“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, September 30, 2016

Event: ECHOLAND by Joe Joyce Chosen as Dublin’s ‘One City, One Book’ for 2017

Hearty congratulations to Joe Joyce, whose ECHOLAND (2013) has been chosen as Dublin’s ‘One City, One Book’ for 2017. Set during the WWII years of Ireland’s ‘Emergency’, ECHOLAND is a spy thriller featuring young intelligence officer Paul Duggan, and the first in a series that includes ECHOBEAT (2014) and ECHOWAVE (2015). Quoth Joe:
“I’m delighted and honoured that ECHOLAND will be Dublin’s One City, One Book for 2017. The city is an integral part of the book, not just the backdrop to a spy story. As I was writing it, I was very conscious of the hardships and great dangers of the Emergency period, faced — as always by Dubliners — with resilience and wit.”
  For a review of ECHOLAND, clickety-click here.
  For an interview with Joe Joyce, clickety-click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: PAPER CUTS by Colin Bateman

Colin Bateman’s Divorcing Jack (1994) is one of the most influential books in Irish crime fiction, and Bateman has written over 30 novels since, all of them crime or mysteries to varying degrees. Paper Cuts (Head of Zeus), his first non-crime novel, opens with Guardian journalist Rob Cullen arriving back in Bangor to attend the funeral of his old mentor, Billy Maxwell, the former editor of the (fictional) Bangor Express. One rip-roaring wake later, Rob finds himself working as temporary editor of the Express, with a brief to modernise, streamline and rejuvenate the ailing paper.
  Told in eight chapters, each corresponding to a week’s edition of the Express (and each representing a crisis / opportunity for the Express and its staff), Paper Cuts is a charming account of the qualified joys of local journalism. Bateman, who left school aged 16 to take up a position as cub reporter with the County Down Spectator, appears to share Rob Cullen’s reluctant appreciation of local newspapers. They might be, as Rob suggests, ‘like community goldfish bowls. The same stories kept coming around, year after year after decade,’ but Rob also believes that the Express has a duty of care to its readership: ‘It serves the community, it protects the community, it tells you who the bad guys are and stops them getting away with it.’
  If Rob believes he has taken on a noble task, however, his idealism is rather undercut when Alix, the main reporter amidst the demoralised staff, prosaically describes the Express as ‘a dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional, highly unpopular and poverty-stricken family.’
  The clash between the staff’s cynical pragmatism and Rob’s principled theories of journalism provides the story with its narrative tension, as Rob learns to accept his own limitations along with those of his co-workers and his new home. Bangor is a sleepy, peaceful seaside town – ‘One of those towns that had escaped the worst and even the least of the Troubles – three bombs in thirty years, a handful of shootings; hell, there were towns in Surrey that had had it worse, nearly.’ – but fans of Bateman’s crime novels shouldn’t fret. Given the nature of local reporting, there are enough crime-based stories in Paper Cuts to fuel a modest crime fiction career, as Rob and his team find themselves investigating ex-paramilitaries, sex-traffickers, bodies dumped in fly-tipping sites, mysterious arsons, the exploitation of refugees, and even a siege when an armed robber botches his heist of the local post office.
  The story is peppered with Bateman’s blackly comic asides, as when Alix reflects on how boring her job is. ‘Of course,’ she concludes, ‘there hadn’t been a lot of decapitated heads during her time on the Express. That was wishful thinking.’ There’s a sly humour, too, in the way the apparently explosive crime stories the reporters investigate rarely turn out to be what they appear at first glance; Bateman takes us behind the lurid headlines to explore the human impact of local journalism (and, in the process, turn the traditional narrative of crime fiction on its head), as villains turn out to be heroes, and victims are revealed to be nowhere as powerless as they might seem.
  Paper Cuts may be the first non-crime novel Bateman has written, but it’s the latest example of a writer who has been taking artistic gambles for some time now – apart from his TV crime writing, Bateman has written an opera about King Billy, a musical about The Undertones, and the script to the Irish language drama Scúp, which was set in a newsroom and from which Paper Cuts emerged (he has also written the script for The Journey, a film about the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, which is due for release later this year).
  Long one of Ireland’s most prolific and influential authors, Paper Cuts is further confirmation that Colin Bateman is becoming one of our most ambitious writers too. Deliciously readable, timely in its themes and surprisingly optimistic about the future of local journalism, it deserves to be ranked among his most polished offerings. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Event: John Connolly Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS at No Alibis

It’s hard to believe that it’s 10 years since John Connolly published THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, but if the good folk at No Alibis are hosting a 10th Anniversary bash, it must be true. The details:
John Connolly
With Special Guest Anne M. Anderson
Tuesday 11th October 2016 at 7:00 PM
Tickets: FREE

No Alibis Bookstore are very pleased to invite you to celebrate the launch of the Tenth Anniversary Edition of John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS on Tuesday 11th October at 7:00PM. Tickets for this event are very limited, and can be reserved here.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, British publisher Hodder & Stoughton are producing a special illustrated hardcover edition of this much-loved book, including the beautiful woodcut illustrations [such as the example below] created by local artist Anne M. Anderson for No Alibis’ own 2007 Limited Edition of the book.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O’Loughlin

“Everything is very plain and modern now,” a dying man tells the author Jack London roughly halfway through Minds of Winter (riverrun), warning the writer against the gothic, supernatural excesses of the yarn he is spinning in a hospital ward. The reader may well laugh out loud; Ed O’Loughlin’s fourth novel is an uncompromising throwback to a time when story was king, a spellbinding tale of adventures and explorers, spies and outlaws, of derring-do, self-sacrifice and impossible feats of endurance.
  The story opens with a Prologue provided by a feature published by journalist Maev Kennedy in The Guardian in 2009, in which Kennedy writes about the mystery of how a ‘chronometer which was supposed to have sunk with a ship on the Franklin North-West Passage expedition in 1845 … somehow ended up back in London as a carriage clock.’ The novel then moves forward to the present day, introducing Fay and Nelson, who are 120 miles inside the Canadian Arctic Circle. Strangers to one another, both are searching – although they don’t know it yet – for the elusive chronometer.
  Another chapter, another leap through time and space: we find ourselves in Van Diemen’s Land in 1841, as Sir John Franklin prepares to host a ball on board his ship The Erebus, the ship fated to be lost four years later in the vain search for the North-West Passage. And on the novel goes, gambolling forward and back in time, a Russian doll of a novel in which stories fold into one another, leading on deeper into the mystery via Roald Amundsen’s search for the South Pole, Abwehr spies during WWII and Jack London’s adventures as a spy on the Korea-Manchuria border, all of it underpinned by O’Loughlin’s musings on the direction man might take once the tools of discovery – maps, compasses, chronometers – have fulfilled their promise and charted all there is to be known. “A globe was a globe and you could not fall off it,” observes Morgan, a cartographer. “But a map was a map, a metaphor, full of judgements and choices and victories and regrets; a map was built on hacks and heuristics and mistakes and lies, cracks through which you might, just maybe, someday slip away.”
  It’s a theme O’Loughlin returns to frequently, such as when Amundsen, on the island of Madeira and undecided as to whether to strike out for the North or South Pole, pauses before making his final decision: “He could stay here forever, dissolved in this air. But some tiny flaw in the fabric of the universe, some original sin in space and time, determined that he was doomed to exist, to be one thing or another.”
  It’s a beautifully written novel that blends a kind of pragmatic poetry with a lyrical interpretation of science – the Greenwich observatory, for example, is “a shrine … where time was substantiated from the sky and consecrated in chronometers, then served to the ships that passed down the reach.” O’Loughlin, whose debut novel Not Untrue & Not Unkind was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2009, can knock out a well-turned line with the best of them, even when he is sabotaging his characters’ philosophical musings with a mischievous sense of humour. It’s hard to believe, for example, that the metaphor of the search for the missing chronometer, which relentlessly measures the fictional concept of linear time, is anything more than an old-fashioned McGuffin given the swirling ebb-and-flow nature of the narrative.
  That said, there’s no doubt that Minds of Winter is a serious novel on an important theme. What makes it such an absorbing read is that O’Loughlin doesn’t believe that ‘serious’ and ‘entertaining’ are mutually exclusive concepts. In the sheer brio of its storytelling, it brings to mind Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – profound, yes, but terrific fun too. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Preview: The Irish Crime Novel of the Year

It’s that time of the year again – or will be, in about a month’s time – when the shortlists for the Irish Book of the Year arrive to a backing track of whoops of delight, wails of anguish and groans of frustration. It’s been – and please stop me if you’ve heard this before – another bumper year for Irish crime fiction, with over 40 titles providing the basis for – potentially – one of the strongest shortlists to date.
  Below, I offer a potential shortlist, albeit with some caveats: 1. John Connolly’s books never appear on the IBA Crime Novel shortlist. 2. William Ryan’s excellent THE CONSTANT SOLIDER isn’t a crime novel. 3. As always, I haven’t read all the Irish crime titles published this year. 4. Some titles – Graham Norton’s HOLDING, Neil Jordan’s THE DROWNED DETECTIVE and Emma Donoghue’s THE WONDER, for example – might be considered crime fiction titles; then again, they might not. 5. In recent years, the good folks at the IBA have made a virtue of shortlisting debut authors.
  Those caveats out of the way, my shortlist for Irish Crime Novel of the Year – based on the crudely simple basis of the best Irish crime titles I’ve read this year – would look a lot like this:
LYING IN WAIT by Liz Nugent
PARADIME by Alan Glynn
THE TRESPASSER by Tana French
SO SAY THE FALLEN by Stuart Neville
RAIN DOGS by Adrian McKinty
  No debutants on my list, then (Sam Blake, Vanessa Ronan, Annemarie Neary and Catherine Ryan Howard are contenders); Adrian McKinty is a bit of a wild card, given that his (regular) award-winning tends to take place on the other side of the world rather than closer to home; and I’m suggesting three men, whereas the last few years have seen the award dominated by women writers. So I wouldn’t be rushing off to the bookies with your hard-earned cash just yet …
  Anyway, the actual shortlist for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year will be published on October 25th. I’ll keep you posted.