The current generation of Irish crime writers had something of an annus mirabilis in 2008, when John Connolly, Tana French, Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and Ruth Dudley Edwards were all nominated for prestigious crime-writing prizes in the US and the UK. Connolly, Dudley Edwards and French all took home awards, with French a multiple-award winner, a decent haul for a relatively small group of writers, and particularly as Irish crime fiction has yet to be taken as seriously at home as it is abroad.
The bumper crop of crime novels by Irish writers due in 2009 can only cement the burgeoning reputation of Irish crime writing. First among equals will be the annual offering from John Connolly, which will be published in June by Hodder and Stoughton and delves into the emotional hinterland of his long-term protagonist, Parker. “It’s called The Lovers,” says Connolly “and in it Parker, stripped of his PI’s licence, begins an exploration of his own past, and in particular the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. It leads to revelations about his own identity, and reveals the recurring presence of a man and a woman in his life, the lovers of the title, who seem to have no purpose other than to bring an end to his existence.”
Declan Hughes, meanwhile, offers the fourth in his private investigator series starring Ed Loy, which has the Beckett-inspired title of All the Dead Voices and arrives in April (John Murray). Hired by the beautiful Anne Fogarty to find the man who killed her father 15 years ago (it could be a gangland IRA boss, it could be a property developer with Sinn Fein and government connections, it could be semi-reformed gangster George Halligan), Loy is lunged into the murky and potentially lethal world of post-Peace Process evasions.
The prolific Ken Bruen sees American Skin finally published in Ireland, by Brandon, although the novel was originally published last year in the States. Bruen has also teamed up with American writer Reed Farrel Coleman to collaborate on Tower, to be published by the US boutique publisher Busted Flush in the autumn. “In the tradition of The Long Goodbye, Mystic River and The Departed,” runs the blurb, “Tower is a powerful meditation on friendship, fate, and fatality.”
Paul Charles, a stablemate of Bruen’s at Brandon, publishes the ninth in his DI Christy Kennedy series in May, in which the Camden Town-based Kennedy investigates the murder of a colleague whose “by all means necessary’ ethic made him plenty of enemies, and at least one enmity strong enough to see him burned alive during a Halloween bonfire.
After putting the Michael Forsythe saga to bed with last year’s The Bloomsday Dead, Adrian McKinty returns in April with a standalone novel, Fifty Grand (Holt), which features a Cuban heroine. “I went to Cuba as a loyal Guardian reader expecting a rum-soaked island bravely thumbing its nose at a bullying Uncle Sam right across the Florida Strait,” says McKinty. “Instead, I found a desperate, decaying tin-pot dictatorship filled with informers, secret police, prostitutes, pimps, currency blackmarketeers and endemic corruption. I knew this was good material, so I tore up my return ticket and began making notes. The notes expanded and eventually became a novel.”
Tana French is currently working on her third novel, which is tentatively scheduled for a late 2009 release. “For now, it’s called Faithful Place,” she says, “and Frank Mackey, Cassie Maddox’s old boss from The Likeness, is the narrator this time. He’s spent his whole adult life thinking that his first love Rosie dumped him and ran off to England, and he hasn’t spoken to his family since that night. Then, Rosie’s suitcase shows up, hidden in the wall of a house on their old road…”
Also working on new novels due out late this year are Arlene Hunt and Alex Barclay, whose latest offerings are Undertow and Blood Runs Cold, respectively, although both are still too immersed in the early stages of the process to offer a title or even a brief synopsis. Brian McGilloway, who sets his police procedural novels in Donegal, has been quietly gathering some impressive plaudits over the past three years or so. His third novel in his Inspector Devlin series is titled Bleed a River Deep (Macmillan), and it’s due in April. “Devlin finds himself caught up in several cases,” he says, “all of which centre around an Irish-American-financed goldmine in Donegal. The book concerns itself with the treatment of immigrants in Ireland, and the cost of our recent prosperity both to the country and its sense of morality.”
The artist formerly known as Colin Bateman, now simply Bateman, has his latest novel, Mystery Man, published in April by Headline. Boasting the customary blend of hard-nosed crime and whimsical humour, the Belfast-set tale features a fictional bookseller from a real bookstore, No Alibis, who turns private eye when the detective agency next door goes bust. A hop and a skip from small-time publishing and our “Man With No Name” hero finds himself up to his oxters in Nazis and serial killers. “I enjoyed writing Mystery Man so much,” Bateman says, “that I’m already halfway through the sequel, The Day of the Jack Russell.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Bateman’s comedy capers is Gene Kerrigan’s gritty social realism. Dark Times in the City (Harvill Secker) is Kerrigan’s third novel, following Little Criminals and The Midnight Choir. “Dark Times in the City is a suspense novel,” says Gene “and it starts with something that might happen to any of us these days. A guy’s sitting at the bar of his Dublin local when two men walk in wearing motorcycle helmets and carrying guns. The guy, Danny Callaghan, impulsively intervenes to save a life, and gets drawn into a nightmare. It’s about the gangs and the guards and the rest of us — greed and idealism, hope and ruthlessness — the joys of life in a cocaine society.” Kerrigan has already been compared to Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane, and Dark Times might well be his breakout novel.
This year will see a number of Irish houses publish “literary thrillers”, Kevin Casey’s A State of Mind (Lilliput), which is set in the Wicklow Hills during the Seventies, and debutant Fiachra Sheridan’s The Runners (New Island), which treads a more contemporary urban path, being two of the more notable. Staying with literary thrillers, Alan Glynn’s Winterland (Faber & Faber) has already been praised by John Connolly as “set to mark Alan Glynn as the first literary chronicler of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland”. Glynn’s sophomore novel, following on from 2002’s The Dark Fields, Winterland opens with the seemingly random deaths of two members of the same family. Naturally, all is not what it seems, and Gina Rafferty, who is related to both men, “goes in search of answers and ploughs a reckless path through the worlds of business, politics and organised crime,” says Alan. “What she uncovers is a peculiarly Irish form of corruption, one that is so entrenched and complacent it can’t see, or refuses to acknowledge the damage it has caused, and the lives it has destroyed, going back over decades.”
Just as hotly tipped is debutant Stuart Neville, whose The Twelve (Harvill Secker) is being hailed as the first great post-Troubles novel about Northern Ireland, in which a former paramilitary, Gerry Fegan, haunted by the ghosts of his victims, goes to war to satisfy their need for vengeance. “The Twelve is not only one of the finest thriller debuts of the last 10 years,” says John Connolly, “but is also one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times.” James Ellroy, who shares an agent with Neville, agrees: “The best first novel I’ve read in years,” he says, “a flat-out terror trip.”
“It’s set against the events of spring 2007,” explains Neville, “when Northern Ireland’s political parties finally found agreement, and it’s about the cost of violence to both victim and perpetrator. It’s a brutal, uncompromising story, and at first there’s not much to separate the good guys from the bad, but ultimately only forgiveness can break the cycle.”
The Twelve will be published in July.
Declan Burke is the author of ‘The Big O’. He runs a blog dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.
(independent.ie, Jan. 11, Declan Burke)