Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Feature: Anthony J. Quinn on ‘the Border’

Anthony J. Quinn publishes UNDERTOW (Head of Zeus) this month, a story over which Brexit and the potential consequences of a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland throws a long shadow. Anthony had a piece published in the Irish Times yesterday about growing up with the border as a reality. To wit:
“Growing up during the Troubles, I wanted to run, but instead I remained rooted to the spot, in my home parish of Killeeshil in Tyrone, about three miles from the Border with Monaghan. By staying here and raising a family, I’ve managed to lift my childhood landscape out of the darkness of the past. The trees and rivers I played in as a boy with my brothers and sisters live on in my children’s world, their familiar sounds and images translated into new stories and adventures.
  “However, my children think I grew up somewhere else, in a grim terrain of checkpoints and military hardware, armed men in camouflage greens, bulletproof vests and balaclavas. To their generation, the Border exists not as a line on a map, but as a contradictory series of romantic recollections about smuggling and horror stories from the Troubles. They’ve never noticed the Border, which runs so invisibly close to their lives, and they’ve never been able to locate these stories in their own landscape. For the past 15 years or so, the Border has existed more as folklore, and in the crevices of the past, until its story took an unexpected turn in June 2016 when the UK made a political decision about immigration and voted for Brexit.
  “Then it was as if the Border had suddenly fallen upon us from the sky again.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Feature: The Irish Spy Novel

I had a feature on the lesser-spotted Irish spy novel published in the Irish Times last week, which featured – among others – Joe Joyce, John Banville, Eoin McNamee, Stephen Burke, Michael Russell, Stuart Neville, Philip Davison, Joseph Hone and Andrew Hughes. To wit:
Brinsley McNamara always claimed that Garradrimna, the village which provides the setting for The Valley of the Squinting Windows, could have been any village in Ireland. Published in 1918, the novel can be read as an expression of a kind of colonial pathology, as the population of Garradrimna engage in constant mutual surveillance, monitoring one another’s weaknesses and ferreting out secrets in order to accrue what passes for power among the powerless.
  Naturally, any of Garradrimna’s upstanding citizens would take mortal offence at being called a spy. To the coloniser, every native is suspect until proven otherwise, and the only way to prove this logically fallacious gambit is to maintain a relentless scrutiny. Spied upon for generations, the colonised learn to abhor the spies, even as they absorb the tradecraft; it’s no coincidence that there are few Irish insults worse than that of tout, or informer.
  Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why, despite the recent upsurge in Irish crime fiction, the Irish spy novel is notable by its absence. There is no Irish equivalent to Ian Fleming, for example, who served with British Naval Intelligence during WWII, or John le Carré, Somerset Maugham (Ashenden) and Graham Greene, all of whom worked with British Intelligence before going on to write spy fiction. The archetypal heroes of modern spy fiction were written from the perspective of the coloniser and empire builder; the methods employed by their protagonists may be less than savoury, of course, but the intelligent reader understands the realpolitik that means some eggs are destined for omelettes.
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Friday, December 8, 2017

Feature: Crime Novels of the Year 2017

’Tis the season for end-of-year round-ups, so here’s my half of the Irish Times’ feature on 2017’s best crime fiction. To wit:
The year got off to a cracking start with Ali Land’s Good Me, Bad Me (Penguin Michael Joseph, €14.99), a genuinely unsettling novel of complex motivations that tests the reader’s capacity for empathy as teenager Milly struggles to cope with the horrors perpetrated by her mother. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail, €15.99) was yet another densely plotted, blackly hilarious outing for Adrian McKinty’s protagonist Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective working for the RUC during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’.
  Melissa Scrivner Love’s Lola (Point Blank, €14.99) was a brilliant debut, a bleak and cynical noir set in the patriarchal gangland world of LA’s South Central, with smack-peddler Lola pulling her gang’s strings as she does whatever it takes to survive. The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Orion, €15.99) delivered a terrific new protagonist: Renee Ballard, a hard-nosed LAPD detective who can more than hold her own with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me (Mulholland Books, €17.99) was a superb comi-tragic psychological thriller set on an Ionian island, a novel which owes, and handsomely repays, a debt to Patricia Highsmith.
  Dennis Lehane has written private eye novels, gangster novels and standalone thrillers. Since We Fell (Little, Brown, €16.99) offered another sub-genre variation as Lehane delivered a wonderful blend of melodrama and domestic noir. Spook Street (John Murray, €19.85) was the fourth, and arguably the best, in Mick Herron’s ‘Slough House’ series of spy novels, which feature spymaster Jackson Lamb and a charming collection of has-beens and never-will-bes.
  Let the Dead Speak (HarperCollins, €13.99) was the seventh in Jane Casey’s series to feature police detective Maeve Kerrigan, a variation on the locked-room mystery as Maeve investigates the whereabouts of a missing corpse in a London suburb underpinned by religious fanaticism and patriarchal sexism. Stuart Neville published Here and Gone (Harvill Secker, €18.45) under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, delivering an adrenaline-fuelled thriller set in the badlands of Arizona. Insidious Intent (Little, Brown, €16.99) was the tenth in Val McDermid’s Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, but there’s no sense that Val is resting on her laurels – the novel delivered one of the most shocking denouements of the year. Set in 1939, Michael Russell’s The City of Lies (Constable, €16.99) was the fourth to feature Dublin-based Special Branch detective Stefan Gillespie, with Gillespie dispatched to Berlin, a city drunk on power and triumph but already suffering from mass psychosis.
  Finally, John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (Viking, €14.99) hauled George Smiley’s old factotum, Peter Guillam, out of his well-earned retirement, as London’s contemporary spymasters investigate the possibility that Peter, Smiley & Co. deliberately put civilian lives at risk when mounting the operation that led to the death of Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It may not be vintage le Carré, but it’s a marvellously evocative trip down memory lane.
  For other half – i.e., Declan Hughes’ half – of the list, clickety-click here