Monday, April 1, 2013

Declan Burke

Declan Burke has published four novels: Eightball Boogie (2003), The Big O (2007), Absolute Zero Cool (2011) and Slaughter’s Hound (2012). Absolute Zero Cool was shortlisted in the crime fiction section for the Irish Book Awards, and received the Goldsboro / Crimefest ‘Last Laugh’ Award for Best Humorous Crime Novel in 2012. Slaughter’s Hound was shortlisted in the Crime Fiction category for the 2012 Irish Book Awards. Burke is also the editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (2011), and the co-editor, with John Connolly, of Books to Die For (2012). He hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.

Declan Burke has just published the e-book version of The Big O.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading.  Burke's reply:
I tend to read a lot of crime and mystery fiction. That’s partly because I tend to get commissioned as a freelance journalist to review and interview crime and mystery writers, which is hugely enjoyable. Sometimes it can feel a bit like real work, but mostly it’s interesting and fun, not least because I write in the genre myself and almost every book I read qualifies as (koff) research.

I’m currently reading The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis for review, which is the start of a new series for Davis. It features Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of Falco, who was / is a private investigator (here referred to as ‘an informer’) in classical Rome during a very long and successful series. I’m enjoying it a lot: Davis uses the historical detail of the Roman world to great effect, but she’s also happy to give Flavia Albia a hardboiled way of speaking, so that she sounds not unlike a Sue Grafton or Sara Paretsky heroine. That book is for review, so I can’t say too much about it right now, I’m afraid.

My previous read was The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson, which was first published decades ago. I read it for research-of-sorts, because I have the feeling that my next book to write will have something of the spy novel about it. Pearson’s book on Fleming was written in a slightly arch style which I really enjoyed, and Fleming’s own life could well have been pulled from the pages of a thriller – I’m currently working on the half-baked theory that the very best kind of biographies read like the very worst kinds of novels. As always, because the book wasn’t commissioned, I enjoyed it on one level simply because I wasn’t reading it with my reviewer’s hat on. I could just relax and enjoy the ‘story’ as it unfurled, which is a rare luxury these days. I’d heartily recommend it to any fan of the James Bond books or movies, by the way.

One downside to reading so many books in a particular genre can be that, if you’re unlucky and get on a run of similar kinds of stories, you can get a little burnt out reading the same kinds of plots and about very similar characters. A recent read that proved to be quite the change of pace was a new title from France, Alex by Pierre Lemaitre. It’s interesting for a number of reasons – for one, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that is so deliberately presented in the classic three-act structure. What’s most interesting, however, is that Lemaitre (a prize-winning author in France, although Alex is his first book available in English translation, as far as I know) sets up what appears to be a ten-a-penny plot in the first section, and then has great fun in forcing the reader to completely reassess his or her genre expectations in subsequent sections. Most crime and mystery novels tend to telegraph their sympathies early on, but Lemaitre seems interested in wrong-footing the reader – not least in order to ask implicit questions about why we read crime and mystery novels in the first place. It’s a fascinating novel.

A wonderful novel I read last month was also rather sad and poignant, because its author, Jim Crace, has announced that Harvest will be his final offering. It’s a beautifully written account of how a mediaeval village in England comes face-to-face with the future – technology will entirely erase their bucolic, pastoral existence – and how they cope (or don’t). I’ve been a fan of Crace’s since reading The Gift of Stones (1988) and particularly Quarantine (1997), which I think is his masterpiece, but Harvest is excellent too, and will very probably end up on the Booker shortlist. If you haven’t read Jim Crace before, Harvest is a very good place to start.
Check out the e-book version of The Big O, and visit Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Big O (Irish edition).

The Page 99 Test: The Big O.

--Marshal Zeringue