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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One to Watch: THE MELODY by Jim Crace

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: THE WANDERERS by Tim Pears

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 muscular poetry evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Hardy, a story that functions as a harbinger of great change to come and yet also serves as a paean to lost innocence, as Leo and Lottie efface themselves from history to disappear “into a parallel time of no past or future but only an ever on-rolling now”.

  Declan Burke is an author and journalist. He is currently Dublin City Council / UNESCO writer-in-residence.

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Launch: THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh

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

Friday, January 5, 2018

Event: Takin the Mic at the Irish Writers’ Centre

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!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Irish Times’ Crime Fiction Column, December 2017

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 (2016), Will and his comrades Nicholas Oldcastle and John Hemminges find themselves in the vicinity of Verona, hunted by the Pope’s emissary, the inquisitor Fr Thornhill, as they seek to return to England with intelligence crucial to Queen Elizabeth’s court. The plot is more akin to the Robin Hood legend than anything Shakespearean, but the chief pleasure here is in the way Brandreth – who works with the Royal Shakespeare Company as an authority on Shakespeare – honours the spirit of the period’s language (‘Perchance the pain within her womb is the blossoming of some seed in ground ill-suited to the harvest.’) with a richly baroque hybrid style that is, almost inevitably, littered with references and allusions to the plays William Shakespeare will eventually settle down to write.
  Undertow (Head of Zeus, €19.50) is Anthony J. Quinn’s fifth novel to feature PSNI detective Celsius Daly, who is based on the shores of Lough Neagh, the ‘great wild space that had been his only respite from the two habits that governed his existence: work and insomnia.’ Called to investigate a suspicious death-by-drowning in Lough Neagh, Daly quickly finds himself enmeshed in a thick web of collusion when he discovers that the dead man, a Garda detective who lived in Northern Ireland, was a member of an unaccountable cross-border collective running a stable of informers and spies, and not always for the benefit of the greater good. “That corner of Ulster was a conflicted place,” Daly muses, “betrayal running in every direction, shadowy figures exerting opposing forms of deception, the stress lines running through every layer of society,” and it’s the border itself, and the recent history it represents, that provides Undertow with its theme, with Brexit and a possible return to the bad old days throwing a long shadow. Daly may keep himself busy ‘devising new ways of staying out of the past,’ but he ultimately discovers that ‘the undertow of the past was too strong. It took the legs out from under him and dragged him down without mercy.’ A powerful tale stained with the darkest of noir, Undertow is a powerful tale of a generation manipulated, betrayed and ultimately abandoned by the powers-that-be. ~ Declan Burke