Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On The Road

Brian McCabe, a friend of a friend – or a friend of a neighbour, to be precise – has just self-published a novel, THE STONEY ROAD, which should appeal to fans of Kevin McCarthy’s work. Quoth the blurb elves:
As Ireland begins her difficult, troubled journey towards independence, the Berford and McNeill families find themselves struggling with upheavals of their own. These two families are brought together by marriage and then torn apart by death, war and loss. THE STONEY ROAD chronicles a city in turmoil as a country tries to find itself. Crowds line up to welcome the king to Dublin, but rumblings of rebellion can already be felt in the dark alleys and smokey pubs. Soon people will have to decide whether to be loyal to their past or embrace an uncertain, dangerous future.
  Between 1900 and 1922, the very idea of Irishness was redefined. A new nation emerged from the rubble of war. And two families had to find their own roads out of the ruins.
  What caught my eye on this one is the Introduction, which is written by one of the great pioneers of the Irish crime writing boom, Eugene McEldowney. “The author has set himself an ambitious project but he acquits himself with distinction,” writes Eugene. “He brings to the task an intimate knowledge of the geography and history of his native city and makes it come vividly alive for the reader.”
  For more, clickety-click here

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: TAMPA by Alissa Nutting

Celeste Price, the narrator of Alissa Nutting’s debut novel Tampa (Faber & Faber, €14.99), is a high school English teacher in Florida. Married to a local police officer, Celeste is friendly, helpful and dedicated in her vocation. Respectability personified, she harbours a dark secret: Celeste has made it her life’s work to put herself in a position where she can prey sexually on 14-year-old boys. It’s a chilling tale in many respects, not least because Celeste suffers no crisis of conscience about her deviant behaviour and the effect it might have on the young men she targets, but it’s very difficult for the reader to dislike Celeste herself. Her first-person voice is charming, self-deprecating and witty, the amiable tone drawing the reluctantly complicit reader deeper and deeper into her immorality. There are echoes of Humbert Humbert and Tom Ripley to be heard here, and also Jim Thompson’s charming psychopath Lou Ford (Celeste’s husband is called Ford), but Nutting’s reinvention of the taboo-breaking femme fatale results in a self-determining female protagonist reminiscent of those created in recent years by Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott. That said, Celeste Price is a unique creation and Tampa is a singular tale. It may well be the most challenging crime novel you’ll read all year. – Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the monthly crime fiction column in the Irish Times. Also reviewed were the latest offerings from Jo Nesbo, Nele Neuhaus and Joe Joyce.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Perchance To Dream

I had a nice little back-and-forth with Adrienne over on Goodreads a couple of weeks ago about the ‘It was all a dream!’ story. Adrienne isn’t a fan, and I know she isn’t alone. Personally, I have no problem with a story that eventually reveals itself as a ‘dream’ – a good story is a good story.
  I suppose there’s an element of feeling cheated when a story is revealed to be a dream, or not real. It’s the Bobby-in-Dallas scenario, where a series of Dallas starts with Bobby stepping out of the shower, and we realise that the entire previous series was all Bobby’s dream. Viewers who invested in the characters and their ups and downs felt cheated, because it meant that none of those ups and downs really happened.
  Of course, we all know that none of those events really ‘really happened’ – for all that it was rooted in a recognisable reality, Dallas was fiction. But maybe that’s the crux of the matter, the unspoken agreement when it comes to fiction. The writer does his or her best to make a story realistic, and the viewer or reader meets the writer halfway in suspending his or her disbelief.
  If the writer oversteps the mark and makes it explicit that the fiction isn’t real, the illusion is shattered. An intact stained-glass window is a fabulous creation; the smashed fragments of a stained-glass window rather less so.
  I have a dog in this fight, so to speak. Absolute Zero Cool is a story about an author interacting with his characters as they try to write a novel. Absolute Zero Cool is a fiction, but it’s one in which ‘reality’ interacts with ‘fiction’ as the author struggles to control his characters. Some people liked the premise; others found it off-putting and alienating.
  Perhaps that’s because all fiction, regardless of genre, is escapism. Even the most seriously intentioned of literary fiction transports us to a different world, or at the very least a different way of experiencing this world. That’s a wonderfully liberating sensation, a kind of out-of-body experience that allows us to see and hear and know things we might never otherwise have known if we had remained mired in our own reality.
  If a fiction fails in terms of escapism – if it reminds us too forcefully that it is fiction – then the effect of the stained-glass window, that prism that allows for the beautiful interplay of light and imagination, collapses at our feet. John Gardner – a novelist in his own right, but perhaps better known as the author of On Becoming a Novelist, and for being the mentor of Raymond Carver – declares that a good story should be “a vivid, continuous dream”. The dream must be vivid, but it must also be unbroken.
  On the other hand, we’re all adults. We know that we can’t travel interstellar distances. We know that ghosts don’t exist. We know that private eyes don’t solve murder mysteries with a gun in one hand and a dry martini in the other. We know, as we physically turn the pages without allowing our imaginations to blink, that we are complicit in making this dream ‘real’.
  It takes a lot of psychic energy on the reader’s behalf to make the dream ‘real’. Perhaps that’s why the ‘It was all a dream!’ story feels like a cheat to some people. Or why some readers object to being reminded that the ‘dream’ is in actual fact a dream.
  But is that kind of story any less legitimate than the story that is fully escapist? Is a story, say, in which characters become aware that they are characters at the mercy of an interventionist Creator, a waste of a reader’s psychic energy? And is it superfluous arrogance on the part of the writer if, having met with a reader who fully commits to the dream, he or she then whispers in their ear, ‘Remember, it’s naught but a dream.’
  I’d love to hear your opinions, folks …