Thursday 31 December 2009

Thumbs up from the Triumvirate

The BSC website has posted a top ten Mystery/Crime Fiction of 2009 list from the three wise-guy reviewers, Keith Rawson, The Nerd of Noir and Brian Lindenmuth -- the triple-pillar of new noir.

These boys know what they're talking about and I was very pleased to see a good Northern Irish representation. Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast (AKA The Twelve) and Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand made the cut.

Also mentioned were three adopted sons of CSNI (ie, not Northern Irish writers, but with enough of an Irish connection to have been interviewed here in the past). Dave Zeltserman's Pariah, Jason Starr's Fake ID and Allan Guthrie's Slammer got their much deserved big-ups.

Jump over to BSC to see who placed where for whom (grammar?). I'll be referring to it for some reading recommendations in 2010. You should too.

Sunday 27 December 2009

An Interview - Brendan Garner

Brendan Garner is the author of Possession, Obsession and a Diesel Compression Engine, a chapbook of Belfast-set horror tales with a smattering of black humour. He’ll get around to the website thing some day, but in the meantime, you can catch the odd Garner tweet here. Yeah, yeah, there isn't much there. He'll get around to that some day too.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

Very little. I blame writer’s block. Or getting blocked. I have plans to work on a sequel to my unpublished novel, FIREPROOF, but have a lot of thinking to do before I commit myself to it. Mostly around whether or not FIREPROOF will actually be published in this lifetime.

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

I turn off the TV and stare at a computer screen. Sometimes words come out. Most times they don’t.

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

Drink. Read. Watch horror movies. The order varies.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the comic-horror fiction scene?

I still haven’t figured out that trick myself. Considering contacting somebody about a soul trade off...

Q5. Which horror writers have impressed you this year?

I reckon The Twelve by Stuart Neville has horror elements and that rocked my socks off.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

The Gates by John Connolly. Loving it.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Break into the comic-horror fiction scene.

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

I’d have been more successful.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

The day I figured out that I can’t write when I’m drunk was a pretty bad one. I’d heard Stephen King doesn’t even remember writing Cujo because he was profoundly blitzed the entire time. Thought I could emulate that. I really couldn’t.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

No. Stop being lazy and come up with a decent tenth question, will you?

Thank you, Brendan Garner!

Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holiday. It's unlikely that I'll update the blog much in the next week or two, but it'll be full steam ahead again in January.

Just so you know, Ian Sansom will be on Radio 4 tomorrow at 4PM. I'll more than likely tune in while I'm slicing and dicing meat and veg in the kitchen. You should too.

Also, the fourth in Sansom's Mobile Library series, titled The Bad Book Affair, will hit the shelves in January. Track down a copy ASAP.

That's all for now, folks, but no doubt you can look forward to a more schmaltzy post closer to the new year. Right now, I fancy a bite to eat and a stiff drink.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Crimbo word from No Alibis...

Seasons Greetings from No Alibis Bookstore.

We would like to thank Everybody for their Kind Support and Custom in 2009.

This has been a somewhat “Turbulent” year.

With your support and loyalty we have managed to navigate through the difficult times and managed to Celebrate 2009 in the best way possible with Music, Readings, Poetry and much more!

Thank You!

2010 promises to be even Better.

Dave, Claudia & Shirley.


TUE 29TH DEC 9-5
WED 30TH DEC 9-5
SAT 2ND JAN 2010

ph. 02890-319601
fax. 02890319607

Monday 21 December 2009

God Loves a Trier?

Got a wee chuckle courtesy of BBC Radio Ulster on the way home from work today. You can (and should) read about the fittingly named lorry driver who 'thought his £5 million cocaine haul was bibles' on the BBC NI website.

I gotta say, if you're going to tell a lie, make it a good big one, right? Oh, but it's only a charge, so maybe I should add 'allegedly' to that wee jibe...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

An Interview - Ronald Malfi

Ronald Malfi was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1977. Along with his family, he eventually relocated to Maryland where he spent most of his childhood growing up along the Chesapeake Bay. He professed an interest in the arts at an early age and is also known to be a competent artist and musician. In 1999, he graduated with a degree in English from Towson University. For a number of years, he fronted the Maryland-based alternative rock band Nellie Blide.

Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi's horror novels and thrillers have transcended genres to gain wider acceptance among readers of quality literature.

He currently lives along the Chesapeake Bay.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m currently between projects right now, though I have spent the past several weeks editing a few short stories as well as proofing the galleys to my forthcoming novel SNOW, which will be out through Leisure Books in March. I’ve also recently completed the screenplay for the film LIFETAKER, which begins production in Canada this spring. Much of the past few months has been occupied with book signings and speaking engagements for my crime novel, SHAMROCK ALLEY. The reviews have been positive and people really seem interested in hearing about the true story behind the fiction for this book. It’s really quite unique.

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

I typically try to output about 15 pages a night, and I’ll edit those pages as I go. If I can keep this up, I can finish a book in about three months’ time, with another month or so for leisurely editing. This past year has been my busiest, as I had deadlines for three novels coming out in 2010, so I really had to pace myself and not get too far behind. As for ideas, I suppose I have an abundance of them, though many will inevitably crumble apart before I ever start to think of them as stories. I usually don’t outline, so I’ll sit and stew on an idea for a while until I know where it’s going. When the first sentence comes to my head, that’s when I start writing.

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

When I’m not writing I enjoy the things most everyone else does—spending time with family and friends, reading a good book or watching a good movie, playing music.

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

My advice is to write. This sounds simple enough, but I am constantly confronted by people who want to be writers, or consider themselves writers, but don’t write. Can I consider myself a rocket scientist even though I don’t tinker with rockets? It’s hard to find time, sure, but that is just an excuse. You have to write. I’ve got a trunk full of miserable, poorly-written manuscripts that I’d written over the years, and they will never see the light of day because they are so bad, but they’re there. They exist. They were good practice, a nice whetstone to sharpen the tools of my craft.

Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?

Writer’s I’ve read for the first time this year that have blown me away were Robert Dunbar, author of THE PINES and THE SHORE; Nate Kenyon (THE BONE FACTORY); Michael Beres (CHERNOBYL MURDERS); Donna Lynch (ISABEL BURNING). There are so many, with some of my favorites being Greg F. Gifune, Jeremy Shipp, and David Jack Bell.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Darren Speegle’s outstanding collection A RHAPSODY FOR THE ETERNAL, and some short fiction by Donna Lynch. Fantastic work.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Future plans? Just keep the train rolling, I suppose. Future releases include my novels SNOW (Leisure Books, March 2010) and THE ASCENT (Medallion Press, September 2010), and a small book tour to support both titles. I’ve agreed to write three books for Leisure, a publisher I’ve always been excited about. Medallion has been fantastic, too, with my hardcover releases. THE ASCENT is one of my personal favorites, actually, and I think fans will really enjoy it.

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

I probably wouldn’t change anything, though if I had to pick something, I might’ve tried to find my literary focus earlier in my career. This is a very staunch and commercially-driven industry. A writer needs to know his or her audience and target that audience. I’ll admit to wallowing in authorbation—basically writing for myself—for a bit before I found my audience and narrowed my focus.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Book signings with pitiable turnouts; a wall papered with rejection letters; your publisher misspelling your name on the mockup cover for the marketing department. But those aren’t really “writing” experiences—more like publishing experiences. Worst writing experience is writing 300 pages of a story you love before realizing that you don’t love it anymore, and you have to abort it and bury it in your yard under the juniper tree. You just hope next spring a better story blossoms.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

I love receiving emails from people who read my work. I truly do. I don’t make it all around the country for book signings and to meet people who are interested in what I do, so I find it fantastic when people feel compelled to write to me. Even if they didn’t like the book!

Thank you, Ronald Malfi!

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Digging for Gold

A new crime craze has swept Northern Ireland. Graceless gangs of thieves have been using stolen diggers to smash and grab entire cash machines from unsuspecting buildings bringing a whole new meaning to the term 'hole in the wall'. But they've been sloppy in their disposal of the evidence.

'The remains of two ATMs have been found by police in County Fermanagh.'

Lads! You had a feckin' digger at your disposal. It doesn't get any easier to bury the incriminating remains.

Not sure how the PSNI will put an end to this spate, but next time you need to get some cash out make sure nobody can see your PIN number as you tap it in, check that the machine hasn't been tampered with and look over your shoulder for bloody big juggernauts wielding shovels.

This has been a CSNI public service announcement.

Monday 14 December 2009

Play for Pay?

Last week I read about a professional writer expressing his anger at pay rates offered by a small press internet venture. Mike Stone posted about it on his live journal and invited comments. He received a pretty mixed bag.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read and had a good think about the subject and I doubt it’ll be the last. To most it’s pretty cut and dry, but I’m still not completely sure of my own stance on the subject.

The first piece of writing I ever sold was to a Canadian magazine in 2004. The Adventures of Jack and Jill was a short nursery rhyme about cider-drinking, gun-toting psychos and it earned me two US dollars and a contributor copy of Champagne Shivers. I still have the cash and I intend to spend it in New York some day. Can’t see it buying me anything more than a chocolate bar, though.

Luckily, in the last six years I’ve improved my writing and been cannier in the majority of my dealings. I’ve received funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen for my writing and a couple of pieces sold kicked back more than five pence a word, which seems to be a professional rate minimum by most definitions. Does that make me a pro writer yet? Nope, because it’s nowhere near enough to feed even one of my kids, never mind my whole family.

So I work a full time job to pay the bills. And I appreciate the fact that I’m lucky enough to have a decent and safe job, even though my ultimate goal is to write for a living. At the minute, writing is something that makes my life more interesting. It’s fun for me (well, most of the time, it can be frustrating too but you can have a slump on the golf course too, can’t you?), and sometimes all I want to do is finish a piece of writing and see that it gets a decent home.

Nothing But Time, a short story I set in Maghaberry Prison, appeared on Pulp Pusher last month. It’s not a paying venue but it does have a decent following as far as I can gather. And with folk like Keith Rawson and Alan Griffiths published there, I’m keeping good company. Plus it’s run by a terrific full time writer by the name of Tony Black. So what did I get for Nothing But Time?


To be honest, I don’t think so. A couple of people left nice comments on my blog and on Facebook when I posted a link to it, but they’re people who’ve read my stuff in the past and (I hope) will read more in the future. To the best of my knowledge, the story didn’t reach any new readers. But I liked writing that piece. Enjoyed editing it. Really got a kick out of the fact that Tony Black liked it enough to include it on his website. That’s a pretty decent return in my book.

I don’t plan to make a habit out of giving away short stories, though. If I’ve let one go for free lately, I probably liked the publication or the editor behind it. What I won’t do in the future is give away reviews, articles or short stories to publications that could afford to pay me. I’ll not fill a slot in a magazine or a newspaper without a decent kickback.

That’s where I stand with the payment issue I guess. Like an accountant might do a tax return for a mate and expect nothing in return except a pint, I’ll continue to give away the odd short story for free to people I like. If that bugs you, dry your eyes. I will, however, work harder to negotiate payment for articles and the like that make it into any publication that can afford to pay. As for novels... well, that’s my agent’s job. I’m not going to worry about that here.

My ultimate point in the writing of this? Hell, yeah, writers should be paid. But not all writers are good enough to be paid right away. So the places that don’t pay and offer only ‘exposure’ or a very small payment have their place. They build a writer’s confidence and give them something to show their family and friends. But unless they aim a little bit higher with every other thing they write, they’re probably going nowhere. In which case, all the writers who want to be paid could probably chill out a little. It kind of thins out the competition in a tight market, doesn’t it?

I have one question (in three parts) about an area that I think is a little grey. Please do weigh in if you have an opinion. What about blogging? That’s writing for free, isn’t it? Why is that okay?

Related Links

Mike Stone's Live Journal

Champagne Shivers

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Screen

Nothing But Time

Monday 7 December 2009

An Interview - Daragh Carville

Daragh Carville is a playwright and screenwriter. His plays, which include Language Roulette, Observatory and Family Plot, have been widely produced in Britain and Ireland, and as far afield as France, Germany, Holland, and the U.S. He has also written for television and radio. His television drama about drugs awareness issues for young people, The Family, was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1998. His radio play Regenerations, first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2000, was nominated for the Richard Imison Award. His adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2003.

Daragh’s first feature film, Middletown, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2006. The film, which stars Matthew MacFadyen, Daniel Mays, Eva Birthistle and Gerard McSorley, was directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey of Green Park Films. It was nominated in nine categories at the 2007 Irish Film and Television Awards, including Best Film and Best Screenplay, with Eva Birthistle picking up the award for Best Actress. Daragh’s second film, Cherrybomb, starring Rupert Grint and James Nesbitt, was selected as part of the Generations section of the Berlin Film Festival, and opened there in February 2009. It goes on general release in 2010.

Daragh Carville has won the Stewart Parker and the Meyer Whitworth awards. His most recent play, This Other City, produced by Tinderbox Theatre Company, opened in Belfast in April 2009.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I'm working on a new screenplay, provisionally called Tiger, for BBC Films. If all goes well it'll be directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey, who I've worked with a lot in the past, notably on Middletown (2006) and Cherrybomb (2009).

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

God I wish I had more of those! I work from home which means I have to do a certain amount of juggling life and work. Typically I'll leave the kids to school in the morning, go for a run, shower and get to my desk so that after getting emails etc out of the way I can switch off the internet and start writing properly by ten. I'll generally work through till after three, when I pick the kids up from school. In reality though the work bleeds into all sorts of other areas too, depending on where I'm at with a project.

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

I'm always writing! Which is not to say I'm always at my desk actually putting down words. Because I work in film and theatre, which are collaborative media above all else, I spend a lot of time on planes and trains, traveling to meetings and what have you. And then when a project is actually in production, whether it's a film or a play, it's important to be there, to be as hands-on as possible. I love that side of the process too - casting, rehearsals, the day to day business of production itself. So that's pretty all-consuming. And of course you need to keep reading and watching other people's work too. So what little down-time I do have is devoted to the family.

I'm lucky though in that I am able - at the moment at least - to work on my writing full time. I previously worked at Queen's University in Belfast, where I taught Creative Writing, specialising in scriptwriting. I worked there for ten years and loved it, but it's been great to get back to full time writing. Long may it last!

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

I wish the BBC Writersroom website had been around when I was starting out. Actually, come to think of it, the internet wasn't around when I was starting out. But the Writersroom is a great resource. The BBC Writers Academy is probably the best way in to writing for TV for new writers and the Writersroom provides details of that along with many other useful bits and bobs.

Other than that, it's all about just doing the work, putting the hours in and getting your work out there. It's about learning the craft - which you do by trial and error, by writing and learning from your mistakes. Also by watching films and TV and reading as many scripts as you can. It's amazing that some people who say they want to write screenplays don't actually know how scripts work, what they look like, what they do and don't do. There's are a lot of websites out there which offer scripts free for download so there's really no excuse. The Writersroom has a good selection of TV scripts and even offers free screenwriting software, so as I say that's a good place to start.

And finally - going back to what I mentioned earlier about collaboration - probably the most important thing of all is to work with good people. You need to seek out producers, directors, actors and learn from them. Screenwriting is not a solitary trade, it's not like writing poetry or novels where you can - in theory - be sequestered away in your garret or whatever. It's a collaborative process. It has to be. So you have to learn how to collaborate. Which is a skill in itself actually.

Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?

It's been a year since Harold Pinter died but he continues to act as an inspiration. The death of Frank Deasy was a tragedy: he was a brilliant writer and a fine, decent man. He leaves behind an impressive legacy, both in terms of his work and his role in highlighting the issue of organ donation.

In terms of writing I've admired this year, in British TV I loved Jimmy McGovern's The Street. It was the exact opposite of everything I'd been hearing about what was required for contemporary TV drama - it wasn't high concept, it wasn't 'genre-redefining'. It just focused on the 'old-fashioned' virtues of character and story and in so doing created a real state of the nation series. Having said that, I do also revere writers like Russell T Davies and Joss Whedon who are able to put a new spin on existing genres. I loved RTD's 'Torchwood' series three, having hated the first two seasons. This must be the first series in TV history that does the opposite of jumping the shark.

In terms of TV comedy, 'Peep Show' and 'The Thick of It' were the highlights for me.

As far as American TV goes, I'm still in mourning for 'The Wire', having worked our way though all five seasons in short order. Haven't found anything to fill that space, though I loved David Simon and Ed Burn's Iraq war drama 'Generation Kill'. Staying in that kind of gritty, hard-boiled territory to some degree, I really liked Stuart Neville's debut novel 'The Twelve'. And I'm not just saying that because he's a fellow Armagh man!

Q6. What are you reading/watching right now?

Reading a brilliant book by Graham Robb called 'The Discovery of France', a kind of psychogeographical exploration of French history and culture. Watching 'The Thick of It' and looking forward to David Tennant's swansong in 'Doctor Who' at Christmas. Also looking forward to Owen McCafferty's new play, 'The Absence of Women'. He's the daddy, Owen is.

Q7. Plans for the future?

I'm focusing on the new screenplay at the moment but beyond that I'd like to do some more writing for TV. And I'm itching to get back to the theatre too. I'd love to write something for the new Lyric building.

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

As ever, it's the things you don't do that you regret. As a young writer I turned down a few opportunities that, looking back, I could probably have learned a lot from. But having said that, I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was a kid, so I really can't complain.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Oh Christ. Well, I've already talked about the importance of collaboration, and I guess the worst writing experiences are when the collaboration doesn't work, when you just don't see eye to eye, or - worse - when trust breaks down between collaborators. That's when things get messy. I've worked with some brilliant, brilliant people but there have been one or two occasions when things haven't worked out. And no, I'm not naming names! But yeah, that can be pretty soul-destroying. But whatever doesn't kill you blah blah blah.

Other than that, well, you do get the odd day when it just doesn't work and you think everything you write is shit and that you're a fraud and you're gonna get found out. If you're lucky, though, those days are more or less balanced out by the good days, when you get lost in the writing and it really flows.

The one other thing that can be a bit of a pain in the hole is when your work gets reviewed. I try not to read reviews but they always get back to you and, as I think Norman Mailer said, 'the good ones don't help and the bad ones still hurt.'

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

No, I think that about covers things!

Thank you, Daragh Carville!

Friday 4 December 2009

Belfast Pickpockets

I've been toying with the idea of blogging about true crime in Northern Ireland for a while now. Figured I'd kick it off with a video just released by the PSNI. Call it public service or something. But aside from it being a warning to all you Crimbo shoppers, I found the method kind of fascinating. Ham-fisted, graceless and about as subtle as a brick in the face, but still fascinating.

Judge for yourselves. You'll find the video on the BBC NI website.

Thursday 3 December 2009

No Alibis Calendar Launch

From the No Alibis website...

Once again we are delighted to announce that Neil Shawcross will be launching the No Alibis Calendar for 2010 on Friday 4th December at 5:30PM.

The Shawcross/No Alibis Calendar launch has become an annual celebration of all things “Noir” and this year is no exception. New images based on the works of Simenon, Chandler , Christie and many others will be on display along with the limited edition Calendar, priced £15. The artist will be here on the night to sign individual Calendars.

To book a spot for this event, email David, or call the shop on 9031 9607.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

A Wee Reveiw - Day of the Jack Russell by Colin Bateman

Check out my latest International Thriller Writers article for the low-down on Bateman's second No Alibis book.

Monday 30 November 2009

No Alibis Event - Stephen Rea

From the No Alibis Newsletter...
Stephen Rea
Monday 30th November at 6:00PM

No Alibis Bookstore is pleased to invite you to an evening with Stephen Rea, who will be discussing his book, FINN MCCOOL'S FOOTBALL CLUB, on Monday 30th November at 6:00PM.

After jetting around the world, Stephen Rea left Belfast to settle in New Orleans in 2004. Life in the Deep South proved to be startlingly different from that in Northern Ireland, and Rea struggled to find an outlet for his love of soccer. Before long, the Ulsterman stumbled upon Finn McCool’s pub and the wonderfully eccentric, international crowd that gathers there to watch European football games.

Frank “the Tank,” the pot-growing Dutch national; Dave “the Rave” Ashton, a forty-six-year-old physiotherapist from Manchester dubbed “the world’s oldest teenager”; and Benji Haswell, a former political activist from South Africa, are three of the rare and vibrant characters who populated the pub’s stools. Soon Rea, along with this idiosyncratic mix of locals and ex-pat regulars, formed a pub soccer team, joined a league, and started dreaming of victory.

On August 27, 2005, with former pro footballer Scottish Steve “Macca” McAnespie as their coach, members of the team sat in the pub discussing their upcoming match. The next day, Hurricane Katrina enveloped the Gulf Coast, scattering Rea and his teammates around the world in seek of shelter and stability.

This luminous, gripping work follows the author and Finn regulars as they rebuild their lives and their team. With a masterful combination of dry humor and astute profundity, Rea reflects on his adopted city, providing powerful insight into the lives of the foreign-born and minority groups that stayed behind during Katrina due to the little they had to lose. Filled with equally hilarious and sobering anecdotes and no shortage of good soccer stories, Rea seamlessly weaves his experiences alongside his teammates’ harrowing survival stories. A breathtaking and incredible debut celebrating camaraderie, sportsmanship, and survival, Finn McCool’s Football Club stands out as a haunting and powerful memoir filled with laughter, loss, astonishment, and of course, soccer.

Stephen Rea is a freelance writer who has contributed to national and international newspapers, magazines, and Web sites for more than twenty years. He has worked for the Sun in the United Kingdom, as well as regional newspapers in the news, features, sports, and entertainment departments. He lives with his wife and daughter in New Orleans, Louisiana.

To book a spot for this event, email David, or call the shop on 9031 9607.

ph. 02890-319601
fax. 02890319607

Thursday 26 November 2009

Short Stories

Hey, hey. I have some good writing news for a change.

Writing short stories can be pretty therapeutic for me. It's a smaller challenge than a novel, but there's a disproportionatly sweet buzz to be had from nailing one. Last week I finished a story for an upcoming Maxim Jakubowski anthology. I had a blast writing this racy little tale. My good friend and first-time reader, Mike Stone, gave it the thumbs up then helped me rewrite the ending. And Mister Jakubowski liked it enough to include it! Woo hoo! It's due out in April 2010. I'll post more information as and when it becomes available, but for now; it's called Sex in the City, the city is Dublin and it's rumoured that two of my favourite writers also have stories in it. Colin Bateman and Ken Bruen.

I also got two very kind invitations to contribute to a couple of webzines this month. One's brand new and the other is a relaunch of an old classic with a worthy reputation. These short story venues will get dedicated posts in the near future.

And finally, if you'd like to read one of my brand new shorts, hop on over to Pulp Pusher and read Nothing But Time. Tell the pusher I sent you (but don't piss him off).

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Guest Review - T.A. Moore


Conor Maguire Presents… staged a reading of Troth by Rutherford Mayne on Tuesday 10th November in Castlereagh Civic Centre.

Troth is a powerful commentary on the complex web of loyalty and division that criss-crossed nineteenth century Ireland. An Ireland where ‘your place’ was an unsure, unsteady concept, where the reality of privation could bridge religious divides and where the Quality shared a religion with their tenants but spared them no sympathy.

Failing tenant farmer McKie has suffered too much – the loss of a son, the threatened loss of his farm – to take comfort in his illusory kinship with the distant, never seen Colonel Fotheringham. Unlike his labourer John Smith, who exhorts Mrs McKie to remember that Colonel Fotheringham and blames the ‘Moores and Maguires and Maguinnesses’ for the tenants plight. Smith’s defence of the Quality earns him a job up at the demense, but earns him rebukes and distrust from his master and mistress.

It is Moore, a Catholic tenant farmer in even worse straits than McKie, to whom McKie feels a connection. They are not insensible of the traditional tensions between them , it goes unsaid throughout the text there but there is a powerfully unstated stage direction that captures it – He starts up and reaches for he gun, then suddenly suspicious of MOORE, he stops and looks around at him - but in their shared suffering, with Moore’s ill-fortune not only matching but surpassing that of McKie, they find common ground. And it is to the language of that suffering that they return to again and again, shaping incitement and need for assurance around the reminders of the pain they had both gone through. Moore conjures the memory of hardship and death when he speaks to McKie: Then the sickness come and the wee children – they slippit away one by one. One was to be called after you, McKie of Ballhanlon, and two of my own wee childreNow they are lying rotten under the sod and their wee souls are crying. You can hear them in the wind crying – crying to the God that made them for vengeance! And later when McKie seeks the surety of a sworn oath from Moore he again invokes their dead children: I want a promise of you, Francey Moore. We two have seen our wee children, as you say, slip beyont us, and we have seen the brown earth shovelled them the way you would bury a dog. They were buried the same day – my son and your own.’

Troth is a sere and unrelenting piece of work, brutal despite the lyric moments that escape into the dialogue, and well suited to Conor Maguire’s frugal staging. With only a stage and a few chairs the actors, under Maguire’s direction, captured not only their characters but their surroundings. When Paul Kennedy reached for Mr McKie’s gun and hesitated, you could practically see the metal of it. And when Jo Donnelly, whose portrayal of the reeling Mrs McKie was perfection itself, held herself and threw her head back, wild eyed, to listen to the corpse pass by…you felt the chill.

Faolán Morgan who played Moore was less instantly impressive. His entrance as the shaken, grieving Moore, fresh from his wife’s death bed, was muted, but as he rose to his feet to deliver Moore’s crow-harsh indictment of the landlord he was riveting. Each word was pitch perfect, whether it was intended to convey contempt, anger or grief. Nor should Mark Claney as John Smith go unmentioned. In a play full of tension and high emotion his character had the least to work with, yet he was perfect as the good-natured but ultimately untrustworthy Smith. The eager suspicion in his voice as he demanded ‘Did the Master go out with Moore next the Glen?’ fed perfectly into Donnelly’s carefully controlled terror.

It was a powerful performance of a powerful play, with Conor Maguire hitting his stride as director to orchestrate an almost perfect production. With only one more Rehearsed Reading left for the programme – on the Tues 8th December – I look forward to seeing how he follows this up.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

US Slammer

Allan Guthrie's SLAMMER was very recently released in the US.

Here's the funky cover.

Looks like a Metallica album. In a good way.

The book's even better. Have a look at the review below (originally written in July after I read the UK version).

A Wee Review - Slammer by Allan Guthrie

I picked up Allan Guthrie’s Slammer expecting a multi-POV crime caper. Before then, my Guthrie experience consisted of the books featuring Gordon Pearce, a Scottish hard man with a violent past, present and, most likely, future. But what I got was something very different. Where books like Two-Way Split, Hardman and Kill Clock are gloriously action-packed and at times comic-bookish in their violent joy, Slammer is a more thought-provoking psychological thriller. Now, I loved the Pearce books, but this latest one... I think it has the potential to pull a whole new breed of fan to Guthrie’s work.

In Slammer we get to know Nick Glass, a young Scottish prison guard who just isn’t cut out for the job. His colleagues see him as a soft target for practical jokes and the prisoners see him as an easy touch. So much so that he gets bullied into a very awkward situation. But then he gets pushed too far. Thus the tagline; “And when Glass breaks he might just shatter...”

I’ve always been interested in prison based stories. Having studied books, movies and TV programmes like The Shawshank Redemption, Animal Factory and Oz, I consider myself quite well versed in the crime fiction subgenre that is the prison drama. And I was impressed by how real the prison scenes in Slammer came across. Now, in a CSNI interview Guthrie revealed that he’s not one for in-depth research, but for this novel he did pick the brains of an ex-prison guard by the name of Tom Laird who helped him add a little gritty reality to the novel. And these anecdotes obviously added quite a bit to the feel of the scenes. Right now, Slammer is at the top of my list of favourite prison stories, in any medium.

But the book does not survive on prison anecdotes alone. It’s so much more than that. Through the character of Nick Glass, Guthrie demonstrates a thorough understanding of the psychology of a man on the verge of a breakdown then goes deeper still when Glass is dipped even further into a mental abyss. It is a scarily believable decline. Unfortunately, there’s not much more I can say about the plot or the protagonist that won’t spoil some excellent twists and reveals. Just know that you’ve a lot of impressive stuff in store when you pick up Slammer. And existing Allan Guthrie fans needn’t worry. He hasn’t forgotten his roots either. He still manages to kill a small animal and dismember a character or two, just to keep it old school.

Monday 23 November 2009

No Alibis Event - Jack O'Connell

From the No Alibis newsletter...

Jack O'Connell
Wednesday 25th November at 6:30PM

Attendees of our Evening with James Ellroy, and followers of the excellent Crime Scene NI will be aware that we have Jack O'Connell lined up to appear at the store. Now, we're pleased to invite you an evening with the man, to celebrate the UK launch of his fifth novel, THE RESURRECTIONIST, on Wednesday 25th November, at 6:30PM.

Described as a "cyberpunk Dashiell Hammett", Jack O’Connell is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, which have earned him something of a cult status. His work has been praised by James Ellroy, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Dunn and Jonathan Carroll, among others.

Another fan, George Pelacanos (author of The Night Gardener), wrote, “In [his] remarkable books, Jack O'Connell has riffed on language, fire-cleansed genre conventions, and stripped the artifice from the modern noir novel, creating a body of work both exciting and entirely original.”

The author lives with his wife and two children in Worcester, Massachusetts.

ph. 02890-319601

Thursday 19 November 2009

Snatched from the NoirCon Blog

A Picture of Ken Bruen drinking Carlsberg lager while Ann McCabe enjoys what looks like a spritzer.

I feel vindicated! Peter Rozovsky will understand my delight.

For more cool pics and an inside scoop on one of this year's Bruen screen projects, visit the NoirCon blog.

Thursday 12 November 2009

No Alibis Event - BATEMAN

Colin Bateman - Monday 16th November at 6:00PM

No Alibis Bookstore are pleased to welcome back one of our favourites, Colin Bateman, to celebrate the launch of his latest novel, THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL, the sequel to his hugely successful MYSTERY MAN, on Monday 16th November at 6:00PM.

Black Books meets Lead Balloon meets Gavin and Stacey in this hugely entertaining follow-up to MYSTERY MAN, from acclaimed author Bateman.

The Small Shop Keeper With No Name is back. Hired to find the vandals responsible for spraying graffiti on an aspiring insurance magnate's advertising hoarding, he soon finds himself up to his ears in intrigue and battling to solve murders which echo in the corridors of power. With MI5 getting involved and everyone on the hunt for a missing Jack Russell, can Our Man Behind the Counter stay alive as well as keep his world renowned but criminally ignored No Alibis mystery bookshop afloat?

We expect this event to be very popular, so book your spot now by emailing David, or by calling the shop on 9031 9607.


Wednesday 11 November 2009

Photographic Evidence...

(L-R Nat Sobel, Stuart Neville, James Ellroy and David Torrans)

Some joker said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Fair enough, says me. Makes for a very short blog post when you've photos like these to display. Many thanks to Hilary Knight for sending the pics through.

(Ellroy, Neville and Sobel in deep literary discussion in the super-chilled surroundings of No Alibis.)

The event itself was one of the best I've attended to date. Ellroy is a showman. He didn't read. He performed. During the performance, it struck me; if this writing business hadn't worked out for him, he could have fallen back on a career as an evangelist. Of course, the subject matter of his sermons might have been a bit close to the knuckle. This cat doesn't hold back.

(Sobel, Neville, Ellroy and Torrans a few hours before the big event.)

Stuart Neville did very well as Ellroy's onstage interviewer. With an audience of close to 800 in front of him and James feckin' Ellroy beside him, it couldn't have been easy to play it cool. He fell right into the role, though.

(Ellroy and Torrans waiting for Adrian McKinty to make a bald joke.)

So, Mister Torrans, proprietor of No Alibis bookstore and proven event manager... what's next?

Friday 6 November 2009

It Was All Right on the Night

Well, last night’s reading went better than I could have hoped. About fifteen people made it to the Lock-Keeper’s Inn. Tammy (T.A. Moore) kindly warmed the audience up with the opening from her first novel, The Even. Then I read a story from Brendan Garner’s chapbook, Possession, Obsession and a Diesel Compression Engine. It went down better than I expected it to considering the rather colourful language and blasphemous content.

After the reading, Tammy invited the audience to ask us about writing. Tammy related her experience of being an actual real-life novelist and I talked about how lucky I am to have a literary agent. I think we could have sat there all night, but we were ushered out of our seats eventually. Tammy sold a good few books as far as I could see, and deservedly so. The chapbooks I’d ordered arrived in Dundrum around about the time I was leaving work to go to the Inn, so with nothing to flog, I ducked out early. But hopefully I made a bit of an impression on the good folk who showed up.

I had just enough time to take a spin out to Lisburn City Library where Garbhan Downey was promoting War of the Blue Roses. It’s always great to meet writers you admire and listen to what they have to say about their own work. After reading from his most recent release and giving us an insight into the workings of his comic-genius mind, he read a brief extract from the novel he’s just finished. Looking forward to that one hitting the shelves.

So, I’d a great night last night and was buzzing off the good vibes all morning. Up until my agent emailed me with some bad publishing news. Basically, The Wee Rockets won’t be hitting the shelves any time soon. A bit of a pisser, that. I’ll feel sorry for myself for a few days, get drunk once or three times, and then get back to work. I’ve two novels and a short story on the go at the moment and I doubt much more will happen for me publishing-wise until I get my finger out and finish something.

As of now, CSNI’s going on a bit of a hiatus for a few weeks. If anybody want’s to send me some material, I’ll post it, but I need to focus on fiction for a bit.

Chat to you later


Thursday 5 November 2009

Readings, Readings and More Readings

So, today’s the day of my first reading. Less than four hours from now I’ll be at the Lock-Keeper’s Inn with T.A. Moore. I plan to read a short story from my chapbook, and if there’s time, a short extract from The Wee Rockets; the novel that earned me an Arts Council SIAP award and a literary agent. I’d hoped to bring copies of Possession, Obsession and a Diesel Compression Engine with me to flog, but (possibly because of the postal strike) they didn’t make it from the printers. Ah well.

I don’t seem to be as nervous as I should be. Maybe it's because I spent a year and a half as a kung fu instructor. I’m kind of used to standing at the top of a room and talking about something I’ve studied inside-out for years. But it’ll be interesting to see how I feel when I actually get to the venue. I doubt it’ll run smoothly, but I think I’m a big enough now to get over myself if my reading isn’t on a par with all the great writers I’ve seen at these things over the past two years.

Speaking of which, after my own reading, I’ll be taking a spin over to Lisburn City Library to see a veteran at work. I haven’t seen Garbhan Downey read before, but his material is top notch. Unless he’s speaking in another language, he’s bound to please the crowd.

After his No Alibis Launch for Mystery Man, (Colin) Bateman explained that he let his writing do the entertaining. He’s gifted with a fantastic sense of humour and his readings always earn real belly-laughter. He’s due back in No Alibis on the 16th November at 6PM, incidentally. I’m reading Day of the Jack Russell now. It could well be even funnier than Mystery Man, so do your best to make it to that one. I’ve encouraged my wife to accompany me for the first time since the Connolly and Hughes reading last year. Really looking forward to that.

I’ve mentioned the James Ellroy event more than once, but it’s a very big deal, so bear with me while I mention it again. In fact, just click here to read my article for International Thriller Writers. I devote the first paragraph to where, when and how to get the tickets for The Demon Dog of American Literature’s visit to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

And while I’m linking to other sites, check out this post from BlackWaterTown, who’s written a great article on his recent trip to Ireland. Note that he’s taken a certain someone’s advice and called in to No Alibis... It’s nice when people listen to you.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Garbhan Downey Event

The world's first genetically-modified blue rose called the "SUNTORY blue rose APPLAUSE" will hit flower shops in Japan today, 4 November 2009, although Derry author, Garbhan Downey has already nipped the subject in the bud, four months to the day to be exact, with his best-selling novel War of the Blue Roses published by Guildhall Press.

War of the Blue Roses – the much-anticipated sequel to Downey’s widely-acclaimed comedy-thriller Running Mates published in 2007 – is a rollicking black comedy set in the world of international politics.

In the book, a US-sponsored gardening competition in the little village of Mountrose outside Derry ends up throwing three governments into turmoil when it sparks a worldwide race to grow the world’s first blue rose. The Irish premier is forced to team up with semi-reformed gangsters to stop British and American politicians shanghaiing the Mountrose Festival and walking off with a billion-dollar patent. Bugging, burglary, sabotage, murder and sexual deceit – it’s all part of the rose-growing business. And the bad guys are even worse…

Downey’s fifth novel has enhanced his reputation as a top-class writer. His last book, Yours Confidentially: Letters of a would-be MP, was listed by a number of reviewers on their ‘Book of the Year’ lists – and was one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s top seven International Crime Fiction reads of 2008. Downey’s debut novel, Private Diary of a Suspended MLA, was described in the Sunday Times as “the best Northern Ireland political novel of the century”.

Praise for War of the Blue Roses:

“A new peak, a personal best so far.” Derry Journal

“Lashings of spying, killing and romance – a thrilling and intelligent send up of global politics.” Culture NI

“If you think gardening is a clean pursuit, this book will shock you.” Detectives Beyond Borders

“Could well be his finest work to date.” Crime Scene NI

Downey, a former newspaper editor and BBC journalist, will be giving a public reading at Lisburn City Library this Thursday, 5 November at 8pm. For more details, see poster below.

War of the Blue Roses, priced £6.95, is available from all good bookshops and direct from and

For further information about the author and details of all of his books, please visit: Guildhall Press and

For more about the subject of Japan's new 'blue rose': My love is like a blue, blue rose.


Published 4 July 2009. ISBN: 9781906271190. Paperback £6.95.

Hughes & Hughes Irish Book of the Month for August 2009.

Garbhan with his parents, Áine & Gerry, at the Book Launch in Easons, Foyleside, Derry. Sat 4 July, 2009.

Free public reading @ Lisburn City Library, Co Antrim.
Thurs 5 October, 2009 @ 8pm.

Monday 2 November 2009

A Bastard Evil Twin Stole My Chapbook!

As I normally do before reviewing a book, I've been ignoring (as much as possible) the internet activity promoting Sam Millar's The Dark Place. Which is why I missed this extract from his interview with Critical Mick:

CM: Have you read Gerard Brennan's short story collection, Possession, Obsession and a Diesel Compression Engine?

SM: Not yet, because he keeps saying he's going to send me a signed copy, but never does. Too tight, the tight-arsed git. He had a great run of 'short stories' in the AndyTown News, a while back. Everyone was talking about it, saying how great it was. I have to admit, he scares me sometimes, what's going on in his head...

Read the rest of that very funny interview here.

Thanks to Mick raising the question in the first place, and Sam reminding me that I did very little to push it, I've been thinking. Maybe I should have promoted that wee short story collection a lot harder. But its publication just happened along at the wrong time. I'd just finished writing a book that had taken me well away from the black-humoured horror I'd been working on in the years before. I wasn't sure if the collection was really representative of the kind of writer I wanted to be.

But now I've found this rather alarming news report on the Baysgarth Publications website telling me that some pup, who claims to be my evil twin, has swiped the chapbook and taken control of it. According to a tweet I came across, Garner claims that he's 'always been sicker' than me. It's a weird situation, and I'm not sure how I'm meant to deal with it just now... I'm just going to ignore Brendan Garner and hope he goes away.

Friday 30 October 2009

A Wee Review - The Dark Place by Sam Millar

Sam Millar could be labelled Northern Ireland’s answer to Edward Bunker. But I wonder if it’s a disservice to Millar and his craft to describe him as a man who writes what he knows intimately -- has lived 'the life'. Certainly, in the case of The Dark Place, there is very little that could be gleaned from time spent in Long Kesh or even an American prison.

There are humorous references within The Dark Place describing it as ‘the Belfast version’ of Silence of the Lambs and even night-vision goggles play a part in the tale. But this is no cheap spoof. It’s a brutal and ugly tale. Merciless in its nihilism. Exploring loss and misery is what Sam Millar does best in his maturing Karl Kane series.

Karl Kane is a Belfast private investigator and a martyr to his haemorrhoids. He has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the worst time. The bookies love to see him. Kane’s tendency to operate outside the law means he’s not a hot favourite with the cops... Kind of a PI prototype circa 1950. Apart from the arse scratching, that is.

Plot-wise, homeless, drug-addicted young girls are disappearing off the Belfast Streets. Karl Kane takes a slightly unwilling interest in the case. Homeless people are practically invisible in Millar’s Belfast, so not much of a fuss is made when bodies start to show up. But with the slight chance of some cash and pressure from debtors always on his mind, Kane tries to engage with the homeless. His less than subtle methods lead him to... If you’re still interested, read The Dark Place. Millar tells this one better than me.

As with my previous experience of Sam Millar’s work, I was disturbed by The Dark Place. Millar has a way about him; like he’s smiling and shaking your hand while he cocks the .45 to shoot you in your gut. Be aware of Millar’s intentions (and the cover makes them pretty clear) before you crack the spine. He’s the anti-cosy. You have been warned...

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Legendary US crime novelist James Ellroy at Waterfront Hall

(I could introduce the following piece, but I think it speaks for itself in all its PR professionalism. As for what this event is doing for the crime fiction scene in Northern Ireland? Just have a look at the smile on Stuart Neville's face in the accompanying photo [Stuart is the slightly smaller giant on the left]... gb)

Following the success of his recent book ‘The Twelve’, internationally recognised Armagh author Stuart Neville will be joining legendary US crime writer James Ellroy, at the Waterfront Hall on Saturday 7th November.

The evening audience with Ellroy is an opportunity to hear one of the greatest crime novelists in recent years speak about his work, read from his latest and long awaited new novel, ‘Blood’s a Rover’ and listen to his views on crime fiction literature. Local crime novelist Stuart Neville will interview Ellroy as part of the evening.

Ellroy is author of the acclaimed LA Quartet, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz, as well as the first two parts of this Underworld USA trilogy, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand which were both Sunday Times bestsellers.

The forthcoming event has been organised by Belfast’s specialist crime bookstore No Alibis, a bookshop becoming well known for the role it plays in the crime fiction scene in Northern Ireland. Even the shop itself is the setting for the latest Colin Bateman thriller ‘The Day of the Jack Russell’, which will be released in November.

No Alibis owner and crime fiction guru David Torrans said, “It is the first time that Ellroy has visited Belfast and the event is an opportunity to hear the inspired and critically acclaimed crime fiction novelist face to face. The ‘Demon Dog’ of American crime fiction Ellroy, will be talking about his new book, ‘Blood’s a Rover’, which is the third and concluding part of the ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy.”

“It’s great to have one of our most recent novelists Stuart Neville, interviewing Ellroy as part of the evening. Ellroy himself said of Stuart’s first novel ‘The Twelve’ that ‘it is an all out-terror trip and the best first novel I have read in years,’” explained David.

Stuart will have just have returned from a book signing tour of the US to launch his book there, where it is receiving excellent reviews. It was during one of the booksigning events in Denver, that Stuart met up with the literary giant, Ellroy

“James Ellroy was one of the first supporters of my own work, which was fantastic for a first time author like me. It was so great to finally meet up with him over in the US. I’m really looking forward to the event at the Waterfront Hall, when we will get the chance to hear Ellroy talk more about his work and what inspires him.”

To celebrate Ellroy’s first visit to Belfast, the Queen’s Film Theatre, Botanic Avenue is also showing a special matinee edition of his best known films, the modern classic LA Confidential, on Saturday 7th November at 2pm.

The Waterfront show starts at 8pm. The ticket includes free entry to the Tiger Room after the show to help celebrate the event and will allow guests to mingle with authors from the vibrant Northern Ireland crime fiction scene. Musical entertainment will be provided by The Sabrejets.

Tickets, price £12 are available from Waterfront Hall Box Office and from No Alibis Bookshop, Botanic Avenue, Belfast on 028 9031 9601

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Garbhan Downey Event

The comic novelist Garbhan Downey is the guest author at Lisburn City Library’s Big Big Reading Group on Thursday 5 November. He will be reading from and discussing his new novel War of the Blue Roses, a political satire in which a gardening competition in a little Irish country village ends up throwing three governments into turmoil when it sparks an international race to grow the world’s first blue rose. Bugging, burglary, sabotage, murder and sexual deceit are all part of the mix in this romp through the undergrowth of local politics. The Big Big Reading Group meets at 8pm. All are welcome. Admission is free but booking is essential. Ring Lisburn City Library to reserve your place(s) 9266 9350.

(Hmmm, I should be able to make this after the Lock-Keepers event... gb)

Monday 26 October 2009


From the No Alibis newsletter







ph. 02890-319601
fax. 02890319607

Friday 23 October 2009

Amazon - WTF?

A recent email from Amazon:

Greetings from,
As someone who has purchased or rated The Twelve by Stuart Neville or other books in the Content Stores > Amazon Vine category, you might like to know that Ice Princess (Skate School) will be released on 30 October 2009. You can pre-order yours for just £3.99 (33% off the RRP) by following the link below.

Ice Princess (Skate School) Kay Woodward
You Save:
£2.00 (33%)
Release Date:
30 October 2009

This is why I shop at No Alibis...

And I'll be there on Monday 16th November at 6PM when Colin Bateman launches his latest book, THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL.

You should go too.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Look Who's Reading!


In a series of four Thursday evening workshops at the Lock-Keeper’s Inn Ian McDonald, Annie McCartney, Stuart Neville, Gerard Brennan and T.A Moore will read extracts from their novels and answer questions about their experience of a writer’s life.

After the talk there will be a ‘write-in’ for the nanowrimo’ers, but you don’t have to be a writer to attend the event. After all, writers are nothing without readers!

These events are an amazing opportunity to see some of Northern Ireland’s literary stars in an intimate setting.

5.30pm - 7.00pm 5th November - T.A Moore and Gerard Brennan
5.30pm - 7.00pm 12th November - Stuart Neville
5.30pm - 7.00pm 19th November - Annie McCartney
5.30pm - 7.00pm 26th November - Ian McDonald

You will also be able to buy books and get them signed at the event.

Admission FREE. Bookings essential. Call the Arts Officer Conor Maguire on 028 90494566. Refreshments Available.

This event forms part of the year long Castlereagh Arts Programme, Cultural Connection, editions published three times a year.


For a copy of the autumn edition of Cultural Connection, the Castlereagh Borough Council Arts Programme, please contact the Arts Officer Conor Maguire on 90494566

A Wee Review - Family Life by Paul Charles

Family Life is the second of the Inspector Starrett mysteries set in the town of Ramelton in County Donegal. Dangerously close to Brian McGilloway’s stomping ground, but there’s room enough for both of them, thanks to the diversity in styles.

Family Life kicks off with the murder of a young farmer by the name of Joe Sweeny. By all accounts, a downright decent bloke who played well with others. His body is discovered on the day of Liam Sweeny’s 64th birthday. Liam is the patriarch of the Sweeny clan. The immediate family extends to Liam’s wife Collette, two more sons, Tom and Ryan, and a daughter, Teresa. All have returned back to the Sweeny farm to celebrate Liam’s birthday with their significant others in tow. It comes to light very early on that almost every guest at the party has a motive for the murder related to Joe’s place in Liam’s will. And so Starrett, though mildly depressed by the prospect, has no choice but to start his investigation with the dead man’s immediate family.

As the plot develops, so does a rather interesting study into the dynamics of family life that extends beyond the Sweeny clan and gives the thoroughly introspective Starrett food for thought. His own personal situation is far from perfect due to the fact that he spent his early years running from a vocational mistake he made as a teenager. Now, well into his forties and with romantic notions for his childhood sweetheart, he has the urge to overcome his emotional awkwardness and achieve the sense of ‘belonging’ he equates with family.

There are some surprising flashes of humour in Charles’ writing, considering the dark premise of a murder in which those closest to the victim are suspected. They caught me off guard from time to time, but served to keep me interested in the book at points where it began to feel like just one interview after another. Charles achieves the admirable task of keeping the reader interested in the slower side of police work. He goes with old fashioned detection over gunfights and body counts.

Charles’ background as a music promoter infuses the book with lots of great references to the industry. But he keeps them subtle and in line with the story, which is not to be sniffed at. The temptation to show off his personal knowledge (and detract from his characters in the process) would be hard to resist. If Starrett ever makes it onto the screen, Charles should definitely be drafted in to work on the soundtrack.

Family Life is a clever work of detective fiction set against a homely background that seems to magnify the brutality of a serious crime like murder. And there’s more Inspector Starrett to come. I have it on good authority that this series will form a trilogy at the very least. After that... we can but hope.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

A Nifty Top Fifty

I’ve been keeping my eye on the BSC Review website that features reviews, interviews and articles from the likes of such crime fiction connoisseurs as Brian Lindenmuth, Sandra Ruttan, Keith Rawson and Gerald So. Earlier today, Lindenmuth’s Top Favourite 50 Novels of the Decade article caught my eye. I read it wondering if any of my favourites were in there, whether any of the unread books on my shelf would feature and to see if I could pick up a few recommendations (though God knows I don’t need to be spending cash on more books any time soon). Turns out a goodly portion of these books are CSNI favourites.

Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville each got a mention, and Ken Bruen featured in the list twice.

Their entries went like this:

The Guards by Ken Bruen – This was the gateway book for most fans of Bruen’s work and introduced us to this original voice, great character and unique stylist.

American Skin by Ken Bruen – American Skin is Bruen’s masterpiece.

Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty – This book, along with Safer by Sean Doolittle, represents what commercial, popular fiction SHOULD be.

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville – Simply put, this is a great novel that will change you.

Some high praise indeed. And who’s to say what might be added to Lindenmuth’s favourites from this neck of the woods in 2010? I don’t think this surge in Irish crime fiction is going to die out any time soon.

Check out the rest of Brian Lindenmuth’s article for a year’s worth of highly recommended reading. As Allan Guthrie said on Twitter, “Brian recommends, I read.”

Friday 16 October 2009

A Wee Review - Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'Edera

Ian Rankin is best known and often lauded for his Rebus series of crime fiction novels set in Edinburgh. He’s written relatively few standalones to date. So I was quite surprised when I found out he’d penned a graphic novel. And as I read it, I was even more surprised by the hybrid genre he’d thrown himself into. Dark Entries is one part nihilistic private detective story and one part Barker-esque demonic horror. Now, I have to confess that I am disgracefully uneducated in Rankin’s work for a self-confessed crime fiction junky, but I imagine his hardcore fans would have been pretty surprised by this deviation in style, form and genre. Pleasantly, I hope.

Rankin’s protagonist in Dark Entries is a well-seasoned recurring character best known as the star of the Hellblazer series. Now, I admit that I’m no expert in comic book trivia, and had to refer to Constantine’s Wikipedia page to learn a little about his history at DC Comics. However, as far as I can decipher, Rankin is sticking his neck out quite a bit by taking on this character. With so many chronicled adventures under Constantine's belt and a very solid fan base, the smallest of slips in characterisation are sure to draw criticism like flies to poop. But based on my slapdash learning, Rankin seems to have handled it well.

Constantine is an occult detective of questionable morals and sarcastic charm. In Dark Entries, he is approached by a network executive at the helm of a new reality TV series. The idea of the TV show is basically Big Brother in a haunted house. Said house is set up with all manner of technical jiggery-pokery designed to freak the housemates’ beans. But there’s a ghost in the machine. Or several. And so Constantine’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to go into the house in the guise of a surprise contestant and see what’s what. After a little bartering and a tonne of sarcasm, Constantine agrees to go in, armed only with nicotine patches and a flimsy cover story. And then things get a bit FUBAR.

Dell'Edera’s art is bang on the money for this story. Working in stark black and white with little-to-no grey shading, somehow he manages to make each panel seem softer than it should and very easy on the eye. Constantine looks as badass as he should and some of the more imaginative art that features in the second half of the novel... bloody marvellous. Literally. Something else caught my eye in the novel’s presentation – at the midpoint, the story takes a From Dusk to Dawn-type twist when things just go nuts. From that point on, the panels are framed in a black background which distinctly marks out the change in direction and sanity. It’s a neat little trick.

Dark Entries will take you to hell and (part of the way) back. In it you’ll find a fascinating satire of soulless reality TV and a thoughtful study in flexible morality. It represents another string to Ian Rankin’s bow and Vertigo Crime should be applauded for allowing him the opportunity to experiment.

So, who’s the next crime fiction writer to pull out all the stops for this DC Comics imprint?

Jason Starr.

Bring on The Chill!

Thursday 15 October 2009

CSNI Top Ten Paperbacks 2009

Okay, this is late, but in response to The Times Top Fifty Paperbacks article I blogged about here, I’ve compiled a list of ten paperbacks released this year that floated my boat.


Each book was released in paperback for the first time in 2009 (or in the case of Winterland, will be released in November this year).

They aren’t all mass market paperbacks, but I didn’t count those paperbacks that come out at the same time as its hardback release (AKA C-format or trade paperbacks). An honourable mention goes to Gene Kerrigan’s Dark Times in the City which was disqualified on this rule. I loved it, though.

The list isn’t in order of preference. That sort of decision making process would take up too much energy.

And that’s pretty much it. The list:

All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney
Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty
Gallows Lane by Brian McGilloway
Mystery Man by Colin Bateman
Slammer by Allan Guthrie
The Dying Breed (US Title - The Price of Blood) by Declan Hughes
The Twelve (US Title - The Ghosts of Belfast) by Stuart Neville
The War of the Blue Roses by Garbhan Downey
Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrell Coleman
Winterland by Alan Glynn

So, yeah, buy all these books, people. They rock.