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Preview: Crime Always Pays

Declan Burke

Irish Crime Fiction

Last Build Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2018 12:25:35 +0000


Launch: BLACK WATER by Cormac O’Keeffe

Sun, 11 Mar 2018 10:45:00 +0000

Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018

Sun, 25 Feb 2018 11:43:00 +0000

An agoraphobic confined to her Harlem apartment, Anna Fox obsessively watches her neighbours in AJ Finn’s debut The Woman in the Window (HarperCollins, €15.99). Formerly a child psychologist, Anna self-medicates with too many pills and far too much wine. When she hears a scream from the apartment across the way, and sees her new neighbour, Jane Russell, stagger into view with a knife stuck in her chest, Anna is convinced she has witnessed a murder. When the police investigate, however, they introduce Anna to Alistair Russell and his wife, Jane – a woman Anna has never seen before. Is Anna hallucinating? Or is something more sinister going on in the Russell home? Taking its cue from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, as well as a host of noir classics, The Woman in the Window offers a clever variation on the unreliable narrator. Anna Fox is intelligent and resourceful, but the first-person intensity of the narrative’s diary format grows increasingly claustrophobic as the story unfolds. Fans of the psychological thriller will likely spot a couple of the big twists before they are revealed, but this is a hugely entertaining tale of cat-and-mouse that is steeped in the genre.   E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud (Hot Key Books, €16.90) opens in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where Jule is living an aimless, decadent existence at an upmarket hotel. When a friendly stranger starts asking too many questions, Jule realises it’s time to move on – but it is ever possible to outrun your past? The question is a pertinent one in relation to Genuine Fraud, the story of which unfolds in reverse, with each successive chapter taking us a step further into Jule’s recent past via her turbulent relationship with the mysteriously disappeared Imogen. Imogen’s fate will come as no surprise to fans of Patricia Highsmith, especially as Lockhart specifically credits The Talented Mr Ripley as an influence, although in essentially rewriting crucial scenarios from that novel, Lockhart blurs the line between homage and pastiche. The antithesis of ‘the great white hetero action hero’ she repeatedly mocks, Jule is no slouch herself when it comes to slickly dispatching anyone who threatens to stand in her way of self-gratification, a bad-ass anti-hero who believes her life cinematic. A narcissistic, manipulative and homicidal sociopath, Jule is a thrilling guilty pleasure, albeit one prone to needy self-aggrandizing.   Opening in Hollywood in 1922, Gerard O’Donovan’s The Long Silence (Severn House, €29.39) is a mystery centring on the death of Irish film director William Taylor. With the scandal of the Fatty Arbuckle murder trial still fresh in the memory, studio boss Mack Sennett calls in ex-NYPD cop and former studio ‘fixer’ Tom Collins to ensure that Taylor’s rumoured girlfriend and studio asset Mabel Normand isn’t involved in Taylor’s death. William Desmond Taylor’s murder remains unsolved to this day, but O’Donovan doesn’t set out to write a fictionalised true crime novel; The Long Silence is a densely plotted odyssey through the mean streets and dark alleyways of Prohibition-era Los Angeles that pays homage, with its neon-lit rainy streets and teeming cast of lowlifes, gangsters and Hollywood wannabes, to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, albeit in a brisk, functional style somewhere between the bruised poetry of the former and the pared-down minimalism of the latter. Adolph Zukor, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. and Gloria Swanson are just some of the historical figures who play bit parts in Tom Collins’ investigation, which delivers an atmospheric and cynical take on Hollywood realpolitik in the silent era.   Laura Pierce sets out for the South of France at the beginning of Susan Stairs’ One Good Reason (Hachette Books Ireland, €15.99), determined to confront artist Paddy Skellion, the father of Tory Skellion, a young man acquitted of taking part in a home invasion which caused Laura’s father to suffer a fatal heart-attack. Laura plans to subject Paddy Skellion to a rough for[...]

Review: FEAR by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Sun, 04 Feb 2018 13:00:00 +0000

Terrorised by his neighbour, and fearing for his wife and children, Berlin architect Randolph Tiefenthaler takes the law into his own hands. ‘At about 8.40 am,’ Randolph tells us, ‘the accused, Herman Tiefenthaler (my father, that is), left the flat of his son, Randolph Tiefenthaler, with the Walther PPK, then in his lawful possession, and descended to the basement, where he induced the tenant, Dieter Tiberius, to open the door to his flat, either by knocking or ringing the bell, and then killed Tiberius with a close-range shot to the head.’   That sounds like the conclusion to a conventional tale of a law-abiding citizen driven to murder a creepy and potentially life-threatening stalker, but Dirk Kurbjuweit’s novel is by no means a conventional psychological thriller. Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief at Der Spiegel, was inspired to write Fear (Orion) as a result of his own experience of being stalked; having laid out the events described above as early as page 16, Kurbjuweit then proceeds to tease out the cat-and-mouse game that developed between the creepy neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, and Randolph and his wife, Rebecca. It’s a ‘whydunit’ of sorts – one of the central mysteries to be resolved is why Randolph’s father, Hermann, has murdered Tiberius – although the mystery itself is something of a red herring: Fear is a novel that is much more invested in exploring the concept of masculinity than playing the kind of guessing game we tend to associate with the whydunit psychological thriller.   Indeed, it quickly becomes apparent that Kurbjuweit is investigating various interpretations of masculinity, as Randolph discovers that a man is expected to behave in different ways according to the expectations of different people and different generations. Moreover, Randolph is a man who has been conditioned by fear from a very young age. The son of a man obsessed with guns, he grew up in Berlin at the height of the Cold War, living and breathing the threat of imminent extinction; Randolph’s parents, meanwhile, came of age during WWII, and are themselves children of fear, which may account for the simmering rage which underpins their relationship: ‘If you walked through the burning city of Cologne as a little girl,’ Randolph says of his mother, ‘heard the bombers, the shells and sirens, knew the smell of burnt human flesh and had to see open wounds and torn limbs, perhaps you feel you have put the worst behind you – that a domestic dispute is a trivial matter.’ Randolph, being a self-professed middle-class liberal, believes that he has rejected all that his parents stand for, including their petit bourgeois hopes and fears. His actions, however, suggest that Randolph, whether by nature or nurture, has inherited the best and worst of his parents’ characteristics, with tragic consequences.   Studded with blackly comic moments – at one point Randolph’s therapist urges him to ‘stop trying to see everything so positively’ – Fear revels in playing with the genre’s conventions at every turn. Far from being an unreliable narrator, for example, Randolph is an entirely reliable guide, and perhaps even a little too honest to make for comfortable company on the journey. There’s no doubting he loves his wife and children, but Randolph is also very happy in his own company, which means he can come across aloof and remote, and an unusually austere hero, emotionally speaking, when it comes to defending hearth and home. Thus, when Dieter Tiberius torments Randolph and Rebecca by accusing them of abusing their children, and subsequently reports them to the police, the reader experiences a frisson of doubt about Randolph’s behaviour behind closed doors, even as Randolph, as any father would, protests his innocence to anyone who will listen.   Beautifully translated by Imogen Taylor, Fear is a complex tale of plausibly conflicting reactions to a prolonged and almost unimaginably stressful living nightmare, a story that invit[...]

One to Watch: TANGERINE by Christine Mangan

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 08:33:00 +0000

Set in 1950’s Morocco, Christine Mangan’s debut TANGERINE (Little, Brown) is billed as a blend of Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier. To wit:
The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends - once inseparable roommates - haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right.
  Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
  But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice - she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.
  According to Joyce Carol Oates, TANGERINE is ‘As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated in a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.’ The movie rights have already been sold, with Scarlet Johansson slated to star, and George Clooney producing.
  TANGERINE will be published in March.

Event: Takin the Mic at the Irish Writers’ Centre

Sun, 21 Jan 2018 09:03:00 +0000

I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for by agreeing to host the next ‘Takin the Mic’ event at the Irish Writers’ Centre, but I’m sure it will all be good, clean fun. It takes place at the IWC from 7-9pm on Friday, January 26th, with the details as follows:
The performers list for January’s Takin the Mic is now open! Our host this month is crime fiction writer Declan Burke, one of the current UNESCO City of Literature Writers-in-Residence, at the IWC. As usual, all manner of poetry, prose and everything in between are welcome. Sign up to perform here!

One to Watch: THE LONG SILENCE by Gerard O’Donovan

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 08:47:00 +0000

Gerard O’Donovan, author of THE PRIEST (2010) and DUBLIN DEAD (2011), returns to the fray after something of a long-ish silence with – oh yes! – THE LONG SILENCE (Severn House). To wit:
February, 1922. Hollywood is young but already mired in scandal. When a leading movie director is murdered, Irish-American investigator Tom Collins is called in by studio boss Mack Sennett, whose troubled star, Mabel Normand, is rumoured to be involved.
  But Normand has gone missing. And, as Collins discovers, there’s a growing list of suspects. His quest leads him through the brutal heart of Prohibition-era Los Angeles, from speakeasies and dope dens to the studios and salons of Hollywood’s fabulously wealthy movie elite, and to a secret so explosive it must be kept silent at any cost ...
  Inspired by the unsolved real-life murder of movie director William Desmond Taylor, The Long Silence is the first in a richly evocative, instantly compelling series of new noir mysteries set in Hollywood’s early days.
  THE LONG SILENCE will be published on January 31st.

One to Watch: THE MELODY by Jim Crace

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 08:29:00 +0000

Way back in 2013, I interviewed Jim Crace on the publication of HARVEST, which was later shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and which Jim had decided would be his final book. To wit:
“I’m still young, I’m still fit, and I’ve got things to do. And I don’t want to spend any more time on my own in front of a blank screen, getting anxious. I’ve been that soldier, I’ve littered the bookshops with enough corpses. So there’s nothing for anyone to feel sorry about. I’m going to have a ball.”
  But lo! He’s back! Littering bookshops with more corpses! Huzzah! To wit:
Alfred Busi, famed in his town for his music and songs, is mourning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days in the large villa he has always called home. Then one night Busi is attacked by a creature he disturbs as it raids the contents of his larder. Busi is convinced that what assaulted him was no animal, but a child, ‘innocent and wild’, and his words fan the flames of old rumour – of an ancient race of people living in the bosk surrounding the town – and new controversy: the town’s paupers, the feral wastrels at its edges, must be dealt with. Once and for all.
  Lyrical and warm, intimate and epic, The Melody by Jim Crace tracks the few days that will see Busi and the town he loves altered irrevocably. This is a story about grief and ageing, about reputation and the loss of it, about love and music and the peculiar way myth seeps into real life. And it is a political novel too – a rallying cry to protect those we persecute.
  For more on Jim Crace, clickety-click here

Review: THE WANDERERS by Tim Pears

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 08:06:00 +0000

It seems a little perverse that Leo Sercombe is described as “A vagabond upon the face of the earth” as The Wanderers (Bloomsbury) opens. Exiled he most certainly is from the pastoral paradise of the pre-WWI rural West Country he described with a naturalist’s eye in The Horseman (2017), but Leo is no Cain. Instead he is a victim of violence, a boy brutally beaten by his father and banished from Lord Prideaux’s estate for daring to consort with Lottie Prideaux, even though their bond is more rooted in a shared love of horses than any tentative romance.  Aiming for Penzance, following a rumour of distant family, the young Leo embarks on an odyssey in a minor key. He falls in with gypsies who rescue him from starvation and exposure; finds roof and shelter on a pitiably poor sheep farm; descends deep into the played-out copper mines of the West Country; and is taken under the wing of a traumatised veteran of the Boer War. Despite his harsh experiences, however, Leo retains a childlike wonder at the miracles of the natural world. Even on the brink of death he observes the flora and fauna through a prism of instinctive spirituality: “Leo did not know what day it was. He decided it was Sunday. He watched the swallows for as long as he would have been in church, this his open air Evensong.”  While The Horseman was very much Leo’s bildungsroman, however, The Wanderers, as the title suggests, is equally concerned with Lottie. Her own odyssey mirrors Leo’s adventures as she chafes under the constraints of behaving as a young lady of the manor should, secretly pursuing an investigation into the natural world as she dissects dead birds and animals, and rejecting her father’s expectation that confines her education to that befitting a young woman bred to marry well and nothing more.  While Leo disappears into the leafy byways of Devon and Cornwall in the south of England, “Lottie Prideaux discovered that she was invisible by degrees . . . accustomed to passing through the rooms and along the corridors of the manor house unnoticed by the maids, or riding her horse Blaze unseen by the stable lads or farm workers”.  The second in a proposed trilogy, The Wanderers is more influenced by contemporary events than was The Horseman, which took place in an ostensibly idyllic and self-contained world. Attending the 1913 Derby, Lottie hears that “a madwoman had bobbed under the rails and calmly walked out into the middle of the course”. Her companion, Alice, cries for the jockey, Anmer, who was thrown: “The poor, poor man. I pray to God he lives.” Leo, meanwhile, is shown a D-shaped scar by which one of the gypsies, Samson, was branded a deserter during the Boer War. Later he comes to live with Rufus, a tramp suffering from what would today be diagnosed as PTSD as a consequence of his experiences during that war. Cyrus, a farmer, assures Leo there will be no war with Germany, it being the case that “tradin’ partners don’t fight each other”. By the time the novel concludes in 1915, however, Lottie is cantering Blaze toward imaginary German trenches, raising her wooden sword and yelling “Chaaaaarge!”.  Meanwhile, the British Empire, run by “second-class” people, is crumbling. “There were first-class and third-class carriages on the train. Second class did not exist. [. . . ] Second-class people were shipped out to man the Empire shortly after the railways were invented.” Later, a mine owner tells Leo that West Country mining is dying out because buyers can now purchase cheaper ore from Malaya. “So much for the Empire, eh? Does it help us?”Leo and Lottie represent a generation who will have to come to terms with Britain’s seismic changes in the wake of the first World War. It’s a tale scraped bare of sentiment but told in a lyrical style, a taut and mus[...]

Launch: THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 08:33:00 +0000

One of the nicest guys in the business, Steve Cavanagh launches his latest Eddie Flynn legal thriller at Belfast’s No Alibis on January 26th. Quoth the blurb elves:
The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.
  Hollywood actor Robert Soloman stands accused of the brutal stabbings of his wife and her lover, but he is desperately pleading that he had nothing to do with it. This is the trial of the century, and the defence want Eddie Flynn on their team.
  The biggest case Eddie has ever tried before, he decides to take it on despite the overwhelming evidence that Robert is guilty. As the trial starts, Eddie becomes sure of Robert’s innocence, but there’s something else he is even more sure of - that there is something sinister going on in the jury box.
  Because of this, he is forced to ask: what if the killer isn’t on the stand? What if he’s on the jury?
  To book your free tickets, clickety-click here

Irish Times’ Crime Fiction Column, December 2017

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 09:14:00 +0000

My latest Irish Times’ crime fiction column was published last weekend, and read very much like this: Jo Spain’s The Confession (Quercus, €16.95) opens with a brutal home invasion, in which disgraced banker Harry McNamara is bludgeoned into a coma with his own golf club. Is the assault linked to Harry’s dodgy financial dealings, which helped to destroy the Irish economy? Why does Harry’s wife, Julie, simply sit and observe while Harry is being beaten to a pulp? And why does his assailant, JP Carney, turn himself in immediately afterwards, claiming to have no motive for the assault? Spain has previously published three police procedurals, but The Confession is a standalone psychological thriller which features not one but two confessions, as Julie and JP, in alternate chapters, tell us their life stories and the ways in which Harry McNamara has made their lives a misery. Delivered in an breezily irreverent, no-nonsense style (“McNamara is a banker. Who hasn’t wanted to kill one?”), the story offers a scathing overview of the Celtic Tiger years and the consequences of the subsequent economic crash: “The government, greedy and bloated on property-related taxes, and the Central Bank and the financial regulator, bought and owned on the golf course by the banks’ chief executives, had let things escalate out of control.” The money, however, is only a McGuffin; the assault on Harry McNamara isn’t business, but deeply personal. Spain teases out a tale woven around what Julie describes as ‘secrets, little petty lies and bigger sins,’ which is reminiscent of Liz Nugent’s Unravelling Oliver in its vivid portrait of a fascinating monster.   Savages: The Wedding (Corsair, €16.95), the first in a quartet from French author Sabri Loutah, opens on the eve of a presidential election, with Idder Chaouch, French-born of Algerian heritage, strongly tipped to win. The novel revolves around the titular wedding, however, as which takes place in Saint-Etienne between third-generation French-Algerian ‘Slim’ Nerrouche and Kenza Zerbi, although it’s Slim’s brothers Fouad and Nazir who are most relevant to the story’s political backdrop. Fouad, a popular actor connected to Chaouch’s campaign, favours Arab integration; by contrast, Nazir advocates a more separatist Arab identity. It’s an absorbing set-up, not least because Sabri Loutah brilliantly conveys the anarchy and chaos of a wedding party in which both sets of families consider the other beneath them; on the downside, the novel is almost entirely composed of set-up, with the anticipated explosive events only occurring in the final few pages.   “Southern fables usually went the other way around,” Texas Ranger Darren Matthews tells us in Attica Locke’s fourth novel, Bluebird, Bluebird (Serpent’s Tail, €16.99), “a white woman killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.” When Matthews arrives in the East Texas community of Shelby County to investigate the killing of a black man and white woman, murdered in that order, he finds himself battling institutionalised racism and a thriving Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in a story steeped in the Blues and woven from tangled bloodlines that span generations. Previously nominated for the Orange Prize, the Edgar Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, Attica Locke has built a career on political novels wrapped in the conventions of the crime thriller, and Bluebird, Bluebird burnishes an already impressive reputation.   The Assassin of Verona (Zaffre, €22.50) is the second in Benet Brandreth’s series of historical thrillers featuring a young William Shakespeare – player, poet and spy. Following on from the events of The Spy of Venice (201[...]

Feature: Anthony J. Quinn on ‘the Border’

Sun, 17 Dec 2017 13:57:00 +0000

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

Feature: The Irish Spy Novel

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:10:00 +0000

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

Launch: DISORDER by Gerard Brennan

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 08:45:00 +0000

Launch: THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 08:38:00 +0000

Feature: Crime Novels of the Year 2017

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:51:00 +0000

’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 …[...]

News: Julie Parsons and John Connolly win at the Irish Book Awards

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:38:00 +0000

UPDATE: Following on from the Bord Gais Book of the Year awards on November 28th, the voting is now open for the overall Irish Book of the Year. I’m not say that you should vote for John Connolly or Julie Parsons, necessarily, but I am reliably informed that, should the spirit move you to do so, your reward will be in heaven. To vote, clickety-click here

Hearty congrats to Julie Parsons, who last night won the Irish Independent Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards for THE THERAPY HOUSE; and commiserations to all the joint runners-up, i.e., Jane Casey, Haylen Beck, Cat Hogan, Karen Perry and Sinead Crowley.
  Elsewhere, John Connolly scooped the Ryan Tubridy Listeners’ Choice Award for HE, his marvellous novel about the life and times of Stan Laurel.
  For all the details of the winners in all categories, clickety-click here

‘A Letter from Evangeline’ by Lily Burke

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 20:51:00 +0000

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that our daughter, Lily, is a keen reader and writer. Recently she entered a competition run by Jacqueline Wilson, in which readers were asked to write a letter set in historical times, the best of which would be published in Jacqueline Wilson’s next book. Lily didn’t win, and she was disappointed about that, although she didn’t really expect to win; what she was really disappointed about was that she had put so much effort into the story, and now, she says, no one will ever read it. So I’m putting the letter up here, so people can read it, and if anyone feels like letting Lily know what they thought of her letter, she would be delighted. I think it’s very good, but then I’m her Dad, and Lily is now nine years old, so my opinion doesn’t count so much anymore.   Apart from some typos, the address at the top right, and some punctuation issues her OCD Dad just couldn’t let go, the letter is all Lily’s own work. To wit:Ward 7,St. Bart’s Hospital,West Smithfield,London. September 2nd, 1942Dearest Mother, You are in my closest thoughts and I hope that when I see you again you will be as healthy as when I saw you last. I felt awful leaving you. We were all in such a state, with Emily pregnant and Father going off to the war and Sissy, oh, it gets harder every day … She didn’t deserve to go, but I guess she’s better off where she is now. We loved her so, but we just couldn’t give her the home she needed. Sissy was so full of life and ideas and when she died all her ideas died with her.  It’s my fault, I know. If I hadn’t spent all that money on my own selfish desires, we would have been able to buy the medicine Sissy needed to live.  You simply must name Emily’s baby after Sissy. That way Sissy can be its guardian angel and be with us at the same time.  Last week (God bless her little soul) there was a girl on the children’s ward around Sissy’s age, she was very poorly, I think she had cancer. She died on Sunday morning, and it brought a tear to my eye for it was such a familiar pain. Everything in my instinct was telling me to go and comfort that poor child’s mother, and so I did, but when I arrived on the ward I found that the mother had killed herself from a broken heart. I cried myself to sleep that night.  The hospital is dreadful. We don’t get paid half of what we got in Manchester, and the other nurses look down on me because I’m not as posh as they are. One caught me crying in the hall after the little girl died, and said, in a very rude way, ‘Weaklings won’t survive this war.’ I didn’t say anything rude back because I know the reason that they’re so mean is because they’re trying to hide as much pain as I’m showing, and that’s only human, and I don’t see anything wrong with being human. The matron was coming, and I didn’t want her to see me crying, so I rushed off – and Mother, that’s when I met him.  Please don’t tell the children, but I have a sweetheart. His name is Robbie and he’s ever so handsome and kind, if only you could meet him. Father would simply die if he saw him, because he looks like a convict! But he’s actually quite well behaved. He’s one of the few who survived in my ward, his body is broken but certainly not his spirit. The other night I caught him limping out of the ward and when I asked him wherever was he going at that time of night, he said he was going back to the army. I asked how on earth he would get there and he told me he would follow the trail of death.  Often I hear him[...]

Event: Anthony J. Quinn launches UNDERTOW

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 08:29:00 +0000

Now Reading … Mountains of the Mind by Robert MacFarlane

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 16:24:00 +0000

A man with an unerring eye for a good book, Hilary White was kind enough to pass on his copy of Robert MacFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination – it’s a brilliant account of how the perception of mountains has changed over the millennia. The chapter on George Mallory’s obsession with summitting Mt Everest is particularly gripping – here’s a snippet from Mallory’s third ascent, in 1924, when Howard Somervell and Edward Norton go ahead of Mallory and Irvine, without oxygen:
Somervell has to stop, but Norton presses on to 28,000 feet before he realises that he will die if he does not turn back. Precariously he descends the slabs, and meets Somervell. They descend together back towards the col, with Norton perhaps twenty yards ahead of Somervell. Suddenly Somervell coughs hard, agonizingly hard, and feels something from inside him, some object, detach itself and jam in his throat. He begins to choke to death. He cannot breathe, nor can he shout to Norton. Norton turns, but thinks that Somervell is hanging back to make a sketch of the mountain. No, he is hanging back to die. He sits down in the snow, and watches Norton walk away from him. Then – a final effort – he hammers his chest and throat with his clenched fist, and simultaneously coughs as hard has he can. The thing dislodges itself and jumps into his mouth. He spits it out on to the snow. It is a chunk of his larynx, killed by frostbite.
  For more, clickety-click here

Event: Lee Child at the O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 08:45:00 +0000

Lee Child (right) returns to Dublin to mark the publication of his latest novel, The Midnight Line (Bantam Press), which is the 22nd in the Jack Reacher series. Quoth the blurb elves:
Jack Reacher takes an aimless stroll past a pawn shop in a small Midwestern town. In the window he sees a West Point class ring from 2005. It’s tiny. It’s a woman cadet’s graduation present to herself. Why would she give it up? Reacher’s a West Pointer too, and he knows what she went through to get it.
  Reacher tracks the ring back to its owner, step by step, down a criminal trail leading west. Like Big Foot come out of the forest, he arrives in the deserted wilds of Wyoming. All he wants is to find the woman. If she’s OK, he’ll walk away. If she’s not … he’ll stop at nothing.
  He’s still shaken by the recent horrors of Make Me, and now The Midnight Line sees him set on a raw and elemental quest for simple justice. Best advice: don’t get in his way.
  The Eason Presents … event takes place on November 16th at 7pm at the O’Reilly Theatre, 6 Great Denmark St., Rotunda, Dublin, when Lee will be interviewed by Paul Whittington of the Irish Independent. For details of how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Event: ‘A Constable Calls’ at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 08:46:00 +0000

And so to Bellaghy. I’m hugely looking forward to taking part in the ‘A Constable Calls’ event at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace this Saturday, November 11th. David Torrans of No Alibis fame will be chairing a discussion between Liz Nugent, Eoin McNamee and yours truly on ‘the rise of crime writing following political changes in Northern Ireland’, so you can expect much by way of Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville, Claire McGowan, Brian McGilloway and Steve Cavanagh, among many others.
  The event takes place at The Helicon at 3pm on Saturday November 11th; to book tickets, just clickety-click here