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 27, 2015

First Look: THE BIG O in German Translation

The lovely people at Edition Nautilus, my German publishers, will release THE BIG O early in 2016, in a translation by the award-winning writer Robert Brack. I had an absolutely terrific time in Germany last year, spending a week criss-crossing the country to mark the publication of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and I’m really looking forward to going back again for another tour next May.
  To mark the publication of THE BIG O, the following short interview appears in the current Edition Nautilus catalogue:

1. When I first read “The Big O”, I thought that you must have invented a whole new genre here: ‘Screwball-Noir’, maybe. How on earth did you find this twisted plot and these characters?

“I’m not sure who coined that phrase ‘screwball-noir’, although it has been used to describe “The Big O”. It sounds to me like a contradiction in terms – screwball is generally light-hearted and funny, whereas noir is bleak and doom-laden. I did deliberately set out to write a comic crime novel with “The Big O”, because I wrote it after completing the early drafts of “Absolute Zero Cool”, which seemed quite dark in tone to me, and I wanted to try something rather different and fun. I’ve always been drawn to characters in crime novels whose clever schemes fail because the criminals themselves are nowhere as clever as their schemes – prisons are full of people who thought they were smarter than they really are. There’s also a line from the Rolling Stones song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ that goes, “All the cops are criminals / and all the sinners saints …” – I though it might fun to write a book about those kind of characters, to see how they might interact.”

2. The title “The Big O” is probably a reference to “The Big Sleep”, even though there is not much Chandler in it, is there?

“There isn’t very much Raymond Chandler in “The Big O”, although I’m a huge fan of his books – in fact, if it wasn’t for Raymond Chandler, I probably wouldn’t have started writing crime fiction. I have written some private eye novels in the past, and they were strongly influenced by Chandler, but ‘The Big’ element of the title has more to do with classic crime fiction novels featuring those words – “The Big Heat”, for example, or “The Big Sleep”, or “The Big Combo”, “The Big Nowhere”, or “The Big Steal”. As for the influences on “The Big O”, in my mind I was very much influenced by American writers such as Elmore Leonard, Barry Gifford and George V. Higgins – although I hasten to add that I am acutely aware of how far short I fell by comparison with greats such as they.”

3. Your German readers only know “Absolute Zero Cool” so far, even though “The Big O” was published before. And the protagonist in “AZC” is writing “Crime Always Pays”, which is the second volume of “The Big O”. You are obviously creating an entire Declan-Burke-Cosmos - showing a remarkable variety in style. Was your idea to try out a completely different genre in crime fiction?

“There has been a variety of styles in the six novels I’ve published to date, certainly. There has been private eye novels, comedy crime caper novels, a spy novel and “Absolute Zero Cool”, which is a book I’m still not sure how to describe – I think it’s more of a novel about the crime novel, or the crime writer, rather than a crime novel in itself, which is why I have the protagonist in AZC writing “Crime Always Pays” (the sequel to “The Big O”). As to why I have tried different styles, I think it’s because, as a reader – and I will always be a reader first, and then a writer – I like to read widely, and not just in one genre, or one strand of a genre. Life would become boring very quickly, I’d imagine, if you only ever read private investigator novels; and that’s also true, for me, for writing – I think I would quickly get bored of writing the same kind of book all the time. It’s also true that I’m a fan of almost all kinds of crime fiction, from the so-called ‘cosy’ mysteries right through private eyes and hard-boiled noir and spy fiction, so when it comes to writing my own books I try to pay tribute to the wide and varied kinds of storytelling styles you get within the crime fiction genre.”

4. A beauty surgeon with a loose crown on his tooth; a criminal with a Saint’s name doing a hold-up in an Oxfam store, a getaway car driver suffering from narcolepsy ... honestly, which one of those if you favourite or was the most fun to write?

“That’s a very hard question for me to answer! It’s like asking me which of my children I love most … I guess, if I really had to answer the question, I would say that I particularly loved Rossi and Sleeps. Rossi is a criminal with huge ambitions, and a very inflated sense of his own abilities, and I developed a great sympathy for him as I wrote the book, mainly because Rossi was born into a life where he had very little opportunities, but through no fault of his own. And Sleeps, who is the narcoleptic getaway driver and something of a quiet philosopher, was an absolute joy to write – in fact, I’m currently considering writing a novel that will feature Sleeps as the central ‘hero’.”

5. I think it’s great how your women characters are, in spite of all their bad habits and quirkiness, very positive and tough, very hard to impress. Are there real-life models for this?

“The short answer to this question is ‘Yes, there are.’ The longer answer is that if those women – and in particular, one woman – ever found out that I was writing about them, my life would not be worth living! Actually, now that I think of it, she doesn’t read German, so I should be okay to say that the main model for Karen in the novel – she is the main character, in my mind; “The Big O” is really her story – is my older sister, who was always very independent, self-sufficient, creative, positive and tough when I was growing up. In fact, she blazed a trail that allowed me to follow. So Karen, in the book, is very much my way of paying tribute to my sister, even if, to the best of my knowledge, my sister has never taken part in a stick-up …”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: The Best Crime Novels of 2015

“And so this is Christmas,” as John Lennon once so astutely observed, “and what have you done?” Well, as always, I mostly read. Herewith be the list of my favourite / most enjoyable / most memorable crime novels from 2015:

The crime fiction year opened with a bang, appropriately enough, with Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl (Serpent’s Tail), the fourth in a series featuring Sean Duffy. A Catholic detective with the RUC, Duffy investigates a double-killing as the news of the impending Anglo-Irish Agreement sends Northern Ireland into a turmoil of strikes, riots and violence.
Set in the 1970s, Celeste Ng’s impressive debut Everything I Never Told You (Black Friars) investigates the tragic life and death of Ohio teen Lydia Lee, creating a heartbreaking portrait of a teenage girl struggling to cope with unbearable and conflicting pressures.
  Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (Doubleday) was an equally impressive first outing, and one of the year’s publishing sensations (touted as this year’s Gone Girl), as alcoholic Rachel turns amateur sleuth when a woman goes missing. Steve Cavanagh’s The Defence (Orion) was another debut, a rollicking tale of New York lawyer Eddie Flynn going into court with a bomb strapped to his back to defend a Russian mobster. Attica Locke’s third offering, Pleasantville (Serpent’s Tail), is another to feature a lawyer, as Jay Porter tries to extricate the personal from the political as reluctantly defends an alleged killer during a mayoral election in Houston, Texas, against the backdrop of a campaign of very dirty tricks.
  A Song of Shadows (Hodder & Stoughton) was John Connolly’s 13th novel to feature private eye Charlie Parker, and arguably his best, as Parker – no stranger to evil – finds himself immersed in the horrors of the Holocaust and evolving into something of a Christ-like figure. The Shut Eye (Bantam Press) was Belinda Bauer’s sixth novel, and another tinged with the supernatural, in which hard-nosed DCI John Marvel finds his scepticism tested to the limit in a thoughtful meditation on faith, hope and belief. Over in Colorado, FBI agent Ren Bryce returned in Killing Ways (Harper Collins), Alex Barclay’s seventh novel. Bryce tracks a serial killer in an unusually poignant thriller featuring moments of poetic horror.
  Richard Beard’s superb Acts of the Assassins (Harvill Secker) was a time-bending tale employing modern weaponry and infrastructure in which Roman investigator Gallio searches for the rabble-rousers who stole the corpse of the local mystic Jesus from his tomb in the wake of the prophet’s crucifixion. Camille (MacLehose) concluded Pierre Lemaitre’s impressive trilogy about the diminutive Parisian police detective, Camille Verhoeven, with Camille racing to track down a killer while constantly second-guessing his own motives and capabilities.
  In June, the ever reliable Karin Fossum delivered The Drowned Boy (Harvill Secker), in which her series detective, the brooding Norwegian Inspector Sejer, investigates the tragic death of a toddler with Down’s syndrome. Dennis Lehane concluded his excellent Joe Coughlin trilogy with World Gone By (Little, Brown), which was set in Florida and Cuba, and charted the turbulent transition of America’s criminal fraternity from the riotous gangster era to the more organised crime of the Mafia.
  Elmer Mendoza’s Silver Bullets (MacLehose) was a Mexican ‘narco’ novel featuring Detective Edgar ‘Lefty’ Mendieta, a bracingly bleak but blackly comic tale of murder investigation set in a country where “nothing is true, nothing is false.” Set in Belfast, Those We Left Behind (Harvill Secker), Stuart Neville’s sixth novel, featured DCI Serena Flanagan and explored the physical and psychological damage wrought by the actions of two apparently sociopathic – but heartbreakingly vulnerable – young boys. Simon Mawer’s Tightrope (Little, Brown) was a superior spy novel set in the post-WWII years, an absorbing tale about Marian Sutro, a former war hero whose notions of patriotism and honour are ripped apart as the Cold War chills to deep freeze.
  Even the Dead (Penguin) was Benjamin Black’s seventh offering in the increasingly impressive series featuring the pathologist Quirke. Here the depiction of a genteel 1950s Dublin belie a brutally noir moral relativism, as Quirke sinks into a quicksand of politics and religion. Sinead Crowley’s sophomore offering, Are You Watching Me? (Quercus), was an assured take on the ‘domestic noir’ genre, as Garda Detective Claire Boyle tracks the stalker who is making life hell for media ingénue Liz Cafferky. Jon Steele concluded with another trilogy with the fantastic (and fantastical) The Way of Sorrows (Blue Rider Press), as Harper, an angel in human form, complete with Chandleresque quips, goes to war against the forces of Evil for humanity’s soul.
  Jane Casey’s After the Fire (Ebury Press) featured her series heroine, London-based DC Maeve Kerrigan. “Casey writes with a deft wit and immense skill,” wrote Declan Hughes in these pages. “The Maeve Kerrigan books keep getting better and better.” Mark Henshaw’s The Snow Kimono (Tinder Press) centred on retired Parisian police inspector Auguste Jovert in an unusual crime novel, with Jovert playing the part of reluctant confessor to an elaborately detailed declaration of guilt. Julia Heaberlin’s third novel, Black-Eyed Susans (Penguin), was a brilliantly constructed tale of parallel narratives as teenager Tessie and adult Tess recount their horrific story of being abducted and left for dead by a seasoned serial killer in an engrossing exploration of the morality of the death penalty.
  Lynda La Plante returned to the iconic heroine of Prime Suspect for Tennison (Simon & Schuster), offering a tale of how Tennison came of age as a policewoman in the early 1970s when she is seconded to an investigation into the murder of a 17-year-old girl found naked and strangled on Hackney Marshes. In a good year for Irish crime fiction, Jo Spain’s With Our Blessing (Quercus) was a remarkably assured debut that introduced Inspector Tom Reynolds in an old-fashioned murder mystery (albeit one freighted with the pain of recent Irish history) set in a convent.

  This article was first published in the Irish Times.

  So there it is, folks. It’s been another great year, and thank you kindly to everyone who dropped by ye olde blogge. A happy and peaceful Christmas to you all, and I’ll see you all back here come the New Year …

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

First Look: DISTRESS SIGNALS by Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard publishers her debut thriller DISTRESS SIGNALS (Corvus) next May, with the blurb elves elucidating thusly:
The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry – S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.
  Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate - and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a murderer who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground ...
  For more on Catherine Ryan Howard, clickety-click here

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

First Look: RAIN DOGS by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s RAIN DOGS (Serpent’s Tail), the fifth in the Sean Duffy series, will be published on January 21st. Quoth the blurb elves:
It’s just the same things over and again for Sean Duffy. Riot duty. Heartbreak. Cases he can solve but never get to court. But what detective gets two locked room mysteries in one career?
  When journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead in the courtyard of Carrickfergus castle, it looks like a suicide. But there are just a few things that bother Duffy enough to keep the case file open. Which is how he finds out that she was working on a devastating investigation of corruption and abuse at the highest levels of power in the UK and beyond.
  And so Duffy has two impossible problems on his desk: who killed Lily Bigelow? And what were they trying to hide?
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Paperback: KILLING WAYS by Alex Barclay

Alex Barclay’s KILLING WAYS (Harper) gets a snazzy new cover for its paperback edition, which was published on December 3rd. To wit:
Dark times lie ahead for Special Agent Ren Bryce and the Rocky Mountains Safe Streets Task Force in the heart-stopping new thriller from the bestselling author of DARKHOUSE and BLOOD LOSS.
  In her most shocking case yet, FBI Special Agent Ren Bryce takes on a depraved serial killer fueled by a warped sense of justice.
  A master of evasion, each life he takes ramps up Ren’s obsession with finding him. Then one victim changes everything and brings Ren face to face with a detective whose life was destroyed by the same pursuit.
  Together, can they defeat this monster? Or will he take them both down?
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 3, 2015

First Look: SISTERS AND LIES by Bernice Barrington

Bernice Barrington publishes her debut novel SISTERS AND LIES (Penguin Ireland) next year. Quoth the blurb elves:
One hot August night, Rachel Power gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away?
  With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees.
  Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him?
  The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is.
  Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel - a warning which could just save both their lives . . .
  SISTERS AND LIES will be published on March 24th. For more, clickety-click here

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Publication: ALIBI FOR EVIL by Michael Haskins

Michael Haskins publishes ALIBI FOR EVIL, the eighth in his series of Florida-set novels to feature ‘Mad’ Mick Murphy. To wit:
After two suspicious deaths in Key West, Mick Murphy gets caught up in a conspiracy theorist dream. Corrupt Florida politicians, all the way to the governor, land developers and banks are ready to develop the pristine Keys, including Murphy’s beloved Key West. What’s worse of Murphy and his eclectic group of friends is that federal agencies know what’s happening, who the players are and are doing little, if anything. To big to fail comes to mind. Throw in the Mexican drug cartel’s money, used as an investment in the plan, and Murphy faces one of his most dangerous misadventures to date.
  For the first three chapters of ALIBI FOR EVIL, clickety-click here

Monday, November 30, 2015

Publication: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH WEST by Garbhan Downey

Derry’s finest Garbhan Downey publishes his eighth novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH WEST (Guildhall Press). Quoth the Derry Journal:
‘Once Upon A Time in the North West’, the eighth novel from the Derry writer, charts the fortunes of a family run newspaper in the city from its foundation in 1912 until the meeting between former IRA leaders and Queen Elizabeth II in 2012-one hundred years on.
  This story will take readers to both sides of the Atlantic; through the War of Independence, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, gerrymandering and political corruption, the formation of JFK’s Irish Camelot, the Civil Rights Movement, sectarian murders, the hunger strikes and the ceasefires.
  As all this develops the novel focuses on the death of a well-connected Irish newspaper owner, Sean Madden. His passing triggers a secret hunt for his memoirs. As owner of the North West Chronicle, Sean Madden had accumulated a in-depth memoir of what actually happened and hugely at odds of official accounts. As such, the Americans want to get their hands on it before the British and the Irish. Yet, Madden’s hard-nosed granddaughter Maeve, heir to the newspaper, has her own interests to protect as well.
  This historical novel-cum-21st century mystery makes for a pulsating page turner that transports the reader on an epic journey of war and peace, love and loss, politics and criminality across the twentieth century.
  For more, clickety-click here

Friday, November 27, 2015

Launch: ECHOWAVE by Joe Joyce


Joe Joyce publishes the third in his WWII-set mysteries, ECHOWAVE (Liberties Press) next week. Quoth the blurb elves:
June 1941. An American plane crashes in the west of Ireland. Its cargo of booze, cigarettes and caviar destined for the US embassy in London includes a piece of secret military hardware of great interest to the Germans. The device disappears from the wreckage. Paul Duggan, a young Irish military intelligence officer still pining for a beautiful Austrian-Jewish refugee who has moved on to a new life in New York, sets out to find it before the Germans do. Meanwhile, the United States and the British are pushing neutral Ireland to help protect their Atlantic convoys, which would involve it in the war. The search and the diplomatic arm-twisting become entwined and take Duggan to the dangerous back streets of Lisbon, the war’s spy centre, where the intelligence games between the Allies and the Nazis can turn deadly.
  For a review of Joe Joyce’s ECHOLAND, clickety-click here

Thursday, November 26, 2015

News: Jane Casey’s AFTER THE FIRE Wins the Irish Crime Novel of the Year

Hearty congratulations to Jane Casey, whose AFTER THE FIRE (Ebury Press) won the Ireland AM Crime Book of the Year at last night’s Irish Book Awards. I can only imagine that Jane was a popular winner on the night, given that (a) the Maeve Kerrigan novels are very good indeed, and (b) this was her fourth time to be nominated, and her first win at the IBAs (Jane, of course, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award earlier this year, for THE STRANGER YOU KNOW). Writing in the Irish Times, Declan Hughes had this to say about AFTER THE FIRE:
“The latest in Jane Casey’s excellent series of police procedurals, After the Fire (Ebury Press, £12.99) sees DC Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues investigate the aftermath of a fire on the top floors of Murchison House, a 1970s tower block in the Maudling council estate … Casey writes with a deft wit and immense skill … The Maeve Kerrigan books keep getting better and better.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Irish Crime Fiction Novel of the Year – The Shortlist

The very best of luck to all the nominees in the Irish Book Awards, which takes place tomorrow night, Wednesday 25th November. Naturally, we'll be keeping a close eye on the Crime Book of the Year category, sponsored by Ireland AM. To wit:

Hearty congratulations to all the authors shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Book of the Year, which was announced on November 4th. There are two things here worth noting, I think – the first is that the recent trend of women dominating Irish crime fiction looks set fair to continue; and that Jane Casey has been shortlisted for what is (by my calculations) the 141st time. Surely that woman’s time has come …
  Anyhoo, the shortlist is as follows:
Ireland AM Crime Book of the Year

• EVEN THE DEAD by Benjamin Black (Viking)

• FREEDOM’S CHILD by Jax Miller (HarperCollins)

• ARE YOU WATCHING ME? by Sinead Crowley (Quercus)

• ONLY WE KNOW by Karen Perry (Michael Joseph)

• THE GAME CHANGER by Louise Phillips (Hachette Books Ireland)

• AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey (Ebury Press)
  For the details of all the books nominated in all Irish Book Award categories, clickety-click here

Friday, November 20, 2015

First Look: DEAD SECRET by Ava McCarthy

Ava McCarthy is best known for her series of thrillers featuring Harry Martinez, but her latest, the forthcoming DEAD SECRET (Harper), is a standalone. To wit:
From the author of the Harry Martinez thrillers comes a gripping psychological suspense novel.
  Two quick shots. One for him. One for you.
  After the death of her three-year-old daughter, Jodie has nothing left to live for – or almost nothing.
  She has one task to fulfil before she takes her own life. And that’s to kill the man she holds responsible for her daughter’s death – her seemingly perfect husband, Ethan.
  But Ethan is hiding more than just his true nature. And as more horrifying secrets from his past emerge, Jodie’s strength will be pushed to the limit …
  DEAD SECRET will be published on January 14th. For more, clickety-click here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg

Longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize and National Book Awards, Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have A Family (Jonathan Cape) is a moving meditation on grief and mourning. Set in the small town of Wells, Connecticut, a town in economic decline which serves as a weekend and holiday destination for New Yorkers, the story opens with 16-year-old Silas waking to the sound of sirens, and discovering that smoke is rising into the sky from a house not far from his own home.
  Clegg employs a number of characters to tell his story, and the perspective quickly switches to that of June, a native New Yorker who has just decided to leave Wells. It is now some weeks after the fire observed by Silas; we learn that the fire was the result of a gas leak in June’s house, where the wedding of her daughter Lolly and Lolly’s fiancé Will was due to take place. June is the only survivor of the blaze, which also killed her boyfriend, Luke. Numbed by the horror of her loss, June leaves Wells forever, not particularly caring where she drives.
  The perspective switches again, as Clegg continues to assemble the pieces of his mosaic-style narrative. We meet Lydia, Luke’s mother; Kelly, who runs the Moonstone Motel in Washington State, where June eventually fetches up; Cissy, the cleaner at the Moonstone who takes June under her wing; Dale, the father of Will; and Silas, who has guilty secrets he is desperate to confess.
  It’s a slow-burning tale initially, as the reader waits for the various pieces of the mosaic to fit and a pattern to emerge, but the patient reader will be richly rewarded. Clegg’s style allows for a number of ways of looking at the same central issue – the mystery of what caused the tragic fire – and also allows the story to move back and forth in time, so that at times we are observing people in the days, years and sometimes decades prior to the tragedy, while at other times we are exploring the consequences of the fire and the deaths, and learning how people are living with their loss and grief.
  It’s not quite as straightforward as Clegg simply slotting various pieces of story ‘jigsaw’ into place, however. As the story continues, the perspectives and personal stories begin to overlap in places, as accounts reinforce and sometimes contradict and occlude one another, which adds more dimensions to the individual stories and gives a greater depth and poignancy to the tale as a whole.
  In a quietly ambitious novel, Clegg weaves fascinating themes of impermanence (motels provide a recurring motif) and fractured families into his story, although the novel is at its most powerful when Clegg address the central issue of grief and death, and particularly in terms of that most devastating of losses, when a parent loses a child (June, Lydia and Dale have all lost children to the fire). “We’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud,” observes Dale at one point of his changing relationship with his wife, “and when it does, we try not to speak over it.”
  It’s a haunting, affecting story of tragedy in a minor key, a restrained and dignified excavation of the deepest emotions that never veers into the realms of the sentimental. The final perspective in the novel is provided by Cissy, when she realises that June and Lydia have found a kind of solace in one another. “Rough as life can be,” Cissy says, “I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part … Someone down the line might need to know you got through it.”

This review was first published in the Irish Examiner

Monday, November 16, 2015

Publication: THE SILENT DEAD by Claire McGowan

Claire McGowan publishes THE SILENT DEAD (Headline), the third in her series of novels featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, on November 19th. To wit:
Victim: Male.
Mid-thirties. 5’7”.
Cause of death: Hanging. Initial impression - murder.
ID: Mickey Doyle. Suspected terrorist and member of the Mayday Five.

The officers at the crime scene know exactly who the victim is. Doyle was one of five suspected bombers who caused the deaths of sixteen people. The remaining four are also missing and when a second body is found, decapitated, it’s clear they are being killed by the same methods their victims suffered. Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is assigned the case but she is up against the clock - both personally and professionally. With moral boundaries blurred between victim and perpetrator, will be Paula be able to find those responsible? After all, even killers deserve justice, don’t they?
  Not one to rest on her laurels, Claire McGowan will publish the fourth Paula Maguire novel, A SAVAGE HUNGER, in March 2016.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: THE OUTSIDER: MY LIFE IN INTRIGUE by Frederick Forsyth

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question most writers come to dread, and may well be one of the reasons why Frederick Forsyth has finally published his autobiography. The author of best-selling thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal (1971), The Fourth Protocol (1984), The Kill List (2013) and many more, Forsyth has lived a storied life, and one that has, as the subtitle ‘My Life in Intrigue’ suggests, directly impacted on his fiction.
  Born in 1938, the young Forsyth grew up a child of the Cold War. A flair for languages and travel ensured that he was fluent in French, Spanish, German and Russian before he left school, although his true passion was flying. He was also, it seems, something of a lightning conductor for trouble. In 1958, for example, aged just 19 and with a month to kill at the end of this RAF fighter pilot training, Forsyth decided to use the time to travel to the Middle East, via Malta, Cyprus and Lebanon. “I had been away three weeks,” he writes as he concludes his eventful holiday, “experiencing one mid-air near disaster, one civil war and two uprisings.”
  Such was not untypical of Forsyth’s life. “We all make mistakes,” he begins this book, “but starting the Third World War would have been a rather large one.” That particular snafu occurred when Forsyth was living in East Berlin as a Reuters correspondent in the early 1960s, where he would on occasion, and despite the shadowing presence of the Communist regime, moonlight on behalf of the British secret service. Nor was that the last time Forsyth would operate as an ‘asset’: while never a spy, Forsyth regularly made himself available to facilitate operations run by the SIS / MI6.
  Indeed, so packed with incident was the first half of his life – he covered the Biafran War as a BBC foreign correspondent, got involved with Russian princesses, romanced beautiful Czechoslovakian spies, flew with the Red Arrows – that Forsyth doesn’t get around to talking about his fiction until we’re about two-thirds of the way through this memoir. A hard-bitten, cynical journalist by 1970, Forsyth was still naïve enough as a novelist not to realise that a thriller about an assassination attempt on a living historical figure – Charles De Gaulle – simply wouldn’t work. The result, The Day of the Jackal, was a ground-breaking tour-de-force of realism, largely due to Forsyth’s insider knowledge of guarding De Gaulle, garnered from a Corsican ex-Foreign Legion mercenary Forsyth met while working in Biafra.
  And on the anecdotes go. While living in Ireland in the 1970s, Forsyth becomes a regular dinner-party companion of the ‘amusing rogue’ Charles Haughey, who offers the author the position of Senator. For The Cobra (2010), and now in his seventies, Forsyth flew into the ‘West African hell-hole’ of Guinea-Bissou to research cocaine-smuggling, “where I had staged through forty years earlier, perched on a crate of mortars, when a bullet came through the floor and went through the ceiling.”
  He can be forthright in his criticism of certain aspects of British foreign policy, and pulls no punches when detailing his time working for the BBC, but for the most part Forsyth makes for an urbane narrator, the stories unfolding in the manner of tall tales and outrageous yarns swapped beside the blazing fire of an exclusive club, and best enjoyed with a glass of something amber in hand. It’s Boy’s Own stuff, of course, and overall The Outsider is an enthralling account of a life that would make for a thrilling, if delightfully implausible, novel. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner

Monday, November 9, 2015

Publication: DUBLIN SEVEN by Frankie Gaffney

Were an unsuspecting reader to pick up Frankie Gaffney’s debut novel DUBLIN SEVEN (Liberties Press), he or she might believe the story – young Dubliner Shane Laochra gets involved in coke-dealing during the Celtic Tiger boom, with the expected consequences – to be a crime novel written in the vernacular style, a la Roddy Doyle.
  A recent Irish Times feature, however, suggests that Frankie Gaffney may not have had ‘crime novel’ at the top of his list of priorities when he sat down to write DUBLIN SEVEN. Here he is, for example, on the novel’s structure:
“I was inspired in this regard by James Joyce’s “Linati schema” for Ulysses. Joyce’s masterpiece is organised around a grid, allocating each episode a Homeric parallel, an organ of the body, an academic discipline, and so forth. I wanted to do something similar on a more modest and intelligible scale. Each chapter of Dublin Seven has one each of the seven deadly sins, seven holy gifts, seven Biblical plagues, the seven Egyptian souls (as imagined in the famous William S Burroughs poem some might remember from the montage at the start of the final season of The Sopranos), the seven traditional colours of the spectrum, and the seven ancient vedic deities/planets (that gave their names to our days of the week).”
  For more, clickety-click here

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Review: ALL INVOLVED by Ryan Gattis

The 1992 LA riots provide the backdrop to All Involved (Picador), Ryan Gattis’s fifth novel. When the police officers who were filmed beating Rodney King were acquitted on April 29th, parts of the city exploded into an orgy of violence, looting, arson and murder that lasted for five days.
  The logical conclusion, then, was that the anarchy was a nihilistic response to an oppressive, racist culture, but Ryan Gattis offers an alternative reading. The arson, believes fireman Anthony Smiljanic, is ‘mostly planned and it’s one of three things – grudge, mayhem or insurance.’ The riots, argues Gattis in a preface titled ‘The Facts’, provided ‘a sinister combination of opportunity and circumstance,’ and the five days of rioting, during which 60 people died, ‘was a long time for scores to be settled.’
  The story opens with Ernesto Vera, a Mexican-born ‘civilian’ (i.e., he’s not a gang member) who has lived most of his life in LA. The aspiring sushi chef leaves work early on the first night of the rioting, but never makes it home: Ernesto is brutally murdered and dumped in an alleyway simply because his killers can’t find Ernesto’s brother, the gang member Lil Mosco.
  Ernesto’s sister, the 16-year-old gang member Payasa, vows to avenge her brother’s death, and so begins a thread of tit-for-tat violence that runs like a bloody seam through All Involved. Rival gangs engage in raids and drive-by shootings in the vacuum created by the absence of law and order, as power struggles and turf wars escalate into full-scale carnage. Each chapter offers the perspective of a different character, among them Big Fate, the leader of Payasa’s gang, and Lil Creeper, a junkie with a vested interest in fanning the flames.
  These are juxtaposed with the civilians’ point-of-view. We see the riots from the cab of Anthony Smiljanic’s fire engine, from the hospital emergency room where Gloria Rubio is a nurse, and the back seat of a car patrolling Koreatown, where high school student John Kim argues the case that America was created by individuals who were prepared to band together into militias and posses to take a stand against lawlessness.
  Even as Gattis moves the action forward, however, the story is constantly harking back to the historical conditions that created the tinder-box sparked by the LA riots. Here lawlessness is fomented, as often as not, by the powers-that-be. The riots, we’re told, are cyclical because the authorities ignored the oppressive poverty and policing policies that caused the ‘Zoot Suit’ riots of the 1940s and the Watts riots of the 1960s. The result is successive generations abandoned to ghettos with little to hope for and nothing to lose (as the novel opens, the doomed Ernesto makes his way home through ‘a neighbourhood with a gun store that sells single bullets for twenty-five cents’).
  Gattis’s LA is a parallel, invisible America, a war zone in which strength and power are the only currencies that matter. In this context the bizarrely convoluted justifications for murder begin to make perverse sense and the relentless nature of the tit-for-tat violence takes on a hypnotic quality. Not that Gattis is romanticising the protagonists or their actions. There is a chilling, deadening tone to the story, such as when a shoot-out leaves some gang members wounded, ‘still a few breathing, enough for the [ten-year-old] little homies to step up and earn stripes.’
  Gattis ends the novel on an optimistic note, with a teenager observing LA rising from the flames ‘as something broken and pretty and new.’ Two decades on, however, this vividly detailed and haunting account of the LA riots functions as an enervating but absorbing warning from history. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Genre and Literary Fiction: Whither le Carré?

Adam Sisman’s JOHN LE CARRÉ: THE BIOGRAPHY gets off to a good start – in my book – with Sisman’s Introduction, when he says that the ‘condescending attitude taken by some towards le Carré is explained in part by the idea that ‘genre’ novels are innately inferior’:
“To me, the argument about whether a genre novelist can ever be ‘literary’ is a circular one. The very distinction is meaningless. Is Jane Austen a genre novelist? Is Nineteen Eighty-Four a genre novel? or A Tale of Two Cities? or Wolf Hall? or The Quiet American? All that one can usefully say is that there are good novelists and bad novelists. […]
“I suspect that his enormous success has prejudiced some critics against le Carré. If a writer is so popular, he must have lowered himself to the level of the masses. Quite apart from being manifestly untrue, this is no more than snobbery. We should delight in the fact that such a sophisticated and subtle writer has so many readers. A further problem for le Carré is that his books are often tense, exciting and even thrilling – qualities not often present in literary fiction, and ones that perhaps disqualify him from entertaining the pantheon.
“I see an analogy with Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker whose artistry was often overlooked in his lifetime because he made the mistake of being popular. The novels of le Carré blend art and entertainment, a mix to be relished by those who have the taste to enjoy it.” ~ Adam Sisman

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Launch: SOUR by Alan Walsh

SOUR is the debut novel from Alan Walsh, a modern retelling of the myth of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’ – sounds like a cracking idea. The launch details are as follows:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Irish Crime Fiction Debuts: Jo Spain and Michael O’Higgins

It’s been a very good year for Irish crime fiction debuts, and two of the best have just been published: WITH OUR BLESSING by Jo Spain (Quercus) and SNAPSHOTS by Michael O’Higgins (New Island). To wit:
WITH OUR BLESSING by Jo Spain
It’s true what they say . . . revenge is sweet.
  1975. A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.
  2010. The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.
  Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is working the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

SNAPSHOTS by Michael O’Higgins
Dublin, 1981. One cop. One curate. One hardman. One boy. When a brutal attack on a prison officer puts these four on a collision course, the outcome will be as startling as it is unsentimental. Gritty, authentic and emotionally charged, SNAPSHOTS is at once a taut crime thriller and a reflection of our world, one in which the worst human horrors are found closest to home, and the most destructive transgressions are committed behind closed doors.
  I’ll be reviewing both books in the Irish Times crime column later this month …

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Launch: John Connolly and Brian McGilloway at No Alibis

Ten years on from NOCTURNES, John Connolly publishes a second collection of short stories with NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 (Hodder & Stoughton). It looks to be an absolute treat: 13 stories in total, including the Edgar-winning tale ‘The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository’, ‘Holmes on the Range’, a further story derived from the Caxton Private Lending Library universe, and ‘The Hollow King’, which is rooted in the world of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. NIGHT MUSIC will be available in hardback and ebook from October 15th …
  Meanwhile, Brian McGilloway has just published the third in his Lucy Black series, PRESERVE THE DEAD (Corsair), with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is visiting her father, a patient in a secure unit in Gransha Hospital on the banks of the River Foyle. He’s been hurt badly in an altercation with another patient, and Lucy is shocked to discover him chained to the bed for safety. But she barely has time to take it all in, before an orderly raises the alarm - a body has been spotted floating in the river below...
  The body of an elderly man in a grey suit is hauled ashore: he is cold dead. He has been dead for several days. In fact a closer examination reveals that he has already been embalmed. A full scale investigation is launched - could this really be the suicide they at first assumed, or is this some kind of sick joke?
  Troubled and exhausted, Lucy goes back to her father’s shell of a house to get some sleep; but there’ll be no rest for her tonight. She’s barely in the front door when a neighbour knocks, in total distress - his wife’s sister has turned up badly beaten. Can she help?
  In PRESERVE THE DEAD, Brian McGilloway weaves a pacy, intricate plot, full of tension to the very last page.
  Writing in last weekend’s Irish Times, Declan Hughes was very impressed indeed with PRESERVE THE DEAD. For the full review, clickety-click here
  John and Brian co-launch their books at No Alibis in Belfast later this month, with the details as follows:
No Alibis is pleased (very, very pleased!) to invite you to our store on Thursday 22nd October at 7pm for the Double Launch Party of John Connolly and Brian McGilloway’s latest works, NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 and PRESERVE THE DEAD.
  We will also be celebrating the launch of our 4th limited edition publication. We are running a limited printing of NIGHT MUSIC: NOCTURNES VOLUME 2 by John Connolly. This edition is limited to 125 specially bound and slipcased copies, including exclusive artwork commissioned by Anne M. Anderson.
  This incredibly special event will be sponsored by Boundary Brewing Company. An event not be missed, folks!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: TWO YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT NIGHTS by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s 10th novel opens in Arab Spain in 1195, when disgraced court physician and philosopher Ibn Rushd takes in the mysterious 16-year-old orphan Dunia. Given that the novel’s title adds up to 1,001 nights (aka ‘the number of magic’), it comes as no surprise when Dunia is revealed as the Lightning Princess, a jinnia – or genie – from the Upper World, or Fairyland.
  The many children of the union between this vain but brilliant man and the beautiful, magical princess multiply and spread out all over the world. A thousand years later, as the world faces an ecological disaster that morphs into an existential crisis when the wicked djinn of the Upper World declare war on humanity, Dunia’s children – the Duniazat – rise to the apparently impossible challenge of defeating their immortal foes.
  That’s the plot in a nutshell, but a summary does little justice to the digressive, delightfully fantastical tale of Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights. Rushdie draws heavily on the Arabian Nights for his narrative here, but Scheherazade’s stories are only one source of inspiration. The novel blends history, philosophy, myth and legend as Rushdie playfully recounts the cataclysmic events that ushered the novel’s narrators – an anonymous, collective ‘we’ – into humanity’s Golden Age of peace, wisdom and prosperity, 800 hundred years hence.
  Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses (1988) and Midnight’s Children (1981), the latter the winner of ‘the Best of the Booker Prize’ in 2008, here revels in silliness and whimsy – indeed, there are times when the shades of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams battle for dominance with Italo Calvino and Georges Sirtzes. Ibn Rushd may well be a high-minded disciple of Aristotle, and spends eternity locked in a philosophical feud with his bitter rival, the fear-mongering Ghazali, but the novel is peppered with pop culture references that range from Batman to Laurel and Hardy, Harry Potter to Isaac Asmiov.
  It’s also a novel deeply immersed in books and reading as an intrinsically human endeavour. The jinnia, we are told rarely have children – “That would be as if a story mated with its reader to produce another reader.” – but Dunia “produced offspring the way Georges Simenon wrote novels.” Humanity, and particularly the evolved ‘we’ telling us the story, “are the creature that tells itself stories to understand what sort of creature it is.”
  Rushdie, of course, had a fatwa issued against him in 1989 on the basis that The Satanic Verses was perceived as blasphemous, and while Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights is on the one hand an exhilarating exercise in the joy of storytelling akin to Rushdie’s own The Enchantress of Florence (2008), it is also a subversive piece of religious satire. The evil djinn – the Ifriti – seduce and subjugate human men to do their wicked bidding in the war against humanity, preying on their weaknesses and base instincts – sex, mainly – and sending them out to kill and die under a black flag. “When lonely, hopeless young men were provided with loving, or at least desirous, at the very least willing sexual partners,” writes Rushdie, “they lost interest in suicide belts, bombs and the virgins of heaven, and preferred to live.”
  Ultimately, this funny, profound and gorgeously readable novel thrives on unresolved tensions between reality and magic, fact and fiction, philosophy and religion. “They’re all make-believe,” the storyteller Blue Yasmeen tells us, “the realist fantasies and the fantastic fantasies are both made up.” It’s our tragedy, she declares, that “our fictions are killing us, but if we didn’t have those fictions, maybe that would kill us too.” ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Publication: THE LOST AND THE BLIND arrives in paperback

The very fine folk at Severn House have published THE LOST AND THE BLIND in paperback, which now comes – for the diehard completists – with added cover quotes. My favourite – and I hope you’ll forgive the shill, but it’s an unavoidable part of the publicity game – comes from those very nice people over at Booklist: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” I thank you kindly, Mr and Mrs Booklist.
  Meanwhile, the Severn House blurb elves have this to say about THE LOST AND THE BLIND:
“A dying man, if he is any kind of man, will live beyond the law.” The elderly German, Karl Uxkull, was senile or desperate for attention. Why else would he concoct a tale of Nazi atrocity on the remote island of Delphi, off the coast of Donegal? And why now, 60 years after the event, just when Irish-American billionaire Shay Govern has tendered for a prospecting licence for gold in Lough Swilly? Journalist Tom Noone doesn’t want to know. With his young daughter Emily to provide for, and a ghost-writing commission on Shay Govern’s autobiography to deliver, the timing is all wrong. Besides, can it be mere coincidence that Karl Uxkull’s tale bears a strong resemblance to the first thriller published by legendary spy novelist Sebastian Devereaux, the reclusive English author who has spent the past 50 years holed up on Delphi? But when a body is discovered drowned, Tom and Emily find themselves running for their lives, in pursuit of the truth that is their only hope of survival. This gripping Irish thriller is an intriguing new departure for comic noir writer Declan Burke.
  The paperback is currently retailing at £11.99 at Amazon UK, with the US paperback edition available (at $17.95) from November 1st. I hope you enjoy, folks …

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Event: The Hodges Figgis Book Festival

I’ve always been very fond of the Hodges Figgis bookstore on Dublin’s Dawson Street, which is currently hosting its own book festival (it runs from September 10th to 19th). The event that caught my eye, and which I’m hoping to get to, is the crime fiction night on Thursday 17th, when John Connolly will host a conversation between some of the most impressive talents of the new wave of Irish crime fiction, said talents being Karen Perry, Jane Casey, Alex Barclay, Liz Nugent and Sinead Crowley.
  It won’t have escaped your notice that, with the exception of the Paul Perry half of the ‘Karen Perry’ writing partnership, all those writers are women. Whether by accident or design, the Hodges Figgis event is certainly a timely one in that it celebrates the fact that female writers are very much to the fore in Irish crime writing these days. There have always been terrific women writers in terms of Irish crime fiction, among them Julie Parsons, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Ingrid Black, Cora Harrison, Erin Hart, Tana French, Niamh O’Connor and Arlene Hunt, but in the last couple of years women have come to dominate the scene, not least in terms of winning the crime fiction prize at the Irish Book Awards (Louise Phillips and Liz Nugent have won the last two awards); and this year alone we’ve seen debuts from Andrea Carter, Jax Miller, Sheena Lambert, Anna Sweeney and Kelly Creighton.
  I don’t have any theory as to why this might be the case (“Wot!?” I hear you gasp – “No theory?”), but if there is any underlying reason(s) for the trend, there’s no better man than John Connolly to winkle it/them out. The event takes place at Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, on Thursday 17th September, at 6.30pm. The event is free, and no booking is required.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reviews: Irish Times crime fiction column, August 29th

“Life, unlike crime, was not something you could solve,” observes the retired Parisian police inspector Auguste Jovert in Mark Henshaw’s The Snow Kimono (Tinder Press, €22.50), the Australian author’s first novel since he published his debut, the award-winning Out of the Line of Fire, 26 years ago. Jovert is ruminating on his conversations with Tadashi Omura – a former Professor of Law at the Imperial University of Japan, and a devotee of himitsu-e puzzles – who opens the novel by spinning Jovert an engrossing yarn about Kumiko, the young girl he raised as his own daughter after his old friend, Katsuo, went to prison in disgrace (the theme of fathers and their strained relationships with daughters is a constant: Jovert, formerly a ‘specialist interrogator’ with the French Territorial Police in Algeria, has recently received a letter from a young woman in Algiers who claims to be his daughter). What transpires is a story that is almost the antithesis of the conventional detective novel, a subtly wrought meditation on human frailty in the framework of an extended confession, with Jovert playing the part of reluctant confessor to an elaborately woven and beautifully detailed declaration of guilt.
  Andrea Carter’s debut Death at Whitewater Church (Constable, €22.10) opens in the northeast corner of Donegal, where solicitor Ben O’Keefe lives a life that ‘was sort of a half-life’, filling in time as an observer and facilitator of the lives around her. While helping to survey the deconsecrated church at Whitewater near the village of Glendara, Ben discovers a human skeleton in the church’s crypt; when it emerges that the remains are recent, and likely those of Conor Devitt, who disappeared six years previously on the eve of his wedding, a murder investigation begins. The shadow of the Troubles hangs over the events of this contemporary-set novel, although the story itself takes its cue from the Golden Age of mystery fiction, with Ben O’Keefe – an amateur sleuth who is by her own admission far too nosy for her own good – something of a latter-day Miss Marple as she surreptitiously investigates the cat’s cradle of possible motives for Conor Devitt’s death. Ben O’Keefe is an engaging character, one reminiscent of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan in her exemplary public professionalism and private self-doubt, and Death at Whitewater Church is a charming debut that bodes well for Carter’s future.
  A Little More Free (ECW Press, €14.99) is Canadian author John McFetridge’s second novel to feature Montreal Constable Eddie Dougherty. Opening in 1972, as Montreal hosts the legendary ‘Summit Series’ of ice hockey matches between Canada and the USSR, the story finds Dougherty investigating the deaths of three men who burned to death in a nightclub fire, and also the robbery of millions of dollars worth of paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts. McFetridge’s previous novels (this is his sixth) have been compared with those of Elmore Leonard, but the Eddie Dougherty novels have more in common with the work of Michael Connelly: Dougherty is a smart, pragmatic but deep-thinking cop who winkles out the truth by virtue of dogged police-work. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Dougherty novels is the way McFetridge opens a window onto Canada’s recent and turbulent past (both of the cases Dougherty investigates are historical events), with the title of A Little More Free alluding to the wider backdrop of Dougherty’s investigation, which leads him into the murky world of US Army deserters and those fleeing the Vietnam War-era draft.
  Julia Heaberlin’s third novel, Black-Eyed Susans (Penguin, €19.50), is a cleverly constructed tale that advances along parallel narratives. In 1995, in conversation with her psychiatrist as she prepares to testify in court, Texan teenager Tessie tries to remember the details of her miraculous escape from a serial killer who dumped her body into a pit containing the bones of some of his previous victims. Meanwhile, in the present day, the older Tessie, now calling herself Tessa, is convinced the killer has tracked her down, which means that Tessie’s testimony two decades previously sent the wrong man to death row. With Terrell Goodwin’s execution date looming, can Tessa finally unlock the dark secrets buried in her subconscious and save an innocent man’s life? A superb psychological thriller strewn with gothic motifs (Edgar Allen Poe, and particularly his story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, is regularly referenced), Black-Eyed Susans is a haunting account of Tessa’s painful journey towards understanding the unpalatable truth of her life-defining experience (“I am sane, and I am not, and I don’t want anyone to know.”), which also functions as an engrossing exploration of the morality of the death penalty.
  Jamie Kornegay’s debut novel Soil (Two Roads, €20.99) centres on environmental scientist Jay Mize, who has relocated his wife Sandy and young son Jacob to a corner of rural Mississippi in order to create a self-sustaining farm in anticipation of the climatic apocalypse Jay believes is imminent. Devastated when floods destroy his crops, and terrified of being accused of murder by the sociopathic Deputy Danny Shoals when the receding waters reveal a corpse on his land, the increasingly paranoid Jay decides to dispose of the body himself rather than alert the authorities. A slow-burning noir influenced by the Southern gothic tradition, Soil is a hugely impressive debut in which the central narrative of Jay’s psychological breakdown and his family’s destruction leads us into the darkest recesses of the South’s history (Jay’s ancestry is tainted by the worst kind of Jim Crow legacy). Kornegay is superb at evoking the minutiae of small-town America, and despite their different settings – Soil vividly depicts the sweltering Mississippi delta – this heart-breaking tragedy bears comparison with Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan and Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, August 24, 2015

“I Wish I Was In Carrickfergus (and Bangor)”


It’s off to Northern Ireland for yours truly at the end of this month, where I will be reading / answering Qs / juggling-on-stilts* at Carrickfergus Library (August 26th) and Bangor Library (August 27th). Both events kick off at 6.45pm, and both are free admission, as you might expect from library events, but booking is advisable.

For Carrick – Tel: 028 9336 2261 / Email: carrickfergus.library@librariesni.org.uk
For Bangor – Tel: 028 9127 0591 / Email: library@librariesni.org.uk

For any queries, clickety-click here

* largely dependent on librarians having in-house stilts for rental purpose

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: PARADISE SKY by Joe Lansdale

Joe Lansdale’s Paradise Sky is a fictionalised account of the life of Nat Love, aka Deadwood Dick, one of the Wild West’s most fascinating outlaws.
  Born in 1854, Nat (pronounced ‘Nate’) grew up a slave on a plantation in East Texas. In Lansdale’s novel, the young Nat Love – a self-confessed “runaway ass-looker, part-time horse thief and sometime farmhand” – escapes a small Texas town one step head ahead of a noose-dangling posse, accused by local bigot Sam Ruggert of disrespecting his wife. Nat joins the US Army as a cavalryman, goes to war with the Apache, and subsequently deserts and drifts west to the lawless towns of Deadwood and Dodge City, where his reputation as a horseman and sharpshooter becomes legendary.
  Lansdale’s account of Love’s life is broadly in line with the historical truth – the aging Love, now a Pullman porter, is telling us his story in a first-person narrative – but the story is also concerned with exploring how facts become wildly distorted by legend. At one point, Nat reads a dime novel about his old friend, Wild Bill Hickok. “It was the biggest batch of balderdash I have ever read,” reports Nat, “but it was pretty entertaining once I made up my mind it wasn’t no true-life story.”
  Best known for his award-winning Texas-set ‘Hap and Leonard’ crime novels, but also renowned as a horror writer and his work as a superheroes comic-book author, Lansdale is happily printing the legend in Paradise Sky. Relentlessly pursued by the vengeful Sam Ruggert throughout the Old West, Nat Love’s life is a series of shoot-outs, near-death experiences and encounters with famous names, including the notorious ‘hanging judge’ Isaac Parker and Wild Bill himself. It’s a hugely entertaining tale, not least because Nat Love makes for an engaging storyteller, a man of rudimentary education but one with a flair for dryly humorous vernacular. He also has a sharp eye for the casual racism of the Wild West, such as when Nat volunteers for the Ninth Cavalry, only to be told by a Colonel that, “We got plenty of riding niggers. What we need is walking niggers for the goddamn infantry.”
  ‘I figured [Nat observes] anything that had the tag “goddamn” in front of it wasn’t for me.’
  That wryly coarse vernacular tone is present throughout, and suggestive of how Huckleberry Finn might have gone had Huck and Jim abandoned the Mississippi and struck West (the novel opens with an epigraph from Mark Twain). Indeed, racism and bigotry underpin the entire story, as Nat struggles to escape those malign forces and establish his right to be accepted as a man on his own merits, the colour of his skin notwithstanding.
  Lansdale is also excellent when it comes to the humdrum brutality of the Old West, and particularly on how cheap life was. “I just turned and shot,” the teenage outlaw Kid Red tells Nat. “Bullet went right through the dog and hit that kid. He just sort of sat down out from under his bowler hat. That dog and him didn’t so much as whimper.”
  Overall, Paradise Sky is a charming blend of the starkly realistic, especially when it comes to the primitive living conditions to be found in Deadwood and Dodge City, and the wildly romantic notion of the outlaw life, with Nat Love a self-deprecating myth-maker who is as keenly aware of his own limitations as a hero as he is of the reader’s desire for credible truth. “Most of it is as true as I know how to make it,” he tells us, “keeping in mind nobody likes the dull parts.”
  True or otherwise, Paradise Sky is very rarely dull. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT by David Shafer

There is a place in northern Myanmar, close to the Chinese border, that can’t be found on any map, even if you have access to the latest high-tech GPS systems. At least, that’s the experience of Leila Majnoun, an aid-worker employed by an American NGO and operating in Myanmar, who accidentally stumbles across what appear to be US mercenaries guarding a facility in a remote Asian jungle. Leila is curious enough to send out an email to friends and colleagues, asking if anyone has heard of the facility. Within hours Leila’s visa has been revoked, and her father – the principal of a school in California – has been arrested on charges of child pornography.
  David Shafer’s techno-thriller debut begins in a conventional fashion, with concerned citizen Leila the innocent victim of what Ned Swain, a sympathetic American spy based in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyidaw, describes as ‘an immoral conspiracy almost certainly unrelated to national security.’ Leila isn’t the only one caught up in the globe-spanning spider’s web: in Portland, Oregon, the blogger and conspiracy theorist Leo Crane finds himself the subject of an intervention designed to incarcerate him in an institution. Meanwhile, Mark Devereaux, the author of the best-selling psychobabble self-help book Bringing the Inside Out, is adopted as a guru by James Straw, the CEO of the fictional SineCo, ‘the digital search-and-storage conglomerate’ that appears to be an unholy amalgamation of the real world’s technological behemoths.
  With all his characters finally on stage and the backdrop in place, David Shafer reveals the essence of his plot: a filthy-rich cabal of private enterprise is ‘planning an electronic coup’ to ‘control the storage and transmission of all the information in the world.’
  It’s a storyline worthy of the grand tradition of the conspiracy thriller. The villains, given the scale of their ambition, easily outstrip the worst excesses of cat-stroking Bond megalomaniacs, but the way in which Shafer incorporates the banalities of everyday life into the story makes their plot entirely believable. The Node, for example, is ‘SineCo’s newest gizmobauble’, a gadget that bears a remarkable similarity to contemporary smart-phones, although here the Node is the means by which SineCo persuades the world to pay for the privilege of voluntarily collecting and storing its most personal information, which will later be ruthlessly data-mined by SineCo.
  But for all its conventional narrative scenarios of innocent civilians at the mercy of dark forces and its bleak dystopian vision of the near future, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is by no means a standard techno-thriller. For one, Shafer has sufficient confidence in his readers to craft a slow-burning tale that is, for all its gleaming hardware and plans for a ‘New Alexandria’ of a globally centralised library-for-unimaginable-profit, very much a character-driven tale. Leila, Leo and Mark are richly detailed and empathic creations, their quirks and idiosyncrasies integral to the way in which they gradually uncover SineCo’s foul machinations.
  Moreover, the writing is a joy, Shafer employing both sly wit and a sharp eye for the telling image. “The grandeur fled,” Leo observes as he emerges from a reverie of a better world, “like shining back into shook foil.” Leila decides that Myanmar ‘sounded like a name cats would give their country.’ Indeed, the entire novel – all 422 pages of densely packed text – is littered with deliciously wry snippets and quotable lines, which gives the overall impression of a Neal Stephenson novel redrafted by Carl Hiaasen in blackly humorous form.
  Frighteningly plausible, epic in scale and vividly imagined, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a lovingly crafted homage to the techno-thriller that is hugely entertaining in its own right. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reviews: Irish Times Crime Fiction Column, August 2015

Benjamin Black’s – aka John Banville’s – series of mystery novels set in 1950s Dublin grow increasingly impressive, even as his protagonist, the pathologist Quirke, drifts further into existential ennui. Even the Dead (Penguin, €16.99), the seventh novel to feature Quirke, opens with this most reluctant of heroes on sabbatical, suffering from “mental blanks and momentary delusions” as a result of a beating he suffered two years previously. When a young man is discovered dead in suspicious circumstances in the Phoenix Park, however, Quirke rouses himself to go prowling “the mean and mendacious little city” with his companion in arms, Inspector Hackett. The pacing is as meandering as ever, as Black regularly digresses from the plot to explore Quirke’s bewilderment at the world and his place in it, and the story is again concerned with the malign power exercised by those who mix politics and religion that has proved fertile ground for Black in the past, but the lush prose (“the sky was an inverted bowl of bruised blue radiance, except in the west where the sunset looked like a fire-fight at sea”) is underpinned by a brutally noir moral relativism. Quirke, observes his daughter Phoebe, believes life consists of “going through the motions, observing the forms, doing the right thing.” That may be the case, but much like his creator, Quirke does the right thing in a deceptively effective way.
  Freedom’s Child (Harper Fiction, €19.50), the debut thriller from Jax Miller, an American author domiciled in Ireland, opens in dramatic fashion with the line, “My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter.” Living under an assumed name in a witness protection programme in Oregon, Freedom – who describes herself as “a murderer, a cop killer, a fugitive, a drunk” – breaks cover for the first time in almost two decades when said daughter, Rebekah, goes missing. Hunted by the recently released Matthew Delaney, who went to prison for 18 years on the basis of Freedom’s testimony, Freedom travels to Kentucky to investigate the fanatical Christian cult established by the man who adopted Rebekah, Virgil Paul. Plausibility is at a premium in Freedom’s Child, and language is here a rather blunt instrument, but Miller is less concerned with narrative subtlety and delicate prose than she is with creating a propulsive, full-throttle tale of revenge and redemption. The overall effect is a kind of literary grind-house, with Freedom Oliver a larger-than-life avenging angel driven by a host of demons, a self-confessed promiscuous drunk and glutton for punishment who might well be Lisbeth Salander’s long-lost twin.
  French author Dominique Sylvain’s second novel to be translated into English, Dirty War (Quercus, €13.99) opens in Paris with the horrific death of lawyer Florian Vidal, who has been tortured to death with a flaming tyre around his neck. When Commandant Sacha Duguin investigates, he discovers that Vidal is a business lawyer specialising in arms contracts for Richard Gratien, aka ‘Mr Africa’, a shadowy figure who has made a fortune from brokering deals in illegal weaponry to corrupt African regimes. It’s a fascinating set-up, and Sylvain expertly muddies the waters with a dispassionate account of the tensions that exist between the institutions – policing, political and judicial – responsible for counter-terrorism. Unfortunately, the novel is subtitled ‘A Lola and Ingrid Investigation’, and Lola and Ingrid – a former police Commissaire and an exotic dancer, respectively – repeatedly interrupt the narrative flow as Sylvain inserts them into the story to no great effect other than to duplicate Sacha Duguin’s investigations and to provide unnecessary exposition via dialogue.
  Sinéad Crowley’s second novel, Are You Watching Me? (Quercus, €17.99), reprises the character of Detective Claire Boyle, who was heavily pregnant during Crowley’s debut, Can Anybody Help Me? (2014). Delighted to be back at work after maternity leave, the Dublin-based Boyle investigates the apparently pointless murder of the aging, gentle James Mannion in his home; meanwhile, Liz Cafferky, Ireland’s newest media star and the communications executive with Tír na nÓg, a drop-in centre for old men, finds herself stalked by Stephen, who believes that Liz’s smile “was aimed at him; her words meant for him alone.” Crowley returns to the themes that underpinned her debut – the chilling vulnerability of a woman targeted by a psychologically damaged man, and the anonymity afforded by modern communications technology – but this is a markedly more assured offering. There’s a passionate intensity (and a very neat plot twist to boot) in Crowley’s poignant depiction of a whole swathe of old men abandoned by society, while Stephen, ostensibly the villain of the piece, is given a surprisingly sympathetic reading. A compulsively readable thriller, Are You Watching Me? is an absorbing variation on the ‘domestic noir’ genre.
  The Way of Sorrows (Blue Rider Press, €20.50) concludes Jon Steele’s ‘Angelus Trilogy’, and does so in very impressive style. The Watchers (2011) and Angel City (2013) established the scenario in which Harper, a private detective, discovers that he is in fact an angel in human form, and engaged in an aeons-long battle with the forces of darkness for possession of humanity’s soul. Here Harper sifts through the wreckage left behind by Evil’s onslaught at the end of Angel City, blending Chandleresque witticisms into a contemporary tale of the apocalypse as the action moves from Lausanne to Alaska and on through Russia to the explosive climax in Jerusalem, as Harper and his colleagues strive to make good on “a prophecy about a child conceived of light, born into the world to guide the creation through the next stage of evolution.” It’s an novel of jaw-dropping ambition and imagination – Zoroaster, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, Jesus Christ and the space probe Voyager all play their part – as Steele, formerly an award-winning journalist, gives Harper an appropriately fabulous, epic finale. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS: The Fix Is In

I’m delighted to discover that CRIME ALWAYS PAYS has been selected as part of the Kobo thriller promo (UK only), which runs from 6th-10th August. The ebook of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS will be available for £1.99, and available at that price from all ebook vendors (Amazon, etc.) for the duration. Quoth the blurb elves:
Who says crime doesn’t pay? The perpetrators of a botched kidnap make their getaway in this hilarious sequel to THE BIG O.
  Karen and Ray are on their way to the Greek islands to rendezvous with Madge and split the fat bag of cash they conned from her ex-husband Rossi when they kidnapped, well, Madge. But they’ve reckoned without Stephanie Doyle, the cop who can’t decide if she wants to arrest Madge, shoot Rossi, or ride off into the sunset with Ray. And then there’s Melody, the wannabe movie director, who’s pinning all her hopes on Sleeps, the narcoleptic getaway driver who just wants to go back inside and do some soft time.
  A European road-trip screwball noir, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS features cops and robbers, losers and hopers, villains, saints – and a homicidal Siberian wolf called Anna. The Greek islands will never be the same again.
  As all Three Regular Readers will already know, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS was shortlisted for the Goldsboro ‘Last Laugh’ award at Crimefest earlier this year. So if you like your crime fiction in a sun-splashed destination, with some giggles thrown in for good measure, you’ll find it here (scroll down)…

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reviews: Irish Times Crime Fiction Column, July 2015

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan was a memorable character in the supporting cast of Stuart Neville’s The Final Silence (2014), but Those We Left Behind (Harvill Secker, €16.99) sees DCI Flanagan move to centre-stage. Set in contemporary Belfast, the story opens in 2007 with the aftermath of the brutal killing of David Rolston by his foster charges 12-year-old Ciaran and 14-year-old Thomas Devine. The story then moves forward to the present day, with Ciaran – who pled guilty to David Rolston’s killing, and with whom Flanagan developed an unusually intense bond – about to be released on parole. Questions remain about who was truly guilty of David Rolston’s murder, however, and Daniel Rolston, whose family was destroyed by the allegations the teenage boys made against his father in the wake of the killing, is determined to get to the truth. Stuart Neville’s career to date (this is his sixth novel) has been characterised by a particular fascination with the ripple effect of lethal violence, and Those We Left Behind, as the title suggests, explores the physical and psychological damage wrought by the actions of two apparently sociopathic young boys, while simultaneously examining the factors that led the boys to behave in the way they did. Serena Flanagan is a compelling character, professionally capable and hard-nosed but emotionally vulnerable in her private life, although it’s young Ciaran Devine that provides the most haunting character in Neville’s best novel since his debut The Twelve (2009).
  Set in 1997, F.H. Batacan’s debut novel Smaller and Smaller Circles (Soho Crime, €19.50) – which won the Philippine National Book Award in 2002 – opens with the discovery of an eviscerated young boy at a Manila rubbish dump. The investigation into the boy’s murder is headed by the National Bureau of Investigation’s Director Latimosa, but Batacan’s story focuses on Jesuit priests Jerome and Saenz – the latter a forensic pathologist – as they uncover a serial killer’s bloody trail, their endeavours hampered by the fact that no one seems to believe the Philippines could ever harbour a serial killer. Saenz is a likeable protagonist, a contemporary Fr Brown as motivated by compassion as he is by justice, and an experienced campaigner against the particular kind of abuse of power perpetrated by the Catholic Church that underpins the story. Hailed as the first Filipino crime novel, Smaller and Smaller Circles is a fascinating snapshot of a country still struggling to come to terms with the poverty, corruption and brutality of the Ferdinand Marcos era.
  Opening in Athens in 2010, Leo Kanaris’s debut novel Codename Xenophon (Dedalus, €14.99) introduces private detective George Zafiris, who is commissioned to investigate the murder of John Petrakis on the island of Aegina. The suspects are as plentiful as the red herrings, not least because Petrakis was an eminent scholar with a penchant for exploring the taboo aspects of classical Greece, but in keeping with the private eye tradition, Kanaris – a pseudonym for author Alex Martin – and his creation are as interested in investigating their time and place as they are in pursuing justice. “The laws were ever more elaborate in their complexity, the people ever more ingenious in their evasions. Each tormented the other,” Zafiris tell us as he seeks to throw light into the shadow of crippling austerity that looms large over the story. The narrative flits from a frenzied Athens to the idyllic islands as politicians, Russian crooks, corrupt (and/or incompetent) policemen thicken the plot, the world-weary Zafiris nimbly negotiating a Byzantine culture in which morality, truth and justice are malleable concepts. The first in a proposed quartet to feature George Zafiris, Codename Xenophon is a bleak but blackly comic tale that does full justice to its laconic, Chandleresque heritage.
  Kelly Creighton’s Belfast-set debut The Bones of It (Liberties Press, €12.99) is a first-person narration from Scott McAuley, who has recently been kicked out of university and appears to be telling us his story from a secure institution. On the face of it – according to himself, at least – a mild-mannered, green-tea-drinking peacenik, Scott drip-feeds us ominous snippets from the year gone by, detailing his obsession with Polish co-worker Klaudia and his relationship with his bitterly despised father Duke, who is now a post-Troubles conflict counsellor but who was once imprisoned for stabbing to death two Catholics in a sectarian rage. Blackly comic in tone, The Bones of It is a bildungsroman that gradually evolves into a slow-burning psychological exploration of the mind of a most unlikely killer. It may well prove a little too slow-burning for those who prefer their crime novels pacy and packed with incident, but it is an engrossing tale of the consequences of living a life steeped in a culture of violence.
  Simon Mawer’s tenth novel, Tightrope (Little, Brown, €25.50), reprises the character of Marian Sutro, an SOE agent who parachuted into occupied France in 1943 in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (2012). Tightrope opens in 1945, with Marian leaving behind the horrors of Ravensbruck, arriving home to Britain in a very fragile physical and emotional state to discover that the black-and-white certainties of wartime have been replaced, in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by shades of grey. Spanning the decade following WWII and incorporating the first frosty encounters that would lead to the Cold War, Tightrope is a nuanced spy novel akin to the best work of John Le Carré in that it bypasses the cloak-and-dagger conventions in pursuit of the noble flaws, foibles and idiosyncrasies that lie at the heart of the most fascinating spies. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for The Glass Room (2009), Mawer here delivers an absorbing tale about an extraordinary woman who finds her understanding of duty, patriotism and honour ripped to shreds by epoch-defining circumstances. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.