“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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lies Of Silence

Mary O’Donnell’s WHERE THEY LIE (New Island) very likely wasn’t written as a crime / mystery novel – Mary O’Donnell’s reputation is as a literary novelist and poet – but it does offer a fictional account of one of the most compelling investigations in recent Irish history. To wit:
Gerda McAllister’s life is turned upside down when she is contacted by a mysterious caller, who claims to have information about the location of the bodies of her murdered loved ones, who are among the ‘Disappeared’. With her Dubliner boyfriend, and what remains of her family, she begins to piece together the truth. As the picture becomes clearer, though, revelations threaten to come out that will change all of their lives.
  Haunted by the killings, Gerda is forced to decide – will she try to leave the past behind her, or should she try to confront the truth and discover where they lie?
  WHERE THEY LIE is a remarkable novel that explores how families cope with tragedy, how men and women relate, how secrets hold and give power, and how history, when not confronted, can corrupt relationships, love and society. It is a novel of twists and turns that defy easy clarification. It is a novel that demands attention.
  For more information, clickety-click here …

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Secrets And Lies

A first glimpse, courtesy of Amazon US, of the cover of Tana French’s forthcoming novel, THE SECRET PLACE (Hachette), which I’ve been looking forward to ever since I finished her last offering, the wonderful BROKEN HARBOUR, which won the LA Times’ Best Mystery / Thriller award. The set-up runs as follows:
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says ‘I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM’.
  Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
  But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.
  THE SECRET PLACE is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.
  THE SECRET PLACE will be published on August 28th …

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Here Comes The Sun

Adrian McKinty’s THE SUN IS GOD (Serpent’s Tail) arrived in the post to CAP Towers yesterday, and a handsome tome it is too. McKinty’s most recent offerings, aka the Sean Duffy Trilogy, are set in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, so it’s fair to say that THE SUN IS GOD is something of a departure. Quoth the blurb elves:
Colonial New Guinea—1906: a small group of mostly German nudists live an extreme back-to-nature existence on the remote island of Kabakon. Eating only coconuts and bananas, they purport to worship the sun. One of their members—Max Lutzow—has recently died, allegedly from malaria. But an autopsy on his body in the nearby capital of Herbertshöhe raises suspicions about foul play.
  Retired British military police officer Will Prior is recruited to investigate the circumstances of Lutzow’s death. At first, the eccentric group seems friendly and willing to cooperate with the investigation. They all insist that Lutzow died of malaria. Despite lack of evidence for a murder, Prior is convinced that the group is hiding something …
  THE SUN IS GOD will be published on July 1st. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: THE GHOST OF THE MARY CELESTE by Valerie Martin

The Mary Celeste remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of maritime history. Discovered adrift six hundred miles west of Portugal in early December, 1872, the ship was bereft of captain and crew, even though it was still seaworthy and held a six-month supply of food and water in its hold.
  Piracy? Mutiny? Did the crew and a well-respected captain – along with his wife and two-year-old daughter – abandon ship for a lifeboat and subsequently perish? Or were more sinister forces at play?
  American author Valerie Martin opens her tenth novel in 1859, with an account of a shipwreck at sea. The lives lost that day resonate down through the generations, particularly through the Briggs family of Marion, Massachusetts, which has a noble tradition of seafaring. Sarah Cobb picks up the story, telling us, via her journal, about her fears for her younger sister Hannah, who appears to believe that she can channel the spirits of the dead. Sarah Cobb would in due course marry Benjamin Briggs, the captain who was at the helm of the Mary Celeste when it set sail from New York late in 1872.
  Valerie Martin has in the past incorporated historical figures into her fiction, most notably in Mary Reilly (1990), a version of the Jekyll and Hyde story told from the perspective of Mary, a servant in Dr Jekyll’s house. Here she weaves a novel around the lives of the Briggs family, and also includes an investigation into the mystery of the Mary Celeste by Arthur Conan Doyle, who in 1884 published an anonymous account of the mystery titled ‘J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement’ (in which he called the ship ‘the Marie Celeste’), which purported to be a survivor’s testimony.
  Meanwhile, a journalist called Phoebe Grant offers a memoir in which she recounts her meetings with Violet Petra, a young woman who is one of the leading lights of Spiritualism, a quasi-religion featuring mediums who can speak with and for the dead, a phenomenon that also fascinates Arthur Conan Doyle on his travels through the United States.
  Even though there is little to suggest that the Mary Celeste fell victim to a supernatural agency, Valerie Martin nails her colours to the mast by including the word ‘ghost’ in her title. This is a novel about faith and doubt, which explores our willingness – with Doyle as a credulous believer, and Grant his sceptic counterpoint – to accept the possibility that there is a world beyond the one we can see, touch and hear. What makes the novel such an engrossing read is that the author is as persuasive when recording Violet Petra’s apparently miraculous powers of divination as she is at constructing a robust rebuttal of any possibility of human interaction with the spirits who reside, according to the Spiritualists, in ‘Summerland’.
  It’s a beautifully written book. Martin has the eye of a poet, particularly when writing about the sea, and some of the stormier passages bring to mind Conrad at his most vivid. Valerie Martin is the daughter of a sea captain, her biography tells us, but she has never been to sea. Nevertheless, the novel is strewn with fabulously detailed images: “Gradually the wind abated, though the sea was still high, kneading the ship like bread dough between the waves.”
  There is much to admire here, not least Martin’s confidence in creating convincing voices for her host of characters, be they historical figures or fictional creations. Moreover, it’s a deliciously readable novel of ideas that challenges readers to question what they truly believe when it comes to the greatest of all the metaphysical concepts, that of the possibility of life after death. ~ Declan Burke

  THE GHOST OF THE MARY CELESTE by Valerie Martin is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

  This review first appeared in the Irish Examiner.