ireland as you’ll encounter -- though undermined by the reader’s sense that the author has nothing interesting to say about such an Ireland and that it’s all merely being served up for lurid thrills. On that level, the book is brutally efficient.” - John Boland, Irish Independent
  Now, I’m not going to suggest that John Boland’s overall verdict on the book is wrong. That is his opinion, as I say, and given that I review books myself, it would be hypocritical of me to engage in special pleading on behalf of my own. I am, however, going to suggest that he misread SLAUGHTER’S HOUND.
  The word ‘abuse’, for example, is a loaded one, particularly as John uses it to set up his claim that the reader will have already judged Harry Rigby a ‘horrible human being’ by the time young Grainne delivers her verdict. The word ‘abuse’ often comes prefaced with ‘domestic’, ‘emotional’, ‘psychological’ or even ‘sexual’, whereas Harry Rigby is guilty of engaging in bitter arguments with his ex-partner, Denise (she is his ex-, after all), arguments Harry invariably loses given that Denise is smarter and more pragmatic. As for his son, Ben, the ‘abuse’ there consists of verbal tough love when Harry discovers that 12-year-old Ben is indulging in substances not appropriate for any 12-year-old. Certainly, Harry Rigby will win no prizes for sensitivity. A ‘horrible human being’, on the other hand, would simply walk away from complex emotional scenarios rather than try to engage with them in his clumsy, inarticulate way.
  Grainne’s judgment of Harry, incidentally, as a ‘horrible human being’ may well be true by the time it is delivered, by which point Harry has been well and truly slapped around by life; it’s as true a judgement as when she tells him, some pages later, “Fuck, you’re cold.” The crucial line in the book follows on directly from this comment, when Harry says, “I wasn’t born this way.” By this point, squeezed on all sides and physically and emotionally drained, bent out of shape by forces beyond his control and trapped in a vice between cops and ex-paramilitaries, it’s perhaps understandable that Harry Rigby has little time for the social niceties.
  But the crux of the review, I think, and the misreading, comes with John’s assertion that, “there’s no indication here that the author finds his vengeful anti-hero inherently repellent or that he wants the reader to judge him in any negative way.”
  SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is not about my finding Harry Rigby inherently likeable, or about providing a scenario in which readers might judge him in a positive way. A character is a product of his or her story, just as a person is a product of his or her time and place, their culture and society. If Harry Rigby is perceived as inherently repellent and negative, then I’d suggest that he becomes that way as a result of his experiences, most of which impact on him personally in a negative way. He wasn’t, as he says in one of his few sentimental statements, born that way.
  The author has nothing interesting to say about a bleakly pictured contemporary Ireland, reckons John, but he may have misread Harry Rigby: by turns thuggishly violent and capable of poetry and philosophy, of sentimental self-pity and delusion, of self-wounding hypocrisy, a desperate, ruined figure who finally erupts in a terrible rage when he is systematically stripped of all hope, he is intended as a symbol for modern Ireland in these benighted times. I certainly didn’t aim for ‘lurid thrills’ when writing the book, but then, any book belongs as much to its reader as it does to its writer, and perhaps I simply didn’t write it well enough to clarify such issues.
  All of which is a (very) roundabout way of bringing me to that Irish Examiner interview with Howard Jacobson. Well, it was ostensibly an interview, but given that his new book, ZOO TIME, is a black comedy about a failing writer, with which yours truly was able to empathise with a little more than I’d like to admit, the interview pretty much amounted to a series of increasingly entertaining digressions about the state of writing and reading today.
  At one point the notion of a character’s ‘likeability’ came up, this in the context of one of ZOO TIME’s themes, the slow death of the intelligent reader.
To wit:
Winning the Booker Prize has not mellowed him, nor changed his unfashionable view — which gets hilarious treatment in ZOO TIME — that intelligent reading is a dying art.
  “If you’ve ever been invited to a book club reading,” [Jacobson] says, “you’ll have encountered this notion about the hero being ‘likeable’. People saying that they can’t identify with the hero. Likeability?” He rears back, as if startled. “What is this? Where did this come from? I don’t remember this when I was first writing books.
  “Certainly, when I was a young man reading books, ‘likeability’ was not a criterion. Or ‘identifiability’. In fact, non-identifiabilty was a criterion. ‘I am not Raskolnikov, therefore I am interested in Raskolnikov.’ You used to read to experience something that was not you. Now it’s a complaint.”
  For the rest of that interview, which is published today in the Irish Examiner, clickety-click here

Friday, October 5, 2012

[Insert Quirkey Headline Here]

And still they come, the indefatigable legions of debut Irish crime writers. It won’t be published until January 2014, apparently, but I TRY TO BE GOOD (Penguin Ireland) by Liz Nugent (right) sounds like a debut worth waiting for. Quoth the blurb elves:
Everybody thinks they know Oliver Quirke, the internationally successful and charismatic children’s author and loyal husband to Alice, but when Oliver savagely beats Alice into a coma, it becomes clear that nobody knew him at all. Oliver’s history is revealed through the eyes of others: his love rival, an old school friend, his gay admirer, a former lover and his ex-employer, as we slip back in decades to a Catholic boarding school, a French vineyard and a leafy south Dublin avenue, but it is Oliver himself who gradually discloses the full tragic and dark truth behind what makes up a thoroughly modern monster. I TRY TO BE GOOD is a gripping and beautifully controlled debut, an exploration of a random act of savagery that marks Liz Nugent as a vivid new talent in psychological fiction.
  Actually, that sounds terrific, possibly because it’s putting me in mind for some reason of a Patricia Highsmith novel. It may also be because - as John Connolly so pithily puts it - character is life’s great mystery.
  Incidentally, it’s a brave move to offer up a lead character called Quirke in an Irish crime novel when Benjamin Black might have reasonably expected that he had already staked an irrefutable claim to said moniker.
  But who, I hear you cry, is Liz Nugent? Over to the blurb elves again:
Born and raised in Dublin, Liz Nugent was attracted to literature and drama from an early age. Liz had an early career as a stage manager working in theatres in Ireland and touring internationally. For the last ten years, Liz has worked as a story associate for ‘Fair City’ in RTÉ, co-wrote a six-part children’s adventure series for TG4 called ‘The Resistors’ and a radio play for RTE Radio 1 called ‘Campus’. She has been shortlisted for the Francis McManus short story competition and has written children’s stories for the edification of her fifteen nephews and nieces.
  So there you have it. The picture credit, by the way, goes to my good friend (and superb photographer) Beta Bajgartova, whose website can be found here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Through A Glass, Brightly

I am a fan and a friend of Adrian McKinty, maybe even in that order, so I’m delighted be able to say that his award-winning novel FALLING GLASS will finally be published in the U.S. next week. Waaaaay back in June of 2011, I had this to say about said tome:
McKinty is a very fine writer, as many have pointed out before (he is currently on the longlist for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his previous offering, FIFTY GRAND), and he invests his hardboiled prose with a muscular poetry that lends itself to deliciously black humour (Chapter Six opens with the memorable line, “The place stank of dead Mexicans and no one was even dead yet.”). All of which would have made for an excellent crime novel, and the Pavee’s nomadic lifestyle provides a neat backdrop for Killian’s peripatetic wanderings; but as always with McKinty, there’s more: his novels are as much novels of ideas as they are page-turning thrillers, and here he provides a rare insight into the world of the Pavee, its traditions, mythologies and language.
  There’s a lot more in that vein, you won’t be at all surprised to learn, around about here. But for a more up-to-date take on FALLING GLASS, try next week’s Booklist review, the gist of which runs thusly:
“The mystical and marginalized Pavee subculture is molded brilliantly by McKinty into the perfect pivot for a novel exploring the concept of honour outside the law. A sure bet for Lee Child’s crew, but there’s also a scratchy whisper in McKinty’s voice calling to George Pelecanos’ fans.” — Christine Tran, Booklist
  So there you have it. Lee Child meets George Pelecanos. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

BOOKS TO DIE FOR: It’s Officially ‘Indispensable’

I mentioned last week that the U.S. edition of BOOKS TO DIE FOR, edited by John Connolly and yours truly, launches at the Cleveland Bouchercon this coming Friday with the help of a cast of thousands, almost, but yesterday was in fact its official publication day. Three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah! etc.
  Those of you wondering what all the fuss is about can find said tome here, along with a sample chapter, the excellent J. Wallis Martin on Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Dupin Tales’. Meanwhile, over at The Rap Sheet, Jeff Pierce was kind enough to declare BOOKS TO DIE FOR one of ‘Pierce’s Picks’, in the process quibbling about some of the names that aren’t in the book. That quibbling is a sound, I’d imagine, we’ll be hearing a lot of in the coming months - indeed, half the fun of such books is the arguments they provoke about who and what did or didn’t make it in.
  As I mentioned previously, I won’t be making the trip to Cleveland for this year’s Bouchercon, which is very disappointing. I also feel rather guilty, given that John Connolly is embarking on a Homeric road trip to promote BTDF after B’con, incorporating venues in Oakmont and Harrisburg PA, New York, Washington DC, Richmond VA, Pittsboro NC, and Boston and South Portland in Maine. For all the details on John’s trip, which will see him talking about BTDF in the company of fellow contributors to the book, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, back on this side of the pond, the Daily Telegraph provided one of the pithiest reviews of any book I’ve ever seen, in the process declaring BOOKS TO DIE FOR ‘indispensable’. Which is nice. I’m also reliably informed that - for Irish readers - BTDF will be the subject of a featurette on The Works on RTE1 on Thursday night, October 4th, at 10.45pm. That’s waaaaay past jammys-time at CAP Towers, of course, but maybe we’ll make an exception for the night that’s in it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Murder of Crowe’s

I don’t know what they’re putting in the water in Northern Ireland these days, but we’d hazard a guess that it’s a lot more potent than fluoride. Tony Bailie’s third novel A VERSE TO MURDER (Ecopunks Fiction) sounds like a trippy, kinky murder mystery, if the blurb elves are to be believed:
When police find Northern Ireland’s leading poet with a noose around his neck and his trousers around his ankles they assume it is a case of death by sexual misadventure. However, when Sunday tabloid hack Barry Crowe looks into the dead poet’s background he uncovers blackmail, an erotic trio of muses and experimentation with psychedelic drugs … he also gets off with a foxy PSNI woman with a handcuff fetish. Sex, drugs, violence and some damn fine poetry combine to make Tony Bailie’s third novel A VERSE TO MURDER a stylish, comic and rather kinky read.
  So there you have it. If you were one of those readers complaining that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY could have done with less handcuffs and much more murder, comedy and poetry, this could well be the one for you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who Dares Wins

As All Three Regular Readers will be aware, Megan Abbott’s THE END OF EVERYTHING was one of my favourite novels of last year, and if you haven’t read it yet I advise you to do so at your first available opportunity. It’s a masterpiece in a minor key.
  Megan’s latest offering is DARE ME, a dark tale of ambition and murder set in the world of high school cheerleading, the film rights to which have already been snapped up by Fox.
  I had an interview with Megan published in the Evening Herald recently, during the course of which I asked her about a curious anomaly when it comes to reviews of her award-winning titles. To wit:
All three of her early novels [DIE A LITTLE (2005), THE SONG IS YOU (2007) and QUEENPIN (2008)] were written in the hardboiled noir style of the classic American crime novel, and earned Abbott praise that compared her to some of the genre’s greats, such as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.
  Did she find it odd that as a woman she was being compared to male writers rather than her female predecessors, such as Dorothy B. Hughes or Margaret Millar?
  “Writers like Dorothy Hughes or Margaret Millar -- people are shocked when they read these women, at how powerful they are,” she says. “It’s very rare still that I’m ever compared to other women writers and I don’t know why that is, because there are so many who have always been writing in this field.”
  I can’t imagine any writer, man or woman, complaining about being compared to Chandler and Cain, but it does seem a little off that a woman who writes so powerfully about young women in the crime / mystery genre should be compared exclusively to male writers.
  Then again, would I be complaining if I was lucky enough to have my books compared with, say, Dorothy Hughes or Patricia Highsmith? Not likely.
  For the rest of that Evening Herald interview, clickety-click here

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nurse? The Screens ...

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman will be running a two-day course called Secrets of Writing a Bestseller in November, although at this point I think the initial course has sold out and a second is being planned. Said secrets, if you’re prepared to read between the lines, may well be available to the careful reader of Bateman’s latest tome, THE PRISONER OF BRENDA (Headline), which is the fourth in the award-winning Mystery Man series and about which the blurb elves have been wibbling thusly:
When notorious gangster ‘Fat Sam’ Mahood is murdered, the chief suspect is arrested nearby. But he seems to have suffered a breakdown. Incarcerated in a mental institution, he’s known only as the Man in the White Suit. The suspect remains an enigma until Nurse Brenda calls on Mystery Man, former patient and owner of No Alibis, Belfast’s finest mystery bookshop, to bring his powers of investigation to bear ... However, before our hero can even begin, the Man in the White Suit is arrested for the murder of a fellow patient. But is he a double murderer or a helpless scapegoat? Intrigue, conspiracy, and ancient Latin curses all combine to give the Small Bookseller with No Name his most difficult case to date.
  THE PRISONER OF BRENDA is published on October 25th, and if the previous three Mystery Man novels are any guide, it will very probably be the funniest slice of crime / mystery you’ll read all year.
  Bateman, by the way, is opening the Kildare Readers’ Festival this year, on Friday, October 12th. The event is free but advance booking is advised.