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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Angels In The Architecture

There was a very fine interview in The Independent last weekend, in which John Connolly spoke with James Kidd on a variety of topics, including the forthcoming BOOKS TO DIE FOR, the blending of genres, the use of language in crime fiction, and the influence of Catholic Ireland on his Maine-set Charlie Parker novels. Here’s a taster:
Then there is THE WRATH OF ANGELS, the 10th of Charlie Parker’s haunting, scary and addictive investigations – to my mind the finest crime series currently in existence. As always, the plot marries an ingenious, if recognisable, detective story with something wicked and otherworldly. The sinister and possibly demonic Collector makes a welcome reappearance.
  “The notion of fusing genres is still something the crime-writing establishment in England is uncomfortable with. There’s a sense that it interferes with the purity of the form. It suggests a lack of faith in what I am doing.”
  Connolly’s magpie imagination is not the only reason his books are an acquired taste. His lyrical prose is an oddity in the spartan milieu of contemporary crime writing, and betrays what seem suspiciously like literary aspirations. “There is sometimes a feeling in crime fiction that good writing gets in the way of story,” Connolly says with a hint of defiance. “I have never felt that way. All you have is language. Why write beneath yourself? It’s an act of respect for the reader as much as yourself.”
  Connolly is on a roll. He explains his welding together of “rational and irrational” forms by rewinding to his Irish Catholic upbringing. “Crime fiction was born from the idea that the world can be understood by the application of logic. Irish people have always been uncomfortable with this point of view. Possibly because we are a Catholic nation, we don’t think rationality encompasses the entire world. We believe that human beings are far stranger than rational thought allows.”
  I would largely agree with that, although I think the instinct taps into a deeper well than a Catholic or Christian heritage. If you drive around Ireland today it won’t be very long before you come across a curious phenomena, that of the neatly tended field disfigured by a ragged patch of ground that remains untilled or overgrown, an untouched hump or hummock allowed to run wild. It’s not that the farmer gave up, or got lazy - these are ‘fairy forts’ or variations thereof, which local tradition or superstition claims are sacred to ‘the little folk’. Should a farmer prove foolhardy enough to mow or plough the fairies’ land, bad fortune will quickly follow.
  Now, there are few occupations more pragmatic than that of the Irish farmer - attempting to wring a living from the floating puddle that is Ireland tends to knock the romantic notions out of a man’s head very early on. If you were to suggest to one of the horny-handed sons of the soil that there are actual fairies living in such places, you would receive polite but very short shrift. And yet still, in the 21st century, the ‘fairy fort’ is common enough in the Irish landscape to be unremarkable.
  Do we believe in fairies? No. Do we really believe that the bulldozing of ‘fairy forts’ would result in curses and bad fortune? No. Do we leave the fairies and their forts alone? Yes.
  It used to irritate me, this very visible manifestation of childishly illogical superstition. Now I like it. It’s a reminder that this is an old country, older than logic and imposed order, where we’re comfortable with daily reminders of our most ancient and primal fears.
  The crime / mystery novel, largely a cultural by-product of the industrial revolution and concerned with a rational, scientific pursuit of truth - “The facts, Jack, just the facts” - seeks to confirm and celebrate a cause-and-effect world that can be laid bare and explained. Thus tamed, it need no longer be feared.
  The crime / mystery novel asserts a seductive but blatantly false thesis, essentially proposing that if we can only dig deep enough we will eventually uncover all we need to know, and especially when it comes to character and motive, the ghost in the machine.
  This, for my money, is why John Connolly’s books work so well. I have no idea if he is comfortable with this notion that much of the world, for all our advances, is unknowable, but he is willing to embrace it. That his Charlie Parker novels are still considered radical, in that they ‘interfere with the purity of the form’, says much more about the narrow parameters of the crime / mystery novel than it does about John Connolly, who is using that form to tap into the oldest kind of storytelling we have.
  For the rest of that Independent interview, clickety-click here ...


Stuart Neville said...

A US editor THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST/THE TWELVE but ultimately passed on it because of the genre blending commented that the collision of the hard-boiled realism and the supernatural was a peculiarly Irish thing. Given John C's body of work, and Ken Bruen and Gerard Brennan's recent flirtations with Old Nick, he might have had a point. Though I think the blurring of crime and more speculative genres is becoming more and more common.

Declan Burke said...

Stuart -

More common, indeed. And intriguing, when handled well. As the LA Times can testify to, in relation to THE TWELVE at least ...

Cheers, Dec