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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Reading: THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue at Trinity College

Following the huge success of her novel Room, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin and now lives in Canada with her family. She has written several novels including Frog Music, The Sealed Letter, Stir-Fry, and the best-seller and widely acclaimed novel Room, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize. Emma adapted the novel for the big screen and the movie Room was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture.

Join Emma Donoghue as she reads from and discusses her latest novel The Wonder
In The Edmund Burke Theatre, Trinity College on Saturday 17th September, 2016 at 2pm.

This is a free event, but booking is essential here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: THE CONSTANT SOLDIER by William Ryan

William Ryan’s debut, The Holy Thief (2010), was the first of a series featuring Captain Alexei Korolev, a police detective operating in Moscow during the 1930s. His subsequent novels, The Bloody Meadow (2011) and The Twelfth Department (2013), confirmed that Ryan was a crime writing talent to watch, his unconventional police procedurals given a Kafkaesque twist as Korolev struggled to assimilate the genre’s notions of justice and truth into Stalin’s grotesque interpretation of same.
  The Constant Soldier (Mantle), then, is something of a departure for Ryan. A standalone novel, it’s set in an idyllic Silesian village in the autumn of 1944, a territory once Polish but now German – although everyone knows, with the Russian Army advancing rapidly from the East, that it won’t be German for much longer. Paul Brandt, a Wehrmacht soldier, returns home a decorated hero from the Eastern Front, invalided out of the fighting after losing an arm, his face so burnt his own father almost fails to recognise him when he collects him at the train station. His family are outraged when Paul accepts a position as steward at a ‘rest hut’ – in reality a luxurious villa – serving the Nazi officers who work at the nearby ‘work camp’, but Paul’s apparently docile acceptance of the status quo masks a vague desire to sabotage the German war effort.
  Paul, we learn, joined the Wehrmacht as the lesser of two evils when, charged with subversive activities before the war, he was offered the choice of the army or prison. When he realises that Judith, a fellow plotter, has spent the war in slave labour, and now works at the rest hut, Paul acknowledges that he has ‘wrongs he had to put right.’ But trapped as he is between the implacable evil of Nazi Germany and the mercilessly irresistible force of the oncoming Russians, what can one man do?
  There are comparisons to be drawn between William Ryan’s Captain Korolev novels and The Constant Soldier, the most obvious being that both feature good men trying to do the right thing in a world where even basic notions such as ‘good’ and ‘right’ have been perverted by the ideologies of megalomaniac dictators. But while the reader can be fairly sure that Korolev, as the protagonist of a series, will survive and thrive, Paul Brandt is a much more vulnerable character. Essentially a self-appointed spy operating behind enemy lines, Brandt has the wounds suffered on the battlefield in his favour – ‘behind his frozen face he could be anyone’ – and yet he is operating at a time when suspicion is the very oxygen of a political system. As a result, and despite Ryan’s deceptively gentle pacing, the tale quickly becomes an emotional rollercoaster that sustains an increasingly tense mood of impending disaster throughout.
  Paul Brandt’s isn’t the only perspective we get in The Constant Soldier, however. We also see the dog days of the war through the eyes of the idealistic Polya, a tank driver in the vanguard of the Russian advance; and those of Obersturmführer Neumann, the commandant of the ‘rest hut’, a long-serving Party member who secretly listens to the banned Jewish composer Mendelssohn and battles personal demons as he tries to maintain a semblance of order in the growing chaos. The multiple perspectives lend themselves to a subtle and sympathetic portrayal of the characters and their conflict, and with the shadow of nearby Auschwitz casting a long shadow across the story, Ryan is particularly acute when he deals with the subject of how ordinary people allowed themselves to engage in monstrous acts. “Mostly,” Neumann observes to himself, “no one had ever imagined it would come to this. Until it had, of course.” For his part, and despite being the closet thing the novel gets to a conventional hero, Paul Brandt is as guilty of brutal depredations as any German veteran of the Eastern Front. “When everyone else is doing something,” he tells his despairing father, “you end up doing it too – without thinking about it. Sometimes terrible things.”
  The Constant Soldier is a beguiling blend, a spy novel-cum-historical thriller that offers a gripping but nuanced narrative set against the horrors of the absolute abuse of absolute power. It’s a bleak but rewarding novel about guilt, personal and shared, and taking responsibility for your actions, even if doing so offers no possibility of reward. “What did it matter anyway?” Neumann asks. “Once you had killed even one innocent person, then the number becomes irrelevant … They were both of them guilty past the point of any form of redemption – on any scale.” ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Launch: THE CONSTANT SOLDIER by William Ryan

Monday, August 29, 2016

Publication: THE BLUE POOL by Siobhan MacDonald

Siobhan MacDonald published her debut thriller TWISTED RIVER earlier this year, and she quickly follows it up with another standalone suspense novel, THE BLUE POOL (Canelo). To wit:
What really happened that weekend?
  Four friends go to a remote cabin one summer. Only three return.
  Life is good for university friends Sarah, Ruth, Charlotte, and Kathy: it’s summer, exams are over, and they’re escaping to a cabin by the Blue Pool. But when Sarah then disappears without a trace, life for the others will never be the same again.
  Twenty-five years later, a man walks into a police station, claiming to know something about the missing girl. Suddenly, the three women – now estranged – all become suspects. Forced to revisit that horrifying weekend, they must confront buried memories and decades-old misgivings. For not everything was as it seemed, and the greater the secret, the deeper it lies…
  From the author of the acclaimed Twisted River, this is another ingenious and unpredictable psychological thriller. A mesmerising exploration of loyalty, friendship, and the corrosive effects of guilt, The Blue Pool will appeal to readers of Clare Mackintosh, Paula Hawkins, and B A Paris.
  THE BLUE POOL was published in e-book format on August 26th. For all the details, clickety-click here

Saturday, August 27, 2016

One to Watch: HOLDING by Graham Norton

You learn to expect the unexpected in publishing, certainly, but a murder mystery from TV chat-show host, agony aunt and Eurovision presenter Graham Norton? That’s straight out of left field. Quoth the blurb elves:
Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.
  The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.
  So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.
  Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human.
  HOLDING (Hodder & Stoughton) will be published on October 6th. For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, August 26, 2016

Launch: MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O’Loughlin

Ed O’Loughlin launches his latest novel, MINDS OF WINTER (riverrun), next week. I read an early advance copy a few months ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since – it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year. If you’re interested in powerful storytelling and beautiful prose, all wrapped up in a Russian Doll-style exploration of a bizarre mystery – well, this one’s for you. The details:
Join
Ed O’Loughlin
to celebrate the launch of his new novel
MINDS OF WINTER
at Dubray Books
(36 Grafton Street, Dublin 2)
on Tuesday August 30th at 6.30pm
  For more on Ed O’Loughlin, clickety-click here

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reviews: Irish Times Crime Fiction Column, August 2016

Already a four-time winner of the CWA’s International Dagger, A Climate of Fear (Harvill Secker, €19.50) is Fred Vargas’s ninth novel in the Paris-based Commissaire Adamsberg series. The apparent suicide of an old woman leads the Zen-like Adamsberg and his team to investigate a bizarre double murder on a remote Icelandic island ten years previously, although the team soon realises that their murderer is intimately involved with a cult devoted to enacting the speeches of Robespierre, Danton et al during the post-Revolutionary years of ‘the Terror’. Quirky doesn’t even begin to cover the plotting and characters here, but Vargas – the crime-writing pseudonym of French writer, historian and archaeologist Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau – is a veteran of 14 novels of total and remains in complete command of her bizarre investigation. The tone may be offbeat, and the affectionate bickering between the members of Adamsberg’s extended team amusing, but Vargas is assured in the way she marshals her narrative elements around a fascinating exploration of how a corrupted group dynamic can parlay historical horrors into contemporary crimes.
  Seamus Smyth’s Quinn (1999) is one of Irish crime fiction’s lost classics, a story narrated by a lethal charmer who has much in common with Red Dock, the anti-hero in Smyth’s – now writing as J.M. Smyth – Blood for Blood (Black and White, €9.99). A successful criminal based in Dublin, Red survived growing up in an Irish orphanage, although his brother Sean wasn’t so lucky. Now in a position to take his revenge on those responsible for Sean’s death, Red sets in train a diabolical plot that includes kidnap, blackmail and murder – but even a meticulous planner like Red couldn’t have anticipated the intervention of a serial killer who prides himself on the purity of his artistic vision. A snarling, anarchic yawp of a crime yarn, Blood for Blood is a novel that revels in its contradictions, the jaunty tone and blackly comic narrative regularly interrupted by grand guignol descriptions of violence and mutilation, while the increasingly improbable plot is firmly rooted in the harrowing abuse suffered by the inmates of state-run institutions. Crude, brutal and appallingly funny, Blood for Blood is like nothing else you’ll read this year.
  Robert Thorogood is best known for creating the BBC TV series Death in Paradise, which is set on a fictional Caribbean island and originally featured DI Richard Poole (since replaced by DI Humphrey Goodman), an uptight British policeman struggling to adapt to the idiosyncratic rhythms of Saint Marie. Thorogood revived Poole for his debut novel, A Meditation on Murder (2014), and Poole returns again in The Killing of Polly Carter (Harlequin, €19.50). World famous supermodel Polly Carter announces her intention to commit suicide before leaping from the cliff near her home on Saint Marie, her death witnessed by Polly’s twin sister, Claire. Poole’s suspicions are aroused, however, and soon he is leading his team in a murder investigation. Despite the contemporary setting, the Death in Paradise mysteries are deliciously retro Agatha Christie-style whodunits, with Poole trawling a shoal of red herrings as he interrogates his list of suspects. Much of the pleasure, meanwhile, is derived from Poole’s fish-out-of-water helplessness as he flops around trying to cope with Saint Marie’s heat, cultural quirks and easy-going pace of life, all the while wondering if ‘his entire existence as an Englishman was no more than Pavlovian conditioning.’
  The Last One (Penguin, €16.99) is Alexandra Oliva’s debut, in which we first meet ‘Zoo’ as a contestant on a TV wilderness survival reality show. Forbidden from contacting the outside world, Zoo has no way of knowing that a global catastrophe has laid waste to the human population: as she treks through the vast forest towards home, her survival grows increasingly unlikely. The narrative is split between an on-line commentary on the early episodes of the TV show and Zoo’s own account of her worsening conditions, although the chronology is out of kilter: the on-line conversation relates to events that occurred days before Zoo’s personal experience of those events, which interrupts and stilts the narrative flow. Meanwhile, Oliva deliberately creates a distancing effect by referring to her characters according to their reality show tags – ‘Zoo’, ‘Tracker’, ‘Engineer’, ‘Biology’ – a conceit that works as a commentary on our disconnection with reality in a media-managed world, although the flipside of employing archetypal titles is that it mutes our instinctive emotional response to the characters’ plight. Overall, though, The Last One is a smart and timely story about what it means to be human at a time when humanity is hanging on by a thread.
  The Unfortunate Englishman (Grove Press, €19.50) is John Lawton’s 10th novel and the second to feature Joe Wilderness, who first appeared in Then We Take Berlin (2013). A thief co-opted by MI6, Wilderness is a reluctant spy, a man motivated by personal concerns – i.e., pulling scams in the conman’s paradise that is Cold War-era Berlin – rather than ideology. The title refers to two unfortunate Englishmen: Geoffrey Masefield, a geologist who travels to Moscow by MI6 as an amateur spy, and Bernard Alleyn, a KGB mole who has spent so long playing the role of the English gentleman that he barely remembers his original name. Charged with negotiating a swap of Masefield and Alleyn in Berlin, Wilderness learns that the deal involves heisting a fortune in vintage wine looted during the war from a Jewish family destined for the gas chamber. The tone of unsentimental realpolitik means that The Unfortunate Englishman earns the right to that le Carré-esque title, even if Wilderness himself is reminiscent of Len Deighton’s spy Harry Palmer. The result is a complex and beautifully detailed tale, a full-blooded Cold War spy thriller given an added dimension courtesy of Wilderness’s quirky humour and his pragmatic take on morality and honour. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Publication: THEY ALL FALL DOWN by Cat Hogan

THEY ALL FALL DOWN (Poolbeg Press) is the debut novel from author Cat Hogan, a psychological thriller based in a fictional fishing village in Co. Wexford. Quoth the blurb elves:
Ring-a-ring o rosie . . .
  How far would you go?
  Jen Harper likes to play it safe. She is settling into life on the outskirts of a sleepy fishing village with her little boy, Danny. Life by the sea, just how she wanted it.
  When she meets Andy, she feels the time has come to put her baggage and the scars of the past behind her. Then she is introduced to Scott, Andy s best friend, and is stung by his obvious disdain for her. Why is Scott so protective of his best friend? What is the dark secret that threatens all of them?
  In her attempt to find answers, Jen must confront her demons and push her relationships to their limits. By digging up the past, she puts Danny and herself in danger. Will she succeed in uncovering the truth before they all fall down?
  Raw and energetic, They All Fall Down is a fast-paced and addictive novel exploring the depths of flawed human nature, the thin line between love and obsession and the destructive nature of addiction.
  THEY ALL FALL DOWN was published on July 1st. For more on Cat Hogan, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Books: BOOKS TO DIE FOR To Publish In Trade Paperback

I’m delighted to see that the award-winning BOOKS TO DIE FOR (Atria / Emily Bestler Books), edited by John Connolly and yours truly, will be published in trade paperback later this year, at what I think is a very reasonable price of $17 (I’m biased, obviously). If you haven’t come across BOOKS TO DIE FOR before, the concept runs a lot like this:
The world’s most beloved mystery writers celebrate their favourite mystery novels in this gorgeously wrought collection, featuring essays by Michael Connelly, Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin, and more. In the most ambitious anthology of its kind, the world’s leading mystery writers come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that reveal as much about the authors and their own work as they do about the books that they love, over a hundred authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Agatha Christie to Lee Child, from Edgar Allan Poe to P. D. James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlowe to Lord Peter Wimsey, Books to Die For brings together the best of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and for those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought … I want more!
BOOKS TO DIE FOR will be published in trade paperback on October 25th. For all the details, clickety-click here