“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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Publication: HE: A NOVEL by John Connolly

John Connolly likes to keep busy, or maybe his restless imagination gives him no choice in the matter. Either way, he follows up A GAME OF GHOSTS from earlier in the year with he: A Novel (Hodder & Stoughton), which looks like it’s worth buying on the strength of its cover alone, and sounds like a very intriguing proposition indeed. Quoth the blurb elves:
John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity and the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists.
  An extraordinary reimagining of the life of one of the greatest screen comedians the world has ever known: a man who knew both adoration and humiliation; who loved, and was loved in turn; who betrayed, and was betrayed; who never sought to cause pain to others, yet left a trail of affairs and broken marriages in his wake . . .
  And whose life was ultimately defined by one relationship of such tenderness and devotion that only death could sever it: his partnership with the man he knew as Babe.
  he is Stan Laurel.
  But he did not really exist. Stan Laurel was a fiction.
  With he, John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity, the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists, and one of the most enduring and beloved partnerships in cinema history: Laurel & Hardy.
  he: A Novel will be published on August 24th. For more, clickety-click here

Monday, August 21, 2017

One to Watch: THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain

Jo Spain has already built a considerable reputation on the basis of her series of police procedurals featuring Inspector Tom Reynolds, but next year’s THE CONFESSION (Quercus) is a standalone thriller. Quoth the blurb elves:
Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear.
  Just an hour later, the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn’t know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering: was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry’s many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal?
  THE CONFESSION will be published on January 25th. For more on Jo Spain, clickety-click here

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reviews: Love, Neary, Garnier, Vargas, Bonini & De Cataldo

Peddling cartel smack to the addicts of LA’s South Central, Lola (Point Blank, €14.99) is doing whatever it takes to ‘make a life for your family better than the bullshit God served you.’ But when a drug deal goes wrong, Lola – the power behind the throne of the Crenshaw Six – has 72 hours to make it right, or suffer a horrible death at the cartel’s hands. The debut novel from Melissa Scrivner Love, a TV writer for CSI: Miami and Person of Interest, Lola is on one level a gripping tale of a brutal struggle for survival in Los Angeles’ barrios, a bleak and cynical noir that pulls no punches in its depiction of the poverty underpinning the savagery of Lola’s world. It’s a novel that has much in common with Bill Beverly’s Dodgers, although Love’s characterisation of Lola gives this novel an added heft, not least because the innate chauvinism of Lola’s sub-culture means she needs to be a chameleon-like ‘shadow leader’, a woman who pulls the strings, flatters multiple egos and cajoles rather than threatens: a junkie’s daughter, Lola grew up abused and beaten, a life lesson that taught Lola ‘she didn’t need a father figure; she was the father figure.’ The result is an absorbing tale that blends compassion and a bracing realpolitik into a fascinating account of one woman’s unquenchable will to not only survive but thrive, in the process breaking the cycles of abuse that have destroyed generations of women before her.
  The Orphans (Hutchinson, €15.99) of Annemarie Neary’s second novel are Jess and Sparrow, siblings whose parents disappeared from a Goa beach when they were young children. The adult Jess, now living in London, has built a wall of certainties around herself – job, husband, child, social status – but the nomadic, fragile Sparrow, refusing to believe his mother abandoned him, descends into monomaniacal obsession. Jess and Sparrow conduct separate investigations into the mystery of their parents’ disappearance, but for the most part The Orphans is a story of how Jess struggles to cope with the belated realisation that she is ‘just a woman without a job, in a sham marriage, with a loose cannon brother who might turn out to be a murderer.’ Neary has a terrific eye for detail – ‘the same wet-weather gear is flapping its pessimist’s charter outside Mountain Warehouse’ – but Jess is a rather passive, hand-wringing protagonist concerned with maintaining the status quo, while Sparrow, potentially fascinating as a study of sociopathic tendencies rooted in violent loss, is sketched in strokes too broad to fully persuade.
  French author Pascal Garnier writes short, offbeat crime novels reminiscent of Georges Simenon in whimsical form, and Low Heights (Gallic, €12.99) is no exception. Cantankerous widower Édouard Lavenant requires a live-in nurse after suffering a mild stroke that leaves him with a crippled arm, and Thérèse seems to fit the bill: professional, mild-manner and complaisant, she tolerates his fits of pique and endless complaints. Thérèse, however, may be a little too tolerant of Lavenant’s idiosyncratic behaviour, and perhaps even guilty of enabling Lavenant’s increasingly dangerous disregard for the importance of human life … There’s a strong sense that Garnier is toying with the reader’s expectations in Low Heights, as he cheerfully lobs supernatural elements, doppelgängers and deus ex machinas into the plot (it’s no coincidence, presumably, that Lavenant was ‘born in Lyon, the home of the puppet Guignol’), although the recurring motif of griffon vultures provide a stark reminder of the Darwinian struggle to survive that underpins Lavenant’s actions. Few writers, meanwhile, can turn a sentence so abruptly as Garnier: ‘Jean-Baptiste was smiling because that’s all a human being is left with once the skin and flesh are stripped away.’ Deliciously sly and nuanced, Low Heights is as much an acerbic commentary on the crime novel’s conventions as it is a slow-burning psychological thriller.
  The award-winning French author Fred Vargas is best known for her police procedurals featuring Chief Inspector Adamsberg, but The Accordionist (Harvill Secker, €15.99), set in Paris, is the third novel to feature her ‘three evangelists’, as retired policeman and ‘unofficial private eye’ Louis Kehlweiler sets out to prove the innocence of Clément, a simple-minded man whom Louis believes to have murdered at least two women in a serial-killing spree. As with Pascal Garnier, Vargas delivers a whimsical variation on the crime novel’s conventions, as Louis justifies his improbable approach to investigating the murders by declaring that he is ‘inclined to let murderers have more rope with which to hang themselves,’ and further propounds a theory in which the killer is inspired by Gérard de Nerval’s epic poem, El Desdichado. It’s all rather delightfully bonkers, a playful and subversively unorthodox take on the private eye novel by a master of her craft.
  Already a film, and now a Netflix series, Suburra (Europa Editions, €18.45) is a sprawling tale of corruption on an epic scale, as politicians, judiciary, police, Mafia and the Vatican fight for a slice of the pie that is the Roman suburb of Suburra during the dog days of the Berlusconi administration. Co-written by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo, a journalist and magistrate, respectively, the novel’s main narrative thread follows Lieutenant Marco Malatesta, former fascist ideologue and wannabe gangster, but now the scourge of Rome’s parasites, and particularly the gang leader known as Samurai. It’s a ramshackle, rollicking tale, strongly rooted in the historical conflict between Fascism and Communism, with the jocular tone employed Bonini and De Cataldo deliberately undermining the appalling extent of the corruption involved in order to make the irreverent observation that there is no point in taking the story seriously – corruption, after all, is as old as Ancient Rome itself. ~ Declan Burke

  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.

Publications: Irish Crime Fiction 2017/18

Herewith be a brief list of Irish crime fiction titles published / to be published in 2017, a list I’ll be updating on a regular basis. To wit:

POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty (January 5)

DEAD GIRLS DANCING by Graham Masterton (February 9)
THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER by Andrew Hughes (February 23)

LET THE DEAD SPEAK by Jane Casey (March 9)
THE MISSING ONES by Patricia Gibney (March 16)
HEADBANGER / SAD BASTARD by Hugo Hamilton (March 23)

A GAME OF GHOSTS by John Connolly (April 6)
IN DEEP WATER by Sam Blake (April 11)
THE BLOOD MIRACLES by Lisa McInerney (April 20)
THE CARDINAL’S COURT by Cora Harrison (April 24)

THE THERAPY HOUSE by Julie Parsons (May 2)
THE CITY OF LIES by Michael Russell (May 4)
BAD BLOOD by Brian McGilloway (May 18)
THE LIAR by Steve Cavanagh (May 18)

SILVER’S CITY by Maurice Leitch (June 1)
PRAGUE NIGHTS by Benjamin Black (June 6)
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL by Andrea Mara (June 6)
ONE BAD TURN by Sinead Crowley (June 7)
HERE AND GONE by Haylen Beck (June 13)
ENDGAME by Casey Hill (June 14)
I KNOW MY NAME by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (June 15)
THE SWINGING DETECTIVE by Henry McDonald (June 22)

THE STOLEN GIRLS by Patricia Gibney (July 6)
AFTER SHE VANISHED by S.A. Dunphy (July 13)
RAIN FALLS ON EVERYONE by Clár Ní Chonghaile (July 15)
LITTLE BIRD by Sharon Dempsey (July 26)
THE ORPHANS by Annemarie Neary (July 27)

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? by Karen Perry (August 26)
RAVENHILL by John Steele (August 31)

THE RELUCTANT CONTACT by Stephen Burke (Sept 7)
SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Jo Spain (September 21)
THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN by Cat Hogan (September TBA)

THE WELL OF ICE by Andrea Carter (October 5)

THE GHOSTS OF GALWAY by Ken Bruen (November 2)
BLOOD TIDE by Claire McGowan (November 9)

UNDERTOW by Anthony J. Quinn (December 14)

2018

THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain (January 25)

SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent (March 29)

THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS by John Connolly (April 5)
TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE by Olivia Keirnan (April 5)

THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh (May 3)

  NB: Publication dates are given according to Amazon UK, and are subject to change.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Feature: SILVER’S CITY by Maurice Leitch

James Doyle of Turnpike Books had a terrific article in the Irish Times last week, explaining why he has republished Maurice Leitch’s SILVER’S CITY, aka ‘the novel that pioneered Northern noir.’ To wit:
Once it seemed that Northern Ireland only produced poets, now it seems to have as many crime novelists as Scandinavia. Brian McGilloway has explained the emergence of these writers: “In the absence of a Truth Commission in Northern Ireland, fiction is the closest we will come to an understanding of the past.”
  Silver’s City began that process. Maurice Leitch created a recognisable Belfast where the motives of his characters are ambiguous and arbitrary. He brought an authenticity to the conflict in Northern Ireland that undermined the lazy clichés that had been applied until then. Leitch’s Belfast is seedy and exhausted, the world of a Graham Greene novel rather than anything that we find in Jack Higgins. The paramilitaries of Silver’s City meet around kitchen tables, they reflect the domesticity and “neighbourly murder” (in Seamus Heaney’s phrase) of Northern Ireland’s violence, the casualness of a war where your enemy lives a few streets away and the only planning needed to kill someone was to knock on their door.
  For the rest of the piece, clickety-click here

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Event: The Lady Killers at the Open House Festival

No Alibis’ David Torrans interviews Alex Barclay and Sam Blake at Bangor’s Open House Festival on August 16th, with the blurb elves quoting thusly:
Take two of Ireland’s leading women crime writers, add in the don of crime bookshops, and you have all the evidence you need for a bestseller of a night.
  Alex Barclay from Cork is the award-winning, international bestselling author of eight thrillers, including her latest, THE DROWNING CHILD, and Dublin based Sam Blake’s debut, LITTLE BONES, was an Irish Times number one bestseller last year. Both books were shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year in 2016.
  David Torrans, the owner of No Alibis bookstore in Belfast, internationally recognised as one of the best independent bookshops this side of anywhere, will be interrogating Alex and Sam to find out what makes a deadly read, how they created their crime fighting heroines, and if the female is always deadlier than the male.
  For all the details, including how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: HERE AND GONE by Haylen Beck

An award-winning author of crime thrillers set in Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville publishes his eighth novel, Here and Gone (Harvill Secker), under the open pseudonym of Haylen Beck. The story begins with Audra Kinney on the run from her abusive husband, Patrick; when Audra is pulled over for a routine traffic stop near the small town of Silver Water in Arizona, she is arrested on a trumped-up charge of marijuana possession and separated from her children, Sean and Louise. Held overnight until charges can be brought, the distressed Audra asks the arresting officer, Sheriff Whiteside, where her children are:
Whiteside held her gaze.
‘What children?’ he asked.
  It’s a variation on every parent’s worst nightmare, not least because the reader subsequently learns of an internet forum on the ‘dark web’, wherein a number of men are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘the goods’, ‘a pair in good condition’ who will provide the ‘entertainment’ for an evening’s depravity.
  With the reader aware that the clock is ticking, the scene is set for an adrenaline-fuelled tale of gritty heroism, as Audra – helpless in Sheriff Whiteside’s custody, suspected of murdering her children by the FBI, and already convicted by the court of public opinion – struggles to overcome impossible odds in a desperate bid to save her children.
  It’s a high-concept tale to rival Neville’s debut, The Twelve (2009), in which an ex-paramilitary, haunted by the ghosts of those he was ordered to murder, sets out to avenge their deaths. While Here and Gone is equally absorbing, the new nom-de-plume and the Arizona setting aren’t the only radical departures for Neville. In a sense, he has had to reconfigure his entire mindset vis-à-vis the crime genre, in the process illuminating the essential difference between the hardboiled crime novels originating in the US and the mystery novels of those – the recent Scandi noir phenomenon included – from this side of the pond. Where Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey and most of the other amateur sleuths of the UK’s Golden Age of mystery writing were happy to collaborate when necessary with the local police force, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op and Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe frequently found themselves at odds with the establishment and at the rough end of a brutal justice meted out by corrupt police forces shoring up a rotten system, a state of affairs that reached its apotheosis in Jim Thompson’s first-person account of the deranged deputy sheriff Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me.
  Hailing from a former colony, Irish crime writers get to have their cake and eat it too, presenting the police as agents of oppression and terror when it suits, but also culturally attuned to tapping into the classic British perception of PC Plod as the flat-footed but utterly dependable avatar for law, order and justice.
  It was in utilising the latter perception that the Belfast-based Stuart Neville established a considerable international reputation on the basis of a series of loosely linked police procedurals set in Northern Ireland, in which the protagonist, most recently DCI Serena Flanagan and previously DI Jack Lennon, were diligent professionals who – their personal demons notwithstanding – did their best to protect and serve the civilian population. In Haylen Beck’s Arizona-set Here and Gone, however, the police are not only mistrusted as the corrupt representatives of system of law and order heavily weighted towards the rich and privileged, but are to be feared for proactively seeking out the vulnerable in order to facilitate a monstrous appetite.
  The result is a novel that combines the propulsive narrative drive of Lee Child with Michael Connelly’s deceptively understated muscular prose, a thriller that also blends into its potent mix a strong flavour of both the domestic and rural noir sub-genres, the former as a consequence of Audra Kinney’s intensely emotional quest to be reunited with her children, the latter courtesy of Neville / Beck’s beautifully detailed descriptions of the remote and parched Arizona landscape. All told, Here and Gone is, even allowing for the inevitable hyperbole, not only a genuinely chilling and thrilling read, but a fascinating snapshot of Irish crime fiction’s ability to straddle the classic strands of US and British crime fiction. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Event: Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan (right) is not only one of the good guys, but the good guy from whom – pace Wodehouse – aspiring good guys might take a correspondence course. ‘Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan’ is neither a correspondence course nor a set of guidelines in being a good guy, or doll, but it should prove both instructive and illuminating vis-à-vis the fiendishly difficult business of writing crime fiction. To wit:
‘Writing Crime Fiction with Gerard Brennan’
Starts: Thur 28 Sept 2017
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Duration: 8 Weeks
Venue: Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast
Cost: €88/£80

Maverick police detectives, hardnosed gumshoes or crime-solving cats. Anything goes. Do you have a criminal mind, but too much sense to break the law? You might be in luck. CSNI (Crime Scene Northern Ireland) is an introduction to writing crime fiction. An eight-week course that explores the wide range of subgenres within crime fiction where you can learn about the so-called rules of writing a crime novel, and break them.

Gerard Brennan recently earned his PhD in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast. His publishing credits include UNDERCOVER (2014), WEE ROCKETS (2012) and THE POINT (2011); winner of the Spinetingler Award for Best Novella in 2012.
  For all the details, including how to book a place, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Irk of the Week # 326: The Decoupling of Couple Of

I’m currently reading a novel called [REDACTED] by [REDACTED], which is a very fine novel indeed, despite the author having – as seems to be the fashion – a bizarre abhorrence of using the words ‘couple’ and ‘of’ in conjunction. One such example:
They’re just a couple stupid little girls.
  Now, the first time you stumble (and stumble you do) across this, you might well assume it’s a typo, and let it slide. But when it reoccurs four or five times in the course of a single novel (otherwise typo-free), you may assume it’s a stylistic tic, and start to wonder why said tic has become so prevalent.
  Because the thing is, it simply doesn’t scan, and not least because anyone saying that line is making a conscious decision to omit the word ‘of’.
  Try saying ‘They’re just a couple stupid little girls’ aloud; then try it using ‘couple of’, ‘couple a’ or even ‘coupla’.
  If you can’t hear the difference, I apologise – it’s very likely the sound my grinding teeth drowning out the nuance.
  Of course, the line could also be written thusly:
They’re just a couple stupid little girls.
  Because the reader already knows there are two girls under discussion, we don’t really need the ‘a couple’ at all; and anyway, you’ve got that lovely plural built in there at the end, just to be doubly sure.
  Next week’s Irk: the epidemic of authors forcing characters to ‘fire up’ their computers, laptops, et al, instead of simply allowing said characters to switch on, or turn on, their computers, laptops, et al, thus costing the benighted denizens of Characterland a small fortune as they rush to invest in flame-retardant technology.