Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Gone Girl Good Dragon Tattoo Bad

David Fincher's career as a director has taken a more conventional turn in the last couple of years with his adaptations of the crime dramas Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and now Gone Girl. Both books, of course, were international best sellers, but as James Patterson, JK Rowling & Benjamin Black show us selling millions of copies is no guarantee of a book's quality. But what made the movie adaptations of Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl inevitable was the fact that the books went beyond best seller status into a kind of cultural ubiquity. You'd see people reading them everywhere: not just the beach, but lifts, trams, on lunch breaks, squatting by the wall while waiting for the subway...As such they were very important books because they got people who wouldn't normally read a novel to look at one for perhaps the first time since high school. The Fincher film brought even more people to Dragon Tattoo and will kick Gone Girl into the stratosphere. I applaud the latter but boo the former and shall explain why below, after this spoiler alert. Spoiler, uhm, alert. 
Ok, I had 5 major problems with Dragon Tattoo: 1) As a locked room mystery it didn't work because the reader was not given all the information to solve the puzzle. 2) Cally Blomqvist's character seemed like nothing more than a middle aged male's wish fulfilment fantasy 3) Larsson wanted to have his cake and eat it too: deploring violence against women but giving us lots and lots of it in lurid sadomasochistic detail. 4) The use of magic to solve plot problems. (Whenever the plot bogged down Lisbeth would hack the information from the internet and the plot wd move forward again.)  5) The clunky prose, extreme length and heavy handed cliches made the book pretty dull (I give Larsson a pass on this one because if he had lived the novel would have been given a tighter edit). 
Gone Girl though is a different kettle of fish. (The following paragraphs continue major spoilers - if you plan to read the book or watch the film STOP READING NOW.) Ok, still with me? Good. Brief plot summary follows: Gone Girl takes place in rural Missouri where Nick Dunne has relocated after losing his job on a New York magazine (Gillian Flynn was downsized from Entertainment Weekly and after her dismissal also relocated to rural Missouri). Nick takes his flightly but sweet wife with him and they both try to adapt to living in a small town. One afternoon Nick comes back from work to discover that his house has been broken in to and his wife has gone missing. The cops suspect Nick knows more than he's saying and when they discover that he was having an affair they are convinced that he killed his wife, but we the reader know different...
The first thing I liked about Gone Girl was how unlikeable the two main characters were. Initially I thought this was authorial incompetence, but it wasn't: the husband and wife are both rich, spoiled, self involved yuppies and we're supposed to not like them. We're supposed to read the book despite Nick being a toady and a creep and a third of the way in we discover - in a major twist - that his wife, the beautiful sweet Amy Dunne, is an unreliable narrator (we've been reading her diary in alternate chapters) and she is in fact a highly functioning sociopath. Amy has staged her disappearance to get revenge on her husband for his affair and wants to see him squirm, get convicted and possibly get executed. I also liked Amy's backstory (she's the star of a series of children's books written by her chilly parents) and although I never warmed to Nick at all I did enjoy seeing him try to weasel his way out of the shit. Yes the book was too long (almost all books are too long) but it was also ironic, funny, off kilter. With unlikeable leads, self awareness and a brilliant downbeat ending Gone Girl is my kind of airport novel and I'm glad that it was and is a success. It's both a missing girl thriller and a satire of missing girl thrillers (there are many delicious digs at Nancy Grace and her ilk). If this is the entry level novel for many people into the crime fiction genre then a jolly good thing it is too. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Website

I've finally jumped on the website bandwagon. Big thanks to the hardworking and really rather brilliant folks at Profile Books who have developed this site for me. The focus is mainly on the Duffy books because people actually seem to want to read those ones. But there's tons of other stuff on there too. They've even made a limited edition of some Sean Duffy merch which they'll be giving away in competitions. Its cool shit. Duffy's warrant card. A Duffy Rubiks cube. Duffy Top Trumps. A Duffy Walkman with an 80s mixtape. They even gave away bottles of Duffy's favourite whisky. (Lagavulin 16 if you must know). If you've been following my blog for the last six years or so, you'll know that I usually give away a couple of galleys of the new book when that becomes available. I always loved doing that but I hated going to the Post Office and paying the ridiculous shipping fees from Oz. Profile are going to be doing that for me now too, which is great, so if you want to get a galley of Gun Street Girl go there, not here! As of Friday the website is up and running & you can check it out, here, mis compañeros...
The new website will also host the latest blog posts, but rest assured that I'll still be blogging here for the forseeable. When I started blogging in 2008 I thought that I would run out of things to say pretty quickly, but clearly I have some kind of graphomania or egomania or other mental disorder because there's always something getting on my nerves that I want to write about. Which means that until I achieve enlightenment or equanimity the blog will remain.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Belfast Noir Is Here, So It Is

I received my copies of Belfast Noir this week from our publisher Akashic Books and I have to say that the volume looks absolutely gorgeous. That deep focus shot on the cover is fantastic and its the usual excellent print job from Akashic. I think the stories inside are all first rate but of course I'm biased because Stuart Neville and I edited the book, but fortunately we also got the first review of the collection by Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders this week too. Peter is famous in the international crime writing community for knowing his crime fiction onions. This is what he said about Belfast Noir: 
...Belfast Noir, out in November from Akashic Books, looks like one of the strongest, possibly the best entry in Akashic's "City Noir" series, and I don't say that just because the book's two editors plus one of its contributors will be part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in November.

Quite apart from the quality of the stories the pieces are well-chosen and the volume intelligently planned. Its four sections recognize not just Belfast's violent recent past, but the realities of its quotidian present. Most of the stories depict no violence directly, but violence, and the possibility or memory thereof, loom always. That's a lot more effective than whipping out a kneecapping or rolling down the balaclavas whenever the action lags.

I especially like Brian McGilloway's "The Undertaking," which opens the collection with hair-raising humor and suspense.  Akashic's Dublin Noir also opens with a comic story (by Eoin Colfer), and that story was the highlight of the volume for me. I don't know if it's an Irish thing, but  comedy is a wonderful against-type way to open a collection of crime stories. Oh, and I'll also want to read more from Lucy Caldwell...
Belfast Noir is the first volume of its kind collecting crime fiction from the north of Ireland in the post Troubles era. It shows you how far we've come since The Good Friday Agreement that this book was even possible. Just to remind you we were delighted to get stories from Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, Garbhan Downey, Lee Child, Alex Barclay, Brian McGilloway, Ian McDonald, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Claire McGowan, Arlene Hunt, Steve Cavanagh, Lucy Caldwell, Sam Millar and Gerard Brennan. A pretty impressive list I think you'll agree. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Watching The Detectives

A couple of years after I watched Pulp Fiction I read Bell Hooks's impressive critique of the movie where she lambasts Tarantino for his inappropriate appropriation of black culture. Hooks's criticism of Pulp Fiction is angry but entirely logical and smart so when I watched Pulp Fiction again I was prepared to like the movie a lot less. I didn't. When I watched it again I saw that although Hooks's critique works on one level the movie was still a contemporary masterpiece (apart from Tarantino's own cameo in the film which more than makes Hooks's point). But it was a very interesting experience watching the film from 2 different critical perspectives in my own head. 
I had a similar experience with HBO's True Detective. Before I watched an episode of the show I read Emily Nussbaum's take down of it in the New Yorker magazine. It's a long, pointed review that you can read here, but for me the most important 2 paragraphs are these: 

...but, after years of watching “Boardwalk Empire,” “Ray Donovan,” “House of Lies,” and so on, I’ve turned prickly, and tired of trying to be, in the novelist Gillian Flynn’s useful phrase, the Cool Girl: a good sport when something smells like macho nonsense. And, frankly, “True Detective” reeks of the stuff. The series, for all its good looks and its movie-star charisma, isn’t just using dorm-room deep talk as a come-on: it has fallen for its own sales pitch.

To state the obvious: while the male detectives of “True Detective” are avenging women and children, and bro-bonding over “crazy pussy,” every live woman they meet is paper-thin. Wives and sluts and daughters—none with any interior life. Instead of an ensemble, “True Detective” has just two characters, the family-man adulterer Marty, who seems like a real and flawed person (and a reasonably interesting asshole, in Harrelson’s strong performance), and Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti. At first, this buddy pairing seems like a funky dialectic: when Rust rants, Marty rolls his eyes. But, six episodes in, I’ve come to suspect that the show is dead serious about this dude. Rust is a heretic with a heart of gold. He’s our fetish object—the cop who keeps digging when everyone ignores the truth, the action hero who rescues children in the midst of violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets and harsh truths and nice arms. McConaughey gives an exciting performance (in Grantland, Andy Greenwald aptly called him “a rubber band wrapped tight around a razor blade”), but his rap is premium baloney. And everyone around these cops, male or female, is a dark-drama cliché, from the coked-up dealers and the sinister preachers to that curvy corpse in her antlers. “True Detective” has some tangy dialogue (“You are the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch”) and it can whip up an ominous atmosphere, rippling with hints of psychedelia, but these strengths finally dissipate, because it’s so solipsistically focussed on the phony duet. Meanwhile, Marty’s wife, Maggie—played by Michelle Monaghan, she is the only prominent female character on the show—is an utter nothing-burger, all fuming prettiness with zero insides. Stand her next to any other betrayed wife on television—Mellie, on “Scandal”; or Alicia, on “The Good Wife”; or Cersei, on “Game of Thrones”; or even Claire, on “House of Cards”—and Maggie’s an outline, too.

These are all good points and largely unassailable. Furthermore, I am not a fan of satanic conspiracy movies or of child abduction/torture books and movies (I hated Girl With A Dragon Tattoo) and I really hate it when the child abduction is connected to a, yawn, satanic conspiracy. (The exceptions here being Ben Wheatley's Kill List and the original Wicker Man.) So you'd have thought I would have despised True Detective on every conceivable level...
And yet...I didn't. I loved it. True Detective S1 is a work of art. The temporal dissonance of the pilot episode was bold and visionary, the dialogue throughout the season was witty, sophisticated and completely authentic (yes skeptical New Yorker readers working class people do in fact talk about big ideas and philosophical concepts), and the Louisiana imagery of the entire season was extraordinary. Nussbaum's point about the female characters is worth saying but a little misplaced because that's not what the show is about, the show is about men - 2 men in particular attempting to cope with a world with no moral centre. The show reminded me of the Thomas Pynchon short story Entropy also set in Louisiana: in both the Pynchon and True Detective we get characters who know that entropy will always win - the universe will end in disorder and nothingness, but here and now in the present we can attempt to impose a little bit of local order on a sea of chaos. We're not holding up a middle finger to God, there is no God and there is no justice, what there is is a little temporary rectangle of order in a bleak rule-less world. The cops in True Detective are existential characters in search of meaning on a planet that has no meaning. But they find meaning in the quest itself. As Alasdair MacIntyre explains in After Virtue "the man who does what he ought moves steadily towards his fate and his death. It is defeat and not victory that lies at the end. To understand this is itself a virtue, indeed it is the necessary part of courage."
Philosophically and visually True Detective is rich and when you add in the extraordinary acting from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughay and the music from The Handsome Family and T Bone Burnett you get a show that's ambitious, bold and exciting. I watched True Detective the way I rewatched Pulp Fiction with my critical faculties intact and with my antennae up. I watched with 2 different emotions in my brain (emotions is the right word here - remember what Hume said about reason being the slave of the passions). Although I cd see Nussbaum's POV ultimately I was much more convinced by the story telling of Nic Pizzolatto - the writer - and ‎Cary Fukunaga - the director. TV programmes aren't supposed to mirror the world, or improve us, they're supposed to entertain. Unlike Emily Nussbaum I do not find Scandal & The Good Wife and House of Cards to be entertaining. I won't say that Nussbaum missed the point of True Detective but I will say that this is not a show about families or white collar female professionals or lost girls, this is a show about maleness and perhaps only men (and maybe Camille Paglia) can truly appreciate the subtleties of its art.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Booker Prize Shortlist

The Booker Prize has changed its format this year, no longer are Americans excluded, now the prize is open to any novel that was published in English by a UK publisher (excepting vanity presses) in the previous 12 months. Presumably to avoid being swamped by novels each publisher is allowed to enter only 1 book unless it has had a book on the previous longlist in which case it is allowed to enter 2. (I may have misunderstood the rules here so please correct me if I'm wrong about this.) The important point though is that this first level of selection is done by the publisher, which is the reason a lot of books on the Booker Prize longlist look vaguely familiar: publishers - wisely - select the types of books that have won in the past, (which, alas, is why so many of them are about upper middle class people and their bloody problems). If the Booker Prize longlist really represented the best novels being published in the English language in the last year then contemporary English literature would be in really big trouble, but, of course it doesn't, it merely represents the books various British publishers and their PR people think have a chance of pleasing the judges: judges who almost always come from the same clubby London literary elite. Julian Barnes famously called the Booker Prize "posh bingo" and posh it certainly is. In the last 10 years only 2 judge chairpersons haven't gone to an exclusive British private school which is pretty amazing when you consider the fact that despite the Harry Potter mythmaking 95% of British people in fact go to state schools. This year's chief judge is AC Grayling a man who began his address at the Perth Writers Festival with these words "A few weeks ago I was reading Moliere in the bath in French," at which point I left...Sometimes the Booker judges get it right (Hilary Mantel, Pat Barker etc.) but often they perplexingly miss the mark (no David Peace or David Mitchell.) 
I've read 5 of the 6 books on the shortlist this year and I've written what I think below. (I haven't read Howard Jacobson's novel J because I vowed never to read another Jacobson after reading The Finkler Question which hands down is the worst novel I've ever finished (it won the 2010 Booker Prize)). 
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Fowler: This was my favourite of the shortlisted books. A coming of age story about a girl who grows up with her scientist parents in Indiana and a most unusual sibling. I can't say any more without giving you a major spoiler. Apparently everyone I've talked to spotted the big twist coming but I'm clearly slow on the uptake and did not. This was a charming book that I very much enjoyed. 
The Narrow Road To The Deep North - Richard Flanagan: My second favourite book on the list. A deeply depressing but weighty tale of British and Australian POWs working on the Burma railway. Remember the doctor at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai who says "Madness! Madness!"? Yeah? Well, it's sort of about him.  
To Rise Again At A Decent Hour - Joshua Ferris: This tied for second favourite on my list. A comic novel about a NY dentist having an existential crisis when someone assumes his identity on Facebook. There are several really great scenes, but this could have been funnier (of course you can say that about everything can't you?) 
How To Be Both - Ali Smith: passion, love, betrayal in the art worlds of the 1460s and 1960s. I liked this book's ambition and its certainly the cleverest and best constructed of the books on the shortlist.  
The Lives of Others - Neel Mukherjee: Politics and family rivalries in late 1960's Calcutta. I'm afraid this book didn't engage me much at all. It would be amazing if this book won the Booker and the far superior and geographically and thematically similar A Suitable Boy did not. Be glad I'm not in the book titling business as I wd have called this novel: Cat Torturers, Communists & Catamites In Old Calcutta which wd have been a PR disaster.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

8 Seconds of Inherent Vice

As you probably know I'm a big fan of Thomas Pynchon. I'm also a big fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson, so the idea that both of them got together to turn Pynchon's Inherent Vice into a movie is pretty exciting. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix. I've been waiting for a trailer since filming concluded nearly a year ago but no trailer has been forthcoming...However a few days ago the NY film festival released a montage of all the films appearing at the festival later this year and in that montage was 8 seconds of Inherent Vice as well as Willem Dafoe as Pasolini, the Mike Leigh Turner film and some other stuff.

Now don't ask me how I know but I know that a lot of you out there have never finished a Thomas Pynchon novel; you've tried but it's never quite worked out. You sat down in a comfy chair with a mug of tea and a packet of McVities Chocolate Digestives and everything was great for a bit but then you found yourself hurling Gravity's Rainbow across the room in exasperation. This is a problem for me. I like Pynchon very much and I want you to like him too so I thought I would provide you with a little reading list primer that will help you get into the books...
1. Inherent Vice: read this one first. It's a crime novel set in a slightly exaggerated version of 1970's LA. It's full of stoners, groovy language, flower power with a crazy missing persons plot. Its got lots of pop culture references that anyone should be able to get if they've been paying attention at all for the last couple of decades. It's more or less Robert Altman's Long Goodbye crossed with a Cheech and Chong movie. Paul Thomas Anderson's version of this book will be out by Christmas...
2. The Crying Of Lot 49: after reading Inherent Vice you should be able to handle Lot 49 which is basically set in the same milieu and is only a little bit weirder and more discursive.
3. Bleeding Edge: a paranoid shaggy dog detective novel set in the Manhattan of 2001 just before the 9/11 attacks. It begins with a Westlake quote and its a spicy blend of Westlake, Hammett, DeLillo and Woody Allen. (With an unfortunate David Foster Wallace cruise ship rip off/homage thrown in there for good measure.) It's pretty funny and it concludes a thematic trilogy of sorts of that began with Inherent Vice and Vineland.
4. Vineland: America in the early 80's. Reagan, Star Wars, George Lucas, Brock Vond. And again most people should be able to get the refs. As I say Inherent Vice, Vineland and Bleeding Edge form a kind of paranoid alternative history contemporary trilogy that should be accessible to most general readers.
5. Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's WW2 novel which won the National Book Award. His best book? Probably, yes. It's quite a difficult text but by no means impossible to read especially in a trade paperback edition with big clear print. You'll need to know your mid twentieth century culture quite well to get all the refs this time. And just to warn you, amidst the humour and horror there is a pretty gross scene involving coprophilia.
6. V: my favourite Pynchon. A literary romp through early twentieth century history. Very abstract, strange and off putting for the uninitiated. But a great read once you get the momentum of the story. 
7. Mason & Dixon: the story of Mason & Dixon surveying the land that will become the North and South of the USA. This is my second favourite Pynchon. It's written in eighteenth century prose so it could be tricky for some people, but not for those with Clarissa, Tom Jones or even Neal Stephenson under their belts. 
8. Against The Day: This is for completists only. A dense, difficult story of turn of the century America. My favourite scenes were set in a beautifully crafted wild west Denver. 
Additionally: Mortality And Mercy In Vienna, a strange out of print novella that I read in the Columbia University stacks before it got stolen and Slow Learner a nice collection of short stories, the highlight of which is probably Entropy.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Sun Is God

I was at the Write Around The Murray festival in Albury at the weekend, talking about my book The Sun Is God. TSIG if you'll recall is about a 1906 murder inquiry amongst a group of German naturists led by a charismatic man called August Engelhardt. It's set in the Pacific island of Kabakon and it's more or less a true story. The events at the Murray Festival all take place in the Albury library, which, by an odd coincidence is just off Englehardt Street.
Also this weekend I got a review of TSIG in the Guardian. After a grumpy review in the Irish Independent (which basically said that everyone was waiting for a new Sean Duffy novel and that I had let down my readers by producing this wacky standalone) I got good reviews in the Irish Times and The Times. This review in the Saturday Guardian (below) was by the great John O'Connell:

Best known for his Sean Duffy novels, Adrian McKinty has permitted himself a stand-alone indulgence in The Sun Is God (Serpent's Tail, £11.99), an effortlessly entertaining historical thriller based on the true-but-scarcely-credible story of the Sonnenorden (Order of the Sun) – a sect founded on the South Pacific island of Kabakon by the German health reformer August Engelhardt, who believed that enlightenment could be achieved through naked sun worship and a diet of coconuts and heroin. It is 1906, and McKinty's hero, former military policeman Will Prior – a dead ringer, attitudinally, for Duffy – is helping the German police investigate the death of one of Engelhardt's followers, who was found with water in his lungs when he was supposed to have died of malaria. Prior travels to Kabakon and dwells among the emaciated, mosquito-bitten tribe. The mystery is overshadowed at times by McKinty's understandable urge to bring news of the broader lunacies of Sonnenorden life (you can't waste this sort of material.) But it all comes good in the beautifully structured final act.

Many thanks too to those of you who have taken the time to leave me a review on Amazon and Good Reads, the reviews there are looking pretty respectable now thanks to nice readers counteracting the grumpy readers and/or the trolls. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My 10 Favourite Locked Room Mysteries

In light of my Ned Kelly win for a locked-room mystery novel, I thought I'd reblog this...Its the original edit of my piece on locked room mysteries for the Guardian newspaper that I published in January. I explain how I got hooked on the genre and why I wanted to write one of these in the first place. The piece below is longer than the original newspaper article with a little more exposition on my favourite books and my 'rules' about what makes a good locked-roomer...

My Ten Favourite Locked-Room Mystery Novels
Adrian McKinty

When I was ten years old I remember the first proper mystery novel that I read. It was a paperback of Agatha's Christie early classic Murder on the Orient Express. Orient Express, you’ll recall, is the one where everyone did it, which delighted me no end and I was immediately hooked. I began to work my way through the other Agatha Christies at Belfast Central library and it was probably the sympathetic librarian there who put into my hands The Murders In The Rue Morgue, the first real locked-room mystery that I came across.
     Since Rue Morgue I’ve read dozens of locked-roomers (or ‘impossible murders’ as some prefer to call them) and I have developed firm opinions about the genre. I have no truck whatsoever with the ones that have a supernatural solution or where the author doesn’t give you enough information to solve the case for yourself. Some purists don’t like locked-room problems that involve magician’s tricks (a staple of Jonathan Creek for example) but I’m of the opinion that as long as the mechanics of the trick are explained to the reader (or viewer) well before the solution, these can be permissible.
     A locked-room problem lies at the heart of my new novel, In The Morning I’ll Be Gone in which an RUC detective has to find out whether a publican’s daughter who fell off a table in a bar that was locked from the inside was in fact murdered and if so how. The first thing I had to do was to assure the reader I was not cheating about the facts: the pub was indeed locked and bolted from the inside, there were no secret passages, no concealed rooms and certainly no supernatural element. Then, of course, I had to give the reader all the necessary information so that she or he could solve the case at the same time or before the detective. And by all the information I mean: facts, psychology and motive. When it works you should be able to read a locked-room mystery twice, the second time spotting the clues and seeing how the whole thing fits together and, hopefully, enjoying the iron logic of the solution.
     When a locked-room mystery doesn’t work the solution makes you groan and the book gets hurled across the room. In The Murders In The Rue Morgue an elderly Frenchwoman is killed in a locked room on the fourth floor. The solution – spoiler alert – is that the murder was done by a tame orang-utan who climbed in through the open window with a straight razor. Even at the age of ten I wasn’t happy with that. (I think it was George Orwell who said that the even more ridiculous plot point in Rue Morgue was the idea that an edlerly Parisian lady would go to bed with the window open). More recently The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo found itself flying across my kitchen when I realised that the locked-room problem at its heart (actually a locked island) was a cheat because the reader had been clumsily misinformed about the essential facts.
     The golden age of the locked-room mystery in Anglo-American detective fiction has largely passed but in France Paul Halter has been churning out original impossible murder novels since the mid 1980’s and In Japan the great Soji Shimada virtually invented the Shinhonkaku “logic problem” sub-genre which is still extremely popular today.
     I think there are four elements that make a really good locked-room mystery novel: 1. An original puzzle. 2. An interesting detective and supporting characters. 3. Lively prose. 4. An elegant solution to the puzzle. Mixing classic and contemporary with no supernatural activity allowed these are my ten favourite locked-room/impossible murder novels:

10. The Moonstone (1868) – Wilkie Collins. Rachel Verinder’s cursed Indian diamond ‘The Moonstone’ disappears from her room after her birthday party. This is only a rudimentary locked-roomer, but as the first and still one of the best detective novels it had to be on my list.

9. The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) – John Dickson Carr. Dr. Gideon Fell investigates an alarming number of ‘suicides’ at a remote Scottish castle. The deaths have taken place in locked or completely inaccessible rooms. Dickson Carr was rightly known as the “master of the locked-room mystery” and this entire list could, with some justification, have been made solely from JDC books.

8. And Then There Were None (1939) – Agatha Christie. (Originally published under two equally unfortunate titles.) Eight people with guilty secrets are invited to an isolated island off the coast of Devon where they begin to be murdered one by one. When there are only two of them left the fun really begins.

7. Suddenly At His Residence (1946) – Christianna Brand. In another part of Devon Sir Richard March has been found poisoned in his lodge. A sand covered pathway leading to the lodge is rolled daily by the gardener. Only one set of footprints is found leading to the lodge and they belong to Claire, who discovered the body. A witty and engaging mystery from a writer who was another locked room specialist.

6. The Big Bow Mystery (1892) – Israel Zangwill. Mrs Drabdump’s lodger is discovered with his throat cut, no trace of a murder weapon and no way a murderer could have got in or out. Arguably the first proper locked-roomer and still a classic of the form.

5. The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Gaston Leroux. Miss Stangerson is found severely injured, attacked in a locked room at the Chateau du Glandier. Leroux provides maps and floor plans showing that a presumptive murderer could not possibly have entered or escaped. Amateur sleuth Joseph Rouletabille has to figure out how the attack was done. Another early classic.

4. The King Is Dead (1951) – Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee). King Bendigo, a wealthy munitions magnate, has been threatened by his brother Judah, who announces that he will shoot King at exactly midnight on June 21st at his private island residence. King locks himself in a hermetically sealed office accompanied only by his wife, Karla. Judah is under Ellery Queen's constant observation. At midnight, Judah lifts an empty gun and pulls the trigger and at the same moment, in the sealed room, King falls back, wounded with a bullet. No gun is found on Karla or anywhere in the sealed room. Furthermore the bullet that wounds King came from Judah’s gun which didn’t actually fire. Good, huh?

3. La Septième hypothèse (1991) – Paul Halter. In pre War London Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archie Hurst are visited by a man named Peter Moore, secretary to Sir Gordon Miller, a mystery author. According to Moore, Sir Gordon had a strange visitor who gave him a murder challenge. The two men tossed a coin and whoever lost had to commit a murder and try to pin the blame on the other. Peter Moore is subsequently found dead. There are only two possible suspects and both have ironclad alibis. Seven solutions present themselves in this ultra twisty novel.

2. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) – Soji Shimada. The book begins on a snowy evening in the Shōwa period of pre war Japan. A wealthy artist, Heikichi Umezawa, is finishing up his great cycle of paintings: 12 large canvases on Zodiacal subjects. As he works on the last one his head is smashed in with a blunt object. The studio is locked from the inside and the suspects have alibis. Over the next four decades many of Umezawa’s family members are also gruesomely killed, most in ‘impossible’ ways. In a series of postmodern asides Soji Shimada repeatedly taunts the reader explaining that all the clues are there for an astute observer.

1. The Hollow Man (1935) – John Dickson Carr. Someone breaks into Professor Grimaud's study, kills him and leaves, with the only door to the room locked from the inside, and with people present in the hall outside the room. The ground below the window is covered with unbroken snow. All the elements are balanced just right in this, the best of Dickson Carr’s many locked-room problems.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Next King of Scotland?

The Scottish referendum next week is on a razor's edge and it looks like it's going to be very close. If independence happens the SNP have said that they are going to get a Scottish Prime Minister but keep Queen Elizabeth II as head of state; however others in the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party have said that they want a Republic. No one as far as I'm aware has mentioned an intriguing third possibility...I wonder if the Scottish people would be willing to turn back the clock to 1688 and take on the current Jacobite Pretender to the Scottish crown: this gentleman to the right, Prince Franz of Bavaria.
As you may know the Jacobites were denied the Kingship of England and Scotland (and Ireland) because they were Catholics and after the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 they fled to France. In 1715 (the "fifteen") and again under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 (the "forty-five") the Jacobite pretenders/kings over the water (depending upon your point of view) tried to raise the clans in Scotland and reclaim the throne. It didn't work and the English put down the rebellions and after the 45 Bonnie Prince Charlie fled back to France permanently. The Jacobites however didn't die out. Far from it. They married into European Royalty and prospered.
The current Jacobite Pretender/Heir, Prince Franz, seems like a decent chap. He's a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and he collects modern art. He spent part of his childhood in Dachau concentration camp where he was sent because his family opposed the Nazis. Wikipedia has a good entry about him, here. The Scots really could do a lot worse if they have a hankering for a king. Franz (who the Jacobites title King Francis II of Scotland) doesn't have any kids so the succession would pass after his death to Prince Max of Bavaria and then to the charmingly named Sophie, Hereditary Princess of Liechtenstein. These royals are much more interesting than the dreary Charles and Camilla if you ask me (and if you're worried that Sophie's family wont be as charismatic as Harry and William, well take a look at 'em...)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ned Kelly

Much to my amazement and delight my novel In The Morning I'll Be Gone has won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award. The award was announced at the Brisbane Writers Festival after a great evening hosted by the BWF and the Australian Crime Writers Association. I gave a speech but I have no idea what I said. (I have a vague recollection of doing a John Connolly impersonation and people laughing.) But I was happy. Many thanks to the Ned Kelly judges, to ACWA, to Michael Robotham who hosted the whole thing and to my British, Aussie and American publishers for steadfastly supporting me when nobody outside my immediate family (and not even many of them if I'm honest) was buying my books. Thank you Serpents Tail, Allen & Unwin, Seventh Street Books and Blackstone Audio who all had faith in me even though the numbers were telling a different story...
The Ned Kelly is definitely the coolest of all the crime fiction awards and if you think about it, its only the one that's given for an entire continent. I mean how badass is that? Coincidentally Sidney Nolan who painted the iconic image of Ned Kelly below went to St Kilda Primary School where both my daughters went. Last night was my daughter Sophie's school concert and Sidney Nolan was one of the characters in the story and when the school time travellers meet him (dont ask) he's in right in the middle of painting his famous series of Ned Kelly pictures. 
If you haven't read In The Morning I'll Be Gone, I reckon its a pretty good place to start if you're new to me and my books. Its set in Northern Ireland in 1984 but it isn't all depressing and everything. Parts of it are funny. And there's a locked room mystery. And Michael Forsythe makes an appearance. And Duffy burns down a drug den. Oh, and the IRA blow up Thatcher at the end. Spoiler alert. This is what the judges said about the book: “In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie; The Martian by Andy Weir

I listened to 2 science fiction audiobooks recently: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and The Martian by Andy Weir. Reviews of both below:
Ann Leckie has been hailed as an extraordinary new voice in science fiction. In a genre dominated by male writers, a largely male readership and a male perspective, Leckie's novel, Ancillary Justice, about a genderless society has been seen as a useful corrective. In a remarkable achievement the book won all the major science fiction awards this year: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Locus Award. This unification of all the belts will undoubtedly bring in many readers who don't normally bother with the genre. Ancillary Justice is space opera that deals with the consequences of a fairly benign hegemonic civilization taking over a world that dared to oppose them. Told from the perspective of a ship AI in a human body (the book never explained why the ships needed frail human bodies when robot technology was so advanced) it's a novel about guilt and regret with a unique view of gender tropes as a main subtheme. Female pronouns are used throughout Ancillary Justice and all the main characters are described as being female (although this isn't really the case). I think it's great that the major sci-fi award giving bodies are finally recognising the talent of female writers, writers who challenge the conventions of dull male sci-fi with its explosions and star ships and the like. The promotion and recognition of female sci fi writers is a long over due corrective in what is often a bit of a boys club. There's only slight problem with all this and that is the fact that Ancillary Justice, alas, isn't that interesting a book. Yes its Iain Banks style intelligent space opera but the story is a little slow even for me (& I dig slow), the characters are weak, the ideas have a recycled feel to them. If you've read a lot of sci-fi you'll probably recall that Ursula Le Guin was doing gender politics 40 years ago in the classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. If Ancillary Justice is as sophisticated and philosophical as science fiction gets in 2014 then the intellectual side of the genre is in big trouble. Fortunately this is only my opinion and judging by the reviews on Amazon the book has MANY fans who love it, so if you're at all interested you should probably check it out for yourself.
The Martian by Andy Weir is a different kettle of fish. It's the story of an astronaut on Mars who - through a series of disastrous accidents - is abandoned on the planet by the rest of his crew and must somehow survive without food or water or communication equipment with Earth. Reading like a Mars based version of Ron Howard's Apollo 13 meets the Mythbusters The Martian is an extended series of hard sci-fi engineering problems converted into drama. I mean this not as a criticism but as a compliment. The fact that Mars is an impossibly difficult environment for any human to live on makes every single mistake or accident a potentially fatal one. The Martian is an exciting book and is a classic of what is known as hard science fiction for people who appreciate the beauty of mathematics, engineering and...botany. Yes, botany. The scenes where our stranded Crusoe attempts to grow potatoes (so he won't starve to death) is one of the most fascinating things I've ever read. The fact that Weir tells this story with humour, wit, irony and a brisk economy made this a very enjoyable listen indeed. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Bone Clocks

My review of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks from last week's Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age; Jason, my editor, wanted more of a career survey than just a regular review, which I was happy to do because I'm a David Mitchell completist (I'll read everything he publishes). When I wrote this review 2 weeks ago all the prepub on The Bone Clocks was reverential, bordering on ecstatic, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd missed some crucial aspect of the novel. The day after my review came out, however, the NYT & 1 or 2 other papers also expressed similar sentiments. Anyway here's what I thought:
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

Some novelists take an uneasy book or two to find their voice, others say everything in an audacious debut and then subsequently disappoint; rarer are the cases of the writer who arrives seemingly fully formed, producing mature, thoughtful books from the get-go and then at decent intervals over their literary career. The English novelist David Mitchell is an example of this latter type.

Mitchell burst onto the world literary scene in 1999 with an extraordinary debut novel, Ghost Written. Largely set in Japan, where Mitchell was living at the time, it is an alluring polyphonic tour-de-force that brings in such themes as magic, animism, Buddhism, Japanese millennial cults and international terrorism. Mitchell followed up Ghost Written with the slightly more conventional Number9dream (2001), a Bildungsroman about a Japanese student and his complex relationship with his wealthy family.

Cloud Atlas (2004) was the novel that confirmed Mitchell’s place as one of British fiction’s most interesting talents. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and spanning a multiplicity of genres and time periods, Cloud Atlas was a series of superbly intertwined short-stories that revolved around ideas of loss, betrayal, duplicity, racism and grief. It was in Cloud Atlas too that we began to see something of Mitchell’s bigger plan with intriguing call-backs to his earlier books and the reuse of previous characters and settings.

Mitchell’s fourth book was the more subdued, semi-autobiographical Black Swan Green (2006) about a year in the life of a 13-year-old English boy with a stammer in the small village of Black Swan Green in the West Midlands. Set in the early 1980’s, this was a more intimate novel although it too had its wider resonances with the appearance of characters from Ghost Written and Number9dream.

Mitchell’s next offering, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (2010), told the tale of Jacob De Zoet, a young Dutch merchant who falls in love with a Japanese woman in eighteenth century Nagasaki. A full blown historical romance with fantastic elements De Zoet was a triumph: dark, lyrical and wilfully strange, this was a seasoned and witty reflection on love and loss and good and evil.

In 2013 Mitchell translated a Japanese teen’s Asperger’s Syndrome memoir and wrote a powerful essay in the Guardian newspaper about coping with his son’s autism in austerity challenged rural Ireland.

David Mitchell’s sixth novel, The Bone Clocks, is a recapitulation of many of the concepts and conceits of his earlier works. It begins with the story of Holly Sykes, a lippy Anglo-Irish teen, who runs away from home in Gravesend, Kent, in 1984. Holly and her little brother Jacko both have supernatural abilities: Jacko has precognition powers and Holly hears voices (the Radio People) that appear to be the internal monologues of other people. While Holly is fleeing home sinister forces come after her and successfully kidnap Jacko. The action shifts seven years forward to 1991 where dissolute Cambridge University student Hugo Lamb has just met Holly Sykes, now a chalet-maid at a ski resort in the Alps. Hugo is abducted by a mysterious and somewhat prolix group who call themselves Anchorites of the Dusk Chapel of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of the Sidelhorn Pass.

The Anchorites explain that they are not only able to teleport and see into the future but that they have also discovered the secret to eternal life. Hugo is offered a humdrum but safe existence with Holly or immortality (with a rather unpleasant murderous catch).

We jump forward thirteen years to 2004 where Holly is marrying her childhood sweetheart and then to 2015 where Hugo’s Cambridge chum novelist Crispin Hershey runs into Holly at the Perth Writers Festival. Holly has written a successful book about her childhood, The Radio People, while Crispin’s latest offerings have perplexed his audience. (There’s a very funny aside where Crispin takes to task reviewers who might dare to complain about serious English novelists writing fantasy books.) Holly and Crispin share a bizarre magical experience out on Rottnest Island, off Freemantle, before going their separate ways. We then slip back in time to a fascinating section of The Bone Clocks which takes place in an Aboriginal community just outside of nineteenth century Perth. This is the extraordinary moment when you realise that The Bones Clocks is a kind of sequel to Mitchell’s previous book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Doctor Marinus, a delightful character from De Zoet, re-appears in The Bone Clocks in a way that, unfortunately for me, robbed him of some of his previous charm.

The Anchorites, it turns out, are the bad guys, who are in a war with the Horologists - a group of benign immortals who are trying to protect the human race from the Anchorites’ predatory ways. Hugo must decide whose side he’s really on in this battle between darkness and light. The final part of the novel skips into a gloomy dystopian future where the ice caps have melted, the internet has collapsed and China is the hegemonic world power.

Although sometimes described as a “magical realist” Mitchell’s vision is very much in the English school of modern fantasy writing following a template laid down by writers such as Michael Moorcock, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. Mitchell’s long tenure in Japan has given him an appreciation too for the gothic fables of novelist Haruki Marukami, whose recent IQ84 is particularly resonant in The Bone Clocks.

Already long-listed for the 2014 Booker prize It is unlikely that Mitchell’s new novel will disappoint many of his admirers, but on finishing the book I found myself a little let down. The internal logic of The Bone Clocks is not particularly rigorous and many of the magical battles felt rather silly and Harry Potterish. Like Gaiman or the British writer JG Ballard, Mitchell seems to have the most fun in the exploration of big ideas from fantasy or science fiction, but he clearly has the skill to dramatize the humdrum existence of every-day life. For all the showiness of Mitchell’s arcane set pieces and impressive ‘world-building’ the bits of his novels that I think are the most enjoyable are his funny, touching interactions between ordinary people in realistic settings. Perhaps Mitchell needs to become more of a miniaturist, a voyager into what JG Ballard himself called the ‘inner space’ of our contemporary existential predicament, rather than the outer space so beloved of futurists and sci-fi novelists.

At one point in The Bone Clocks the reincarnated Doctor Marinus speaks of his love of the German Romantic poets; the most precocious of those poets, Novalis, famously declared his intention of concentrating his craft on the interior life of man because “inward goes the way full of mystery.” This is still good advice and as dazzling as Mitchell’s new book is I hope that next time he will turn his powerful lens inward and focus it a little closer to home.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The First Five Chapters of Sean Duffy #4: Gun Street Girl

Click the link below to read the first five chapters of Sean Duffy #4. Remember this is a work in progress so a lot of this may change and/or get deleted. If you're wondering about page 1, yes it is an intentional echo of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row and the beginning of the Alan Moore comic Watchmen (the book begins exactly the same night that Rorschach's journal begins). I initially wanted to begin the book with a chapter of static which I've never seen done before in a mystery novel, but I thought better of that... Feel free to read online or print out and read at your leisure. Do keep going until chapter 5 because I think that one is pretty funny...Comments/suggestions are much appreciated...(preferably here rather than the actual chapters because its easier for me to reply). Slainte.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

More Sean Duffy?

It's been over a year since I wrote a Sean Duffy novel and in the intervening time I've mostly been goofing off. I've tried to write a couple of things here and there but they've gone nowhere. A while ago I had an idea for a 4th Sean Duffy novel but initially I was reluctant to write it as I really dug the way the third book ended. Come on McKinty if you write another book in this series there's no way you'll ever get an ending that pleases you as much again - you'll bloody ruin it, you fool! I thought. And if you look at my bibliography you'll see that I'm not a big fan of series anyway. Trilogies I dig, standalones I dig, but 3+ books? Not my thing. I was completely torn: I had a cool idea for a book but I loved the way book 3 concluded Sean Duffy's adventures. So I took the safest way out and did nothing. 
Months went by and then one night I dreamed the ending of book 4. When I woke up I wrote it out and printed it and put it in a drawer. I left the pages in the drawer for a week, reread it, realised that final scene needed an epilogue, wrote the epilogue and put that away for a week. And then I read the complete ending of book 4 (final chapter plus epilogue) and I liked it. I really liked it. It was - in my mind - as good as the ending of book #3. I still didn't have the book yet but I had an ending and an idea for what happened in the middle. And I had a title Gun Street Girl (another Tom Waits song). I pitched the book to my publishers and they suggested that I start writing it and for want of something better to do I did.
I'm not going to say anything about the plot here because I'm still working on the book and things could change. (ST have produced a cool preliminary cover which incorporates one of the ideas from that final chapter dream) but its not done yet. However I am happy with the book so far and it definitely doesn't ruin the mythology of the trilogy. It does however ruin the nice alliterative "Troubles Trilogy" which is how they pitched the series in the US and I can't think of any words relating to Ulster or Northern Ireland that begin with Q for quartet. (My buddy John McFetridge is publishing a great series of detective novels set in 1970's Montreal and when he's got 4 of those it'll be easy: The Quebec Quartet.) Maybe I should just do what Douglas Adams did when he published Mostly Harmless - the tagline of that book was "The fifth book in his increasingly inaccurately named Hitch-hiker Trilogy."    

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Melbourne Writers Festival

I'll be doing 2 events at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year. 

On Saturday 23rd of August I'll be on a panel hosted by Angela Savage along with John Williams & David Whish-Wilson at the ACMI Cinema 1 at 10.00 am. The panel is entitled Strange Territory and will be about the sense of place in crime fiction. This should be good. Angela's stomping ground is Melbourne but she writes mostly about Thailand, John writes about Cardiff and David's books mostly take place in Perth. 

On Wednesday August 27th I'll be in conversation with Andrew Nette at the St Kilda Public Library. This one starts at 6.30 pm and should be pretty loose and wide ranging. 

I got my hair cut especially for the MWF so do come along. . .
(The photo incidentally is from last month's Semana Negra writers festival in Gijon, the really rather brilliant photographer LAURA MUNOZ not only drew on me & did other crazy shit but, as promised, managed to conceal my beer gut, cargo shorts and bright blue Superdry flip flops that made me look like every other drunken Anglo-Saxon tourist in Spain.) 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 10 Worst Troubles Films?

the really rather good, Michael Fassbender 
It's a truism that most Irish films are bad. Most of everything is bad so that's not that surprising but the people who provide finance for Irish films seem determined only to produce Irish films that are full of the worst cliches and stereotypes of Oirishness imaginable. There are, of course several notable exceptions to this sweeping statement but no doubt you'll know what I'm talking about if you've come across Leap Year or PS I Love You etc. But even worse than Irish films from the Republic of Ireland are the breed of films that have been made about the Troubles in the North. These movies I like to think of as Micksploitation pictures. What is a Micksploitation picture? It's a film set during or just after the Troubles whose intent is not to elucidate what was happening in Northern Ireland in the period 1968 - 1998, but rather to simplify the conflict for the lowest common denominator of American film goers in order to get bums (especially Irish American bums) in seats. The films usually have a few stock cliches and plot devices: 1. The IRA are conflicted heroes who only kill evil Brits. 2. The Brits are evil. 3.Northern Irish Protestants are the most evil of the lot - racist, Lambeg drum beating orangemen who hate Catholics with their cornflakes in the morning and their cocoa at night. 4. Belfast, suspiciously, looks a lot like a Manchester. 5. The musical score will be a soaringly sentimental parody of trad. Irish music. For my sins I've seen quite a few of these films (Fifty Dead Men Walking was the latest) some are MUCH better than others & some are so bad they are actually kinda good. I do think Terry George, Daniel Day Lewis, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan are hugely talented people and as you'll see the way I've presented this list is for comic effect so no hate mail please:
1. A Prayer for the Dying - Mickey Rourke plays a conflicted IRA man driven to his crimes by evil Brits.
2. The Devil's Own - Brad Pitt plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then decides to hassle Harrison Ford.
3. Patriot Games - Sean Bean plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then decides to hassle Harrison Ford.
4. Cal - John Lynch plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then sleeps with the dead man's girl.
5. The Crying Game - Stephen Rea plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then sleeps with the dead man's girl (who's really a guy).
6. The Jackal - Richard Gere plays a conflicted IRA man driven to his crimes by evil Brits. (Gere's accent work here is the comic high point of his career, I reckon.)
7. In the Name of the Father - Daniel Day Lewis is upset because evil Brits are framing innocent Micks (except, er, this is actually what really happened!!!)
8. The Boxer - Daniel Day Lewis is upset because he's a conflicted IRA man trying to go straight but is hassled by evil Brits and old pals.
9. Hidden Agenda - Evil Protestants conspire to kill everyone in their path.
10. Some Mothers Son - Evil Protestants conspire to kill Bobby Sands.
10. Hunger - Evil Protestants conspire to kill Bobby Sands (I actually kinda like the 2 Bobby Sands films...)
If you want to see a really good film about the Troubles you should watch Bloody Sunday, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring James Nesbitt, which contains something some of the films above don't have: nuance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sean Duffy's Driving Music

Some of my favourite bits of the Duffy books are having him zoom around Carrick, Belfast and the Irish countryside in his car listening to music. Duffy can get his Beemer up to a ton and change on the Bla Hole road, which if you've been on that road, you'll know is terrifying...What's he listening to? Well, when it's not classical on Radio 3 it's stuff like this:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Three Chords And The Truth

When I first started reading the novels of James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtyDaniel Woodrell, Carson McCullers and William Faulkner it didn't initially occur to me how strange it was that I understood all the dialect words. Burke and McMurty's great westerns and McCarthy's early books set in rural Tennessee often used such Ulster Scots colloquialisms as "sleekit," "skitter," "shite," "piece," (for bread or a snack) "wean," "fixin," "crittur," etc. all of which were very familiar to me growing up in Northern Ireland. Later I understood why this was so. Cormac McCarthy's Tennessee books in particular paint a vivid picture of the Ulster Scots migrants to Appalachia and the world they live in: clannish, violent, musical, economically poor but culturally rich. I liked the fact too that these novelists wrote about blue collar working people (an increasingly rare phenomenon in American literary culture). The Ulster Scots (or Scotch Irish if you prefer) migrated from northern Ireland to America in the eighteenth century taking their customs, dialect, poetry and especially their fiddles with them. It's been well said that America's greatest contribution to world culture has been its music. African Americans invented Jazz, Blues, R&B and Rap, but the Ulster Scots invented country music or rather country music grew organically from their preexisting folk music and country music has a largely pessimistic outlook on the universe that comes from the bleak, fatalistic folkways of the Ulster Scots.
Too few people realise that the history of the Irish in America does not begin with the potato famine but goes back a century earlier to the 1740 migrations from Ulster. The best book about this hidden history is probably Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, but Senator Jim Webb has written an entertaining primer called Born Fighting, both of which are well worth a read. Part of Jim Webb's premise is that the Ulster Scots' fighting and a feuding ways meant that they were predisposed for military service and that Scotch-Irish officers were the backbone of Washington's Army, the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War, the Doughboys of WW1, the GIs of WW2 and Vietnam. There may be some truth in this. Although I've never had any desire to serve in the army (all that shouting in the cadet force put me right off) my little brother has served 2 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, my dad was in the Royal Navy for twenty years and my grandfather fought in the trenches in WW1 for the duration. And of course it's well known that the British peacetime army was largely made up of Irish and Scots. Biology and culture are not destiny but maybe this is why I write (fairly) violent crime novels, not romance fiction. Mercifully though all the country songs I wrote as a teenager have gone to that great storage locker in the sky.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review This Book!

Hey folks, I'd really appreciate some reviews of my novel The Sun Is God on amazon, or good reads. All the time on Twitter I get asked "how come you don't write more standalone" novels and my answer is usually because nobody bloody buys them! Readers prefer series and although I enjoy writing standalones more than series (because you dont know what is going to happen at the end) I probably won't do any more of them if they just continue to tank in sales...As of this writing I have 2 reviews for SIG on (a 3 star and a grumpy 2 star) and 4 reviews on (an average of 4 stars). I have a feeling that this book might resonate a little better with British readers who understand the context (and how people used to talk in 1906) but hopefully all the American readers wont be as annoying as Ms 2 star above. 
This little appeal is my version of kickstarter. I'm not asking for your money in return for a stupid T shirt, all I'd like is a minute or two of your time to review one of my books. C'mon people, I've got 269 followers on here and I get a healthy number of comments for every blog post. I've never once charged for content and I've pretty much responded to every comment I've gotten over the last 5 years, so do me a friggin solid, eh? 
As a weird little standalone with an unconventional untrendy setting, I havent had many newspaper reviews either of The Sun Is God but I did get nice notices in The Times and The Irish Times and I'm copying the entire review from David Prestidge on CFL below because this was a reviewer who really got what I was trying to do: 
Adrian McKinty has made his name with three crime trilogies, the latest of which featured Catholic cop Sean Duffy in the midst of sectarian turmoil in 1980s Belfast. So, The Sun is God is a bit of a departure. Here we meet Will Prior, once a junior officer in The Military Foot Police who served during The Boer War.

When he becomes involved in a  serious incident at a concentration camp set up by the British to contain the Boers near Bloemfontein, he becomes a hero overnight, at least in the eyes of his military superiors. For Prior, however, it is the start of a nightmare both literal and metaphorical. Angrily casting aside his Distinguished Service Order he gets himself dismissed from service and seeks a new life in the colonies.

Prior fetches up in a place which McKinty describes (from personal experience) as being as close to hell on earth without there being devils dancing around with sharp tridents. German New Guinea in 1906 was hot, wet, malarial and home to every kind of flying, stinging, scuttling insect and arthropod. Prior is manager of an ailing rubber plantation near the principal settlement of Herbertshöhe. His days are spent languidly enough, living with his native servant-mistress, Siwa, but his peace is disturbed when government officer Hauptmann Kessler seeks his assistance.

Prior’s police background is useful to the colonial administrators. Corpses are ten-a-penny in Herbertshöhe, but one particular mortuary resident is causing Governor Hahl concern. On a tiny island ten miles away, an eccentric group of sun worshippers have set up a community dedicated to becoming one with nature, and eating only coconut. They call themselves The Cocovores. One of them has died, ostensibly of malaria, and the corpse has been sent back to the main island for burial. The postmortem reveals that Herr Lutzow actually died from drowning so Governor Hahl despatches Prior, Kessler, and a visiting English anthropologist, Bessie Pullen-Burry, to investigate.

the real life August Engelhardt, leader of the Cocovores...
The mismatched trio find a bizarre world of nakedness, drug taking, totem worship, and a relaxed view of sexuality. Alarmingly, Miss Pullen-Burry begins to join in, while Prior and Kessler struggle with both the debilitating climate and the charismatic Cocovore leader – August Englehardt. Answers of any kind, let alone straight ones, about the death of Lutzow are impossible to find.

Surprisingly, many of the characters in The Sun is God actually existed, and the broad events described are largely factual. In the author’s preface, however, he states that ‘where the interests of the novel and strict historical accuracy have collided I have put the demands of the former first.’

Don’t be deterred by McKinty’s enigmatic assertion that the crime remains unsolved to this day. Here, the crime is solved, and with great effect, in one of the best climaxes to a novel I have read in a long time. I do wonder if this is more a period drama than a crime novel, but of one thing I am certain – this is brilliant writing. There is wonderful sleight of hand in the final pages, when rescue comes from an unlikely source. McKinty handles the mood and tone like a master. There is wry comedy, social satire, horror, compassion and tension. This is a brave and successful change of direction from a fine writer, who spoke to us about his earlier work here.

Serpent’s Tail

CFL Rating: 5 Stars
Anyway if you can help me out with an amazon or good reads review I wd really appreciate it, esp where the combined 2 1/2 star rating looks like shit and now that Amazon mirror their reviews over onto audible and its a real PR disaster...
And if you'd like to review any of my other books, well, I'd very much appreciate that too. 

go raibh maith agat

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ireland Is A Railway Poster - Philip Larkin in Carrickfergus

Every year in and around Philip Larkin's birthday I like to reblog my favourite poem of all time, Larkin's Aubade...So below, you'll find Aubade and a little post from last year on my discovery in Larkin's Collected Letters, that Larkin had paid a secret visit to my hometown, Carrickfergus...
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
For years I've been single handedly peddling the concept that my hometown, Carrickfergus, is the centre of the universe, with admittedly, limited success. What I particularly like are the literary connections which are surprisingly rich in so small a place. Famously Louis MacNeice lived in Carrickfergus and wrote about it more than once. He brought WH Auden to the town to stay with him but what he thought is not recorded. Jonathan Swift lived in Carrickfergus (at Kilroot) where he wrote A Tale of a Tub (and possibly plotted Gulliver). Anthony Trollope lived in Whiteabbey near Carrickfergus where he wrote The Warden. William Congreve lived in Carrickfergus as a boy. Charlotte Riddel - best selling Victorian pot boiler novelist - was from Carrick. William Orr, United Irishman and poet, (with a famous poet brother) lived and was, er, hanged in Carrickfergus. Currently the best selling science fiction writer Ian McDonald lives not a million miles away from Carrick, science fiction writer David Logan lives in Carrickfergus and for his sins Carrick is the first thing Colin Bateman sees from his chateau when his butler opens the curtain windows every morning. Several episodes of Game of Thrones have been shot at Red Hall in Carrickfergus (but none yet at Carrick castle which is a bit odd as its the best preserved castle in all of Ireland!) My favourite Irish female poet, Sinead Morrissey, lives just up the road from Carrickfergus at Jordanstown. And speaking of poets I've just found this letter (below) from Philip Larkin to Monica Jones talking about his lonely visit to Carrick in 1950 when - who knows - he could have seen my mum and dad out for a walk around the harbour. Larkin is on fine miserable form thoughout...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Neddies

I'm very pleased to announce the fact that my novel, In The Morning I'll Be Gone, has been shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the 2014 Ned Kelly Awards. In The Morning I'll Be Gone is the third book in the Sean Duffy series and is the one where Duffy gets mixed up in the plot to kill Mrs Thatcher at the 1984 Conservative Party Conservative Conference in Brighton. These are the what the Neddie judges said about it:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
Also on the 2014 shortlist are the excellent PM (Pam) Newton, Garry Disher, Kathryn Fox, Angela Savage & Stephen Orr. I know Garry, Angela & Pam personally and have read their wonderful books, and I'm looking forward to reading Kathryn and Stephen too. 
This is the second time I've been up for the Ned Kelly Award. Last year I Hear The Sirens In The Street got shortlisted (Sean Duffy #2) for the big tin helmet. I think Sirens might be the more lyrical book (I love the opening page of that one) but I reckon Morning might be the better constructed novel. Anyway we'll see what the judges say in a month or so. Best of luck of course to my fellow shortlistees....
If you want to get any of the Sean Duffy novels please try your local bookshop (and bug them if they dont have them) and you can of course get them on Amazon, B&N, Audible etc.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wearing Shorts All The Time

Obviously humans weren't meant to sit at desks for 8 hours a day or live in little concrete boxes. Homo sapiens are a migratory biophilic species adapted for life on the savannah in Tanzania and Kenya, dodging lions and chasing gazelles. But after hundreds of thousands of years in Africa now a majority of us live in in stressful cities next to a bunch of strangers with all their hang ups and weird smells and bad music. I think men might suffer from the stress of this urban nightmare more than women. Men don't hunt together, don't hang out together, don't bowl together, don't really do anything together anymore. (Not in big numbers anyway.) I suppose one of the methods of coping with all this is to retreat into a man shed or a fantasy world, either in films or TV or in online gaming. Geek culture is increasingly mainstream culture and it has its eloquent defenders such as Patton Oswalt, but of late I'm becoming less convinced that retreating into fantasy world is an appropriate way to live. 
Camille Paglia isn't everyone's cup of tea (and she's dead wrong in her shrill attacks on Gloria Steinem) but I did like these paragraphs from a editorial she wrote in the NYT a few years ago:

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure. Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity...

In a similar vein (but from a different angle completely) I just watched a fine BBC documentary about how we were all turned into hedonistically addicted online consumers. In episode 3 of the series Jacques Peretti investigates the deliberate move by toy and game companies to target adults as if they were children and children as if they were adults. Getting adults to buy childrens toys and play video games was the smartest move they ever made. I originally had a link for ep 3 of the series on youtube here but it has already been removed by the BBC. You can watch ep 1 on vmeo, here. 

More and more Hollywood makes movies for teenage boys or teenage girls and the rest of us have to just go along with it. Do you remember in the 70's when Hollywood was making films for grown ups? Well that's more or less over now because those films just aren't profitable, or at least not as profitable as Transformers IV or the latest Marvel-DC nonsense. TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory (which I love) and Podcasts like the make arrested adolescence into a virtue. And people like Patton Oswalt (who I mentioned above) tell us that reading comics and going to superhero movies in your 40's is completely fine. And of course Comicon has become a place of pilgrimage for men of a certain age and girth size. (Its also a place where the toy companies make a shit load of money getting adults to spend a fortune on pieces of moulded plastic.)
And I am one of those men of a certain age and girth size. I played D&D as a kid (favourite module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), I love Star Wars and Star Trek and Game of Thrones and I've watched Blade Runner maybe 20 times. But I sometimes wonder if perhaps Camille Paglia is right. Maybe all this stuff is stopping us from growing up, whatever that means...You dont have to be a conspiracy theorist or a follower of Herbert Marcuse to appreciate that one click consumerism and infantilisation are methods of social pacification. If Marcuse were alive today he might say something like "well the rich are demonstrably getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and you chubby guys in the middle don't give a shit about it because you're all waiting for the new bloody Star Wars movie to come out..." Our fathers and grandfathers could fix things and build things, but we can't, can we? If the zombie apocalypse ever did happen the most valuable guy in town wouldnt be the guy who's watched every episode of Walking Dead it would be the guy who could fix the boilers and get the lights working and thats not going to be you or me...
The below clip would have more resonance if Brad Pitt wasn't a movie god who advertises watches & clothes, but he is and he does. Still...


So all of this isn't really a coherent argument and I offer no solutions, its merely a lament or a cri de coeur and maybe I'm completely wrong and everything is ok. Maybe shorts and X Men movies and comic books are just fine. Maybe the culture hasnt become infantalized or dumber at all. What do you think?