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.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Feature: Anthony J. Quinn on ‘the Border’

Anthony J. Quinn publishes UNDERTOW (Head of Zeus) this month, a story over which Brexit and the potential consequences of a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland throws a long shadow. Anthony had a piece published in the Irish Times yesterday about growing up with the border as a reality. To wit:
“Growing up during the Troubles, I wanted to run, but instead I remained rooted to the spot, in my home parish of Killeeshil in Tyrone, about three miles from the Border with Monaghan. By staying here and raising a family, I’ve managed to lift my childhood landscape out of the darkness of the past. The trees and rivers I played in as a boy with my brothers and sisters live on in my children’s world, their familiar sounds and images translated into new stories and adventures.
  “However, my children think I grew up somewhere else, in a grim terrain of checkpoints and military hardware, armed men in camouflage greens, bulletproof vests and balaclavas. To their generation, the Border exists not as a line on a map, but as a contradictory series of romantic recollections about smuggling and horror stories from the Troubles. They’ve never noticed the Border, which runs so invisibly close to their lives, and they’ve never been able to locate these stories in their own landscape. For the past 15 years or so, the Border has existed more as folklore, and in the crevices of the past, until its story took an unexpected turn in June 2016 when the UK made a political decision about immigration and voted for Brexit.
  “Then it was as if the Border had suddenly fallen upon us from the sky again.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Feature: The Irish Spy Novel

I had a feature on the lesser-spotted Irish spy novel published in the Irish Times last week, which featured – among others – Joe Joyce, John Banville, Eoin McNamee, Stephen Burke, Michael Russell, Stuart Neville, Philip Davison, Joseph Hone and Andrew Hughes. To wit:
Brinsley McNamara always claimed that Garradrimna, the village which provides the setting for The Valley of the Squinting Windows, could have been any village in Ireland. Published in 1918, the novel can be read as an expression of a kind of colonial pathology, as the population of Garradrimna engage in constant mutual surveillance, monitoring one another’s weaknesses and ferreting out secrets in order to accrue what passes for power among the powerless.
  Naturally, any of Garradrimna’s upstanding citizens would take mortal offence at being called a spy. To the coloniser, every native is suspect until proven otherwise, and the only way to prove this logically fallacious gambit is to maintain a relentless scrutiny. Spied upon for generations, the colonised learn to abhor the spies, even as they absorb the tradecraft; it’s no coincidence that there are few Irish insults worse than that of tout, or informer.
  Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why, despite the recent upsurge in Irish crime fiction, the Irish spy novel is notable by its absence. There is no Irish equivalent to Ian Fleming, for example, who served with British Naval Intelligence during WWII, or John le Carré, Somerset Maugham (Ashenden) and Graham Greene, all of whom worked with British Intelligence before going on to write spy fiction. The archetypal heroes of modern spy fiction were written from the perspective of the coloniser and empire builder; the methods employed by their protagonists may be less than savoury, of course, but the intelligent reader understands the realpolitik that means some eggs are destined for omelettes.
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, December 8, 2017

Feature: Crime Novels of the Year 2017

’Tis the season for end-of-year round-ups, so here’s my half of the Irish Times’ feature on 2017’s best crime fiction. To wit:
The year got off to a cracking start with Ali Land’s Good Me, Bad Me (Penguin Michael Joseph, €14.99), a genuinely unsettling novel of complex motivations that tests the reader’s capacity for empathy as teenager Milly struggles to cope with the horrors perpetrated by her mother. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail, €15.99) was yet another densely plotted, blackly hilarious outing for Adrian McKinty’s protagonist Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective working for the RUC during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’.
  Melissa Scrivner Love’s Lola (Point Blank, €14.99) was a brilliant debut, a bleak and cynical noir set in the patriarchal gangland world of LA’s South Central, with smack-peddler Lola pulling her gang’s strings as she does whatever it takes to survive. The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Orion, €15.99) delivered a terrific new protagonist: Renee Ballard, a hard-nosed LAPD detective who can more than hold her own with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me (Mulholland Books, €17.99) was a superb comi-tragic psychological thriller set on an Ionian island, a novel which owes, and handsomely repays, a debt to Patricia Highsmith.
  Dennis Lehane has written private eye novels, gangster novels and standalone thrillers. Since We Fell (Little, Brown, €16.99) offered another sub-genre variation as Lehane delivered a wonderful blend of melodrama and domestic noir. Spook Street (John Murray, €19.85) was the fourth, and arguably the best, in Mick Herron’s ‘Slough House’ series of spy novels, which feature spymaster Jackson Lamb and a charming collection of has-beens and never-will-bes.
  Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins, €13.99) was the seventh in Jane Casey’s series to feature police detective Maeve Kerrigan, a variation on the locked-room mystery as Maeve investigates the whereabouts of a missing corpse in a London suburb underpinned by religious fanaticism and patriarchal sexism. Stuart Neville published Here and Gone (Harvill Secker, €18.45) under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, delivering an adrenaline-fuelled thriller set in the badlands of Arizona. Insidious Intent (Little, Brown, €16.99) was the tenth in Val McDermid’s Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, but there’s no sense that Val is resting on her laurels – the novel delivered one of the most shocking denouements of the year. Set in 1939, Michael Russell’s The City of Lies (Constable, €16.99) was the fourth to feature Dublin-based Special Branch detective Stefan Gillespie, with Gillespie dispatched to Berlin, a city drunk on power and triumph but already suffering from mass psychosis.
  Finally, John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (Viking, €14.99) hauled George Smiley’s old factotum, Peter Guillam, out of his well-earned retirement, as London’s contemporary spymasters investigate the possibility that Peter, Smiley & Co. deliberately put civilian lives at risk when mounting the operation that led to the death of Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It may not be vintage le Carré, but it’s a marvellously evocative trip down memory lane.
  For other half – i.e., Declan Hughes’ half – of the list, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 7, 2017

News: Julie Parsons and John Connolly win at the Irish Book Awards

UPDATE: Following on from the Bord Gais Book of the Year awards on November 28th, the voting is now open for the overall Irish Book of the Year. I’m not say that you should vote for John Connolly or Julie Parsons, necessarily, but I am reliably informed that, should the spirit move you to do so, your reward will be in heaven. To vote, clickety-click here

Hearty congrats to Julie Parsons, who last night won the Irish Independent Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards for THE THERAPY HOUSE; and commiserations to all the joint runners-up, i.e., Jane Casey, Haylen Beck, Cat Hogan, Karen Perry and Sinead Crowley.
  Elsewhere, John Connolly scooped the Ryan Tubridy Listeners’ Choice Award for HE, his marvellous novel about the life and times of Stan Laurel.
  For all the details of the winners in all categories, clickety-click here

Friday, December 1, 2017

‘A Letter from Evangeline’ by Lily Burke

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that our daughter, Lily, is a keen reader and writer. Recently she entered a competition run by Jacqueline Wilson, in which readers were asked to write a letter set in historical times, the best of which would be published in Jacqueline Wilson’s next book. Lily didn’t win, and she was disappointed about that, although she didn’t really expect to win; what she was really disappointed about was that she had put so much effort into the story, and now, she says, no one will ever read it. So I’m putting the letter up here, so people can read it, and if anyone feels like letting Lily know what they thought of her letter, she would be delighted. I think it’s very good, but then I’m her Dad, and Lily is now nine years old, so my opinion doesn’t count so much anymore.
  Apart from some typos, the address at the top right, and some punctuation issues her OCD Dad just couldn’t let go, the letter is all Lily’s own work. To wit:

Ward 7,
St. Bart’s Hospital,
West Smithfield,
September 2nd, 1942

Dearest Mother,
 You are in my closest thoughts and I hope that when I see you again you will be as healthy as when I saw you last. I felt awful leaving you. We were all in such a state, with Emily pregnant and Father going off to the war and Sissy, oh, it gets harder every day …
 She didn’t deserve to go, but I guess she’s better off where she is now. We loved her so, but we just couldn’t give her the home she needed. Sissy was so full of life and ideas and when she died all her ideas died with her.
 It’s my fault, I know. If I hadn’t spent all that money on my own selfish desires, we would have been able to buy the medicine Sissy needed to live.
 You simply must name Emily’s baby after Sissy. That way Sissy can be its guardian angel and be with us at the same time.
 Last week (God bless her little soul) there was a girl on the children’s ward around Sissy’s age, she was very poorly, I think she had cancer. She died on Sunday morning, and it brought a tear to my eye for it was such a familiar pain. Everything in my instinct was telling me to go and comfort that poor child’s mother, and so I did, but when I arrived on the ward I found that the mother had killed herself from a broken heart. I cried myself to sleep that night.
 The hospital is dreadful. We don’t get paid half of what we got in Manchester, and the other nurses look down on me because I’m not as posh as they are. One caught me crying in the hall after the little girl died, and said, in a very rude way, ‘Weaklings won’t survive this war.’ I didn’t say anything rude back because I know the reason that they’re so mean is because they’re trying to hide as much pain as I’m showing, and that’s only human, and I don’t see anything wrong with being human. The matron was coming, and I didn’t want her to see me crying, so I rushed off – and Mother, that’s when I met him.
 Please don’t tell the children, but I have a sweetheart. His name is Robbie and he’s ever so handsome and kind, if only you could meet him. Father would simply die if he saw him, because he looks like a convict! But he’s actually quite well behaved. He’s one of the few who survived in my ward, his body is broken but certainly not his spirit. The other night I caught him limping out of the ward and when I asked him wherever was he going at that time of night, he said he was going back to the army. I asked how on earth he would get there and he told me he would follow the trail of death.
 Often I hear him cursing someone, saying things like, ‘The day I meet you again is the day I will kill you.’ And oh, how it breaks my heart, but there is nothing I can do, for a man ought to put his health before his desire, and though no man should give up on his dream and should be ashamed to do so, he cannot let his spirit take him over. But I don’t blame him, even the calmest of men could lose their minds in conditions such as these.
 Mother, I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have been singing in a music hall. It’s not a thing a nice girl would do, but you know I’ve never been a nice girl! I suppose you’re wondering why. Robbie plans to go to America when the war is over, and he has invited me to go with him. I’m sad to say that I won’t be coming home. He will write songs and I will sing them, and it will be tough but we will find a way, as lovers often do.
 And if I do come back you can hate me, because I have gone against everything I ever believed. I betrayed you. But I hope against hope that you can find it in your heart to love me,
 Your ever loving daughter,

By Lily Burke, aged 9