Tag Archives: Declan Burke

Books To Die For, again

Hot on the heels of Bloody Scotland comes the paperback version of Books To Die For. You know, the book about crime writing by crime writers for crime readers that I love so much. (I’ll tell you a secret. When I picked the books I just had to have with me during my temporary home displacement, BTDF was one of the few I simply had to have by my side. It is that wonderful.)

So two years after John Connolly and Declan Burke travelled round talking about their beautiful collaboration, here it is for anyone who managed to miss it first time round. Who wouldn’t want to hear about Sara Paretsky’s favourite, or find out whose favourite Sara herself is? And so on and so on.

The main danger as always, is finding more people whose books you must read than you have time.

And that leads me to the – slightly horrifying – thought I had on Sunday when listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her admiration for Agatha Christie. Because a lot of the writers in BTDF started their careers in crime by liking Christie’s work.

Like me, Sophie began reading Christie around the age of 12. It was the natural thing for people that age with a taste for reading and that inexplicable spare time we all seemed to have, to do. You looked at your parents’ shelves, or maybe the neighbours’ shelves or anyone else among close grown-ups. And you’d find Christie and you’d try her and most likely be hooked.

After that, you’d go on to more crime, and more, and more.

We didn’t have all those books children today have, and I’m all for pointing the 10-year-old reader in the direction of Artemis Fowl. But will the Artemis Fowl fan grow up to be a fully paid up member of crime reading? Do 20-somethings read a lot of crime today?

I have no idea, and I’m the first to admit I’ve not been pushing Agatha Christie at young people, either. Offspring know her through television. Will she be known mainly for ‘screenwriting’ for Joan Hickson and David Suchet? And what will happen to that natural progression towards all kinds of – written, fictional – crime?

Books To Die For could take over from those parental bookshelves. I hope it will.

Crime Always Pays

(Swish. Swish. Please don’t disturb! The witch is dusting, and that’s a very rare sight.)

So, what I’ve got here is an old review, and I find it mostly still works, which is why I will offer it up for inspection again. Many of you weren’t here back in 2008, so to you it will seem almost brand new.

It’s  complicated. Back then, Declan Burke had yet to see Crime Always Pays published. It’s the sequel to The Big O, and I read it in manuscript (the Resident IT Consultant printed it out on his office printer for me), and I loved it. Back then, it was titled The Blue Orange (which personally I still prefer).

Now, though, it is finally being published properly! It’s a real book. Not the US edition which was cancelled in the end, nor the Kindle version published to compensate. A Real Book! And I think you should read it. (After The Big O, obviously.) Below is my slightly edited, and very ancient, review.

Declan Burke, Crime Always Pays

“The Blue Orange, as he calls it, is a continuation of The Big O, with all the same characters, except those who may have died in the first book. Plus a couple of new ones. The Big O was very funny, if rather full of four-letter words, and had endearingly inept, mostly minor, crooks.

In The Blue Orange (Crime Always Pays) we meet them again, and this time I found myself quite fond of even the less charming ones. It’s a mad-cap race across the Continent, with everyone ending up in Greece, where Declan has totally taken over his favourite holiday island, which I understand was quite nice before this.

As is to be expected, there are so many double-crossings that the witch developed a squint trying to cope. The best thing is simply to sit back and enjoy, while laughing quite a lot. The story is crying out to be made into a film, and I know which part I can play.

And as Mother-of-witch so rightly said, crime is not nice. But this kind of crime is as nice, and as funny, as it gets. The worst baddies are killed or have lots of blood removed in interesting ways, and maybe the rest lived happily ever after. I’m hoping for more.”

It’s today! Get shopping!

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

Daring to thrill

COUGH, cough, hrumph, cough! Pardon me…

You might recall me mentioning that I once thought Jo Nesbø was a woman. And Danish. I can still just about visualise the Danish Jo, but this image has half disappeared with the rather charming publicity photo of the handsome male and Norwegian Jo.

People frequently tell me they like my honesty. I frequently worry about being too dishonest at times. I shall worry no more.

I was a bit surprised at the news that Jo was having an on-train signing session as he travelled from Manchester to Glasgow and Stirling on Saturday. Fans on the 09.41 Pendolino from Preston could just toddle along and get their books signed. But why not? He was on his way to sign at Waterstones in Glasgow, before coming to Bloody Scotland, where he was the star attraction of the evening. Why not cover a few more angles of that stardom?

Jo filled the Albert Halls, with fans sitting upstairs as well as down in the stalls. He had Peter Guttridge as his chair, so it was all set up to be the perfect evening. Bloody Scotland’s Lin Anderson was sitting in my row. Peter began by listing all the impressive things you might say about Jo, before the man himself came on stage for his superstar reception.

He used to play football. I think Jo even claimed to have played in Inverkeithing (although that could be my hearing), before he got knees like mine and had to give it up. The team didn’t like him. He just scored goals. Now that he’s more famous they praise him for having been a really good player.

Jo Nesbø

(Here I thought it was getting a little boring with all the background. Peter clearly heard my thoughts, because he promised we’d get to the books. He just didn’t say when.)

After the football came the rock band career. The band got better and better until at some point venues and audiences actually wanted to hear them play. The others in the band played full time, while Jo had to have a day job. So he stock-brokered. He did his money job by day, and flew out to gigs by night.

My thoughts at this point was that book tours must seem like a holiday compared to that.

Henning Mankell was name-dropped. Harry Hole got a mention. Or at least we were told how to pronounce the name correctly. But we still didn’t seem to be quite ready for book talk.

I did some calculations. Assuming the hour was to be divided up in the normal fashion, we’d used half the time on the non-book background, mainly being told what a fantastic person Jo is. I suspect that most of the audience agreed. It could be why they’d come. If they were readers/fans they probably also knew a lot of the background already, so it was a waste of time.

Peter Guttridge is one of my favourite chair people, and I admire his work a lot. I don’t know what happened here, but it suddenly seemed to me I could use my evening better than fawning over this surprisingly un-charming writer. So I left.

Not sure if I was alone in my cantankerous-ness, I compared notes with one of Jo’s fervent admirers, to see what he thought of his hero ‘in action.’ I apologise for his language, but the words ‘arrogant’ and ‘t*t’ appeared very close together. I would never say anything like that, obviously, but this was one disappointed reader, who has resolved never to try to meet a hero ever again.

Thinking back, I rather miss the Danish woman I called Jo Nesbø. She was friendly, and a happy sort, despite being a professional killer.

(If you’re near Dublin, you can form your own opinion tonight, when Jo talks to Bookwitch favourite Declan Burke.)

Thanks, Siobhan!

Siobhan Dowd NYC 80s-90s, by Helen Graves

Easter brought back my earliest memories of Siobhan Dowd, and of The London Eye Mystery. It was as we left the local bookshop just before Easter 2007 that Daughter grabbed the proof of this wonderful book, and once she had read it, she gave me permission to read it as well.

I’d like to think that this ‘illustrious’ blogging career of mine would have gone in much the same direction even without Siobhan and The London Eye Mystery. Hard to say. It made me do my fan email thing, which in turn meant Siobhan wrote back to me, opening up a more personal view of herself; one which I might never have encountered otherwise.

Looking back, it seems so dreadfully unreal that she would die just a few months later. And who would have thought that her work would just go on and on afterwards? I won’t be alone in blessing her strength, writing four novels in such a very short time, giving us her fantastic books to read after she was gone. And her trust, which she had time to plan, helping young people to read.

This was the very beginning of my moving in literary circles, and I marvel at how I dared get on that train to Oxford for Siobhan’s memorial service in November. I met so many people there, who I would probably have met at some point, but not quite like that. Would I have known that Siobhan’s friend Fiona Dunbar would make the perfect Bookwitch Profile as seen here last month?

The London Eye Mystery made more magic later with the stage version. Again, lots of people met up, and for me a lasting pleasure was meeting her best friend Helen who came over from New York, and who provided the photo above. (You could ask why it’s important to meet the American friend of an author you never met. I don’t know. But it feels good.)

Siobhan Dowd and Helen Graves: friends at Blenhaim Palace spring 2006

When I think back to first meeting literary people – online or in person – I can link back to Siobhan surprisingly often. It’s not just Declan Burke of Irish crime fame who popped up. He brought with him all those Irish crime writers that I’d never heard of before. Other bloggers. And in turn, these writers have taken me further in many different directions. I find paths doubling back on themselves.

Rings on the water, is what it seems like. Once this idea had come to me, the rings just grew and grew. I am not going to bore you with long lists of authors and publishers (although the lovely David Fickling must be mentioned). I started counting how many facebook friends originated with Siobhan, but gave up…

There was something in the way my brief contact with Siobhan encouraged more mad behaviour on my part. It wasn’t only meeting people. It was learning other things I could do. Was allowed to do. I owe Siobhan a lot, and I hope she’s sitting up there looking down at all of us, having a bit of fun herself. Maybe with a fluffy dog by her side, and a glass of something.

(I know. This is very much a me, me kind of post. But whenever I think ‘how did that come about then?’ my inner detective notices footprints going all the way back to this great author and person.)

The Big O as an e

It’s his birthday tomorrow. That’s why I’m letting Declan Burke have two reviews in one and the same week.

I’ve already reviewed* The Big O. It was back in 2007, when I didn’t know what to make of this Irishman with his entertaining blog. Could he write crime novels?

He could. And for anyone who is now feeling traumatised after reading Slaughter’s Hound (if you haven’t had time yet; don’t worry. You will feel in need of something lighter), The Big O is just the thing for you.

As good, but less bloody. The characters swear, and they commit crimes, but the tale is more humorous than brutal.

The paper version of The Big O is long gone. And Declan found it was hard to interest people in its sequel when there was no way of reading the first book. Hence the move to a new ebook. I think it’s an opportunity you should take. If only because it will then ease your way to reading Crime Always Pays. The sequel. Which is even better. And funnier.

Declan Burke, The Big O (ebook cover)

I know what you are thinking. That witch is besotted. But then, so is Eoin Colfer. I’m in good company. Join us?

*Please note. Back then I didn’t imagine there would be much more Irish crime for me to read. Hah!

Slaughter’s Hound

This Sligo Noir novel turned out to be noirer than expected. It is very good, and extremely well written, and it’s funny in parts, and it’s intelligent. But it is noir. No getting away from it.

Phew.

I survived, but that’s more than can be said for some of the characters. Several of them die, and quite spectacularly so. I’m not sure how anyone can come up with some of the graphic ways of killing people, or the descriptions of what you can do to a human being without actually killing them.

But I suppose that’s what makes a good author, being able to write about that which (I sincerely hope) we haven’t experienced in real life. Declan Burke is a very good writer. I know I keep going on about that, but he is. Even when noir.

Declan Burke, Slaughter's Hound

Harry Rigby from Eightball Boogie is back. It’s been a while, and he’s done time for you-know-what. (If you don’t, you will read Eightball Boogie first, before being allowed Slaughter’s Hound.) He’s quite likeable for someone not very likeable, and he has surprisingly good taste in women.

In this book he watches his friend Finn fall from nine floors up, flattening his taxi on landing. So he really has to find out how Finn came to fall, and why. Most people seem to think Harry pushed him.

It’s a complicated tale of art and drugs and an old death, played out in the shadow of what’s left of the Irish economy. Harry has to contend with rich women, crazy women, angry ones, and also some pretty dubious men, such as the police and lawyers.

Harry’s adopted son Ben has got older and is having trouble at school. Ben’s mother expects Harry to behave honourably and do the proper Dad thing. But with bad guys on your heels, there is less time for fatherhood than there should be.

As with Declan’s other novels, Greece plays a part in the plot, and as you can tell from the title, there is a doggy, too.

If you can take the gruesomeness, this book is one of the best. A lot of people have been saying so, and I can confirm they’re right. But you might want to look for something splashproof to wear for when the blood starts to flow.