“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, December 14, 2013

Review: THE MEMORY KEY by Conor Fitzgerald

The fourth novel to feature Conor Fitzgerald’s Rome-based Commissioner Alec Blume, THE MEMORY KEY (Bloomsbury) opens with Blume being called to the scene of an apparent assassination – a young student called Sofia Fontana, who has been shot by a sniper. Fontana, it transpires, was the only witness to a previous shooting, when a former terrorist was also shot, and also by a sniper. Blume’s investigations lead him into the murky world of 1970’s terrorist activities in Italy, as those responsible for a murderous train station bomb some four decades previously clean up the loose ends that could trip up their political futures. As has been the case with Fitzgerald’s previous novels, Rome is something of a character in its own right here, particularly as the labyrinthine nature of its policing contributes handsomely to a claustrophobic tale. Blume, American by birth but a naturalised Italian, makes for a classic crime fiction staple, the insider with the cynical outsider’s eye, and THE MEMORY KEY, which again boasts Fitzgerald’s terse but lyrical style, is another excellent police procedural in an increasingly impressive body of work. – Declan Burke

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Three Colours: Blue

The concluding act in Eoin McNamee’s ‘Blue Trilogy’, following on from THE BLUE TANGO (2001) and ORCHID BLUE (2010), BLUE IS THE NIGHT (Faber & Faber) arrives in mid-March. To wit:
1949. Lance Curran is set to prosecute a young man for a brutal murder, in the ‘Robert the Painter’ case, one which threatens to tear society apart. In the searing July heat, corruption and justice vie as Harry Ferguson, Judge Curran’s fixer, contemplates the souls of men adrift, and his own fall from grace with the beautiful and wilful Patricia. Within three years, Curran will be a judge, his nineteen year old daughter dead at the hands of a still unknown murderer, and his wife Doris condemned to an asylum for the rest of her days.
  In BLUE IS THE NIGHT, it is Doris who finally emerges from the fog of deceit and blame to cast new light into the murder of her daughter, as McNamee once again explores and dramatizes a notorious and nefarious case.
  THE BLUE TANGO was longlisted for the Booker Prize, of course, and David Peace describes BLUE IS THE NIGHT as ‘A genuine, original masterpiece.’ If it’s not one of the highlights of 2014, I’ll very surprised indeed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is It Safe?

I mentioned earlier in the week that I’ve been struggling for the last while with a new book, so God only knows what possessed me to read William Goldman’s MARATHON MAN again. I’ve loved that book for about 30 years now, give or take, and to read it now suggests that I harbour a self-destructive (and possibly masochistic) streak a mile wide. If you’re ever seriously doubting your ability to write a good thriller, and need that one last nudge that will tip you over the edge and take your typewriter / laptop with you into the abyss, just read MARATHON MAN and go gently into that good night, amen, etc.
  (Writing Tip to Self: try having interesting things happen to interesting people in a blackly humorous way on nearly every page. It’s worth a shot, at least, surely?)
  Anyway, given that we all know that the whole point of the crime / mystery novel is the righting of wrongs and the pursuit of justice, the following passages leapt out at me:
‘Police?’ Babe blinked. ‘Police? Why should I call them, what good would that do?’ He buttoned the raincoat. ‘I don’t want justice, are you kidding, screw justice, we’re way past justice, it’s blood now …’ (pg 227)
  And again:
‘Well, we’ve been making a mistake with people like you, because public trials are bullshit and executions are games for winners – all this time we should have been giving back pain. That’s the real lesson. That’s the loser’s share, just pain, pure and simple, pain and torture, no hotshot lawyers running around trying to see that justice is done. I think we’d have a nice peaceful place here if all you war-makers knew you better not start something because if you lost, agony was just around the bend.’ (pg 273)
  So – what exactly is it crave from our deliciously escapist crime / thriller fiction? Justice? Or blood and agony?

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Horror, The Horror

I’ve been working away on a new book for the last couple of months, which is always great fun, although in the last few weeks it seems to have run into sand. Not unusual, if my previous experience is anything to go by, and probably not the last time this particular book will find itself in trouble. Anyway, I was reading HEART OF DARKNESS again last week, when this passage, from roughly the halfway point, leapt out at me. Marlow’s steamboat is falling apart for the want of rivets, but he’s fond of it all the same:
“It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to my influential friend, the battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clambered on board. She rang under my feet like an empty Huntley & Palmers biscuit-tin kicked along a gutter; she was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit – to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work, – no man does – but I like what is in the work, – the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”
  It’s hard to believe that the ‘battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot’ steamboat, at least during this passage, doesn’t represent ‘the work’ of writing the book itself, the opportunity to ‘find out what I could do’. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it, given that I’m up the proverbial creek myself without so much as a paddle or a handful of rivets. Maybe that’s also why this re-read of HEART OF DARKNESS put me in mind of MOBY-DICK, and that ‘the horror, the horror’ is that of the blank page.
  Tune in next week, when I read THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and reconfigure ‘messing about in boats’ as a cry for help from an author becalmed in the backwater of a first draft, pulled hither and yon by the gentle ripples and eddies of pitiless fate, etc …