Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grimm News

I'm falling a bit behind on the reviews here, but it's not that I haven't been reading, and there should be some book posts up shortly. In the meantime, I thought I'd update the news on Grimm Tales, because there are now several places to catch a bit of the action around it and to learn more about the various authors involved. Nigel Bird has interviewed Jack Bates over at Sea Minor , and earlier on Nigel's blog we have one of the trademark Dancing with Myself interviews, in which Loren Eaton interviews none other than, well,  Loren Eaton .

Then we have Jack Bates doing a series of his own trademark Three Questions interviews. You'll find Nigel Bird, Absolutely Kate, B. Nagel, and Patti Abbott (although Patti's actuallywas done just before the anthology came out). Oh yeah, and I've got a spot over there as well.

Finally, I finagled my way on to my friend Rick  Kleffel's radio show to talk about the book. If you didn't catch it already from another of my blogs, you can certainly catch it at  KUSP  now. It's about 45 minutes in, following a fine interview with mystery writer Sara Paretsky.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime in the 21st Century, edited by Declan Burke

Any occasional reader of this blog must wonder at times how it is that a blogger who deliberately titles her blog Not New for Long as an excuse not to keep up with what's in, what's hot, what's happening in the world of literature can be so up to speed when it comes to Irish crime fiction. That's a long and complicated matter, my friends, and I'd go into it, but since I can sense the real question peeping out from underneath that one, I won't bother. Your question really is, how can you too be up to speed, or possibly a little ahead of it, when it comes to the cutting edge in what some people like to call Emerald Noir?

I'm here to give you part of the answer. For some time now, in addition to reading a bunch of blogs, I've also been dabbling in the anthology Down These Green Streets, in which a host of contemporary Irish crime writers responding to the requests of Dublin novelist and critic Declan Burke have turned in essays on various aspects of the crime story in Ireland present and past. The scope of the talent that's been squeezed in between these pages is pretty amazing. When you've got the likes of Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty, John Connolly and Declan Hughes to contribute their thoughts on the matter, you are going to have a pretty substantive volume. And there's more! Much, much more.

I thought I would write this book up when I came to the end of it, but in fact, I've been dabbling in it for some time and it seems unlikely that I will even know when I do reach the end of it, so I thought I'd give it a mention before it goes out of print--which I hope won't be for some time yet.

In the meantime, some highlights, pretty much at random:

A fascinating piece by Ruth Dudley Edwards on the life of Liam O'Flaherty, author behind the movie The Informer.

Northern Irish author/editor and pretty much everything else, Gerard Brennan, who takes a look at crime writing from north of the border, with thoughts on such Norn Iron writers as Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville, and Adrian McKinty and with a special title nod to the often overlooked The Truth Commissioner by David Parks, which is a personal favorite of mine.

A terrific analysis of three earlier Irish crime novels by the currently on-a-roll Alan Glynn, including a great bit on The Third Policeman.

Declan Burke's own interview with John Banville on his alter ego Benjamin Black.

And the list could go on and on.

I know there are some of you who think you'd like to read some of these authors if only you could stop compulsively reading the Scandinavians.  But some day that bubble will burst, my friends, and then where do you want to be? Swimming miserably in the icy cold water toward the Irish shore, or sitting comfortably in an Irish pub, with a great Irish crime novel already halfway read?

Yeah--I'll see you there.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Cold Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

Let's cut to the chase here--I love this book. "Love" isn't usually a word I use in describing my reaction to a crime novel, although even an occasional reader here on this blog may have deduced that I am a mad fan of Adrian McKinty's writing. I'd tend to say exciting, well-written, fast paced--things like this. But for reasons both idiosyncratic and more universal I do love this book.

Let's get the subjective part over first. The events of this novel largely take place in Belfast and neighboring towns in the spring of 1981.  McKinty was still a child during this historic, tragic moment of Northern Ireland's recent history--and lived through them as a child--but I was a youngish adult, traveling through England and Europe for the first time. I didn't get to Northern Ireland, of course--probably wouldn't have even dared if I'd thought of it. But the Hunger Strikes which form a part of the background of this story were much on the mind of everyone in England that we met, that and the Royal Wedding,  as well as the assassination attempt on the Pope and other things that mark this novel as accurate to its specific moment. So, for me, there is an odd nostalgia that goes along with this story, and it had an almost uncanny ability to restore the memories of a long forgotten time. It helped, I suppose, that we visited our old professor in Yorkshire, and he had some very definite opinions about Ian Paisley and Margaret Thatcher and everyone who was involved in Northern Ireland at that time, so that I was not completely ignorant of events, as normally I very well might have been.

But beyond all this, the real reason I'm crazy about this book is that it's actually the one I've wanted McKinty to write since I first began reading him. In Dead I Well May Be, we get a tantalizing look at life in Northern Ireland as the story opens, where we meet Michael Forsythe signing up for some illegal work in Belfast. No sooner do we start to settle into that life, though, than Michael finds himself fleeing the country entirely. Dead I Well May Be is a wonderful book, but there was a part of me that felt when we abruptly find him again in Harlem in a whole new life that I had been a bit cheated of something. The Northern Ireland that Michael Forsythe slips out of is not quite the Northern Ireland of 1981, but they are older brother and younger brother to each other. There is a bomb at the beginning of Dead I Well May Be, there are more than one in The Cold Cold Ground. One thing that most of us in the world are fortunate enough not to have experience of is what its like to try and live a normal life alongside of such violence with such random victims. This book, despite being a story about a crime, begins to tell us that.

The hero of our tale is Sean Duffy, a Detective Sergeant  who has recently been transferred to Carrickfergus, a small coastal largely Protestant town within close reach of bellicose Belfast, but still separated enough to have its own culture and concerns. The police station is small and would be more likely to focus on insurance fraud and bicycle theft if it had its druthers, but the police force isn't exempt from getting out in full riot gear if Belfast or some other hot spot calls for support.

Duffy is a Catholic in a community that is self-protectively Protestant and could and sometimes does become hostile toward him. He's also a university trained man who was set for an academic career when one of Belfast's more violent moments touches him too deeply to ignore and sets him on the course that leads  him to join the police.  In other words, he's more than one kind of outsider. His stance, therefore is somewhat distanced as compared to others, and and he refuses to lead from a knee jerk partisanship in his reaction to events. (Although this doesn't make him a stranger to flareups of anger in other circumstances.)

The plot is a tight police procedural, with a couple of crimes floating around and investigating these takes Duffy and his team into many neighborhoods of Belfast and environs. Places like the Falls Road will sound familiar to anyone with even a nodding acquaintance of The Troubles, but McKinty knows  both what they are and what they have been better than most. Here's how Duffy describes Rathcool to a colleague as they walk its "drab tenements and crumbling 1960s tower blocks.":

Rathcool comes from the Irish Rath Cuile meaning 'in the centre of the fort'. Once this was a royal palace for the kings of the Ulaidh. Now look at it. Concrete towers and row upon row of soulless terraces.

Most people could look it up on Wikipedia and then tell you of the recent history of Rathcool. Some might even give you that Gaelic meaning. But not everyone will give you the deep history of a place as they are describing the site of a run down tenement. Its the book's depth as well as its breadth, geographic and otherwise, that sets it apart.

Although Duffy is investigating a possible serial killer and things occasionally blow up in the background, don't be misled into thinking this is a grim tale. There's always humor running through McKinty's work, sometimes quietly, sometimes a groan-making pun. His ironic stance on situations that others have invested heavily in positions on always makes you look at things a bit differently.

Carrickfergus a little world. I'm glad McKinty came back to it, at least for awhile.

(If you'd like to get a sense of the opening paragraphs, here is a LINK.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen

After the last post on this blog, readers could be forgiven for assuming that I ran out and picked up the first Ken Bruen novel I saw. But in fact, by sheer coincidence, I had actually been reading this, the second Jack Taylor novel that very day, a read which I had been looking forward to since reading The Guards back in April. These books are deceptively quick reads, and once you start you're likely to skip along too fast, at least if you're anything like me.

In this one, Jack has returned from what seems to have been a rather bungled time in London. It is not exactly a "hero returns in triumph" sort of scenario. In fact, he's actually added to his collection of addictions. And that's not the only thing he's acquired, either. But Taylor is almost immediately offered what seems like a pretty sweet deal involving free lodging in exchange for trying to figure out who has been killing the Irish tinkers, who, as Taylor is later told, should more accurately be referred to as "the clans".

Of course, the deal is not as sweet as it first looks. Associating with the clans is not the best way to make yourself popular, Taylor discovers, as he wanders around Galway trying to understand the situation, and of course giving us an insider's tour of the place in the bargain. He--and Bruen--also give us a literary tour of things both author and character have read. It's an education in itself, in crime fiction perhaps especially, but you'll get William Burroughs and Thomas Merton and Khalil Gibran too before you're done.

It's funny, because I was listening to an interview that Rick Kleffel did with Jonathan Lethem on the radio the other night on his new book The Ecstasy of Influence. This is Letham's twist on that old trope "the Agony of Influence" and his idea is that you should welcome and embrace all the previous works that have shaped you. He said that novels tend to hide their influences by the nature of the way they are written.

Maybe, but this is not the way Ken Bruen writes a novel, much to my pleasure and continuing edification.