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, May 31, 2017

Launch: ONE BAD TURN by Sinead Crowley

Sinead Crowley launches ONE BAD TURN (Quercus) next week, said tome being the third in her series of Dublin-set psychological thrillers featuring DS Claire Boyle, with both of first two novels shortlisted for the best crime novel gong at the Irish Book Awards. The launch details:
Wednesday, June 7th, at 7pm
Dubray Books, Grafton Street, Dublin 2
  Quoth the blurb elves:
Being held hostage at gunpoint by her childhood friend is not Dr Heather Gilmore’s idea of a good day at work. It only gets worse when she hears that her nineteen-year-old daughter Leah has been kidnapped.
  Sergeant Claire Boyle wasn’t expecting to get caught up in a hostage situation during a doctor’s appointment. When it becomes apparent that the kidnapping is somehow linked to the hostage-taker, a woman called Eileen Delaney, she is put in charge of finding the missing girl.
  What happened between Eileen and Heather to make Eileen so determined to ruin her old friend? Claire Boyle must dig up the secrets from their pasts to find out - and quickly, because Leah is still missing, and time is running out to save her.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane established his reputation as one of contemporary crime fiction’s masters with the Kenzie-Gennaro series of private eye novels, the first of which, A Drink Before the War, was published in 1994. Since then, Lehane has published standalone thrillers – Mystic River (2001) and Shutter Island (2003) – and most recently concluded an epic historical trilogy featuring Prohibition-era gangster Joe Coughlin.
  Lehane’s latest novel, Before We Fell (Little, Brown) offers his take on yet another crime fiction sub-genre, domestic noir. ‘On a Tuesday in May,’ the Prologue begins, ‘in her thirty-seventh year, Rachel shot her husband dead.’ No surprises there, given that domestic noir generally involves terrorised women triumphing over vicious, controlling men. ‘He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face,’ Lehane continues, acknowledging the sub-genre’s conventions, ‘as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.’ The first of many twists swiftly follows, however, when Rachel realises that the last words her husband says to her are ‘I love you,’ and that Rachel, if asked whether she loved her husband even as she pulled the trigger, would have answered yes.
  The central appeal of domestic noir, of course, is that it explores the terrifying prospect of the person who is supposed to be your nearest and dearest being unmasked as your worst enemy, an enemy, more often than not, with murder on their mind. The temptation, from a writer’s point of view, is to lean too heavily on the readers’ expectations, and eventually reveal the predatorial character – there being little else by way of convincing motive to explain such a dramatic volte-face – as a grotesque sociopath. Despite working within domestic noir’s parameters, however, Lehane refuses the easy option at every turn. Rachel’s husband, Brian Delacroix, is as genuinely likeable and charismatic as his feelings for Rachel are genuinely those of a loving husband, a characterisation that regularly wrongfoots the reader anticipating Brian’s taking of axe to the bathroom door whilst yodelling ‘Heeeeere’s Brian!’
  That said, Since We Fell is Rachel Child’s story, and Lehane devotes the first third of the novel to exploring her complex character. Raised by her mother, Rachel becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the father who abandoned her at an early age, an identity her mother, poisoned by bitterness, deliberately withholds. A journalist by trade, Rachel nevertheless finds herself stymied at every turn; and when she commissions a private detective, Brian Delacroix, to continue the search, he is no more successful.
  A decade later, with a failed marriage behind her, and sacked after an on-air nervous breakdown when broadcasting live from Haiti, Rachel has become a shut-in, an agoraphobe deeply scarred with the horrors she witnessed in Haiti. Enter Brian Delacroix, beaming his crooked smile and exuding an irrepressible can-do attitude, lacking only a white charger as sets about freeing the princess from her self-imposed exile in her lonely tower, where she struggles to write a memoir. Roughly a third of the way in, and with story still patiently meandering down the byways of Rachel’s formative experiences, it’s tempting to believe that Lehane is describing his own experience of writing Since We Fell when Rachel observes that her story-telling is ‘a more free-flowing approach than she ever would have allowed herself as a journalist … something that, at the moment, spoke in cadence more than structure.’
  Then Rachel, on a rare outing, sees Brian in Boston when he is pretending to be in London, and the story very swiftly accelerates into a plot with more twists and turns than the Monaco grand prix, to the extent that you can believe Lehane is now having fun with Raymond Chandler’s advice on dealing with those occasional sticky moments when the action flags, which is to have a man come through the door with a gun already in his hand.
  What transpires, as Rachel runs for her life whilst trying to get to the root of Brian’s deceit, might seem improbable were it not for that meticulously crafted build-up. There are no grotesques here, no facile cliff-hangers, no red herrings so obviously stale they’re stinking up the joint. Since We Fell is a deliciously old-fashioned melodrama about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, a brilliantly unconventional domestic noir that confirms Dennis Lehane’s mastery of the crime narrative in all its varied forms. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Irish Times’ Crime Fiction Column

The wandering daughter job has been a staple of the private eye genre since Dashiell Hammett coined the phrase in 1929, but John Connolly’s A Game of Ghosts (Hodder & Stoughton, €17.99) offers a neat twist on the convention of the private eye quest when private investigator Charlie Parker is commissioned to track down fellow gumshoe Jaycob Eklund, who has likely wandered into harm’s way due to a long-standing fascination with the paranormal. As its title suggests, the 17th novel in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is more directly engaged with the supernatural than some of his more recent offerings: before he went missing, we discover, Eklund was investigating the Brethren, an ancient family that preys on the unwary from beyond the grave; meanwhile, Parker’s daughter Sam, a fascinating character who is long overdue her own novel, grows increasingly aware of the role she is fated to play in her father’s epic battle with evil. What follows is an absorbing tale of sin, punishment, atonement and redemption, the language as precisely measured and slowly beaten out as a eulogy delivered to the rhythm of a muffled drum, as Connolly lures us yet again into those shadows where he has created, as all great storytellers do, a world that is uniquely his own.
  JS Monroe’s Find Me (Head of Zeus, €18.45) opens with Jarleth Costello seeing his ex-girlfriend Rosa at a Tube station, even though Rosa – officially, at least – took her own life five years previously. Jarleth frequently experiences bereavement hallucinations, but this time Rosa’s appearance coincides with Jarleth being watched and followed. Is he succumbing to paranoia? And if Rosa were still alive, as Jarleth has always believed, why would the former Cambridge student have faked her death? JS Monroe has previously published five spy novels as Jon Stock, but Find Me is a conspiracy thriller in which amateur sleuth Jarleth is plunged into a world of spooks and covert black-ops as he pursues the truth of Rosa’s disappearance. The tale proceeds via the parallel narratives of Jarleth’s investigation and diary entries, as Jarleth stumbles across a journal Rosa left behind, an encrypted document which can only be decrypted one entry at a time. It’s a conceit designed to maintain narrative suspense, but it’s one which grows increasingly implausible, as is the motive the reader is given for Rosa’s reappearance in Jarleth’s life. John le Carré and Len Deighton are referenced throughout, but Find Me, though an entertaining page-turner, falls well short of such standards.
  Sabine Durrant’s fifth novel, Lie With Me (Mulholland Books, €17.99), is a comi-tragedy centring on Paul Morris, once a best-selling author now reduced to mooching off friends and family. Wangling his way into a Greek holiday on the Ionian island of Pyros with some old Cambridge acquaintances, Paul’s vanity comes back to haunt him when he finds himself at the centre of an investigation into the murder of a young female tourist some ten years previously. Paul Morris might easily be a Patricia Highsmith creation, even if Sabine Durrant very deliberately renders her anti-hero a rather charmless Tom Ripley, a libidinous sociopath who lacks any redeeming features other than the callous honesty of his internal monologues, such as when Paul observes that ‘The selfish response to events was so much more straightforward than the morally correct.’ The Greek setting is beautifully detailed, the large cast of characters neatly sketched in, and the plot is fiendishly deceptive as it gradually undermines the readers’ expectations. A slow-burning tale, Lie With Me is a blackly humorous and surprisingly affecting psychological thriller.
  Set in Naples, Laurent Gaudé’s Hell’s Gate (Gallic, €12.75) opens in 2004 with Filippo Scalfaro De Nittis scheming to avenge the death of his father, Matteo, by stabbing gangster Toto Cullaccio. Filippo seems prone to grandiose pronouncements (‘I’ve come back from the dead. I have memories of hell and fears of the world ending.’) until the story flashes back to 1980, when we discover that Filippo, then six years old, was shot dead when caught in the cross-fire of a gangsters’ shoot-out as his father Matteo brought him to school. Hell’s Gate is the revenge thriller reimagined as an existential meditation, and one that owes a considerable debt to Dante and Homer, as the bereaved Matteo descends among the shades of the Underworld and harrows hell in a self-sacrificing bid to restore his son to life. Despite giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘criminal underworld’, Hell’s Gate is by no means a conventional crime novel, with Gaudé focusing his energies on creating a claustrophobically intense contemporary myth that brilliantly evokes the madness of grief.
  Jo Nesbo’s The Thirst (Harvill Secker, €14.99) is the 11th novel to feature Oslo police detective Harry Hole, although Harry is no longer a detective, instead lecturing at Oslo’s police academy. When lawyer Elise Hermansen is murdered by a man she has just met on Tinder, however, the details are particularly gruesome – the man employed a set of spring-loaded steel teeth to bite out his victim’s throat – and soon Harry is commissioned to set up an independent investigative unit to hunt down what appears to be a deranged vampirist with a raging thirst for human blood. Despite being a collection of fictional detective tropes – the genius loner maverick who has resents authority and struggles with addiction – Harry Hole is enjoyably sardonic company as he unravels the mystery of ‘the vampire killer’, albeit that his efforts are hugely helped by the fact that the killer is an old foe who simply can’t help leaving clues to help Harry’s investigation along. Leaving very few serial killer clichés unturned (‘At last we meet again, Harry’), The Thirst is a polished pot-boiler that will likely delight Jo Nesbo fans but leave anyone encountering Harry Hole (‘the most mythologised murder detective in the Oslo Police’) for the first time wondering what all the fuss is about. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.