“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 27, 2012

Get It On, Bang A Gong …

The warmest of congratulations to all the authors shortlisted for gongs at the Irish Book Awards launch last Thursday. It’s no easy thing, writing a book; and it’s harder still these days to get a book published. To write it well enough that it is recognised as worthy of a prize is certainly worth celebrating.
  It’s fair to say, I think, that the books nominated in the Crime Fiction category caused a number of finely plucked eyebrows to be raised at CAP Towers. Herewith be the list:
VENGEANCE by Benjamin Black.
SLAUGHTER’S HOUND by Declan Burke.
BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French.
THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE by Laurence O’Bryan.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT by Niamh O’Connor.
RED RIBBONS by Louise Phillips.
  Some of the crime fans I’ve spoken with have expressed surprise that two debut novels - by Laurence O’Bryan and Louise Phillips - made it onto the list, especially as there is a category dedicated to Newcomer of the Year, although I’d be inclined to applaud the fact that the judges were prepared to include books by newly minted authors (I was lucky enough to have my debut, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards when it came out in 2003). Besides, it looks like 2012 might well go down as a particularly quirky year for the Irish Book Awards - the Best Novel category, for example, contains no less than three collections of short stories, by Emma Donoghue, Joseph O’Connor and Kevin Barry.
  It might also be argued that Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD and Marian Keyes’ THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE should have been nominated in the Crime Fiction category rather than Best Novel and Popular Fiction, respectively.
  Back with the Crime Fiction category, there are some glaring absences - although to be fair, I have no idea if any of the following books were even submitted for consideration. That said, a potential alternative shortlist would be a rather impressive thing, comprised of the following:
BLOOD LOSS by Alex Barclay.
A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS by Conor Brady.
THE LAST GIRL by Jane Casey.
THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald.
THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway.
THE COLD COLD GROUND by Adrian McKinty.
  There were also very fine novels this year from Michael Clifford (GHOST TOWN), Claire McGowan (THE FALL), Casey Hill (TORN), Matt McGuire (DARK DAWN) and Anthony Quinn (DISAPPEARED).
  As for the actual Crime Fiction list, I was particularly pleased to see Niamh O’Connor finally receive the recognition she deserves. I was also very pleased to find my own name there, as you may imagine, especially as SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is a very different book to my previous offering, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which was also nominated last year. Mind you, I’ve said all along this year that it’ll take a hell of a book to beat Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, and given that the only Irish crime novel capable of doing so - Adrian McKinty’s THE COLD COLD GROUND - hasn’t been shortlisted, I’d imagine that Tana French will be scooping the gong on November 22nd.
  So there it is - my two cents on the IBA Crime Fiction shortlist. If anyone has any thoughts, the comment box is open …

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE PRISONER OF BRENDA by Colin Bateman

The fourth of Colin Bateman’s ‘Mystery Man’ novels, THE PRISONER OF BRENDA (Headline), features for its protagonist an unnamed man who is the proprietor of No Alibis bookshop in Belfast and the most unlikely hero in crime fiction. A puny specimen, Mystery Man is a coward, a flake and a hypochondriac who suffers from brittle bones, and yet he finds himself dragged into solving mysteries time and again on the basis that he has read every crime and mystery novel worth reading, and thus understands the criminal mind to a degree that no other detective could.
  Here Mystery Man is approached by Nurse Brenda, a psychiatric nurse, to help out with establishing the identity of a man who has been incarcerated in Purdysburn mental hospital. Known only as ‘The Man in the White Suit’, the man has apparently suffered a nervous breakdown and refuses to speak, even though he has been accused of a brutal murder.
  Mystery Man, who was previously a patient of Nurse Brenda, takes on the case against the better judgement of his girlfriend, Alison, who fears that he will suffer a relapse and find himself being dragged off to Purdysburn. But Mystery Man has the scent of a good mystery in his nostrils - and besides, someone is prepared to pay him to investigate, which is very good news given that the book industry is dying on its knees.
  The Mystery Man novels are on one level a humorous spoof of the crime and mystery genre, or at least the more extreme and clich├ęd crime and mystery novels. Told in the first person, so that we have access to Mystery Man’s deluded ramblings as he goes about his investigation, they are a distant (and possibly addled) cousin of the Raymond Chandler / Dashiell Hammett private eye novels, with the added bonus of Mystery Man’s knowing commentary on his own actions as he explains the various clues and avenues of investigation.
  Of course, Colin Bateman is a veteran of 22 crime novels for adults at this point, so he wraps his apparently ham-fisted spoof of the mystery novel inside a cleverly constructed mystery narrative. All told, it’s terrific fun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Normal Service Will Probably Not Be Resumed

Apologies to the Three Regular Readers, yet again, for how slack the service has become on Crime Always Pays. Right now my brain-space is being colonised by a couple of writing projects, one of which is a rewrite, the other a whole new book.
  I’m very wary of the rewrite, because at the moment I’m thinking that it won’t take a lot of work, more of a spit-and-polish job, and whenever I find myself thinking that way I tend to be very disappointed indeed, and up to my oxters in pulling the story apart and stapling it back together again. So there’s that.
  The whole new book, of course, is a terrifying prospect. It’s at times like this that I find myself glancing to the right of the desk, where a little shelf holds my previously published novels, and telling myself, ‘Well, you’ve obviously managed to write a book before. Just do what you did the last time.’ Except you forget what you did the last time. I think it’s a similar process to how the body has no physical memory of pain. Or maybe it’s because no two books are written the same way. It might help my case if I was writing a similar kind of book to the last one, or the one before that, but this book is something new for me (it’s a spy novel, of sorts). Matters aren’t helped by the fact that I haven’t written any fiction for about six months, so it feels like I’m emerging from hibernation - sluggish, stiff, yawning. And on top of all that, I have an either-or decision to make about the main character which will have huge ramifications on how the story is told, and I’m reluctant to dive into telling it in case I realise, 30,000 words later, that the other option would have been the better choice.
  And yes, I do appreciate how much that all sounds like procrastination. But due to other commitments, it does look like this new book will have to be written between the hours of 5am and 7am, as was the last, and I really don’t know if I have the physical stamina for that kind of regime.
  The flip side to that, of course, is that if I don’t do some proper writing in the very near future, I’ll end up a basket case and an absolute bear to live with. And that ain’t good, either.
  Anyway, that’s where I’m at, and why the service has been so slack. I’m off for most of this week, travelling to do the IWC Peregrine Readings in Waterford and Cork, but hopefully things will return to normal when I get back. If you don’t hear from me, just presume that I finally made that crucial decision and started the new book, and that the writing is going incredibly well. Or that I finally tumbled into the Pit of Despair. Bonne chance, mes braves

Sunday, October 21, 2012

On Chandler, Proust And Spliff

I’ve had a busy old time of it lately, what with all the demands that I sprawl on couches the better to be fed grapes and ambrosia and nectar and whatnot, so I’ve been a little neglectful of SLAUGHTER’S HOUND (Liberties Press), which has been picking up some rather nice reviews over the last couple of weeks. To wit:
“Burke tells his darkly propulsive tale in a fine-tuned, staccato-like narrative voice … bleakly engaging.” - Sunday Business Post

“Tight, witty, sharp as a nail and stunning … SLAUGHTER’S HOUND is just an absolute pleasure to read.” - Ayo Onotade, Shots Magazine

“It’s not easy to bring something new to the private-eye novel but Declan Burke rises to the challenge with panache in SLAUGHTER’S HOUND … The book opens with what may well be the longest sentence in crime fiction — where Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness, with a large spliff on the side. Burke is an author who takes risks, makes you laugh and writes like an angel with a devilish sense of humour.” - Andrew Taylor, The Spectator
  All of which is, as you might imagine, hugely satisfying to my insatiable ego.
Meanwhile, BOOKS TO DIE FOR, which I co-edited with John Connolly, has also been picking up some very nice reviews following its publication in the US, with the gist running thusly:
“An engaging, erudite and substantial anthology about the ‘world’s greatest mystery novels.’” - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“This volume is indispensable … an absolute must for everyone’s personal library.” - Book Reporter

“Delightful … it serves as both a primer on the evolution of the genre and an escort into its remoter corners.” - Kirkus Reviews

“A sumptuous exploration of some of the best mystery authors of our time that showcases their passion for writing and their heartfelt tributes to their fellow writers. It is a resource readers will want to keep for decades.” - Miami Herald
  I really am delighted to see that BTDF is being so well received, given that it was such a labour of love.
  In other news, I’ll be taking part in the Irish Writers’ Centre ‘Peregrine Readings’ series alongside Arlene Hunt this coming week, which should be a lot of fun. The dates and venues are as follows:
Tuesday 23rd October, Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin, 7.30pm
Wednesday 24th October, Tramore Library, Co. Waterford, 7pm
Thursday 25th October, Triskel, Christchurch, Co. Cork, 8pm
  If you’re likely to be in the vicinity of any of those venues this week, I’d love to see you there …