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.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Baby, You’re A Starr

So much for the idea of the writer as an alienated misanthrope venting poisonous spleen on an indifferent world. Interviewed over at Things I’d Rather Be Doing, Sir Kenneth of Bruen reckons the process of co-writing with Jason Starr on the up-coming Slide (October 2) is pretty much jam at this stage, to wit:
“It was actually easier [than Bust] because we can now literally anticipate where the other is going to go, we have the same vision, dark sense of humour, it’s like writing with a psychic twin, though Jason might say … psycho! We never had one disagreement and mainly, we have great fun. We’re working on book three and falling over each other with ideas … but we’re totally in sync now, it’s uncanny how we’ve meshed our writing so completely.”
Which is nice. Next week: John Banville on how JD Salinger shared his Liquorice All-Sorts while co-authoring the ‘darkly allegorical’ Flopsy And Cottontail Go To The Mall II: This Time It’s Personal.

Brought To Book # 132: KT McCaffrey on Gerard Murphy’s Death Without Trace

Back in 2005, Death Without Trace (Collins Press) seemed to slip beneath the radar as though in keeping with the title. A shame if you missed it, because Murphy’s opus represents superior crime fiction worthy of a wide audience. The author, a lecturer at the institute of technology in Carlow, has created an instantly appealing part-time detective. Mike Madigan, whose day job is that of brewery foreman (a gumshoe in a brewery – only in Ireland) has recently separated from wife Sally but remains plagued by erectile memories, bad dreams and erotic nightmares from his time with her. With character names like Madigan and Philip Marlow (superintendent at the local cop shop), it’ll come as no surprise that the author is a disciple of the American rather than British style of crime fiction. The action, set in Dublin, is written very much in the Chandleresque tradition and is peppered with wise-cracking one-liners that are equal to the best you’ll find in this genre. The fast-paced prose never flags, delivering a feast of bon mots such as:
- Girls in frilly dresses cleaned the tables like the semi-innocuous afterthoughts of a Victorian wet dream.
- There she was, a smile stretched between her cheeks, warm as a two-bar heater.
- It’s a poor mouse that depends on only one hole.
- A small slice of new moon sat over the cathedral like a piece of half-chewed orange peel.
You get the idea. The plot – which in this case is less important than the characters and style – sees Madigan being hired by the glamorous wife of a professor of neurobiology to keep an eye on her husband, whom she suspects of having an affair. Madigan, when not listening to Steve Earle, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits or Van Morrison, gives the case his attention but soon finds himself out of his depth in the city’s underworld of crime. If you’re familiar with the intrepid PI John Blaine (Vincent Banville’s gem of a creation) you’ll identify with, and enjoy, Madigan in Death Without Trace.- KT McCaffrey

Death Without Trace is available at the Collins Press. KT McCaffrey’s latest novel, The Cat Trap, will be published in November by Robert Hale

Here We Go A-Carrolling

The promo elves over at HarperCollins were kind enough to send us on a copy of the third in Michael Carroll’s The New Heroes series, Absolute Power, which unprovoked generosity increased our store of Michael Carroll-related info by roughly 100%. A disgraceful state of affairs, that, particularly as Carroll has in the past been short-listed for the Ottakar’s Children’s Book Prize - here’s hoping that that consignment of elf-sized hair-shirts comes through by the end of the week, eh? Anyhoo, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Michael conducted by Fractal Matter that increases the Comic Book Guy quotient of Crime Always Pays by roughly 1000%:
FM: Can you recall where your love of superheroes came from?
MC: “I can! Some time in the early 1970s my dad went to London. In those days travelling from Dublin to London was a big thing. Ireland was in the middle of a very long recession, and we were by no means a wealthy family. Anyway, while he was over there Dad bought me a copy of The Mighty World of Marvel, a black-and-white comic that reprinted some of the early Marvel stories. I’d never seen anything like it! The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four… I was completely blown away. Shortly after that, the UK Marvel comics started being imported to Ireland, so I was able to get a reasonably regular fix. Around that time I was also lucky enough to see one of the original Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons on a friend’s television set (we didn’t own a TV at the time - I told you we weren’t wealthy, didn’t I?), and one of my friends owned a little Batman figure with a parachute. I was hooked on superheroes, and especially loved Spider-Man, but what really impressed me was the Marvel UK reprint of The Avengers. My first issue was #16 - “The Old Order Changeth” – the one in which Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch joined the team. I actually still have that comic. Well, most of it: the cover is long gone and I coloured in the splash page …”
Michael? We believe there is help available. But you must want to be cured.

Great Literary Spats Of Our Time # 1: Marisa Mackle vs James Joyce

For some bizarre reason, a lot of people seem to think that the majority of women’s fiction authors are bubble- headed blonde ex-air hostesses who wouldn’t know a genius if he stopped them on the street and asked to sniff their undergarments. Happily, that’s not the case with our favourite women’s fiction writer Marisa Mackle (right), the gorgeous blonde ex-air hostess and best-selling novelist of contemporary classics such as The Mile High Guy, Mr Alright on the Night, So Long Mr Wrong and Confessions of an Air Hostess. As for that James Joyce geezer, don’t get her started. Oops, someone already did:
“And don’t tell me you read Ulysees (sic) and thought it was a great book. You, I and everybody else knows you’re being a twit. Joyce was totally taking the piss when he wrote it. It’s rubbish. And this is from somebody who has a 2:1 in English from UCD and has my books (sic) as compulsory reading on 3 (sic) top university degree courses in Europe.”
See what she did there? ‘Uly-sees’. Geddit? Fair puts Finnegans Wake in the ha’penny place, no? Marisa 1, Speccy Guy 0. And okay, we know what you’re going to say – Joyce’s novels are compulsory reading on three or four top university courses in Europe too. But you fell for it! Because he’s dead and, like, totally disunfabulous! Ha! Marisa 2, Dead Eye-Patch Guy 0. You go, girl …
Next week: Marisa Mackle vs William Shakespeare, who can’t even spell.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 173: John Connolly

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
I always take the mature view on these things, and assume that if I had written one of my favourite books then it wouldn’t be as good. I think Ross Macdonald’s The Chill is a near-perfect crime novel, the only perceived lapse being the death early on of possibly the most interesting character, although the effect is quite shocking so I suppose it was intentional on Macdonald’s part. I find myself defending Macdonald regularly against those who see him as Chandler’s poor relation, or pressing him on those who haven’t read him but believe that, say, The Big Sleep is as close as crime fiction ever got to being literature, which it isn’t. Chandler's a fabulous writer, but Macdonald was always the better novelist.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Wilbur Smith novels. The period novels are much better than the modern-day ones, as the dialogue doesn’t sound as clunky if it’s being spoken in the 1600s or 1700s, or by ancient Egyptians. I had to interview him a few years ago, and so read Monsoon in preparation, as it was the book that he was publicising at the time. I hadn’t read him since I was a teenager, and had vague memories of some ropey sex and a woman having a wee behind a rock (in the book, I hasten to add, not in my teenage life) but Monsoon was great fun. The ropey sex was still there, though. One phrase stands out in my memory: “She gasped at the sight of Tom’s wondrous man thing.” I thought: I have a man thing, but it’s not wondrous. What’s so special about his? Does it light up? Does it play a tune ...?
Most satisfying writing moment?
Probably finishing The Book of Lost Things. I’m a pretty harsh critic of my own work, but I felt that it represented as good a book as I was going to be able to write at that time, or perhaps ever, which is a bit depressing in a way. Something always gets lost in the act of transferring the nebulous book in your head to the page, which is very frustrating. You never quite manage to write the book that you set out to write, or at least I never do. I think the least was lost in the writing of The Book of Lost Things. It’s an odd little book, but I’m very fond of it and proud of it.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
You know, I’ll dodge that bullet by saying that the best Irish crime novel probably hasn’t been written yet. Crime fiction wasn’t our genre for such a long time, and now Irish writers are really starting to make an impact, but it’s early days yet. I think we’re going to see some fantastic Irish crime novels emerging over the next few years. As things stand, there have already been some very good ones.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Urk! The other difficulty is that I don’t read as much Irish fiction, crime or otherwise, as I should, so I’m a bad person to ask. Perhaps, in common with British crime writers, Irish crime fiction might be better suited to television. I think Declan Hughes’ books would be interesting to see on television. That said, I don’t watch those two-hour Morse / Rebus / Wire In The Blood series. I don’t have the patience for them, although I’ll happily watch back-to-back episodes of The Wire or Deadwood. I think it’s to do with pacing.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I’m a worrier. I worry that I’m going to be dropped by my publishers, that I’m going to write a bad book . . . (I may have written a bad book already, but it seems that people can’t agree which one it is.) I’m not sure that I enjoy the process of publishing itself as much as I thought I would. When I see my book on a bookshelf I just think, man, I hope it’s doing okay. Then again, I rarely ask my publishers how the books are doing in terms of sales. I think I’m afraid of the answer. The best thing, for me, is that I can make a living and pay my bills by doing something that I love, however hard I may find writing sometimes. And I like meeting readers. There’s something flattering, and humbling, when people take the time to come along to a bookstore to listen to you talk about your book.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
I’m hopeless at pitches as well. Let’s see: it’s an Angel and Louis book – they’re two kind of minor characters in the Parker novels – in which they get in over their heads when they try to kill a wealthy businessman who has targeted them in an act of revenge for the death of his son. It’s much lighter than the Parker novels, and stylistically a bit different. It’s not as tortured, I suppose.
Who are you reading right now?
I made the mistake of trying to read the last Harry Potter book, which took me two weeks - the pacing (there’s that word again) just seemed to me to be all wrong - and I was resentful of the time it had taken when I was done. I tend to flick between fiction and non-fiction, so now I’m one chapter into Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I do have a pile of other books sitting by my desk that I want to get to: Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, the new Philip Kerr and Martin Cruz Smith books, the new Paul Charles, the new James Lee Burke and, hey, the most recent Wilbur Smith. Ropey sex, here I come . . .
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gradually getting better . . .

John Connolly’s The Unquiet is currently on a best-seller list near you

The Embiggened O # 297: Which Witch? Bookwitch!

We’ve never been compared to Roddy Doyle before, possibly because he’s a devilishly handsome cove who happens to write bestsellers, but the Bookwitch – aka Ann Giles – has remedied that omission in no uncertain fashion, to wit:
“I’ve just read The Big O. It’s rather like The Commitments, hardboiled … The Big O is about an interesting group of people, who are all more or less into crime of some sort. It’s not so much black and white, as various shades of grey. But they are very likeable, even though they use the f-word most of the time … I’m not going to give away the plot, which centres on kidnapping, but I can tell you it all builds up to a hilarious ending.”
Bleedin’ rapid, as Jimmy Rabbitte might – and in fact does – say himself. Why not hitch a ride on a broomstick all the way over to Bookwitch, folks, and tell Ann we said she’s the sweedest Swede we know …

Donovan But Not Quite Dusted(ovan)

Gerard Donovan, author of the rather superb Julius Winsome, releases Sunless on October 4, an intriguing tale of soulless pill-popping and the malaise that lies at the heart of so much contemporary illness. And if that sounds suspiciously like Donovan’s Doctor Salt from 2004, then – ta-dah! – it is! Well, more or less, according to this excerpt from Jessica Crispin’s interview with Donovan at Book Critics’ Circle, to wit:
Q: Sunless used to be Doctor Salt, which was already released in the UK. Can you explain what caused you to rewrite the book, and how it's different?
A: “As I look now at the final manuscript of Sunless, I realize that it’s the novel I set out to write almost four years ago. I would go so far as to say that Doctor Salt, which was published in 2004 in the UK, was a first draft of Sunless. I wrote it too fast, and the sense I was after just wasn’t in the novel. When Peter Mayer said last year he wanted to release Doctor Salt in the US, I saw the chance to write the real novel, if you like, and this I hope I’ve done in Sunless. Sunless is vastly different from Doctor Salt. Where there were two narrators in the first novel, now there is one. The plot is simpler, a linear line from the young boy who loses his brother to the teenager who begins to experiment with his mother’s tranquilizers, to the criminal who loses his mind to meth. The language changes with the narrator’s state of mind, as if the reader has also taken a pill and is trapped with the results and must sit and watch the novel change. And in Sunless the relationship between politics and the commercial peddling of drugs to Americans is better articulated, or articulated for the first time. The novel suggests how drug companies essentially invent disorders in order to sell drugs to cure them, and how this practice reflects a wider willingness on the part of people to believe what they are told and what they are sold. But in the end it’s a novel of loss and the effects of loss on a human being. That you can’t cure grief with a pill.”
Glad that’s cleared up. Oh, and anyone uttering the words ‘cherry’ ‘bite’ ‘of’ and ‘second’ in a grumbly tone will be summarily lashed to a gurney and sedated until Christmas. You have been warned.

Flick Lit # 312: Out Of Sight

Elmore Leonard’s ability to manipulate conventional morality is best illustrated in Out of Sight: despite the fact that he has never used a gun or even threatened violence, Jack Foley is a legendary bank robber. He is also, as the novel opens, serving time in a maximum-security prison in Florida. He breaks out, only to run into US Marshal Karen Sisco just beyond the wire. Foley takes Karen hostage to make good his escape, until she manages to elude his clutches. The fix is in, however, and the cat-and-mouse game of pursuit is infused with a potent sexual tension. Charmed by the con’s irreverent attitude, the reader wants Foley to escape, even if convention dictates that Karen must recapture him. A more powerful dynamic than either is the desire to see Foley and Karen get it together, if only to see how they might manage to bridge the vast chasm between them. Leonard’s usual quota of quirky minor characters aid and abet the pair as the story meanders north to Detroit and the inevitable denouement. As always with Leonard, however, it is not what happens that matters as much as the how and why. The precision of his streamlined plots is such that Leonard creates the time and space to render his characters believable, sympathetic and quietly heroic. When the end comes, it leaves the reader feeling the same way as all of the Leonard’s novels do, vaguely dissatisfied that it has ended at all. Out of Sight (1998) was not the first time Leonard’s novels had received the big screen treatment. Mr Majestyk, Get Shorty and Rum Punch, re-titled Jackie Brown, had all been critical and commercial movie successes. However, Steven Soderbergh seemed an unlikely candidate to translate a best-selling novel to the big screen. His previous credits included sex, lies and videotape, Kafka and King of the Hill, all of which were projects that were critically lauded but failed to impress the public at large. Further, Soderbergh’s casting of his leads was somewhat idiosyncratic. George Clooney was best known either as a handsome but limited TV actor or the humourless ham from the Batman and Robin farrago. Jennifer Lopez, as Karen, was an MTV babe making her movie debut. Given that Out of Sight depended on the chemistry between its two charismatic characters, both represented risky choices. Not content with that, Soderbergh also decided to chop up the storyline, mutilating Leonard’s story with an elliptical narrative that depended heavily on unheralded flashbacks constantly interrupting the flow. The result was a tour de force. Out of Sight was smart enough not to have to proclaim its own greatness (e.g., the multiple ending in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown), sassy without degenerating into vulgarity, and sexy without resorting to crude exploitation, the dynamic between Clooney and Lopez a triumph of implausible casting. What Soderbergh read between the lines of Leonard’s novel was that Out of Sight had all the classic elements of both a crime caper and a screwball comedy. A seamless blend of They Live By Night and Pillow Talk, Out of Sight simultaneously raised the bar for romantic comedy even as it redefined the crime caper movie.- Michael McGowan

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Mysterious Case Of The Pointless Pseudonym

So why did John Banville take the Benjamin Black pseudonym for Christine Falls? Books to the Ceiling wanders off on an interesting tangent whilst reviewing Barry Forshaw’s The Rough Guide to Fiction, to wit:
"In his thoughtful foreword, Ian Rankin asks if it is possible to hope that crime fiction is finally getting the respect that has long been owing to it. He is pleased that the genre is getting increasing coverage in the major media, and yet “…when a famous prize-winning literary novelist recently turned his hand to crime fiction, he felt obliged to put it out under another name.” My (educated) guess is that Rankin is referring to Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, alias John Banville. I think we can also consider the possibility, where this particular example is concerned, that Banville wants this projected series to be more readily identifiable by being issued under his pseudonym. Certainly no effort was made to conceal his true identity; the inside jacket flap proclaims Christine Falls to be “the debut crime novel from Booker Award winner John Banville.” (The sequel, The Silver Swan, is due out in March of 2008.) The other way to look at this phenomenon is to ask the question: what is the next (really bracing) challenge a Booker-winning literary novelist would want to take on? Why, writing quality crime fiction, naturally! (So take heart, Ian.)"
Hmmmm. A noble thesis, Mr Books to the Ceiling, sir – but only if you’re prepared to overlook the ‘quality crime fiction’ of Mefisto, The Book of Evidence and The Untouchable. Ah, that pimpernelish Mr Banville, he eludes our vain grasping yet again …

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 343: Eoin Hennigan

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Hammett’s Red Harvest.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Jim Thompson.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Killing off one of my favourite characters in her first scene!
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’ve been living outside Ireland for a long time so I’m not too familiar with the scene.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Although it’s not a novel, I’d love to see Paul Howard’s The Joy inspire an Irish prison movie.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst – Finding the energy after a long day at work. Best – the satisfaction of getting something on paper with that energy!
The pitch for your next novel is …?
Actually working on two right now, one is a mystery told from 15 different POVs, the other a hardboiled reverse narrative.
Who are you reading right now?
The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Hardboiled, experimental and deceptive.

Eoin Hennigan’s The Truth, It Lies is available in all good bookshops

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Once upon a time there was a young boy who was fascinated with fairy tales, myths and legends (once upon a time, most young boys were). This young boy grew up to become the writer of best-selling novels that blend crime fiction and supernatural horror, whose most affecting novel to date has been The Book of Lost Things. Set in the early years of WWII, its hero – very much in the classical sense – is David, a 12-year-old boy mourning the death of his mother who, on the night of a German bombing raid, somehow slips sidewards into a parallel universe teeming with characters from the worlds of mediaeval folktale, Greek myth and Romantic legend, and not a few monsters dragged up from the pit of the Freudian abyss. If Andrew Lang had written a novel, it would very probably have resembled The Book of Lost Things: told in the form of a quest, the story also functions as a commentary on and deconstruction of myth and fable, subtly exploring the reasons why such story archetypes have remained so important to the human race. In David can be found race memories of Gawain and Jason and all the wandering princes of folklore, in particular – to this reader’s mind – the hunted hero of I Am David, Anne Holm’s classic children’s novel of WWII. The deceptively simple prose allows Connolly to convincingly inhabit his thoughtful young hero’s mind and mimic the direct thought processes of an intelligent and questioning mind on the threshold of maturity and only now beginning to engage with adult issues such as betrayal, compromise, love and death. The result is a modern classic, and the novel that will probably prove Connolly’s enduring legacy.- Declan Burke

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Monday Review: Yet More Hup-Ya Frippery From The Interweb Margins

Good vibes for Eoin McNamee’s 12:23 this week, to wit: “Although McNamee’s in-between of fact and fiction is blurred – with some characters from real life, some fiction and others hard to tell – its blend is part of its skill, and the novel is more than just an entertainment using the princess’s death as a point of commercial departure. In keeping with McNamee’s previous explorations of the unaccountable worlds of secret intelligence, it offers a serious meditation on the nature of conspiracy,” says Chris Petit at The Guardian … They’re inclined to agree at Reading Matters: “Despite the roller-coaster of emotions that this book delivers, this is not an easy read. It’s written in the cold, emotionally distant manner of a spy thriller, employing language that is clipped, dry and very sparse … But McNamee has a way with words and is able, through just a handful of phrases, to evoke all manner of dark emotion.” Meanwhile, Tom Adair of The Scotsman comes over all historical: “The text of his story is flawlessly polished, you can’t see the join between documentary and invention, though some of the spooks are reminiscent of Graham Greene’s finest early creations.” Lovely stuff … “I am not the first to remark on the importance of plot in Glenn Meade’s books, and The Devil’s Disciple could not carry on at the speed and length it does if was not tightly plotted, and if every character did not have surprising secret or at least was capable of being suspected of having some surprising secret,” reckons LJ Hurst at Shotsmag … But stay! T’would appear Critical Mick has allowed a shaft of sunlight into his deep, dark dungeon of Critical Mickism, to wit: “[Andrew] Nugent’s narrative was told in a good-humoured, hopeful, and sincere voice that gradually charmed even my cranky heart. By its conclusion, The Four Courts Murder had won me over, snakes and bell-ropes and all. How could I, of all people, forget: the one rule is that there are no rules, it is whatever an author can make work.” From the monk to the priest: Publisher’s Weekly is impressed with Andrew M. Greeley’s latest Blackie Ryan outing, The Bishop at the Lake: “A few chapters … jar, but strong character development, snappy dialogue and a multilayered plot make this one of the better entries in the series,” quibble they via Amazon US The Library Journal of Review likes Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome: “This novel of great emotional impact is enthusiastically recommended,” they say rather tersely via Powell’s Books, where you’ll also find Mr and Mrs Kirkus offering a glowing report thusly: “Donovan’s command of language is astonishingly precise, eerily reflecting Julius’s disarmingly mild-mannered pathology as it ascribes no more importance to the cold-blooded shooting of a hunter than to going into town for groceries. Finely tooled outsider fiction, as chilling as it is ultimately humane.” Which is nice … “The New Heroes must remain the superhero series of choice for the sophisticated young reader, bringing many disparate and literary elements to the much-maligned and often ill-served genre,” says Write Away of Michael Carroll’s latest, Absolute Power … Love Reading loved reading Declan Hughes’ The Wrong Kind of Blood, to wit: “A great new voice in the thriller genre, gripping and authentic, and even when you get close to figuring out ‘who’ you have to read to the end to understand ‘why’. Ed Loy is the central character and we can’t wait for the next in the series – make sure you don’t miss out.” Message received and understood, folks … “His most visceral, satisfying effort yet …[Adrian] McKinty writes masterful action scenes and he whips up a frenzy as the bullets begin to fly,” says Publishers Weekly of The Bloomsday Dead over here … Finally, some Ken Bruen / Ammunition hup-yas to start the week off in traditional pirate fashion: “This reviewer’s reaction to the novel is ambivalent. The writing is interesting, characterizations poignant. Yet the story is confusing, except for the main theme of the shooting and Brant’s reaction to it … the other players and their stories are less meaningful, and, more important, perplexing, at least to me,” reckons the comma-crazy Theodore, Feit, at, Films and Books … Happily, Book Reporter was a little less baffled: “Like McBain, [Bruen] can make you laugh at human foibles and absurdity one moment and then bring you right back into the random terror of modern life the next … Bruen is a master of noir, taking that very American genre and putting a unique Irish twist on it. Books like Ammunition are quick, fun reads, excursions to the dark side of the street. If you haven’t read them, then search out the entire series.” And, so, say, all, of, us – except, Theodore, Feit, obviously …

Crime Always Pays: How The Celtic Tiger Funded The Irish Crime Fiction Boom

Ireland is a small country, with a population of four million, our demographics still wildly skewed 150 years on from the Great Famine and the mass emigration that followed until the 1990s. Compare this with Holland, say, which boasts a population of 16 million on a land-mass roughly one quarter its size. By any standards, Ireland is thinly populated. And yet in the last three months alone, six Irish crime fiction writers (Ken Bruen (right), Adrian McKinty, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Tana French, Benjamin Black and Declan Hughes) have been reviewed at the New York Times’ Crime Desk, one of whom, Bruen, won the Shamus last year. At the last count, my own Irish crime fiction blog, Crime Always Pays, has forty-plus Irish crime writers currently publishing.
What the hell are they putting in the water in Ireland?
“When I was a child,” Bruen’s private eye Jack Taylor remarks in the short story The Dead Room, “we had one murder a year. But that is indeed another country.” Taylor, Bruen’s existential poet of Celtic Tiger Ireland, isn’t known for his restraint. But Bruen is correct when he says that, in Ireland as recently as ten years ago, a murder was front-page news for a week at a time.
Then came modern Ireland’s watershed, our ‘Where-were-you-when- JFK-was-assassinated?’ moment: the murder of the high-profile investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, shot to death in 1996 by a hitman while she sat in her car. Suddenly it seemed as if crime was everywhere in Ireland. Revulsion was widespread and outspoken. Political careers were made in the subsequent rush to legislate to combat the crime wave that had spilled over from internecine tit-for-tat killings into the public domain. And Irish writers, naturally, rose to the challenge of offering the panacea of narrative closure by introducing a host of tales that reassured the ordinary decent citizen that crime could and would be fought and defeated.
It’s a neat theory but it’s a little too pat. Ironically, Geurin’s murder came at a time when the 30-year killing spree in Northern Ireland, euphemistically called ‘the Troubles’, was winding down into ceasefires that would be fitfully broken but never again erupted into open war. The apparent explosion in ‘headline crimes’ – particularly murder – can be too easily explained by the former paramilitaries segueing from politically motivated crime to crimes of a more prosaic nature. So common have such crimes become that in Ireland today a murder would have to be of a particularly graphic or tragic nature to make the front page, above or below the fold. In the recent Irish general election, the public perception of widespread lawlessness meant that crime was one of the central issues which every party had to credibly address. Nonetheless, one of Ireland’s most respected columnists, Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times [in the run-up to the election], could extrapolate from the cold statistics to say, “It is important to bear in mind that the population has risen rapidly in recent years and that crime has in fact not risen in proportion.”
So, again – why the sudden boom in Irish crime writing?
As always, there is no one factor responsible. The Booker Prize-nominated Brian Moore, for example, wrote crime-based novels under the pseudonym Bernard Mara during the 1950s, and also the more literary The Colour of Blood (1987) and Lies of Silence (1990) while the conflict in Northern Ireland was ongoing, but crime novels rooted in ‘the Troubles’ were rare. Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man was published in 1994, the year the IRA announced the ceasefire that would, eventually, lead to a cessation of politically motivated murder, but his The Blue Tango (2001) and The Ultras (2004) appeared in a post-conflict environment. Sam Millar is another Northern Irish writer who has written about the conflict retrospectively, while newer Northern writers, such as Garbhan Downey and Brian McGilloway, write crime stories in a de-politicized context.
Down South, many writers do root their novels in gangland crime – TS O’Rourke, Seamus Smyth and Neville Thompson explore the underbelly of the beast from within – but the Irish crime fiction canon is a broad church. Traditional private eyes (Ken Bruen, Vincent Banville, Declan Hughes) jostle for room on the shelves with the police procedural (Ingrid Black, Eugene McEldowney, Brian McGilloway), the amateur sleuth (Cormac Millar, KT McCaffrey, Gemma O’Connor, Colin Bateman) and the historical detective (Cora Harrison). Indeed, many Irish crime writers, such as Alex Barclay, John Connolly, Michael Collins and Adrian McKinty, wholly or mostly set their novels outside of Ireland.
It is these latter writers, perhaps, that offer the first clue as to why Irish crime fiction has mushroomed in the last decade. Ireland is a much less insular place today than it was ten years ago, but while Ireland has always looked to the US and the UK, it was as much for emigration destinations as it was for cultural inspiration. It wasn’t always the case that the best and the brightest left for foreign shores, but certainly it tended to be the more adventurous and imaginative. Today, with the so-called Celtic Tiger economic boom creating ‘zero percent’ unemployment, those who might once have emigrated have stayed home. Yet they still take their cues, particularly in terms of popular culture, from the US and the UK. This is especially true of film and TV, yet until recently the Irish literary legacy – the Nobel Prize-winning exploits of Beckett, Yeats and George Bernard Shaw were celebrated as proof of Ireland’s God-given literary superiority, particularly when set alongside James Joyce’s reputation – fostered a certain amount of self-censoring snobbishness among Irish writers (Brian Moore writing thrillers under a pseudonym, for example, and subsequently disowning them). Happily, that is no longer the case. “I always say that my influences are American,” claimed Ken Bruen in an interview with Village magazine last year, “Chandler (right), James M. Cain, James Ellroy, which doesn’t get me a lot of friends. But those are the guys who taught me what I know. They’re the books I loved reading.”
In the final analysis, however, it is the great motivator of crime fiction itself – filthy lucre – that has made the single most important contribution to the rise in Irish crime fiction. Money is the great leveller, and in an Ireland where the vast majority of the population have benefited from the economic boom, the erstwhile great and good can no longer depend on deferential treatment, while the moneyed classes are no longer deserving of their pedestal. Familiarity breeds contempt, and the privacy that money used to buy no longer commands respect in Ireland.
The writer Laura Lippman, interviewed recently in the Wall Street Journal, said of Declan Hughes’ The Colour of Blood, “He’s a good writer and Ireland today as a setting has a sense of shame and secrecy that the US has lost. One of the hard things about being a crime writer now is determining what secrets people will still go to great lengths to keep.” Hughes is indeed a fine writer, but the Ireland of today has so radically transformed itself that Brinsley MacNamara’s caricature of a ‘valley of squinting windows’ could today more accurately, if clumsily, be described a ‘canyon of panavision lenses’. The case of the former Irish taoiseach, or prime minister, Charles J. Haughey, represents another watershed in modern Irish history. Once the charismatic, Machiavellian tribal leader who nobly led the country through its darkest economic times, Haughey’s reputation is only one of many that has been flayed in recent years by a series of tribunals exposing the darkness at the heart of the Irish body politic. His personal finances, and the extent to which his flamboyant private life was funded by businessmen, was a matter of horror at first, then ridicule. These days, the recently deceased Haughey is a byword for corruption, sleaze and money-grubbing greed.
Historically speaking, it was said of the economic relationship between Ireland and the UK that, if the UK sneezed, Ireland caught a cold. Culturally speaking, the same applies today, and not only to the UK, but to the US as well. If it happens there, runs the theory, it’s only a matter of time before it happens here – crime, and myriad kinds of crime, included. The truth about ourselves is finally squirming out there, and the Irish public is showing an insatiable appetite for books and movies that broach the taboos and tell the stories that only crime fiction can credibly tell – even if, as in the US and the UK, the perverse dichotomy between falling crime levels and the rise in crime fiction exists here too. “Crime does not pay – not so!” wrote Karl Marx (left), alluding to the fact that the criminal produces not only the crime, but the measures society takes to prevent and detect crime. In Ireland today, one of those by-products of crime – real or imagined – is the crime fiction writer, and no one knows better than he or she that crime always pays.- Declan Burke

This article is reprinted by the kind permission of Crime Spree magazine

“Oh Go On, Just A Tincture Of Sherry Then.”

Crazy true crime maverick kids Maverick House publish The Suspect today (August 13), Jenny Friel’s take on the murder of Rachel O’Reilly and the subsequent trial and conviction of her media-savvy husband, Joe, who has announced his intention to appeal the conviction since the book went to press. Laurel-resting not being an option out in Maverick-land, they're already busy prepping Alan Sherry’s A-Z of Irish Crime for an October release. Quoth the blurb elves:
“The A-Z of Irish Crime is an in-depth reference book on modern Irish crime concentrating mainly from 1996 to present day, focusing on key gangland figures and murders. The book also focuses on key criminal agencies, weapons of gangland Ireland, drugs, missing persons and all serious crime. An A-Z of Irish crime has not been done before. This should be a comprehensive, original book giving a wide perspective of crime throughout Ireland.”
Erm, it ‘should’ be? You’re not exactly filling us with confidence over here, folks …