Friday, 30 May 2008

The Friday Project - Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Declan Burke, thon ragamuffin from CAP has been spreading the word about this project, spear-headed by Patti Abbot. Seems like a just cause. So, feast your eyes on this week's offering.

Ian McDonald is an award winning science fiction writer who's lived in Northern Ireland since childhood. But in Sacrifice of Fools he has created a unique blend of crime and science fiction. Sacrifice of Fools follows an ex-convict who became an expert in the alien Shian culture while serving time in The Maze, a Northern Irish prison. His expertise makes him a trusted figure among the Shian community of Northern Ireland and he gets caught up in an investigation when a prominent Shian family is brutally murdered.

I'm a fan of most genres in fiction, so for me, this was a gripping read. But really, the Shian aliens could be taken as a metaphor for any ethnic minority in any country. However, setting the novel in Northern Ireland, an already divided society, adds a whole new dimension. So don't be running away from it just because you hate Star Trek!

What struck me about the book, published in 1996 (pre-Good Friday Agreement) but set a few years in the future, was how often McDonald's predictions were on the money. Example, one of the supporting characters is a female catholic cop in the newly formed Northern Ireland Police Service. He nailed the concept of the reformed force and even the civilian attitudes towards it. But in our world, the RUC realised that the acronym NIPS wasn't the best, so we've got the PSNI now. Still, McDonald was pretty damn close.

Sacrifice of Fools was way ahead of its time and is still highly relevant. A lot can be learned about Northern Ireland through this story. Or it can just be enjoyed as a great crime story with a science fiction twist.

You know, just thinking about it, I'd like to read it again.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Dubray Books Event

If you're out and about in Dublin, and anywhere near Dubray Books, on 13th June, this'll be well worth attending -- Aifric Campbell's set to appear:

Book Club Lunch - Anne Enright & Joseph O'Connor
Royal St. George Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire. 13th June 2008

Join us for the third of our Book Club lunches, an incredible opportunity to meet writers, not in the usual setting of a signing or a reading, but over a relaxed, enjoyable meal. Following in the footsteps of Marina Lewycka, Sebastian Barry and Colm Toibin, our guest speakers this time will be Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright (the Gathering) and Joseph O'Connor (Star Of The Sea, Redemption Falls). We hope to have a guest author at every table - so far we have confirmed Claudia Carroll (I Never Fancied Him Anyway), Monica McInerney (Those Faraday Girls), Sarah Webb (When The Boys Are Away), Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor) and new author Aifric Campbell. Watch this space for further updates.

Places at this event are limited, and the previous two have sold out well in advance. Full details of price and time will follow shortly but in the meantime, contact Susan at (01) 276 0059 to book a spot on the list or for any other enquiries relating to the Book Club lunch.


The lunch is now fully booked. We are running a waiting list in case any tickets become free - to be placed on the waiting list, please contact Susan at the above number.

Go on, put your name down.

Monday, 26 May 2008

An Interview - Aifric Campbell

Aifric Campbell is the author of “The Semantics of Murder”, a novel inspired by an unsolved murder in Los Angeles in 1971 and which has been widely reviewed in the Irish press. Please visit

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

A novel I never expected to write! It’s a ghostly tale of unresolved loss partly inspired by the story of a bunch of Canadian soldiers who lived in my house during WW2 and were killed at Dieppe. Last year I was 50,000 words into another book when this new voice just appeared and was so distracting that eventually I had to sit down and write the story to get it out of my head. This has never happened to me before – I am normally highly structured - so I knew there were only two possibilities: either I was losing my mind or this would be a good book. Let’s hope it’s the latter! I’ll soon find out because the first draft is nearly finished.

In August, I’ll be returning to the abandoned novel which is set in the global financial markets in the 1980s when greed was good. A sort of female version of “Bonfire of the Vanities” but set in London and Hong Kong. This is partly autobiographical as I used to be an investment banker.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Aifric Campbell’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

Up by 6am – it’s a hangover from my time working the markets and anyway I’m a lousy sleeper. If I’m not lecturing I prefer to write in the morning and edit in the afternoon. Anything I write after 8pm is usually garbage. I take my son to school & walk the dogs (one arthritic lab and one crazy puppy) out on Ashdown Forest which is now the biggest public space in the South East of England (but think heathland rather than trees). At the moment the dogs are helping me with research so we wander around bomb craters and war memorials and spent a fair amount of time in a graveyard close by. I work on a Mac and back up obsessively onto flash ever since I had my previous one stolen in Spain last year. I always edit on the page. Sometimes I work in the London Library or the British Library. I love working on trains – in the carriages where mobiles are not allowed. Now and again – especially when I’m at the beginning or close to the end of a novel, I go to West Cork for 24/7 writing benders: no phone, no email, no TV and no humans. Just walk the beaches and write.

And I read. I have long reading lists (in fact I have all sorts of lists…

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Think about writing. Feel guilty that I’m not writing… I get pretty cranky if I’m not writing for more than a few days. So it’s better for everyone if I never stop for very long. Thus the notebook comes on hols. I read a lot. Watch my son play football – a LOT. I love movies and get to the theatre as much as I can. We lived in London for a long time so the countryside here can feel very isolating in winter. I lecture most terms. I go to body combat classes which my son finds highly amusing because I don’t actually hit anyone. See friends. Talk (a lot). Drink (probably a lot). Avoid housework…

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

The same as for the writer of any kind of fiction: Always be reading. Always be writing. Don’t give up the day job! Getting published is often a very long haul. Writers don’t often speak about how much and how long they’ve written for before they got their first deal. “The Semantics of Murder” was the 3rd novel I’d written but the first to get published. I can see now that it was also by the far the best of the 3! I think you have to be prepared to cut your teeth like that, work hard and be strong in the face of rejection. When I first came to London in the 80s I applied for 40 different jobs and got called to only 2 interviews. So I learnt how to be bloody minded – you have to believe in yourself when no one else does. Become a good and dispassionate editor of your own work. Learn to CUT. Most books are far too long. Target your publisher or agent carefully. Find out who or what is on their lists.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Benjamin Black (I am a big fan of Banville and enjoyed this new departure), Fred Vargas, Tana French and I am about to start Borderlands.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Excluding military research for my novel, the following mixture is pretty typical: Per Petterson “Out Stealing Horses” Helen Schulman “A Day at the Beach” Steg Larsson (I lived in Sweden for some years) Just about to start Kevin Myers “Watching the Door”. Just finished Joshua Ferris “When We Came to the End” – nice to read a book that makes you laugh for a change! I keep 2 poetry books by my bed - TS Eliot and Dante’s Divine Comedy that I sometimes read late at night.

Q7. Plans for the future?

More lists! Finish the ghost book. Start book 3. Learn the rules of rugby. Teach the puppy to stop chasing deer. Overcome my fear of deep water.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

No. It worked for me.

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

I’ll bow out and say thanks now. After all, you have to type this in!

Thank you, Aifric Campbell!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Finking About Fings On Friday -- The Banjo

Maybe not entirely crime fiction related, but food for thought.

The Banjo

Last Christmas my mum and dad’s shop on the Falls Road was burgled. A couple of hoods broke in through the backyard, smashed the security light without setting off the infrared sensors, broke through a reinforced door, disabled the alarm system before it went off and stole a safe that was bolted to a wall. They also rooted through some of the presents my mum had stashed there; my younger siblings, though teenagers now, still rummage about the house to find out what they’re getting. God bless their cotton socks. Among the gifts were a five-string banjo for my little brother, Mark, and a laptop for my wee sister, Tanya. I mean, wrangling a laptop for Crimbo! Even if they are cheap as chips these days, that’s some impressive hint dropping.

Anyway, the banjo was cast aside, stripped of its wrapping paper. The laptop? They didn’t find it. So, although my dad lost some cash and his own battered and out-of-date laptop, my kid brother and sister’s presents were left behind, as were the other gifts bought for my sister Lisa, due home from Australia for the week, and some odds and ends bought for me, my missus and my two kids. It added up, you know?

On Christmas day I was chatting to my dad.

“So they were smart enough to bypass a decent security system, but they gave up checking the presents after unwrapping the banjo? Surely they must have the wit to know the wee rectangular boxes have the good stuff in them? Laptops, dvd players, consoles...?” I shrugged.

My dad shook his head and sighed. “They’re not smart at all, Gerard. They’re stupid wee f**ckers with the instincts of rats. Chances are it was some thirty-year-old hood with a teenage apprentice who’s picking up the trade for a tiny cut. They probably did five or six shops in one night, not casing the place or anything, just blundering their way through with a wee bit of experience behind them.”

“But they only lifted a few quid. All that effort for so little money?” And here I let a little naivety slip. “Sure, it’d be easier to get a part-time job.”

“Aye, right.” My da laughed. “But, here. Can you imagine the look on their faces when they opened that banjo? ‘Here, Smickers. What the f**k’s this?’ And our Mark’ll never forget it. The Christmas we bought him a present the hoods wouldn’t even steal.”

And that was okay, because he was the first one to laugh about it.

Northern Irish humour. You can’t beat it.

Gerard Brennan, May 2008

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

More on Ian Sansom

Those enlightened individuals out there who check this blog every day for updates and are only disappointed an average of two days a week to find I haven't written anything (usually at the weekend when you really should be doing something else anyway) will know that I posted an interview with Ian Sansom yesterday. Those of you who don't, but have the gumption to scroll down and check this statement for accuracy will not be disappointed as the interview is right there and a jolly good read. And those of you who have noticed that I'm writing in uncharacteristically long sentences are truly astute and wonderful individuals. I blame the temporary fluctuation in writing style on the highly humorous and entertaining preface to Ian Sansom's website which I read on my Boots £2.99 lunch break today. Waste no more time trying to figure out if I've adequately placed commas in this clumsy paragraph* and have a wee read of said preface now!

*This is not to suggest that the paragraphs used in Ian Sansom's preface are clumsy in the slightest, merely that I have not mastered his preface-writing style, nor do I intend to in the future.

Monday, 19 May 2008

An Interview - Ian Sansom

Ian Sansom is the author of the Mobile Library series of mystery novels. He is also the man behind The Enthusiast Field Guide to Poetry and The Enthusiast Almanack. His other books include Ring Road and The Truth About Babies.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I am replying to your questionnaire!

But this evening I shall be attempting to finish no. 4 in my Mobile Library series of books. It’s quite good.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Ian Sansom’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

Ah, the lure of the typical. The average. There is no such thing. Except in mathematics. Every day is different.

Like most writers I have to supplement my income with various sub-writerly and non-writerly activities, so the actual writing of actual books tends to take place very early in the mornings or very late at night.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Work; read; sleep; worry.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

My advice to anyone trying to write anything: read.

And, of course, don’t give up.

And do your best.

And I would recommend that everyone read Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Fifty years after everyone else I have finally caught up with Ross MacDonald. He’s rather good. And I like what Brian McGilloway is doing in his new series.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I am reading: W.H. Auden, The Complete Works, Volume III, Prose 1949-1955; Gordon Burn, Born Yesterday; Brock Clarke, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England; Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy; Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature; Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle; and Kurt Vonnegut, Armageddon In Retrospect.

Q7. Plans for the future?

I am planning to keep on trying. And doing my best. And reading.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

Yes. I would be born Philip Roth.

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

Yes. I would like to ask, what makes a human life a good one or confers value upon it?

And I would ask others, and myself, really, why do you want to write?

I believe the answer to this question would help solve a lot of problems.

Thank you, Ian Sansom!

Friday, 16 May 2008

The Friday Project - Have Ye No Homes To Go To? by Neville Thompson

Declan Burke, thon ragamuffin from CAP has been spreading the word about this project, spear-headed by Patti Abbot. Seems like a just cause I suppose. Not much time left to squeeze the post in to what's left of Friday though. Short sharp sentences from now on.

Read this book -- Have Ye No Homes To Go To? by Neville Thompson. Picked it up in Dublin Train Station. Was on my way home from A Pogues gig (one of the final ones) and in the mood for more Dub stuff. This was dirty Dub to the core. Fast-paced multi POV book. Great humour and style. Great company on a bus, pre-decent-motorway.

Will be less rushed next Friday.

Peter Rozovsky - Check These Out

Pete from Detectives Beyond Borders asked me to recommend a few titles that he'll be able to pick up when he takes a holiday here in the near future. So, in no particular order, some recommendations that aren't available in the states just yet.

The Lost Chord - Tony Bailie

Woundlicker - Jason Johnson

Orpheus Rising - Colin Bateman

Bloodstorm - Sam Millar

Yours Confidentially - Garbhán Downey

The Semantics of Murder - Aifric Campbell

I'll leave it at that. Don't want the man to go over his baggage allowance.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Stuart Neville's Big Break

Josephine Damian left an enthusiastic and ecstatic comment in my previous post. Since it relates to breaking news, and she puts it all so eloquently, I've decided to post it all in her words. To you, Josephine.

Gerard: It's official!

Stuart Neville, (pictured above) my Prince of Darkness, and the writer formerly known as "Conduit," has landed an agent - and not just any agent - but literary powerhouse and legend, Nat Sobel.

His agency, Sobel Weber Associates, New York, represents a few scribes you might have heard of: James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, American Tabloid), Joseph Wambaugh (The Choirboys, The Onion Field, Hollywood Station), Pulitzer winner Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs), F.X. Toole (Rope Burns - adapted for the screen as the multi Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby - and Pound for Pound), Robert Jordan (the Wheel of Time series), Tim Dorsey (the Serge Storms series), and many more.

Oh, Nat also loves him some cats. My kind of guy.

And how did Stuart get on the Uber agent’s radar? I’m going to steal a bit of Stuart’s thunder and reveal to my blog peeps that Mr. Sobel scouted him on the Internet. That’s right – a big name agent was scouring the online crime magazines and plucked our man from obscurity. (of course I’ve been singing Stuart’s praises loud and clear since last fall when I first read his work in Agent Nathan’s Bransford’s writing contest). To those of you that don’t believe agents are poking around the world wide web looking for The Next Big Thing – here’s your proof. Here. Is. Your. Proof.

So do stop by and give a big shout out to the literary world’s best and brightest rising star!

*shake my booty*

Having already read Stuarts’s manuscript (it already holds the distinction of being only one of four books I liked well enough to finish this year) GHOSTS OF BELFAST, I can tell you it’s nothing by clover ahead for this blessed son of Northern Ireland.

So there you have it folks. More talent from these six counties. I guess we'll be hearing more from this Neville character, eh?

Thanks for the tip, Josephine, and best of luck in your career, Stuart Neville!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A Wee Review - Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty

What does that merry aul codger Frank McCourt have to say about Adrian McKinty’s work? “His prose is so hard, so tough, so New York-honest, you’ll find yourself taking a knife to your work. He is a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyon - the toughest, the best. Beware of McKinty.”

Not a bad recommendation, eh? Well, if my opinion means anything to you, I think McKinty is a hard-hitting writer with a serious attitude problem. But he’s not just dealing out a violent gangster tale with Dead I Well May Be. This novel oozes elegant prose and poetic internal dialogue.

Michael Forsythe takes the narrative helm in Dead I Well May Be. The story is set in the early nineteen-nineties and Forsythe is a young man approaching twenty, feeling the pinch of unemployment in his native Belfast. Although he’s not keen on it, he goes to New York to seek employment through a contact with Irish Mob boss, Darkey White. He soon rises through the ranks, proving himself time and again as the most competent and ballsy member of his crew. But he makes one fatal error and Darkey shows no mercy.

The first thing to strike me while reading Dead I Well May Be was the ease with which McKinty introduces us to Harlem. In just a few pages he builds a real world of sights, smells and sounds. I was right there in the middle of the humidity, clamour and squalor. Any writer could learn a lot from those pages of prose. In fact, every writer should. From then on, I was hooked into this book and couldn’t wait to get to the end, just to write a glowing review. From Harlem to Mexico to Belfast, the descriptive prose invigorates this novel.

One of McKinty’s greatest strengths is his ruthlessness. He seems to hate his protagonist, placing him time and again in impossible situations and never letting him escape unscathed. But the beauty of it is, with each trial and tribulation, the reader’s respect for young Michael goes up a notch. Seriously, if I had the chance to shake this man’s hand... well, I’d pass. Just in case I insulted him in some way and ended up on his bad side. But I’d give him a nod of admiration before turning on my heels and putting a lot of distance between us.

There aren’t really any weaknesses in Dead I Well May Be, in my opinion. The decision to ignore the concept of speech marks caused me to stumble over a sentence or two, which had the annoying effect of pulling me out of the story. But other than that, we have a huge story that is poignant and exciting. Dead I Well May Be is as brutal and unforgiving as a Belfast Six-pack but it’s told with literary eloquence and style. Is it any wonder I picked up The Bloomsday Dead minutes after putting down this one?


And while you do that, I’m going to email a few people and see if we can get it on a few Northern Irish bookshelves. You never know, somebody might take note.

Monday, 12 May 2008

an Interview - Mehmet Murat Somer

Mehmet Murat Somer, born in Ankara in 1959, feeling 27, loves to spend time in Rio de Janeiro. My book The Prophet Murders is published in the UK on the 6th May. It is the first of the “Hop-Çiki-Yaya” series of thrillers. They have been best-sellers in Turkey. Six volumes published until now.

‘M M Somer’s novels are hysterically funny and get better each time’

Time Out, Istanbul

My other published novels are “Holding” and “Catwalk” from the “Champagne Trilogy”.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m writing the next in the “Hop-Çiki-Yaya” series.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Mehmet Murat Somer’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

I sleep less than most people. Ever since I was a child five hours is more than enough for me. My Mother always complained. I was probably a dreadful baby with this habit. Sleeping less means more time to spend doing other things. I start my day very early with black coffee and few cigarettes, checking mail, surfing the net... If the weather is good I go for a walk. Then.... either write, watch films or play cards with friends. A nice dinner with friends is always appreciated. Don’t like night life, but adore opera and classical music concerts. And occasionally some cruising adds some spice. To tell you the truth I don’t write my novels everyday. I wait till they are completely planned in my mind, scheduled, sequenced, chaptered, etc... Then I start typing, which does not take very long.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Well I have retired from my executive training consultancy business. I used to do group training on management issues and personal development for years. I prepared hundreds of pages of course and seminar notes. Occasionally someone pops up who I can’t say no to, and I do the consultancy or seminar for a day or two.

I love travelling! There many different paradises on our old earth... Mine is Rio de Janeiro. I believe the perception of our paradise changes with time, age, needs, expectations. I want to explore more, taste different pleasures, enjoy different places and people. My “to visit” list is huge!

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

Try to put joy in it! I personally seek joy in whatever I read or watch. I believe it is the essence of our lives. And naturally try and solve everything with perceptive logic so the plot hangs together well.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Shame on me, I haven’t read much crime this year! But still have 8 months ahead. I liked Jason Goodwin, although I think his writing of Turkish / Ottoman life is very orientalist. I also finished an Ingrid Noll, one of my favourites, recently translated into Turkish. I adored it all over again! She is kind of a crime-Balzac. Same characters appearing in the different books. Painting a complete panoramic picture of certain time and life.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Ms.Ayşe Kulin’s “Veda (Farewell)” is on my bedside table, waiting to be finished. I adore her novels. As Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk aims more the intellect and thoughts on the cool side, Ayşe Kulin fires directly at my heart with deep down feelings in her page-turners.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Rio de Janeiro sometime soon, one trip to Sardinia, then Helsinki for white nights, Dalmatia for sea, sex and sun, Warsaw for book launch....

Writing? I will finish the third and the last book of “Champagne Trilogy”, the “Backstage”. Also on my desk is a new “Hop-Ciki-Yaya” thriller. Possibly for this autumn.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I would have posed naked before I gained weight! No, only joking... I am very content with my career...

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

An enormous part of my international publishing is the efforts of my agent, also my best friend, Mr.Barbaros Altuğ. I have to thank him at every occasion!

And my motto in life is: “Stay joyful... and read my books!”

Thank you, Mehmet Murat Somer!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Connolly and Hughes

Last night me and the missus attended John Connolly and Declan Hughes's reading and book signing at No Alibis Bookshop on Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Easily one of the most entertaining writers' event I've been to this year. Decade, even.

They arrived fashionably late, naturally, and addressed a packed audience. About seventy people in all, one of them Mister (Colin) Bateman himself! As usual, Dave Torrans made every effort to make everybody feel comfortable, topping up free drinks and generally being a friendly and warm host. and then the double act started.

Declan Hughes was the first up, reading from The Dying Breed and then The Wrong Kind of Blood. The latter was for the benefit of Dave Torrans who wanted to hear a scene with uber-badguy Podge Halligan up to no good. Mister Hughes's in-depth experience in theatre really shone through here. He didn't read. He performed. Each character had a distinct voice and cadence. Michelle, my wife, came with me to keep me company and snag a free glass of wine. She left a Huges fan.
(Photo from previous No Alibis event Connolly left, Hughes right)

Next up, Mister Connolly. He basically did a fifteen minute stand-up routine. Seriously. No, I'm being serious. He was dead funny. Huge belly laughs from the audience as his crime-based spiel filled the room with spades of energy and charm. Then he read from his current manuscript. A piece from the as yet unfinished Charlie Parker novel, The Lovers. Again, my wife was converted to the crime side. We'll be fighting over who gets to read the next releases first, I'd say.

Then came the Q&A. Most signings I've been to stop here. People in the audience clam up, and ask their questions individually during the signing. But Connolly and Hughes warmed the audience up by grilling each other before inviting questions from the audience. And so, they spent another hour answering to excited fans. Very interesting stuff, too. Gleaned more than a nugget or two on writing that will give me plenty of food for thought.

The usual melee ensued as the signing began. Luckily, me and Michelle were sitting close to the front. We managed to get to Declan Hughes first, then do the old sidestep into the Connolly queue. Both writers were absolute gents, dedicating the books to me and Michelle (yes she's now a convert, but a book each would have been downright extravagant) and Mister Hughes thanked me for my review of The Wrong Kind of Blood. That just made my night! He blooming well knew who I was. You see, a true gentleman.

I was too stunned by this to attempt a real good chat with Mister Connolly, but he charmed us easily without much prompting while signing a lovely hardback edition of The Reapers. In fact, every single fan got a good few minutes of quality time with both writers as far as I could see, and I'm sure each one of them left with a smile on their face. Mine was biggest, though.

Then me and Michelle skedaddled back to Dundrum, stopping at a Chinese restaurant to chat about the night and finish it off on a super-high note.

Brilliant! Hope they do it again next year.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Finking About Fings On Friday

Been an excellent reading week for Gerard “Bookworm” Brennan (a wee nickname I’m trying out – dashing, eh?) as I’ll now explain.

I’m taking a half day at the aul dayjob so I can swoop home, pick up the missus and make my way to No Alibis for the Connolly-Hughes event. But in a rare moment of peace, I’m contemplating the Norn Iron crime fiction scene and how little attention it gets. No taking away from the hugely accomplished and talented Dublin boys, but they sure are whipping up a media frenzy round here. Well, I recycled the post the other day, but for a one man show, that’s a frenzy, okay?

Anyway, at the minute I’m reading Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty. And I’m loving it. What bugs me is I tried to buy it from four or five high street bookshops in Belfast, Newry and Lisburn cities and came back empty handed each time. In the end I snagged a copy at the Belfast Central Library’s Irish and Ulster Studies Department. I’m sure I’d have gotten it from No Alibis, but the last time I was there, Dave Torrans was overrun by a bunch of unruly Glen Patterson fans and I didn’t want to add to his stress by asking him to shift a display of Patterson’s recently released work. I might have to today though. The book’s a blinder!

I’m closing in on the denouement at a nice pace, and I have The Bloomsday Dead (courtesy of Serpent’s Tail) waiting to be read after this one. Expect some McKinty reviews soon. I don’t want to be straying from my point.

So listen, right? WHY AREN’T WE PROMOTING THE HUGE TALENTS FROM THIS PROVINCE?! Well, I am, and so’s Verbal Magazine and a good number of starving stalwarts such as Declan Burke and Critical Mick (and they live south of the border too); but come on the high street. Make it a bit easier for us scamps out buying books on our criminally short lunchbreaks. Same thing happened a few years ago when I was set to meet SF superstar Ian McDonald. Couldn’t get a hold of one of his books for love nor money so I don’t think it’s because McKinty fecked off to live in another country.

Who do I see about this?

Oh, and just so I’m not ending this on a ranty note, Declan Burke’s book, The Big O, thumped the doormat this week too. I had a peek at the first couple of chapterettes, and unfortunately it looks like the CAP GV isn’t going to be held up to ridicule here. Of course, he might drop the ball in later chapters... we’ll see.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

No Alibis Event -- Connolly and Hughes

Don't forget!

John Connolly & Declan HughesFriday 9th May at 6:30PM

No Alibis Bookstore are very happy to invite you to an evening with two of Ireland's finest crime writers, John Connolly and Declan Hughes, to celebrate the launch of their new novels, on Friday 9th May at 6:30PM.

Join us as we host the launch of John Connolly's latest Charlie "Bird" Parker novel, THE REAPERS and Declan Hughes' latest Ed Loy novel, THE DYING BREED.


They are the Reapers, the elite among killers. Men so terrifying that their names are mentioned only in whispers. The assassin Louis is one of them. But now Louis, and his partner, Angel, are themselves targets. And there is no shortage of suspects. A wealthy recluse sends them north to a town that no longer exists on a map. A town ruled by a man with very personal reasons for wanting Louis's blood spilt. There they find themselves trapped, isolated, and at the mercy of a killer feared above all others: the assassin of assassins, Bliss. Thanks to former detective Charlie Parker, help is on its way. But can Angel and Louis stay alive long enough for it to reach them?


Even the best private eye needs more than a name to find a missing person, but that's all that Father Vincent Tyrrell, the brother of prominent racehorse trainer FX Tyrrell, will offer Loy when he comes to him for help. A dwindling bank account convinces Loy to delve into the deadly underworld of horse racing, but fortune soon smiles on him: while working another case, he discovers a phone number linked to FX on a badly beaten body left at an illegal dump. Loy's been around long enough to know that there's more to the Tyrrell family than meets the eye -- and then a third body appears. At Christmastime, on the eve of one of Ireland's most anticipated racing events, the intrepid investigator bets his life on a longshot: finding answers in a shady network of trading and dealing, gambling and breeding.

This event is likely to be popular, with spaces filling up fast. To guarantee a spot, please contact David, by phoning 9031 9607 or by dropping him an email to reserve your place.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A Wee Review - Past-Mortem by Ben Elton

Mike Stone is back with another review. Seemed only right that he, an Englishman should review the first Brit crime novel. Take it away, Mike!

In Past-Mortem Ben Elton addresses the subject of bullying. Why some people are natural-born bullies while others are natural targets, lurching from one crisis to another. The book kicks off when a hulking brute of a builder is found dead in his own bedroom, stabbed to death. Except the puncture wounds are too insubstantial to have caused internal damage. So how did the victim die? The murder weapon was coated with a rare frog poison that stops blood from coagulating, that’s how. The victim took hours to bleed to death, while being stabbed constantly in the torso, limbs, eyes and genitals.

D.I. Newton knows this was not a one-off grudge killing. It’s just too neat. Days later a Tory MP is found dead in her bath; her body bleached bone-white, her hair dyed red, and her back broken. Newton is sure the two murders are linked, but what connects a builder with a high-flying MP? He needs to find out soon before the bodies pile up and he’s taken off the case.

Meanwhile he’s suffering the pangs of unrequited love, the object of his desires being his sergeant, Natasha. She’s blonde, attractive, sassy, and out of his league. So our hero takes solace in surfing the networking website, Friends Reunited. And it’s there he discovers not only a possible link between the murder victims, but realises he may also know the killer . . .

The fun in the early stages of this novel lies in the details of the grisly murders, trying to work out, for example, why a former Page Three model has her mouth cut up and horrifically stitched before being tied to a chair surrounded by mirrors. Why does the killer go to such lengths to make sure she starves to death with only her disfigured reflections for company? There are nothing as crass as guns or knives, or even enormous dildos (thank you, Mark Billingham), with or without razor blades embedded in them (and thank you, Val McDermid). The murders in Past-Mortem are the most creative since Vincent Price donned his Dr Phibes get-up.

In Newton we have someone we can immediately identify with, a testosterone soaked guy who can’t figure why the object of his desires should want to go home every evening to a gormless layabout named Lance. It’s Elton’s strongest suit: showing the pull of the id and the super-ego, or to put it bluntly, showing how our dicks can sometimes rule our heads. Some writers don’t allow their protagonists to deviate from what the reader comes to expect, and so we end up with someone slightly superficial, someone too good (or bad) to be true. Elton really digs exploring the duality of the human mind.

And yet sometimes his peripheral characters are stereotypes. The Tory MP is a snobby, middle-class bitch, out to screw everybody in her rise to a top government post. Natasha’s bullying boyfriend is a sexist, leather-clad biker who talks like a ficko, know wot I mean, like? And then there’s the Irish Catholic woman who prays for the death of English soldiers, whose husband goes on IRA fund-raising trips to Boston. It’s not that these people don’t exist in real-life, it’s just that they stick out as caricatures in a book where the central characters are so complex.

The subject of bullying and its long-lasting impact on lives is an emotional one, and although the author doesn’t pull his punches, he navigates his course with deftness and humanity, revealing more than a few uncomfortable truths along the way. Because Ben Elton, the writer of acclaimed TV comedies, writer of right-on ecocentric and mediacentric novels, the writer of stage plays and musicals, also writes a cracking whodunit.

I highly recommend Past-Mortem.

Michael Stone

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.

Read more about Michael and his fiction here.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Verbal Magazine - Articles of Note

Verbal Magazine is a top quality publication. So I'm delighted that they've published an article by yours truly.

Also in this issue, a short and snappy interview with CSNI regular Sam Millar (temporary problem with link) and an extended interview with the annoyingly, young, successful and smoking hot Lucy Caldwell.

Stop by, and tell 'em who sent ye!