Friday 29 August 2008

Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty -- Sample Chapter!!!

I'm not sure how it slipped under my radar, but Adrian McKinty has posted the opening chapter of his soon-to-be released novel, FIFTY GRAND. Seems it's been there since the 14th of July, but I thought it newsworthy nonetheless. I've read it, and I'm hooked.

In a recent interview with Declan Burke, McKinty had this to say about FIFTY GRAND:

"FIFTY GRAND came about from an eye-opening visit to Cuba. I went there primarily to see some literary sights connected with Ernest Hemingway, Jose Marti and Garcia Lorca but I very quickly got sucked into the landscape and culture. The place really gets into your blood and I found that I couldn’t shake it, so I went back for a longer deeper visit. All island peoples are unique in their own way and coming from Ireland - which has a big neighbour right next door too - I think I appreciated Cuba’s problems without excusing the current regime who seemed to have screwed up the country in a spectacular way.

Once I had the context and the geography, the story just flowed from there. I live in the mountains of Colorado so I thought it might be fun to take a Cuban cop and throw him way out of [his element] ten thousand feet up in the snow."

Tell me that doesn't soud good. I dare you.

Thursday 28 August 2008

A Wee Review - The Delegates' Choice by Ian Sansom

The Delegates’ Choice is the third of Ian Sansom’s wonderful Mobile Library Series, set in the fictional town of Tumdrum, Northern Ireland. It was recently re-released as The Book Stops Here and given a funky new cover. Sansom fans may have noticed that have marketed The Book Stops Here as part four of the series. They’ve even got an offer in which you can buy it and The Delegates’ Choice together at a reduced price. This is a mistake. Buy one or the other, but not both.

Whatever the title, the third of The Mobile Series is another fine example of Sansom’s wit and incredible writing ability. These novels just get better and better.

It’s been six months since Israel Armstrong arrived in Northern Ireland to take up the post of Tumdrum’s mobile librarian. And now he’s going home! Linda Wei, Israel’s boss, has nominated him and the mobile library driver, Ted Carson, to attend the Mobile Library Meet in London, where they can take part in conferences and network with colleagues. But more importantly, they’ve finally enough in the budget to see about a new mobile library. Israel is, of course, over the moon at the prospect. Ted... has reservations about the whole idea. Namely, he doesn’t like the English, and he doesn’t think they need to upgrade the old Bedford library. A lick of paint, a new clutch, some brake pads, an engine overhaul and a wee bit of a clean, and she’s as good as new. But Israel won’t miss this opportunity, so he strikes a deal with Ted, involving a £1000 bet, and they’re off on their next adventure. England bound! The stuff of Israel’s dreams. But the dream doesn’t last. For one, the mobile library gets nicked within twenty-four hours of their arrival.

And so, it’s a new job for Israel and Ted, our amateur detective duo.

The relationship between the crime-solving pair seems to reach a new level in this instalment of the series. In The Case of the Missing Books and Mr Dixon Disappears, Israel spends a lot of time on his own. However, due to the travel arrangements, first to England, then up and down the country, Israel and Ted spend most of the book joined at the hip. And this situation lends ample opportunity to some of the snappiest dialogue they’ve exchanged to date. I love how Sansom gives each character a chance to mount the soapbox and browbeat the other. From lessons on political correctness from Israel to lectures on plain common sense from Ted, I could read about these two getting on each other’s nerves for another three books. So hurry up and get book four on the shelf, Mr Sansom!

And it’s not just the humour that hooked me in. Israel, as usual, is forlorn. But he seems to have a little more reason to complain than usual. Life is moving on. Or he is. Either way, I can identify with a lot of what the twenty-nine-year-old is going through. He’s gotten to a stage in his life where he needs to take a good look and see what’s working and what isn’t. Naturally, Gloria, the girlfriend he hasn’t seen for six months, is long overdue a visit.

At times, I found myself rooting for our librarian/detective. At others, I’d to refrain from screaming at the pages. It’s a frustrating thing to witness, but ultimately rewarding, as by the denouement, Israel has advanced a few steps in sorting out his life. And yet, he still has a fair way to go.

As I suspected, The Delegates’ Choice (and The Book Stops Here) is an engaging, hilarious, fun-filled read, and I’m willing to bet Ian Sansom will only get better. In writer-years, he’s barely a pup, but already a master of his craft. Having read three Sansom books at this point, I have to say, he’s proved himself a worthy alternative to Bateman. Is there room for two giants in the NI comedy crime fiction arena? There better be, because they both deserve to be recognised as the talented scribes that they are.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

What's In a Name?

So, what is in a name? Well, a bit of confusion, in the case of Ian Sansom's Mobile Library series. A dedicated error checker left an interesting comment at my Mr Dixon Disappears review. It concerned what Amazon were marketing as the fourth book in Sansom’s series starring Israel Armstrong, the librarian detective. In Mike’s words –

“Oh, by the way, for anyone thinking of ordering Ian Sansom's 'The Book Stops Here', just be aware that it is actually Mobile Library book 3 -- 'The Delegates' Choice' -- renamed.”

Nice catch, Mister Stone.

I double checked with the gentlemanly Mr Sansom himself and he has confirmed that it is indeed the same book. He has also informed his publisher, so it all worked out all right in the end.

We’re all about getting things done here at CSNI.

A Wee Review - Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi

“What do you know about art, Volk?”

The opening line of Volk’s Game by Brent Ghelfi, and a question that leads to much trouble for the cold, hard Russian gangster, Alexei Volkovoy (AKA Volk). Lee Child provides the front cover quote on the Faber & Faber paperback – “A hard, fast... excellent debut.” And frankly, I have no argument with that at all.

Volk’s chilling reputation as a veteran of the Chechen war and his current status in the Moscow crime underworld qualifies him for a risky art heist. Employed by the psychotic mafia kingpin, Maxim, and accompanied by his beautiful lover and guardian angel, Valya, Volk's already complex and close to impossible job goes pear-shaped, and then the real trouble begins.

This novel is chockfull of twists, turns and outright squiggles. Barely a page goes by without an injection of action. There’s a fair whack of suspense and the violence, though far from splatter and gore for the sake of it, is very hard-hitting. If you’re looking for some hard-boiled, tough guy fiction, Ghelfi provides it in spades. And there’s the added bonus that the tale is set in Russia. I’ve always had an interest in the place, though I’ve never had the opportunity to go see it for myself. However, this book won’t have you reaching for your passport, as the depiction is bleak, bleak, bleak, to say the least. But then, the world Volk inhabits is a far cry from the kind of places a law abiding citizen would be used to. And it’s nice to step out of the comfort zone and rely on the writer to paint a terrain the reader is unfamiliar with. Ghelfi has spent a lot of time in Russia, and this book is proof that he’s taken in every detail.

As a protagonist, Volk is of the risky, easy-to-hate mould. His past leads you to feel some sympathy for him, and Ghelfi masterfully gets you on the gangster’s side for a good portion of the book. But he does this, in my opinion, in order to heighten the impact when he whips the rug from under the reader. By the end of the novel I was conflicted in my opinion of Volk. The only thing I knew for certain, was that I wanted to learn more about him. So, I’ll be eagerly anticipating the follow-up, Volk’s Shadow.

The entire cast is made up of well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, right down to the bit players. The plot is tight and interesting, though not overly complex. The prose moves fast when it needs to, but takes the odd detour to paint some excellent visuals. Ghelfi can write. No question about it.

He’s not quite in Adrian McKinty’s league, but there are some very interesting parallels in both writers’ protagonists. Michael Forsythe, from McKinty’s Dead trilogy is also a tough gangster-type with ties to the military. And he’s getting by on a prosthetic foot. So too, Alexei Volkovoy. And both characters are experts in getting themselves into some seriously intense no-win situations and getting out by the skin of their teeth. For me, Forsythe has the edge due to his black Northern Irish humour, but Volk comes in at a close second.

So, if you’re a McKinty fan who’s read all he has to offer, I’d urge you to give Ghelfi a chance. Volk’s Game is a blistering read. A literary Molotov cocktail. The plot has more layers than a Babushka doll. You Moscow (must go) buy it... You get the picture, no?

Wednesday 20 August 2008

A Wee Review - Mr Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom

Mr Dixon Disappears continues where Ian Sansom’s The Case of the Missing Books leaves off. Israel Armstrong, the latest and not-so-greatest Northern Irish amateur detective, gets himself caught up in another case. The second of The Mobile Library series takes place once again in the small Antrim Coast town, Tumdrum, and all the ingredients that made the first instalment work so well are all present. And there’s an extra pinch of comedy in there, if I’m any judge.

When Mr Dixon, the man at the helm of the legendary Dixon and Pickering’s department store, disappears, Israel finds himself the chief suspect. Having arrived to the store early to set up his five-panel touring exhibition dedicated to the Dixon and Pickering legacy, he happens to be first on the scene when the store’s caretaker discovers that both Mr Dixon and £100,000 have gone missing. And because he’s rather clueless in the ways of thievery, he manages to get his fingerprints all over the safes that have been relieved of their cash. And so, despite the fact that Israel’s co-worker and almost-friend, Ted, insists that Israel couldn’t be trusted to go for a loaf of bread, Israel is lifted, bundled into a cell, interviewed by the police, suspended from his job and forced to investigate the case to prove his own innocence.

Again, Israel takes to amateur detection like a duck to rollerblades. No matter how many crime fiction novels he attempts to read he just can’t get into the right frame of mind. Perhaps it’s the lack of whiskey and dames? Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a mobile librarian? Or is it because he’s a young Jewish man from north London, lovelorn, misunderstood and hapless, who couldn’t be more out of his element? Whatever the reason, his hard-line questioning of suspects usually leads to a guilty admission of overdue books and little more. So, he has to swallow his pride and ask his co-worker, Ted, to help him out of bother again. Together, they are a crime solving dynamic duo... well, sort of.

I truly enjoyed this trek through fondly familiar territory. The first instalment of The Mobile Library series set the bar high, and Mr Dixon Disappears has pushed it up another notch. Sansom’s sometimes dithering and sometimes razor-sharp prose elegantly reflects Israel’s not-so-elegant personality. There’s a slightly harder edge to the “crime” the plot is based around. Part one seemed a little soft as the main drama revolved around a heap of missing books. In this one a person and a goodly amount of money vanishes into thin air. You can see how that might create a little more tension, can’t you?

My favourite part of the book? The thinly veiled Stephen Nolan character. I truly hope Sansom sent a copy of the book into the Nolan show. If not, I might be tempted to tip them off with an anonymous email. I’m sure the star of the biggest show in Ulster would take it in good humour. I did notice that he included the portly BBC Radio Ulster DJ in the book’s acknowledgements, so, you know, there’s an element of respect there. Ahem.

So, you’re looking for a fresh spin on Northern Irish comedy-crime fiction? You really need to check out The Mobile Library series. Mr Dixon Disappears is further proof; Ian Sansom is a comic genius!

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Old News, New News and a Wee Bit of Both!

First, some Link Love. A new site by the name of Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English has hit the webosphere running, and put me in mind of the recent K O Dahl novel I read; a dark, noir trip into Norwegian detective fiction. And when you're in the mood for Viking chills why not check out the sister blog, Scandinavian Crime Fiction?

Talking about bleak crime fiction, guess what's happening with Sam Millar? Bloodstorm's only gotten itself some excellent reviews on its US release (and check out the new cover above). Look:

Bloodstorm is the first in a powerful new crime series from Irish author Millar. Extremely original, it is a chillingly gripping book, and the consistently tough prose should help gain Millar more fans in the U.S. with a taste for the hard-boiled.

Publisher Weekly, USA

Irish crime writer, Sam Millar (The Redemption Factory) is back with a brand new anti-hero, Karl Kane…crime noir doesn’t get much darker or grittier than this shocking tale of corruption and revenge…

Booklist, USA

And not to be outdone, Brian McGilloway is blogging for the week at Moments in Crime in preparation for his own US release. Borderlands will be available in across the pond on 2nd September 2008. And here's what they're saying about him:

The pacing of the book never falters and McGilloway builds suspense gradually but inexorably... This is an excellent new procedural series, especially notable for its realistic and sensitive portrayal of life in modern Ireland. Essential for mystery collections.

Booklist Starred Review

McGilloway skillfully weaves Irish politics - from the shadow of the IRA in the North to the tensions between the travellers and the locals in the South - into his multilayered story. A keen observer, Devlin has just enough flaws to make him an empathetic hero. An assured debut.

Publishers Weekly

Exceptionally mature prose and a hero as charismatically volcanic in his own way as Louisiana's Dave Robicheaux.

Kirkus Reviews

This debut novel, which was shortlisted for the 2007 New Blood Dagger, will appeal to readers who like clean plotting and characters facing the complexities of modern life while still living the old ways.... [A] worthy addition to the growing body of police procedurals set in Ireland.

Library Journal

Of course, this would all have been much more impressive if that lousy so-and-so from Crime Always Pays wasn't the scooping devil that he is.

Monday 18 August 2008

An Interview - John Connolly

John Connolly was born in Dublin in 1968. He is no longer a ‘wunderkind’, if he ever really was, which saddens him greatly.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m working on the latest draft of THE LOVERS, which is the next Charlie Parker novel. It’s been a frustrating business because I managed to delete a large section of the book earlier in the year, which set me back somewhat as well as taking a little of the wind out of my sails. It’s always difficult to judge a book at this stage. Actually, I find it hard to judge most of my own work at any stage, but I like the fact that it’s different from the previous book, which was very straightforward and action-oriented. It strikes me sometimes that each book I write is a reaction to the one that preceded it.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering what to do next. I have about four ideas that I’d like to pursue, two of which would not be series novels, and one of which isn’t crime at all. It's always a little worrying, that moment. I live in fear of choosing a bad idea, then finding halfway that I've written myself into a dead end. But perhaps there are no bad ideas, just the bad execution of them.

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

If I did, I’d be lying. I never seem to have quite as much time as I would like, and I’m never sure of the quality of my ideas until I start turning them into books. I’m usually at my desk by nine or nine-thirty, and then I work until lunchtime. I take a break to go to the gym, or just to read in a coffee shop somewhere, and then I’ll do a little more in the evenings, depending upon where in a book I am. At the moment, as I’m rewriting, I tend to stick to working on one chapter each day, as I find I skim over stuff otherwise. So, for now, I work on THE LOVERS in the morning and, at the moment, I’m reading the paperback proofs for THE REAPERS in the afternoon and evening. That’s tedious work, but necessary. Little mistakes are made when the book is typeset anew, and it’s a final chance to correct any repetitions of words or small errors that might have made their way into the hardback. I’m always amazed when writers tell me that they don’t bother with reading the page proofs, either hardback or paperback. It seems like the dumbest thing in the world to imagine that mistakes might not have crept through.

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

I’m very dull. I read, I go to the gym, I watch TV, and I go to the movies. Then again, a lot of my year, when I’m not writing, is taken up with promotion, so when I’m home I tend to enjoy doing very mundane, but enjoyable, things. There’s a lot to be said for taking pleasure in simple pursuits.

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

I’ve never been one for giving advice, really. Each writer, whether published or hoping to publish, tends to be sui generis, and I’m distrustful of people who believe that other writers hold some kind of magic formula for success. I was in a taxi from Dublin Airport once, and made the mistake of telling the taxi driver what I did for a living. He told me that he was writing a book too, but was having trouble with some of the words.

“Where do you get all those words you use?” he asked me.

Um, er, well, when I’m stuck I use a dictionary.

I got a sneer from the driver’s seat. “Ah, a dictionary,” he said, in the tone of one who has just been told that the guy next to him had cheated on his exam.

In the absence of being able to assist people by selling them words on the black market, the only things I would say are that it’s necessary to persevere, as most writers suffer a lot of rejection before they’re published. Write what you’d want to read yourself, not what others are writing or what you think is popular at the moment. By the time you write it and submit it and, if you’re lucky, it’s published, that particular bandwagon will be long gone. Write a little every day, rather than imagining that you’re going to get half a book done over a weekend. And then rewrite. Then rewrite some more.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

Oh hell. Um, I haven’t read as much crimewriting as I used to over the past few years. I think I began to feel that a lot of it was repetitious, and I realised that there were all these other writers out there, both fiction and non-fiction writers, who were doing really interesting things. I liked Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, even if Chabon is too clever by half, and knows it. Then again, I’ve recently discovered Don Winslow, and I think he’s wonderful: The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of The Dog… His new book, The Dawn Patrol, is also superb. I never thought I’d say that about a book that featured surfers.

Daniel Silva is also another new discovery for me. Those Gabriel Allon books are real pageturners, although I’ve yet to encounter a nice Arab in them, which makes me a bit suspicious. I’ve always been a sucker for espionage novels. I got to give Robert Littell a jacket quote a year or two ago, which I was actually honoured to do. He’s the American le Carré, I think, and I hauled THE COMPANY around in hardback a few years ago and didn’t begrudge him even the slightest twinge that it caused my back.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

A book called Hellraisers, which is a fairly lighthearted look at the careers of Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole. The writing is a bit horrible, though, all faux-laddishness. I occasionally feel like I’ve accidentally picked up a copy of Nuts magazine. After that, I have some manuscripts and ARCs to read, for some of which I’ve been asked to give jacket quotes. There’s only so much of that you can do each year though. Apart from gaining a reputation as a quote whore, it becomes a bit like homework, and there are a lot of books for which I’ve paid my own money that I’d kind of like to read as well.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Uh, not dying. That apart, I’m anxious to write the non-crime novel (well, it has a little bit of crime in it, but it’s historical and will be a bit of a departure), but there will be a lot of research involved so there may be a more mainstream book after THE LOVERS before that one comes along.

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

I don’t think so. I haven’t ended up in a bad position, all things considered. Mind you, I remain the only author to have been rejected by the Richard & Judy Book Club on the grounds of bestiality. Apparently, they didn’t like it when Little Red Riding Hood went off with the wolf in THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. For a while, I used to wake up in the morning, then clutch my head and scream at the thought of what the selection might have done for that book, which I love dearly but didn’t have much luck at the time it was published. After a while, though, I started to wonder if I was the only person who didn’t think that the tale of Little Red Riding Hood was just about wolves dressed up as grannies. So, in retrospect, I wouldn’t even change that detail.
Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

You haven’t asked me if I’m well. I’ll start to think that you don’t care . . .

Thank you, John Connolly!

Saturday 16 August 2008

Book Shopping

I just can't be trusted in book shops. Especially No Alibis. I mean, looking at Mount TBR, the last thing I need is more books. All I intended to do was introduce a visiting chum to one of my favourite shops. I'd no intention of picking up anything, except that signed hardback of Adrian McKinty's Hidden River. Unfortunately, the assistant couldn't find it, so I should have left it at that. But no. I started browsing.

I got a signed hardback of Brian McGilloway's Gallows Lane, Carlo Gébler's A Good Day for a Dog and The Dust of Death by Paul Charles. And that was me showing restraint! I put back books by KT McCafferty, Ken Bruen, James Ellroy and many, many others.

Anyway, that's three more NI crime books that'll be reviewed in due course.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Crime Scene Yorkshire

Just a few weeks ago I read about David Peace on Adrian McKinty's blog. Peace, who grew up in Yorkshire in the seventies, has written four books based around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. McKinty's report on the Red Riding Hood Quartet was glowing to say the least. Example:

[1974] is fast, furious, exciting, tense, sexy, all that good stuff, but what sucked me in was the prose. Peace has an extraordinary command of the language. He’s clearly read everything, digested it, mulled it over. New authors can take three or four books to find their voice. Peace’s is there from page 1, line 1. And what a voice. Searing, visionary, funny, dry. English writers, especially crime writers further down the M1 don’t tend to be this earthy, this rough, this visceral.

Sounds good, right?

Well, thanks to the good folks at Serpent's Tail, the entire quartet thumped my doormat yesterday. Hopefully I'll be dipping my toe in soon to find out if this Peace chap is my cup of Tetley.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

A Wee Review - The Reapers by John Connolly

The generous and scholarly Tammy Moore, one of Verbal Magazine's reviewers and writers, has allowed us the pleasure of hosting one of her reviews. Take it away, Tammy...

In The Reapers John Connolly turns his focus from the troubled, and trouble-magnet, some-time PI Charlie Parker in order to follow the absorbing characters of Louis and Angel instead. It might seem like a risky move – six highly successful books with Charlie Parker as the protagonist suggest a formula to follow – but there’s a breadth and depth to the world that Connolly has created that makes you want to see what lies just around the corner. And just around the corner from Charlie Parker is Louis – his associate, his friend-of-sorts and his dark mirror image. A reflection that draws ever closer as Parker is forced further from the reassurance of his one-time role as a cop and Louis struggles to reconcile his burgeoning sense of decency (not exactly conscience, not Louis) with his essential nature. I’ve no doubt that many, if not all, of Connolly’s readers were delighted to learn more about the principled killer.

And The Reapers is Louis's book. There are no wrongs to right here or victims to be saved. Both sides of the conflict are just, both sides are grotesque. Years ago Louis murdered a man’s son and now the man wants revenge; years ago Louis put down a monster and now the monster’s equally monstrous parent seeks to destroy him. It’s Beowulf with designer suits and automatic weaponry.

It’s also a beautiful book. Not the cover, but inside. John Connolly is a man in love with language and it shows in his work. It’s not just that he has a knack for the beautiful, evocative turn of phrase, although it does, but the craft he puts into creating a moment and making it breathe. His descriptive prose is almost tactile, building lush mindscapes, and is a striking contrast to the wry noir tang of his dialogue.

The plot of the novel is quite straight-forward. Early on, we knew who the antagonist was, his nature if not his name, and why he wanted to bring Louis down. Once the antagonist made his first move it didn’t take long for Louis to find out that information too, but then it would have been contrived otherwise considering Louis past and the contacts he has. Besides, the mystery that we’re solving in the novel isn’t who wants Louis dead, but who Louis is: where he came from, what made him and who he is now. The addition of the scarred assassin Bliss to the hired killers sent to murder Louis, for example, is important not because of what he might do to Louis now, but because of what he was to him in the past.

That said about the plot, the few plot twists that do pepper the plot are all the more gripping for their rarity.

The Reapers is a vividly-realised, gripping book that I would highly recommend. New-comers to the series should, if possible, start at the beginning but The Reapers can function as a stand-alone novel too.

Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a Northern Irish based writer of Speculative Fiction. Her first book will be published by Morrigan Books in Sept 08 and, fingers crossed, her plans for literary world domination with go live in 2011. Visit her site -

Monday 11 August 2008

Colman's Roundup - Keepin' it Swift and Simple

Colman Keane, hard core bookworm, sent me a few thoughts on his reading for the month of July. I figured it couldn't hurt to share these brutally honest opinions with you fine folk.


CHESTER HIMES – A RAGE IN HARLEM………..yer man McKINTY is big on Himes and it was pretty good…….definitely one to read more of

CLARENCE COOPER JR – THE SYNDICATE……another black jailbird author like Himes……..also a dope fiend to boot…..not the best book I’ve ever read.

PINCKNEY BENEDICT – TOWN SMOKES……hillbilly, backwoods-Virginian short stories

JJ CONNOLLY – LAYER CAKE………..funny and violent tale of a drug dealer………still got the film with Daniel Craig to watch yet

ANDREW NUGENT – THE FOUR COURTS MURDER……..Irish monk author, quirky tale but he hasn’t got me gushing over it

DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI – SEVERANCE PACKAGE…….hot young crime writer from Philly……not his best book in my opinion

JOEL ROSE – KILL KILL FASTER FASTER……….down and dirty tale of a former felon

KEVIN SAMPSON – AWAYDAYS………tale of a Tranmere footie yob and his search for identity and meaning after his mum dies, absolutely knocked me out……..sad, thought provoking and absolutely hilarious……….my better half nearly booted me out of bed cos I was roaring!

Friday 8 August 2008

A Wee Review - Where They Were Missed by Lucy Caldwell

If you’re of the same school of thought as Declan Burke, who believes John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas can be classified as crime fiction, then Lucy Caldwell’s Where They Were Missed definitely deserves a place among the cream of the NI crime fiction crop. The first half of her debut novel is very reminiscent of John Boyne’s wonderful tale of a young boy by the name of Bruno. Like Bruno, Caldwell’s protagonist, seven-year-old Saoirse, views the world through the eyes of a child. Bruno, the son of a high-ranking German soldier, lives his life on the perimeter of a concentration camp, with no real understanding of what is going on there. Caldwell’s Saoirse is growing up in troubled East Belfast in the 1980s. We’re introduced to her at the height of marching season and all she’s really concerned about is the fact that she can’t play out in the street with the other kids, but is instead restricted to her back garden with only her younger sister as company. Like Bruno’s tale, there are hints of a less than happy family life filtered through a brain that doesn’t quite understand. And like Boyne, Caldwell displays masterful skill in relating to the reader as a seven-year-old.

Where They Were Missed tells us the story of Saoirse’s unhappy childhood; but for the most part, the protagonist doesn’t seem to realise that she’s living a pretty hard-knock life. Structured in two parts, we meet the seven-year-old and sixteen-year-old girl and get to know her inside-out through the first person POV Caldwell employs. The general theme revolves around secrecy. Saoirse is left in the dark about much of her mother’s history, and in a way her tale becomes something akin to an amateur detective story as she tries to untangle the web of half-truths and blind spots of her childhood and adolescence.

The version of the book I read included an interview with Lucy Caldwell. In it she clearly states that the story is in no way biographical. But I can see why readers could make the mistake of assuming it is. There is a palpable realness to the inner dialogue; as if this is a life lived by the writer. But Caldwell insists she experienced a happy childhood and that her mother and Saoirse’s bear no similarity to each other whatsoever. And thank goodness for that.

I love that the prose is infused with a subtle Belfast accent. Caldwell doesn’t go the whole hog as Irvine Welsh does in his work, but instead drops the odd word that gives the text a distinct hint of the North. One of my favourite examples is the use of the word “arenten” which is a common pronunciation of aren’t roundabout my neck of the woods. A lovely little detail.

So, yeah, Where They Were Missed is a tightly written mystery that yanks mercilessly on the heartstrings. Thank God I was raised to believe big boys don’t cry or I’d have been blubbing into my cuppa after reading the final paragraphs, making a holy show of myself in front of family and work colleagues. I’m definitely looking forward to more work from the honorary first lady of post-Troubles crime fiction. I hope she’s got more novels in mind, because that’s not the only form she writes in. She’s also a very successful playwright. And to fill the gap between When We Were Missed and her next book, I’ve landed a copy of Leaves, her play published through Faber & Faber. My wife has read and recommended it already.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Stuart Neville Secures a Publishing Deal

Yes indeed, folks. You heard it here first... or second. Possibly third. Stuart Neville has finally let the cat out of the bag. Nat Sobel has landed him a two book publishing deal and The Ghosts of Belfast is set for a 2009 release, courtesy of Harvill Secker, an imprint of Random House.

What's that, Stuart?

Needless to say, I'm thrilled and excited. Harvill Secker is a prestigious imprint with a reputation for literary fiction, and international thrillers. Some of the stable's best known European crime writers are Jo Nesbo (The Redbreast has been a huge success in Europe) and Henning Mankell, and many others. My editor is Geoff Mulligan, who as it happens originally hails from Belfast.

Check out his blog post, dated 05/08/08, for the whole story and to offer him congratulations.

Fair play to ye, Mister Neville! Congratulations!

Tuesday 5 August 2008

A Wee Review - Every Dead Thing by John Connolly

Screw the zeitgeist; this is my year for discovering stuff everyone else has know about for years. Radiohead’s The Bends, for example, The Charlatans, Futurama and Colin Bateman’s Murphy books. Seems only natural then, that nearly ten years after it wowed critics and Joe Public alike, I’ve finally got round to reading John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing.

In case you didn’t know, Every Dead Thing is the first of the Charlie Parker books – after this there are Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind, The White Road, The Black Angel, The Unquiet and The Reapers. The introduction to Parker’s world is brutal and to the point. The homicide detective returns home after a solitary drinking session, right into a nightmare of Hieronymus Bosch proportions. His wife and daughter have been eviscerated in the kitchen. Their bodies have been ritually flayed and gutted, their eyes put out, their faces removed. You get the picture. If you don’t…well, Connolly paints one for you. We are also introduced to a supernatural element that lurks beneath the surface of Every Dead Thing. Charlie Parker, it seems, is sensitive -- for want of a better expression – to vibrations in the ether.

The narrative then leaps ahead to a alcohol-free Parker residing in New York. He’s an occasional private detective, occasional bounty hunter, intent on tracking down the killer of his family, now known as the Travelling Man. Parker takes on the case of a missing child, which takes him to Haven, Virginia, a town with a past it would rather stay buried. The trail eventually loops back to NY where there is a climactic showdown…on page 350 of the 500 page book.

In a lot of respects, Every Dead Thing drops back into first gear at this point and, as such, it’s my one and only real quibble. A reader could skip pages 150 to 350 and not lose their way. It’s only fair to say, though, that particular reader would miss out on a stunning detour. The Haven sideplot is an absolute blast, so long as you can stomach reading about the fate of children snared by psychotic killers. Be warned, this is not a book that sidesteps distressing themes. But while there is an inevitable bleakness to Every Dead Thing, Connolly approaches scenes of dreadful cruelty from two angles; the clinical and the spiritual. Never does he glory in the splatter-gore that lies in between. It’s artful stuff.

Anyway, from New York the trail leads to New Orleans where Parker -- acting on hunches and supernatural tip-offs as well as good old fashioned police work -- uncovers more bodies, and the plot continues to twist and turn like a twisty turny thing until we finally meet the Travelling Man. This book packs an unbelievable amount between its covers and many of the scenes and characters along the way will imprint themselves indelibly on your mind.

Time and again I was astounded at the depth of Connolly’s knowledge. You could be forgiven for thinking he was American pathologist with a special interest in mediaeval art and a penchant for guns. His descriptions of the American townscapes are so vivid you’d be hard pressed to guess the author was a (then) twenty-something Dubliner working for the Irish Times. Either he spent a lot of time in the States, or he researched his arse off and he has a photographic memory. Whatever, he’s an enormously talented bloke.

Impressive stuff, then. And I’ve got another six books to catch up on. So if you’ll just excuse me . . .

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.

Monday 4 August 2008

An Interview - Eugene McEldowney

Eugene McEldowney is a former journalist, now retired, with plenty of time to do what he enjoys most, which is writing. He grew up in the Ardoyne area of Belfast but spent all his career in Dublin on the staff of The Irish Times. He now spends his time between Dublin and Spain.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m writing a mainstream novel which looks at how the past has a way of catching up with the present. It is coming along quite well but it keeps changing which I regard as a good thing because it means the characters are coming to life. So I don’t know how it will turn out in the end.

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

When I’m writing, I set myself a target of 1000 words a day. Some days when a novel is going well, I can write much more but other days it might be less. When I’m engaged on a novel I try to spend four or five hours at the word processor, preferably in the morning when my mind is fresh but any time will do.

My method of working is to get the novel finished in a hard spurt and then go back and retune and refine. My novels tend to be around 100,000 words long which means I should get a first draft completed in 100 days ie about 3-4 months. The rewriting is less enjoyable than the initial draft when the creative ideas are flowing.

Often when I’m working on a project, ideas for other novels will come to me. So I may be working on one novel and thinking about another one and taking notes and doing research.

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

I read a lot and watch cop dramas. I also go for long walks which gives me an opportunity to think about plot and character development. I have a wide circle of friends and try to keep in touch with them all. My other big interest is traditional singing and I am a member of several singing clubs which meet in Dublin. I get to a singing club at least once a week. I’m kept busy, believe me.

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

The best advice for any aspiring writer is to sit down and write. The other advice is to read widely. If an author impresses you with a novel, ask yourself how he/she managed to do it. Study a book from a technical point of view. Writers tell stories and everybody has experiences which is what a writer draws on. But you can also borrow ideas from other writers. There is nothing wrong with this. All writers including William Shakespeare have done it.

Be prepared for rejection. Most writers get turned down at the beginning unless they are either geniuses or extremely lucky. So be prepared for the long haul. Listen to good advice. Plot and pace are very important in crime fiction and these can be learned. But for me, character is supreme. If you can manage to create interesting characters, your reader will care about them and get drawn into the book.

Work hard and set targets and deadlines. A thousand words a day may sound like a lot but it can be achieved. Some writers manage much more. Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

There is a crop of Northern Ireland writers who are producing very good work – Sam Millar, Adrian McKinty and Brian McGilloway. I read widely from Martina Cole to James Lee Burke to Graham Greene. My favourite crime writer is James Ellroy and Agatha Christie is always worth returning to particularly for plot construction.

This year I reread Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow which is one of my all-time favourite crime novels.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I usually have several books going at once. I’m reading Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain which is a history of the Spanish Civil War and Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks. I also have In the Woods by Tana French waiting to get started.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Keep writing. I have several plot ideas swirling around in my head.

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

I would take my time. I think some of my books could have done with more refinement but I’m told that all writers think this. Publishers’ deadlines are fine for getting your ass in gear but I think a finished novel will always benefit by being left aside for a few months before final editing. It’s a balancing act.

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

There is a massive market for crime fiction so sit down and get started… there are a thousand stories…….

Thank you, Eugene McEldowney!

100 Posts on CSNI

Wow, 100 posts and just over 7,500 page visits. CSNI has done pretty well for itself, in this bookworm's humble opinion.

The blog began on the 5th of March 2008 and within weeks I was bowled over by the support and interest I received from like-minded crime fiction aficionados. The blame for CSNI's origins can be firmly placed on Declan Burke's shoulders. It was all his idea! Thanks for the support, advice and email addresses, good sir.

It's gotten to the point now that listing all the people who've contributed to making this site a shining example of awesomeness would take hours, and I'd more than likely omit a couple of names and feel dead guilty about it. So I'm not going to do that. I'll consider it for the 1,000th post.

Thanks to all the readers, writers, and disappointed CSI fans who added to my statcounter tally. I'd have abandoned this project ages ago, only for your feedback.

Now, I'm away to buy a celebratory meal deal from Boots.

Mystery Man - Sample Chapters on Bateman's Blog!!!

Hey, you!

Jonesing for a Bateman fix? Need something to read while you chomp on that ham sandwich? Why don't you visit his blog and read chapters one and two of the unreleased Mystery Man (set in the excellent No Alibis bookshop)?

Yes! Bateman has updated his blog. That's twice this month, and it's only the 4th. Could he be going for a record? I hope so.

A couple of days ago he blogged about the award his children's book, Titanic 2020, scooped. Well done, sir! I actually have a copy of this at home. Might have to take a break from hard-boiled crime and give it a read soon.

Sunday 3 August 2008

A Noir Original - Steve Deighan Interviews Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie is a crime writer living in Edinburgh. Born in Orkney, Allan’s take on the harsh, dark themes of underworld crime and spontaneous brutality has earned him a spot as reviewers’ favourite of the genre, writes Steve Deighan.

His latest new novel, Savage Night, was released in the UK by Edinburgh publisher Polygon in March, that’s set to be just as menacing as his last. When not writing, Allan serves as a literary agent for Jenny Brown Associates. Visit him at

SD: Allan, you were described as one of “crime fiction’s hottest new writers” after the release of your first novel, Two-Way Split, back in 2004. Since then, you’ve gone from strength to strength with further novels and international acclaim, proving that you’d left nothing down to chance. Has this affected you in terms of the way you write and if so, why?

AG: I wrote my first two published books without a contract and with very low expectations of getting published. After receiving rejection letters running to three figures, receiving any kind of critical acclaim for either book was as welcome as it was unexpected. I can’t say that it had any obvious or direct effect on subsequent novels, although praise is always motivational!

SD: Your second novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was published under the Hard Case Crime imprint in early 2005 and has since received rave reviews and incredible award nominations. You’re a favourite with what’s described as “noir thrillers” and you’ve been compared to many other writers of the genre. Would you describe your storytelling the same way the critics have?

AG: I tend to write from the perspective of criminals and victims rather than detectives, so I’m telling a different kind of story from the more traditional crime novel. It can be gritty and brutal at times, but it can also be tender and funny. A reviewer described my last book, Hard Man, as “hilarious and horrifying”. I’d happily go along with that.

SD: Publishers are fearful when it comes to accepting new authors, and you’ve said that today’s publishing is more-or-less of a bestseller culture (we are ‘fortunate’ to have Rankin and Rowling to highlight this!) Is there a massive amount of pressure on writers to produce better stories with each book? Have you been or do you think you’ll ever be in that situation where you’ll think, It’s not good enough, I need to improve?

AG: I always think my writing needs to improve. I write countless drafts of each book. I even have drafts of my first novel at home that were written after it was published. I don’t feel any pressure other than from myself, though. To succeed in the real mass market these days it helps if you write police procedurals or big high-stakes thrillers, but my publishers have been great about allowing me to do what I do best and build an audience on the basis of offering something a little unusual.

SD: Your new novel, Savage Night, came out in March (2008). It’s about a “blithe haemophobic psychopathic ex-con” and a whole load of blood, grit and steel that’s already left early reviewers praising you as if Joe Hope had visited them! Although writing under the crime theme, you’ve mentioned this book also borders on the scarier side of things, which should serve a treat for horror fans, too. Was this direction given thought to begin with, or did the story take you there?

AG: I almost always start with a blank page and let the characters dictate the story. So there was no plan to write anything other than a crime novel. There’s a real affinity between noir and horror, though. It could be argued, for instance, that noir is horror without the supernatural. And while there’s certainly nothing supernatural in Savage Night, the opening scene does involve a guy coming home from the pub to find a headless corpse in a bathtub in the middle of his sitting room, which is undoubtedly horrific.

Thank you Steven Deighan!

Friday 1 August 2008

A Micro Review - On The Brinks by Sam Millar

Colman Keane, a um... keen fan of all things crime fictiony, has submitted his thoughts on Sam Millar's autobiography, On The Brinks, to CSNI. Did he like it? For his sake, I hope so. I wouldn't want to piss Mister Millar off!

It’s difficult to know where to begin to describe this book – a memoir written by Mr Millar a former IRA man and convicted bank-robber.

To describe Sam’s path through life as being somewhat eventful, would be a massive understatement.

Imprisoned in Long Kesh, he participated in the blanket protest along with other Republicans in an effort to restore political status to all paramilitary prisoners. I vaguely recall growing up in the 70’s and seeing the pictures of prisoners draped in blankets and living in the most abhorrent conditions imaginable. It is hard not to be repulsed, moved, touched, affected by what these men endured in the struggle for recognition of their special status. The closest thing that I have read that parallels Millar’s plight is Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk.

At times he’s afraid, but the absolute refusal to be cowed, the resolve and determination to endure and prevail is daunting and a testament to his indomitable spirit, just like Rawicz displayed during the 40’s.

Whilst dark at times, Millar also manages to retain his sense of humour throughout. The blankets escalated in the early 80’s to the hunger strikes – a turbulent period in Ireland’s recent history which culminated in the death of 10 men including Bobby Sands, who had managed to embarrass Thatcher by gaining election to Westminster as an MP. Millar survived this period and headed off to States after his release.

Further trouble ensues in the American chapters of his life. A leap from croupier in an illegal casino to mastermind of the Brinks depot robbery of over $7 million and further imprisonment.

Sam Millar was finally released in 1997. One hopes the ensuing years of his life are less frenetic and more settled!

Thanks, Colman!