Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Brian McGilloway's Top 10 N Irish Crime Novels

this was originally published in The Strand Magazine which you shld definitely check out.

My Top Ten Northern Irish Crime Novels


There has been an explosion in crime writing from Northern Ireland over the past decade or so. An element of this certainly has been as part of the wider growth of Irish crime writing, but in Northern Ireland there is also the specific role the peace process has played in informing the fiction that is being produced here. I think the appeal of crime fiction rests in the fact that it imposes a degree of order and justice in a world where there is precious little of either at times. Crime allows us to vicariously experience fear safe in the knowledge that right of some sort will prevail in the end. I think the catharsis that it allows, and that imposition of order on disorder, is comforting in uncertain times.
I think it is also why Northern Irish crime fiction only really found its voice after the violence here subsided: there’s no need to vicariously experience fear when you are actually undergoing it. When I wrote Borderlands in 2003, I deliberately set out to write a novel unrelated to the Troubles. But, in the writing of it, I found the events of the previous thirty years remained a constant shadow, bleeding around the edges of every narrative. The same could be argued for many of the other crime writers here. In the absence of a Truth Commission in Northern Ireland, fiction is the closest we will come to an understanding of the past even as we chart our way forward. And crime fiction, more than any other genre, works in that dual movement—a crime novel starts at the end of the victim’s story and, while the narrative has continual forward momentum, the detectives are generally working backwards from the moment of the crime to trace the initial acts and motives that lead to it.
There are so many fine Northern Irish writers I could include on this list—John McAllister, Garbhan Downey, Sam Miller, Des Doherty, Simon Maltman to name a few—but this (in no particular order) is my Top Ten of Northern Irish crime writing.

  1. The Cold, Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty
McKinty’s work needs no introduction, but there is no doubt that, with the Sean Duffy series, he has really reached new heights. Throwing his main character into the heart of our violent history, McKinty has grasped with both hands the role of truth commissioner, dismantling the events of the past and imposing some form of rough justice on those who hitherto escaped it in any form. He deservedly won an Edgar this year for one of the later Duffy novels, Rain Dogs, but you should start here.
  1. The Twelve – Stuart Neville
Again, a writer who needs no introduction, Neville’s debut novel blew everyone’s socks off when it came out. Fearless in its portrayal of the effects of the past, unflinching in examining the consequences of violence on violent men, and a cracking thriller to boot, it’s the perfect place to begin with a writer who has gone from strength to strength with each new book.
  1. Divorcing Jack – Colin Bateman
While Northern Ireland may not have had an appetite for local crime fiction during the Troubles, there was one writer who bucked that trend by finding a way through it, using comedy to analyze the realities of the political situation here at the time. While Bateman has focused on screenwriting more recently, his talent and dark wit are plain for all to see in this first novel in the Dan Starkey series.My Top Ten Northern Irish Crime Novels
  1. The Lost – Claire McGowan
In a male-dominated field of Northern Irish crime fiction, Claire McGowan was a welcome new voice, and her character Paula Maguire, a forensic psychologist introduced here in 2013’s The Lost, works along the border areas. McGowan is particularly adept at dialogue, and Maguire herself, as she develops across the series, is a fascinating figure.
  1. Disappeared – Anthony Quinn
Another book based around the border regions where Anthony Quinn himself grew up, the Inspector Daly series offers a dark, occasionally brutal depiction of the realities of policing a lawless region. Daly is an intelligent, thoughtful investigator while Quinn’s lyrical prose style is just beautiful. Again, best to start with book one and savor the whole series.
  1. The Defence – Steve Cavanagh
Cavanagh, a lawyer himself, brought something different to the Northern Irish crime fiction table with his Eddie Flynn novels, legal thrillers based in New York. The Defence is fast-paced and compulsively readable while Flynn is a likable, quick-thinking hero. The books may not be set in Northern Ireland, but Cavanagh’s concern with the law and justice and the frequent distance between the two is very much born of a lifetime living here.
  1. The Bones of It – Kelly Creighton
While Creighton may not have set out to write a crime novel, there’s no denying that The Bones of It is very much informed by crime and the effects of crime through generations. A first-person narrative told by Scott McAuley, the novel deals with father/son issues and the consequences of violence and hatred, not just on the generation that lived through the Troubles, but on the generation that followed after. Beautifully written, The Bones of It offers a chilling evocation of a damaged mind.
  1. The Point – Gerard Brennan
Brennan started a blog, Crime Scene NI, some years back that covered the growth of new crime writing coming from the North and became a hub of sorts for the writers from here. But Brennan is also a brilliant crime writer in his own right. Start with his novella The Point. Fast-paced and extremely witty, it showcases Brennan’s wonderfully dark sense of humor and his intuitive understanding of noir fiction.
  1. The Dust of Death – Paul Charles
Best known for the London-based Inspector Kennedy novels, Paul Charles moved to the southern side of the border for several books featuring his intuitive Garda Inspector Starrett. Featuring the same intricate plotting and underlying sense of humanity that one would expect from Charles, the books exploited the border region setting, focusing on the consequences of discord within families and communities and the personal cost of crime.
  1. The Anglo-Irish Murders – Ruth Dudley Edwards
Dudley-Edwards’s satires have hit many targets from modern art to the world of academics, but here she turns her acerbic wit on local politics to fine effect. With a complete disregard for political correctness and a sharp eye for irony, she draws attention to the absurdities of politics and politicians in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Colum McCann - Letters To A Young Writer

my review of the new Colum McCann book in last Saturday's Weekend Australian...
Half a dozen times a day on my Twitter feed someone will post the following quotation attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Writing is easy — all you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.”
It’s a good quote because it captures the school of thought that sees writing novels as a heroic, almost impossible endeavour. The fact Hemingway never said any such thing is neither here nor there. He is the patron saint of those who strive to wrestle and throttle the blank page into submission.
In opposition to this model there are the utilitarians who see writing as a job like any other that simply requires you to punch in in the morning, working until you hit the daily word count, whereupon you punch out. Novelists who started in newspapers tend to be of this school. They are used to deadlines and discipline. “So what’s the secret of your success?” I once asked a famous novelist. “Sit down, shut up, stop looking out the window and do your 1000 words,” he explained succinctly.
Colum McCann’s wonderful new book Letters to a Young Writer is an attempt to steer a course between these two different philosophies. The New York-based Irish writer is all for discipline and sitting at the desk but he cautions that a successful day’s work is often one in which you cut your text by 1000 words. It can be glorious to ride the delete button or “fling the pages into the fire. Often, the more words you cut the better.”
The essential thing for McCann is to toil hard on the manuscript, continually testing it for authenticity and beauty and integrity. Work on it and put it away and work on it some more. Is this paragraph the sort of thing you’re going to be proud of if the book makes it into print? If not, edit it or delete it and begin again.
For McCann writing is a job and a calling, and not an easy one at that. His metaphors come from the boxing ring, the coalmine and the cross-country track. He agrees with Joseph Conrad that a work of art must justify itself on every page, and preferably every line. If that sounds too difficult, well, there are easier professions.
Letters to a Young Writer is more a series of meditations than a Novel Writing For Dummies guide but it’s the more welcome for that. All of us need someone in our corner telling us things aren’t as grim as they seem and that we have to keep jabbing away at our opponent.
And who is this opponent? Not other authors, not agents, not publishers; no, our enemy is probably fear itself. Fear of trying something new, fear of starting over, fear that time is passing us by and we have left it too late to begin. It’s never too late to be a ‘‘young writer’’ McCann says. Look at Frank McCourt, look at Miguel Cervantes, look at Giuseppe di Lampedusa.
Not that this book doesn’t have practical advice too. There are excellent chapters on finding an agent, finding an editor, how to build characters and how to shape a story.
Get yourself a small notebook, McCann says, carry it everywhere and write down snatches of dialogue, descriptions, ideas. Most of these notes won’t be useful at all, but some of them will germinate into a paragraph, or a page, or even a book.
One of the most powerful sections comes near the end when McCann, a writing teacher of 20 years’ standing, allows a little of his frustration to boil over when he asks how anyone can think of writing when they have barely begun to read. You have to read wide and deep, he says. You have to know your chosen genre inside and out. You need to understand where the literature has come from and where it’s going. You need to know the work of great contemporaries. You have to read poetry and plays, the classics, the Russians, James Joyce, the pulpy bestsellers, everything.
“Read, read, read!” McCann says, echoing the famous mantra of Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School. Read not hundreds of books but thousands. That’s where you will learn grammar and truth and the ‘‘rules’’ of the game.
When you’ve done the reading and wrestled with your opening line (McCann has a great chapter on opening lines), what then do you write about? Don’t write what you know, he says. Instead write about something you would like to know more about. Go on a journey, do the research, explore, become obsessed by something and write about your obsession.
I’m not so sure about that one myself. Personally I’d rather have fewer novels by master of fine arts students who’ve become obsessed with obscure figures from history and more books by people who have actually led interesting lives outside the academy.
I also wish McCann had given us a comprehensive reading list the way Herzog and Stephen King in On Writing and Harold Bloom do. I’m sure there will be people who read Letters to a Young Writer wondering who on Earth this DeLillo fellow is that he keeps speaking about.
But these are only minor gripes. McCann’s book will make an excellent pick-me-up for all wannabe writers out there. Put it on the shelf next to Bloom’s The Western Canon and Robert McKee’s Story and take it down when things are looking bleak and your latest opus is lining the cat’s litter tray.
In the end, of course, there’s no real substitute for sitting there at the desk and staring at that awful blank page. Books on writing are a bit like a map of a minefield. It could be the greatest map in the world but the only way to test it is to venture out there into the unknown, step by terrifying step.
Adrian McKinty’s latest novel is the sixth instalment in his Sean Duffy crime series, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.
Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice
By Colum McCann
Bloomsbury, 168pp, $22.99 (HB)

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Interview

New interview w me here on the Garret podcast in conjunction with the Library of Victoria. It's also free on iTunes...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

JG Ballard's Great Decade 1973-1983

According to historian Eric Hobsbawm the twentieth century really began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in his car in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914. It was a century dominated by assassinations, cars, aeroplanes, wars, mass production and American pop culture. For me the novelist who perhaps best captured the obsessions and imagery of the twentieth century was the Shanghai-born English novelist J G Ballard. Pigeon holed early as a science fiction writer, for a long time Ballard was not noticed by critics. He had his champions, of course, such as Martin Amis, but in general his books seldom broke through into the popular consciousness until the publication of Empire of the Sun in 1983.

Ballard’s early apocalyptic novels from the 1960's such as The Drowned World and The Crystal World cut against the mainstream science fiction of the time with their concern for the effects of disaster on the protagonists’ psychological states. In 1973 Ballard’s most remarkable period as a novelist began with the publication of Crash, a book famously rejected by one London publisher’s reader with the phrase “This author is beyond psychiatric help - DO NOT PUBLISH.” Crash is the story of Vaughan, a television psychologist who is fixated by the sexual power of the car crash and who wishes to die in an auto-erotic accident with Elizabeth Taylor’s limousine. A damning indictment of, and also a love letter to, American celebrity culture, Crash reads as fresh, subversive and lively today as it did forty years ago. It prefigures the deaths of Princess Diana and Grace Kelly and recapitulates the deaths of Franz Ferdinand, JFK and screen siren Jayne Mansfield who was reputedly (but not really) decapitated in the 1967 crash of her Buick Electra 225.

Ballard’s follow up to Crash was a retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story, Concrete Island (1974), about a man who crashes his car and is trapped in it at the junction of many motorway flyovers and sliproads, living desperately on his concrete island and finally dying unseen by the thousands of commuters passing by on their way to work. High Rise (1975) is a funny, perverse and oddly believable novel about the collapse of civilisation’s norms within an apartment building. Satires on the English sense of decorum seldom get this ribald or excoriating.

For me, though, the climax of this period in Ballard’s evolution is the willfully strange, surrealistic novel The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) about a man who hijacks a small plane and crashes it into the Thames in the sleepy suburb of Shepparton. It’s never clear whether the pilot died in the crash or not but certainly some kind of apotheosis takes place and throughout the novel London is transformed into a seething, primordial, tropical city (similar in many ways to the London of The Drowned World) rich with sexual and avian imagery. The Anglo-Saxon world has generally been uncomfortable with the erotic and surreal in serious fiction but Dream Company is a book which treats both these tropes with the gravity they deserve and it may be Ballard’s finest work. The short story collection Low Flying Aircraft (1976) highlights many of Ballard's obsessions: abandoned swimming pools, crashed planes, urban decay etc. and contains one of my favourite Ballard stories, My Dream Of Flying To Wake Island.

Empire of the Sun (1983/4) is a novelistic retelling of the young Jim Ballard’s imprisonment in a Japanese internment camp from 1942 - 1945. Although the story is told in conventional matter-of-fact prose the book throbs with Ballard’s usual obsessions: war, repressed sexual desire, cruelty, ruined cities, America, cars, flight. As a novel of people in extremis it is a psychological masterpiece as well as being probably the last great novel to come out of the direct experience of World War Two.

In the 1990's and early 2000's Ballard wrote more volumes of memoir and interesting novels about the growth of advertisement speak, business parks, motorways, urbanisation and the spread of pop culture into all walks of life. In 2009 Ballard died of prostate cancer and the British obituaries were respectful but somewhat restrained in their praise. Ballard had been hard to categorise and he was never completely embraced by the British establishment even after his success in Hollywood. It’s a shame because many of Ballard’s contemporaries have dated rather badly and their books read like peculiar period pieces, but Ballard has hardly dated at all. Like Philip K Dick his voice is that of the clear sighted Cassandra warning us of the perils and strange joys ahead. Ballard agreed with the poet Horace who famously said that “they change their skies but not their souls, those who run across the sea,” which is true even when the seas are black with pollution and the sky is a radioactive hell.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An Alternative History Novel Primer

my article on alternative history novels from the Guardian. I'm not attempting to be comprehensive here, it's more of a trawl through some of my favourites...
With Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Man In The High Castle on Amazon and SS GB on the BBC we can safely say that the alternative history genre is hotter than ever. The Man In The High Castle was not the first alternative history novel, nor even the first Nazis-win-the-war novel but it is still probably the most influential book in the genre. Anyone who likes historical fiction should be able to enjoy good counter-factual scenarios. It’s fun imagining how things could have been otherwise. As Ray Bradbury demonstrated in ‘A Sound of Thunder’, one tiny change in the past could have momentous consequences in the future. A “Butterfly Moment” (from the so called butterfly-effect) is the point from which our timeline diverges from the AH timeline. Structuralist historians tend to discount such moments but clearly if Franz Ferdinand’s driver had driven straight on instead of turning right the entire history of the twentieth century would have been different.
           Of course the most successful AH novels are good novels per se with interesting well rounded characters and a plot that moves. Some writers such as Harry Turtledove, SM Sterling, Jasper Fforde and Ken Flint have spent nearly their entire careers writing alternative histories, others such as Kingsley Amis, Iain Banks, Stephen Fry, Stephen King, Kim Stanley Robinson and Philip Roth have merely dabbled in the genre. Wikipedia has compiled a rather daunting list of alternative history novels, here but if that’s too much to contemplate you could do worse than try some of the following:
The first real AH best seller was L Sprague De Camp’s 1939 novel Lest Darkness Fall in which a modern time traveller attempts to prevent the collapse of the Western Roman Empire by introducing steam engines, pencils, double entry book keeping and other exciting innovations.
World War 2 and its aftermath really got the AH genre going in earnest. Spawning many copycats/homages such as Fatherland, SS-GB, The Plot Against America, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, etc. The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick is still the best what-if-the-Axis-had-won novel. The butterfly moment was the successful assassination of Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. Set in the early 1960’s the victorious Germans and Japanese have divided North America between them. Juliana Frink, a judo instructor, discovers that there is a resistance movement to the Axis which has been inspired by a novelist called Hawthorne Abendsen. Abendsen, with the help of the Chinese book of prophecy, the I Ching, has written an alternative history novel called ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ set in a world in which the Nazis lost the war. Subtle, menacing and utterly brilliant this is Philip K Dick’s masterpiece. In a nice touch of crazy Dick believed that he had only dictated the novel which had really been written by the I Ching to prove the existence of other Earths.
Directly inspired by Dick’s novel, The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, takes place in a 1970’s England where the Reformation never happened and where the all powerful Catholic Church is in a cold war with the Ottoman Empire. A talented boy chorister is forced to become a castrato to preserve his beautiful voice, but in so doing his gift as a composer is lost. (Amis following Nietzsche believed that sex lay behind all great art.) The fragmented and weak resistance to the church militant is motivated by a novel called ‘The Man In The High Castle’ authored by a certain Philip K Dick who dares to imagine a world in which the Reformation triumphed. Look out for odd cameos from Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and Tony Benn in this neglected tour de force.
The Alteration incorporates some elements of the steam-punk genre, one of the most entertaining of the AH sub-genres. The who-invented-steam-punk debate is a surprisingly vitriolic one that I shall neatly sidestep here, instead I’ll briefly draw your attention to some of the best steam-punk authors. Michael Moorcock and K W Jeter really got things going in the late 1970’s and by 1990 William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s wonderful The Difference Engine saw steam-punk reach its maturity with a novel about the brilliant Ada Lovelace (Byron’s daughter), Charles Babbage and a mechanical computer that achieves sentience Terminator style. Other great books in this oeuvre are Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair Of Spring Heeled Jack (which contains a  very clever butterfly moment) and Neal Stephenson’s fabulously detailed Baroque Cycle.
I’m not sure that books that contain magic really count as AH novels as the butterfly moment is somewhat ill-defined, however if you want to stretch a point Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series could be seen as alternative histories of the Napoleonic Wars and Britain in the 1990s/early 2000’s respectively. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August the very impressive debut novel by Claire North is an interesting spin on butterfly-wing tinkering over multiple lives within the same time-line.  
What about some big really big canvas AH novels? Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt takes place in a Europe that has been utterly devastated by the Black Death and is being repopulated by Muslims from the south and Chinese from the west. The world gets divided up between China and Islam and a dazzlingly imagined alternative Middle Ages is the result. West of Eden by Harry Harrison takes alternative history as far back as anyone ever has attempted, imaging what would have happened if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs at Chicxulub and of course Philip Pullman's universe keeps expanding with his new Book of Dust...
             Anyway, I hope that you have enjoyed this little run through the AH genre and that I’ve given you some ideas for future reading... 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Police At The Station

I'm very pleased to say that Sean Duffy #6, Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly, has been long-listed for the Crime Writers Association Steel Dagger Award 2017. 


I'm relieved that the, ahem, somewhat crazy title didn't put the judges off...Duffy#6 will be out in trade pbk in the next few weeks....

Monday, May 22, 2017

My Favourite Swimming Books

These are some of my favourite books about swimming, swimmers and the writers who have reflected on swimming. 

Find A Way - Diana Nyad. Diana Nyad's life and what inspired her to try - again - to swim from Havana to Key West and succeed this time at the age of 64. Diana Nyad is one of my heroes. 

Waterlog - Roger Deakin. The eccentric Englishman's attempt to swim wild (in rivers, canals, loughs, lakes & seas) all over Britain. A classic of the genre. 

Hell And High Water - Sean Conway. An unemployed man living with his mum decides to swim nearly 1000 miles (in stages) from Land's End to John O'Groats and raise money for the charity War Child. 

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer As Hero - Charles Sprawson. The best look at swimming through literature and attempting literary swims (the Hellespont, The Grand Canal etc.) Everyone should read this book even if they don't actually swim. 

Swimming to Antarctica - Lynne Cox. Maybe the greatest long distance swimmer of all time the amazing Lynne Cox recounts her adventures all over the world including, of course, swimming to Antrarctica. 

The Man Who Swam The Amazon - Martin Strehl. Another ordinary bloke who decided one day to swim the Amazon River. Why? Cause no one else had done it, of course. 

Swim: Why We Love The Water - Lynne Sher. Does what it says on the tin. A nice book to have if you liked Sprawson's Black Masseur and want some more in a smiliar vein. 

The Swimmer - John Cheever. A classic. No point in buying this though. One of my alma maters (can you have more than one mater?) has put it online for nothing, here. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rain Dogs Up For The Anthony Award

Sean Duffy #5, Rain Dogs, has been shortlisted for best paperback original crime novel at the 2017 Anthony Awards. I'm really thrilled! This book truly is the little engine that could. There were, ahem, six crime fiction awards Rain Dogs was eligible for and it got shortlisted for all six. 

These are the awards: 

Ned Kelly Award 2016

CWA Steel Dagger Award 2016

Theakston Crime Novel of the Year Award 2016

Edgar Award (best PO) 2017 WON

Barry Award (best PO) 2017 TBA

Anthony Award (best PO) 2017 TBA

Saturday, May 13, 2017

How To Read Thomas Pynchon

It's Thomas Pynchon's 80th birthday this week. I know that a lot of you out there are intimidated by Pynchon and haven't read anything or, maybe got to page 20 of Gravity's Rainbow and gave up. I am here to help. Thomas Pynchon is terrific but you have to walk through the savannah before wading into the jungle. Begin thusly:

1. Inherent Vice: read this one first. It's a crime novel set in a slightly exaggerated version of 1970's LA. It's full of stoners, groovy language, flower power with a crazy missing persons plot. Its got lots of pop culture references that anyone should be able to get if they've been paying attention at all for the last couple of decades. It's more or less Robert Altman's Long Goodbye crossed with a Cheech and Chong movie...
2. The Crying Of Lot 49: after reading Inherent Vice you should be able to handle Lot 49 which is basically set in the same milieu and is only a little bit weirder and more discursive. The plot roughly revolves around Oedipa Maas who has possibly uncovered a secret war between two clandestine postal delivery companies. Yes, it's that sort of book.  
3. Bleeding Edge: a paranoid shaggy dog detective novel set in the Manhattan of 2001 just before the 9/11 attacks. It begins with a Westlake quote and its a spicy blend of Westlake, Hammett, DeLillo and Woody Allen. (With a David Foster Wallace cruise ship homage thrown in there for good measure.) It's pretty funny and it concludes a thematic trilogy of sorts of that began with Inherent Vice and Vineland.
4. Vineland: America in the early 80's. Reagan, Star Wars, George Lucas, Brock Vond. And again most people should be able to get the refs. As I say Inherent Vice, Vineland and Bleeding Edge form a kind of paranoid alternative history contemporary trilogy that should be accessible to most general readers.
5. Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's WW2 novel which won the National Book Award. His best book? Probably, yes. It's quite a difficult text but by no means impossible to read especially in a trade paperback edition with big clear print. You'll need to know your mid twentieth century culture quite well to get all the refs this time. And just to warn you, amidst the humour and horror there is a pretty gross scene involving coprophilia.
6. V: my favourite Pynchon. A literary romp through early twentieth century history. Very abstract, strange and off putting for the uninitiated. But a great read once you get the momentum of the story. 
7. Mason & Dixon: the story of Mason & Dixon surveying the land that will become the North and South of the USA. This is my second favourite Pynchon. It's written in eighteenth century prose so it could be tricky for some people, but not for those with Clarissa, Tom Jones or even Neal Stephenson under their belts. 
8. Against The Day: This is possibly for completists only. A dense, difficult, but often very funny story of turn of the century America. My favourite scenes were set in a beautifully crafted wild west Denver. 
Additionally: Mortality And Mercy In Vienna, a strange out of print novella that I read in the Columbia University stacks before it got stolen and Slow Learner a nice collection of short stories, the highlight of which is probably Entropy.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Boston Globe Reviews Duffy 6

Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly
7th Street Books
Daneet Steffens
If newly-diagnosed asthma, fatherhood to six-month-old Emma, and mostly-happy domesticity with his girlfriend, Beth, has softened a few of Detective Inspector Sean Duffy’s edges, it hasn’t dulled his keen survival instinct or determined pursuit of dastardly criminals in the slightest. (That said, those two qualities are often in direct conflict with each other when it comes to Duffy.) In Adrian McKinty’s “Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly,’’ when challenged by a medical test, Duffy actually cuts down on his cigarettes-and-vodka-gimlet intake, but rest assured that nothing could ever cut down his curiosity-driven investigative work. There’ve been no murders in Carrickfergus in nearly a year, so when someone appears to be using drug dealers as targets for their crossbow practice, Duffy and his trusted colleagues, super brainy Detective Constable Lawson and semi-gentleman farmer Detective Sergeant McCrabban, jump on the case (two excellent sidekicks). But they are working in 1988’s Northern Ireland, a country mired in the violence of The Troubles: Are these new attacks the work of the Direct Action Against Drug Dealers group, or are they politically motivated? 

McKinty imbues his writing with same level of attention to wit and cultural touchstones as the scrupulous care he takes structuring the police-procedural aspects of the novel. In the first chapter alone, there are references to philosopher Gaston Bachelard, Ireland’s once all-encompassing Holocene forest, “The Wicker Man,” and Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, creator of the iconic Che Guevara portrait; elsewhere we learn of Duffy’s favorite musical accompaniments to life (he’s partial to Arvo Pärt, can’t stand Kylie Minogue, and considers Ella Fitzgerald, Schubert and Mozart comfort music). 

All this, plus we get to observe the normally flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants detective grappling intentionally with his future. Another terrific book from the underrated McKinty.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How Many Different Irish Accents Are There?

I've thought long and hard about this. I think there are probably about 24 or 25 different Irish accents. I'm hoping that non Irish speakers can tell the difference between all the accents this guy in the video below does (my kids can't tell all of them apart and can't understand half of what he says (which is fortunate because a lot of it is in Irish street demotic which, naturally, includes a lot of swearing)). I think he does a brilliant job here with Republic of Ireland accents however he drops the ball a bit when he comes to Ulster. He only does 1 accent for all of Northern Ireland. By my reckoning there are at least 9 different Ulster/northern Irish accents that are quite distinctive: Derry, West Belfast, Camp West Belfast (Julian Simmons), North Belfast, South Belfast/North Down (the posh BBC accent), Ballymena, Newry, Tyrone/Fermanagh. Some day I'll make a video of me doing all 9 Northern Irish accents but for now here's Richie Stevens doing his 15 regional Irish accents:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Holy Sh*t - I Won The Edgar Award

BIG thank you to my wife Leah who picked up the award for my novel Rain Dogs on my behalf and apparently gave a very funny speech. Big thank you too to the Mystery Writers of America. This is such an honour and definitely the highlight of my career! 
Thank you also my lovely daughters Arwynn & Sophie and all my family in Ireland, England and America. 
Also huge thank you to my agent Shane Salerno who has become a 3rd Dan master at talking me down from ledges. 
Also huge thank you to everyone at 7th Street and Serpents Tail and Allen&Unwin, Blackstone Audio and Suhrkamp. And the crime fiction community in Ireland, Australia, the UK, America and across the world for being nothing but supportive. I want to single out three bookstores too: The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, No Alibis in Belfast and Pages & Pages in Sydney who always treated me like a best seller and a winner when that clearly wasn't the case. 
And big thanks in no particular order to: Ian Rankin, Don Winslow, Val McDermid, Rebecca Gray, Dan Woodrell, Dec Burke, Stu Neville, Steve Hamilton, Steve Cavanagh, John McFetridge, John Connolly, Brian McGilloway, Ger Brennan, Bob Mecoy, Anna-Marie Fitzgerald, Jill Maxick, Peter Rozovksy, Seana Graham, Candice Fox, Daneet Steffens, Jason Steger, the Irish Times, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The London Times, The Irish Indy, The Wall Street Journal, The Melbourne Age, The Australian, every mystery blog who ever reviewed me, everybody who reviewed me on audible, amazon and good reads (even the stinkers) and all my book readers and blog readers for all your encouragement and support over the years. 
finally I'd like to thank the late great Muhammad Ali whom I met in 1992 and who a star struck Duffy meets in chapter 1 of Rain Dogs - a little of The Champ's magic rubbed off on me... 
go raibh maith agat 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Handmaiden, The Handmaids Tale

The Handmaiden is a South Korean erotic thriller directed by Park Chan-wook based on the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters. Both works are about a pair of grifters (a man and woman) who attempt to con a naive young heiress out of her fortune by having her fall in love with the man and elope with him. The female con artist goes into the house as a maid to work the plan from the inside while the male conman poses as a drawing instructor. Part 2 of the plan is that after the elopement they consign the heiress to an insane asylum and split the dough. Fingersmith the novel has that set up too but it's also qot quite a lot of cool stuff about pickpocketing, the short con and the long con. Fingersmith has a famous end of the first act twist and then a great second act twist too. It is set in Victorian England and is maybe a little long but otherwise perfect as an erotic twisty thriller. The Handmaiden moves the action to Japanese occupied Korea which I thought was going to be awesome but it wasn't because they do absolutely nothing with this premise. I've never seen a movie that takes place in Occupied Korea and I was stoked for some kind cool resistance motifs or Japanese-Korean tensions but there's nothing like. I'm a fan of Park Chan-wook, though, I, like every other man in my forties, have watched the corridor hammer fight in Old Boy about 20 times. However I was expecting a bit more from him with this adaptation. Like I say, the setting is not really used much, the erotic elements are a bit too leery and male gazy (while railing against male gaze eroticism as subtext (a beautiful example of attempting to eat your cake and have it too)) and the torture scene at the end is completely unnecessary. I liked the movie but if you haven't read the book the twists will come as more of a surprise and the film will probably work better.  
The Handmaids Tale is a science fiction novel by Margaret Attwood about a future America run by a quasi Mormon religious right. It's a book that everybody should read both as a warning and as, you know, a great work of art. Attwood, building on the tradition of Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell etc. creates an entirely believable universe where a young Handmaiden must endure Winston Smith type suffering simply because she is a woman. The TV series adaptation is faithful and a little dull so far (I've only seen three episodes) and even perhaps a little tame. Some of those involved in the production have been running away from the word 'feminist' which is absurd because the Handmaids Tale is transparently a feminist masterpiece. But things augur well for the rest of the series and it really couldn't be more timely. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Sydney Morning Herald Reviews Police At The Station

Checking in on the progress of Detective Inspector Sean Duffy of the Carrick Royal Ulster Constabulary in the 1980s is always such a delight. Duffy is one of those smart-mouthed rogue policemen we have learned to love precisely because he has no respect for authority, a ferocious intelligence, and enough bad habits to endear him to every sinner.

But Duffy's trying hard to break the bad habits now there is so much more at stake. Girlfriend Beth has moved in, baby Emma has arrived, and the need to check under the BMW in the event of a mercury tilt bomb has never been more pressing. Duffy's also been diagnosed with asthma and various other dependency issues. 
Police at the station etc. opens in medias res as Duffy is lead through a dark wood to the place of his intended death by a posse of hapless and incompetent executioners. Facing impending doom, he regretfully considers his legacy, "Over the last 15 years I've done my best to fight entropy and carve out a little local order in a sea of chaos. I have failed. He has failed and "made one mistake too many."  He's also forgotten his asthma inhaler, although looking on the bright side, as Duffy is inclined to do, "a bullet in the head will fix an incipient asthma attack every time". 
He may be up against it, but Duffy's sense of humour is as mordant as ever. Hang in for much caustic wit, funny observations, exciting twists, trenchant political commentary, and a splendid conclusion

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mystery People Interview

Molly Odintz: So the idea that Sean Duffy can quit smoking is rather laughable to me. Will he ever get his health together in the context of life in such a stressful position? 
Adrian McKinty: I seriously doubt it. I knew many coppers in that era and all of them were huge social drinkers and chain smokers that you would be foolish to try and keep up with. But there’s always hope. I think he’s probably off the cocaine for good now which is nice.
MO: In your latest, you show how entrenched and mafia-like the paramilitaries have become by the late 80s, especially when it comes to drug crimes. By the late 80s, do you think more paramilitaries were motivated by power and money than politics? 
AM: By the early 80s it was obvious that the Troubles were not going to end anytime soon so the smarter/more cynical ones diversified into protect rackets and drugs. At a famous meeting in Belfast in 1985 supposedly mortal enemies the IRA and UVF met to divide Belfast into drug territories. And that is still the case to this very day.

“Life in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s was utterly surreal and bizarre. There’s no other way to talk about it except in wry tones, cynical tones with shades of black humor and horror.”

MO: Like many of your Duffy novels, a small crime reveals a vast conspiracy. Without getting specific on the plot details, how do you craft a story that starts so small and gets so big? 
AM: It’s different every time, sometimes you write the story and ideas pop up along the way but other times you do the research and start plotting. I've written 2 locked room mysteries and those had to be densely plotted in advance. Other books are more seat of the pants. I recently finished a 42 page synopsis for a standalone book I haven’t written yet, which is a new record for me…maybe that was a bit excessive but it’s often smart to map out the territory esp in a twisty conspiracy.
MO: You do an excellent job of showing how the Troubles weren’t one continuous pitched battle, but lots of little flareups, based on how closely paramilitaries, soldiers, police and civilians adhered to a set of complex social behaviors. Ordinary life continues, but in severely curtailed forms. How do you pick the moments for your settings? How much were the Troubles an excuse to be a libertine (for example, Duffy’s drug use) versus reinforcing conservative behavior standards (for example, marriage within one’s primary religious group)?
AM: That’s a good question. Remember I was a school kid in the 80s and every day even after a major bombing or atrocity life went on as normal. We had to get up and go to school. And people had to shop, work, get unemployment whatever in the midst of this low level civil war. Some weeks it felt comparatively normal but other times it felt like a war, like the evacuation of Aleppo or something. It’s been a challenge to convey that tone in these novels and also not to forget the mordant, black (very black) Belfast humour that people used as a coping mechanism. The thing a lot of those Troubles movies made by outsiders get wrong about Ulster in the 70s and 80s is the sarcasm and the dark humour. You wouldn't know it but Belfast people are actually pretty funny.
MO: Duffy’s gone domestic, but he’s still in as much danger as ever. What did you want to explore about having a family in a troubled time? 
AM: I like the idea of encumbering a lone wolf with wife and child. Makes his life more difficult and interesting for me as a novelist. I’m not knocking other mystery thrillers here but I get a bit weary with series titles that merely hit the reset button at the beginning of each instalment. I like characters who change and arc and grow….
MO: I love how you point out the absurdities within a serious situation without detracting from the reader’s sense of imminent danger for the characters, a skill shared by many of the great noir writers. Is that the genre talking, or a cynicism entirely your own? 
AM: Life in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s was utterly surreal and bizarre. There’s no other way to talk about it except in wry tones, cynical tones with shades of humor and horror. Sometimes something would happen that seemed like a classic French farce or an episode of Fawlty Towers, other times your heart was breaking. Tonally that’s a BIG challenge to get across. One moment you're laughing, crying the next. The crime novel, the noir crime novel in particular is a great vector for those kind of ideas with its abrupt changes of mood and its world weary stance. Everyone was always cracking jokes. Often they worked, often they didn't. I remember as a kid finding a shell casing in the street and smuggling it into my sister Diane's handbag so that it would be found the next time she had her handbag searched going into the centre of Belfast (you had to be searched just going into the city centre in those days). My sister ended up nearly getting arrested and thrown in jail when she couldn't explain how the .303 cartridge got there. Now at the time me and my little brother thought that was absolutely hilarious, but in retrospect maybe not so much...

“….I was a school kid in the 80s and every day even after a major bombing or atrocity life went on as normal. We had to get up and go to school. And people had to shop, work, get unemployment whatever in the midst of this low level civil war…”

MO: I know you considered Duffy’s story finished after you completed the Troubles Trilogy, but you’ve returned to the character multiple times and I couldn’t be happier about it. There seem to be an endless number of tales of corruption, cynicism, greed, and failed revolution for Duffy to explore. What’s next for him? 
AM: I’m afraid I have no idea about that one. I’ll know in a few months what’s next. Hopefully.
MO: Northern Ireland has a long and complex history, and in your Duffy series, you’ve focused on the 1980s, which seems the perfect setting for a mixture of violent crime and decadent music. If you were to write a historical crime novel set in a different period of Northern Ireland’s history, what settings would you want to explore? 
AM: Oh my God I would love to do Belfast today, right now. It’s so weird to go back there with its trendy cafes and Michelin starred restaurants, Game of Thrones tours, hipster bars, stag and hen nights, celebrity spotting etc. Its bizarre walking around with all these happy young people and remembering the apocalyptic nightmare of just 2 1/2 decades earlier….
MO: How would the Duffy novels read differently, do you think, if they had been written in the midst of the Troubles? Does a writer need a certain distance from their subject matter to properly tackle the traumas of history (at least, via crime novel)? 
AM: I think if I’d written these books in the 80s or even 90s they would be a lot angrier and more bitter. You definitely need to get a perspective on people. I don’t say tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner but I do feel temporal and geographic distance helps a lot.
You can find copies of Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly on our shelves and via bookpeople.com