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, August 1, 2009


Friend of CAP and aspiring crime writer Darragh McManus (right) has a rather jaundiced view of painfully obscure novel titles, a treatise on the subject of which he has written on our behalf because we were too busy reading THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. Quoth Darragh:

Apparently book titles can’t be copyrighted – I was going to call my first tome ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’, but my advisers counselled against it – which might explain why so many of them sound so familiar to me. More precisely, particular books of a particular genre all have similar names.
  I suppose the old publishing game has become very stratified, and publishers are hell-bent on making sure their new product reaches the exact market they want it to reach. Therefore, they give each book the perfect title for that demographic. (Yes, I know it’s a sin to use words like ‘market’, ‘product’ and ‘demographic’ when discussing books, but such is the crass, grubby world we live in.)
  This was once limited to what used to be – and probably still is – called ‘genre fiction’: Chick Lit, Bloke Lit, Chicks With Dicks Lit, Blokes With No Dicks Lit, zombie novels, the Tom Clancy oeuvre (note: some of these may be invented). Now, what still is – and will continue to be – called ‘literary fiction’ has also caught the ‘samey title’ virus.
  At times I even suspect that there’s a computer somewhere that spews out clichéd names for books, depending on the genre. THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS, for example: what a tiresomely predictable title for a Booker Prize winner.
  Seriously – THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS? Presumably the marketing department keyed in ‘self-important, depressing, award-winning, Literary-with-a-capital-L’ and hit Return, and this is what the machine gave them. (They also added the fairly redundant subtitle, ‘A Novel’, just in case we might have mistaken it for a comical sports book.)
  Add to this list of shame such uninspired titles as: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST. THE SECRET SCRIPTURE. THE GATHERING. (The Boredom. The Trite. The Cynical. The horror, the horror.)
  By rights there should be a moratorium put on certain words being used in the name of a novel: ‘Notes from’, ‘Letters from’, ‘Confessions of’, anyone’s ‘...Daughter’ or ‘...Son’, anything involving quirky-but-annoying juxtapositions, e.g. ‘Searching for Tractors in Alaska During Ramadan’, anything lengthy and literal which rips off THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME …
  Having said that, if you can’t beat them, something something. (I always forget how that goes.) So help yourselves to any or all of these tremendous genre-specific monikers for your next book, folks …
Chick Lit: Is He Really as Much of a Bastard as He Seems?
Sci-fi: //_MultiVerse UnderTime Chronicles Vol. 1_//
Crime: Joey Jones’ Downbeat Goddamn Downtown Blues
Serial killer thriller type yoke: Blood on the Edge
Action-espionage: The Armageddon Code
‘Serious’ historical novel, i.e. something set in an immigrant community during the 1970s: Claggy Alley
Popular historical novel, i.e. something jolly and unpretentious written by Bernard Cornwell: Pirate Lords of Old Bristol
Fantasy: Mandala: Empress of the Golden Plains
Whimsical comic novel: The Spectabulicious Adventures of Lord Pettlesnook and his Patchwork Dirigible
Edgy fiction for hip twentysomethings: Fuckepedia
Booker winner: The Persimmon Gatherers
Bitterly disappointed Booker runner-up: Notes from the Spice-monger’s Daughter

Friday, July 31, 2009

THE LOVERS: A Many-Splendoured Thing, Apparently

Further to the genre / literary gulf farrago of earlier in the week, here’s the intros to two recent Sunday Times reviews of crime novels. The first is by John P. O’Sullivan, reviewing John Connolly’s THE LOVERS (no link):
Crime thrillers are a guilty pleasure – like a visit to McDonald’s when nobody is looking. These days, we can make gluttons of ourselves as many Irish writers, freed from depicting sexual guilt and rural angst, are taking advantage of the growing market for this genre. Even worthies such as the novelist John Banville (using the pseudonym Benjamin Black) and the playwright Declan Hughes have taken occasional leave of their literary toils to jump on the paddy-wagon.
  The most successful of this new breed of Irish writer is John Connolly …
The second is by John Dugdale, reviewing Thomas Pynchon’s INHERENT VICE:
Set in 1970, Thomas Pynchon’s first venture into crime fiction is a serio-comic homage that wryly mimics the tropes of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Like Philip Marlowe, its hero Doc Sportello is a Californian private eye, pursuing a quest that sees him getting beaten up, becoming a murder suspect himself, clashing regularly with an LAPD cop, escaping captors bent on killing him, and seduced by alluring women he interviews.
  Doc, however, prefers marijuana to bourbon and calls his one-man outfit LSD (location, surveillance, detection) Investigations …
  What I find interesting is that Dugdale doesn’t feel any pressure to excuse, explain or otherwise contextualise Pynchon’s decision to write a crime novel; while O’Sullivan, writing exclusively for the Irish edition of the Sunday Times’ Culture magazine, goes out of his way to make excuses to his Irish audience (“a guilty pleasure”) on behalf of one of the finest crime writers currently plying his trade, who just so happens to be Irish.
  Is it an Irish thing? An inferiority complex buried in the genetic code? A pathological fear of being considered not quite serious? Of being laughed at?
  “Arrah now, shir, yir honir, isn’t grand we do be to be doin’ the spellins at all, atall?”
  O’Sullivan’s verdict on THE LOVERS, incidentally, is that, “Connolly has served up good, solid fare with the occasional piquant surprise. You may not be getting haute cuisine when you read him, but you’re getting gourmet burger rather than McDonald’s.”
  Were he to damn the book with praise fainter, he’d have had to use invisible ink. Meanwhile, here’s some other recent reviews:
You may at times think you are reading a literary novel but then Connolly will remind you he’s just as adept at the violent strategies of the thriller. Either way you will be left shaken by the experience. – Barry Forshaw, Sunday Express

John Connolly, author of THE REAPERS and THE UNQUIET, more successfully mixes the supernatural into the crime novel in THE LOVERS … Connolly is building a solid following here in the States, and his stylish thrillers deserve even wider attention. – Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

The supernatural element in Connolly’s Parker books has always annoyed some fans, who feel it nudges what are essentially crime novels too far into Stephen King territory. It’s present here as an unobtrusive background hum – the perfect complement to Parker’s measured narration. – John O’Connell, The Guardian

“It’s not all crooks and spooks; Connolly is far too skilled a writer to create mere schlock-horror. He’s at his best getting inside his characters’ heads … Connolly’s latest novel is unashamedly gothic, but ultimately manages to be believable and moving too.” Rebecca Armstrong, The Independent
  Finally, and while it’s a bit wearying to get bogged down in this kind of pedantic bullshit … Apropos John Sullivan’s intro to THE LOVERS review, John Banville has published three Benjamin Black novels since his last Banville novel, while Declan Hughes has published four crime novels since last he penned a play. Also – and I do appreciate that this is hardly worth mentioning – both Banville and Hughes were actually quite interested in the crime narrative back in their more worthy days, regardless of whether they were writing literary novels or plays such as NIGHTSPAWN, TWENTY GRAND, THE UNTOUCHABLE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE.
  The defence rests, m’lud …

Now That’s What I Call A Review: Ian Sansom on Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE

Ian Sansom reviewed THE TWELVE for the Irish Times last weekend, and gave it a right good big-up, with the gist running thusly:
With its chorus of ghosts, its gore, and its endless complications, THE TWELVE is basically a revenge tragedy in the Elizabethan mode, scripted by Quentin Tarantino and produced by the makers of The Bourne Identity. The hero in a revenge tragedy, of course, is also a monster, and Neville’s hero is possessed of virtues that are almost entirely negative, his motives and decisions thoroughly dubious …
  The novel is by no means perfect – there is perhaps a funeral too many, and too much hopping in and out of cars, too many mobile phone tip-offs, a sequel-indicating ending. But it possesses a profound and wider significance. There has, in recent years, been an upsurge of powerful crime and thriller writing set in – or by authors based in – Northern Ireland. One thinks most readily of Brian McGilloway and Eoin McNamee. These are novelists and novels possessed not only of a singularity of voice but also of a subject, and a velocity.
  It may simply be that there is a feeling that in Northern Ireland those who have triumphed, those who now have power, are nothing but despoilers who deserve to be humiliated and tormented. Or it may be that there is a generation of writers uniquely, tragically equipped to be able to think through complex issues of justice and mercy. Whichever: we are witnessing a clearing out of foul, Stygian stables. In Hamlet – the revenge tragedian’s revenge tragedy – the Ghost is “Doomed for a certain time to walk the night/ And for the day confined to fast in fires,/ Till the foul crimes done in days of nature/ Are burnt and purged away”. THE TWELVE is an important part of the purging. – Ian Sansom
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Declan Burke’s 10 Rules For Better Writing

These days you’re no one unless you’re offering at least 10 rules for better writing. Declan Burke (right), aka Joe No One, joins the fray. To wit:

1. Consistency
Attention to detail is very important. If you say a character has blue eyes in Chapter One, don’t say he has green eyes in Chapter Four. Unless he has greeny-blue eyes, which are greener in winter and bluer in summer. Or your story is about genetic eye experiments on human guinea-pigs. Or contact lenses. Or a David Bowie-type alien pop star.

2. Use Simple Grammar
Go easy on complicated sentence construction. Ration yourself to three commas per page and you won’t go far wrong. Apostrophes are the Devil’s own invention – first-time writers should always try to avoid plurals and possession. Unless your story is about multiple exorcisms. Or multiple orgasms.

3. Narrative Arc
Do ensure your novel has a beginning and end, as most reviewers like to read at least a sample of both.

4. Cutting The Dead Wood
It can be hugely helpful to just walk away from your novel for a while, go out into the backyard and split some logs. Not only will you get some fresh air and exercise, you’ll also get that ‘big picture’ perspective you need to squeeze that vital extra thousand words into the chapter you’re working on. And you’ll have logs for winter.

5. Naming Your Hero
It’s in your own interest to give your heroes one-syllable names. Not only will this save you valuable writing time (as opposed to, say, having to type ‘Llandudno Fetherington-Smythe III’ every time your LF-S III hoves into view), it also means your moron reader won’t have to open his or her mouth too long whilst reading, thus cutting down on the likelihood of them swallowing flies and dying of some disgusting disease (see 6), and not being around next year to buy the sequel. If the one-syllable rule constrains your artistic vision, try giving one-syllable ‘pet’ names for longer names – e.g., ‘Pet’ for ‘Petunia Fetherington-Smythe’.

6. Try To Ensure Your Readers Are All Morons
Morons are more forgiving, less judgmental and generally better for karma all round. They’re also notorious for being easily parted from their money.

7. Avoid Clichés Like the Plague
Clichés should be avoided like devastating killer epidemics transmitted by parasites carried by rats.

8. Tell, Don’t Show
People don’t have a lot of reading time these days, which is why they’re grateful when a writer, as we say in the trade, ‘cuts to the chase’. In fact, it’s probably best if you start your novel with a chase and just keep it up for 300 pages (large type). But don’t ‘blow your wad’ too early. Start with a chase on skateboards, working up to a climactic race to Saturn between space shuttles, via bicycles, jet-packs, helicopters and rocket-propelled whales.

9. Speed Is Of The Essence
Even if it’s inappropriate to your novel to have your hero addicted to amphetamines, do try to ensure your novel has pace. In THE WILD LIFE OF SAILOR AND LULA, for example, Barry Gifford called Sailor and Lula’s son Pace.

10. Don’t Be Afraid To Dumb It Down
Every aspiring writer with at least one rejection slip knows that agents, editors, publicists and publishers are all failed novelists. If the story you send them is too good, they’ll (a) steal it for themselves and make a fortune or (b) ignore it completely, for spite, so that no one benefits. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Any other suggestions, folks? Don’t be afraid to share …

On Beating Swords Into Gardening Tools

Garbhan Downey has been kind enough to offer an insight into the genesis of his latest screwball crime fiction, WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES, in which he offers ‘a novel solution to the Northern Ireland’s parades issue’.
  For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘parades issue’, it’s a phenomenon in Norn Iron in which the Loyalist Orangemen have loads of marches to celebrate the fact that they have loads of marches, whereas the Disloyalist Fenians can only muster one, on Paddy’s Day.
  Now read on …
  Two of the most dangerous moments of my life involved marching – and they both happened on the same day.
  As a newspaper reporter in Derry in August, 1995, I decided, with a cameraman, to try and get some pictures of loyalists celebrating outside the Memorial Hall, after a particularly controversial morning parade. We were scouting the revellers from about 30 yards away, when one of them spotted us. And before you could blink, an angry battalion were hurtling towards us, tearing off their sashes as they ran.
  Had it not been for a very brave RUC man, who appeared out of nowhere and stood between ourselves and the mob, the photographer and I have would have been place-kicked off the Derry walls a full 40 feet into the Bogside below. No question about it.
  Later that day, I was monitoring the afternoon parade from Butcher Street, when a notorious Antrim band broke away from the route and decided to stage an impromptu performance for 500 young people wearing Celtic tops, hemmed behind police lines. It’s hard to believe how quickly it all kicked off; but for the first time in my life I truly got the significance of the phrase “rabbit in the headlights”. On that occasion, I was hit with a bottle as I fled – but still escaped a lot lighter than most of the city-centre, which was burnt to a cinder.
  The FTQ parades, if I’m to be honest, never had quite the same edge. Possibly because they never applied to march down Ballymena High Street, so the opportunity for direct confrontation wasn’t there. But they always carried an air of menace nonetheless, right down to the band everybody hoped wouldn’t turn up, with their shaved heads, 1970s’ sunglasses and black berets.
  Not surprisingly, in idle moments, I used to wonder if there ever could be an alternative to parades. Perhaps a more productive and less volatile alternative. From what I could see, the rest of the world didn’t spend their summers marching and counter-demonstrating - so there were obviously other pursuits out there for grown men that didn’t end in nationwide arson.
  Then one evening, I was dead-heading a cloud of wild ‘bucky’ roses in my father’s garden, when an idea began to, ah, take root. Instead of spending £5 million to police this annual square-off, why doesn’t somebody take the money and sponsor a giant gardening competition? Loads of category winners, with the overall champs getting, say a big bundle of cash and the chance to design a new rose-garden for the White House.
  Complete, off-the-wall fantasy, I know. Who would ever spend their days growing flowers when there’s a chance to stage a paramilitary passing-out parade over their neighbour’s lawn? The incentive, i.e. bribe, would have to be enormous.
  Step forward a cunning Taoiseach, who suggests that if the winners of the festival produce a blue rose – the Holy Grail of the gardening world – they could be eligible for a £50 million-a-year patent. Now, we’re talking. The only condition is that anyone caught marching, counter-marching or looking sideways at another honest citizen for the months of April to September will be automatically disqualified from taking part.
  Yes, yes, I thought. What a wonderful idea. I just have to tell the world. Sadly, however, as I was speeding my way to the Parades Commission, I was waylaid by a publisher, who offered me a very small bagful of money to deliver the plan as a comedy novel instead.
  “Let’s face it,” he said, “they’d only muck it all up anyway.” Only he did not quite say muck.
  So in true Northern Ireland fashion, I took my mess of pottage and left the wider community to sort out its own business.
  As you’d expect, the characters in my new book WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES, experience their own difficulties beating swords into gardening-tools. And, as in most schemes involving the British and American governments, things never quite work out the way we were promised over praties and Jameson in the White House on St Patrick’s Day.
  All-out victory on the parade ground is swapped for all-out victory on the rose-plots. People lie, cheat and otherwise behave like the politicians they are, in the race to produce the world’s first blue rose - and capture the multi-million pound payday. Type reverts to type.
  Happily, however, in my books at least, there is always a moral compass that allows me to deal with the worst offenders in the most satisfying of manners. Sinners are punished, honest men rewarded, and skin-headed drum-bangers consigned to levels of crapulence Dante couldn’t have dreamt of.
  If only a man could get a job like that in the real world ...
Garbhan Downey’s WAR OF THE BLUE ROSES is the Hughes & Hughes Irish Book of the Month for August. Nice one, squire.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND by Ed O’Loughlin

To mark Ed O’Loughlin’s terrific achievement in being long-listed for the Booker Prize with his debut novel, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, here’s purple prose-tinged excerpt from yours truly’s review from earlier this year:
‘Has anyone seen the other half of this baby?’ he asked. ‘We mustn’t count it twice.’
  It’s a moment to make even the most hardened reader of gory novels wince, but O’Loughlin is not in the business of sensationalism. Simmons bears witness to what seems at times a daily litany of tragedy, but does so in a clipped, understated fashion. The novel has been compared with the works of V.S. Naipaul and Graham Greene, but there’s a measure of Ernest Hemingway here too. The prose is muscular and delicate, the mark of a writer who knows his own strength and is sure of his aim. In the chaos of a jungle fire-fight, ambushed by the latest in an interminable series of half-naked rebel forces, Simmons observes a jeep make “a slow and sedate turn towards us, part-sheltered by the hulk of the armoured car … its indicator piously winking.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here.
  For a Q&A with the man, clickety-click here.

Queen Crimson

Emma Louise Jordan is the latest of the Poolbeg Crimson ladies to publish a novel of ‘Romantic Suspense’, the idea being to take the best of chick lit and crime fic and create a commercial genre mash-up. Which is more or less what I tried to do with THE BIG O, and failed spectacularly to do so, very probably because I thought having a hormonally challenged flirty-something gal as one of the main characters would ‘do’ for the chick lit bit. Ah well, you live and learn.
  Anyway, Emma Louise Jordan’s novel is called BEYOND SIN, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
The picture-perfect O’Neill family is both admired and envied, near and far. But in the week leading up to Andrea O’Neill’s high-profile society wedding, life-changing trouble is suddenly brewing and sinister cracks begin to show in the previously solid foundations of the O’Neill household.
  When the bride’s angelic sister Jessie disappears from the wedding reception and is still not found days later, the finger of blame switches from person to person as the hours before her vanishing are scrambled together in a jigsaw full of missing pieces.
  Could Jessie have been living a double life, unknown to those who love her? And could anyone hate her so much that they would make her suffer the ultimate punishment for her dreadful secret sin?
  I’m saying Yes to Jessie having double life, and Yes to someone hating her that much, but I’m guessing that some gal in the book (probably not Jessie; possibly Andrea) has the kind of smarts and hidden depths that will allow Jessie to escape the ultimate punishment. Or not, depending on how unconventional Emma Louise Jordan is about her romantic suspense.
  Is it any good? Well, they liked it over at the Irish Independent

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No, You’re A Snob. No, YOU!

Apparently John Banville (right) created a bit of a to-do at Harrogate last weekend when he said that he writes the Benjamin Black novels a lot faster than he writes his John Banville novels. Stuart Evers blogs about Banville’s snobbery here, and Sarah Weinman writes about it here … No one, apparently, asked Banville himself.
  The truth about the difference between crime fiction and literary fiction, even if it’s an unpalatable one for most crime fiction fans, is that literary fiction tends to be written with more style and panache; and for those who are offended by the fact that crime novels don’t win the Booker Prize, say, well, that’s because the Booker is generally given to writers who are eloquent stylists.
  Yes, there are superb stylists writing crime fiction, just as there are wonderful storytellers writing literary fiction; but – and it’s a broad generalisation, I know – crime fiction fans tend to favour character, plot and narrative over the inventive use of language. When was the last time you read of a crime fic fan recommending an author or novel on the basis of how well it’s written? And – for the record – how well a novel is written should ALWAYS be important, regardless of what kind of novel it is intended to be.
  But aside from all of that, what’s all this nonsense about being offended because John Banville writes Benjamin Black novels quicker than he writes John Banville novels? Are crime writers and readers so insecure in their choice of reading that they need to be flattered by the literary crew? Are they so delicate in their reverse snobbery that they can’t accept criticism, be it implied, perceived or otherwise? Are they so narrow-minded that they can’t take on board a contrary point of view without resorting to name-calling and pigtail-pulling?
  To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, yet again: there are only two kinds of books, good books and bad books. And to paraphrase John Connolly: 95% of crime fiction is shit, because 95% of everything is shit.
  Anyone who knows anything about the business of writing crime fiction knows that there is one bottom line, and that’s the almighty dollar: and it’s this bottom line that results in so many functional, practical, fast-paced but ultimately bland crime fiction novels in the genre. Take a look at the best-sellers – John Grisham, Dan Brown, James Fucking Patterson.
  Seriously, people – when those three ‘writers’ are the biggest and best in the genre, don’t you think the literary crew are entitled to sneer?

UPDATE: Crime Fic Reader Rhian was at the John Banville / Reginald Hill interview at Harrogate, and took notes. If you’re interested in what was said, clickety-click here.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE HURRICANE PARTY by Klas Östergren

Klas Östergren’s contribution to the Myths series is terrific in prospect. Set in a dystopian future society (is there another kind?), it concerns itself with Hanck Orn’s search for the truth of what happened to his dead son, Toby. ‘The Clan’ responsible for his son’s death are, in fact, the Norse deities, and Hanck’s quest takes him from the Norse equivalent of Olympic heights to the very depths of their Underworld.
  The Myths series has already featured the likes of Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and David Grossman, with Atwood, for example, offering a feminist take on THE ODYSSEY with THE PENELOPIAD. Östergren’s offering is less clearly a modern take on an old story than others, perhaps because the writer is attempting to achieve more than simply retell the old tales, perhaps because your correspondent isn’t as familiar with the Norse myths as he is with the Greek. A courageous blend of sci-fi, crime fiction and mythology, of genre sensibility and literary style, the novel opens beguilingly …
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Monday, July 27, 2009

This Little Piggy Went To Market

Bob ‘no relation’ Burke brings a little forward-thinking and initiative to his marketing of the THIRD PIG DETECTIVE AGENCY, sending out review copies in specially designed evidence bags. A nice touch, no? I’d certainly have a second look if something like this arrived in the post. Not that that’s a hint or anything, Bob.
  Which reminds me. Bob? This island ain’t big enough for two private eyes called Harry. It’s pistols at dawn in the misty Russian dawn for you, squire. If I’m not there, start without me.

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE BIG EMPTY by Declan Burke

God bless the interweb, I say, where a man can have a novel reviewed even though it’s never been published. Corey Wilde over at The Drowning Machine was kind enough to request a Word document of THE BIG EMPTY, a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, when I mentioned in passing that I was planning to upload it to Kindle. As it happens, I decided while giving the story one final proof-through that I wouldn’t upload it to Kindle, that I’d release it into the wild to do some scavenging and see if it mightn't bring home any bacon. I’ll keep you posted, although I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you …
  In the meantime, you’ve no idea of exactly how good life would be right now if Corey Wilde was CEO of World Publishing. To wit:
SYNOPSIS: Ex-con Harry Rigby drives a cab, mules a small amount of grass, and now and again he acts as father figure to his young nephew, Ben. An odd kind of a father figure, because Harry killed his brother, Ben’s father. That’s how Harry got to be a con in the first place. When Harry delivers some grass to an acquaintance named Finn Hamilton, he’s just in time to witness Finn’s nine-floor swan dive. Suddenly everyone wants something from Harry: the cops, Finn’s shyster lawyer and accompanying goon, Finn’s sexually combustible mama and his more-than-a-smidgen dysfunctional sister with the long claws. For Harry, keeping himself alive while trying to get his hands on Finn’s much sought after laptop and gun is one thing. Protecting the one person he loves most, that’s a whole different problem.

REVIEW: I miss having a photo of a book jacket to post at the top left of my review. That’s because there is no book jacket for THE BIG EMPTY. I’m sure the publishers put it down to the recession that they haven’t found a place for this sharply funny, jaggedly violent tale of a man walking a tightrope above a twisty canyon of family deceit and dirty money. Whatever the reason, recession or otherwise, it’s a shame. Declan Burke writes with a razor wit so fine that the reader feels the sting of a thousand cuts by the end of Harry’s journey ...
  Burke creates a palate of characters to root for or against, or even just to marvel at. The late Finn’s femme fatale mother is a devious creature whose literary ancestry hearkens back to female characters produced by Raymond Chandler and Tennessee Williams. Solicitor Gillick, Finn’s shyster, conjures up images of Orson Welles in ‘Touch of Evil.’ Ben is no cardboard child; he’s a breath of fresh air, being both as smart and aware as only a 10-year-old can be, and at the same time as naive as one would expect (or at least hope for) from a child his age; slightly rebellious but still more obedient than he will be at fifteen. He’s a kid you can love because he’s genuine, being neither a plaster saint nor the demon seed. And that’s true of Harry as well. The reader can believe in Harry as much for his failings as for his strengths. And when Harry has been pushed to his limits, when he finally is bent on payback, prefixing ‘Dirty’ to his name would not be a misnomer. He does some things I’ve myself wanted to do to a lawyer or two. And it doesn’t hurt that Harry cracks wiser than Philip Marlowe.
  The pace and tension ratchet up with every complication or obstacle Harry encounters. And the author wisely opted to give Harry enough native wit to parry and sort out the tightly knitted problems and mysteries rather than relying on chance or the one lone missing miracle clue that suddenly ties it all together. Life is not so neat as Jessica Fletcher would have her viewers believe. Some of the mysteries and puzzles may be solved by this story’s end, but no one’s life is ever going to be as it was, and some mysteries may never be solved. Beyond the wisecracking and the hot tempo, this book has a heart easily wounded. Harry Rigby is that heart. The reader, and Harry, are left in no doubt that where there are wounds, there will be scars.
  Can it really be recession that’s keeping a fast, witty work of crime fic like this off the bookstore shelves? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe Harry Rigby, or someone like him, should have a little talk with the publishers. - Corey Wilde

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: TRUE CRIME: AN AMERICAN ANTHOLOGY, ed. Harold Schechter

This anthology is an important contribution to the understanding and chronicling of true crime reporting in the US by contemporaneous authors.
  It ranges from 1651 (the hanging of John Billington) to 2001 (the trial of the Menendez brothers for murdering their parents.
  Billington was on the first ship from England to the Plymouth Colony and was regarded by everyone on board as depraved and boorish, so no one was surprised when he killed a fellow Plymouth Brethern some years later over a trivial incident.
  The Menendez brothers shot their parents to death in the family home in Elm Drive, an affluent address in Beverly Hills, with fourteen twelve-gauge shotgun rounds that obliterated the parents’ heads and torsos.
  Other stories covered include Ed Gein (the basis for the movie Psycho), the Son of Sam, the Black Dahlia murder, the Turner-Stompanato (self-defence) killing and the Loeb and Leopold (Superman) case.
  The quality of the writing across the centuries and decades is very engaging and high calibre. The styles are varied and often attain high art. Some are straight narratives, some are social commentaries, some are psychological analysis, some are essays on guilt and evidence.
  The cases in the book run the gamut from the obscure to the high celebrity ones. The authors include well known crime writers like Herbert Ashbury, Theodore Dreiser, Jim Thompson, Jack Webb, Robert Bloch, Truman Capote, James Ellroy, Ann Rule and Dominick Dunne in addition to writers like Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Mark Twain and Damon Runyon.
  The editor, Dr. Harold Schechter, a professor of American Literature and Culture, at Queen's College in New York, has written a masterful introduction which delineates the growth of true crime reportage, the seminal influence of IN COLD BLOOD, and the basis of true crime for authors of crime fiction such as Dashiell Hammett, Joyce Carol Oates and James Ellroy. Schechter is also the author of many books on true crime and crime fiction.
  One major bonus of this book is the introduction to each piece written by Schechter and the primary and secondary sources that he lists for stories.
  The only major deficit, for a book published in 2008, is the dearth of modern coverage. The newest writing dates from 2001.
  For crime writing later than 2001, the annual series, The Best American Crime Reporting, is essential. These volumes are a lucid and comprehensive documentation of the best in US true crime writing. (Best American Crime Reporting 2009 is due for publication Sep 15th 2009 – a review to follow on publication).
  TRUE CRIME: AN AMERICAN ANTHOLOGY, however, remains an essential volume in understanding the genesis and exposition of crime reporting as a legitimate specialization within journalism and creative non-fiction. – Seamus Scanlon