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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Adrian Dawson

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 most admire scenarios that have never been seen before and cannot now be copied lest people grab flaming torches and fill the streets screaming ‘plagiarism’. For that reason ... ‘The Minority Report’ [by Philip K. Dick] (short story). I’d happily put my name to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Robert Harris, though, for the sheer poetry it uses to convey the darker side of the human psyche.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Andy Dufresne. A man with an unshakable quiet confidence, despite the horror of his surroundings, who has carefully crafted a long-term plan to come out on top. Brilliant.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Stephen King. His name seems to have become a synonym for ‘churned out’ fiction and yes ... ‘horror’, but this is the guy who wrote THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, MISERY, THE GREEN MILE, UMNEY’S LAST CASE and even THE DOCTOR’S CASE so, for me, even his worst beats many people’s best.

Most satisfying writing moment?
During the act of writing, it has to be when I wrote the very last line of SEQUENCE. I’d woven a complex yarn with so many disparate strands that I wasn’t sure if they would all come together but when they did, it felt perfect.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
The best I’ve read so far is THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR by Gene Kerrigan. It’s all the things I aim for in my work ... complex, well-researched, frighteningly real, yet frequently unexpected and throughout it all ... poetically written.

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

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst and the best things are the same - the fact that it’s just so all-consuming and becomes all that you are and all that you strive to be.

The pitch for your next book is …?
If you could travel back in time, knowing that you could not change one single event ... just how far would you go? [SEQUENCE – out in eBook and paperback original, 2 July 2011].

Who are you reading right now?
I’m working on my next novel, MEMORY, at the moment, so I guess I’m reading Adrian Dawson, and I’m really enjoying his work so far! I just hope the ending’s good. I try not to read other books when I’m writing because I like to stay in my own weird little world - preferably with the curtains closed and lots and lots of coffee.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
That’s easy ... I’d write. When I write I actually get to read something new as it is being written and so I kill two birds with one stone. Of course, in reality I spend most of my writing time dreaming up complex scenarios which systematically confuse the next reader as to who (or what) might have thrown the damn stone in the first place. And why.

The three best words to describe your own writing are…?
How about one word: “Queen” and all that they managed to be. Varied, layered, innovative and a plethora of other words used about the band before Freddie’s untimely demise.

Adrian Dawson’s CODEX is published by Last Passage.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Those Dying Generations: Why I’m Voting Stephen Donnelly, Independent

It’s election day here in Ireland, as you may or may not know, or care, but given the traumatic events of the last couple of years, and the collapse of not only the Irish economy but the trust of the Irish nation in its political class in particular and authority in general, it’s arguably the most important Irish election since the foundation of the State. I genuinely believe that today marks a fresh start in Ireland, which might be an odd thing to say when it appears from the polls that the centre-right party Fine Gael, currently on 40%, is headed for an overall majority.
  In essence, though, Fine Gael is doing little more than replacing its doppelganger, the centre-right Fianna Fail; and maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that this administration, even if it runs the full five years, will go down in history as a holding government, a bridge between the worn-out politics of the post-Civil War generations and a political outlook that governs with one eye on the future rather than the past.
  In the Wicklow constituency, where I’ll be voting, Independent candidate Stephen Donnelly (above, right) seems to me to come closest to encapsulating the coming change. His policies, as detailed below, are by turns brash, ambitious, naïve and heartfelt:
Give banking debt back to the banks.
Renegotiate the IMF bailout.
Start a National Reconstruction Bank to fund job creation.
Attract investment for jobs in Wicklow.
Improve education standards for our children.
Reform the political system - change the people and change the rules.
  Leaving aside the moral aspects of Irish taxpayers having to fund the IMF / ECB bailout, which is largely linked to the gambling debts of an elite gang of financial incontinents, I believe that the banking debt and the bailout will have to be negotiated as a matter of course, on the very simple basis that you can’t get blood from a stone. As I understand it, the mood in Europe is one that it makes no sense to run Ireland into the ground and get no money at all out of the country; better to ease the conditions and make sure that there’s some kind of constant cash flow being milked.
  The idea of a National Reconstruction Fund for job creation is a laudable one, even if it’s largely a retread of the old IDA, and I’d wonder where said funding might come from - presumably from telling the IMF / ECB to take a walk.
Attracting investment for jobs in Wicklow is again laudable, although it smacks of insularity and the parish-pump politics that has bedevilled this country for generations now. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to argue with improving education standards for children.
  It’s in the reform of the political system that I think Stephen Donnelly and his fellow independents will matter most in the new Dail. For the most part, Independents have a bad name in Irish politics right now, largely due to the pork-barrel antics of the likes of Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry, which at one point last year led to a major European newspaper running a picture of the gombeen-looking Healy-Rae in his flat cap under the headline, ‘Is This The Man Holding Europe To Ransom?’
  I’m hopeful that Stephen Donnelly represents an entirely new kind of Independent. I’m hopeful that - the ‘jobs for Wicklow’ policy aside - he’s one of a new breed that will be inclined to work for the good of the country as a whole, not just his own constituency and voters. I’ve argued in the past that too many elected Independents would be a bad thing in terms of their potential to destabilise any government dependent on their whims; now, with Fine Gael headed for an overall majority, or more likely a coalition government with Labour, a rash of Independents buzzing about Dail Eireann might well be exactly what this country needs.
  Because what this country needs in terms of true political reform is a brand new political party, one that has no ties to the Civil War, that owes no debt to either big business or the unions; one that is young, brash, naïve and ambitious, and preferably left-leaning, an anti-Progressive Democrat party to counter-balance the centre-right politics of what has historically been a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail hegemony.
  There have been a few abortive attempts to establish new parties in recent years, and there are a number of embryonic parties running candidates in this election, but the nature of Irish politics is such that it’s very difficult for a new party to gain traction with the electorate unless, as was the case with the PDs, they’re a disaffected rump of an established party.
  What may well trump Irish political history is the election of a record number of Independent candidates, enough of whom will share a common cause to establish not just a technical group in the Dail to provide it with speaking rights, but a platform on which can be established a coherent political party in its own right. It won’t happen overnight, of course, but given the number of credible Independent candidates going forward for election, it’s certainly a possibility.
  And so I’m voting for what I believe to be the most credible local Independent candidate, Stephen Donnelly. Where previously Independent TDs such as Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry had the capacity to destabilise the Dail and hold Irish democracy itself to ransom by their pork-barrel demands, a group of organised Independents have the capacity to destabilise the Irish political system itself, to prove that the tired old men (and they’re mostly men) and their tired old ideas have run their course. At the risk of sounding ageist, I’m voting for Stephen Donnelly not just on the basis of his policies but because he is young, and because for the first time in my life I’m not voting for myself, but on behalf of my three-year-old daughter.
  To mangle Yeats entirely, this is no longer a country for old men. The country of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, of Labour and Sinn Fein, is with O’Leary in his grave, even if Enda Kenny and Michael Martin, and Eamon Gilmore and particularly Gerry Adams, have yet to realise they’re little more than the living ghosts of ‘those dying generations’, the death rattle of insularity, petty vengeance, violence and power for its own sake, the last gasp of a political system that has given us ‘leaders’ of the calibre of the snake-oil salesman Bertie Ahern and the venally corrupt Charles J. Haughey.
  “Age and guile,” as PJ O’Rourke once said, “beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut.” Except Stephen Donnelly has a bald head on young shoulders. The future is surely ours.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Irish Are Coming

At the risk of sounding excessively parochial, Wednesday was a good day for the world of Irish crime writing letters, when the LA Times announced its Book Prize Mystery-Thriller finalists. For yea, verily, two of said finalists are Irish, Tana French and Stuart Neville. The full line-up runneth thusly:

Tom Franklin, CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER (William Morrow)
Tana French, FAITHFUL PLACE (Viking)
Laura Lippman, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (William Morrow)
Stuart Neville, COLLUSION (SoHo Press)
Kelli Stanley, CITY OF DRAGONS (Minotaur Books /A Thomas Dunne Book)
  It’s also worth noting in passing that COLLUSION is Stuart Neville’s second novel, and that this represents his second nomination for the LA Times’ Mystery-Thriller shortlist. In fact, THE TWELVE - aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST - strolled away with the gong last year.
  So it’s a hearty congrats to Tana and Stuart, and long may they remain standard-bearers for the Irish crime novel.
  That said, I’m a bit torn about pretty much every title on the shortlist. For example, I’m also delighted to see an old mucker of mine, Kelli Stanley, nestling comfortably in such a rarefied atmosphere; and my very few dealings with Laura Lippman, herself a formidable novelist, have been characterised by intelligence and graciousness (hers, not mine). Meanwhile, CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER is the best novel I’ve read so far this year.
  The bottom line, I suppose, and putting away that pesky parochialism for a moment, is that it’s a very fine shortlist indeed; every title on it could hold its head high in any company. No matter who walks away with the prize, the real winner is the mystery / crime reader. Happy days, people.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

The generous folks at Penguin get in touch to offer five free copies of Nicci French’s COMPLICIT, the latest novel from best-selling writing partnership Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, and which is released in paperback on March 17. First, the blurb elves:
Who is more deadly? An enemy? A friend? Or a lover? Bonnie Graham is in her friend’s flat. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood. What happened? What will she do? And is any or all of it her fault? Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band. It was supposed to be fun, but the tricky knots of the band’s friendships unravel with each passing day. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, music and love turns deadly as lovers betray, passions turn homicidal and friendship itself becomes a crime. Someone in the band must be a killer. Is it Bonnie? And if not – who is it?
  Sounds like a belter. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just answer the following:
Name one other writing partnership, and recommend one of their novels.
  Answers via the comment box below, please, leaving a contact email address (using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam monkeys) before the closing date of noon, Friday 25th February. Et bon chance, mes amis …

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Books As Hangover Cures

Blogger extraordinaire and Spinetingler Award nominee Paul D. Brazill did me up a treat yesterday, when he put together his list of ‘Ten Crime Books To Cure Your Hangover’ for the Mulholland blog. For lo! The name of Declan Burke appeared not once but twice. To wit:
5&6. THE BIG O / CRIME ALWAYS PAYS by Declan Burke

THE BIG O and its follow up CRIME ALWAYS PAYS actually are that oxymoron ‘screwball noir’. These novels are two cracking, fast-paced, clever and very droll road movies with a top drawer cast that includes a narcoleptic called Sleeps and a one eyed wolf. Twists and turns, spicy dialogue and scenes which really make you ‘LOL’, as the young people say.
  Sweet. Thank you kindly, Mr Brazill. For the full list of hangover-curing books, clickety-click here
  Mind you, it’s a yin/yang world. The Mulholland blog linked through to the Good Reads website, and upon investigating further, I discovered that a certain Marta had rated THE BIG O a one-star read, her review in its entirety declaring that THE BIG O was - and I quote - ‘WORST book i have ever read. Period.’ A damning enough review in itself, of course, and deliciously scathing in its semi-punctuated contempt, but matters are further clarified by the fact that Marta has awarded four- and five-star reviews to novels featuring teenage wizards, teenage vampires and sundry tomes variously titled I GAVE YOU MY HEART BUT YOU SOLD IT ONLINE, MY HEART MIGHT BE BROKEN BUT MY HAIR STILL LOOKS GREAT, IDA B AND HER PLANS TO MAXIMISE FUN, AVOID DISASTER AND (POSSIBLY) SAVE THE WORLD, and THE EARTH, MY BUTT AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS.
  So there you have it. Hopefully Marta will like my next novel, I WAS A NEUROTIC TEENAGE VAMPIRE WIZARD FROM OUTER SPACE BUT AT LEAST I HAD THE KARDASHIANS, a little more.
  If not, well, it just goes to prove that you can’t fool all the people all the time. A salutary lesson, indeed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Let Them Eat Babies

Had we but known, we could have organised a cannibalistic orgy of baby-eating. An article in The Economist, dated February 18 and by-lined ‘T.N.’, bemoans the dearth of ‘recession art’ produced by Irish artists, filmmakers, writers, et al. “You’d expect this sorry tale to have generated a wave of films, plays and novels,” observes T.N. after a short tour of Ireland, which somehow managed to miss the droves of natives on their hands and knees in the fields, feasting on grass. “After all, the Irish have never shied away from telling stories about themselves.”
  There’s more than a touch of schadenfreude about T.N.’s article. Have Americans ever ‘shied away from telling stories about themselves’? Have the British, or the Burmese, or the Virgin Islanders? How about journalists from The Economist? Isn’t ‘telling stories about themselves’ what people tend to do when telling stories?
  T.N. also seems rather exasperated that Irish cultural types haven’t yet started singing for their supper to provide entertainment of the world at large, like court jesters jingling their bells for a few scraps from the King’s table, bawling out beal bocht tales about our ‘sorry tale’ of riches-to-rags humiliation. Perhaps it’s significant that T.N. references the ‘Frank McCourt-style misery memoir’, suggesting that ‘sorry autobiographical or semi-autobiographical tales of poverty, domestic violence and abuse of various licit or illicit substances,’ dominated the best-seller lists in Ireland during the boom years. Really? I’d have thought that if there was one kind of book that could characterise the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, it’d be the bright, cheerful glitz of the chick lit novels, which celebrated, for good or ill, a country a million miles removed from the poverty-stricken hole of Frank McCourt’s Limerick.
  As for a recession generating a wave of films, plays and novels about the recession, well, T.N. appears to be blithely unaware that films and plays are expensive blighters to produce, requiring funding that a recession tends to bleach from the economy. Nowhere does T.N. refer to the savage cuts imposed on the Arts Council, say, or acknowledge that now, when they’re most sorely needed, the voices of Irish filmmakers are being choked for the want of seed capital. The same applies to those who produce plays, of course, although T.N. neglected to mention that one of last year’s runaway theatrical successes was David McWilliam’s one-man show lambasting the powers-that-be.
  The novel is cheaper to produce, of course, requiring no start-up funding; but few writers have the wherewithal to publish their own novels, and if domestic publishers - also feeling the squeeze, naturally - believe that there is more of an appetite for celebrity-endorsed books rather than treatises on economic failure, then there’s not a lot that most writers can do to get their work into the market.
  There’s another issue at play here too, and it’s that the greed, stupidity and pathetic ineptness of Ireland’s ruling cartel of politicians, bankers and regulators that have contributed so spectacularly to the crash are almost beyond parody. Certain people bemoan the absence of a Scrap Saturday-style show satirising such excesses, but really, given the headline-grabbing antics of Brians Cowen and Lenihan and Marys Coughlan and Harney, of Willie O’Dea and John Gormley, you’d need to be a complete moron not to get the sick joke without someone handing you a punchline on a plate.
  One aspect of the economic crash and bail out that T.N. doesn’t cover in his or her gleeful appraisal of the current situation, incidentally, is the extent to which ordinary Irish tax-payers are being punished for the sinful stupidity of European bankers who lent extraordinary amounts of money to Irish banks without taking even the most basic precautions to ensure that said banks would be in a position to repay the loans. If any of those European financial powerhouses were now of a mind to sponsor, say, a theatre festival dedicated to exploring the current economic state of Ireland, I’m sure T.N. would get a bellyful of Irish artists’ responses to the recession.
  Finally, T.N. does include a very short paragraph in which he alludes very briefly to a coterie of writers who have been using the economic crash as a backdrop to their novels for the past couple of years. To wit:
“[Fintan] O’Toole also draws attention to a couple of crime novels, “small masterpieces” he says do a good job of depicting Ireland’s “globalised culture”. In that vein I should mention that a couple of friends have recommended Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND as painting an accurate portrait of the seamy side of Ireland’s boom.”
  Indeed it does, but T.N. - had she or he scratched the surface - might have discovered that Ken Bruen, in his own inimitable way, has been charting Ireland’s economic decline through the prism of Galway for the past number of years; that the recent novels of Declan Hughes have offered, almost in passing, telling insights into the country’s changing dynamic; that the characters in Tana French’s novels are chthonic in relation to their economic environment; that Gene Kerrigan in particular is exercised by the impact of macro-economics on the lower rungs of the social order; and that CAPITAL SINS, Peter Cunningham’s novel from last year, details the ludicrous excess of the Celtic Tiger’s last days. Yes, they’re all crime novels, and as such lack the cachet of the official literary establishment’s response to Ireland’s woes; still, if they’re all we have, they’re better than nothing, right?
  Finally, it might be worth noting that during the Great Depression in the US, the top movie box office draw for four years straight, 1935-1938, was Shirley Temple. Which is to say, and at the risk of jumping to conclusions, that when people’s lives are miserable, they tend not to want to spend what little hard-earned cash they have on perpetuating their misery; they prefer escapism, distraction, release. Hence, presumably, Jedward and the Eurovision.
  T.N.? We Irish will jingle our jesters’ bells with the best of them, but we’ll do it to laugh at and among ourselves, and to comfort one another by telling ourselves our own stories. Right now, pace Swift, we’re too busy eating our babies in order to survive.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

They’re Under Starter’s Orders … And They’re Off!

Crikey. You wait ages for a thriller set in the world of Irish horse-racing, and then suddenly you’re looking at a neck-and-neck race to what we can only hope will be a photo finish. Last week these pages featured a Q&A with horseracing journalist Lissa Oliver, previously a nominee in the James Tait Award and Longman History Award, whose CHANTILLY DAWNS is published by the small but perfectly formed imprint Book Republic. Quoth the blurb elves:
When top jockey Marcel Dessaint loses his racing licence, his whole world falls apart. Accused of deliberately pulling up healthy horses, Marcel is passed a verdict of ‘Gross Misconduct’ and forced to face the enmity of his peers. With a famous face and nowhere to hide in Chantilly, Marcel becomes an outcast in the only world he knows. With The Derby now out of his reach, he struggles to overcome his own self-doubt, while battling to uncover the truth behind the horses’ defeats and clear his name. As he gradually fears he may have been betrayed by one of his closest friends, he discovers all too late that it’s not just his licence on the line. Lives are at stake …
  All of which suggests that Ireland, a country with an honourable heritage in the Sport of Kings, has finally found its own Dick Francis. But lo! Here comes Irish Times’ horseracing journalist Brian O’Connor’s BLOODLINE, out of the Poolbeg stable, thundering up on the rails:
Liam Dee’s world is turned upside down when a young foreign groom is murdered at Bailey McFarlane’s stables on the Curragh. Liam, a champion steeplechase jockey, is initially both witness and suspect. However, shrewd police detective Diarmuid Yeats takes a gamble on his innocence and enlists his help in the hunt for the killer. This nightmare experience exacerbates the tensions in Liam’s life. He has been falling out of love with his job, his joy in racing relentlessly worn away by the struggle to keep the weight down on his six-foot frame. Is it time to quit? But McFarlane’s stables houses the brilliant Patrician, a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, and Liam wants to be the jockey to get him first past the finish post in the race that matters most. With emotions at pressure point, Liam falls in love with the exotic blonde Ukrainian stable girl, Lara, leaving him in an even more vulnerable position than before. Then the killer strikes again and the race to the finish post is replaced by a race for survival . . . and there is no second place.
  So there you have it. A two-horse race with no clear favourite, and both contenders boasting a noble lineage. They’re under starter’s orders … and they’re off!