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.

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 CarrĂ©, 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

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