Declan Burke's Blog

July 25, 2017

The Late Show (Orion), Michael Connelly’s first novel to feature a new series character since Mickey Haller appeared in The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), opens with Renée Ballard and her partner John Jenkins taking a call to investigate credit card fraud. A mundane crime on the face of it, but par for the course: working ‘the late show’, i.e., the night shift, out of LA’s Hollywood Division, Ballard and Jenkins generally turn up to crime scenes, write their reports, then hand over the cases to the day shift the following morning.
  Connelly, however, is the creator of Harry Bosch, one of the most iconic protagonists in American crime fiction, and the deceptively routine opening quickly segues into a story that finds Ballard investigating the abduction and brutal assault of the transgender Ramona Ramone and a multiple shooting at a nightclub, during the course of which a waitress, Cynthia Haddel, is murdered simply because she is a potential witness.
  The names may have changed, then, but Connelly’s song remains essentially the same. The Late Show reads like a Bosch novel, as Connelly braids multiple investigations into his plot, driving the story onward with precise, measured prose that eschews sensationalism. Ballard, like the author, is an ex-journalist, whose ‘training and experience had given her skills that helped with [writing reports]. … She wrote short, clear sentences that gave momentum to the narrative of the investigation.’ Where Harry Bosch is a loner apart from his relationship with his daughter, Maddie, Ballard is a loner apart from her relationship with her grandmother, Tutu. Sleeping on the beach, showering and changing at the station, Ballard lives a minimalist existence that allows her dedicate herself to her work, believing that nothing should interfere with ‘the sacred bond that exists between homicide victims and the detectives who speak for them.’ Like Bosch, Ballard adheres to a Manichean philosophy: ‘big evil’ exists in the world, and her job is to prevent the spread of its ‘callous malignancy’.
  That said, Ballard is significantly more than a Bosch replacement or clone, at least for the time being (Connelly will publish the 20th Harry Bosch novel, Two Kinds of Truth, later this year). An absorbing character on her own terms, Ballard is morally disciplined but irreverently free-spirited as she goes down those mean streets (the reference to Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is no coincidence), and while she may plough a lone furrow broadly familiar to fans of Philip Marlowe, Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller, her gender allows Connelly to explore avenues closed off to his male protagonists. Her experience of institutionalised misogyny in the ranks of the LAPD may have hardened the previously idealistic Ballard, but it has not shut down her instinctive emotional responses; if anything, it has heightened her compassion for female victims of crime. Meanwhile, her sense of her own vulnerability and her attenuated awareness of possible threat, both of which feed into the story to a significant degree, are not qualities Bosch or Haller – or very few male protagonists in crime fiction, for that matter – would be likely to admit to out loud.
  Early in the novel, Ballard notes that the murdered waitress, Cynthia Haddel, was an aspiring actress who had played the part of ‘Girl at the Bar’ in an episode of the TV show Bosch, ‘which Ballard knew was based on the exploits of a now-retired LAPD detective.’ Harry Bosch has been hanging on by his fingernails for some years now, semi-retired and raging at the dying of the light, but it can only be a matter of time before Michael Connelly puts the old warhorse out to grass.
  That day may well provoke the kind of protests not witnessed since Arthur Conan Doyle tipped Sherlock Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls, but Connelly’s fans needn’t fret. In Renée Ballard, Connelly has created yet another potentially iconic tarnished knight of those perennially mean streets, a woman who understands, as her psychiatrist warns, that ‘if you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you,’ but who will defiantly stare down the abyss nonetheless. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Times.
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Published on July 25, 2017 00:15 • 1 view

July 24, 2017

THE WELL OF ICE is the third in Andrea Carter’s Donegal-set series featuring her amateur sleuth solicitor Ben O’Keeffe, following on from DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH and TREACHEROUS STRAND. Quoth the blurb elves:
December in Glendara, Inishowen, and solicitor Benedicta ‘Ben’ O’Keeffe is working flat-out before the holidays; the one bright spot on her horizon is spending her first Christmas with Sergeant Tom Molloy.
  But on a trip to Dublin to visit her parents, she runs into Luke Kirby - the man who killed her sister - freshly released from jail. He appears remorseful, conciliatory even, but as she walks away, he whispers something that chills her to the bone.
  Back in Glendara, there is chaos. The Oak pub has burned down and Carole Kearney, the Oak’s barmaid, has gone missing. And then on Christmas morning, while walking up Sliabh Sneacht, Ben and Molloy make a gruesome discovery: a body lying face-down in the snow.
  Who is behind this vicious attack on Glendara and its residents? Ben tries to find answers, but is she the one in danger?
  THE WELL OF ICE will be published on October 5th. For more on Andrea Carter, clickety-click here
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Published on July 24, 2017 02:28 • 1 view

July 23, 2017

Yours truly was away on hols last week, so it’s a belated congratulations to Tana French, who earlier this month won the Strand Critics Award for Best Novel for THE TRESPASSER. Quoth the Strand elves:
After being nominated a record five times for Best Novel, Tana French took home the top prize for The Trespasser, which received rave reviews for blurring the lines between genre and literary fiction. In a statement read by her publicist Ben Petrone, French said: “I am honored and I really wish I were there tonight, and I am relying on Ben Petrone and Andrew [Gulli] to down a couple of my favorite cocktails for me.”
  THE TRESPASSER, of course, also took home the crime gong at last year’s Irish Books of the Year bunfight. For all the other winners at the Strand Critics Awards, clickety-click here
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Published on July 23, 2017 03:29

July 20, 2017

July 18, 2017

The hardest-working woman in Irish crime fiction, Cora Harrison, published BEYOND ABSOLUTION (Severn House) earlier this year, the latest in her historical mystery series featuring the Reverend Mother Aquinas and by my reckoning her fifth novel in less than two years. Quoth the blurb elves:
Ireland, 1925. Pierced through to the brain, the dead body of the priest was found wedged into the small, dark confessional cubicle. Loved by all, Father Dominic had lent a listening ear to sinners of all kinds: gunmen and policemen; prostitutes and nuns; prosperous businessmen and petty swindlers; tradesmen and thieves. But who knelt behind the metal grid and inserted a deadly weapon into that listening ear?
  The Reverend Mother Aquinas can do nothing for Father Dominic, but for the sake of his brother, her old friend Father Lawrence, she is determined to find out who killed him, and why.
  For more on Cora Harrison, clickety-click here
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Published on July 18, 2017 02:56 • 1 view

July 17, 2017

Benjamin Black’s latest novel, PRAGUE NIGHTS (Viking), was published last month, a historical mystery set in – spoiler alert! – Prague, and sufficient reason for said Benny Blanco to wax lyrical in the Daily Telegraph on the topic of the city being God’s gift to the crime writer, said waxy lyricism encompassing the work of Raymond Chandler, Margery Allingham, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Dibdin and Dostoevsky. To wit:
“The city is God’s gift to the crime writer. Yes, there is just as much scope, if not more, for blood-letting, skulduggery and devilment in the countryside as there is in town. However, the urban wilderness lends itself with particular aptness to noir fiction, whether it be Maigret’s Paris, Philip Marlowe’s Bay City, a lightly fictionalised version of Santa Monica, or Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg.
  “Of course, it used to be more congenial in the old days, before the coming of Clean Air Acts and the general frowning upon and legislation against the cigarette, that essential prop of the spinner of tales of stylish mayhem. The classic crime novel reeks of tobacco smoke, is touched with the wistful fragrance of sooty rain on shiny pavements and coughs its lungs out in peasouper fogs.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
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Published on July 17, 2017 02:47 • 8 views

July 14, 2017

I love the cover of Apollo’s re-issue of Patrick McGinley’s BOGMAIL, which is rather funky in and of itself, but also carries a quote from yours truly to the effect that BOGMAIL is ‘dark, twisted and blackly hilarious’ – which it is, although I would further add that BOGMAIL is a quietly absurdist masterpiece and a worthy heir to Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN. Anyway, herewith be the blurb elves:
A truly funny and stunningly well-told tale of murder in a small Irish village in Donegal, Bogmail is a classic of modern Irish literature.
  Set in a remote village, the action begins with a murder when Roarty, a publican and former priest, kills his bartender then buries his body in a bog. It's not long before Roarty starts getting blackmail letters, and matters quickly spiral out of his control.
  Twisty, turny and enlivened with colour that echoes the landscape and surroundings, Bogmail was Patrick McGinley's first novel, yet it remains just as fresh today as the day it first appeared.
  For a review of (New Island’s re-issue of) BOGMAIL, clickety-click here
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Published on July 14, 2017 01:34 • 3 views

July 13, 2017

S.A. Dunphy publishes his debut thriller AFTER SHE VANISHED (Hachette Ireland) today, a first foray into fiction by the successful non-fiction author Shane Dunphy. Quoth the blurb elves:
Eighteen years ago David Dunnigan took his beloved six-year-old niece Beth on a shopping trip. They stopped on a crowded street to hear some buskers. She took her hand from his for a split second. And when he turned around, she was gone.
  Now Dunnigan, his life shattered, is a criminology lecturer and also works as a consultant for the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Harcourt Street, specialising in cases involving missing persons. That’s how he crosses paths with Harry, a young boy living on the streets whose parents have disappeared.
  As Dunnigan finds himself drawn into the world of The Warrens, a transient place where the dark underbelly of society lives, will he be able to help Harry? And what of Beth will he find there?
  For an interview with S.A. Dunphy on TV3, clickety-click here
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Published on July 13, 2017 01:11 • 19 views

July 12, 2017

The ‘Two Writers and a Microphone’ podcast goes from strength to strength, with Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste luring Norn Iron’s Gerard Brennan into their studio lair this week to talk about – among other things – THE MALTESE FALCON and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. Hey, why talk about other books when you can talk about the best, right?
  This week’s offering is the 38th episode in the ‘Two Writers and a Microphone’ saga. For a list of, and links to, all 38 episodes, clickety-click here
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Published on July 12, 2017 00:36 • 5 views

July 7, 2017

Karen Perry – aka Karen Gillece and Paul Perry – had a short story published in the Irish Times this week, titled – ominously – ‘Tell Me Something About Your Wife’. You’ll find it here
  Meanwhile, the fourth Karen Perry psychological thriller, CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? (Penguin), will be published next month. Quoth the blurb elves:
It’s been twenty years since Lindsey has seen her best friend Rachel
  Twenty years since she has set foot in Thornbury Hall – the now crumbling home of the Bagenal family – where they spent so much time as teenagers. Since Patrick Bagenal’s 18th birthday party, the night everything changed.
  It’s time for a reunion
  Patrick has decided on one last hurrah before closing the doors of his family home for good. All of the old crowd, back together for a weekend.
  For the secrets to come out
  It’s not long before secrets begin to float to the surface. Everything that Lindsey shared with her best friend at sixteen and everything that she didn’t.
  But some secrets should never be told. They need to be taken to the grave. While others require revenge at any cost.
  CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? will be published on August 26th. Karen Perry will be taking part in the ‘Dead in Dun Laoghaire’ crime fiction event on July 22nd. For a review of ONLY WE KNOW, clickety click here
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Published on July 07, 2017 01:49 • 5 views