“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review: SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley returns to the agrarian American mid-west setting of her 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres for Some Luck (Mantle) the first book in a proposed ‘Hundred Years Trilogy’ that will span the 20th century. The novel opens in Iowa in 1920, with young farmer Walter Langdon – recently returned from the trenches of WWI – experiencing the blend of joy and terror that comes with being a new father who has just bought his first farm.
  Walter’s pragmatic voice (“Oat straw was also a beautiful colour – paler than gold but more useful.”) is by no means the only one to be heard in Some Luck. The story offers perspectives from Walter’s wife Rosanna and their growing brood of children – Frank, Joe, Mary, Lillian, Henry and Claire – all of whom have distinctive takes on the experience of growing up on a farm in rural America.
  The novel covers the years from 1920 to 1953, and so incorporates major events in recent American history, such as the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, the rise of American Communism, WWII, and the post-WWII development of the Cold War. Rather than deal with these events head-on, however, Jane Smiley tends to refer to them obliquely, or at a tangent (WWII is the exception, given that we follow in Frank’s footsteps as he fights his way from North Africa, across Sicily and into Italy).
  Events such as the Wall Street Crash, for example, merit no more than a couple of lines of conversation between two characters, as they give voice to their fears that the crash might affect produce prices in the Mid-West. The same applies to the Great Depression. While there are references to the ‘Oklahoma Dustbowl’, and times do grow leaner (and a ham-fisted attempt at an armed robbery by desperate men causes some excitement), the Langdons and most of their neighbours escape the worst of the deprivation and poverty – although, as always, prices keep on falling.
  Despite the huge sweep of the story, however, given the backdrop of momentous events, the number of characters who appear and the time-span involved, Some Luck is a very intimate kind of epic, and one that is rooted in the domestic concerns of Walter and Rosanna Langdon.
  Indeed, the recurring motif of the book is the physical manifestation of family domesticity, the house: at various points in the novel, the characters’ good and bad times are reflected in the kind of house where they live, and the condition of that house. The novel opens with Walter walking out on his new farm and evaluating the farm’s prospects, but eventually turning to the solidly built home that lies at its centre; the devastation of the Great Depression is characterised by abandoned houses, which turn into eyesores on the landscape; and the novel concludes with the young Claire struggling to cope with the news of a momentous death, and the emotional churn inside that leaves her feeling ‘like an empty house’.
  Beautifully descriptive in its depictions of an Iowa landscape at the mercy of volatile and extreme weather conditions – blistering sun in summer, savage blizzards in winter – the novel is an elegy for a forgotten generation but also a cautionary fable against mythologising their world (“Every house is in a dark wood,” warns Frank after his experience in WWII, amplifying the recurring fairytale motif, “every house has a wicked witch in it, doesn’t matter if she looks like a fairy godmother …”). All told, it’s an engrossing, bittersweet love letter to a people whose experience of a relentlessly changing world taught them to appreciate its natural charms but never underestimate its perils. ~ Declan Burke

  Some Luck by Jane Smiley is published by Mantle.

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Publications: Irish Crime Fiction 2015

Herewith be a brief list of Irish crime fiction titles to be published in 2015, a list I’ll be updating on a regular basis throughout the year. To wit:

GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty (January 8)

TAKEN FOR DEAD by Graham Masterton (February 12)

THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh (March 12)

A SONG OF SHADOWS by John Connolly (April 9)
KILLING WAYS by Alex Barclay (April 9)
THE ORGANISED CRIMINAL by Jarlath Gregory (April 9)

THE NIGHT GAME by Frank Golden (May 28)
BARLOW BY THE BOOK by John McAllister (May TBC)

FREEDOM’S CHILD by Jax Miller (June 2)
ONLY WE KNOW by Karen Perry (June 4)
AFTER THE FIRE by Jane Casey (June 18)
THE SILENT DEAD by Claire McGowan (June 18)
ALOYSIUS TEMPO by Jason Johnson (June 25)
THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND by Stuart Neville (June 26)

GREEN HELL by Ken Bruen (July 7)

PRESERVE THE DEAD by Brian McGilloway (August 6)
A BEAUTIFUL DEATH by Louise Phillips (August TBC)

A DEADLY GAMBLE by Pat Mullan (September TBC)

EVEN THE DEAD by Benjamin Black (October 15)
WHITEWATER CHURCH by Andrea Carter (October TBC)

DEAD SECRET by Ava McCarthy (November 19)

ARE YOU WATCHING ME? by Sinead Crowley (date TBC)

  If you’re an Irish crime writer with a book on the way, please feel free to drop me a line (including details on dates, publisher, etc.) if you’d like to be included in the ongoing updates.

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Event: Louise Phillips’ Crime Writing Course at the Irish Writers’ Centre

A last shout for Louise Phillips’ (right) crime writing course at the Irish Writers’ Centre, which begins on February 5th. To wit:
This course covers many elements of successful crime writing – creating tension, pace, memorable characters, effective dialogue, plot and a gripping page-turning story.
  Over ten weeks, workshop exercises and editorial critique will sharpen your fictional voice. Since commencing workshops, two of Louise’s students have achieved publishing deals and another two are signed with agents.
  If you’re looking to start or finish your crime novel, this course will get you closer to the finish line.
  Louise Phillips is the bestselling author of psychological crime thrillers, Red Ribbons, The Doll’s House (Winner of the Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year) and Last Kiss.
  Contact the Irish Writers Centre at 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, January 30, 2015

Event: The Guardian Book Club Hosts John Banville on Philip Marlowe

John Banville – aka Benjamin Black, aka Benny Blanco – takes part in a Guardian Book Club discussion on his ‘resurrection’ of Raymond Chandler’s private eye Philip Marlowe in London next Thursday, February 5th. To wit:
“Maybe it was time I forgot about Nico Peterson, and his sister, and the Cahuilla Club, and Clare Cavendish. Clare? The rest would be easy to put out of my mind, but not the black-eyed blonde . . .”
  John Banville resurrected Raymond Chandler’s private detective, Philip Marlowe, for his 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde. Set in Los Angeles, in the early 1950s, it begins with a visit from a beautiful, elegant heiress, Clare Cavendish, in search of her former lover. All of the essential noir elements are here - a murder, the powerful family with hidden secrets, the sleezy bars and mean streets of LA, and at its centre Chandler’s wisecracking and world-weary sleuth.
  Banville will talk to John Mullan about writing his own Philip Marlowe mystery, the genius of Raymond Chandler and the enduring appeal of one of the most iconic private detectives in crime fiction.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Republished: ODD MAN OUT by F.L. Green

Originally published in 1945, F.L. Green’s superb Belfast-set thriller ODD MAN OUT will soon be republished by Valancourt Books, with an introduction from Adrian McKinty. To wit:
An Irish Republican Army plot goes horribly wrong when its leader, Johnny Murtah, kills an innocent man and is himself gravely wounded. As the police close in on Johnny, his compatriots must make a daring bid to rescue him. But they are not the only ones in pursuit: an impoverished artist, a saintly priest, a sleazy informer, and a beautiful young woman all have their own reasons to be desperate to find him. Meanwhile Johnny wanders the streets injured and alone, trapped in a delirious nightmare, surrounded on all sides by betrayal and faced with the realization that he may die that night with the stain of murder on his soul. The action unfolds over eight hours of a cold Belfast night, with the suspense building towards an explosive conclusion.
  Both a critical success and a bestseller, F. L. Green’s masterful thriller Odd Man Out (1945) is best known today as the basis for the classic 1947 film adaptation directed by Carol Reed and starring James Mason. This edition, the first in over 30 years, features a new introduction by Adrian McKinty.
  As it happens, Adrian McKinty’s contribution to DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS (2011), which focused on Northern Ireland’s early contribution to Irish crime writing, was titled ‘Odd Men Out’, in which he touches briefly on ODD MAN OUT, describing it as a Dante-esque descent into a surrealist hell. Poor old Belfast, eh? Always the bitter word, etc. ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One to Watch: THE NIGHT GAME by Frank Golden

Poet, painter and filmmaker Frank Golden adds yet another string to his rather impressive bow with the forthcoming publication of his psychological thriller THE NIGHT GAME (Salmon Poetry). To wit:
In her late thirties Mary lives in her childhood home - a rambling brownstone on New York’s Lower East Side. Returning from work Mary’s thoughts are on a therapy session from earlier that day, and on the group meeting she will attend later in the week. One of the other members of the group is Vincent, with whom she has had a transgressive sexual history. Mary, un-nerved by a series of threatening phone calls and what she believes is evidence of a stalker, makes contact with Sarah, one of her oldest friends. Sarah offers to move in with Mary until the situation is resolved. When Vincent moves in as well things complicate and degrade. Unnervingly dark, THE NIGHT GAME offers up psychological intrigue and emotional depth that make it a compelling read.
  THE NIGHT GAME will be published on May 28th, although Frank will launch the book at the Ennis Book Club Festival on March 6th.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pre-Publication: A SONG OF SHADOWS by John Connolly

A new Charlie Parker novel tends to be one of the highlights of my reading year, but John Connolly’s forthcoming A SONG OF SHADOWS (Hodder & Stoughton) promises to deliver even more bang for buck than usual. Quoth the blurb elves:
Grievously wounded private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
  Recovering from a near-fatal shooting, and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubsko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.
  His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Isolated.
  But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.
  For something is emerging from the shadows ...
  A SONG OF SHADOWS will be published on April 9th.
  Incidentally, the image above is one of a series from Mexican graphic artist Humberto Cadena, who has created a whole gallery of heroes and villains from Charlie Parker’s world. For more, clickety-click here
  Finally, yet more good news for Connolly fans: John is currently preparing a second volume of NOCTURNES, which will include his Edgar- and Anthony Award-winning short story, ‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository’. The collection should appear in September. For lots more news from John, including a US reissue of the entire Charlie Parker series, clickety-click here

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Publication: THE WATCHED by Casey Hill

THE WATCHED (Simon & Schuster) is the fourth novel from wife-and-husband writing team Casey Hill to feature forensic investigator Reilly Steel. While the previous novels have been set in Ireland, Reilly returns home to the US for THE WATCHED. Quoth the blurb elves:
Quantico-trained forensic investigator Reilly Steel is back in the country of her birth. Unsure about both her future and her position within the Dublin police force, Reilly hopes that a relaxing stay at the Florida beach home of her old FBI mentor Daniel Forrest will help get her thoughts together. When Daniel’s son, policeman Todd Forrest, is called to the scene of a gruesome murder where the body of a beautiful woman has literally been torn in two, he is stopped in his tracks. Not just because of the grotesque and theatrical nature of the crime but because he recognizes the victim as Daniel’s goddaughter. In an attempt to find swift resolution on her old friend’s behalf, Reilly finds herself drawn into the investigation. And when another disturbing murder occurs soon after, Reilly can’t help but feel that she has come across something like this before. But where? The answer becomes apparent at a third crime scene - the killer is visually re-enacting some of the most famous murder scenes in screen history and posting his ‘work’ online for his followers and the whole world to see. Will the investigative team be able to find the murderer before his thirst for ‘screen immortality’ drives him to kill again? And will Reilly’s brief hiatus in the US force her into a decision about her future in Dublin, and the unfinished business she has there?
  For more on Casey Hill, clickety-click here

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Publication: GHOST FLIGHT by Mel Healy

GHOST FLIGHT is the latest offering in Mel Healy’s Moss Reid series, which concerns itself with “a gastronomic private eye whose main patch is around the Stoneybatter and Smithfield districts of Dublin.” To wit:
2008: The Irish economy is about to go belly up, and three Irish businessmen disappear in a light aircraft off the west coast of Ireland. There is no mayday message. No wreckage, no bodies, nothing.
  Six years later, Niamh McElhinney bumps into one of the missing men in the south of France. Then she, too, goes missing. Time to call Wilde & Reid Investigations …
  Stoneybatter private eye Moss Reid is back, in his most complicated case to date, as a slow journey down the Canal du Midi turns into a nightmare race to find a faceless killer.
  GHOST FLIGHT is the third in Irish writer Mel Healy’s series involving Moss Reid, the Dublin PI whose priorities in life are to “eat, drink and investigate – in that order”.
  For more on Mel Healy and Moss Reid, clickety-click here

Friday, January 23, 2015

One to Watch: ONLY WE KNOW by Karen Perry

The writing partnership Karen Perry (right) hit the ground running last year with a terrific debut psychological thriller, THE BOY THAT NEVER WAS, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they do with their follow-up offering, ONLY WE KNOW (Penguin). Quoth the blurb elves:
Kenya, 1982. The relentless sun beats down on the Maasai Mara. Three children, Nick, Luke and Katie, bored and hot, go down to the river alone. But when their innocent game by the banks of the river goes horribly wrong, their lives are changed forever and they are eternally bound by a shocking and suffocating secret.
  Dublin, 2013. Their secret is buried, but not forgotten, and when Luke goes missing in violent circumstances it becomes clear that their childhood mistakes have come back to haunt them . . .
  ONLY WE KNOW will be published on June 4.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

News: Stuart Neville and Jane Casey Shortlisted for Edgar Awards

It’s a hearty CAP Towers congratulations to Stuart Neville and Jane Casey, both of whom were nominated for Edgar awards when the shortlists were announced early today, January 21st. Stuart’s THE FINAL SILENCE was nominated in the Best Novel category, while Jane’s THE STRANGER YOU KNOW was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. To wit:
Best Novel
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Wolf by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville (Soho Press)
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown)
Coptown by Karin Slaughter (Penguin Randomhouse – Delacorte Press)

Mary Higgins Clark
A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books)
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller (Minotaur Books)
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
  For the full run-down of all Edgar categories and nominees, clickety-click here

Review: GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty

The latest Irish Times crime fiction column includes a review of Adrian McKinty’s current offering, GUN STREET GIRL (Serpent’s Tail). It runs a lot like this:
The fourth in Adrian McKinty’s award-winning series of police procedurals featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective serving in the RUC during the 1980s, Gun Street Girl (Serpent’s Tail, €19.40), opens in 1985, as the news of the impending Anglo-Irish Agreement sends Northern Ireland into a turmoil of strikes, riots and violence. “How can you investigate a murder in a time of incipient civil war?” Duffy wonders as he attends the scene of what appears to be a professional double-killing of ‘civilians’. That conundrum is quickly left behind as Duffy finds himself investigating the possibility that the murders are connected to the theft of Javelin missile systems from the Shorts manufacturing plant, which may well implicate rogue members of an American secret service. The claustrophobic tension of the previous novels is replaced here by a surprisingly jocular tone, as Duffy resorts to absurdist humour in order to preserve his sanity in an increasingly bleak Northern Ireland. “Out here,” Duffy tells us, “on the edge of the dying British Empire, farce is the only mode of narrative discourse that makes any sense at all.” Gun Street Girl may well be a comically implausible tale, but its roots in historical fact renders it a superb satire of its time and place. ~ Declan Burke
  For the rest of the column, which includes reviews of the latest books from Colette McBeth, Antonio Hodgson and Dana King, clickety-click here

Monday, January 19, 2015

Local Heroes: Philip Davison

We’re all familiar with the huge strides taken by Irish crime fiction over the past decade or so, but there were quite a few Irish authors writing crime / mystery / thriller novels before it was fashionable and / or (koff) profitable.
  Philip Davison (author, playwright and screenwriter, and currently a member of Aosdána) is one of them, possibly overlooked in terms of his contribution to Irish crime writing because the hero of his four spy novels, Harry Fielding, was an ‘understrapper’ for MI5.
  Davison published four novels with Fielding as his protagonist: THE CROOKED MAN (1997), MCKENZIE’S FRIEND (2000), THE LONG SUIT (2003) and A BURNABLE TOWN (2006). The reviews, such as those below for MCKENZIE’S FRIEND, were rather impressive:
“Chilly, elegant and disconcertingly comic. Rather like a collaboration between two notable Green(e)s – Graham and Henry – and quite safely described as original.” ~ Literary Review

“Davison shares Beckett’s knack for making the down-at-the-heel appear surreal.” ~ Times Literary Supplement
  THE LONG SUIT, meanwhile, was compared with John le Carré, Len Deighton and that man Graham Greene again. You get the picture: we’re in the realm of the literary spy thriller. THE LONG SUIT opens thusly:
“I had my own troubles, some of which I had addressed. When they lifted me my plan had been to go to ground, let time pass and be vigilant. Like a Druid, I had come to count nights instead of days. I watched Clements talking to somebody at the end of the corridor. He was loud, but I couldn’t make out the words. The lower jaw seemed to have just the one spring action. He was like a thirsty dog drinking from a water pistol …”
  For more on Philip Davison, clickety-click here

UPDATE: Mel Healy has a very nice appraisal of Philip Davison’s style (along with a tangent or two about his food consumption) over here

Saturday, January 17, 2015

One To Watch: THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

Steve Cavanagh’s ‘The Grey’ is one of the most impressive of the offerings in BELFAST NOIR, the new short story collection edited by Stuart Neville and Adrian McKinty, and it augurs well for THE DEFENCE (Orion), Steve’s debut novel, which will be published next March. Quoth the blurb elves:
The truth has no place in a courtroom. The truth doesn’t matter in a trial. The only thing that matters is what the prosecution can prove. Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different. It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie's back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter Amy. Eddie only has 48 hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial - and win - if wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy's safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.
  For more on Steve Cavanagh, clickety-click here

Thursday, January 15, 2015

One to Watch: JOHN LE CARRE: THE BIOGRAPHY by Adam Sisman

It won’t be published until October, unfortunately, but I’m very much looking forward to Adam Sisman’s biography of John le Carré, which will be published by Bloomsbury. To wit:
John le Carré is still at the top, more than half a century after The Spy Who Came in from the Cold became a worldwide bestseller. From his bleak childhood - the departure of his mother when he was five was followed by ‘sixteen hugless years’ in the dubious care of his father, a serial-seducer and con-man - through recruitment by both MI5 and MI6, to his emergence as the master of the espionage novel, le Carré has repeatedly quarried his life for his fiction. Millions of readers are hungry to know the truth about him. Written with exclusive access to le Carré himself, to his private archive and to many of the people closest to him, this is a major biography of one of the most important novelists alive today.
  I like the idea of the book promoting le Carré as ‘one of the most important novelists alive today’. All too often, when talking about le Carré, you hear that he’s a wonderful spy novelist, very likely the best of his kind and the man who spun literature from the Cold War conflict, but that the quality of his books has suffered in the Brave New post-Wall World. Stuff and nonsense, of course. As much as I love the Cold War novels, they were set during a period that to a large extent (and understandably so) characterised by a black-and-white, us-vs-them perspective. The latter work is far more fascinating, I think, ‘rooted’ as they are in the fertile but shifting sands of fluid conflicts, unlikely alliances and moral relativism.
  As for the idea that le Carré is a great spy novelist: he is, of course, but leaving at that is equivalent to saying that James Joyce was a dab hand at writing about Dublin, or METAMORPHOSIS is the finest possible example of a novel about bugs.
  As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a le Carré binge this January: so far I’ve read OUR GAME, CALL FOR THE DEAD and SINGLE AND SINGLE. CALL FOR THE DEAD (1961) is a little out of place, of course, given that proceeds as far more a traditional investigation than le Carré would offer in later years (poignant to realise that the first character ever introduced in a le Carré novel, even before George Smiley puts in an appearance, is the perennially elusive Lady Ann Sercomb), but OUR GAME (1995) and SINGLE AND SINGLE (1999) both offer characters who are singularly and even self-destructively obsessed with achieving one good thing in a breathtakingly bleak and cynical world, despite their own awareness of how Pyrrhic their achievement might be. If fiction has more or better to offer than that particular kind of story, I really don’t know what it is. It helps, of course, that when it comes to the idea that character is mystery (to paraphrase John Connolly), le Carré delivers more value per line than any other writer I know.
  Here endeth my two cents. JOHN LE CARRE: THE BIOGRAPHY by Adam Sisman is published on October 22nd.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One To Watch: FREEDOM’S CHILD by Jax Miller

American-born, Irish-based, Jax Miller (aka Áine Ó Domhnaill) publishes her debut thriller, FREEDOM’S CHILD (Crown), later this year – although it’s fair to say that Jax / Áine has already had a rather storied publishing history. Quoth the blurb elves:
Freedom Oliver has plenty of secrets. She lives in a small Oregon town where no one knows much about her. They know she works at the local biker bar; they know she gets arrested for public drunkenness almost every night; they know she’s brash, funny, and fearless.
  What they don’t know is that Freedom Oliver is a fake name. They don’t know that she was arrested for killing her husband, a cop, twenty years ago. They don’t know she put her two kids up for adoption. They don’t know that she’s now in witness protection, regretting ever making a deal with the feds, missing her children with a heartache so strong it makes her ill.
  Her troubled past comes roaring back to her when she learns that her daughter—whom she only knew for two minutes, seventeen seconds before they took her away—has gone missing, possibly kidnapped. Freedom gets on a motorcycle, and heads for Kentucky, where her daughter was raised. No longer protected by the government, she is targeted and tracked by her husband’s sadistic family, who are eager to make Freedom pay for his death.
  Written with a ferocious wit and a breakneck pace, FREEDOM’S CHILD is about a woman who risks everything to make amends for a past that haunts her still.
  FREEDOM’S CHILD is published in June.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

News: Irish Crime Fiction at Trinity College

There’s a fascinating course on Irish crime fiction being taught in Trinity College these days, under the aegis of Professor Chris Morash and Dr Brian Cliff, titled – with breathtaking simplicity – ‘Irish Crime Fiction’. To wit:
“‘The detective novel’, wrote Walter Benjamin, ‘has become an instrument of social criticism’. This new co-taught seminar will explore perhaps the fastest-growing area of contemporary Irish literature, the Irish crime novel, considering its roots, its emphasis on crisis and change in a society, and its ability to distil and magnify a society’s obsessions. For these reasons, studies of Irish crime fiction are on the cusp of becoming a key strand in the study of contemporary Irish culture, here and abroad.”
  Authors under scrutiny include John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Tana French, Arlene Hunt, Benjamin Black, Eoin McNamee and Stuart Neville, with DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS playing its humble part as one of the establishing texts.
  For more, clickety-click here

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Publication: TAKEN FOR DEAD by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton’s popular series featuring Cork-based garda detective Katie Maguire goes from strength to strength. The fourth in the series, TAKEN FOR DEAD (Head of Zeus), will be published on February 12th:
It is a sunny Saturday in county Cork, and an Irish wedding is in full swing. Drunk uncles are toasting the bride. The Ceilidh band have played for hours. But the cutting of the cake will bring the wedding to a horrifying end. For there, grinning gruesomely up from the bottom tier, is the severed head of the local baker. Katie Maguire, of the Irish Garda, does not have any leads - until another local businessman goes missing in horrific circumstances. The murders appear to link to The Kings of Erin, a terrifying gang of torturers and extortionists. But these are dangerous men. And they will stop at nothing to throw Katie off the trail ...
  For more on the Katie Maguire novels, clickety-click here

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Publication: THE LOST AND THE BLIND by Declan Burke

You’ll forgive me, I hope, for reminding you (yet again) that my latest tome, THE LOST AND THE BLIND (Severn House) will be published at the end of December. The book will be my sixth novel, and because I was aiming to achieve something a little bit different this time out, I haven’t been as unsure of a book since I published my first, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, all the way back in 2003. The blurb runs thusly:
The elderly Gerhard Uxkull was either 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, sixty 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 wrong. Besides, can it be mere coincidence that Uxkull’s tale bears a strong resemblance to the debut thriller by legendary spy novelist Sebastian Devereaux, the reclusive English author who’s spent the past fifty 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 …
  So there you have it. I’ve loved spy thrillers ever since I was a kid; and THE LOST AND THE BLIND is my homage to the spy novel. I’m nervous about it, as I’ve said, but I’m heartened too by the early word – here, here and here – which has been, much to my surprise, very positive.
  If the festive spirit moves you to share this post with your friends and family – or anyone you know who likes a spy thriller – I would be, as always, very grateful indeed.
  In the meantime, a very Happy Christmas to you all, and I hope it’s a peaceful and prosperous New Year for all of us. I’ll leave you with this year’s (largely phonetic) missive from CAP Towers to Lapland, with the fervent hope that ‘Santy’ brings you everything your heart desires …

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reviews: Grisham, Fyfield, Hiekkapelto, Higashino

The coalmining communities of the Appalachian Mountains provide the setting for John Grisham’s Gray Mountain (Hodder & Stoughton, €19.99), a legal thriller that opens ten days after Lehman Brothers folds. The financial meltdown that follows has a knock-on effect in the legal world, as Samantha Kofer, a third-year associate with New York’s largest law firm, finds herself one of many lawyers who have been downsized out of their comfortable lifestyles. Scrabbling for any kind of work that might keep her ticking over until the world sets itself to rights again, Samantha takes a position with the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the small town of Brady, Virginia. Anticipating something of a cosy but boring ‘furlough’, Samantha is shocked to discover a world of poverty, brutality and corruption, and an entirely legal scandal that goes to the very heart of American politics. Grisham is a former lawyer and politician, and one who remains heavily involved in the Innocence Project in the United States, and Gray Mountain has the feel of a very personal project. The story lacerates ‘Big Law’ while celebrating the non-profit legal aid organisations, who make the most of their limited resources in their fight on behalf of the sick and dying miners who are victims of the politically connected coal companies, while also detailing the environmental disaster of strip-mining in the Appalachians. The daughter of two very different kinds of lawyer, Samantha is already deliciously cynical about the legal process when we first meet her, but Grisham deftly blends her professional awakening to the ugly truths of the American legal system into Samantha’s complex personal development. It’s a stirring tale, despite the occasional didactic digressions into a whole raft of issues – black lung disease, meth addiction, political apathy – bedevilling the Appalachian communities.
  In Casting the First Stone (Sphere, €20.50), Frances Fyfield brings together two heroines from previous novels. Diana Porteous, widow and art collector, is introduced to Sarah Fortune, the sister of Diana’s agent, and together they hatch a plot to recover paintings stolen from an old woman by her son. As befits a story that revolves around an unusual art heist, however, the plot – or many sub-plots, to be precise – isn’t really the most important aspect here. Fyfield is more concerned with mood, tone and texture, and the story is less a straightforward narrative than it is a collection of pen portraits, as Fyfield offers intriguing psychological profiles of a host of fascinating characters, from plucky young boys to grizzled ex-policemen and avaricious capitalists. There’s an ethereal quality to the prose that seems to flit back and forth between dream and nightmare, reflecting the sharp contrast between the settings of the wild coastline of Diana’s home and the bustle of the London she is forced to visit in pursuit of justice. At the heart of the story lies Diana’s quest for a sense of identity, of belonging: the widow still in mourning for her beloved husband rather poignantly collects a particular kind of painting, the unsigned and unattributed art that would otherwise languish unloved in someone’s cellar or attic.
  Identity is also key to Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird (Arcadia Books, €13.40), the Finnish author’s promising debut novel. Born in Serbia, of Hungarian ethnicity, Anna Fekete’s experience as an outsider growing up in Finland gives her an unusual insight into the immigrant mind-set when she becomes a detective in the Finnish police service. Her first day on the job is something of a baptism of fire: a jogger is shot to death on the outskirts of the city, while Anna and her colleagues also receive a desperate call from a young Kurdish woman who believes she is about to be murdered by her family in an ‘honour killing’. The twin investigations provide The Hummingbird with its narrative spine, but much of the story, which is translated by David Hackston, is engaged in exploring what it means to be Finnish, a place where ‘people were expected to unflaggingly present a play directed by market forces, a performance called Western civilisation.’ The plot isn’t entirely convincing as it arrives at its conclusion, but for the most part Hiekkapelto provides an unsentimental account of Finnish society and its cultural traditions, in particular the Finnish obsession with hunting and guns, which means that, in theory, virtually anyone could be the killer on the rampage.
  Malice (Little, Brown, €18.75) by Japanese author Keigo Higashino revolves around an investigation into the murder of best-selling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka. Police detective Kaga is initially stumped by what appears to be a classic ‘locked room’ mystery, but soon comes to suspect Hidaka’s best friend, children’s author Osama Nonoguchi, when he discovers notebooks in Nonoguchi’s apartment which suggest that Nonoguchi was in fact the ghost-writer of Hidaka’s novels. Translated by Alexander O. Smith, and delivered in a crisp, clinical style (the story proceeds by way of written accounts delivered by the main players), Malice offers an unusual take on the traditional police procedural while also functioning as a critique of the crime novel, as the business of writing becomes the art of murder. In this it parallels Higashino’s English-language debut, The Devotion of Suspect X (2011), although Malice is more playful and inventive (and blackly humorous) when it comes to reworking the genre’s staples and conventions. As much a psychological thriller as it is a police procedural, Malice is rooted in a search for identity, albeit one in which Higashino invests the conceit of the ambiguous narrator with an notable complexity. The result is that the novel represents another bold statement of intent, and while Higashino isn’t exactly reinventing the crime novel, Malice is a superb example of how flexible the genre’s parameters can be. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.