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.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who Reviews The Reviewers? # 2,012: Piss-Poor Journalism, Oz-Style

All three regular readers of CAP will know that I think Squire Declan Hughes is a rather tasty writer, a man who’s doing very fine things with the private eye story, not least of which is the fact that Ed Loy is a believable and compelling means by which Hughes, a man with interesting things to say about Ireland, gets to say interesting things about Ireland.
  Teri Louise Kelly at Australia’s Independent Weekly doesn’t agree. Her review of ALL THE DEAD VOICES runs thusly:
It seems to me that when it comes to the current crop of crime/thriller writers, there might just be a tendency to pen with a television series forefront in the author’s mind. Understandable, I guess, but writing in a way that is easily transferable to the small screen somehow detracts from the hardcopy novel itself.
  All the Dead Voices is a case in point. Declan Hughes' latest foray into investigation for his character, Ed Loy, is set in modern Dublin, but, haunted by ghosts of an IRA kind, it never really catches into the kind of fire one would hope, given the setting and all of its obvious intricacies.
  It’s a murky world of old meets new for Loy, but not quite murky enough for a seasoned reader. Looking into a 15-year-old cold case, which the newly established police cold case unit has dismissed as solved, Loy begins to unravel a not-so-tangled web of old grudges, scores and affiliations, all dog-eared by abundant locale and landmark topography.
  In many ways, Hughes has written a standard story, topically contrived, with sufficient “past” to perhaps interest those from that era, but unfortunately, not for those interested, but lacking adequate knowledge. This is what I meant when I referred to writing for serialisation on the giggle-box, where, a la Taggart, Rebus and every other small-screen crime-fighter, the plot is simple enough to retain short-term attention, but rarely over-complex.
  In the end, I would probably prefer watching the Ed Loy stories on television – so maybe Declan Hughes is right. Or maybe we are just saturated with crime fighters and their stereotypical foibles?
  Leaving aside the piss-poor journalism of the first paragraph, which blends generalisations, lousy opinion, erroneous supposition and Homeric ignorance (not to mention an implied affinity with the genre Ms Kelly patently lacks), the review misses the point by a distance roughly that of the distance between Oz and Ireland. What Ms Kelly fails to realise is that ‘the ghosts of an IRA kind’ haven’t gone away, you know, if I can paraphrase Gerry Adams for a moment, and that ALL THE DEAD VOICES has for one of its subplots the rather important theme, and not just for Ireland, of what happens to paramilitary organisations when their criminality is finally shorn of its political fig-leaf. Ironically enough, given Ms Kelly’s verdict that Squire Hughes has ‘written a standard story, topically contrived, with sufficient “past” to perhaps interest those from that era,’ a number of serious incidents, some of them fatal, were perpetrated by dissident Republicans in weeks before ALL THE DEAD VOICES was published a month or so ago, which suggests that the novel is certainly topical, although no more contrived than the best fiction tends to be.
  I could go on, and get bitchy about lines like ‘it never really catches into the kind of fire one would hope’, but, being (almost) a gentleman, I won’t.
  I could also point out that Declan Hughes spent almost two decades writing plays for the stage before he started writing novels, something that Ms Kelly could have discovered with the bare minimum of research, which is perhaps why she believed she detected a desire to write for TV between the lines – presuming, of course, she didn’t come to write the review with that prejudice already in place.
  It would be incredibly annoying if this was (yet) another case of lazy journalism dismissing a genre / writer / novel on the basis of prejudice and / or stupidity. What makes this one worse is that Teri Louise Kelly is an author. “As a chef,” claims the blurb for her book, “Teri Louise Kelly strutted the line in big kitchens with a cocky impudence and girlish hips; as a writer, she brings to the page a furnace-like blast of candidness coupled with an eye for detail sharp as a sniper’s.”
  And good for her. Maybe next time she’s reviewing someone else’s work, she’ll bring along that sniper’s eye for detail and leave the supposition, guesswork, half-baked opinions and crass generalisations at home.


Gerard Brennan said...

I haven't read All the Dead Voices yet (plan to after Winterland) but having read the previous three Loy mysteries, I find this Oz verdict very hard to swallow. And I certainly don't think the books are padded screenplays, as the reviewer seems to suggest is the case in this one. In fact, considering his previous medium (and having bothered my arse to read some of his plays), I've always been impressed with Hughes' prose.

I'd file this under a 'skim-read and blurb review,' really.



Alan Glynn said...

Here here, Dec. What an annoying review. This idea that the current crop of crime writers "pen" their books with a movie or a television series in mind is ridiculous - and lazy. The visual grammar of cinema has long been subsumed into modern prose styles and it has been an entirely natural and organic process. James M Cain anyone? And a sort of reverse process has also been in train recently with American TV series (The Wire, Brotherhood, Mad Men) frequently being referred to as "novelistic" because of their complex story arcs unfolding over the course of a season. It seems to me that All the Dead Voices embodies the best of both worlds.

Cheers, Alan

Josephine Damian said...

Dec, great post and discussion.

If only you knew just how much I have this very same subject on the brain these days....

Corey Wilde said...

The reviewer has, I think, overlooked her own bias and that is, reading with an eye to whether the story translates to film. That predisposition seems to be an unfortunate by-product of a short attention span.

I'm sure it's a rare author who writes a novel when he/she really would rather write a screenplay.

I've only recently finished Hughes's The Price of Blood, and it won't be the last of his books I read.

Dana King said...

I'm with Gerard: I've read the first three Loy books, and first it difficult to believe what Ms. Kelly says about this one without having seen it.

Maybe she needs to show more of her girlish hips and less of her blast-furnace (half-assed) candidness.