Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Sam Millar - Event Reminder

A major reading event will take place on March 25th from 6-8pm at Belfast Central Library. It will have an invited audience of reading group members from all the Belfast libraries, but also be open to the general public. Admission is free. Sam Millar will read a chapter, exclusively from his new book, The Dark Place due out this year. This is the follow-up to his best-selling and critically acclaimed Bloodstorm.

Sam will also be doing a six-week crime writing workshop beginning on March 26th –April 30th, at 4:30-6:30 in the CWN Boardroom. It is advised to book early for this, as places will be limited and we expect a great deal of interest.
(This info came to me via Joe Murray, PR and the CWN newsletter.)

Monday, 23 March 2009

A Quick and Pathetic Excuse for a Post

Apologies for the silence. I've got a cold and it's messing with my writing head. Should be back on track soon.

I've just noticed that I haven't posted a book review since the beginning of March. I've read some great novels since Zeltserman's Pariah, but I was riding an inspiration wave for the novel in progress, so I chose to ignore them for the time being. Just for the record, they were:

Cold Caller by Jason Starr
1977 by David Peace
The Guards by Ken Bruen
1980 by David Peace.

Actually, I don't think I'll review the two Peace books. They got quite a bit of coverage over the last few weeks after the Red Riding films aired on Channel Four. I'll maybe do a roundup when I've read and watched 1983, but I don't think David Peace will panic much if I don't get around to it. I will say this, though... if the movies didn't float your boat, don't let it put you off the books. I wasn't hugely impressed by parts one and two of Red Riding, though in fairness, I've watched a lot worse. But the thing with the Red Riding Quartet (as opposed to the trilogy of films) is the writing, not the story. Hard to convey that on the screen. They're all available in nice snazzy paperbacks through Serpent's Tail.

As usual, Ken Bruen delivered in spades with The Guards, and I've a few thoughts on Jason Starr's first novel that I'll hopefully get around to sharing. Right now, I'm reading The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle. It puts me in mind of the Noel Clarke movies, Kidulthood and Adulthood, and it's a nice easy read. I hope something big happens in the second half, though. The teenage protagonist's inner whining is starting to bug me a bit. I need him to stumble into a mad situation so I can see how he reacts, because I've no real respect or sympathy for him right now. He's just a bit of a prick, really.

Hmmm, I'm getting a bit negative here. Think I'll have a Lemsip and a smile and shut the f**k up.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Happy Paddy's Day

If you're an Irish drinker, have one for me today. I'm gonna have a dry St Patrick's Day.


I figure I'm more likely to hold on to my wife if I don't look like this guy in five years.

But that's just me. All you heavyweights, have yourselves a ball.


Monday, 16 March 2009

An Interview - Jo Bannister

Jo Bannister:

It’s nearly thirty years since I sold my first book, more than twenty since I quit my proper job as editor of the County Down Spectator to sink or swim as an author. Haven’t drowned yet.

My favourite review: ‘Bannister skilfully weaves the disparate story lines together and offers up an intriguing, thoroughly entertaining read... A masterfully written story that is as provocative as it is engaging.’ – Booklist.

My agent’s favourite review: ‘...will make you laugh, snort or blink back tears...all have their share of surprises and more than their share of piercing insights into the conflicts that still rage in the hearts of Bannister’s regulars, the most tormented continuing cast outside The Sopranos.’ –the Kirkus Reviews.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I recently finished my last series of books – about professional finder Brodie Farrell, her family and friends – and I’ve just started playing with a new one-off. I like the premise, it’s a psychological thriller, I’ve just got to work it through into a story.

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

I used to be a lot more disciplined about writing than I am now – working 8 to 12 and 7 to 9 six days a week. One of the advantages of getting older is that you no longer feel the need to do everything yesterday. When I’m in the middle of a book I aim at producing a thousand words a day. Sometimes I struggle; sometimes I’m on a roll and produce a lot more. But I don’t beat myself up if nothing much is happening, just keep trying until it does. There are more than thirty of my books on the shelves: if the next is a little late, people can read one of the earlier ones while they’re waiting.

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

Usually I’m with my horse, mostly on top but occasionally on foot and in hot pursuit.

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

Do it for your own pleasure. There are easier ways to make a living.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

I don’t read much crime fiction - reading it makes it harder for me to write it. Either I find myself trying to rewrite someone else’s book, or I start seeing my characters through the other writer’s eyes. The exception, to this rule as to most others, are Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books: those focusing on the Watch work brilliantly as police procedurals, even if the police in question are a shade – well - inhuman.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, Pratchett’s Jingo and The Works of A. E. Housman. Eclectic or what?

Q7. Plans for the future?

Keep breathing in and out. Add another step to my mounting-block. And write one more good book.

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

Sure – I’d write a best seller. Apart from that, I don’t think so. It’s fed me, body and soul, for nearly thirty years and not many writers can say that.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Apart from all the rejection slips before I sold my first book? Probably with an editor. She was a zealot. And she thought, a bit like me reading someone else’s book, that she could improve something on just about every page. Maybe some of her suggestions were improvements, but most of them were just her way of saying things instead of mine. Which is not what readers buy my books for. I returned the edited typescript as wholly unacceptable, and to their credit the publishers had it re-read by a senior editor with the experience and self-confidence to know when to suggest an alteration and when to leave well enough alone. By now, that young editor has probably discovered this as well and may well be a successful senior editor herself. Or else she’s chucked it in and tried her hand at writing her own books.

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

Buy books. Buy more books. If you can’t afford to buy them, borrow them from the library – the Public Lending Right is a significant slice of most writers’ annual income. Don’t buy branded jeans and branded trainers and complain about the cost of books. You’re getting a year of somebody’s work for the price of a meal out. That’s a bargain in anybody’s money.

Thank you, Jo Bannister!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Twitter Transmitter

I'm trying to keep things cutting edge here.

You can find me on Twitter now. And with the help of Mack Lundy, I figured out how to feed my mini-posts into the sidebar here at CSNI. My plan is to use Twitter to make mini link-type updates (the kind of thing I usually forget to collect and blog about) and record knockout lines from whatever I'm currently reading. So keep an eye on that sidebar gadget. I'll consider this a trial period, so if you have any suggestions about the mini-posts or Tweets (cheer, Peter), then please drop a comment.

Oh, and check out these kind words about CSNI from Keith Rawson. The guy's a saint.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sam Millar To Move Into Belfast Central Library

Most writers wisely invest time into readings and signings to launch a new book, which is great for the fans, and I think the majority of writers enjoy it too. I don't believe I've ever seen anything as hardcore as this, though. Sam Millar will have to invest in a couple of cases of Red Bull to keep him going through his busy schedule over the coming weeks:

Wednesdays/Thursdays 2pm to 4pm, 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th. Members of the general public will be invited to come and meet Sam, and talk about their memories of Belfast Central Library.

Open Mic Poetry Event on Tuesday, March 31 at 7pm in Chapter One Cafe, chaired by Sam.

City Tales Storytelling Event Tuesday April 23rd with Fra Gunn and Sam 8pm

A major reading event will take place on March 25th from 6-8pm. It will have an invited audience of reading group members from all the Belfast libraries, but also be open to the general public and be free. Sam will be reading a chapter, exclusively from his new book, The Dark Place due out this year. This is the follow-up to his best-selling and critically acclaimed Bloodstorm.

Sam will also be doing a six-week crime writing workshop beginning on March 26th –April 30th, at 4:30-6:30 in the CWN Boardroom. It is advised to book early for this, as places will be limited and we expect a great deal of interest.
Quite a bit going on there, eh?

Hopefully I'll get to attend a couple of these things. The writing workshop sounds very interesting...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Slammer Yammer - An Interview With Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie writes crime fiction. He was born in Orkney, but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. He is married to Donna.

His first novel, Two-Way Split, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger and went on to win the 2007 Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year. His second novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Gumshoe awards. He is also the author of the novels Hard Man and Savage Night, plus a novella, Kill Clock, for emergent adult readers.

Visit his website at

SLAMMER, Guthrie’s latest novel, will be released this month.

I caught up with Allan Guthrie and bugged him with a few questions. Knowing how busy he is trying to sell other peoples’ novels as an agent at Jenny Brown Associates, as well as writing his own, I kept it pretty short.


Gerard Brennan: As the title would suggest, SLAMMER is a novel set in prison. You’re a law-abiding citizen (that’s the rumour anyway), so I imagine you had quite a lot of research to do. How did you go about it?

Allan Guthrie: Who’s been spreading rumours about me? I deny everything! Law-abiding or not, I was lucky with SLAMMER. To a large extent, the research came first. I’d always fancied writing a prison novel. I even wrote one – of sorts – when I was a teenager. A pile of bollocks it was, too. But since I’ve been writing professionally, the idea of a prison novel’s always been at the back of my mind. And that’s where it stayed until, one afternoon at the day job, I got talking to an ex-prison officer who’d joined the company as a security guard, and that conversation (and several subsequent ones) provided a lot of the type of details I look for – you know, the kind of killer detail that convinces the reader you know what you’re talking about. Got me enthused about finally writing that prison novel – one that wasn’t a terrible pile of bollocks, that is. I still didn’t have a story, but that came to me later. I did a lot of background reading too: Jimmy Boyle, James Campbell, Erwin James, Malcolm Braly.

GB: It’s inevitable that a writer who’s honest with himself can find areas to improve with each novel written. I have it on good authority that you care about the craft of writing, so I reckon you fall into this ‘honest writer’ category. That said, what pleased you most about this novel with regards to the writing, characters and plot? No spoilers, though!

AG: That’s a tough question to answer. I tend to keep rewriting until I hit my deadline, otherwise I’d probably keep writing the same book forever. I rewrote TWO-WAY SPLIT for about four years and I’ve even rewritten it since it was published. And SAVAGE NIGHT went through over thirty drafts. So it’s probably true to say that I’m rarely that pleased with much of what I write. There’s certainly always room for improvement. But if I had to choose the aspect of SLAMMER that I think is the strongest, it would probably be the way the narrative unfolds. It’s a tricky story to tell, and Nicholas Glass is a tricky character to tell it. But I think I just about manage to handle all the trickiness okay.

GB: Will SLAMMER be a standalone novel, or can you see potential in it for a sequel or beyond?

AG: It’s a standalone.

GB: What are you working on right now?

AG: A thriller called BLOOD WILL OUT.

GB: I’m going slightly off topic here, but this is something CSNI readers will find interesting – You edited the Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman collaboration, TOWER, which is due out this year. Good fun?

AG: It’s always a pleasure to work on a quality book with great writers. And a great publisher too in David Thompson of Busted Flush. There’s a lot to learn from reading Bruen and Coleman up close, and they’re both absolute gentlemen to work with. Very much looking forward to TOWER hitting the shelves later this year.

GB: Given the choice of any writer in the world (but let’s say living), who would you most like to collaborate with?

AG: Garth Ennis. I’m late to the party, only recently discovered him, but he’s a writer I could learn a lot from. And he makes me laugh my arse off.

GB: If you had to give SLAMMER, the 25 word Hollywood pitch, how would it go?

AG: When a group of cons use outside help to threaten young prison officer Nicholas Glass’s wife and daughter, Glass agrees to help them with a ‘favour’. But, as their threats escalate, and one favour leads to another, Glass grows ever closer to breaking point...

GB: Thanks for taking the time, Allan!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Critical Mick Does The Charitable Thing

This just in from Critical Mick Halpin (Well, it came in a couple of nights ago, but I've been busy, right?):

This month, I am hoping to put some of the signed Irish crime titles that I have accumulated into the hands of fellow book fans, and raise some much-needed dough for the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. The first book is up for bids on already, with five more that will follow every few days. (If there are tons of hits, I have a slightly more ambitious Phase Two planned... stay tuned!) The best bit: I'm paying all shipping and charges and my employer matches charitable contributions penny for penny, so double the full winning bid will go directly to the ASI. Full details and links to the relevant eBay pages can be found here.

So what are you waiting for? Of the six on offer right now, I'd most highly recommend Neville Thompson's Have Ye No Homes To Go To? and The Secret World of the Irish Male by Joseph O'Connor, in that order.

Happy bidding!

Monday, 9 March 2009


Peter Rozovsky did some contemplating on the subject of Twitter a little while ago. In another discussion on the topic I dismissed the idea as I didn't think too many people would be interested in how often I clipped my toenails. However, a couple of weeks ago, while on the beer with my friend and all-things-web-related-advisor, Gareth Watson, we had a chat about Twitter. Yeah, that's how exciting a night on the lash with me can get! Anyway, he had me most of the way convinced that I should sign up as he plans to revamp my website to include a twitter feed, it's not a time-consuming site and he reckons it's a cutting edge web-community that I should be part of.

But I was hungover for many days following that night out and never got around to it.

Two weeks into Lent, I'm dry as the Sahara and getting twitchy. I'm tempted to sign up, but not sure if I should invest another piece of the time I should be spending on my novel. So, maybe some of you folk could weigh in on this for me. Is Twitter a good idea?


My thoughts are with the families of the murdered and injured in the horrific incident that took place at the Massareene army base in Antrim on Saturday night.

For obvious reasons, I don't usually go into politics on this blog, but I think today I can make an exception. Reason being, this is a statement that anybody in their right mind can agree with (though some may put it more eloquently):

Fuck the Real IRA.

I can only hope that it is made clear throughout the world that these dissidents are not supported in the mainstream. I can't imagine what manner of headcase would lend support to those who want to drag us back to the dark times, but if you're out there, fuck you too.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

An Adrian McKinty Movie Review -- Watchmen

Zach Snyder’s Watchmen is not the worst film adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel (that would be The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) nor does it get close to the best (V for Vendetta), instead it’s somewhere in the boggy middle, perhaps nudging up against the wet sheep that was From Hell.

Set in an alternate 1985 during President Nixon’s fifth term the story concerns a group of costumed heroes and the attempt by one of them – Rorschach - to discover who’s been bumping them off. The wider context of Rorschach’s quest is an imminent nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union which seems inevitable following a Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

At a little under three hours Snyder is quite faithful to Moore’s narrative (and Dave Gibbons’ visuals) though fans of the original deus ex machina ending and the Tales of the Black Freighter pirate comic within a comic shouldn’t hold their breath. (I’d actually like to discuss the ending of the film further but without providing a spoiler I am unable to do so, though - like the festival crowd who booed Derek Smalls’ Jazz Odyssey in This is Spinal Tap - I too was not impressed by Watchmen’s new direction.)

The central performances are mostly convincing and a far cry from the campy, shouty excesses of Snyder’s previous film 300. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl stands out, giving us a character who is vulnerable, nervous, emotionally backward and yet who grows in stature throughout the film to become its emotional centre. Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre is also good and you can’t help but root for these two kids to get together even as the apocalypse occurs about them.

Less satisfying is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach who seems to think that Christian Bale’s Batman wasn’t quite gravelly enough and Matt Goode as the fey Ozymandias who doesn’t convince us at all that he is “the smartest man in the world.”

Much of the complexity of Dr Manhattan is erased in the film but Jeffrey Morgan’s brief, charismatic performance as The Comedian practically steals the picture.

Watchmen was never flawless even in its comic book form (the final two issues and Moore’s understanding of female psychology are, at best, dodgy) but reading it in high school back in 1986 – 1987 was still one of the most exciting experiences of my cultural life. No film could ever hope to live up to that, but I think I can say with reasonable objectivity, that if they really had to make Watchmen The Movie, it could have been much better.

(Many thanks to NI crime fiction genius, Adrian McKinty, for this review -- gb.)

Friday, 6 March 2009

An Interview - Dave Zeltserman

After working for over 20 years as a software engineer, Dave Zeltserman decided to give crime fiction a try. His short stories have been published in many venues, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. His third published novel, Small Crimes, was named by both NPR and the Washington Post as one of the top five crime and mystery novels of 2008. His South Boston Mob saga, Pariah, is out now in the UK and will be published in the U.S. this October, with his latest book, Killer, to follow. Serpent's Tail has recently acquired the UK rights to his upcoming crime thriller, 28 minutes, with the film option being sold to Constantin Film Development and Impact Pictures with John Tomko (Ocean's 11, Falling Down) and Jeremy Bolt (Resident Evil, Death Race) to produce.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’ve just finished a high concept thriller titled “Dying Memories”. This one’s got all the requisite ingredients to get me into a larger NY house; an especially nasty government agency developing a drug that will endanger the free world as we know it, and the hero who gets caught up in all this and saves the world after many bruises, bumps, and gunshot wounds along the way. Even has a bloody cat in it! I’m sure I’m going to be hearing from friends who will be accusing me of selling out, but as long as they’re doing it while seeing my book in supermarkets and in Walmarts, fine, I can live with that.

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

About a year ago I quit working as a software developer and am trying the fulltime life of a writer, so my typical day goes something like this:

1) Wakeup

2) Make some tea

3) Write for 4-5 hours

4) Hear from my agent that yet another editor at a large NY house was blocked in bringing in one of my books because the consensus was that it was too dark and violent for their readers.

5) Punch a hole in the wall.

6) Get an earful from the wife about the hole in the wall.

7) Take out the blueboard, replaster, sand and repaint damaged wall.

8) Think about writing some more, but am too tired.

9) Have a few drinks as I contemplate my next day of writing and plastering.

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

I started studying Kung Fu a while back, and now hold a black belt and am working towards my second degree, so I usually go to at least one class a day, as well as Tai Chi classes. Other than that, boring stuff like fixing holes in walls.

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

This is a tough one to answer and depends what the writer is trying to accomplish. Be prepared up front that things usually take a long time—the publishing world does not move fast. You need patience and persistence. This is a business where it’s very easy to get discouraged, and the best way to battle that is always be working on something. Worse thing to do is send out something and wait—after you send it out, forget about it and start working on your next project. And listen to what people, like agents, are telling you. Large NY publishers like to play it safe when it comes to crime fiction; every once in a while a true noir book will escape from them, but the sad fact is if you persist (as I’ve done) in writing dark crime fiction, you’ve got a long hard road ahead of you.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

This has been more of a retro year for me; been reading Derek Raymond’s fantastic factory series books, and a lot of Donald Westlake—The Ax is just brilliant. Also Dead City by Shane Stevens which is about as brutal and great a crime novel as you’re going to find. A few of newer writers I read for the first time this year who impressed me were Scott Phillips (Cottonwood), Sean Chercover (Trigger City) and Iain Levison (Dog Eat Dog).

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Mixed Blood by Roger Smith. Just picked it up today. So far so good.

Q7. Plans for the future?

I’ve written eleven books so far, none of which have taken more than a day or so of research. My next book is going to be the retelling of a classic tale with my own unique spin and perspective, and it’s going to take a ton of research. I’ve got a dozen or so books already stacked up that I need to read, and more will probably be following, but this is a book I’m very excited about writing. So I’m going to be busy with this, as well as keeping my eyes open in case Whitey Bulger ever gets his hands on a copy of Pariah…

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

I try not to have regrets in life. It’s been a long road to get to where I am now, but on the other hand, I’m writing the types of books I want to write, and I’m with a great house with Serpent’s Tail. So with all my blunders and mistakes along the way, things somehow worked out.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Like a lot of writers, I’ve had more than my share of rejections and close calls, but that’s all part of the game. I’ll share instead my most stressful writing experience. When I first approached John Williams (of Serpent's Tail) regarding Small Crimes, he agreed to take a look at it because a couple of their writers, Vicki Hendricks and Ken Bruen, were saying nice things about it, and because the Rara Avis hardboiled/noir community, which we were both members of, were very positively discussing my first book, Fast Lane. But John also warned me up front that there was little chance that they would buy it, that they only buy books that they’re completely desperate to publish. While I thought there was a good chance John would like it, I wasn’t holding out much hope that Serpent’s Tail would buy it, especially since no other publisher yet had been desperate to buy it.

Months passed, a lot of months. I told John ahead of time that I’d be showing Small Crimes to other publishers also, and he was fine with that, and I ended up sending the book to Five Star. The thing with Five Star is they’re a small publisher who basically sells mostly to libraries—their pricing and discount policy doesn’t really allow much else. They’re a professional outfit, a good group of people, but their books are going to sell between 500-1500 copies based on the book’s trade reviews. They ended up accepting Small Crimes, and still no word from Serpent’s Tail. At this point I was leaving it up to my agent back then to contact Serpent’s Tail, and he was telling me they weren’t returning his emails. I pretty much decided if I sold Small Crimes to Five Star, that was it, I’d get the book in print, and then quit writing for good. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. I pushed things out as long as I could, then signed the contracts and sent them back to Five Star. Three days later John Williams called me to tell me how much he and the publisher loved Small Crimes and that they wanted to publish it. After that I was scrambling to work something out with Five Star.

The next few weeks were tough ones, sweated off several pounds, but fortunately the Five Star folks turned out to be really decent people, and they let me exchange Bad Thoughts for Small Crimes, and the rest is history.

Thank you, Dave Zeltserman!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

5th March -- A Historic Day

Courtesy of History Orb, here's a selection of interesting things that have happened on 5th March throughout the years:

363 - Roman Emperor Julian moves from Antioch with an army of 90,000 to attack the Sassanid Empire, in a campaign which would bring about his own death.
1558 - Smoking tobacco introduced in Europe by Francisco Fernandes
1750 - 1st American Shakespearean production-"altered" Richard III, NYC
1770 - Boston Massacre, British troops kill 5 in crowd. Crispus Attackus becomes 1st black to die for American freedom
1807 - 1st performance of Ludwig von Beethoven's 4th Symphony in B
1836 - Mexico attacks Alamo
1836 - Samuel Colt manufactures 1st pistol, 34-caliber "Texas" model
1842 - Over 500 Mexican troops led by Rafael Vasquez invade Texas, briefly occupy San Antonio and then head back to the Rio Grande.
1917 - 1st jazz recording for Victor Records released
1922 - "Nosferatu" premieres in Berlin
1931 - Gandhi & British viceroy Lord Irwin sign pact
1933 - Germany's Nazi Party wins majority in parliament (43.9%-17.2M votes)
1943 - Anti fascist strikes in Italy
1945 - World War II: The "Battle of the Ruhr" begins.
1946 - Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech (Fulton Missouri)
1955 - Elvis Presley's 1st TV appearance on "Louisiana Hayride" show
1956 - "King Kong," 1st televised
1957 - Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fail-party wins election in Ireland
1959 - Iran & US sign economic & military treaty
1960 - Elvis Presley ends 2-year hitch in US Army
1965 - Ernie Terrel beats Eddie Machen in 15 for heavyweight boxing title
1976 - British pound falls below $2 for 1st time
1994 - Largest milkshake (1,955 gallons of chocolate-Nelspruit S Africa)
1994 - Singer Grace Slick arrested for pointing a gun at a cop
2005 - The Burkinabé Party for Democracy and Socialism holds its first National Convention.

2008 - Crime Scene NI, a blog devoted to Northern Irish crime fiction is launched (this one's not actually on the History Orb site yet).
That's right, folks. Today marks the first anniversary of my little blog, Crime Scene NI. And it's been quite a year. I've been in touch with the finest writers in Ireland and beyond, I've read their sterling work, my signed book collection has increased at least ten-fold and I've been lucky enough to receive a tonne of great review copies, I've met writers and fellow bloggers in person, and thanks to a bit of networking, finally my dream of a writing career seems as if it might soon be a reality.

And the site itself seems to be reaching more and more people all the time. This is the 226th post and according to Statcounter, there have been well over 30,000 visits. I get a nice amount of comments, for which I'm always grateful, 10 people have availed of the 'Follow This Blog' thingy and others have bypassed the blogger stuff to send me nice personal emails. Nobody has ever gotten in touch with an angry word.

The blog's been in a couple of local papers and magazines, mentioned on some brilliant websites and it's taken me onto BBC radio.

All in all, it's been a good year for me. Thanks to all the writers and readers who've helped me along the way. Special thanks to Declan Burke, who really gave me the idea in the first place.

And just so this isn't all about me, I should mention that our most featured writer (according to a label count), Adrian McKinty, is running a competition that offers a copy of his fan-frickin-tastic new novel, Fifty Grand. Hop on over and leave your answer.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A Wee Review - Pariah by Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman has a lot going on in Pariah. This novel is a noir crime fiction with social commentary, satire and Boston Irish gangsters. It’s a fictional novel about a crime boss writing about writing his real life story as a work of fiction. Kind of a pseudo-meta-fiction, if you catch my drift.

Kyle Nevin’s just finished an eight year stretch. He could have gotten out early by ratting on Red Mahoney, his old boss, a father figure, and the man who set him up. Instead, he served every single day so that the parole board would have nothing to hold over his head. Besides, according to the Southie code, nothing’s lower than a rat. And so, at the age of forty-two, he needs to reclaim his place in the Boston criminal underworld. To achieve this, all he’s got is his kid brother Danny, a few secret stashes of cash dotted about his beloved city and a kidnapping plan. And then there’s the thing that’s keeping him awake every night. The burning fury that’ll only ease when he tortures Red Mahoney to death.

This about covers the first third of the book, but it’s what comes after the attempted kidnapping that really stands out. FBI investigations. Falsified evidence. Disappearing witnesses. Dodgy dealing in the publishing world. Plagiarism! It’s all in there and more besides.

The novel’s written in a very straightforward and non-flashy manner. Zeltserman spends precious little time on external, descriptive prose. Instead, we’re taken on a tour of Kyle Nevin’s mind. Trust me, it’s not a nice place to visit, never mind live.

I don’t know if I’d describe it as a failing in the book, but I had a lot of trouble feeling any sympathy for the narrator, Nevin. He’s a psycho, and not a particularly charismatic one. There’s a distinct lack of remorse and absolutely no redemption in this character’s journey. In fact, as a reader, I found myself rooting for him to take a tremendous fall. Personally, I like reading about bad people (it makes me feel better about myself, I guess), but I know there are many who would rather read about somebody they could sympathise or identify with on some level. Kyle Nevin is not the man for this. I’d still recommend it, though. There’s a lot more to take from this tale than the mildly bad taste the protagonist’s actions leave in your mouth.

Pariah is a tense, violent and sometimes absurd study of criminality and the world’s obsession with it. Each layer has something to say that’ll leave you thinking, cringing or praying. But I mean that in the best possible way. Another great addition to the Serpent’s Tail stable.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Peace is Upon Us

It's Adrian McKinty's fault that I even entertained the notion of reading David Peace's Red Riding quartet. I got the whole set from Serpent's Tail a while back but so far I've only made it through 1974. As I said in my review, 1974 is a brilliantly written novel, it's dark, violent and fascinating. It's also quite an emotional investment. I've been a little afraid of moving on to 1977, and so have avoided it until now.

Here's the thing, though. The film adaptation (the quartet as a trilogy) is upon us. Part one will play on Channel 4 on Thursday at 9PM. I'll probably try to catch it on 4 on Demand, as I'd like the opportunity to pause and take the odd time out. What a month to go off the booze! I don't want to let the movie do all the thinking for me, so I've begun reading 1977 in the hopes that I can get most of it read before Thursday. I'm a good way through the second chapter, and I think this'll be a quick read.

But I imagine that even if you watch the films first, there'll still be quite some merit in reading the novels as well. A quick refresh in Peace's writing style for this series has me kicking myself that I didn't get around to it before now.