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, June 26, 2008

“Sail Like Buggery, It’s The Filth!”

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “The Grand Vizier (above, none too impressed with the getaway rig) would have it known that he is going on the lam, probably down Mexico way,* for the foreseeable future. Damn Feebs, eh? Like, whose business is it really what a man does in the privacy of his own home with a pair of dray horses, a tray of horse and a troupe of belly-dancing dwarves? Anyhoo, the blog known as Crime Always Pays may or may not be updated while the Grand Viz has it on his toes along the palm-fringed beaches on Jamaica’s south coast,* the updates largely dependent on whether or not GV gains access to some wi-fi in the far-flungest regions of the Gobi Desert.* If not, too bad. Either way, we shall all meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, although it’ll very probably be back here in about 10 days time. Until then, we’ll always have Paros.* Peace, out.”

* Cunning, eh? Track that, Feebs!

A GONZO NOIR: An Internet Novel # 10

The story so far: Failed author Declan Burke (right), embittered but still passably handsome, wakes up one morning to find a stranger in his back garden. The stranger introduces himself as Karlsson, a hospital porter who assists old people who want to die and the hero of a first draft of a novel Burke wrote some five years previously. Now calling himself Billy, he suggests a redraft of the story that includes blowing up the hospital where he works. Intrigued, Burke agrees to a collaboration, but things do not go swimmingly …
  For the reasons we’re publishing a novel to the interweb, go here.
  If you want to skip all that malarkey, the novel starts here.
  If you’re one of the 34,012 readers who have been following the story, the latest update can be found here.
  Now read on …

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: A FIFTH OF BRUEN by Ken Bruen

In his introduction to this collection of early fiction by crime writer Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie speaks of the “startling speed and unexpectedness of the violence”. He warns readers that they will “..say aloud, ‘What?’ Then re-read the paragraph and say, ‘Jesus, he really did just do that.” I must say I took this with a pinch of salt until I found myself doing exactly that on reading one of the short novels included in this collection.
  As the book progresses the levels and suddenness of the violence increase, but it is a violence that is characterised by the almost laconic way in which it is both executed and described. One can almost trace the evolution of Bruen’s later hero, Jack Taylor, in the parade of damaged male characters introduced in these pages. But the men do not have a lien on mayhem, for at least one woman, admittedly variously described as “away with the fairies” and “touched in the head”, has her own neat line in summary justice. But we are also treated to a number of the author’s observations on his fellow-countrymen, two of which had a particular resonance for me: “You can put anything to the Irish except direct questions” and “Being Irish means never having to say you don’t know”.
  Bruen’s compelling prose and vividly authentic dialogue invite the reader into the minds and hearts of the characters, and in the short stories the male characters are almost all pathetic losers in some way, even the bully Charles in “Liver”. Men who people the short stories totally misunderstand the women in their lives, live in their own dream worlds and appear bewildered by others’ reactions; and the author has contrived to mock their inadequacies while at the same time eliciting sympathy for their plight. There are also two recurring themes throughout the novels and short stories, the importance of dogs as human comforters, and the male obsession with a receding hairline. I think there is not one description of a male character that does not at some stage refer to the presence or absence of his hair. In “Shades of Grace” Ford admits his hair is thinning rapidly and asks, “How do you fatten hair?” In the first short story Charles is described as “A tall man, his hair was grey and thinning”, Brady in “God Wore Shoes is “almost bald”, while in “Twist of Lemon” we hear that Jack had “brown thinning hair and daily distress at recession”.
  Dysfunction and despair permeate all of the stories until the final semi-autobiographical story, “The Time of Serena-May”. This exudes the anger, misunderstanding and unconditional love of Frank and Cathy as they come to terms with the arrival of their daughter, Serena May, who has Down’s Syndrome. The contrasting insensitivity of some professional staff with the gentle caring attitude of others is beautifully conveyed, and the story completes this collection on a note that is positive and full of hope.

This ‘Book of the Month’ review first appeared in The Irish Emigrant

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reasons To Hate Tana French # 114: She’s Gorgeous

Given that Tana French’s debut IN THE WOODS was nominated for practically every prize going bar Inter-Stellar Time-Travelling Novel of the Year 2015, and secured a debutant Edgar in the process, you’d presume that the weight of expectations for THE LIKENESS would have turned her into a haggard witch. But lo! The vid below, courtesy of Blip TV, has the hauntingly beautiful Tana blithely chatting about IN THE WOODS, THE LIKENESS and her current work-in-progress, which features Cassie Maddox’s boss as a by-all-means-necessary rogue cop. Radiant, talented and successful – don’t know about you, but right now we’re hating Ms French here at Crime Always Pays. Sigh. Roll it there, Collette …

A GONZO NOIR: An Internet Novel # 9

The story so far: Failed author Declan Burke (right), embittered but still passably handsome, wakes up one morning to find a stranger in his back garden. The stranger introduces himself as Karlsson, a hospital porter who assists old people who want to die and the hero of a first draft of a novel Burke wrote some five years previously. Now calling himself Billy, he suggests a redraft of the story that includes blowing up the hospital where he works. Intrigued, Burke agrees to a collaboration, but things do not go swimmingly …
  For the reasons we’re publishing a novel to the interweb, go here.
  If you want to skip all that malarkey, the novel starts here.
  If you’re one of the 34,011 readers who have been following the story, the latest update can be found here.
  Now read on …

  Update: on the basis that it’s far, far more popular than Crime Always Pays’ spin-off site A Gonzo Noir, here’s the link to the latest upload to Lilyput’s World. Sigh …

Monday, June 23, 2008

Crime And Publishment

A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “The Sunday Independent carried a feature on Irish crime fiction yesterday, in which Anne-Marie Scanlon investigated the reasons for ‘the emergence and rapid growth of home-grown Irish crime fiction’. Being bloody-minded about such things, the Grand Viz would have it known that the piece – which highlights the authenticity of Irish crime writing, and the black humour inherent therein – does not mention Gene Kerrigan, purveyor of the most grittily realistic Irish crime fiction, nor Ruth Dudley Edwards (right), recent winner of the Last Laugh Award at Bristol’s Crime Fest, two very fine authors who are also exceptional journos who happen to write for the Sunday Indo. A self-deprecating Sindo? Shurely shome mishtake. Anyhoo, on with the show …”

Plenty Of Loot In Crime And Publishing

As George Gordon Liddy once said, “obviously crime pays, or there’d be no crime,” and as an ex-Nixon aide, he’d know. In the past decade, Ireland has experienced a wave of unprecedented affluence and, with that, a major explosion in crime. Aside from the obvious side effect of an increase in criminality, Ireland has, in the past 10 years, experienced another – the emergence and rapid growth of home grown Irish crime fiction.
  Declan Hughes, whose first book, THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD, appeared in 2004, sees a definite correlation between prosperity and the emergence of Irish crime fiction, but thinks the genre goes beyond the mere detailing of a society in catharsis.
  “Crime novels provide a flexible format to deal with society as it is and the way we live now. Crime novelists can tackle how society works, as well as what occurs in the human heart,” he says.
  Hughes’ sentiments are echoed by Tana French whose first novel, IN THE WOODS, published last year won the highly prestigious Mystery Writers of America Edgar for best first novel.
  “Crime and crime fiction are two of the best barometers of any society,” French says. “A crime novel will give you a clear snapshot of the priorities and deepest fears of a society at that given moment.”
  French cites the glut of serial killer novels published on the opposite side of the Atlantic during the late-Eighties and Nineties as an example of how crime fiction mirrors the real world.
  “American society at that time was becoming more and more anonymous,” she explains, “people were frightened by the anonymity of modern life, of not knowing who the person beside you really is. During that same period in Ireland, the murder rate was pretty low, and when a murder did occur, it was generally pretty obvious who the culprit was.”
  Paradoxically most crime fiction is extremely moral, and while (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the good might not always end happily, the bad usually finish unhappily. It is these themes that drew international bestseller and Godfather of Irish crime fiction, John Connolly, to the genre in the first place.
  “I wanted to write about justice, morality and redemption, themes which run through crime fiction like writing through a stick of rock,” he says.
  All three writers agree that the phenomenon of the Celtic Tiger and the subsequent transformation of Irish society has contributed greatly to the corresponding output of crime fiction. “The Celtic Tiger smashed into this country at 100mph,” French says, “we still haven’t assimilated it; we’re still trying to reconcile the past and present.”   The sins of the past feature prominently in French’s first book and are a consistent theme in all three of Declan Hughes’ novels.
  “Ireland used to be a place where ‘whatever you say, say nothing’.” Hughes explains. People didn’t ask questions and “there were plenty of skeletons in the closet, but in the past 10 years, those skeletons have started walking.”
  Hughes’ third novel, THE DYING BREED, which came out in May of this year, explores these themes, as well as examining the clash between “New Ireland” and the past.
  In THE LIKENESS, the second novel by Tana French, the young inhabitants of the “Big House” are shunned by the local community because of things that happened almost a century earlier. In MISSING PRESUMED DEAD, by Arlene Hunt, the past returns in the shape of a woman who was abducted 26 years earlier (and presumed dead.) The theme of the past and present struggling to coexist is also at work in Andrew Nugent‘s SECOND BURIAL, which deals with the murder of a young Nigerian immigrant and the effect this has on his community.
  “Logically,” Nugent says, “you would think an increase in affluence would lead to a decrease in crime, whereas the reverse is true.”
  Money, while both funding the boom and the parallel rise in crime is also, Hughes thinks, the catalyst that enabled people to speak out and enquire about things covered up in the past.
  Although he gives the ongoing tribunals, the Magdalene laundries and the industrial school system as examples of the “murkier secrets” of pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, he makes the point that the emergence of secrets and confronting the past are universal themes and not wholly unique to Ireland, which no doubt contributes to the increasing sales of Irish crime fiction abroad.
  Hughes goes on to say that the poor economy and lack of money in society was only one aspect inhibiting Irish writers from tackling crime fiction.
  “The Troubles were a contributing factor in hindering the development of the genre,” he says, adding that, in a violent society where there is a lot of killing (as opposed to individual murders) crime fiction is not much of a diversion. John Connolly shares this opinion. “What was happening then (terrorism) was so appalling nobody wanted to write about it.”
  Connolly sees a bright future ahead for Irish crime fiction, saying that, while a lot of modern crime fiction adheres to conventional formats and constructs, this isn’t the case with Irish crime writing, where “interesting things are happening. The great hunt in British publishing is to find the Irish Ian Rankin,” he says, referring to the highly successful Scottish author who created the best-selling Inspector Rebus series.
  Rankin was at the forefront of the boom in Scottish crime writing (known as Tartan Noir) which began in the late-Eighties. Connolly thinks there is a definite similarity between Tartan Noir and what began in Ireland a decade ago.
  “Social changes were occurring in Scotland at that time and society was being transformed,” he says, adding that the Scots are “grittier.”
  Arlene Hunt thinks part of the appeal of Irish crime writing is its realism. “People can relate to the characters,” Hunt says. “It’s not just about escapism; they like to hear the spoken word and the different accents and not just read about glamorous characters gambling in casinos in the south of France.”
  There is almost always an underlying thread of humour in Irish crime novels. In Declan Hughes’ THE DYING BREED, “Tommy Owens greeted me with a shake of the head and a look of appalled fascination, as if to say he’d seen some gobshites in his time, but I could be their king”. And a character in Tana French’s THE LIKENESS says of his stepmother, “she’s a dreadful woman, you know ... Everything about her is pure faultless middle-class -- the accent, the clothes, the hair, the china patterns -- it’s as if she ordered herself from a catalogue”. Like the other authors, Arlene Hunt sees the consequences of the Celtic Tiger boom reflected in current crime writing. Neither does Hunt desire to turn back the clock. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we’re a more aware, fast-moving, youthful sort of nation,” she says. “I remember the Eighties, when people had to emigrate because there was no work and no money.”
  John Connolly agrees. “People forget how grim Dublin was in the Seventies and Eighties,” he says. “There’s a lot of false nostalgia. I’m happier to see people working than not working.” Given the increasing popularity of Irish crime fiction, there’s certainly more than enough work for the authors who are busy making crime pay. – Anne Marie Scanlon

This article was first published in the Sunday Independent

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

It’s Norwegian week on Crime Always Pays, people, and courtesy of the lovely people at Faber and Faber we have three copies of K.O. Dahl’s THE FOURTH MAN and THE MAN IN THE WINDOW to give away. First, the blurb elves on THE FOURTH MAN:
In the course of a routine police raid, Detective Inspector Frank Frolich of the Oslo Police saves Elizabeth Faremo from getting inadvertently caught in crossfire. By the time he learns that she is the sister of Jonny Faremo, wanted member of a larceny gang, it is already too late – he is obsessed. Suspected, suspended and blindly in love, Frolich must find out if he is being used before his life unravels beyond repair.
Lovely jubbly. To be in with a chance of winning a brace of K.O. Dahl novels, just answer the following question.
Is The Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef known in Norway as:
(a) The Swedish Chef;
(b) The Danish Chef;
(c) The Italian Chef;
(d) I preferred Sesame Street, actually, but I’d really like some free books.
Answers via the comment box, with a contact email address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins), before noon on Thursday, June 26. Et bon chance, mes amis

Always Judge A Book By Its Cover # 418: THE LEMUR by Benjamin Black

If you’ve got a jones for cover artwork, you could do a lot worse than drop on over to The Readerville Journal, where Karen Templer is currently drooling over the latest Benny Blanco opus, THE LEMUR. To wit:
“I believe the name Keith Hayes is new to Most Coveted Covers, but he joins the list with bravado. I speak, of course, of his cover for THE LEMUR, by Benjamin Black (aka John Banville). Yes it is another example of great use of a stock photo. And yes it does remind me, in a way, of NEVER DRANK THE KOOL-AID. But this is so beautifully bold and simple: just a square-jawed man in a white shirt against a black ground; a pure white puff of smoke; a little bit of light on his black hair …”
There’s more detail – much more than you might have thought possible, in fact – in the same vein right about here. Meanwhile, Mr & Mrs Kirkus have had a good squint at what lies between the covers of THE LEMUR, their verdict running thusly:
“If the book’s big secret doesn’t quite live up to its press notices, Black’s prose is so mesmerizing—crisp, precise, alive with telling details—that you’ll enjoy every step in the trail that leads there.”
Sarah Weinman likes it too …

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Song Remains The Sam

Yon big-ups are still trundling in for Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM, people, and everyone seems to be singing from the same – albeit unusually blackly comic – hymn-sheet. To wit:
“BLOODSTORM is a dark, edgy thriller, introducing Karl Kane as the first genuine anti-hero private detective – a man not afraid to bend the rules to straighten the law, and loves nothing better than to get down and dirty for the underdogs of society. Millar has created a brilliant warts-and-all anti-hero for us all to cheer on.” – Hooker Magazine

“BLOODSTORM is a classy, on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller. Relentlessly violent it may be, but nevertheless delivers - in bloody spades - what it tells you on the cover. A sure-shot hit from Belfast’s most controversial writer …” – Sunday Life

“Sam Millar’s latest book BLOODSTORM is a gripping, disturbing read shot through with elements of dark humour. You will find yourself still reading at three in the morning not wanting to put the book down except to go and check that the doors and windows are
really secure. What Millar is clearly very good at is telling a story and in doing so he creates set piece scenes which will stay in your head for years to come.” – Ulla’s Nib
All we want to know is, how the hell do get ourselves reviewed in Hooker Magazine? Meanwhile, the effortlessly cool Albedo One – Ireland’s Magazine of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror – has an in-depth interview with our Sam, according to our Sam, but we’re in no position to verify or deny that information, since it costs a whopping €2 – yes, that’s €2! – to download the pdf version and we’re more tight-fisted than a guy who had just balled his fist to punch a nun collecting for charity when he got struck by lightning, and shrivelled up, thus rendering his fist tightly fisted for all eternity, or until we reach the end of this (fac)simile, whichever comes sooner. The bottom line? Never punch nuns during adverse weather conditions, or even try to, and buy Sam Millar’s BLOODSTORM. Did we mention we’re giving this advice away for free?