Although my novel The Lost Chord was not written as a crime novel it does have elements of a detective story in it. Manus Brennan, the narrator follows a series of clues to try and track down his former band mate, the enigmatic Irish rock star Gino Morgan who disappeared seven years earlier. The publisher even blurbed it as ‘a novel of music and mystery’.
One of the upshots of that is that has got a bit of attention from the crime fiction community, most notably from Gerard Brennan at crimesceneni. His blog and that of novelist Declan Burke - whose novel The Big O has just been published in the US - at crimealwayspays were what inspired me to set up this one.
What strikes me most is the camaraderie and support from one another among Irish crime writers at home and abroad and although I keep feeling like a bit of an imposter I’m grateful that both Gerard and Dec have given me and The Lost Chord a bit of space on their websites.
Below is an article published in The Irish News last month about crime fiction in Ireland which includes contributions from them both.
Crime fiction is one of the fastest growing literary genres in Ireland. The Irish News decided to find out why and sent Tony Bailie to slap a couple of writers about a bit to get some answers
RAIN splashed on my hat from a broken drainpipe as the yellow sign above the gin joint flicked on and off. In the distance I could hear a cop siren wailing and the screech of tyres spinning as a car sped off. I was in one of the most run down parts of the city where the streets looked as if they needed a shave.
If anyone could put me on the right trail it was Gerard Brennan. He’d been investigating the crime fiction scene for years, knew all the players and was posting information on his website crimesceneni. Some said he was even involved. As he slouched round the corner I checked the street to make sure that he wasn’t being followed before falling in to step beside him.
“I need names?” I told him.
“Names cost money,” he said.
I peeled off a couple of greenbacks and he went to grab them but I pulled them away.
“Let’s hear you sing first,” I said.
“You can’t talk about crime fiction without mentioning the godfather of the sub-genre. Colin Bateman has been doing crime fiction with a Northern Irish sense of humour since the late nineties,” he muttered.
“His first novel, Divorcing Jack, is practically a modern day classic but he’s remained cutting edge by evolving his stories in line with the continually changing political climate of his settings.
“Then there’s this new buck from Derry. Brian McGilloway took the crime fiction scene by storm with his debut, Borderlands, set in his current hometown, Lifford.
“Adrian McKinty is a Carrickfergus man who lives in Australia. His most recent release, The Bloomsday Dead, ended the trilogy featuring Michael Forsythe, a Northern Irish hard-hardhard man with a poetic inner dialogue.
“McKinty writes prose that would make many literary types wail in envious frustration. And he mixes this deft skill with heart-wrenching, gut-punching tales of extreme violence.
“Belfast native, Sam Millar, is handling the noir end of things. In Millar’s
latest, Bloodstorm, Karl Kane is a hard-drinking, heavy-gambling, emotionally-wretched PI who has his ear to the ground on the mean streets of Belfast. When he’s not hiding from his traumatic past, he’s greasing the palms of the scummiest gangsters of the underworld to get the answers his customers are paying for.
“And then there’s Garbhan Downey. Drawing on years of experience as a journalist covering Northern Ireland politics, Downey’s novels have proved him a master satirist. His political thrillers are an education into Northern Ireland’s fantastic journey through the peace process, employing great humour and understanding to a difficult subject.”
“Does the legacy of the Troubles often filter through into novels by writers from the north?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” said Brennan. “It has to. Today’s Northern Irish writers have lived through the Troubles, affected to varying degrees. Many of them, I would imagine, have dealt with their demons by writing them. Kind of like taking a deep breath and checking under the bed, just to prove to yourself that you’re not going to let fear rule.
“South of the border, the roar of the Celtic Tiger heralded a new wave of crime fiction. Writers such as Declan Hughes and Tana French are very much at the forefront of this phenomenon, revelling in the new cool of Dublin and sharing their vision of the fair city’s criminal underbelly. With wealth came a new class of criminal to the Republic, and that has been the starting block for the excellent crime fiction coming out of there.”
I decided to pay a visit to Declan Burke. The Sligo man was the author of The Big O (2007) – a story about a tiger kidnapping – and Eightball Boogie (2003). He was also the brains behind the crimealwayspays blogspot, a site devoted to Irish and international crime fiction. With The Big O published last week in the US and its sequel due in 2009 Burke was moving in to the big time.
I finally managed to track him down to the sort of seedy bar where only journalists and slimeballs hang out. Same thing really. Burke saw me coming and tried to make a break for it but I’d been expecting that and already had my Dictaphone pressed to his nose. It was a tense moment but then he just shrugged and smirked.
“Whaddya wanna know?” he demanded.
“Why do you do it?” I asked. “Why write crime fiction?”
“Crime fiction has something to say about modern Ireland, and particularly the rising levels of crime, which have been fuelled by the excess cash sloshing around as a result of the Celtic Tiger economic boom and the demilitarization of various paramilitary armies,” Burke said.
“I think crime fiction is the most relevant form of fiction being written today, as it deals with the realities of everyday life. But it’s not just concerned with gangland crime and the kind of people described as ‘criminals’ and ‘thugs’ in the tabloid press. For example various politicians have had their finances well and truly explored by various tribunals in Dublin Castle, tribunals which were set up to investigate the possibility of political corruption. So there’s all kinds of crime to be written about, whether it’s blue collar or white collar.”
“So what’s with the Yanks. Why are they interested in us?”
“American writers and fans I’ve spoken with have suggested that Irish writers have a particularly potent mix of poetry and darkness, although that might well be simply a case of perpetuating a stereotype. I think the bald truth is that Irish crime writers, once the ‘mean streets’ arrived in Ireland, proved themselves just as capable of writing good crime stories as any other nationality, and that the Irish-American connection has helped them get a sympathetic hearing.
“But that sentimental attachment will only get you so far – once you get a fair hearing, you need to be good enough to capitalise on it. John Connolly, for example, sets all of his stories in the US, in Maine especially, so he wasn’t playing on the ‘Oirish’ stereotype in order to get established. He just proved that he was the equal, if not better, of many American writers. And once you’re as good as John Connolly, the rest is easy.”