“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “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 26, 2013

A Tangled Web They Weave

The good people at WritersWebTV get in touch to announce the details of their latest wheeze, ‘Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction’, which goes live on October 30th. To wit:
Best-selling crime authors Ken Bruen (right), Jane Casey, Declan Hughes and Niamh O’Connor will be joining WritersWebTV on October 30th, ready to arm aspiring authors with all the best writing tips, tricks and methods at the upcoming workshop, Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction.
  Multi-award-winning Ken Bruen – the author of the Jack Taylor series which has become a TV hit starring Iain Glen – will talk through writing great hook-lines and how to develop characters across a series. Jane Casey, author of the Maeve Kerrigan series of crime novels will guide participants through the basics of narrative and plot. Declan Hughes – author of the Ed Loy PI series – rigorously plans his writing and he’ll be giving his insights on how to plan for your novel while being open to new sources of inspiration. Niamh O’Connor, one of Ireland’s leading crime journalists, will lead us through the research process and crack the code of juggling family, writing and a day job.
  This free-to-watch-live, online workshop will cover all aspects of crime fiction and viewers will be able to interact with those in studio to help them develop their skills. WritersWebTV has developed a world-first innovation in online education for writers by providing live-streamed interactive workshops to a global audience, featuring Irish and international best-selling writers and industry professionals.
The one-day workshops are streamed live from a multi-camera broadcast studio in Dublin. Bestselling authors interact with an in-studio audience of aspiring writers, who present their work for critique. Online viewers can communicate with those in the studio using Twitter, Facebook or email. They can ask a question, take part in a workshop exercise, comment online and benefit from on-screen feedback from the authors in-studio.
  Led by experienced workshop facilitator Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie, the panel will consider the key elements of fiction writing and furnish viewers with tips, advice and actionable insights to help them improve their writing and get it on the path to publication.
  Upcoming courses include Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction on Wednesday, October 30th, and Getting Published on Saturday, November 9th, with plans in motion for courses in 2014.
  Viewers can watch the full one-day workshops for free when they watch them live. If they want to download a workshop or watch it later, they can pay to keep the course.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, October 25, 2013

Third We Take Manhattan

Shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in 2012 for his debut thriller, THE ISTANBUL PUZZLE, Laurence O’Bryan publishes his third book in less than two years with THE MANHATTAN PUZZLE (Avon). To wit:
A global puzzle. A secret symbol. A conspiracy that ends in death. An international cover-up that could change the course of history …
  Sean has been tracking a symbol from another age. It provides a clue to a barbaric conspiracy. A puzzle with an answer feared for millennia.
  When Isabel wakes to find Sean hasn’t come home she doesn’t worry. At first. But when the police turn up on her doorstep wanting to interview him, she has to make a decision.
  Does she keep faith in him or does she believe the evidence?
  The symbol Sean and Isabel have been chasing will finally be revealed in Manhattan as one of the greatest banks in the world totters. Can Isabel uncover the truth before time runs out … or will she too be murdered?
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dead Men Tell More Tales

I thoroughly enjoyed Conor Brady’s debut novel, the historical crime title A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS, and I’m pleased to see that that novel’s protagonist, Joe Swallow, returns in Brady’s sophomore offering, THE ELOQUENCE OF THE DEAD (New Island). Quoth the blurb elves:
“Bodies can tell you a lot. There can be an eloquence about the dead. But you have to be able to interpret what they are telling you …”
  When a Dublin Pawnbroker is found murdered and the lead suspect goes missing, Sergeant Joe Swallow is handed the poisoned chalice of the investigation.   With authorities pressing for a quick resolution, the public living in fear of attack and the newspapers happy to point to the police’s every mistake, Swallow must use every trick in his arsenal to crack the case.
  On the way he uncovers deep-rooted corruption, discovers the power of new, scientific detection techniques and encounters a ruthless adversary.
  Following leads from Trim to the Tower of London, THE ELOQUENCE OF THE DEAD is the second of the Joe Swallow books and is a fast-paced and gripping crime thriller from the pen of a truly talented writer.
  THE ELOQUENCE OF THE DEAD by Conor Brady will be launched by Donal Ryan on Thursday, 24 October at the Irish Writers’ Centre at 6pm.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: AN OFFICER AND A SPY by Robert Harris

Robert Harris’s latest novel opens in 1895 with an account of the ‘degradation’ of Major Alfred Dreyfus. Found guilty of selling state secrets to Germany, the mortal enemy of France since the crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Dreyfus is humiliated in a public ceremony in which he is paraded before his peers, physically stripped of his rank, and deported to Devil’s Island four thousand miles away, there to serve out his sentence in what amounts to solitary confinement.
  It’s a dramatic act, in both senses of the word. Dreyfus’s treatment serves as a grotesque pantomime for the masses. “The Romans fed Christians to the lions,” a bystander observes, “we feed them Jews. That is progress, I suppose.”
  Anti-Semitism is rife in 1890’s France, and the fact that Alfred Dreyfus was a Jew made him not only suspect but guilty before his trial even began. Equally important in terms of Robert Harris’s narrative, however, is the paranoia that grips the upper echelons of the French army. Still traumatised by the Franco-Prussian war, defensive to the point of paralysis, the French generals require a swift and clear-cut resolution to the ‘Dreyfus affair’.
  Alfred Dreyfus is not the ‘officer and spy’ of the novel’s title, however. Major Georges Picquart serves in the Third Department of the French War Ministry, a decorated soldier who specialises in topography. As a boy he survived the German bombardment of Strasbourg during the Franco-Prussian War; with his family he moved from German-occupied Alsace to Paris, joined the army to escape poverty, and grew up with the army as his father. “No son,” Picquart tell us, “strove harder to please a demanding papa.” A rock-solid establishment figure, Picquart is rewarded for his part in the entrapment of Alfred Dreyfus with a promotion to Colonel and a position heading up the ‘Statistical Agency’ – in reality, the French army’s intelligence section.
  A cultured man who spends his spare time reading novels by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and attending concerts by Debussy and Casals, Picquart considers himself ill-suited for the lying, cheating and spying of the intelligence-gathering game. Here he is being a little too generous on his own behalf, as Picquart has for many years conducted an affair with Pauline Monnier, the wife of his good friend – although Picquart, being a true son of France, would rubbish any suggestion that his affair is immoral as bourgeois thinking.
  It’s at this point in the story that Robert Harris’s fictional retelling of the Dreyfus affair begins in earnest. Convinced that Dreyfus is guilty, Picquart is shocked to discover anomalies in the secret file used to convict Dreyfus. The logic is inescapable: if Dreyfus is innocent, the real traitor remains at large, and is very probably still in the business of selling state secrets. Thus Picquart goes to war against the defenders of his own country, determined to expose their cover-up in order to preserve the integrity of the French army he loves like a father.
  An Officer and A Spy is a sprawling historical thriller that’s very much in the mould of Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992), Enigma (1995) and Archangel (1998). Constrained by the historical facts, and aware that most readers will know how the Dreyfus Affair concluded – Harris doesn’t avail of the ‘alternative history’ narrative he pursued in Fatherland, for example – Harris elects to employ a first-person, present-tense narrative voice that makes Picquart’s account of his investigation a claustrophobically gripping tale. None of the characters involved, Harris tells us in his Author’s Note, are ‘wholly fictional’, but Picquart himself is a novelist’s dream, a charismatically complex man who is utterly immoral in his private life and yet sees no hypocrisy in demanding the highest professional standards from his fellow officers, the politicians who govern France and the people they represent.
  What is particularly fascinating is the way in which Harris charts Picquart’s growing self-awareness as a spy and a patriot in literary terms, and particularly in Picquart’s interweaving of ‘high’ and ‘low’ literature and his growing understanding of the power of narrative with mass appeal.
  Early in the story Picquart sets aside Émile Zola’s new novel because “its subject, the Roman Catholic Church, bores me, and it also runs to seven hundred and fifty pages. I am willing to accept such prolixity from Tolstoy but not from Zola.” Much later, handing a folder of damning evidence to his lawyer, Picquart is aware that his lawyer “considers it melodramatic, the sort of device one might encounter in a railway ‘thriller’. I would have felt the same until a year ago. Now I have come to see that thrillers may sometimes contain more truths than all Monsieur Zola’s social realism put together.”
  Shortly afterwards, and now a committed ‘Dreyfusard’ along with Zola, Picquart tells the novelist that “somehow this affair must be taken out of the jurisdiction of the military and elevated to a higher plane – the details need to be assembled into a coherent narrative […] Reality must be transformed into a work of art, if you will.”
  Zola, of course, subsequently published his famous J’accuse on the front page of the newspaper L’Aurore, an open letter to the French president alleging the obstruction of justice in the highest ranks of the French army.
  Robert Harris similarly avails of mass-market appeal to tell his story. An Officer and A Spy is written in elegant prose reminiscent of the 19th century historical novel, but its form is a hybrid of the contemporary thriller, the spy novel and the courtroom drama. It is persuasive and engaging on all of these levels, while providing a unique and fresh reading of the Dreyfus affair. It’s also a timely offering, serving as a warning against religious bigotry and ‘group-think’, and the massaging of intelligence information in order to produce a required, pre-determined result.

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.