“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Launch: MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O’Loughlin

Ed O’Loughlin launches his latest novel, MINDS OF WINTER (riverrun), next week. I read an early advance copy a few months ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since – it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year. If you’re interested in powerful storytelling and beautiful prose, all wrapped up in a Russian Doll-style exploration of a bizarre mystery – well, this one’s for you. The details:
Ed O’Loughlin
to celebrate the launch of his new novel
at Dubray Books
(36 Grafton Street, Dublin 2)
on Tuesday August 30th at 6.30pm
  For more on Ed O’Loughlin, clickety-click here

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reviews: Irish Times Crime Fiction Column, August 2016

Already a four-time winner of the CWA’s International Dagger, A Climate of Fear (Harvill Secker, €19.50) is Fred Vargas’s ninth novel in the Paris-based Commissaire Adamsberg series. The apparent suicide of an old woman leads the Zen-like Adamsberg and his team to investigate a bizarre double murder on a remote Icelandic island ten years previously, although the team soon realises that their murderer is intimately involved with a cult devoted to enacting the speeches of Robespierre, Danton et al during the post-Revolutionary years of ‘the Terror’. Quirky doesn’t even begin to cover the plotting and characters here, but Vargas – the crime-writing pseudonym of French writer, historian and archaeologist Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau – is a veteran of 14 novels of total and remains in complete command of her bizarre investigation. The tone may be offbeat, and the affectionate bickering between the members of Adamsberg’s extended team amusing, but Vargas is assured in the way she marshals her narrative elements around a fascinating exploration of how a corrupted group dynamic can parlay historical horrors into contemporary crimes.
  Seamus Smyth’s Quinn (1999) is one of Irish crime fiction’s lost classics, a story narrated by a lethal charmer who has much in common with Red Dock, the anti-hero in Smyth’s – now writing as J.M. Smyth – Blood for Blood (Black and White, €9.99). A successful criminal based in Dublin, Red survived growing up in an Irish orphanage, although his brother Sean wasn’t so lucky. Now in a position to take his revenge on those responsible for Sean’s death, Red sets in train a diabolical plot that includes kidnap, blackmail and murder – but even a meticulous planner like Red couldn’t have anticipated the intervention of a serial killer who prides himself on the purity of his artistic vision. A snarling, anarchic yawp of a crime yarn, Blood for Blood is a novel that revels in its contradictions, the jaunty tone and blackly comic narrative regularly interrupted by grand guignol descriptions of violence and mutilation, while the increasingly improbable plot is firmly rooted in the harrowing abuse suffered by the inmates of state-run institutions. Crude, brutal and appallingly funny, Blood for Blood is like nothing else you’ll read this year.
  Robert Thorogood is best known for creating the BBC TV series Death in Paradise, which is set on a fictional Caribbean island and originally featured DI Richard Poole (since replaced by DI Humphrey Goodman), an uptight British policeman struggling to adapt to the idiosyncratic rhythms of Saint Marie. Thorogood revived Poole for his debut novel, A Meditation on Murder (2014), and Poole returns again in The Killing of Polly Carter (Harlequin, €19.50). World famous supermodel Polly Carter announces her intention to commit suicide before leaping from the cliff near her home on Saint Marie, her death witnessed by Polly’s twin sister, Claire. Poole’s suspicions are aroused, however, and soon he is leading his team in a murder investigation. Despite the contemporary setting, the Death in Paradise mysteries are deliciously retro Agatha Christie-style whodunits, with Poole trawling a shoal of red herrings as he interrogates his list of suspects. Much of the pleasure, meanwhile, is derived from Poole’s fish-out-of-water helplessness as he flops around trying to cope with Saint Marie’s heat, cultural quirks and easy-going pace of life, all the while wondering if ‘his entire existence as an Englishman was no more than Pavlovian conditioning.’
  The Last One (Penguin, €16.99) is Alexandra Oliva’s debut, in which we first meet ‘Zoo’ as a contestant on a TV wilderness survival reality show. Forbidden from contacting the outside world, Zoo has no way of knowing that a global catastrophe has laid waste to the human population: as she treks through the vast forest towards home, her survival grows increasingly unlikely. The narrative is split between an on-line commentary on the early episodes of the TV show and Zoo’s own account of her worsening conditions, although the chronology is out of kilter: the on-line conversation relates to events that occurred days before Zoo’s personal experience of those events, which interrupts and stilts the narrative flow. Meanwhile, Oliva deliberately creates a distancing effect by referring to her characters according to their reality show tags – ‘Zoo’, ‘Tracker’, ‘Engineer’, ‘Biology’ – a conceit that works as a commentary on our disconnection with reality in a media-managed world, although the flipside of employing archetypal titles is that it mutes our instinctive emotional response to the characters’ plight. Overall, though, The Last One is a smart and timely story about what it means to be human at a time when humanity is hanging on by a thread.
  The Unfortunate Englishman (Grove Press, €19.50) is John Lawton’s 10th novel and the second to feature Joe Wilderness, who first appeared in Then We Take Berlin (2013). A thief co-opted by MI6, Wilderness is a reluctant spy, a man motivated by personal concerns – i.e., pulling scams in the conman’s paradise that is Cold War-era Berlin – rather than ideology. The title refers to two unfortunate Englishmen: Geoffrey Masefield, a geologist who travels to Moscow by MI6 as an amateur spy, and Bernard Alleyn, a KGB mole who has spent so long playing the role of the English gentleman that he barely remembers his original name. Charged with negotiating a swap of Masefield and Alleyn in Berlin, Wilderness learns that the deal involves heisting a fortune in vintage wine looted during the war from a Jewish family destined for the gas chamber. The tone of unsentimental realpolitik means that The Unfortunate Englishman earns the right to that le Carré-esque title, even if Wilderness himself is reminiscent of Len Deighton’s spy Harry Palmer. The result is a complex and beautifully detailed tale, a full-blooded Cold War spy thriller given an added dimension courtesy of Wilderness’s quirky humour and his pragmatic take on morality and honour. ~ Declan Burke

  This column was first published in the Irish Times.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Publication: THEY ALL FALL DOWN by Cat Hogan

THEY ALL FALL DOWN (Poolbeg Press) is the debut novel from author Cat Hogan, a psychological thriller based in a fictional fishing village in Co. Wexford. Quoth the blurb elves:
Ring-a-ring o rosie . . .
  How far would you go?
  Jen Harper likes to play it safe. She is settling into life on the outskirts of a sleepy fishing village with her little boy, Danny. Life by the sea, just how she wanted it.
  When she meets Andy, she feels the time has come to put her baggage and the scars of the past behind her. Then she is introduced to Scott, Andy s best friend, and is stung by his obvious disdain for her. Why is Scott so protective of his best friend? What is the dark secret that threatens all of them?
  In her attempt to find answers, Jen must confront her demons and push her relationships to their limits. By digging up the past, she puts Danny and herself in danger. Will she succeed in uncovering the truth before they all fall down?
  Raw and energetic, They All Fall Down is a fast-paced and addictive novel exploring the depths of flawed human nature, the thin line between love and obsession and the destructive nature of addiction.
  THEY ALL FALL DOWN was published on July 1st. For more on Cat Hogan, clickety-click here

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Books: BOOKS TO DIE FOR To Publish In Trade Paperback

I’m delighted to see that the award-winning BOOKS TO DIE FOR (Atria / Emily Bestler Books), edited by John Connolly and yours truly, will be published in trade paperback later this year, at what I think is a very reasonable price of $17 (I’m biased, obviously). If you haven’t come across BOOKS TO DIE FOR before, the concept runs a lot like this:
The world’s most beloved mystery writers celebrate their favourite mystery novels in this gorgeously wrought collection, featuring essays by Michael Connelly, Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin, and more. In the most ambitious anthology of its kind, the world’s leading mystery writers come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written. In a series of personal essays that reveal as much about the authors and their own work as they do about the books that they love, over a hundred authors from twenty countries have created a guide that will be indispensable for generations of readers and writers. From Agatha Christie to Lee Child, from Edgar Allan Poe to P. D. James, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter and Philip Marlowe to Lord Peter Wimsey, Books to Die For brings together the best of the mystery world for a feast of reading pleasure, a treasure trove for those new to the genre and for those who believe that there is nothing new left to discover. This is the one essential book for every reader who has ever finished a mystery novel and thought … I want more!
BOOKS TO DIE FOR will be published in trade paperback on October 25th. For all the details, clickety-click here

Friday, July 29, 2016

Books: TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS, ed. Declan Burke

I’m very pleased to announce that TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS will be published by New Island Books on September 30th, with yours truly wearing his editor’s hat. It’s a collection of brand new short stories from Irish crime writers, and the blurb runs a lot like this:
Selected and edited by award-winning crime writer Declan Burke, TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS showcases the absolute best in Irish crime writing today. From originators like Patrick McGinley and Ruth Dudley Edwards to global crime megastars like John Connolly and Eoin Colfer, there can be no doubt as to the serious quality of Irish crime writing in the twenty-first century. An absolute must-have for crime lovers! Featuring stories by: Patrick McGinley, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Colin Bateman, Eoin McNamee, Ken Bruen, Paul Charles, Julie Parsons, John Connolly, Alan Glynn, Adrian McKinty, Arlene Hunt, Alex Barclay, Gene Kerrigan, Eoin Colfer, Declan Hughes, Cora Harrison, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Jane Casey, Niamh O Connor, William Ryan, Louise Phillips, Sinead Crowley, and Liz Nugent.
  TROUBLE IS OUR BUSINESS will be published on September 30th.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” Robert Thorogood

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré. I read it (and the subsequent two George Smiley books) from start to finish every couple of years or so and am always captivated by the beauty of the writing and the sense of moral decay it has running through almost every line. When I was younger, I thought it was a ‘whodunnit’ and couldn’t wait to find out who the killer was. Now that I’m older, I realise that the killer is pretty much revealed in Chapter 1, and the greatness of the book is that Smiley also realises who it is from the start. I think it’s Le Carré’s masterpiece.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

I know that this is a bit bleak for a 44-year old man with a family and a mortgage, but I think I most want to be Harry Potter. Or at least, there’s still a bit of me that’s waiting for a letter to come through the post that tells me that yes, I am indeed a magical wizard, and now I’ve got to go into an intense period of training so I can become the best wizard in the world.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Surely there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to reading? However, I’d agree that there are definitely some books that have shorter sentence structures than others, so I’m happy to admit that I’ve always loved a good Techno Thriller. Back in the day, I used to tear through every Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Stephen Coonts and Patrick Robinson novel I could get my hands on. And I suppose the thing that makes them ‘guilty pleasures’ is that I’ve not dared go near any of them for years. I worry that the stories (and politics) would feel somewhat dated from the distance of the 21st century.

Most satisfying writing moment?

It’s always the same, whether I’m writing episodes for DEATH IN PARADISE on TV, or if I’m writing the stand-alone novels: it’s the moment I get to write ‘The End’ for the first time. In truth, I tend to do a mad dash on the first draft of anything, so writing ‘The End’ is never even close to being the actual end of the writing process, but I always feel an overwhelming sense of relief and release when I know that, for good or for ill, I have in fact managed to get to the end of the story.

If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?

I remember living in a filthy flat in London with friends back in the 1990s. We’d just left University and were all on the dole or doing temp jobs for next-to-no cash. Whenever someone found a good book, it used to be passed from person to person, and I remember DIVORCING JACK by Colin Bateman coming into the house and it going off like a grenade. It was so flip, so sarcastic and off-the-cuff, and we all devoured it. It seemed to combine the glib wit of a PG Wodehouse with the filth and punch of a James Ellroy. I loved it.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?

Okay, so it’s not quite a crime novel (although there is a murder of sorts at the end), but I’ve been wanting to see a movie of THE SEA by John Banville ever since the day I was working as a script reader at Miramax and I was asked to write a report on the novel. The story is so wonderfully cinematic – centring on a lone man in a seaside cottage who’s trying to come to terms with the decisions he’s made in his life while the ghost of a mysterious woman and child visit him. The big cheeses at Miramax didn’t want to take things further, but it’s a beautiful, haunting novel, and I’m still convinced it would make a beautiful, haunting film.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?

The worst thing about being a writer is that you’re on your own all day. From the moment you turn your computer on in the morning to the moment you turn it off at night. It’s just you. In a shed. And, as the years pass, I find I’m increasingly unable to function in the real world. I’m distracted at the school gates when I pick up the kids. Or I’m baffled by our lovely Postie trying to talk to me as he delivers an item too large to fit through the letterbox. Or I’m terrified by a phone ringing from an ‘unknown’ number. Spending so much time on your own with only imaginary characters for company isn’t exactly a very healthy way to live.

The pitch for your next book is …?

When the owner of a coffee plantation is found murdered inside a farm building, Detective Inspector Richard Poole and his team have to work out which member of his family killed him, why, and—even more impossibly—just how the killer managed to escape from the locked room afterwards.

Who are you reading right now?

I spent the weekend at the Harrogate Crime Festival, and was really impressed with how Ruth Ware talked about her writing. The brilliant things about crime festivals is that the panelists’ books are always for sale in a ‘pop up’ bookshop on site, so I was able to buy her first book, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD. So far it’s everything I hoped it would be: a modern-day murder mystery with a brooding sense of menace and a real mastery of tension.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?

The only sane answer is ‘read’, because for all that I love writing, I love reading more. I think that as long as I’ve got a pile of novels by my bedside, I could pretty much put up with everything else I had to endure in life.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?

Fun. Comic. Thrilling.

THE KILLING OF POLLY CARTER by Robert Thorogood is published by Harlequin Mira.

Friday, July 22, 2016


It’s nice to see that the Irish crime novel is getting some academic love: Palmgrave Macmillan has just published THE CONTEMPORARY IRISH DETECTIVE NOVEL, which is edited by Elizabeth Mannion and promises to ‘open new ground in Irish literary criticism and genre studies.’ To wit:
Irish detective fiction has enjoyed an international readership for over a decade, appearing on best-seller lists across the globe. But its breadth of hard-boiled and amateur detectives, historical fiction, and police procedurals has remained somewhat marginalized in academic scholarship. Exploring the work of some of its leading writers―including Peter Tremayne, John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Tana French, Jane Casey, and Benjamin Black―The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel opens new ground in Irish literary criticism and genre studies. It considers the detective genre’s position in Irish Studies and the standing of Irish authors within the detective novel tradition. Contributors: Carol Baraniuk, Nancy Marck Cantwell, Brian Cliff, Fiona Coffey, Charlotte J. Headrick, Andrew Kincaid, Audrey McNamara, and Shirley Peterson.
  For all the details, clickety-click here

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Jo Spain publishes her second novel, BENEATH THE SURFACE (Quercus) in September, and it appears that Inspector Tom Reynolds, whom we first met in WITH OUR BLESSING (2015), is becoming a series protagonist. To wit:
Did I know it would come to this? That I was playing Russian Roulette? I would give anything to turn back time and to be with my girls. There is no shot at redemption. I am going to die. The gun is in my eye-line as the second bullet is fired. That’s the one that kills me.
  Late at night, two powerful men meet in a secret location to discuss a long nurtured plan about to come to fruition. One is desperate to know there is nothing standing in their way - the other assures him everything is taken care of. Hours later, a high-ranking government official called Ryan Finnegan is brutally slain in the most secure building in Ireland - Leinster House, the seat of parliament. Inspector Tom Reynolds and his team are called in to uncover the truth behind the murder.
  At first, all the evidence hints at a politically motivated crime, until a surprise discovery takes the investigation in a dramatically different direction. Suddenly the motive for murder has got a lot more personal … but who benefits the most from Ryan’s death?
  BENEATH THE SURFACE will be published on September 22nd. For what it’s worth, I thought WITH OUR BLESSING a very impressive debut – reviewing it for the Irish Times, I had this to say: “In a very strong year for Irish crime-fiction debuts, Jo Spain’s With Our Blessing is among the most assured . . . an old-fashioned mystery harking back to Agatha Christie . . . The apparently cosy tone is only skin deep, however: With Our Blessing picks at the scabs of recent Irish history to reveal raw and gaping wounds.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Books: BLOOD FOR BLOOD by J.M. Smyth

All three regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Seamus Smyth and his ferocious debut novel QUINN (1999). We’ve been waiting quite a while for a follow-up, but – a trumpet parp there, maestro, if you will – it’s finally arrived. To wit:
‘Care’. There’s a word if ever I heard one. I looked it up in a dictionary once. It had a lot of definitions – but not one that applied to me and Sean ...
  Red has survived the barbarity and abuse of the orphanage. His twin brother Sean has not been so lucky. With a sworn oath to avenge his brother’s murder, Red kidnaps a policeman’s daughter and leaves her to be brought up in care, to suffer like he and Sean did. But this is just the first part of Red’s plan for revenge against all those who took their freedom.
  Now, twenty years later, the time has come. The kidnapped girl has grown up and left the orphanage, never knowing who her real parents are or the part she’ll now play in Red’s shocking revenge. And for those who have been living their lives in peace, with faded memories of twin boys who were put into care years ago, life is about to descend into hell.
  But with the criminal underworld, the police and an unexpected serial killer on the scene, sometimes even the best laid plans go awry…
  To read a sample from BLOOD FOR BLOOD, clickety-click here