“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, February 2, 2013

Crime Always Pays: It’s All Me-Me-Me-Me-Me …

Here we go again …
  As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, I’ve tried on a number of occasions to back away from Crime Always Pays. Or to reduce the amount of time I spend updating the blog, at least. Not that it takes up that much time, really – but these days, time is probably the most precious resource, and every little helps.
  Anyway, there are a few reasons as to why I’m going to make another effort to scale back on the daily updates. One is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep tabs on all the Irish crime writers, not least because they seem to be coming up like mushrooms. There was a time when I could make a fair fist of reading most of the Irish crime novels published in any given year; of late, there’s been two or three debut writers appearing every month, and that’s just the debutants.
  Given that most of my reading time nowadays is taken up with books that I’ve been commissioned to read, for review or interview, etc., I really don’t have a lot of reading time to left over to pursue my own interests. Like virtually everyone reading this post, I’d imagine, I have a to-be-read pile that’s in grievous danger of toppling over and doing someone a serious damage were they to be strolling by at an inopportune moment.
  It’s also the case that the blog – or the time spent updating it – is becoming a little counter-intuitive. The whole point of it, apart from bringing Irish crime writers to the attention of anyone who logs on here, is to generate a little awareness among the on-line reading community of my own books. Of course, the more I blog, the less I’m writing. And while we’re all in the business of selling books once they’re written, and while ‘selling books’ can be a very enjoyable pursuit in itself, given the extent to which you get to engage with a whole host of strangers, the point of the exercise, once you winnow out all the non-essentials, is to write. By which I mean, writing for its own sake, for the simple pleasure of moving words around and making them fit as best they can.
  Right now it feels like a very long time since I’ve been fully engaged as a writer.
  Meanwhile, I’m a little bit worried that all of the above is just an excuse, that the reason I’m not writing has nothing to do with time, or the lack of it, but because I’m dreading the process of starting a new book. At this stage, with four or five books under my belt, I’m fairly confident that once I get over some kind of hump that it’ll all start to happen; but right now that hump looks a lot like the north face of the Eiger, and – as always – I have this perverse instinct telling me that I should be able to clear it in one jump, from a standing start. I’ve even resorted to the old tactic of telling myself that if I can only get this one written, and written well, that that will be it – I’ll be happy then, I can stop writing for good.
  Anyway, that’s the general gist as to why things will be slowing down around these here parts. I will be updating the blog as we go along, but I’m afraid there’ll be quite a bit of me-me-me involved; for those of you who prefer more general updates on Irish crime writing, there’s always the Irish Crime Fiction Facebook page to peruse.
  Oh, and one last thing before I go – I’ll be hosting a Crime Writing course at the Irish Writers’ Centre over the next couple of months, which kicks off next Wednesday, February 6th, at 6.30pm. If you’re interested, all the details are here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

To Care Or Not To Care, That Is The Question

The most recent Amazon review for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE runs like this:
“Attempt at slick writing in the style of Mickey Spillane, doesn’t quite pull it off. Hope to see more sophisticated, streamlined writing in future. Shows promise but local research insufficient for subject matter.” (three stars) – Frances Heneghan
  10 things about that:
  1. I hadn’t read a single Mickey Spillane novel before writing EIGHTBALL, and I’ve only read two since, the second to confirm that my dislike of Mickey Spillane’s writing wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction.
  2. I too hope to see ‘more sophisticated, streamlined writing’ from myself in the future, providing a particular story requires it. If the story demands a more rough ‘n’ tumble approach, then that’s what it’ll get.
  3. The ‘local research’ for EIGHTBALL entailed living in the place where it’s set for over two decades. Maybe I should have spent three.
  4. Three stars feels about right for a debut novel that throws the proverbial kitchen sink at a Ray Chandler homage. On my bad days, of which there are many, this being one, three stars feels like it errs on the generous side.
  5. On my good days, of course, I wouldn’t care what anyone thinks about EIGHTBALL, positive or negative, because I’d be (a) writing something new or (b) basking in the glow of having written something new.
  6. Unfortunately, not caring is not a good thing, because every writer worth his or her salt writes for readers, hoping to fire their imaginations, emotions, reactions. Which makes writing a psychological high-wire act of sorts: you do care about what readers think of your stories, but you can’t afford to care too much or otherwise you’ll lose your balance and topple off. And there’s no safety net.
  7. This is a very odd and potentially destabilising way to live your life.
  8. Still, on a cold and blustery day like today, it beats shovelling wet cement on a building site.
  9. Or does it?
  10. God bless you, Frances Heneghan, for caring enough about books and reading to post a review to Amazon.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy

I had a crime fiction round-up published in the Sunday Independent last weekend, which included the latest titles from Ruth Dudley Edwards and Michael Connelly. But first, Stuart Neville’s RATLINES. To wit:
It’s reasonable to assume that most people are in favour of fairness, justice and the rule of law, which is one reason why crime / mystery writing is the most popular of literary genres. It’s also why the genre is considered essentially conservative in nature. Most crime novels tend to conclude with the reaffirmation of the status quo, a conclusion that chimes with our understanding of history’s narrative, in which – simplistically put – the forces of good triumph over those of evil.
  Stuart Neville’s debut novel, The Twelve (2009), dug beneath the headlines of the Peace Process to explore the complexities involved in maintaining the essential fictions of Northern Ireland’s post-‘Troubles’ era. His subsequent offerings, Collusion (2011) and Stolen Souls (2012), make up a loose trilogy of Belfast-set novels, but his latest, Ratlines, is set in the South, in 1963. With John F. Kennedy’s visit imminent, a number of former Nazis domiciled in Ireland have been murdered. The Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey, commissions Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Irish military’s G2 section to investigate, but Haughey, friend and protector of the notorious Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny, may have one or two skeletons dancing in his own closet.
  Haughey and Skorzeny play major roles in Ratlines, with other historical figures also appearing as minor characters, but Neville isn’t simply invoking their names for the sake of colourful verisimilitude. The novel is framed as a conventional paranoid thriller, employing the swift pace and switchback reversals of fortune the genre demands, but there is a significant breadth and depth to the historical context that gives the story real heft. How moral was the Irish position of neutrality during ‘the Emergency’, aka World War II? How was that morality compromised by subsequent Irish governments’ laissez-faire attitude to former Nazis settling in the Ireland in the decades following the war? What kind of status quo was Ireland happy to maintain in the 1950s and 1960s? Are we entitled to ignore the skeletons that dance in the nation’s closet and still consider ourselves one of the good guys?
  Neville isn’t necessarily in the business of rewriting Irish history, but in the character of the callow Albert Ryan, himself an ex-British soldier, he does offer us an alternative way of looking at our recent past. The result is a powerful thriller which provides the requisite thrills and spills, but also a thought-provoking exploration of our understanding of who we really are.
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Henry: Portrait Of A Possible Killer

MY CRIMINAL WORLD (Harvill Secker), the latest novel from Henry Sutton, dropped through the post-box yesterday and bounced right to the top of Mt TBR. Why so? Well, for starters, I do like a bit of meta-fictional post-modern jiggery-pokery. Quoth the blurb elves:
In awe of his wife, hounded by his agent and ignored by his editor, mild mannered crime novelist David Slavitt finds his life is spiralling out of control. He needs to do something - but just how far is he prepared to go?
  MY CRIMINAL WORLD introduces us to struggling crime writer, David Slavitt. Living in constant fear that his editor might drop him in favour of the next new talent, David juggles house work and child care alongside plot twists and character development.
  But as his wife grows increasingly distant and his agent insists that his new book needs more violence - a lot more violence - David is getting worried. He needs to do something if he is to save his career, and his marriage. But just how far is this most mild mannered of crime writers prepared to go? And who is the person really pulling the strings in this story? In this clever literary crime novel, there is more than one mystery to be solved.
  As you may or may not know, Henry Sutton is the – possibly mild mannered – author of six crime novels to date, including GET ME OUT OF HERE. A journalist and critic specialising in crime fiction, he is currently the Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia – again, specialising in the Crime Thriller Novel.
  Intriguingly, in his list of thanks at the end of the novel, amidst the usual nods to agents and publishers and whatnot, Henry thanks “David R. Slavitt, the original ‘Henry Sutton’”.
  MY CRIMINAL WORLD by Henry Sutton will be published in April.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Down Those Siren Streets A Man Must Go

I had an interview with Adrian McKinty published in the Irish Examiner last week to mark the publication of his latest tome, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET. It kicked off a lot like this:
“The hunger strikes were so unbelievably intense,” says author Adrian McKinty. “I remember the week of Bobby Sands’ death and funeral almost minute-by-minute. The city was electric. In one way it was an amazingly fantastic experience, because everybody felt so alive, so immersed in that immediacy – and then, as soon as it was over, I just forgot it. Didn’t process it, didn’t deal with it. And it was years later, when I was telling my wife about it, she said, ‘Y’know, that’s really, really bizarre. None of that is normal.’”
  We’re talking about his new series of novels, which are set in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s and feature Sean Duffy, a Catholic policeman in the RUC. The first in the series, THE COLD COLD GROUND, was published last year. Set against the backdrop of the hunger strikes in 1981, it was the first time McKinty the writer had engaged with the traumatic sights and sounds that were an integral part of his formative years.
  “The things that happen to you as a child are probably the most important things that are going to happen to you in your life, from a developmental point of view,” he says. “And how else can I possibly talk about my childhood without talking about this craziness that was just terrible?”
  Born in Belfast and raised in Carrickfergus, Adrian McKinty was a part of the ‘brain drain’ that left Northern Ireland during the 1990s, first to attend university at Oxford, then to work in the US in bars and on building sites. His first novel, ORANGE RHYMES WITH EVERYTHING, was published in 1998 and told the story of ‘a man breaking out of a New York mental hospital and proceeding on a violent, bloody path back to Ireland’. That could well be the narrative arc of McKinty’s own publishing career.
  The critically acclaimed author was for many years reluctant to write about Northern Ireland (“I wrote about New York, and Denver, Mexico, Cuba – I mean, I wrote about anywhere else but Northern Ireland.”) but eventually the character of Sean Duffy proved irresistible.
  Perversely, McKinty, raised a Protestant in the staunchly loyal town of Carrickfergus, chose to make Sean Duffy a Catholic in the RUC.
  “It’s just so much more interesting to have an outsider in terms of all those different perspectives,” he shrugs. “In terms of class and religion, geography, background – Duffy can look at all these things with a jaundiced eye. Especially if I put him in a Protestant town. There was going to be all these lines of conflict, which is great for a writer. All these fracture lines coming together in this one character. I really had a lot of fun with that in the first book.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Monday, January 28, 2013

An Exceedingly Bleak Ride

For some reason I was under the impression that SLAUGHTER’S HOUND was released in North America last November, but apparently not. For lo! Publishers Weekly reckons it’s not available until March, and I’m not about to argue with the mighty PW. That august journal reviewed SLAUGHTER’S HOUND a couple of weeks ago, with the gist looking a lot like this:
Fans of Ken Bruen in particular, and noir fans in general, should get on board for this exceedingly bleak ride through Sligo from Irish author Burke (ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL). Taxi driver and occasional drug-transporter Harry Rigby, who did time for killing his brother in cold blood, has the misfortune to witness his friend and former cellmate, Finn Hamilton, dive off a nine-story building and pierce the roof of Harry’s cab with explosive results. Finn’s fatal plunge leaves Harry on the hook to powerful gangster Ross McConnell for missing weed. On the plus side, Finn’s mother, Saoirse Hamilton, is willing to pay Harry big bucks to find Finn’s suicide note (if there is one). Harry’s strained personal relationships deteriorate as he gets sucked further into the tangled affairs of the Hamiltons. Relentlessly brutal actions, rampant corruption, and scamming are all described in prose both scabrous and poetic. Agent: Allan Guthrie, Jenny Brown Associates (U.K.). (Mar.)
  So there you have it. SLAUGHTER’S HOUND: Bruenesque, scabrous and poetic, and an exceedingly bleak ride. Leaving aside the fact that a ‘ride’ means two totally different things in the US and Sligo, I’ve been called a lot worse in my time …

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hera City: A Herstory

THE POLKA DOT GIRL (Roundfire Books) is Darragh McManus’s second novel, following last year’s EVEN FLOW. In tone it has its roots buried deep in the classic hardboiled tale, as the blurb elves’ wibbling suggests:
Madeleine Greenhill was rich, beautiful, reckless … now she’s dead, dumped in the water. Her mother Misericordiae is the most feared woman in Hera City, which puts added pressure on investigating detective Eugenie Auf der Maur. Gutsy, smart and likeable, ‘Genie’ thought she knew the strange, all-female world of Hera inside-out. She was wrong, and gets drawn into a labyrinth of sex and money, power and religion, double-cross and corruption. Nothing is at seems and nobody can be trusted as she becomes obsessed with finding the girl’s killer. Hard-edged and soft-hearted, THE POLKA DOT GIRL combines a serpentine plot, bristling dialogue and shadowy, sensuous atmosphere to create a classic noir-style mystery: Sam Spade in lipstick and a dress. In Hera City, the female of the species really can be deadly.
  What makes THE POLKA DOT GIRL unique, as far as I’m aware, is its setting, Hera City. Quoth the press release:
“I thought it would be interesting to take the macho environment of a noir detective story (a la Chandler, Hammett and co.), instantly recognisable to all of us, and make all the players women. So you have the iconic, almost stereotypical, noir characters –world-weary detective, cynical coroner, self-destructive victim, assured femme fatale, psychotic killers, etc – and they’re women, every one. They act and talk like these characters always do – tenderly, violently, bitterly – but they’re women. There is an intriguing tension between the darkness and edge of noir, and the fact that the protagonists are female.
  “The story takes place in Hera City, a hermetically sealed fictional universe. There is no historical background, no quasi-scientific explanation for how a society of women can evolve, have children etc. The place just is. Men aren’t mentioned or ignored or conspicuous by their absence: there are no men, there never were, the issue is irrelevant. Similarly, while characters in a relationship are by necessity with another woman, there’s no homosexuality per se, because there’s no heterosexuality, because there are no men. Hera is a Gotham City-type place, murky and glamorous and evocative, outside of time and geography.
  “Stylistically THE POLKA DOT GIRL is more lyrical and reflective than hard-boiled. It’s partly an homage to classic mystery fiction, but with its own aesthetic and distinctive voice. It is its own book and its own world.” – Darragh McManus
  So there you have it – yet another maverick Irish crime fiction voice playing with the genre’s conventions and bending the parameters. Is it experiment for its own sake, or does McManus’s unusual take on the crime / mystery novel have something important to say about the genre? Only time, that notoriously loose-lipped canary, will tell …