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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lawks, ’Tis A Successful Irish RISING

The Irish Times’ commitment to reviewing Irish crime fiction continues apace, with Peter Cunningham’s review of Brian McGilloway’s THE RISING featuring on yesterday’s op-ed pages. Cunningham picked some holes in the novel, but the gist runneth thusly:
Devlin is a good cop with a clear sense of justice, a sharp brain and a big fist. When his personal life and the crimes he is investigating begin to merge, as we know they will, our sympathy and respect for him, never in doubt, become acute. The climax of this well-paced story is left dangling enticingly.
  Having just slogged through the Stieg Larsson trilogy, mostly with enjoyment, it was nonetheless something of a relief to come upon a police thriller which is told in a bare yet skilful way and which does not lurch every hundred pages or so into political history.
  Garda investigation and forensics techniques are well researched and written, but not bludgeoned home.
  McGilloway has a healthy respect for his readers’ intelligence.
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Incidentally, Peter Cunningham is himself a purveyor of quality thrillers, such as THE TAOISEACH and WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US, so he knows of what he speaks. His latest offering, CAPITAL SINS, is due in mid-June, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Ireland, 2006. Financial hysteria grips the nation. No one can speak of anything but the price of property - it is impossible not to make money. Developers gorge on massive loans. Bankers, egged on by politicians, trample over each other in the stampede to lend more and more. Millionaires are created every day as the stock market soars and Ireland audaciously becomes one of the world’s wealthiest nations. But at the heart of this unholy multi-billion euro alliance between developers, politicians and bankers lies a hideous truth: the whole empire is built on sand. Two men face each other over the dark divide. One, Albert Barr, a developer, has everything to lose; the other, Lee Carew, a struggling journalist, suddenly realises that he has stumbled upon the story of a lifetime. And for the bankers, the developers and Ireland’s Celtic Tiger, time is rapidly running out. With devastating accuracy and savage humour, Peter Cunningham’s novel tells the story of the final year of the Celtic Tiger as it has never been told before.
  Nice. But will CAPITAL SINS measure up to Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND? Only time, that irrepressibly gossiping canary, will tell …

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Praise Of Bitterness And Begrudgery

A guy I know, let’s call him Reed Farrel Coleman, isn’t too impressed with the idea that I review books for a living. I don’t, as it happens, because very few people earn a living from reviewing books, but reviewing can be a nice way of occasionally topping up your meagre freelance income. Anyway, Reed’s point is that writers really shouldn’t sit in judgement on their colleagues. This misses the point for me - I don’t consider bad writers my colleagues, and I wouldn’t presume to consider good writers my colleagues either. In my head, I’m someone who has managed to get a couple of books published without getting tarred and feathered in the process. I’m not a writer, unfortunately, and as time goes by, it becomes less and less likely that I will become one.
  It did occur to me at some point during last weekend - no idea where the revelation came from, or what the catalyst was - that Reed might be right, given that I’ve grown terribly bitter about books in the last while. There’s two reasons for this, I think - one, I’ve been commissioned to review more and more books over the last year or so; and two, my own writing career (koff) fallen off a cliff. All of which, you’ll probably agree, is perfectly understandable, especially the bit about my own writing falling off a cliff, but it’s all a bit wearyingly predictable too.
  Today, reading Declan Hughes’ latest, THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS, for the purposes of review, I came across this little snippet. Basically, an Irish Times journo, a failed scriptwriter, has railed against Jack Donovan, an Irish film director who has made it big in Hollywood, and one of Jack’s acolytes rails back thusly:
“And now he turns around and he has a go at everyone who has succeeded … And it’s not even for me, or Jack, he can’t really hurt us, it’s people starting out, people in the early stages, he’s on them like a ton of bricks, willing them to fail, like the worst kind of begrudger. You know, just once, I’d like to see someone nail the cunt, tell him the reason he’s like this has nothing to do with, what, critical judgement or artistic standards, no, it’s because deep down he knows he’s a failure, a fucking failure, he tried to be something and he failed, and rather than accept it, and own it, he just lashes out at anyone who stayed in the game.”
  Nicely put, that man. And isn’t ‘begrudgery’ a grand word?
  Here’s the thing, though - I can’t speak for the quality of Jack Donovan’s movies, given that Declan Hughes invented the guy and his films, but I can fully understand why a failed writer might get bitter, especially if he’s reading books all the way through - as he’s bound to do, when he’s being commissioned to review - that he’d rather toast marshmallows on, if he wasn’t afraid they’d poison the marshmallows. Because while there are far, far worse things in life than having to read a rubbish novel knowing you’re going to get paid for writing about it afterwards, it’s still a huge pain in the hoop to do so, knowing that there are so many good books out there that you’ll never get the time to read.
  Because that’s the flip side, I think, of being a failed writer - there are few readers as well positioned as a failed writer to truly appreciate a good book. And whereas a couple of years back I could have simply set aside a bad book after 10 pages or so, before I actually started gagging on my bile, these days I need to grind right through to the end, which is the equivalent of rubbing my own nose in dog-dirt. By the same token, reading a good book - and Declan Hughes’ CITY OF LOST GIRLS, happily enough for the purpose of this post, falls into this category - inspires the kind of envy that generally, and simply, goes, ‘Shit, I wish I was that good.’
  There’s a question in the regular Q&A that I run on Crime Always Pays which is for me the one that gives the most insight into a writer, or as much insight as can be gleaned from a 10-question Q&A. It’s the one about God appearing, and saying you can only read or write, and which will it be. For me, it’s a no-brainer - I’d read, because the books I want to read are better than anything I’m capable of writing. And, given that I’m a failed writer, Beckett’s dictum on failing and failing again better notwithstanding, the last thing I want to be reading is a book not fit to lace my own books’ shoelaces, if you’ll forgive the mangled metaphor.
  Which is to say that I am growing increasingly bitter about books, but about bad books specifically; and given that I’m a shallow bugger at the best of times, and that jealousy, envy and bitterness as so easily accessed, no one is more surprised than me to discover that I’m learning to appreciate a good book more and more as time goes by.
  There are, as Raymond Chandler said, only two kinds of books, good and bad. Leaving aside the money, anyone who isn’t embittered by what a bad book costs them in terms of reading time should probably stop reading and take up crochet instead.

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Donna Moore

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Tough choice. Does it really have to be one? Probably THE HOT ROCK by Donald Westlake. He was the master of the caper novel and I re-read that book every year. It’s a hoot. Alternatively, anything by Daniel Woodrell. He’s a genius.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Winnie The Pooh.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t feel guilty about ANY reading I do. I am frequently to be found in public toilets reading the graffiti. Wait, did that sound strange? Oh, too late. My guilty pleasure would be rubbish TV if I’m not feeling well. If I’m off work for more than three days I go on a Crap In The Attic spree and become an expert on the value of Victorian cake forks.

Most satisfying writing moment?
Loads, but one of the best was when world’s best agent Allan Guthrie called me and said “Donna, I know this is hard to believe, but someone wants to publish OLD DOGS ... Why are you crying?”

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Anything by Ken Bruen. Don’t make me choose.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Well, it seems that everything Ken Bruen ever wrote is being filmed (did you know he has a new film coming out in 2012? It’s called Shopping List and stars Baked Beans and Jameson), and I’m well chuffed about that. I’d really like to see THE BIG O being made into a film and I don’t care what you say about that.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst - not having enough time to do it. Best - when someone tells me they have enjoyed something I’ve written. Makes me want to hug complete strangers. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that feeling. Unluckily for complete strangers.

The pitch for your next book is …?
I’m rubbish at pitches. I’m currently working on two books. One is further along than the other and is a caper about an elderly man who cons a conman. See, I told you I was rubbish at pitches.

Who are you reading right now?
Mark Timlin’s GUNS OF BRIXTON - a crime novel set in South London, with its roots in events in the 1960s. Good stuff.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I would say “God, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, but you’ve got to stop coming up with these ridiculous either/or questions. For lo, this is Heaven. I can read AND write. Now, toddle off and smite a politician or something.”

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
I think I’ll go for a quote from my mum. “My daughter is weird, weird, weird.”

Donna Moore’s OLD DOGS is available now.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbø

When snowmen begin to appear at the sites where women go missing, and subsequently turn up murdered, Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Police Force immediately makes the link between their deaths and a threatening letter he received some months earlier that referred to a snowman. Soon Harry and his squad – which includes Katrine Bratt, a new transfer from Bergen – have uncovered links to a host of other missing persons cases going back a number of decades, and they realise they might very well have Norway’s first documented case of a serial killer on their hands …
  THE SNOWMAN is the seventh Harry Hole story to be translated into English, following well-received titles such as THE REDBREAST, NEMESIS and THE DEVIL’S STAR.
  In many ways, Harry Hole is a compendium of crime fiction clichés. He’s a dysfunctional alcoholic with women trouble, a lone wolf who prefers to follow gut instinct rather than protocol. It’s hugely to Jo Nesbø’s credit that the whole package comes off more as a playful (albeit dark) homage to classic police detection than slavish imitation.
  It helps that Hole has a sandpaper-dry sense of humour, and that Hole is not only acutely aware of his failings, but also how they impact on those closest to him – namely, his ex-girlfriend Rakel, who is now dating a Doctor Mathias, and Rakel’s son, Harry’s ‘son’, Oleg.
  The fact that Harry is tracking a serial killer might seem on the face of it fairly predictable too – there appears to be far more serial killers in fiction than there are in reality. But The Snowman is not a plot-driven novel, even though its plot is complex and fast-paced. The real charm of the novel is Hole himself, and Jo Nesbø appears to be much more exercised by the idea of a character study than he is by the mechanics of the traditional who-dunnit. Hole is a complex character, whose battle with the bottle, his superiors, the Norwegian culture and – ultimately – his own self-loathing is a fascinating one.
  In fact, Nesbø writes so well that he blurs the line between literary fiction and what can be easily categorised as crime fiction. Clean, crisp and bleakly elegant, his writing is not unlike that of noir masters such as James M. Cain, while is ability to breathe life into all of his characters, even the most minor, is the trait of a true storyteller.
  He also manages to blend genres to a certain extent, introducing – via the serial killer pursuit – an element of horror that is persuasive because the evil it conveys has the banality of everyday life – snowmen, for example, take on a whole new meaning in the context of this novel. The fact that between 15% and 20% of children are born to ‘fathers’ who are not their biological fathers, which statistic plays into Hole’s investigation, is also a rather banal but potential horrifying fact, for male readers at least.
  It’s often the case that lone wolf protagonists such as Hole are written in the first-person, but Nesbø uses the third-person omniscient view. It’s here that the novel’s main flaw occurs, towards the end, as the pace accelerates towards the denouement and Nesbø – who has offered a number of potential suspects as the serial killer – digresses from the action in order to provide the reader with enough back-story to provide plausible motivation for the killer. This, naturally, slows the pace of the story, but it also breaks faith with the reader a little, as crucial snippets of back-story and character that go to create the psychological make-up of the killer are available to neither the reader nor Harry Hole during the preceding investigation.
  By the same token, and in the context of the novel overall, that’s a fairly minor criticism. It’s not often that you find yourself slowing down as you approach the end of a novel, the better to savour it; and it’s very rare that you do so when the novel is a crime thriller that is doing its best to drag you headlong to the finale. That Jo Nesbø manages to create a literally gut-churning level of excitement with his last 50 pages or so is no mean achievement, especially when this reader was deliberately slowing his reading down. THE SNOWMAN is first Nesbø novel I’ve read, but it proved more than enough to send me out in search of his back catalogue.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Pepper Smith

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
I really don’t know. I like too many things to pick just one.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
I wouldn’t, not even my own. I really liked Phil Rickman’s answer to this question, especially considering what crime writers tend to do to their characters.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I should feel guilty for reading? But ... but ...

Most satisfying writing moment?
Going back over difficult-to-write scenes and realizing you nailed them. Or the moment when that plot twist pops fully formed into your head and you know it’s going to change your story from something ordinary into something several notches above. "The End" carries only limited satisfaction for me, because it means I have to leave the world I’ve spent so much time in.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
Since my entire exposure to any Irish crime fiction has been the Sister Fidelma series, I’m probably not best qualified to answer this question.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst--those days when you have to force yourself behind the keyboard. Best--Knowing that someone else gets what you’re written.

The pitch for your next book is …?
Patty O’Donnell becomes an unwilling pawn in a game of revenge between an Argentine ex-military officer and a man whose wife was among the disappeared in the Dirty War.

Who are you reading right now?
Currently reading COUNCIL OF THE CURSED by Peter Tremayne.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Ah, but how can you write without reading? God is not that unreasonable...

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Tight, visual, fast.

BLOOD MONEY by Pepper Smith is available now.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shssssh, It’s John Connolly

THE WHISPERERS, as most sentient creatures in the known universe will be aware, is the latest John Connolly novel, and is due to be released - according to Amazon, at least - on May 13th. Mind you, such dates are often moveable feasts, and the earlier you can get your hands on the latest Connolly, the better. Happily, the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar will be hosting the launch of THE WHISPERERS on April 21st, with the details running thusly:
Wednesday 21st April – 6.30pm until 8.30pm
Book Launch for THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly
Venue: The Gutter Bookshop

We’re thrilled that bestselling Irish crime writer John Connolly has chosen the Gutter Bookshop to launch ‘The Whisperers’, his new thriller featuring Charlie Parker. Do come along on the night to meet John and to get a copy of the novel personally signed - a treat indeed! If you can’t make it on the night but would like to reserve a signed copy, please drop us a line at the shop and we will arrange this for you. (Note - if you would like a personalised dedication we will require prepayment but are happy to organise this.)
  Meanwhile, the blurb elves have this to say:
Charlie Parker returns in the chilling new thriller from the Sunday Times bestselling author of THE LOVERS. The border between Maine and Canada is porous. Anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people. Now a group of disenchanted former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men’s hearts. But the soldiers’ actions have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector …
  Incidentally, the Gutter Bookshop also hosted Arlene Hunt’s launch for BLOOD MONEY a couple of weeks back. Is the store set to become a hub for all things Irish crime fictional, and take on the role that the sadly lamented Murder Ink really should have? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …
  Finally, that Arts Lives documentary on John Connolly is available on RTE’s iPlayer until tomorrow, April 13th. Clickety-click here for more