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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Politics In The Irish Crime Novel, Or Lack Thereof

Our German friend Bernd Kochanowski from International Crime adds an interesting coda to the comment he left on the post On Publishing and Being Damned, to wit:
BTW: He (the reviewer) is also unhappy that the new Irish crime fiction is almost apolitical and doesn’t reflect the events that shook Ireland for years.
  The reviewer in question was casting a cold eye over Tana French’s IN THE WOODS, and is presumably referring to what we in Ireland like to euphemistically refer to as ‘the Troubles’.
  In other words – and we’re taking Bernd’s word for this – said reviewer is disappointed that Irish crime writers aren’t dealing with the consequences of the 30-year conflict that involved the Provisional IRA, the INLA, the British Army, the RUC (latterly the PSNI), the Gardai, and more Loyalist paramilitary armies than you could shake a cat-o’-nine-tails at.
  To which we reply, ‘Tosh, piffle and balderdash, sirrah!’
  Case for the Defence # 1: Adrian McKinty’s protagonist Michael Forsythe is an ex-British Army soldier. In THE DEAD YARD, he goes undercover to break up a gang of renegade Republicans. In THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD he engages with (and generally vaporises) any number of ex-paramilitaries on his return to Belfast.
  Case for the Defence # 2: Sylvester Young’s SLEEPING DOGS LIE, in which ex-IRA men travel to the U.S. and become embroiled in a complex plot involving a number of security agencies.
  Case for the Defence # 3: Ken Bruen’s AMERICAN SKIN, in which an ex-IRA man wreaks mayhem in the U.S.
  Case for the Defence # 4: Declan Burke’s EIGHT BALL BOOGIE, in which former paramilitaries diversify into more prosaic criminality, specifically coke-trafficking.
  Case for the Defence # 5: David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, in which former paramilitaries and an ex-RUC officer find themselves called to account for their actions twenty years previously.
  Case for the Defence # 6: Colin Bateman.
  Case for the Defence # 7: Sam Millar.
  Case for the Defence # 8: Authors such as Peter Cunningham, Jack Holland and S.J. Michaels, who were writing about ‘the Troubles’ as far back as the late ’80s and early ’90s.
  I could go on, but hopefully the point is made. Besides, and pertinently in the context of the reviewer’s comments being made during a review of IN THE WOODS, Tana French’s novel had a political subtext that perhaps was too subtle for the reviewer to pick up on. The novel opens on an archaeological dig, where the body of a young girl has been found, said dig being conducted hastily on the basis that the bulldozers of the property developers are due in the very near future.
  In Ireland, many such developments are highly controversial and politically charged, the most obvious example being that of the M3 motorway, currently planned to run through the Tara Valley (right), an archaeological complex dating back to 2,000 BC.
  Furthermore, the ongoing tribunals of investigation were initially set up to investigate the links – if such could be proved – between property developers and politicians, specifically to discover if politicians had been bribed to facilitate the rezoning of land in favour of property speculators. Among the many politicians to find themselves under serious scrutiny at these tribunals, to put it mildly, were two former taoisigh, or Irish prime ministers, Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern.
  To suggest that IN THE WOODS is an apolitical novel is to deliberately ignore, or be utterly ignorant of, recent Irish history. Here endeth the lesson. Peace, out.


adrian mckinty said...

It's nonsense of course, but here's two caveats: 1) I talked to a BBC NI producer last year who said that the Beeb were only currently interested in apolitical post-Troubles drama which is an unfortunate but I think quite common attitude among people running institutions. Let's not stir up old wounds, make waves etc. Pathetic but what can you do?

2. Cant speak for the rest of NI never mind Ireland but where I'm from Carrick/North Belfast you can't run a business without dealing with certain people who enjoy wearing ski wear in the summer. These people dont like to see themselves put down in print or TV and that has a certain chilling effect. I'm not back in Ulster that often but me and my family have had unpleasant
'dealings' with these people several times in the last couple of years that has unsettled us. It can make you think twice.


Brent said...

Thanks for the insight, Dec.

krimileser said...

Thanks Declan.

I spread the word.

In my eyes the reviewer (whose reviews I usually like) suffers under the misconception that every Irish book that deals not with the Thing, is apolitical.

I assume that the balaclava is in Kerry (for example) not as typical as in NI, so writers from Kerry might have other topics to ponder upon.

He also referred to the first Benjamin Black as a non-political book, which in my eyes is totally wrong.

The problem is that there are not many books by Irish authors translated into German - for example a certain authors called Bruen is missing.

Anonymous said...

Is the review available online?
I'm curious.

krimileser said...


sure is, but only in -> German, but I might try to help you out, if you like. Just let me know.

It is not a formal review but an introduction to the new entries of the Bestenliste (a monthly listing of crime fiction books voted and recommended by 19 expert reviewers).

Declan Burke said...

Sorry, Anon, I have no idea if the review is available on-line ... Bernd, can you help?

Bernd - the first Benjamin Black as a political story, or with a political backdrop ... I'd totally agree. In fact, any crime novel would have to make a heroic effort to the contrary not to be considered political ... crime, and the way in which it impacts on people's day-to-day life, is intrinsically political.

Adrian - the happy-clappy brigade who want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend it never happened, for fear of offending anyone / opening up old wounds - it's a farce.

Cheers, Dec

Anonymous said...

Danke,Bernd,Deutsch ist kein Problem.

He does briefly mention the points you made(real estate speculation,sites of archaeological interest and local politics)as background of the novel,Declan.

The review is fairly positive,but his understanding of "political" comes across as a bit naive.

I wonder if he would consider any Italian novel who doesn't directly mention the Mafia apolitical as well.


krimileser said...

I wonder if he would consider any Italian novel who doesn't directly mention the Mafia apolitical as well.


to be honest, I thought almost the same about Spain and Eta.

Conduit said...

You can add me to that list when my book appears next year, seeing as its about a former paramilitary killer haunted by his victims. If I were to get all deep about it, it's also about those reaping the rewards of the peace process being largely the same people who profited from the violence in the years before, and that somewhere down the line, they will be held accountable.

Declan Burke said...

Sounds good, Neville, I'm looking forward to it.

Marco & Bernd, both making the same very fair point ... and leaving aside the argument that the personal is the political, every country has its own internal subtleties in terms of what it considers political. I wouldn't expect non-Irish reviewers to be aware of the nuances in the backdrop to IN THE WOODS; but if you're going to make sweeping statements about a whole body of writers, it's probably a good idea to do a little research first. Cheers, Dec

Colin said...

Adrian's comment re BBC Producers in Belfast - usually it's BBC in London that's to blame for these policies about not setting stuff in Northern Ireland because of the inevitable requirement to reference the Troubles. They know that viewers switch off in droves as soon as the subject of Northern Ireland comes up. I'm sure that local BBC producers would love to make stuff set here, but really their hands are tied. In effect writers in NI have no outlet to write about 'what they know', at least for television. It has been the same for a long time. When I wrote Murphy's Law - seven years ago now - it was about a Northern Irish cop, but he had to be relocated to London in order for it to be made. INTERESTINGLY though the BBC have just made a Troubles drama in Belfast - funny how they change their tune when Liam Neeson and an acclaimed director (the guy that made that big Hitler drama Downfall a couple of years ago) decide they want to be involved. But that's Showbusiness.