“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.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Books: TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS, ed. Declan Burke

I’m very pleased to announce that TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS will be published by New Island Books on September 30th, with yours truly wearing his editor’s hat. It’s a collection of brand new short stories from Irish crime writers, and the blurb runs a lot like this:
Selected and edited by award-winning crime writer Declan Burke, TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS showcases the absolute best in Irish crime writing today. From originators like Patrick McGinley and Ruth Dudley Edwards to global crime megastars like John Connolly and Eoin Colfer, there can be no doubt as to the serious quality of Irish crime writing in the twenty-first century. An absolute must-have for crime lovers! Featuring stories by: Patrick McGinley, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Colin Bateman, Eoin McNamee, Ken Bruen, Paul Charles, Julie Parsons, John Connolly, Alan Glynn, Adrian McKinty, Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay, Gene Kerrigan, Eoin Colfer, Declan Hughes, Cora Harrison, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Jane Casey, Niamh O Connor, William Ryan, Louise Phillips, Sinead Crowley, and Liz Nugent.
  TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS will be published on September 30th.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Robert Thorogood

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?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré. I read it (and the subsequent two George Smiley books) from start to finish every couple of years or so and am always captivated by the beauty of the writing and the sense of moral decay it has running through almost every line. When I was younger, I thought it was a ‘whodunnit’ and couldn’t wait to find out who the killer was. Now that I’m older, I realise that the killer is pretty much revealed in Chapter 1, and the greatness of the book is that Smiley also realises who it is from the start. I think it’s Le Carré’s masterpiece.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
 

I know that this is a bit bleak for a 44-year old man with a family and a mortgage, but I think I most want to be Harry Potter. Or at least, there’s still a bit of me that’s waiting for a letter to come through the post that tells me that yes, I am indeed a magical wizard, and now I’ve got to go into an intense period of training so I can become the best wizard in the world.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Surely there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to reading? However, I’d agree that there are definitely some books that have shorter sentence structures than others, so I’m happy to admit that I’ve always loved a good Techno Thriller. Back in the day, I used to tear through every Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Stephen Coonts and Patrick Robinson novel I could get my hands on. And I suppose the thing that makes them ‘guilty pleasures’ is that I’ve not dared go near any of them for years. I worry that the stories (and politics) would feel somewhat dated from the distance of the 21st century.

Most satisfying writing moment?

It’s always the same, whether I’m writing episodes for DEATH IN PARADISE on TV, or if I’m writing the stand-alone novels: it’s the moment I get to write ‘The End’ for the first time. In truth, I tend to do a mad dash on the first draft of anything, so writing ‘The End’ is never even close to being the actual end of the writing process, but I always feel an overwhelming sense of relief and release when I know that, for good or for ill, I have in fact managed to get to the end of the story.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
 

I remember living in a filthy flat in London with friends back in the 1990s. We’d just left University and were all on the dole or doing temp jobs for next-to-no cash. Whenever someone found a good book, it used to be passed from person to person, and I remember DIVORCING JACK by Colin Bateman coming into the house and it going off like a grenade. It was so flip, so sarcastic and off-the-cuff, and we all devoured it. It seemed to combine the glib wit of a PG Wodehouse with the filth and punch of a James Ellroy. I loved it.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?

Okay, so it’s not quite a crime novel (although there is a murder of sorts at the end), but I’ve been wanting to see a movie of THE SEA by John Banville ever since the day I was working as a script reader at Miramax and I was asked to write a report on the novel. The story is so wonderfully cinematic – centring on a lone man in a seaside cottage who’s trying to come to terms with the decisions he’s made in his life while the ghost of a mysterious woman and child visit him. The big cheeses at Miramax didn’t want to take things further, but it’s a beautiful, haunting novel, and I’m still convinced it would make a beautiful, haunting film.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?

The worst thing about being a writer is that you’re on your own all day. From the moment you turn your computer on in the morning to the moment you turn it off at night. It’s just you. In a shed. And, as the years pass, I find I’m increasingly unable to function in the real world. I’m distracted at the school gates when I pick up the kids. Or I’m baffled by our lovely Postie trying to talk to me as he delivers an item too large to fit through the letterbox. Or I’m terrified by a phone ringing from an ‘unknown’ number. Spending so much time on your own with only imaginary characters for company isn’t exactly a very healthy way to live.

The pitch for your next book is …?

When the owner of a coffee plantation is found murdered inside a farm building, Detective Inspector Richard Poole and his team have to work out which member of his family killed him, why, and—even more impossibly—just how the killer managed to escape from the locked room afterwards.

Who are you reading right now?

I spent the weekend at the Harrogate Crime Festival, and was really impressed with how Ruth Ware talked about her writing. The brilliant things about crime festivals is that the panelists’ books are always for sale in a ‘pop up’ bookshop on site, so I was able to buy her first book, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD. So far it’s everything I hoped it would be: a modern-day murder mystery with a brooding sense of menace and a real mastery of tension.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?

The only sane answer is ‘read’, because for all that I love writing, I love reading more. I think that as long as I’ve got a pile of novels by my bedside, I could pretty much put up with everything else I had to endure in life.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?

Fun. Comic. Thrilling.

THE KILLING OF POLLY CARTER by Robert Thorogood is published by Harlequin Mira.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Books: THE CONTEMPORARY IRISH DETECTIVE NOVEL, ed. Elizabeth Mannion

It’s nice to see that the Irish crime novel is getting some academic love: Palmgrave Macmillan has just published THE CONTEMPORARY IRISH DETECTIVE NOVEL, which is edited by Elizabeth Mannion and promises to ‘open new ground in Irish literary criticism and genre studies.’ To wit:
Irish detective fiction has enjoyed an international readership for over a decade, appearing on best-seller lists across the globe. But its breadth of hard-boiled and amateur detectives, historical fiction, and police procedurals has remained somewhat marginalized in academic scholarship. Exploring the work of some of its leading writers―including Peter Tremayne, John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Tana French, Jane Casey, and Benjamin Black―The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel opens new ground in Irish literary criticism and genre studies. It considers the detective genre’s position in Irish Studies and the standing of Irish authors within the detective novel tradition. Contributors: Carol Baraniuk, Nancy Marck Cantwell, Brian Cliff, Fiona Coffey, Charlotte J. Headrick, Andrew Kincaid, Audrey McNamara, and Shirley Peterson.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Books: BENEATH THE SURFACE by Jo Spain

Jo Spain publishes her second novel, BENEATH THE SURFACE (Quercus) in September, and it appears that Inspector Tom Reynolds, whom we first met in WITH OUR BLESSING (2015), is becoming a series protagonist. To wit:
Did I know it would come to this? That I was playing Russian Roulette? I would give anything to turn back time and to be with my girls. There is no shot at redemption. I am going to die. The gun is in my eye-line as the second bullet is fired. That’s the one that kills me.
  Late at night, two powerful men meet in a secret location to discuss a long nurtured plan about to come to fruition. One is desperate to know there is nothing standing in their way - the other assures him everything is taken care of. Hours later, a high-ranking government official called Ryan Finnegan is brutally slain in the most secure building in Ireland - Leinster House, the seat of parliament. Inspector Tom Reynolds and his team are called in to uncover the truth behind the murder.
  At first, all the evidence hints at a politically motivated crime, until a surprise discovery takes the investigation in a dramatically different direction. Suddenly the motive for murder has got a lot more personal … but who benefits the most from Ryan’s death?
  BENEATH THE SURFACE will be published on September 22nd. For what it’s worth, I thought WITH OUR BLESSING a very impressive debut – reviewing it for the Irish Times, I had this to say: “In a very strong year for Irish crime-fiction debuts, Jo Spain’s With Our Blessing is among the most assured . . . an old-fashioned mystery harking back to Agatha Christie . . . The apparently cosy tone is only skin deep, however: With Our Blessing picks at the scabs of recent Irish history to reveal raw and gaping wounds.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Books: BLOOD FOR BLOOD by J.M. Smyth

All three regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Seamus Smyth and his ferocious debut novel QUINN (1999). We’ve been waiting quite a while for a follow-up, but – a trumpet parp there, maestro, if you will – it’s finally arrived. To wit:
‘Care’. There’s a word if ever I heard one. I looked it up in a dictionary once. It had a lot of definitions – but not one that applied to me and Sean ...
  Red has survived the barbarity and abuse of the orphanage. His twin brother Sean has not been so lucky. With a sworn oath to avenge his brother’s murder, Red kidnaps a policeman’s daughter and leaves her to be brought up in care, to suffer like he and Sean did. But this is just the first part of Red’s plan for revenge against all those who took their freedom.
  Now, twenty years later, the time has come. The kidnapped girl has grown up and left the orphanage, never knowing who her real parents are or the part she’ll now play in Red’s shocking revenge. And for those who have been living their lives in peace, with faded memories of twin boys who were put into care years ago, life is about to descend into hell.
  But with the criminal underworld, the police and an unexpected serial killer on the scene, sometimes even the best laid plans go awry…
  To read a sample from BLOOD FOR BLOOD, clickety-click here

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: PARADIME by Alan Glynn

Alan Glynn’s fifth novel opens with Danny Lynch, ex-military and a veteran of two Iraq tours and recently returned from Afghanistan, struggling to cope with anxiety and dread as he tramps the streets of New York. Unemployed, suffering the symptoms of PTSD, Danny’s relationship with his girlfriend Kate is on the rocks. Unable to remember any specific detail about his time in Iraq, Danny is haunted by vivid memories of a horrific incident witnessed in Afghanistan. ‘It’s just that I really, really don’t want to remember them – wholesale, retail, it doesn’t matter.’
  That glancing reference to Philip K. Dick evokes the recurring theme of paranoid conspiracy that has run like a seam through Alan Glynn’s work since the publication of his debut, The Dark Fields, in 2002. His subsequent novels, the ‘globalisation trilogy’ of Winterland (2009), Bloodland (2011) and Graveland (2013), were set in that shadowy vector where capitalism corrupts democracy, and Paradime continues in a similar vein. When it appears that Danny is planning to blow the whistle on Gideon Logistics, the contractor operating at the Afghani military base where two service personnel were murdered during a riot, Danny is threatened with public disgrace, financial ruin and a prison sentence. It’s a scenario familiar to any fan of the classic ’70s tales of paranoid conspiracy – Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View – but it’s at this point that Glynn introduces his joker in the pack, when Danny meets Teddy Trager, a billionaire tech visionary and Danny’s doppelgänger. Danny becomes obsessed with Trager, mimicking his dress and speech – a man with nothing to lose fixated on the man who has it all.
  It seems like an odd narrative gambit at first, the timeless motif of the doppelgänger – which has its roots in ancient Egyptian folklore – initially a jarring presence in Danny and Trager’s gleaming, futuristic world of Manhattan’s Silicon Alley. It’s a gamble that pays off handsomely, however, as Glynn emphasises the Gothic horror of being confronted with the ‘billion-to-one’ shot of your perfect double, with Glynn evoking Edgar Allan Poe and Dostoevsky’s The Double as Danny struggles to come to terms with a life lived in the mirror, darkly. Traditionally, in literary terms, a paranormal harbinger of doom, the appearance of his doppelgänger initially appears to be a stroke of outrageous good fortune for Danny, although soon he is contemplating the existential nightmare of seeing himself reflected in, and refracted through, his awareness of his own essential truth.
  An enthralling psychological thriller-cum-tragedy on a personal level, then, Paradime is also a blackly comic tale as Danny finds himself swimming with the sharks who dominate the highest echelons of power and finance. The illusion created by extraordinary wealth is that the one-percenters are different, special, superior – but if any old Tom, Dick or Danny can play the part (treated as a genius and guru, Danny finds himself meeting Bill Clinton and George Clooney, and being interviewed on Charlie Rose) then the edifice is built on even shakier foundations than even the cynical, suspicious and mentally unbalanced Danny could have suspected …
  As with all great novels, Paradime raises more questions than it answers. Is Danny, our Everyman, a ‘puppet with a soul’ plodding along in a noir-ishly predetermined universe? Or is he that most fascinating of literary creations, the character bound by Fate but determined to rebel, regardless of personal cost, against the chains that bind? All told, it’s a pulsating tale from one of the most inventive practitioners working in contemporary crime fiction, a novel that pounds to the rhythms of the conventional thriller but employs the thriller’s tropes to divert its protagonist, and the reader, down some very unusual dark alleyways. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: MRS ENGELS by Gavin McCrea

“No one understands men better than the women they don’t marry,” declares Lizzie Burns, the eponymous narrator of Gavin McCrea’s debut novel Mrs Engels (Scribe) and – the title notwithstanding – the unmarried long-term lover of Frederick Engels, who co-authored The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx. A marginalised figure in the history books, the fictional Lizzie Burns is a marvellous creation: an illiterate Irish daughter of the Manchester slums whose withering deprecations cut a swathe through the self-delusions and hypocrisies of the founding fathers of Communism.
  The novel opens in 1870, as the expected Revolution draws near and Frederick and Lizzie move to London from Manchester to be closer to Karl and Jenny Marx. They move into a grand house in Primrose Hill, where the addition of a couple of servants proves vexing to Lizzie, who finds herself working harder to keep tabs on her girls than she ever did when she kept her own home. Such paradoxes are rife in Mrs Engels: Frederick, when Lizzie first meets him, is often vilified by the comrades as a ‘capitalist and millocrat’, a well-heeled German immigrant accustomed to moving in the best social circles. “It’s not uncommon that [Frederick] has to answer to this charge,” Lizzie observes, “not uncommon even though the world knows he worked in that mill to keep Karl and the Movement afloat. And knock me acock if I ever see Karl having to defend himself in this way.”
  Gavin McCrea has crafted a beautifully detailed historical fiction in Mrs Engels, and the political backdrop is indeed a compelling one as he describes the revolutionary frustrations of Engels and Marx, the fall-out to the Franco-Prussian war and the consequent rise and fall of the Paris Commune, and the rise of militant Irish nationalism in Britain. Lizzie’s drawing room hosts agitators, revolutionaries and activists of all hues, but there’s none so fascinating as Lizzie herself, toasted at one point by Engels as a ‘Proletarian, Irish rebel and model Communist.’ In truth, Lizzie is far more difficult to label that her lover realises. From the very beginning Lizzie tells us that she’s a pragmatic woman whose loyalty is only her own survival: “Establish yourself in a decent situation,” is her advice to all young women, “and put away what you can, that, please God, one day you may need no man’s help.”
  It’s a pragmatism born of surviving the worst of Manchester’s Victorian slums, and in overcoming the personal tragedy that brought Lizzie and Frederick together but which haunts them for the rest of their lives. Through it all Lizzie retains her robust sense of humour and her irreverent refusal to kow-tow to those who consider Frederick and Karl geniuses (“As for Karl, the state he was in, he was unable to mastermind the evacuation of his own bowels.”)
  Bawdy and uncouth, very much a woman who lives life on her own terms despite her economic dependence, Lizzie Burns is one of the most charming fictional comic creations of recent times. If that were all Gavin McCrea had achieved with Mrs Engels, it would have been plenty; but Lizzie Burns is also a heartbreakingly poignant heroine, a woman fully aware of her status as ‘a pauper woman on an expensive couch’ who has to endure society’s jibes about ‘my hike to the higher caste’, and a woman who above all craves the love of a complex man hugely conflicted about his entitlement to love her.
  Laugh-out-loud funny, touching and tender, and almost Dickensian in its physical descriptions of the Industrial Revolution’s worst excesses, Mrs Engels is a stunningly accomplished debut novel. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reviews: DODGERS, ART IN THE BLOOD, GHOSTS OF THE DESERT, GIRLS ON FIRE, NOMAD

I reviewed five titles in last week’s Irish Times crime fiction column – Bill Beverly’s DODGERS, Bonnie MacBird’s ART IN THE BLOOD, Ryan Ireland’s GHOSTS OF THE DESERT, Robin Wasserman’s GIRLS ON FIRE, and James Swallow’s NOMAD. It ran a lot like this:

Bill Beverly’s Dodgers (No Exit Press, €19.50) is a road movie, a coming-of-age tale, a crime novel of gritty realism and a very impressive debut. East is a 15-year-old lookout for his Uncle Fin’s crack den in LA’s Boxes; when the den is raided on his watch, East is ordered to drive 2,000 miles to Wisconsin, there to murder a witness in Fin’s upcoming trial. Dressed in LA Dodgers’ baseball gear – “because white people love baseball, and the world is made of white people” – East and his fellow assassins embark on their quest, “running on luck and will and a supreme indifference to anything else.” In other circumstances East’s emotional intelligence would mark him out as a natural leader of men, but these teenage boys are, in the best tradition of noir, doomed even before they begin. Their road to nowhere diverts time and again into scenarios that might be blackly comic, given the boys’ ineptitude, ignorance of the world outside the ghetto and their blithe faith in their immortality, if it were not for the chilling presence of Ty, East’s brother and an unrepentant stone-cold killer at the tender age of 13. Comparisons with Richard Price’s Clockers are merited; Dodgers is an absorbing tale of young men brutalised by the world with very little opportunity to offer anything more than brutality in return.
  Bonnie MacBird’s Art in the Blood (Collins Crime Club, €28.50), a Sherlock Holmes adventure, takes its title from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter: “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.” At a low ebb when the story opens, Holmes is revitalised when the French chanteuse Cherie La Victoire asks him to find her missing son, and soon Holmes and Watson are embroiled in a plot that involves stolen Greek statuary, the powerful Earl of Pellingham, and the abuse of children in Northern England’s satanic mills. MacBird delivers a pacy read in this faithful, full-blooded and breathlessly (albeit unevenly) plotted homage, although it’s her interpretation of Holmes that is the most intriguing aspect of the story, with Watson declaring from the beginning that it was Holmes’ artistic streak that made him the greatest detective the world has ever known. Here Holmes is an instinctive artist teetering on the edge of physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion, “tempestuous, changeable … and vulnerable to flights of fancy as well as fits of despair,’ as Holmes himself describes Cherie. That unusual vulnerability runs contrary to the canonical depiction of Holmes as an unfeeling, rational, virtually superhuman machine, and makes MacBird’s debut a welcome addition to the Sherlock Holmes literature.
  Norman, an anthropologist specialising in ghost towns, heads into the Utah desert as Ryan Ireland’s Ghosts of the Desert (Point Blank, €14.20) opens, and quickly finds himself at the mercy of a feral clan of mercenaries and killers led by Jacoby, a crude mystic who engages Norman in Socratic dialogues on the meaning of the universe. With its echoes of Heart of Darkness, Ghosts of the Desert compares and contrasts the values of the ostensibly civilised Norman with those of the amoral savages of ‘Jacobyville’, although the lines drawn in the baking sand grow increasingly blurred as Norman, with escape impossible, gradually adapts to the life he is forced to live. Ireland’s sparse but exhilarating use of language is entirely apt in capturing the austere environment, while also creating a hallucinatory effect: is Norman dead and experiencing a barren purgatory, or alive and trapped in an endless nightmare? The theme, setting and language evoke Cormac McCarthy at his most brutal, but Ghosts of the Desert is a neo-Western epic of survivalism that deserves to be judged on its own merits.
  Set in a small Pennsylvanian town in the early ’90s, Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire (Little, Brown, €17.99) is a gothic take on the High School revenge fantasy, as outsiders Lacey and Dex bond to the strains of Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana and plot the downfall of ‘bitch-goddess’ Nikki Drummond, whose boyfriend Ellison committed suicide in the nearby woods. Wasserman tells the story of the ‘explosive’ pairing of Dex and Lacey, who alternately narrate the tale in a feverish, breathless style which accentuates the overwrought intensity of the deadly duo’s excesses as they seek to alienate their peers, parents and the authorities. The teens are too idealised to ring true – they read Nietzsche and Kant, watch Kurosawa and Antonioni, dream about celebrating birthday parties in graveyards – but then the story itself is a deliberately lurid contemporary fairytale complete with witchcraft, Satanism, dark incantations and psychological torture, a potent and occasionally shocking blend of cynicism, narcissism and nihilism.
  James Swallow’s Nomad (Zaffre, €22.50) begins with a covert MI6 mission in Dunkirk targeting a radical Islamist group. When the ‘Nomad’ team is virtually wiped out, the sole survivor, tech specialist Marc Dane, sets out to discover who betrayed his comrades. A globe-trotting affair that takes us to Barcelona, London, Rome, Sicily, Turkey and New York, Nomad is a ferociously paced thriller, a high concept tale of the solitary hero on the run bristling with technology and frequently erupting into lethal violence (the most obvious modern point of reference is Robert Ludlum, but John Buchan fans will recognise a trick or two). Told from a number of perspectives, including that of Halil, a teenager unaware he is being groomed for martyrdom, the story explores the off-the-grid world of shadowy arms dealers who supply the terrorists who make the headlines. The relentless pace and Swallow’s emphasis on plot twists and reversals means that characterisation is at a premium, but Swallow’s background in scriptwriting and videogames means that the tale is a slick and sharply focused thriller that is as entertaining as it is improbable. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: THE BLADE ARTIST by Irvine Welsh

I reviewed Irvine Welsh’s THE BLADE ARTIST (Jonathan Cape) for RTE’s Arena radio programme last week. It’s not giving too much away – it’s mentioned on the book’s cover – to reveal that the novel’s ‘Jim Francis’ is the alter-ego of Franco Begbie, the notorious hard-man from Welsh’s TRAINSPOTTING. The blurb runs thusly:
Jim Francis has finally found the perfect life – and is now unrecognisable, even to himself. A successful painter and sculptor, he lives quietly with his wife, Melanie, and their two young daughters, in an affluent beach town in California. Some say he’s a fake and a con man, while others see him as a genuine visionary.
  But Francis has a very dark past, with another identity and a very different set of values. When he crosses the Atlantic to his native Scotland, for the funeral of a murdered son he barely knew, his old Edinburgh community expects him to take bloody revenge. But as he confronts his previous life, all those friends and enemies – and, most alarmingly, his former self – Francis seems to have other ideas.
  When Melanie discovers something gruesome in California, which indicates that her husband’s violent past might also be his psychotic present, things start to go very bad, very quickly.
  For the review, clickety-click here (and scroll down) …