“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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pre-Publication: A SONG OF SHADOWS by John Connolly

A new Charlie Parker novel tends to be one of the highlights of my reading year, but John Connolly’s forthcoming A SONG OF SHADOWS (Hodder & Stoughton) promises to deliver even more bang for buck than usual. Quoth the blurb elves:
Grievously wounded private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
  Recovering from a near-fatal shooting, and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubsko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.
  His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Isolated.
  But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.
  For something is emerging from the shadows ...
  A SONG OF SHADOWS will be published on April 9th.
  Incidentally, the image above is one of a series from Mexican graphic artist Humberto Cadena, who has created a whole gallery of heroes and villains from Charlie Parker’s world. For more, clickety-click here
  Finally, yet more good news for Connolly fans: John is currently preparing a second volume of NOCTURNES, which will include his Edgar- and Anthony Award-winning short story, ‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository’. The collection should appear in September. For lots more news from John, including a US reissue of the entire Charlie Parker series, clickety-click here

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Essay: ‘The Irresistible Rise of Irish Crime Fiction’

There’s a very nice essay on the rise – irresistible, it seems – of Irish crime fiction over at the 746 Books blog, which provides a concise appraisal of the last decade or so in Irish crime writing. Sample quote:
“What Ireland couldn’t offer pre-Celtic Tiger, pre-Stormont was anonymity. The country was too small, too parochial with a lack of big cities. With the economic growth of the boom all that changed and suddenly cities were booming and immigration was on the rise. It was possible to be a stranger in Ireland, to go unnoticed. With the crash came a growing distrust in politicians and those in power and coupled with a lack of faith in the Catholic Church, the old hierarchies were being disassembled and the lines between good and bad were being blurred even more. Society was no longer a hierarchy of authority with the priests and the politicians at the top. The gangsters were as likely to be in expensive offices as on the streets. Society had been shaken up and that makes for great subject matter for crime writers.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here.
  Meanwhile, Claire Coughlan contributes a very nice piece to the Irish Times’ ‘In Praise Of’ series celebrating Irish women writers, with a short but heartfelt paean to Tana French. You’ll find it here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Publication: WHITE CHURCH, BLACK MOUNTAIN by Thomas Paul Burgess

Described as a ‘punk pioneer’ by no less an authority than Glenn Patterson, Thomas Paul Burgess – now a senior lecturer at University College Cork – publishes his debut crime novel WHITE CHURCH, BLACK MOUNTAIN (Matador). To wit:
What links a traumatic childhood secret with the murder of a high-ranking police officer and two young men facing terrorist death threats? In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the fragile Peace Process is still haunted by the crimes of the past. Truth and justice have become the currency through which victim and terrorist alike must purchase their closure regarding the conflict ... When Detective Inspector Dan Watson of the Historical Enquiries Team enters an interview room for a routine consultation, he is astonished by the recognition of an eerily familiar face - Eban Barnard, the younger brother of his late partner and mentor Detective Superintendent Alex, who was brutally assassinated by the Provisional IRA twenty years earlier. What Dan learns in that room defies credulity and threatens to open up a Pandora’s Box of secrets that will unhinge the lives of all those involved - and endanger the very peace process itself. Based on actual events, and set against the backdrop of a society’s hunger for redemptive catharsis, White Church, Black Mountain is a tightly-constructed, fast-paced novel that follows the dysfunctional life of the misanthropic Eban as he traverses a generation of secrets and lies. Unlike many of the novels about ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, White Church, Black Mountain is at the forefront of an emerging ‘post-conflict’ canon, considering the legacy of the conflict as it impacts upon those who seek to build a future in its aftermath.
  Colin Bateman, for one, is impressed: “White Church, Black Mountain just sucks you in. Like Brian Moore given a make-over by James Ellroy. Excellent stuff.”
  For more, clickety-click here

Launch: THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

Steve Cavanagh launches his debut novel, the legal thriller THE DEFENCE (Orion), at No Alibis in Belfast at 6.30pm on Thursday, March 12th. Quoth the blurb elves:
The truth has no place in a courtroom. The truth doesn’t matter in a trial. The only thing that matters is what the prosecution can prove. Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different. It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter Amy. Eddie only has 48 hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial - and win - if wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: BLUE IS THE NIGHT by Eoin McNamee

There’s a very short line in Eoin McNamee’s Blue is the Night (Faber) that could serve as a calling card for the entire trilogy it completes. “Dark blue, very sharp,” is the description given of the eyes of Thomas Cutbush, a suspect for Jack the Ripper, on his admission to Broadmoor Hospital in 1891. McNamee’s ‘Blue’ trilogy – The Blue Tango was published in 2001, and Orchid Blue in 2010 – is distinctively noir, but it’s one shaded by more nuance, and given more depth and breadth, than conventional noir tends to offer – more dark blue than plain black, and very sharp indeed.
  The trilogy largely concerns itself with the historical figure of Sir Lancelot Curran, a brilliant and ruthless lawyer and politician whose career took him to the heights of Attorney General and Member of Parliament. Set in 1949, Blue is the Night takes us back to the case that made Lancelot Curran’s name, when he served as prosecution in the murder trial of Robert Taylor, a Protestant man accused of killing a Catholic woman, Mary McGowan.
  While the high-profile case had social, political and religious overtones particular to post-WWII Northern Ireland, Blue is the Night is by no means a traditional courtroom drama. Around this main narrative strand, and between the past and the historical present to draw together threads from the previous two novels, McNamee weaves in a number of other plots, which include the brutal murder of Curran’s own daughter, Patricia, outside the family home in 1952, and the possibility that Curran’s wife, Doris, was responsible. The events of the story come to us via the fictional Harry Ferguson, Curran’s right-hand man, confidante and political fixer.
  Ferguson, a pragmatic man in his public utterances, is given to philosophical wanderings in the privacy of his own mind, and thus allows McNamee to extrapolate from a historical crime to investigate the murkier depths of human nature. “If wrong had a human form,” is Ferguson’s own verdict on Robert Taylor, the accused in the murder trial, which opens up the story to the possibility of the existence of pure evil. The suggestion is further amplified by Doris Curran’s experience in Broadmoor Hospital, where she was reared, and where she encountered the Jack the Ripper suspect Thomas Cutbush, and may – or may not; McNamee’s storytelling does not lend itself to absolutes – have absorbed a murderous insanity by a kind of spiritual osmosis.
  It’s a theme that crops up again and again in the book, from Jack the Ripper and Ferguson’s time working at the Nuremburg Trials to Patricia Curran referencing wolves in the forest, which brings to mind the original, darker versions of the old European ‘fairytales’, those Charles Perrault tales that served as cautionary fables for the unknowable malign forces that lurked beyond the flickering lights of the village. At one point Ferguson visits a Belfast museum and sees the mummy Takabuti, and is moved by its aura of ‘ancient malice’.
  Nailed to the page by McNamee’s at times brutally stark prose, the story gradually reveals the extent to which the characters, despite their intelligence, ambition and ruthlessness, are helplessly bound by forces much greater than they, by a fate decided upon long before they were born. That’s a rather lurid claim in a novel based on historical fact, but McNamee is hugely persuasive even as the story grows increasingly gothic in tone. Sympathetic to even his most callous of characters, McNamee has crafted a beguiling, gripping tale that deserves to be considered a masterpiece of Irish noir fiction, regardless of whether its hue is black or the darkest blue. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.