“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, December 15, 2012

30 Shades of Great: The Best Books Of 2012

It’s that time of the year again, folks, where I tell you what I read this year, and you tell me, this on the basis - presumably - that it’s marginally more interesting than telling one another about our dreams. That said, it’s always nice to be able to talk about good books, and I read a reasonable number of good books during 2012 - roughly a quarter of what I read would be worth reading again, I think. Oh, and as you’ll notice, some of the books below weren’t published in 2012; some were re-reads, others I was reading for the first time. Either way, they’re great books. And now, on with the show …

January
THE SILVER STAIN by Paul Johnston. A very fine private eye novel set on Crete. Fact: those nine words are my recipe for the perfect book.

February
THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye. A very impressive debut. Historical crime novel, incorporating the earliest incarnation of the NYPD. Great period detail.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander. Pitch-black comedy about a man who discovers Anne Frank living in his attic, typing out her memoir. Probably the funniest book I read all year.

March
THE IRON WILL OF SHOESHINE CATS by Hesh Kestin. Set in New York in the 1960s, and concerned with a most unlikely Jewish mobster, Shoeshine Cats. Actually, this was the funniest book I read all year.

April
THE NAMESAKE by Conor Fitzgerald. I think Conor Fitzgerald could be the greatest of the current generation of Irish crime writers. This is the third of his Rome-set police procedurals. It’s brilliant.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson. I’ve been getting a bit bored with the rather homogenous Scandinavian crime scene of late, but Persson is doing something very interesting. Highly recommended.

May
A LILY OF THE FIELD by John Lawton. I’ve always been a sucker for a great spy novel and this is a great spy novel, with the added bonus of a backdrop of classical music. Marvellous.

I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET by Adrian McKinty. I read this one as a manuscript, which means I won’t be able to review it when it comes out in January. A pity, because Adrian McKinty is the reason Conor Fitzgerald isn’t the best of the current generation of Irish crime writers.

DARE ME by Megan Abbott. THE END OF EVERYTHING was my favourite novel of 2011; this is set in the murderous world of cheerleading, and delivers some of the most fascinating characters of 2012.

THE NAMELESS DEAD by Brian McGilloway. I’ve liked Inspector Ben Devlin more with each passing novel, but THE NAMELESS DEAD is a powerful novel with real emotional depth. If I was only allowed to re-read one Irish crime novel from 2012, this would be it.

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach. Along with spy novels, I’m also a sucker for baseball novels. Chad Harbach’s debut is much more than a baseball novel, but any book with a genius shortstop as its central character is jake with me. My most purely enjoyable read of the year, I think.

June
HHhH by Laurent Binet. A fascinating exploration of the attempted assassination of uber-Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, this is also an intriguing examination of the author’s right to tell a story, and the extent to which he or she should depend on the cobwebs of memory. Wonderful stuff.

BROKEN HARBOUR by Tana French. A marvellous police procedural, this also doubled up as a heartbreaking take on the human cost of the Irish economic bust. Also the most frightening book I read all year.

July
BLOOD LOSS by Alex Barclay. On the one hand a compelling police procedural set in a Colorado skiing town, on the other a fascinating glimpse into a damaged mind that is fully aware it is damaged.
Edge of the seat stuff, this.

HAWTHORN & CHILD by Keith Ridgway. I’m still not fully sure why I liked this so much, although I suspect it’s because Ridgway took a very risky / adventurous plunge in terms of narrative. Akin to a contemporary Beckett, I think.

August
BRENNER AND GOD by Wolf Haas. What I loved about this Austrian-set tale of the abduction of an infant was the narrator’s voice - quirkily omniscient, and yet with a real whisper-in-the-ear quality. A very difficult style to pull off, but Haas does it beautifully.

LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane. The second part of the trilogy that began with THE GIVEN DAY, and while I prefer the first, LIVE BY NIGHT is a vividly delivered epic tale. Wonderful.

THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE by Marian Keyes. My very first Marian Keyes novel turned out to be a private eye tale, which was nice, but what makes this stand out is its harrowingly accurate depiction of depression. Hilarious and gut-wrenching, often in the space of the same paragraph.

September
CREOLLE BELLE by James Lee Burke. The Robicheaux plots might be starting to repeat themselves a little bit by now, but when you can write as beautifully, and poignantly, as Burke, who cares?

October
TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. A fabulous fantasy about America’s potential as a cultural melting-pot, I loved this for the self-mockery of its high-flown language.

MORTALITY by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens writes about dying as he’s dying. Stunning, heartbreaking, uplifting.

RATLINES by Stuart Neville. By all accounts the first of a trilogy, this spy novel set in Ireland in 1963 has it all: intrigue, twists, pace, power.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR by Artemis Cooper. If you read this biography thinking it was a novel, you’d never believe it. Fermor packed about seven lives into his ninety-odd years, and Cooper does him full justice.

November
GONE AGAIN by Doug Johnstone. Not due until next March, I think, but one of the best paranoid thrillers I’ve read since the last time I closed an Alan Glynn book.

STANDING IN A DEAD MAN’S GRAVE by Ian Rankin. Rebus is back. Let me say that again: Rebus is back. ’Nuff said.

December
THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly. There’s an elegiac quality creeping into Connelly’s Bosch novels I hadn’t noticed before, and which gives the books an added heft that they were brilliant without. Superb.

SMONK by Tom Franklin. CROOKED LETTER blew me away when I read it a couple of years ago; I read HELL AT THE BREECH last year, and just finished SMONK. Reminiscent of early Cormac McCarthy, but funnier.

  So there you have it. If you want to let us all know what your favourite books in 2012 were, feel free to leave a comment in the box below, or a link to your own list on your blog, website, etc.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: RUSH OF BLOOD by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham is best known for his award-winning series of DI Thorne police procedural novels, but RUSH OF BLOOD (Little, Brown) is his second standalone thriller.
  The story opens in Florida, where three British couples - Angie and Barry, Ed and Sue, and Marina and Dave - are on holiday when a teenage girl, Amber-Marie Wilson, disappears from their holiday resort. The girl is later discovered murdered.
  Detective Jeff Gardner takes a personal interest in the case, mainly because if he doesn’t, Amber-Marie’s mother, Patty-Lee, will be left totally bereft.
  On their return to the UK, the British couples resume contact with one another over a series of dinner parties, which expose the quirks and frailties of their personal relationships. This is heightened by the fact that another young girl goes missing in the UK, in similar circumstances to the Florida case.
  Jenny Quinlan, a young trainee constable, is given the job of querying the British tourists as to their movements while in Florida when the trans-Atlantic connection becomes evident. The increased scrutiny puts the couples under pressure, and cracks quickly begin to appear in their stories. But which of the six is the child-killer?
  Mark Billingham’s 12th crime novel is an expertly plotted ‘whodunit’ thriller, although it’s fair to say that Billingham is here far more interested in characterisation than he is in constructing a puzzle-based plot. All six main characters are fleshed out beautifully, particularly in terms of how they behave in a class-based hierarchy, while the subsidiary characters of Jeff Gardner and Jenny Quinlan are also well handled.
  Billingham also includes a ‘seventh’ character - the voice of the killer, delivered in italics, explaining as the story progresses as to why he or she killed the girls.
  Equally entertaining, for the crime aficionado, is the running commentary on the conventions of the crime novel itself. Most of these come courtesy of the killer, in which traditional motives and modus operandi are dismissed as the stuff of melodrama, although both Jeff Gardner and Jenny Quinlan reference TV shows and books when comparing fictional policing with its real-life counterpart. It’s intriguing to wonder whether Billingham is conducting a conversation with the reader, his fellow crime writers, or himself …
  All told, RUSH OF BLOOD is a terrific thriller on a number of levels: as a whodunit puzzle, as a character-based investigation into social interaction, and as a clever and occasionally cutting commentary on the contemporary crime novel. - Declan Burke

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On First Novels And Kitchen Sinks

“It really shouldn’t work,” begins Karen Chisholm’s review of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE over at AustCrimeFiction, which sounds a tad ominous, and things aren’t improved much when Karen starts listing the ways in which EIGHTBALL and its protagonist, Harry Rigby, really shouldn’t, erm, work.
  Happily, Karen’s time wasn’t entirely wasted in reading the novel. To wit:
“It’s undoubtedly something to do with the crisp, sharp, pointy, sticky, dark, hilariously funny writing throughout the book … Sure the plot probably needed a tourist guide, a very good torch and maybe a cheat sheet, but I ... simply ... did ... not ... care. I loved the whole package and frankly, had a ball reading it.” - Karen Chisholm, AustCrimeFiction
  Which is very nice indeed. Books-wise, the last couple of months at Chez CAP have been largely taken up with BOOKS TO DIE FOR and SLAUGHTER’S HOUND (the sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE), and you do tend to forget that you have other books out there, like children grown up and gone off to discover the world, and reviews like Karen’s function a little like postcards from a distant land, or the past, or somewhere they do things differently.
  At the Crime Night event at Tallaght’s recent Red Line Books Festival, I asked Niamh O’Connor if there was anything about her first book she’d like to change. She said no, and asked if I’d like to change anything about my first book, and I said yes, pretty much everything. As Karen Chisholm points out (very nicely) in her review, the characters in EIGHTBALL BOOGIE crunch their way through the story across the porcelain shards of what feels like a million metaphorical kitchen sinks, said sinks having been (metaphorically) thrown by yours truly in a desperate bid to keep the book interesting.
  In short, it’s a hyper-ventilating love-letter to the crime novel in general and those of Raymond Chandler in particular, although it’s probably fair to say that I took his tongue-in-cheek advice on what to do should the pace ever flag - have a man come the door with a gun in his hand - a little too seriously. And yet, for all its faults I love it still. The way you might love a child, keenly aware of the ways in which it isn’t perfect, but loving it all the more because of its imperfections rather than despite them.
  For a sample chapter or three from EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, please feel free to clickety-click here