Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Review: FEAR by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Terrorised by his neighbour, and fearing for his wife and children, Berlin architect Randolph Tiefenthaler takes the law into his own hands. ‘At about 8.40 am,’ Randolph tells us, ‘the accused, Herman Tiefenthaler (my father, that is), left the flat of his son, Randolph Tiefenthaler, with the Walther PPK, then in his lawful possession, and descended to the basement, where he induced the tenant, Dieter Tiberius, to open the door to his flat, either by knocking or ringing the bell, and then killed Tiberius with a close-range shot to the head.’
  That sounds like the conclusion to a conventional tale of a law-abiding citizen driven to murder a creepy and potentially life-threatening stalker, but Dirk Kurbjuweit’s novel is by no means a conventional psychological thriller. Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief at Der Spiegel, was inspired to write Fear (Orion) as a result of his own experience of being stalked; having laid out the events described above as early as page 16, Kurbjuweit then proceeds to tease out the cat-and-mouse game that developed between the creepy neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, and Randolph and his wife, Rebecca. It’s a ‘whydunit’ of sorts – one of the central mysteries to be resolved is why Randolph’s father, Hermann, has murdered Tiberius – although the mystery itself is something of a red herring: Fear is a novel that is much more invested in exploring the concept of masculinity than playing the kind of guessing game we tend to associate with the whydunit psychological thriller.
  Indeed, it quickly becomes apparent that Kurbjuweit is investigating various interpretations of masculinity, as Randolph discovers that a man is expected to behave in different ways according to the expectations of different people and different generations. Moreover, Randolph is a man who has been conditioned by fear from a very young age. The son of a man obsessed with guns, he grew up in Berlin at the height of the Cold War, living and breathing the threat of imminent extinction; Randolph’s parents, meanwhile, came of age during WWII, and are themselves children of fear, which may account for the simmering rage which underpins their relationship: ‘If you walked through the burning city of Cologne as a little girl,’ Randolph says of his mother, ‘heard the bombers, the shells and sirens, knew the smell of burnt human flesh and had to see open wounds and torn limbs, perhaps you feel you have put the worst behind you – that a domestic dispute is a trivial matter.’ Randolph, being a self-professed middle-class liberal, believes that he has rejected all that his parents stand for, including their petit bourgeois hopes and fears. His actions, however, suggest that Randolph, whether by nature or nurture, has inherited the best and worst of his parents’ characteristics, with tragic consequences.
  Studded with blackly comic moments – at one point Randolph’s therapist urges him to ‘stop trying to see everything so positively’ – Fear revels in playing with the genre’s conventions at every turn. Far from being an unreliable narrator, for example, Randolph is an entirely reliable guide, and perhaps even a little too honest to make for comfortable company on the journey. There’s no doubting he loves his wife and children, but Randolph is also very happy in his own company, which means he can come across aloof and remote, and an unusually austere hero, emotionally speaking, when it comes to defending hearth and home. Thus, when Dieter Tiberius torments Randolph and Rebecca by accusing them of abusing their children, and subsequently reports them to the police, the reader experiences a frisson of doubt about Randolph’s behaviour behind closed doors, even as Randolph, as any father would, protests his innocence to anyone who will listen.
  Beautifully translated by Imogen Taylor, Fear is a complex tale of plausibly conflicting reactions to a prolonged and almost unimaginably stressful living nightmare, a story that invites the reader – a citizen, presumably, as law-abiding as Randolph and Rebecca – to decide for herself how she might behave were she to discover herself in Randolph’s impossible situation. The final twist will likely come as no surprise to fans of the psychological thriller, but otherwise Fear is a complex, nuanced and gripping tale of domestic terror. ~ Declan Burke

  Declan Burke is an author and journalist. He is currently a Dublin City Council / UNESCO writer-in-residence.

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

One to Watch: TANGERINE by Christine Mangan

Set in 1950’s Morocco, Christine Mangan’s debut TANGERINE (Little, Brown) is billed as a blend of Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier. To wit:
The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends - once inseparable roommates - haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right.
  Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
  But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice - she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.
  According to Joyce Carol Oates, TANGERINE is ‘As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated in a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.’ The movie rights have already been sold, with Scarlet Johansson slated to star, and George Clooney producing.
  TANGERINE will be published in March.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Event: Takin the Mic at the Irish Writers’ Centre

I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for by agreeing to host the next ‘Takin the Mic’ event at the Irish Writers’ Centre, but I’m sure it will all be good, clean fun. It takes place at the IWC from 7-9pm on Friday, January 26th, with the details as follows:
The performers list for January’s Takin the Mic is now open! Our host this month is crime fiction writer Declan Burke, one of the current UNESCO City of Literature Writers-in-Residence, at the IWC. As usual, all manner of poetry, prose and everything in between are welcome. Sign up to perform here!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

One to Watch: THE LONG SILENCE by Gerard O’Donovan

Gerard O’Donovan, author of THE PRIEST (2010) and DUBLIN DEAD (2011), returns to the fray after something of a long-ish silence with – oh yes! – THE LONG SILENCE (Severn House). To wit:
February, 1922. Hollywood is young but already mired in scandal. When a leading movie director is murdered, Irish-American investigator Tom Collins is called in by studio boss Mack Sennett, whose troubled star, Mabel Normand, is rumoured to be involved.
  But Normand has gone missing. And, as Collins discovers, there’s a growing list of suspects. His quest leads him through the brutal heart of Prohibition-era Los Angeles, from speakeasies and dope dens to the studios and salons of Hollywood’s fabulously wealthy movie elite, and to a secret so explosive it must be kept silent at any cost ...
  Inspired by the unsolved real-life murder of movie director William Desmond Taylor, The Long Silence is the first in a richly evocative, instantly compelling series of new noir mysteries set in Hollywood’s early days.
  THE LONG SILENCE will be published on January 31st.