“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Sunday, March 19, 2017
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
Misery by Stephen King.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
No time for pleasures – guilty or otherwise. Most of my reading is crime and thrillers, detective based. But I do like the occasional short story.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Two really – getting my agent, Ger Nichol was, for me, the first validation of my writing. Then, of course, signing a four-book deal with Bookouture.
If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
Every Dead Thing by John Connolly. For an Irish-based novel, Disappeared by Anthony J. Quinn.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. It’s not set in Ireland, but Jax lives in Enfield, just down the road! For an Irish-based novel, Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips.
Worst thing about being a writer?
For me it’s finding the discipline to edit my own work.
Best thing about being a writer?
I get to make things up. I can use my imagination and be creative.
The pitch for your book is …
When a woman’s body is found in Ragmullin cathedral, and hours later a man’s body is found hanging from a tree, DI Lottie Parker is called in to lead the investigation. The trail leads her to a former children’s home with a dark connection to her own family history. As she begins to link the current victims to unsolved murders decades old, two teenage boys go missing. She must close in on the killer before they strike again, but in doing so is she putting her own children in terrifying danger? Lottie is about to come face to face with a twisted soul who has a very warped idea of justice.
Who is on your shoulder as you write?
My husband, Aidan, who died almost eight years ago after a short illness, aged just 49. He has been with me in spirit every tap of the keyboard. Missed but cherished.
Who are you reading right now?
Robert Dugoni. My writing has been compared to his and I must admit I hadn’t read any of his work. So I’m catching up now. I didn’t realise he was a US bestseller!
God appears and says you can only write or read. Which would it be?
Write, of course. (However, I might need to be able to read a little in order to edit what I’ve written).
The three best words to describe your own writing …
Dark. Mysterious. Gripping. (I took those words from a review). Though my editor calls it ‘creepy’.
THE MISSING ONES by Patricia Gibney is published by Bookouture.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Friday, March 3, 2017
Le Carré, interrogating his own memory, doesn’t exactly confine himself to name, rank and serial number in The Pigeon Tunnel (Penguin Viking), but seasoned fans may be disappointed by the lack of new revelations (with eight of the 38 chapters previously published in newspapers, journals and magazines, there is much that may also be familiar). Last year’s biography of le Carré by Adam Sisman was a much more informative affair, particularly on le Carré’s career as a spy, although it’s only fair to point out, as the subtitle suggests, that this book wasn’t conceived as a conventional memoir. “These are true stories told from memory,” he tells us early on, “to which you are entitled to ask, what is truth, and what is memory to the creative writer? […] To the creative writer, fact is raw material, not his taskmaster but his instrument, and his job is to make it sing.”
Indeed, much of this book is taken up with this idea of transforming raw material – some of the most absorbing chapters are those where le Carré allows readers a glimpse into the formative stages of his books, taking them on the journeys he embarked on himself for the purpose of research. The stand-out chapters in this regard are those he titles ‘The Theatre of the Real’, recounting his experience of travelling to the Middle East before writing The Little Drummer Girl, during which he danced with Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, visited an Israeli military prison in the Negev Desert, and agonised over the political direction the novel should take.
Yasser Arafat isn’t the only famous name to pop up in these pages – the chapter on le Carré drinking with Richard Burton on the Dublin set of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is darkly hilarious, while the chapter titled ‘Alec Guinness’ is a touching tribute to the actor who played George Smiley in the BBC’s classic 1979 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Where The Pigeon Tunnel truly scores, however, is when le Carré moves in the latter stages from the public to the personal, to write about his fraught relationship with Ronnie Cornwell, “conman, fantasist, occasional jailbird, and my father,” a man who “rubbed shoulders with the Kray Twins” and may well have been physically violent with the young David (whose mother, Olive, ran away from Ronnie when David was a child). At his father’s funeral, le Carré tells us, he was comforted by a stalwart member of ‘Ronnie’s Court’: “We was all bent, son. But your dad was very, very bent indeed.”
Again, some of the material may already be familiar to le Carré’s fans (particularly those who have read the novels A Perfect Spy and Single and Single), but there’s a poignant quality to some of the later chapters here, as the author struggles to come to terms with his father’s legacy: “Graham Greene tells us that childhood is the credit balance of the writer. By that measure at least, I was born a millionaire.”
It is certainly not a comprehensive account, but The Pigeon Tunnel is consistently entertaining as David Cornwell / John le Carré attempts to make sense of a life simultaneously lived out in public and in the shadows. “As a maker of fictions,” says the old spy and veteran puppet-master, “I invent versions of myself, never the real thing, if it exists.” ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Previously the winner of the Hawthornden Prize and the Lannan Literary Award, Tim Pears has built his reputation on novels that employ the family dynamic to explore social issues. The Horseman, his ninth novel and the first in a proposed trilogy, situates the Sercombe family in an apparently idyllic and self-contained world in which the horrors of WWI are unimaginable and history-making events (Home Rule, the miners’ strikes, ‘the Vandals and Goths’ of the suffragette movement) are little more than vague rumours. Rural Devon is a place where ‘things’ll carry on one way or another,’ as Albert Sercombe reassures his wife, but Leo’s fall from grace, precipitated by the passion for horses he shares with the haughty young Charlotte Prideaux, is the inevitable consequence of Leo transgressing against the social structure of his time and place.
While the bare bones of the plot are evocative of Hardy, The Horseman is a novel in which plot is little more than a skeletal structure that allows Tim Pears to flesh out a vibrant, vividly detailed Devon. Leo, our guide, has a gift for observation, and is a rudimentary philosopher to boot. Thus, when he watches a hare approach him across a field, Leo is drawn to the conclusion that, “each species of animal had its own peculiarities of vision. This world we surveyed was not was it was but as it was seen, in many different guises.”
The story proceeds by way of chapters divided into the months of the year, each month devoted to an important event on the farm: the ploughing, the sowing and reaping, the threshing; foals being born, pigs slaughtered. Unsentimental in tone, the story is richly descriptive as Pears sketches in the detail of a community’s symbiotic relationship to the land, as man imposes his will on chaotic nature: “No two fields among them were of like size or configuration. No tracks ran straight but dipped and wove around the tumps and hummocks of land. […] Streams meandered in no discernible direction, cutting deep narrow gullies here, trickling over gravel beds there. Erratic walkways crisscrossed the estate. The boy’s father Albert told him that when God created this corner of the world He’d just helped himself to a well-earned tipple.”
Pears is at his best, however, in charting Leo’s abiding love for horses, an instinctive devotion handed down from generation to generation. “He gazed upon the sets of waggon harness […] Plough strings, cart saddles, cobble trees and swingletrees, each hung on wooden pegs in its allotted place. These were the icons of beauty to the boy.” As young as he is, Leo is sure of his destiny: “He knew that he would work with horses all his life […]. He doubted whether one life was long enough to know all there was to know of horses.” The timeless nature of man’s relationship with the horse is confirmed when Leo watches his father “ride the mower … like one of those Canaanites who lived in the valley land and had chariots of iron.” When Leo finally races a full-grown horse, he is transported: “The boy did not know that such exhilaration existed, save for in the last days when young men shall see visions ...”
Seeded with deliciously archaic fragments of language (‘dawcock’, ‘zart’, ‘guddled’, ‘gatfer’), The Horseman is itself an exhilarating vision, a bittersweet elegy for the innocent certainties of an agrarian world before the industrialised horrors of the 20th century come crashing down. ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Times.
Monday, February 27, 2017
The day’s events begin at 10am, with the crime contingent onstage from 2pm-3pm. For details of all the day’s events, including how to book your tickets, clickety-click here …
Sunday, February 26, 2017
‘Hello? Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me?’
Apologies for the radio silence in recent weeks, folks, but – as mentioned below – I’m up to the proverbial oxters in a new book, which is proceeding with all the measured calm of a herd of parched pachyderms scenting a waterhole in the deepest Kalahari. Anyhoo, I break said silence in order to mention that I’ll be hosting a crime fiction workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre on March 11th, titled ‘Mystery and Suspense with Declan Burke’, with the details as follows:
Starts: Saturday 11th, March 2017
Time: 10.30am – 4.30pm
Duration: 1 day
Cost: €80/€70 Members
All great crime fiction stems from the fact that character is mystery. From whodunits to psychological thrillers, via private eyes and police procedurals, we’ll uncover the crucial elements that make for a memorable crime/mystery novel. Embracing plot, character, style, language, setting, tone and the authorial voice, this course employs classic and contemporary crime writing to illustrate the way forward for authors seeking to hone their craft and maximise the impact of their writing.
Declan Burke is an award-winning author of six novels, and the editor / co-editor of two non-fiction titles on crime writing. He is the editor of the short story anthology Trouble is Our Business (New Island).
For all the details, clickety-click here …
Thursday, February 23, 2017
It’s an ambitious opening, especially as this is Jeremy Massey’s debut offering, but the story quickly delivers on its early promise. Paddy is a widower still mourning the loss of his wife Eva, who died suddenly whilst seven months pregnant; when Paddy calls on the beautiful Lucy Wright, to make the funeral arrangements for her husband Michael, he is stunned when the traditional pieties lead to an amorous encounter. Distraught at his unethical behaviour, Paddy is even more shocked when Lucy dies immediately afterwards, of an angina attack, leaving Paddy to break the bad news to Lucy’s daughter Brigid when she arrives at the family home. Worse again, Brigid is more beautiful than Lucy, and Paddy finds himself falling for the doubly bereaved daughter.
With his blackly humorous farce underway, Massey piles on the comi-tragedy: driving home from work in the early hours, an exhausted and distracted Paddy knocks down a pedestrian. No ordinary pedestrian, either: Paddy has run over and killed Donal Cullen, beloved brother of Dublin’s most notorious criminal, Vincent Cullen. And it’s only a matter of time, of course, before Paddy gets the call to make the funeral arrangements for Donal …
In a remarkably assured debut novel, Jeremy Massey delivers a hugely entertaining take on the Irish noir novel. Steeped in death, and narrated by the disembodied voice of Paddy Buckley, the novel is nevertheless a rollicking tale of life’s absurdities, as the guilt-ridden Paddy twists and turns in a desperate bid to outrun the fate he has already told us awaits him. Persuasively blending crime and comedy is no easy matter, but Massey strikes exactly the right tone: the scene in which Paddy explains the embalming process to a creepily attentive Vincent Cullen, for example, is both darkly hilarious and spine-chillingly unsettling.
This is largely due to Massey’s talent for crafting well-rounded characters – Paddy, our flawed hero, is sympathetically drawn, a good man who finds himself the butt of Fate’s sick sense of humour. Vincent Cullen, for his part, is initially every inch the intimidating bruiser we might expect from a crime fiction villain, but it’s in his other facets – the thoughtful strategist, the loving father, the grieving brother – that Vincent truly comes to life. Even the minor characters (including an unusual hybrid guard-dog) are expertly sketched in.
Unsurprisingly, given Jeremy Massey’s background, the ‘privilege of being an undertaker’ is beautifully detailed, with Paddy offering an intriguing insight into mindset of those men and women who are death’s attendants on a daily basis. Indeed, the most poignant scene in the novel occurs when Paddy and his associates carry away a corpse from a dormitory housing down-and-outs, their progress mutely observed by terrified old men wondering if it will be their turn next.
Ultimately, and despite the fatalistic tone established in the prologue, The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley is a comic tour-de-force that blends high farce and slapstick (the high-speed chase involving a hearse is priceless) into a classic noir tale of a man doomed and damned before the story ever begins, its frantic pace underpinned with sobering observations on mortality that linger long after the tale concludes. It’s a heady combination, one that establishes Jeremy Massey as a unique voice in the new generation of Irish authors as a comic novelist of the first order. ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.
Monday, February 13, 2017
The novel opens at London’s Westacres shopping centre, where a bomb explodes and ‘something like the sun bloomed in all the wrong places.’ Meanwhile, David Cartwright, a legendary Cold War spymaster and the grandfather of ‘slow horse’ River Cartwright, is targeted for assassination. When River goes AWOL in France to investigate why the senile David was targeted, Slough House commander Jackson Lamb finds himself embroiled in a plot rooted in a post-Glasnost scheme to breed the ultimate ‘sleeper’ – the fanatical terrorist who believes he’s working for the other side.
In synopsis it sounds like a typically modern spy novel, with its technological horrors and war-on-terror paranoia, but the Jackson Lamb novels are deliciously irreverent throwbacks. The tone is set by Herron’s characterisation of Jackson Lamb, a belching, farting, swearing sloth of a man who favours low cunning over high-minded principles.
Herron, steeped in the genre, enjoys poking fun at his literary antecedents. ‘Bond never had this trouble,’ River Cartwright observes when he finds himself lost in France and struggling to communicate with a waitress. ‘Bond, though, would have been talking to a waitress twenty years younger, with inviting cleavage.’ There’s also a neat nod to John le Carré, when Louise Guy, another ‘slow horse’, notes that a Slough House operation ‘was like a circus would be if circuses involved fewer clowns.’
A lesser writer might baulk at invoking le Carré, for fear of inviting odious comparisons, but Mick Herron is fully entitled to his indulgence (which extends to inventing his own vocabulary, as did le Carré: the novel is thronged with ‘weasels’ ‘stoats’, ‘slow horses’, and ‘vampires’). He is superb at evoking the le Carré-esque air of ennui, cynicism and self-loathing which permeates an intelligence service on its uppers, but which remains – the alternative being too awful to contemplate – duty bound to keep calm and carry on. Even so, the reader steeped in spy fiction may discover that Herron’s beautifully detailed characters more closely resemble the grubby, penny-pinching creations of Len Deighton, those put-upon civil servants charged with defending the realm despite a complete absence of the noble impulse.
Either way, Spook Street is an absorbing tale peppered with fascinatingly flawed (and in some cases plain awful) characters, while the downbeat tone, and the paralysing self-doubt that afflicts many of the protagonists, is entirely apt for our turbulent times. Herron has a flair for the incongruously unsettling: in the midst of some office banter, during which two characters practise enhanced interrogation techniques, one of them declares that, ‘Blowing up forty-two kids in a shopping centre is murder. Waterboarding a suspected terrorist to death, that’s housekeeping.’
That said, Herron also leavens the mood with flashes of mordant humour (‘The Dogs sniffed out all manner of heresies, from the sale of secrets to injudicious sexual encounters: the honeytrap was older than chess, but stupidity was even older.’), while the hilariously repellent Jackson Lamb – the anti-Smiley – is a constant source of politically incorrect one-liners.
Most importantly, Mick Herron possesses that intangible gift given to all great writers, the ability to persuade the reader that he or she alone is privy to an intimate conversation. Here Herron draws his readers so fully into the world of Slough House that the incautious might find themselves slipping between the pages and transformed from reader to spook. Which wouldn’t be entirely surprising; as Jackson Lamb points out, ‘Spooks love their stories: it’s why they’re spooks.’ ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Times.