Wednesday 31 August 2011

A Wee Review - Bloodland by Alan Glynn

Alan Glynn’s Bloodland begins with the mental breakdown of a private security operative in the Congo and then follows the shockwaves that it creates in Ireland and the US. An out-of-work journalist is warned off writing a book about Irish TV star, Susie Monaghan. An ex-Taoiseach gets knocked off the AA wagon. A once-successful property developer skates along the brink of bankruptcy. A US senator with presidential aspirations needs all the spin his people can provide to explain a broken hand. The senator’s brother wants the respect of his octogenarian corporate mentor. And they’re all linked by a helicopter crash that claimed Susie Monaghan’s life.

Bloodland follows the trend set by Glynn’s previous novel, Winterland. It explores the far-reaching ramifications of corruption in politics and global business right down to the frontline casualties. Shit runs downhill. Glynn’s writing is engaging and urgent. Each line counts as he expertly develops his characters and plot without sacrificing his wonderful skill for evocative prose.

Bloodland will enrage that sleeping anarchist within. More of the same, please, Mister Glynn.

Sunday 21 August 2011

A Wee Review - Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway gives Inspector Ben Devlin a bit of a holiday and introduces us to his new protagonist, DS Lucy Black of the PSNI Personal Protection Unit in Derry. During an investigation into the kidnapping of a local businessman's teenage daughter DS Black discovers a little girl wandering through a forest on a snowy night in nothing but her nightdress. It soon becomes apparent that the girl has been witness to something incredibly traumatic. So traumatic, in fact, that she retreats into herself and is unable to communicate. DS Black takes it upon herself to take the girl under her wing and try to get her to speak, but can she deal with an additional responsibility? She already cares for her senile father and has more than enough on her plate trying to crack the kidnapping case.

Little Girl Lost is quite a different book from anything McGilloway has written in the Devlin series. From the protagonist to the writing style, McGilloway has made a lot of changes, and all for the better. It should come with a warning, though. This one tugs, pulls and gnaws at your heart strings. Prepare to invest a lot of emotion into this read and don't expect to be paid back with the perfect Hollywood ending. McGilloway has gone all out. Little Girl Lost is darker than a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Word on the street is that this is the start of a new series (though we can expect a new Devlin book in the coming year) and this book proves that DS Black will be a welcome addition to the Northern Irish crime scene.

Friday 19 August 2011

Writers' Writers (a short report)

Adrian McKinty and Declan Burke made for an awesome double act at last night's No Alibis event. Both writers opted not to read from the books they were there to launch (McKinty's Falling Glass and Burke's Absolute Zero Cool). Instead they entertained the audience with a frank and oft times scathing dialogue about the state of the modern publishing model. A lot of what was said I wouldn't dare write about here for fear that I might be sued for libel. What I can tell you is that it was a fascinating insight into the minds of a pair of excellent writers who are masters of their trade.

Incidentally, Stuart Neville, David Park and Andrew Pepper were among the crowd. I wish I had the presence of mind to snap a few pics but I haven't been at the top of my game this week. I'm sure they'll pop up on the No Alibis website and/or Facebook page at some point. I'll post a link when they do.

If you didn't get to the event you should make it up to yourself by buying Falling Glass and Absolute Zero Cool as soon as humanly possible. Both books are a master class in crime fiction that doesn't conform to the old and tired model.

Thursday 18 August 2011

No Alibis Event - Burke and McKinty

Declan Burke and Adrian McKinty
Thursday 18th August at 6:00PM
Tickets: FREE

No Alibis are very pleased to invite you to celebrate the launch of Declan Burke's latest novel, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and FALLING GLASS, the latest novel from Adrian McKinty, in the shop on Thursday 18th August at 6:00 PM.

Declan Burke was born in Sligo in 1969. He is the author of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE (2003) and THE BIG O (2007). He is also the editor of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY. His new novel, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, is published by Liberties Press in 2011. He lives in Wicklow with his wife Aileen and baby daughter Lily, and hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.

Absolute Zero Cool is a post-modern take on the crime thriller genre. Adrift in the half-life limbo of an unpublished novel, hospital porter Billy needs to up the stakes. Euthanasia simply isn’t shocking anymore; would blowing up his hospital be enough to see Billy published, or be damned? What follows is a gripping tale that subverts the crime genre’s grand tradition of liberal sadism, a novel that both excites and disturbs in equal measure. Absolute Zero Cool is not only an example of Irish crime writing at its best; it is an innovative, self-reflexive piece that turns every convention of crime fiction on its head. Declan Burke’s latest book is an imaginative story that explores the human mind’s ability to both create and destroy, with equally devastating effects.

Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus. After studying philosophy at Oxford University he emigrated to New York City where he lived in Harlem for seven years working in bars, bookstores, building sites and finally the basement stacks of the Columbia University Medical School Library in Washington Heights. In 2000 he moved to Denver, Colorado where he taught high school English and started writing fiction in earnest. His first full length novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the 2004 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was picked by Booklist as one of the 10 best crime novels of the year. In mid 2008 he moved to Australia. He is currently working on a new crime novel for Serpents Tail called The Cold Cold Ground. His website can be found here.

An old associate of regular McKinty hero Michael Forsythe, Killian makes a living enforcing other people's laws, collecting debts, dealing out threats. Now Forsythe sets Killian up with the best paid job of his life. A prominent, politically connected, Irish businessman, Richard Coulter, needs someone to find his ex-wife and children - for half a million. Reluctant to take it, but persuaded by the money, Killian travels across the world for his briefing from Coulter himself. Once on the trail, Killian discovers the real reason Coulter's ex is running, and helps her take refuge amongst his people - a community of Irish Travellers, who close ranks to look after them. McKinty is at his continent-hopping, pacy, evocative best in this new thriller, moving between his native Ireland and distant cities within a skin-of-his-teeth timeframe.

We, expect this event to be very popular, so avoid disappointment and book your spot early. You can email David, or call the shop on 9031 9607.

Thursday 11 August 2011

A Wee Review - Plugged by Eoin Colfer

Dan McEvoy was once an Irish soldier. He did two tours of the Lebanon -- by choice -- which resulted in him spending a little time with the army shrink. A few years later, he left Ireland and found a job at a seedy casino in Cloisters, New Jersey. And there he worked until the day his friend (to use the term loosely) Zeb disappeared. Then Connie, a stripper he had a crush on, ended up dead in the casino parking lot. Now Dan has to find his missing friend-by-default and his dead nearly-girlfriend's killer. Unfortunately, this is going to lead him into the path of a brutal gangster, Mike Madden. And now that his friend Zeb has somehow become the voice of his concscience and a constant companion throughout the adventure, the question is, can Dan hold it together long enough to survive? And what the hell is going on with his hair?

Plugged is Eoin Colfer's first novel aimed at adults and this read will leave you wishing he'd gotten around to this career move a hell of a lot sooner. The characters (especially the protagonist) are big, brash and a bucket-load of fun. The story shoots off on tangents quite regularly yet never seems to drag towards the gut-punch ending. The tone... well, it's got to be read to be fully appreciated. Pick this book up ASAP. The opening pages accost the reader, drag them to all the worst places and charm their metaphorical pants off along the way.

Top shelf.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August 2011

A Wee Review - Dr Yes by Colin Bateman

DR. YES is the third in the Mystery Man series of books that feature No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast. Picking up where Day of the Jack Russell left off, the still nameless protagonist invites unholy chaos into his life when he allows a shaken and seemingly unhinged crime fiction writer to take cover in his shop. Augustine Wogan, a critically acclaimed scribe lost to obscurity, believes that Dr Yes, a plastic surgeon based in Belfast, is responsible for the death of his wife. And a grisly turn of events soon convinces the mystery man and his pregnant girlfriend/sidekick that there may be more to this case than the ramblings of a confused author.

Bateman maintains his knack for creating a great story enhanced by the kind of comic genius that is guaranteed to make the most dour reader laugh out loud. As the series develops so does the protagonists lists of physical and mental hypochondriacal foibles. But he is forced to overcome his obstacles by the allure of another mystery. And so, pregnant girl wonder in tow, Belfast's premiere private eye and bookseller is back in business. DR. YES is that oh so Northern Irish mix of the bleak and comedic that has become a hallmark of Bateman's work. Another winner.

Friday 5 August 2011

A Wee Review - Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

Back of Beyond features Cody Hoyt who first appeared in Three Weeks to Say Goodbye (2009). He’s an unpredictable and sometimes violent cop who has problems with alcohol. A stereotype of sorts but intentionally so. It is clear that Box wanted to take a break from his series character, Joe Picket, who is an upstanding family man and all-round nice guy. And Box clearly had a lot of fun (if that’s the right word) with this one.

Detective Hoyt suffers the loss of his close friend and AA sponsor, Hank Winters, in a devastating fire. At first glance the tragedy could be written off as an accident. However, Hoyt’s discovery of an empty bottle of bourbon plays on his mind. Winters is the last man he expected to fall off the wagon. Unfortunately, Hoyt’s resolve to stay off the bottle isn’t as strong as his sponsor’s and he soon spirals into his old self-destructive ways. But he needs to hold it together for the sake of his teenaged son. Justin Hoyt is out of reach in the depths of Yellowstone National Park. He’s on a wilderness adventure and a tenuous lead in Winters’ murder investigation suggests the killer is on the same trip. Detective Cody Hoyt has no choice but to delve into the Back of Beyond to protect his son.

Back of Beyond is an expertly plotted and paced wilderness thriller; a great example of Box’s literary forte. He brings Yellowstone National Park to life and impresses upon the reader the awesome power of nature with his skill for descriptive prose. But he is equally adept at exploring the darker side of humanity. He constantly juxtaposes the beauty of nature with the brutality of mankind and vice verse. Tense, tumultuous and ever-twisting. Back of Beyond proves yet again how C.J. Box is worthy of the prestigious crime fiction awards he’s collected over the course of his career.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Less is More

I had a quick trawl through CSNI earlier and realised that I've only posted one review here in 2011. This seems a bit out of sync with the number of books I've received and read in that time. In fact, it's completely out of whack. I've written a few of them for Culture Northern Ireland but that still doesn't account for the discrepancy. Without digging too deep, I think I've discovered the problem.

I've developed a bit of a chip on my shoulder about not being paid to write. When I first started the blog, the only reason I needed to pen a review was the simple joy of sharing my thoughts with like-minded individuals when a good book tickled my fancy. Then it afforded me a chance to get in contact with some of my favourite writers. And soon after that came the free books. Spoilt, I was.

But like any other spoilt child, I started to take everything I had for granted and set my sights on the next step. Money, money, money, money, money. Of course, there aren't many people out there paying for reviews right now. Not from a lowly blogger like myself, anyway. And, disheartened, I lost sight of the reason I began to share my thoughts in the first place.

Time is a factor too, of course. I have my wife and kids to think about. And a wee fluffy puppy and thirty-something tropical fish too. And somewehre between that and my day-job. I need to find time for my fiction, and maybe an hour or two on the Xbox. Banging out five hundred words on my last read barely makes it to the top of my list of priorities these days. But I feel bad about that. Especially since I still get a fair amount of free books every month.

So, what to do?

Well, this week's solution is to write reviews that are much shorter. Fifty to one hundred words. More like blurbs, really. And you know, that's probably a better length for internet consumption anyway, right? At least I'm not shrinking them down to Twitter proportions, right? I'm still contributing to the crime fiction community, right? Oh, you don't care? Right.

Anyway. I just finished reading Back of Beyond by CJ Box, so I expect that to be the first one I review in my new lean, stripped-down blogger fashion. Then I'll go back to the great books I've read but avoided reviewing over the past six months and run a series of short, blurb-like reviews of those. And with any luck, I'll post more regularly and feel just a little less guilty about all those free books that keep my bookshelves stocked.



Monday 1 August 2011

Fancy a Cool One?

Over at Crime Always Pays you can throw your hat into the ring in the hopes of winning a copy of Declan Burke's Absolute Zero Cool. Just answer one question and put your faith in the gods of good fortune. It's a great prize, by the way. In an early incarnation I got to read Absolute Zero Cool and said something like:

Absolute Zero Cool is a slightly psychedelic trip into the workings of Declan Burke’s rather odd mind. The characters leap off the page and the ending twists again and again with more enthusiasm than Chubby Checker and the Fat Boys ever mustered.

Dec's also done a guest spot at Tony Black's Pulp Pusher blog. It's a week in the life of a writer and if you don't crack a smile at it... you're probably not a writer.

And, in my usual blog-neglecting manner, I forgot to point out that I have a story over at Pulp Pusher. Nothing But Time first appeared on the original version of Pulp Pusher and Mister Black was kind enough to resurrect it in case there's somebody out there who might be interested in taking a look. So, click here, kind soul.

(Left to right: Declan Burke, Tony Black and Gerard Brennan)