“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.

Friday, January 18, 2013

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Michael Russell

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?
Easy answer, Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP or FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. It’s not about story or character or insight (there in spades) but the solid business of putting one word after another. Raymond Chandler is simply one of the 20th century’s most luminous writers of prose in any genre.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles in THE THIN MAN. I don’t know how long before his alcohol intake would kill me, but there can have been few cities in history more exciting to live in than New York in the ’30s and ’40s. Maybe 4th century BC Athens, but with no skyscrapers, no movies, no jazz, no air conditioning and no detective fiction (the only literary genre the Greeks didn’t invent?) – no contest.

What do you read for guilty pleasure?
Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ stories. I read them to my nine-year-old son pretending it’s for his entertainment, not mine. Fortunately he’s always entertained. I don’t think any books, old or new, have ever made him laugh aloud as much as ’William’.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Like everyone else, that first published book. After years of writing for popular television, a book still felt like the real deal in an entirely different way. If only the audiences were as big!

The pitch for your next book is…?
1939. In Dublin the body of a man who has returned from Germany, where he was an engineering student, is found in the Grand Canal, with the fingers of both hands very professionally amputated. In Berlin the Irish Ambassador, Charles Bewley, has been sacked by de Valera after offering his services to German Intelligence. He has gone straight to a job in the Reich Propaganda Ministry … The body in the canal is fiction, though an unidentified engineering student was one of the last Irish citizens the Department of External Affairs was concerned about getting out of Germany before war started. The sacking of the Irish Ambassador and his subsequent job with Joseph Goebbels - true.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel what would it be?
Freeman Wills Croft’s ‘The Hog’s Back Mystery’ and ‘Death on the Way’ (and many others); Agatha Christie with meticulous police procedure and (whisper who dares) believable motives. Croft was born in Dublin and isn’t much remembered, but in the twenties and thirties he ranked with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Marjory Allingham, Ngaio Marsh (the only man who made it?). We see great gulfs between that ‘Cluedo’ school of crime fiction, American ‘hardboiled’, and more contemporary ‘psychiatrist’s chair’ stuff, but Raymond Chandler knew the difference between style and substance. He called Croft ‘the soundest builder of us all when he doesn’t get too fancy’ (a tip worth remembering there from Ray too!). When Croft’s methodical Inspector French directs his attention to up trains and down trains on timetables it’s not lack of imagination, it’s the forerunner of the police procedural. And I have a sneaking regard for fictional detectives who don’t give a feck why a murderer killed, unless it helps catch him or her; maybe they remind me of real detectives!

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
When I was a script editor on ‘Emmerdale Farm’ (when the word ‘farm’ was attached and we stole ideas from ‘The Riordans’ – true, and the first time I have confessed it!) there was a newspaper cartoon that said: “I prefer ‘The Archers’ to ‘Emmerdale Farm’, the pictures are better.” ‘The Archers’ was (still is) a radio soap about a rural community. What I love about new Irish crime fiction are the ‘pictures’ that come from the glorious profligacy of its language – the thing no movie can ever offer.

Worst/best thing about being a writer?
Best thing is thinking about what I’m going to write – worst thing is writing it.

Who are you reading right now?
Chester Himes’ REAL COOL KILLERS. If Dashiell Hammett is Chandler on too many martinis, Himes is Chandler on so many substances you could get arrested for making a list. Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two of ‘hardboiled’s’ greatest detectives. My second Stefan Gillespie story is partly set in New York in 1939, and stops off for a murder at Harlem’s Theresa Hotel. Himes is writing about Harlem twenty years on, but ‘39 or ‘59, it’s still a long way from West Wicklow …

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
If I was inventing my own religion from bits of existing ones, I’d take from Judaism the idea that if God behaves unreasonably you should have a row with him. So I’d argue, and if he wouldn’t budge it would have to be reading. As civilisation and reading seem to me pretty much the same thing, it’s probably a bad idea to stop! However, if God wanted to tell me what to read, all bets would be off …

The three best words to describe you’re own writing are
I don’t know. One reviewer said ‘expansive but straightforward’, well, it is three words …

Michael Russell’s CITY OF SHADOWS is published by Avon.

1 comment:

Martin Edwards said...

Very good interview. I liked the mention of Crofts, and The Hog's Back Mystery is a very good Golden Age puzzle.