Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A Wee Review - The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer

This book is as far from Northern Irish as you can get. I thought the first deviation should be a spectacular one. The Prophet Murders is the opening instalment of the Hop-Ciki-Yaya detective series by Ankara born Mehmet Murat Somer. Originally published in Turkish, Serpent’s Tail have translated it into English for the first time. Its official release date is the 8th of May 2008.

Somer has created the most original detective I have encountered to date. The unnamed protagonist is a transvestite nightclub owner, kickboxing computer-geek with a lucrative IT day-job. And on top of all this, she’s brought it upon herself to investigate the alarming pattern of transvestite murders in Istanbul.

Our protagonist, who most refer to as abla -- the Turkish title for a big sister, runs a nightclub wherein a curious Joe Public can experience the exotic world of transvestism. Abla’s club hosts a venue for the dolled up dancers, and many of the local girls have worked for her at some point in their lives. Because of this, abla has accumulated a huge list of contacts and attachments within their tight-knit community. And since the police don’t seem to count crime against transvestites as serious, who better to assume the role of chief investigator when the poor girls start dropping like flies? Abla calls on everyone she knows to get to the bottom of this case, all the while aware that her own life is in serious jeopardy.

The novel is a fascinating insight into a community which I know very little about. Somer, through his protagonist, introduces us to the many types of transvestites and holds their lifestyle up to respectful examination. The book doesn’t judge or try to force the alternative lifestyle on the reader. It simply shows us what life is like for “manly girl” in Istanbul. And there’s plenty to show. He touches on the hierarchy of the cosmetically altered and those who chose to work with what God gave them. He shows us the dynamic between the young and the old girls. And he helps shed light on the various sexual preferences of his large and colourful cast.

I had hoped for a more detailed tour of Istanbul so that I’d maybe lose myself in the descriptive prose, but alas, the huge personalities of the characters overshadowed the setting. There were occasional glimpses of Turkey, but I wanted more. However, there are currently five more books in the series. It’s possible that this is built upon throughout.

I won’t judge the writing too harshly, as this book began life in Turkish and I’m sure a lot of Somer’s literary flourishes were lost in translation. I suspect some of the comedy also failed to make it through the transition. This novel is marketed as hilarious but I think that’s hyperbole. I found little humour, though I do think it was a very light and fun read. There’s the odd typo and awkward sentence, but again, I put this down to small translation errors. Overall, this is a highly presentable and easily read text. I think this series will be very popular.

So, lock up your sons, readers. The Turkish transvestite detective is coming, and she’s taking no prisoners.

More Meme - Six Random Facts

I got tagged for this one twice. Blame the bossman at Crime Scraps and that pesky GV round Crime Always Pays way.

It goes like this...

Link to the person that tagged you.

Post the rules on your blog.

Write six random things about you in a blog post.

Tag six people in your post.

Let each person know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Let the taggee know your entry is up.

And here they are...

1. I like corned beef and cheese toasties.

2. I can easily pass half an hour in the shower just standing still and thinking about... well, nothing really.

3. I have five tattoos and plan on getting more. The only thing holding me back is a lack of funds. The first one I got reads "Made In Ireland" and the others are a mix of Celtic and Tribal designs.

4. I probably enjoy cartoons more than my three-year-old daughter does. Certainly more than my one-year-old son who has no interest in TV at all. He prefers to break things.

5. Crumbs on a kitchen table or countertop really bug me. Crumbs in the bed are grounds for divorce.

6. I don't tag people after finishing a meme.

And so, I tag no-one. I'm an outlaw, baby! Though, please feel free to post some random facts about yourself as a comment. No obligation to do it, but who am I to deny you an opportunity to share?

Monday, 28 April 2008

An Interview - Garbhán Downey

Garbhán Downey has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, newspaper editor and literary editor. He lives in Derry with his wife Una, and children Fiachra and Bronagh. His fourth novel, the comedy-thriller Yours Confidentially: Letters of a would-be MP, has just been published by Guildhall Press.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

Lots - a historical biography, two novels (at advanced draft stage), two plays about smuggling, and I’ve just been asked to edit a troubles-related book.

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

Every weekday, I try to spend between nine and six in the study – and while it doesn’t always work out that way, I’m pretty disciplined. When I was in full-time journalism, I worked long weeks and late hours that kept me away from my wife and young children. Happily, I copped myself on and remembered that no-one ever looked back on their deathbed and wished they’d spent more time in the office.

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

Ferry youngsters to soccer, Gaelic, swimming and Irish dancing. Sky Sports also features occasionally, though less and less since the weans learned how to use the remote control.

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

Stick at it and the breaks will come. Oh – and be lucky!

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Chris Brookmyre, Carl Hiassen, Colin Bateman and Brian McGilloway.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Nell McCafferty’s autobiography, Penance for Jerry Kennedy by Boston crime great George Higgins, Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky, and The Cat in the Hat (nightly) by Dr Seuss.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Carry on chopping wood and carrying water.

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

No. Of course, I’ve made mistakes - you have to. But the great part is learning from them - that way you never get the same slap in the mouth twice.

For more information on Downey’s books, visit

Thank you, Garbhán Downey!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Luck o' the CSNIrish

Verbal Magazine ran a competition last month in which eight signed copies of Sam Millar's BLOODSTORM were up for grabs. Doing my duty, I announced this on my blog and both of my readers sent their answers in (which was On The Brinks, by the way) and both of them won a copy. Now tell me those aren't impressive stats!

The lucky CSNI readers were Mike Stone and Colman Keane. Raise a coffee to them. (No I do mean coffee, not beer. It's only 9.30 am for goodness sake.) Nice one, lads.

“Bloodstorm is a disturbing, page-turner of a book, keeping you on the edge of your seat right to the very end. Highly recommended for those with a strong stomach…”

Belfast Telegraph

Friday, 25 April 2008

Something For The Weekend?

Patrick McCabe and The Poetry Chicks. If you're in and around Derry, this'd be the place for you. Don't know much about Mr McCabe? Declan Burke does... the jury remains out, though.

Patrick McCabe, the acclaimed Irish novelist behind such best selling books as The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, will be reading in Derry as one of the special guests of the Derry-based group the Poetry Chicks to mark their new stage show, Feck Yer Cosy Home!, which will run, for one night only, at The Playhouse's St Columb's Hall Orchard Street this Sunday, April 27 at 8pm.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for both The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, Clones-born Patrick McCabe has become well known for his mostly dark and violent novels set in contemporary, often small-town, Ireland. His last novel, Winterwood, published in 2006, was named the 2007 Hughes & Hughes Irish Independent Irish Novel of the Year and been short-listed for the IMPAC Award. He is currently completing a novel called The Holy City about sacred rapture and a protestant called Dolly Mixtures.

Feck Yer Cosy Home! is brought to you by two of the three Poetry Chicks - Abby Oliveira and Pamela Brown, under the direction of Ann Hamilton. The show boasts new and exciting material that has never been performed before and remains true to the Chicks' mantra - that of truth, humour and reality with no apology, excuse or apathy and is further enhanced by music and visuals to accompany their words.

Also performing at this much-anticipated event will be Victoria Geelan, Ravi Sharma and Kevin McAleese from psychedelic funk groovers, Mantic - "...a fireball of psychedelic funk rock energy to burn your ear-balls and hypnotise your eye-drums".

So, come out of yer cosy homes and here's hoping we see you all there!

Admission: £10/£7
Box Office: 028 71268027

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A Wee Review - Yours Confidentially by Garbhán Downey

Back in 2004 I read a Northern Irish political comedy titled Private Diary of a Suspended MLA, which told the story of an independent politician, Shay Gallagher, during the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Even though I was mostly brain-dead from a lack of sleep (my little girl Mya had just arrived), and it took me weeks to read the relatively slim tome, it always stuck in my mind as a book I should reread in a few years. Since then Garbhán Downey has released pretty much a book a year and I still haven’t reread it; though I will, if only to remind myself how insane the NI trip to a devolved government has been. However, 2008 sees the return of Shay Gallagher in Yours Confidentially, and I’m telling you right now, it’s the funniest book I’ve read this year. And I read a lot.

Yours Confidentially is the tale of North Derry assemblyman, Shay Gallagher’s, campaign to win a seat in the House of Commons. Success will give him a real voice among the big boys and lend him more weight to look after his constituency. Better expenses too. When his chief rival, Frank “Bent” Bennett suddenly drops out of the race, Shay’s moderate chance becomes a certainty, and then the trouble begins. Tommy has broken one of his agent’s most important rules. Never put anything down on paper. Never. But Shay argued it was safer to stick to paper and ink than computers. So Tommy bought him the most powerful shredder on the market to accommodate his argument. The Disintegrate 2000! But Shay is too sentimental, and he keeps all the letters from his fiancée Sue McEwan, a one-time political rival. Add to this the devious nature of the ex-loyalist gangster turned “legitimate” businessman, Victor “Switchblade Vic” McLaughlin with his ambition to own a pet MP and Shay’s in way over his head.

The subtitle, Letters of a would-be MP, is of the Ronseal school of thought. “It does exactly what it says on the tin.” The novel is in the form of a collection of letters, memos, emails and newspaper clippings. Each chapter has a paragraph or two of narration from Shay Gallagher’s agent, Tommy “Bowtie” McGinlay, but other than that Downey has restricted himself to a strict form and created a real challenge. Somehow, he manages to tell a tale with a verve and effortless style that knocked my socks off. I can’t believe how much story he fits in to a chronological collection of realistic correspondence. Sex, intrigue, violence, suspense... it’s all there. I think a big factor in Downey’s success is the trust he lends his audience to read between the lines and the letters. We’re not spoon-fed, and we’re certainly not patronised, although NI politics is a confusing subject, even for the folk that live here.

But I do think the novel could be enjoyed beyond this little province and I’d love to know how easy it reads in England, America or anywhere. Thankfully, Guildhall Press are an ambitious publishing house, and with enough marketing I don’t see why Yours Confidentially wouldn’t make its way overseas.

A glossary of terms wouldn’t hurt though. In fact, I might just compile an unofficial glossary myself in the coming days and post it here for those of you with the good sense to listen to me when I say, BUY THIS BOOK. If nothing else, it gives a pretty accurate introduction into the world of NI politics. Then you can tackle my cousin’s academic text -- Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process by Cathy Gormley-Heenan -- to get further insight into the politicians who make unofficial cameos throughout the book.

So, Yours Confidentially is a laugh-out-loud-funny, fast-paced story and an entertaining education in the climate of Northern Ireland’s politics as at April 2008. A brilliant way to mark the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Big O - US Cover Revealed!

Now would you look at that! The head honcho over at Crime Always Pays has shared his new Harcourt US edition cover for the release of his novel, The Big O. Am I jealous? Yes I am. Mighty impressed too. It's a beauty, isn't it? Raise a glass to the man and have a look at this blurb and some early praise.

Karen’s easy life as a receptionist and armed robber is about to change. Rossi, her ex, is getting out of prison any day now. He’ll be looking for his motorcycle, his gun, revenge, and the sixty grand he says is his. But he won’t be expecting Ray, the new guy Karen’s just met, to be in his way. No stranger to the underworld himself, Ray wants out of the kidnapping game now that some dangerous new bosses are moving in.

Meanwhile Frank, a disgraced plastic surgeon, hires Ray to kidnap his ex-wife for the insurance money. But the ex-wife also happens to be Karen’s best friend. Can Karen and Ray trust each other enough to work together on one last job? Or will love, as always, ruin everything?

From a writer hailed as “Elmore Leonard with a harder Irish edge” (Irish Mail on Sunday), Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is crime fiction at its darkest and funniest.

Advance Praise for THE BIG O

“One of the sharpest, wittiest, and most unusual Irish crime novels of recent years . . . Declan Burke is ideally poised to make the transition to a larger international stage.” —John Connolly, bestselling author of THE UNQUIET“

Part hard-boiled caper, part thriller, part classic noir, and flat out fun. From first page to last, The Big O grabs hold and won’t let go.”—Reed Farrel Coleman, author of SOUL PATCH

“Faster than a stray bullet, wittier than Oscar Wilde and written by a talent destined for fame.”—Irish Examiner

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A Wee Review - The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell

Aifric Campbell’s biographical information on the first page of her debut novel, The Semantics of Murder, reveals more than a few interesting facts about her. “As a convent schoolgirl in Dublin, her greyhound won the Irish Derby and a hymn she co-wrote won a national TV song contest.” Other impressive facts include her completion of a Linguistics degree, lecturing in semantics at the University of Göteborg, a thirteen year career in investment banking and her decision to drop that in favour of studying psychotherapy and creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

An impressive CV, no?

And for this simple reader, a somewhat intimidating introduction to her novel. I expected a highbrow literary affair with lots of subtle nuances, subtext, dense prose, long-long paragraphs and a distinct lack of dialogue and action. And that’s what I got. But here’s the thing... I truly enjoyed it.

Campbell’s protagonist, Jay Hamilton, is on the surface, a confident, suave and impressive individual. Having moved from Los Angeles to Kensington in London, he has set up shop as a highly-regarded (at least, among his peers) psychoanalyst. His upper class clients unwittingly feed his muse as he moonlights as J Merritt, a successful author dealing in stories heavily steeped in mental analysis. And his literary career is not his only secret. Robert, Jay’s much older brother, was allegedly killed by rent boys and Jay was first on the scene. Much of Jay’s internal dialogue deals with how he coped with the trauma of his father-figure-brother’s death and a terrible relationship with his mother. His old pains are relived when an investigative biographer, Dana Flynn, tracks down Jay to question him about Robert, a mathematical genius and the subject of her work-in-progress.

Jay is a fascinating character, and though not entirely sympathetic, Campbell does a great job of building him up and then slowly revealing his flaws and insecurities. To a point she hides his real personality behind his unsavoury opinions of his clients as he relives memorable sessions with the oddest cases. But the real Jay is revealed through his thoughts of his dead brother as the story progresses. Campbell also has a mastery of descriptive language. The book is mostly set in London and LA and when Campbell takes us to either of these locations there is no mistaking her familiarity with them. The characters’ surroundings couldn’t have been better illustrated without the aid of cinematography and a popup book. And the supporting cast is vividly painted through Jay’s eyes, each one with their own physical quirks and characteristics. Lovely.

I felt that the big reveal in the third act was a bit predictable, but I don’t think Campbell’s intention was to shock us with a huge twist in the tale. Instead, and I phrase this vaguely to avoid spoilers, she eased the reader in to the big secret and made it easier to swallow.

The plot also concerns a short story inspired by one of Jay’s most interesting clients. Jay tries to nail Cora’s character and succeeds. But it is his expert prediction of Cora’s ultimate outcome that leads him to question his ethics as a psychoanalyst. And so, the reader can’t help but feel intrigued by J Merritt’s short story, Cora. Well, Campbell made the bold decision to include the actual story as an appendix to the novel. And it was a great read. Very different in style to the novel, employing omniscient POV and a much more pared down style of prose, I found it the perfect epilogue to the story of Jay Hamilton and his self-examination of sibling rivalry.

All in all, The Semantics of Murder is not exactly a light read for the beach, but an excellent novel if you fancy an intellectual workout.

One last thing, the official release date is the 24th of April, but I’ve seen copies on shelves in an Eason or two over the last few weeks. So, no need to wait. Go buy it.

Been Tagged

I don't normally do these things, but it's about books...

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I've picked up The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell. Garbhan Downey's Yours Confidentially was closer, but I haven't read page 123 yet and don't want to risk spoilers. Aifric Campbell's was next closest.

The snippet reads, "'I watch Detective Green and his boys haul out of their cars. I say something. I don't remember what.'"

Not really representative of the style of the book. I'd hoped it'd be a beautiful fragment of her expert prose, but hey, I'll talk about that in my review.

Rhian from IT'S A CRIME!(OR A MYSTERY...) did this to me. I'm still a newbie around these parts, but it looks like all the folk I've had contact with on blogger have already been tagged. The buck stops here.

Monday, 21 April 2008

An Interview - Jason Johnson

Jason Johnson, born in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, has been often described as the Irish Irvine Welsh. He is the author of two novels published by Blackstaff Press; Woundlicker and Alina. CSNI tracked him down and asked him some questions. Here’s what he has to say for himself.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I've just finished flushing a third of a novel I'd written down the toilet because I got so bored with it. It was badly planned and I ran out of enthusiasm. The world doesn't need any more books like that, so I'm starting again.

A friend and I have been working on an idea for a futuristic TV drama series about a failing business park in rural Ireland. We've got the plot down and an episode written and we're happy. We've caught up with people who might be able to help, and the feedback is very strong so far - and how many times have you heard that line before?

Also I've been working on a longer term project too, a sort of self-help book for atheists who just can't take any more of the madness.

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

Not really. Ideas show up unannounced whenever they like. Sometimes I have to drop everything and send a text to myself or I'll forget what it was. A few days later I might look it up and have no clue what it meant, so that's not an exact science.

I need full, clear days to write. It's hard for me to tune in for an hour here or there with other things going on around me. It's best if I basically stop communicating with the rest of the world and just force myself to get stuck in after breakfast. That's when I try to build on the ideas I'd had.

It's a mystery to me why it can sometimes be so difficult to start writing. It's like going to the cinema in that it's a pain in the arse to get organised and go but you never regret it when you're there.

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

Mostly the things that pay the bills. Beyond that, I go to as much stand-up comedy as I can, play muted trombone, practice hakas and play poker with dodgy bastards.

There's a fair bit of reading, but not with any particular pattern or direction. I like anything that is funny, smart or bold.

Time at the gym is now history because I just couldn't create the habit. I always felt like I was in some kind of Orwellian factory. I walk a lot these days as penance.

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

If you know you're a decent writer, then that's your ticket. Develop an idea that means something important to you, work on it with passion and forget about planet earth in the meantime. Self-belief is your diesel. If you become fixated with an idea, you're in luck. Your instinct knows there's something with potential going on there and instinct is a great guide. Relish any criticism you get along the way because whatever they say, they're saying you're fighting. And remember, there's a lot of shit writers making money out there so take comfort from bad books.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

I want to tell lies here but the truth is I haven't read any crime fiction or any novels in a while. I'm not often in a literary loop. The last novel I read was Tourism by Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal which damn near blew me off the toilet. It's a wild, free-rolling feast for anyone who's ever been in London or been drunk. In the last few months I've been reading about life coaching, addictions, religions, the Scissor Sisters (the rodent-faced Dublin murderers, not the band) and a book on the art of war.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene.

Q7. Plans for the future?

In terms of novels, polemics and other literature, it's just to develop the ideas I have. The only thing in the way is getting the time and space I need to do that, so really that's the main plan - to get more freedom and use it well.

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

Not really. I'd maybe have started taking it more seriously a bit earlier, but that's all. So not really. My writing so far has turned out as planned.

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


Thank you, Jason Johnson!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A Wee Review - Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

So, my good mate Mike Stone is back with another review. Take it away, Mike.

I hadn’t heard of Skulduggery Pleasant until the proprieter of CSNI suggested I give it a whirl. And let’s face it, who can resist a book called Skulduggery Pleasant? Not I. But, never one to rush into these things, I checked out the official website first – -- and found one of the most entertaining and informative author/book sites I’ve come across. That’s when I reached for my wife’s purse. I didn’t get where I am today by spending my own money.

Now here’s the difficult bit for any reviewer, summarising the novel without giving away too much … I know, I’ll quote the cover blurb. Genius.

(Lazy bastard, more like. Ed)

Stephanie’s uncle Gordon wrote horror fiction. At least that’s what Stephanie thought – until he died and left her his estate. Then she discovered that though his books may have been horror, they weren’t exactly ... well, fiction.

Plunged into a terrifying world of vampires, evil villains and Hollow Men, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source: Skulduggery Pleasant, the wise-cracking skeleton of a dead magician. When all hell breaks loose it’s lucky for Stephanie that she’s not your average twelve-year-old girl – and it’s lucky for Skulduggery that he’s already dead.

Will evil win the day? Will Stephanie and Skulduggery stop bickering long enough to save the world? One thing’s for sure: the bad guy’s won’t know what’s hit them.

See what I mean? Irresistible.

And for the most part it is. The smart-assery, especially in the exchanges between Stephanie and Skulduggery, is nothing short of excellent -- you’ll grow to love these pair -- and there’s a fine supporting cast in the shape of Ghastly Bespoke and Tanith Low.

The action fair rattles along.


There’s no fancy wordplay here. There were times when this reader begged for more descriptive prose. A drop of colour, a rasp of texture. This is a book where a troll lives under Westminster Bridge and there’s a council of mages under Madam Tussaud’s, but frankly the locations are window dressing. They lacked the required descriptions, the necessary atmosphere to make them real. No one could accuse Skulduggery Pleasant of style over substance.

Marks out of ten? I’d give it seven, although the child in me says I’m a curmudgeon and insists its worth at least eight and a half. I suppose the acid test is whether I’d buy the sequel – Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire – out now in hardback. Hmm … well, I have a seven-year-old daughter who loves reading, and I just know she’s going to be breezing through books like this in a couple of years’ time, so yeah, I’ll buy the book as an investment for her. Of course, as a responsible parent, I’ll be reading it beforehand. Just to make sure it’s suitable, like.

Michael Stone

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.

Read more about Michael and his fiction here.

Monday, 14 April 2008

An Interview - Colin Bateman

Colin Bateman is the author of twenty-one novels - starting with Divorcing Jack in 1995 and most recently, Orpheus Rising. He is a former journalist. He also writes screenplays and is about to make his second documentary for BBC NI, ‘Bateman’s Belfast Confidential’.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

Very little! I’ve just finished my next novel, Mystery Man, and taking a bit of a break. I’m mostly working on the script for the documentary.

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

I try to work pretty much 9-5 - i.e. I will generally be in my wee room during those hours, but it doesn’t mean I’m writing all the time. I come from a journalistic background, so I tend to write in furious bursts and edit as I go, so pretty much everything I do, at least as far as the novels are concerned, only goes to one draft. I don’t think my writing would be much better if I took longer on it. I’ll usually pick away at things or do e-mails and stuff at night. The problem is that when your hobby becomes your day job, you never know when to quit!

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

I see a lot of movies - so it’s still work in a way. A big Liverpool fan, and I also play 5-a-side football twice a week, though my knees are growing increasingly dodgy and I don’t know how much longer I’ll last. This will probably be a relief to my team mates, as I’m very greedy.

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

Just keep plugging away. And remember that a rejection is just one person’s opinion. You’re just looking for one person who likes what you do, and you’re off and running.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Haven’t read any! When I’m writing I tend not to read, I get influenced too easily. And by influenced I mean steal. But I have the new Robert B Parker on order. He’s a constant reminder that simple is good, and simple works. Not that he’s simple.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I’m actually reading Stephen Booth’s Black Dog, but that’s for a possible screenplay, and likewise Paul Carson’s Ambush. But I’ve been doing this a long time now, so I know the possibility of a big fat cheque hitting the bank is fairly remote.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Making the documentary is probably going to take me to the summer - I made one this time last year which was great fun, but this will be more challenging and will involve a little bit of acting, which is new to me. I am not expecting an Oscar any time soon. Also have hopes of directing a film, but just like the screenplays, you can’t be sure of anything until the cameras start rolling.

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

No, I think it has all worked out better than I could ever have imagined - there are things you might change, bridges I shouldn’t have burned, but there also a few I should have set fire to sooner! I’ve been very lucky. I spent a lot of my earlier years not having the confidence to put myself forward for things, I mean pre-writing, but the writing has really changed me and now I’m up for anything, which is why I’m prepared to have a go at directing or TV presenting or anything, apart from bungy jumping, because I’m not scared to fail. I just appreciate being given the chance. And it’s probably a Northern Irish thing where I don’t say I’m great at these things, but that I can at least be as bad as anyone else who tries them.

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

Don’t get me started. Tibet, pollution, racism, poverty, these are some of the things I don’t really care about, as long as I’m okay.

Thank you, Colin Bateman!

CSNI Spot The Difference

I got an anonymous tip off from one of the blog's readers today. Cough-it-was-Colman-cough-Keane-cough.

Have you ever seen these two men in the same place?

The anonymous tipper reckons this could be grounds for disqualification of the prestigious title of Northern Irish Crime Writer as Tony Adams is an English man. I leave it to the public. Should he be ousted?

(Pssst! Sorry, Mr McNamee. I hope this doesn't put you off when I ask you for an interview. A bigger boy made me do it.)

Sunday, 13 April 2008

A Wee Review - Alina by Jason Johnson

Alina -- you say Aleena like this xx – is the second novel from Jason Johnson. And it’s much more ambitious than his excellent debut, Woundlicker. The story takes us to Belfast, London and Romania. Henry, a nice guy weighed down by a tough childhood and bipolar disorder, inherits an internet chat site ( – see what Mr Johnson did there?) that caters to the... lonelier individual. Shuff, a hard Belfast man fresh out of jail, teams up with Henry as a bodyguard on his trip to Romania to meet Alina, one of the girls working for the adult chat site.

Meanwhile, Frank “the Fess” Cleary is trying to figure out why he’s not in his nursing home bed and who put him in the strange steel box without food, water or light but containing an abundance of mystery gunk.

The story moves fast and packs a lot of insanity. Again, Johnson lives up to the title awarded to him by the critics -- The Irish Irvine Welsh – and refuses to flinch as he deals out shocking internal dialogue and harsh violence. You may need to take a moment every few chapters, draw a good deep breath and remind yourself it’s all just a story.

I can’t put my finger on the why, but both of Johnson’s novels were very easy and gripping reads for me. He’s got a voice that appeals and uses it well. The style of the book is quite sprawling as there are multiple POVs and tenses put to use. It seems a little messy in places, but it works. I got to know Henry, his fears and hopes, and liked him for knowing his weaknesses, even though he hadn’t worked up the nerve to tackle them. Shuff is a tough character to put across. At times he’s likeable and great fun, but the more you learn of him, the more disturbing he becomes. And Alina. Poor Alina. If you don’t feel for her, you’re just not human.

Bleak as it is, the story depends heavily on Johnson’s brand of black humour to help the reader through the grisly bits. I laughed out loud a few times. Proper surprised laughter that sounds a bit weird. And it was mostly Shuff, the grisliest character, who inspired the sniggers, chuckles and snorts.

So, Alina, a book of chaos, violence and desperation, will take you to a gritty world, freak you out and linger in your thoughts. I think it’s a winner.

Now, would somebody talk the man into writing another fiction novel? I’ve heard he’s writing a self help book at the minute. If it’s anything like the philosophy Shuff Sheridan adopted in Alina, I’m moving to Peru.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A Micro Review - Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty

Gerard is eager to read this one, but until he has a chance to get his grubby mits on a copy and do his own review, Colman Keane, an avid fan of the noir and hardboiled has helped out by sending some thoughts on the first Michael Forsythe novel, Dead I Well May Be. So without further a foreword, take it away, Mr Keane.

I’m a bit late to the party considering Serpents Tail first published this in the UK in 2004, but as the saying goes better late than never!

Michael Forsythe, intelligent but unemployed, makes an enforced jump from Belfast to Harlem and swaps a grim future for an uncertain one. Soon in the employ of Darkey White – an Irish crime boss, Michael shows his mettle in the growing conflict with the Dominican gangs in the New York turf wars. Whilst proving his worth, Michael soon finds it doesn’t pay to cross his leader.

I enjoyed the change of settings as Michael moved from NI to the US and Mexico and back– flitting through the differing landscapes, and backwards and forwards through time as he recalls events from his past. His struggle to journey back and wreak violent revenge on Darkey is compelling.

Whilst there’s a fair bit of action throughout it’s not all bish, bash, bosh as McKinty’s prose is thoughtful and intelligent, without ever disappearing up his own arse.

The pace is relentless and the satisfactory conclusion cleverly leaves scope for a follow up.

What defines an Irish crime novel?

Is it the author’s birthplace or the scenery where the action plays out?

By any standards and whatever the definition, McKinty has crafted a superb book that is worthy of a place on the top table, on either side of the Atlantic.

Like a decent pint, Dead I Well May Be will leave you thirsting for more

Colman Keane

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Good Friday Agreement - 10 Years Today

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast on the 10th of April 1998. Ten years later and there's no denying that Northern Ireland is a much different place. It's been a while since we mentioned Sam Millar, but as his book was selected by Eason and The Belfast Telegraph to mark the anniversary I thought I should link to the most recent review I've found. So, here's Catherine McGrotty's review of Bloodstorm.

And they're giving away eight signed copies of the book! You'll find the answer to their question on this very blog. Go on, it won't take long to find the name and send the email.

And while you're on the Verbal site, you may as well see what they had to say about Brian McGilloway's Gallows Lane.

A Wee Review - Borderlands by Brian McGilloway

Borderlands is the debut novel from Derry gentleman, Brian McGilloway. The first of a series based on a Garda inspector by the name of Ben Devlin. Set in Lifford, a Donegal border town close to Strabane, McGilloway has certainly picked interesting surroundings for his story. Plenty of potential for jurisdiction complications as many of the crimes in this area straddle the border between the North and South, and so the responsibilities of the Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

Since its release, I’ve heard impressive reports about this book, and must admit that I’m a latecomer to McGilloway’s work. I opened up to the first chapter, hoping that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Let me come back to that. Ooooh, the tension.

The first thing I want to talk about is the packaging of the novel. I was very lucky to have picked up a signed first edition hardback at the super-cool No Alibis bookshop in Belfast. There has been a little bit of misplaced controversy over the Macmillan New Writing imprint, and so it was with pursed lips that I scrutinised every detail of this offering. God, but it’s a classy-looking wee tome. A beautiful dust-jacket, neat dimensions and one of those little ribbon things for marking your page. And so the book passed its cover-judgement with flying colours.

Now back to the content. In the opening chapters, McGilloway paints a strong sense of place and circumstance. Inspector Ben Devlin arrives on the scene of a young girl’s murder. Angela Cashell, daughter of a local hood is found dead on the Borderlands. Because the family resides in Lifford, the Gardai take the case and so begins a nightmare set of circumstances for Ben Devlin to battle through. Another murder, that at first seems unconnected, puts pressure on the Gardai to wrap up the case and prove their competence. But the more they dig, the more the further from the truth they get, until Devlin uncovers a link in the form of a prostitute presumed dead twenty-five years before.

Although the book jumps right in with great setting and interesting plot, I felt like I didn’t get a real feel for Inspector Devlin in those initial chapters. But as the story unfolded and through his thoughts and actions, he became a fully-formed and complex protagonist. No major flaws, apart from a slight lack of restraint emotionally and physically, but you know, that’s kind of original in itself, isn’t it? I am looking forward to getting to know the man a lot better in the coming instalments. Gallows Lane, the debut, was released on the 4th of April and I’m itching to get up to No Alibis and hopefully get a copy left over from his signing.

Borderlands is further proof that us Norn Irish writers have talent to burn. The rest of the world should take note!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Next on The Crit List

Got a nice surprise through the letterbox today. The most excellent Rebecca Gray from Serpent's Tail sent me a copy of The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell, a Dublin born scholar of the highest degree.

Here are some press release snippets.

"A profoundly original new writer. The Semantics of Murder leads us on a dark and thrilling quest through murderous spaces of the mind, in prose of startling and inventive beauty." Stevie Davies.

"This gripping psychological drama hooks the reader into a compelling labyrinth of sibling rivalry and stealthy passion. It is an intellectual novel of ideas written with real verve and style." Patricia Duncker.

I'm quite intrigued by this one. It's been bumped to the top of the reading pile.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Berlin Trip

Me and the missus just got back from East Berlin. We both enjoyed the trip, though were a little surprised by the less than glamorous state of the buildings and the quality of graffiti attempting to liven them up. The artists have pretty good English, but awful dirty minds. Also, we had a good gawk at an insane amount of Goth-type neo-punks. These guys were the real deal. None of these attention-seeking, middle class emo-kids that pose around Belfast City Hall. We’re talking death-in-their-eyes nihilists of the highest order. Tall, gaunt, unnerving anarchists. Drinking on the train, on corners, in shops. We were fascinated. I wonder are there any good books featuring these interesting miscreants?

Anyway, what’s this got to do with CSNI? Well, when we were sneaking glances at potential apprentices for the Grim Reaper, we were doing the tourist stuff. Sight-seeing and shopping. And just for the craic, we stopped into a bookshop called Thalia. Very nice place. And the krimis section was among the biggest within the shop. Filled with all the names we know translated into German. McDermid, Rankin, Gerritsen, Child, Walters et al. And they seem to have a real thing for John Connolly. A lot of his books on the shelves.

So, says I, “Where’s the NI crime fiction contingent?”

Well, I found two copies of Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands in shrink-wrapped hardback. Good thing too. If there’d been nobody to represent us in that krimis section I’d have made my way to the nearest employee to voice my concerns in slow, loud English. As it was, I was able to shout across the shop to my spouse, wave a copy about the place and generally draw attention to it. Then I put it face out on the shelf. I missed Mr McGiloway’s signing at No Alibis last Friday so it felt good to promote him in such an unorthodox manner. I wanted to wait around and see if any of the German readership would bite, but the missus wanted to look at shoes.

I couldn’t find any Bateman, McKinty, Millar, Johnson or Bailie books in the German translation section, which bugged me a little. Crime seems to be pretty big over there. Maybe you boys should have a word with your publishers? I did find some of the above in the foreign language section though. Saw Irvine Welsh there too. Imagine trying to read his stuff with English as a second language. That’d be a head trip.

It was indeed an educational journey. I also learned that Cecilia Ahern’s German release, P.S. Ich Liebe Dich, loses something in translation. I tried the phrase on my better half a number of times in varied tones and cadences over the weekend and got nothing more than a dirty look.

As well as shopping, I finished reading Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands and read Jason Johnson’s Alina. Reviews of both should follow soon in quick succession.

Monday, 7 April 2008

An Interview - Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. He studied politics at Oxford University and after a failed legal career he moved to the US in the early 1990s. He found work as a security guard, postman, construction worker, barman, rugby coach and bookstore clerk before becoming a school teacher in Denver, where he now lives.
Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

A novel called Fifty Grand about a cop from Havana who comes to America to investigate a suspected murder.

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

I’m not one of those up at six and write 1000 words before breakfast types. For me its more like an hour here and an hour there in between dealing with the kids and school (I’m a teacher).

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

I play rugby when I get the chance and lately I’ve been doing a bit of skiing here in Colorado.

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

Read tons and not just in the genre.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

I’ve discovered James Ellroy’s later fictions The Cold Six Thousand and American Tabloid and they’re both fantastic.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

Q7. Plans for the future?

I’d like to write a book about the year I spent in Jerusalem but what exactly I don’t know.

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

I’d do everything differently. If I’d known how important promotion was going to be I’d have gone mad promoting Dead I Well May Be. The book got starred reviews in all the trades but Simon and Schuster didn’t spend a dime on advertising so the starred reviews meant nothing. I should have stopped everything and gone around the country promoting the book on my own dollar and really tried to make a big splash. The lesson is you can't rely on the publisher, you have to work all the angles. Writing the book is only half the story, you have to go out there and sell the bloody thing with or without the help of your publisher.

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

Nope, not really. When you read Dead I Well May Be you’ll have some questions about knee capping, but until that happy time…ciao…
Thank you, Adrian McKinty!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

An Interview - Me!

Apologies for the short hiatus. I'll be back on track very soon with more reviews, interviews and some thoughts on crime fiction that have spun around in my head since a visit to a bookshop in Berlin yesterday.

In the meantime, Critcal Mick has been kind enough to take an interest in me and my developing writerly side. Here's an interview he conducted with me.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

A Wee Bit of Publicity

This article appeared in the Down Democrat this week. Pretty Snazzy, eh?

Click on the image to enlarge it. It's a little rugged because I had to convert it from PDF and I'm no expert at the aul computering craic. The hard-copy looks dead swish.

Me ma's gonna be dead proud.