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Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

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Irish

LYING IN WAIT by Liz Nugent

Lying%20in%20Wait LYING IN WAIT

Liz Nugent (liznugent.ie)

Penguin Random House (www.penguinrandomhouse.com)

£12.99

Andrew Fitzsimons is a respected judge in the Dublin Criminal Courts system. He and his reclusive wife have been forced to kill a young woman and her body is now buried in their back garden. While Lydia seems to be in control of the situation, Andrew’s life begins to fall apart, especially when he suspects that their seventeen-year-old son, Laurence, knows what they have done. As the families of both the murderers and their victim fall apart, Laurence becomes obsessed with the identity of the dead girl. When a chance meeting brings the two families into contact with each other, it can’t be long until disaster strikes, especially not if Lydia has her way.

Liz Nugent’s second novel, Lying in Wait, opens with the murder of young Annie Doyle and spends the next three hundred pages slowly reeling the reader into a twisted and cleverly-structured thriller that has surprises at every turn. Alternating between the first-person views of Lydia (the wife of the murderer), Laurence (their son) and Karen (the sister of Annie), it first of all describes the havoc wreaked on the two families involved, before morphing into something very different, a dark and disturbing examination of obsession and madness and an answer, once and for all, to the question of whether blood is thicker than water.

We witness the crime through the eyes of Lydia, and it is here in this early moment of unguardedness that we see the truth of the matter: how Annie Doyle died, and how her body was disposed. It doesn’t take us long to realise that Lydia is a dangerous woman: manipulative and more than a little unhinged, it is clear that she has engineered the circumstances that led to Annie Doyle’s death. Her husband starts to fall apart almost immediately, not helped by Lydia’s demands that, should they be caught, he takes the full blame, for the best interests of their teenage son. Lydia has a dark past, one that might explain her disconnection from reality, and one that is slowly revealed, along with the reasons for Annie Doyle’s demise as the story progresses.

Laurence catches on quick that something is wrong, and immediately jumps to the obvious conclusion. His hatred of his father is fuelled by his father’s insensitivity about Laurence’s weight, and by his mother’s seeming innocence in the whole affair. This is the first real glimpse we catch of Lydia’s ability to manipulate and control the situation, but it still cannot prepare us for what is yet to come. Karen, meanwhile, a similar age to Laurence, gives us some insight into the family of the victim. With no body, there is no evidence that her sister is dead, though her disappearance has a profound effect on her family, tearing her parents apart and leaving Karen herself with an undeserved reputation when it is revealed that Annie was a heroin addict and prostitute. The lead detective on the case, O’Toole, is more interested in getting into Karen’s knickers than in finding what happened to her sister, and it is only five years later that she learns that the police did have a suspect but didn’t pursue the matter because he was a person of some power, and O’Toole was unwilling to rattle any cages.

The three threads of the story interweave and ultimately meet as the years pass, and no further word of Annie is heard. Laurence, twenty-three and still under the full control of his mother, becomes a hero with whom we can identify. Despite the terrible things he agrees to do in order to protect his family, we still feel that he deserves a good life, something that he is unlikely to achieve living in the shadow of Lydia. A chance encounter and a big heart find Laurence attempting to make amends for the actions of his father, little more than a token gesture, but as much as he can do until his friendship with Annie’s father leads to an introduction to his surviving daughter.

Lying in Wait is so well constructed that we never question the often outlandish turns of events, instead revelling in the twists and turns and ever-darkening tone of the story. This is, more than anything, Lydia’s story, and we watch, often in horror, as she manipulates her husband, her son and anyone else who comes into close proximity to protect herself, her home, and her family name. A masterful creation, her complex history has produced a woman who is quite clearly insane and who, once she sets her sights on something, will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Liz Nugent’s writing is beautiful, the voices of the three narrators perfectly pitched, the quirks and tics we might expect in their speech beautifully translated to the written form. From the opening page, Nugent holds the reader in the palm of her hands, so the gut-punch she delivers as the novel draws to a close feels like a physical thing, leaving the reader stunned and disbelieving, emotionally drained yet already hoping for more more MORE! I missed Nugent’s debut, Unravelling Oliver, when it came out in 2014, but it’s definitely on my must-read list even as I try to recover from the effects of this one. An incredible novel, Lying in Wait is a lightning-fast read that should be an essential item for anyone packing for holiday. It cements Liz Nugent’s place as one of Ireland’s finest living novelists, and places her, at the very least, on this reader’s “must-read” list.

Lying-in-Wait-Blog-Tour

INFLUENCES: Five Books that Influenced Me by LIZ NUGENT

Liz Nugent Name: LIZ NUGENT

Author of: UNRAVELLING OLIVER (2014)
                 LYING IN WAIT (2016)

On the web: liznugent.ie

On Twitter: @lizzienugent

lying%20in%20wait%20blog%20tour1. The Book of Evidence by John Banville

I first read this when it was published in 1991 and thought it excellent. I wasn’t surprised when it won the Booker prize. In 2002, I was working as a stage manager on a stage adaptation of the book and with very close repeated reading, the story became more and more real to me. A middle-class sociopath is an intriguing central character. I determined then, that if I was ever going to write a book, it would be about someone as flawed as Freddie Montgomery.

2. Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson

I read this while recuperating from an accident in 1988. I have never read anything like it in my life before or since. Highly original and beautifully written, the story of Moses who was born into a police state and smuggled out by his parents has stayed with me ever since. I’m a sucker for stories about orphans.

3. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

I came across this when touring as a stage manager across America with Riverdance. The opening chapter grabbed me and as the story unfolded, it never let go. This was a book stuffed full of incident on every page and multi-layered characters so damaged by life that it was impossible not to become emotionally involved with them.

4. Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes can find hilarity in the darkest of situations without ever losing the humanity of characters at their most vulnerable. This story of a young woman entering rehab for drug and alcohol addiction is funny, touching and uniquely courageous. I read it at a time in my life when I was quite lonely and it meant a lot.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This book is a masterpiece in its epic understanding and exploration of human nature and the depths of suffering (you’d need to read a Marian Keyes book straight afterwards). I’m almost scared to re-read it because I was so devastated by it. I think everyone should read it, but just once.

Lying-in-Wait-Blog-Tour

THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND by Stuart Neville

THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND - Stuart Neville THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND

Stuart Neville (www.stuartneville.com)

Harvill Secker (www.vintage-books.co.uk)

£12.99

Released: June 2015

After seven years served for the murder of his foster father, Ciaran Devine is released from the young offenders’ centre where he and his brother Thomas spent their teenage years. Probation Officer Paula Cunningham is assigned his case – a high-profile case at the time of sentencing, though neither Ciaran nor his brother were named at the time – and reaches out to DCI Serena Flanagan, who helped to put the young man behind bars, to get a better feel for what she can expect. Flanagan is convinced of Ciaran’s innocence, believing that he covered for his older brother. Now that he is back on the street, the women are convinced that he is falling into his old ways, being led astray by Thomas. When the son of the man they murdered – who shares Flanagan’s belief in Ciaran’s innocence  – is beaten, Flanagan and Cunningham concoct a means to separate the brothers, and attempt to get the truth from Ciaran, using any means necessary, despite the fact that it puts both women at odds with their superiors, and sees Flanagan playing dangerously close to the edge of breaking the law herself.

Those We Left Behind, the latest novel from Northern Ireland’s own Stuart Neville, reintroduces us to Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan, who we first met in Neville’s previous novel, The Final Silence. Along with the shift from his long-term series stalwart, Jack Lennon, there is a subtle change in tone in Neville’s writing towards psychological thriller, and marks Those We Left Behind as the first of his Belfast-based crime novels not to feature a heavily sectarian slant. In some ways, this mirrors the changing nature of crime in Belfast itself, as the city continues to try to distance itself from the stigma of the so-called Troubles.

Despite the short period of time that has passed since the events of The Final Silence, we find Serena Flanagan a very different person. We meet her as she returns to work following surgery to combat breast cancer. Flanagan’s career progressed in a time and a place where it was difficult enough to be a police officer, let alone a female one, and we see some of this as she readjusts to her job, and deals with the reactions – and obvious discomfort – of her mostly male colleagues. Neville also gives us a view into her family life, and the impact the cancer and the ensuing surgery has had on her marriage. It is little wonder, then, that she has changed so much in such a short period of time. She may be less sure of herself than was her previous incarnation, but we get a deeper insight into the character as the novel progresses, a fleshing-out that was necessarily missing from before, leaving no doubt that Flanagan is Neville’s finest creation since The Twelve’s Gerry Fegan, a complex, layered character about whom we still have much to learn.

Intertwining the narrative with occasional flashbacks, Neville shows us how the relationship between Flanagan and Ciaran develops, from their initial meeting during the investigation into the murder of his foster father, through to his current obsession with her. Despite the fact that the novel has a number of viewpoints – mainly Flanagan, Cunningham and Ciaran – the author manages to maintain suspense throughout, making the reader feel almost as if they’re inside Flanagan’s head for the duration. The violence, when it occurs, does so off-stage, leaving both reader and investigator to piece together the clues and come to their own conclusion. Whether it is the right conclusion remains in doubt until the story’s thrilling climax, a testament to Neville’s abilities as a plotter and storyteller.

Through all this, we watch as Flanagan deals with the aftermath of her illness and surgery, and its impact on her life, both personally and professionally. In one subplot, both these worlds collide with a bang, and we, as readers, find ourselves completely invested in Flanagan’s reaction, her need to meddle in a case that has nothing to do with her, but which affects her on a personal level. Throughout, Neville manages to find the right balance between examining the impact, and keeping the story moving.

 

As with his previous novels, Belfast plays a key role in the story. Here the author widens his scope, and takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of Northern Ireland, from Flanagan’s base in Lisburn, to the Serious Crime Suite of Antrim Police Station, to the seaside resort of Newcastle. Neville relies heavily on the geography of these places, giving the story a very definite sense of location and imbuing it with a distinct flavour of Northern Ireland.

 

With Those We Left Behind, Stuart Neville leaves behind the crimes of post-Troubles Belfast, and focuses on the everyday crimes of a growing, maturing city. A masterwork of misdirection, this is a well-written novel by an author who seems to have found his groove, producing novels that are more challenging for both himself and the reader with each consecutive release. Stuart Neville is at the forefront of the Irish crime fiction movement, and Those We Left Behind is an excellent example of why that’s the case. The perfect jumping-on point for new readers, this is also a very welcome addition for long-time fans, and will leave both groups crying out for more: more Stuart Neville; more Serena Flanagan.

An Interview with STEVE CAVANAGH

stephen_mearns_2 Name: STEVE CAVANAGH

Author of: THE DEFENCE (2015)

On the web: stevecavanagh.com

On Twitter: @SSCav

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast, where he currently works as a practicing solicitor in the field of civil rights law. The Defence is his first novel.

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to chat with us.

No problem, it’s my pleasure.

Modern Irish crime writers seem to take one of two routes: they write about Ireland and all the baggage that comes with it, or they take their fiction on the road. Eddie Flynn is a New York-based lawyer. Was there any sort of decision-making process around whether you should write Irish crime fiction and, if so, why did you choose the American route?

There are a few reasons I chose to base the book in the US. One thing that stands out to me is that I’m mainly influenced by American crime writers and books set in the US. Michael Connelly is a major influence and I would’ve read mostly US based fiction – although in recent years there has been more of a balance between US, UK and Irish fiction. The other major factor was that I wanted to write a legal thriller and that creates its own difficulties if you set that book in Northern Ireland. Largely because we have a dual system of representation; if you find yourself in court you will have a solicitor and a barrister representing you. The solicitor does most of the early court appearances and prepares the case for trial and the barrister performs the role of the trial advocate. At the time I didn’t feel confident about creating two lead characters – particularly when one character, the barrister, would inevitably be the one doing all the cool courtroom scenes. It didn’t seem balanced to me. So I felt setting the book in the US solved that problem as attorneys in America perform both roles and I could concentrate on a single lead character to focus the story.

Your short story “The Grey” was included in the recent Belfast Noir anthology, so you obviously have no qualms about writing fiction set in your native city. Do you see yourself producing anything novel-sized in the future?

I might well do, but not at the moment. I’m very pleased to have that short story in the anthology, and it was fun to write, but I’m not sure about a full length novel set in Belfast. Part of the reason I wrote The Defence was to have a little escape from the day job of being a lawyer. I do some work in the criminal courts so murder and mayhem in Belfast is still my 9 – 5 and I didn’t particularly want to come home and write about it at night. Maybe if I ever become a full time writer I’ll consider it. I do have an idea for a Belfast based character but at the moment I’m not sure if that story would be best told in a novel or on the screen.

The Defence puts us firmly in the head of Eddie Flynn, a con-man turned lawyer, which gives him a somewhat unique perspective on how the law works. How much research did you find yourself doing to get the detail – both of setting and of American judicial procedures, etc. – right?

I can tell you there was a tonne of research done into the legal procedures and virtually none of it made it into the book. I have textbooks on US criminal procedures, I’ve been taught by American lawyers and I strive to get it right but not let it interrupt the flow of the story. In terms of the setting, I also did a lot of research into New York City, and ultimately I took the Ed McBain approach and decided that some of the locations should be fictionalised, the courthouse in particular. There was a courthouse on Chambers Street, but it’s now the department of Education’s head office. I took that courthouse and made it bigger and more grand for the book. I wanted the reader to get a sense of New York, so again a lot of research and not much made it onto the page, but I felt as though I was informed enough to write about it. The other great advantage to setting your book in New York is that the reader already has a strong mental image of that city already, even if they’ve never been there.

What’s next for Eddie? There’s always an assumption with this kind of character that they’re a series character. Is this the case with Eddie, or have you set your sights elsewhere for your second novel?

No mistake about it, I’m writing a series. Eddie is such a fascinating character, to me at least, that for the moment all I want to do is write about him. That may change down the line, of course. I’ve always loved series characters and I envisaged this as a series from the very first book. The second book in the series has the working title – The Plea. It’s a much more complex book, but it hopefully retains the key ingredients from The Defence.

When it comes to thrillers, there is always a sense that the protagonist comes out the far end somewhat the worse for wear, almost as if the authors have a sadistic streak that needs to be satiated. Eddie joins a long and prestigious line of leading men who go through a lot of pain in order to entertain the reader (between beatings and night-time jaunts around high ledges). What’s the attraction, and do you ever feel sorry for the character even as you’re twisting the knife?

I do feel sorry for Eddie, and I don’t. All the stories that I love have characters facing real adversity and eventually coming through on the other side as the victor. Everyone loves an underdog – that’s why Rocky, Ruby, John McClane etc are such beloved characters. Plus I enjoy the challenge – when I put Eddie in a terrible situation I’m often not sure how or if he’s going to get out of it. It’s fun figuring out the problems through him.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, John Grisham, John Mortimer, the poet Robert Service, Brendan Behan…quite a big list. Too many to name.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

A lot more than one – The Black Echo (Michael Connelly) Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris) Every Dead Thing (John Connolly). Yeah, imagine you’ve just written the Silence of the Lambs – damn.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Steve Cavanagh look like?

Well none of it happens during the day. I’m usually up around 6.30am to help get the kids ready for school, I go to work, come home around 6.30pm, eat, see my family, and the writing day begins around 10pm. I write until I fall asleep, which can sometimes mean I get four hours of writing done or four minutes.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

Write the book you want to read – polish the hell out of it – send it to a handful of agents at a time and believe in yourself. If you get rejections, which you will, just move on to the next agent as a rejection often tells you absolutely nothing about the quality of your book.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I’m about to start CJ Sansom’s Lamentation, then I’ve got a couple of Reacher’s to catch up on.

If The Defence should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

I’m a big Christopher McQuarrie fan, and if he wanted to direct I’d have him in a heartbeat. As for lead actors – I have a notion that Ryan Gosling would be a good Eddie Flynn, but I don’t know why. I don’t have a solid view of any actor for Eddie, really. Any good actor would be fine, just as long as it’s not Randy Quaid I’d be quite happy.

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

Spike Milligan. I wouldn’t say a word, I’d just listen to him. He didn’t drink alcohol so some tea would be just fine.

Thank you once again, Steve, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

It’s been an honour.

THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

THE DEFENCE - Steve Cavanagh THE DEFENCE

Steve Cavanagh (stevecavanagh.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£12.99

“Do exactly as I tell you or I’ll put a bullet in your spine.”

Pushing the gun hard into my back, he said, “I’ll follow you out of the bathroom. You’ll put on your coat. You’ll pay for breakfast, and we’ll leave together. We’re going to talk. If you do as I tell you, you’ll be fine. If you don’t – you’re dead.”

Eddie Flynn was an ex-con-man-turned lawyer. These days, he’s an ex-lawyer-turned-alcoholic who hasn’t set foot in a courtroom in a year, following the breakdown of a high-profile case. Now, in the bathroom of the diner where he eats breakfast every day, a Russian mobster has put a gun to his back and abducted him. The gangster has a proposal for Eddie, the type of proposal that a person doesn’t turn down: Eddie will defend Olek Volchek, the head of the Russian mafia, in an impossible murder trial with a bomb strapped to his back. For added incentive, Olek is holding Eddie’s daughter hostage, and Eddie has forty-eight hours to defend his client, or work out a way to get his daughter back. Luckily for Eddie, his chequered past has left him with a lot of contacts, and more than a few owed favours.

Belfast native Steve Cavanagh describes his debut novel, The Defence, as a “legal-thriller”. This reader can reveal that the emphasis is most definitely on the thriller, though the plot does allow for a fair amount of courtroom drama. We are introduced to Eddie Flynn, one-time con-man, one-time practicing lawyer, at the moment that the Russian mafia decides that he can help them achieve their nefarious ends in the trial of their leader, Olek Volchek. This tense and riveting opening gives us little time to get to know Eddie before he is thrown into the thick of the plot, so much of what we know about him by the end of the novel we learn in bite-sized chunks between the almost-relentless action.

It quickly becomes clear that Eddie Flynn is more than your average muscle-bound action hero.There is wit and a sly intelligence here, and a pride in his own ability that makes it clear he was once a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom. His dark past, the life of a petty criminal, and his close relationship with the leadership of the city’s Italian mafia, add to the mystery, and provide him with an almost endless source of resources to tap, and contacts on whom he can call in his hour of need. The daughter – held hostage by Volchek’s minions against Eddie’s continued cooperation – adds some further meat to the bones of this already well-fleshed character: Eddie’s life may be falling apart at the seams, but he still loves his daughter, still feels some element of responsibility for who he once was, and what he has done.

The tension increases as the story progresses, and Cavanagh injects a number of perfectly-realised set-pieces (the night-time trip around the upper ledges of New York’s Chambers Street Court building is one that springs immediately to mind) designed to keep the reader perched firmly on the edge of their seat, and completely immersed in Eddie Flynn’s rapidly-disintegrating world. Despite Eddie’s sense of humour, which lifts the tone of many of the novel’s darker scenes, there is something ominous about the events and, while the first-person narrative contains a clue concerning Eddie’s survival beyond the end of The Defence, nothing else comes with a cast-iron guarantee, and the very real threat that hangs over Eddie’s daughter is one that remains with the reader throughout. It’s a masterful play, a clever piece of plotting that overshadows even the bomb strapped to Eddie’s back. That said, Eddie isn’t in for an easy ride, and the author takes some delight in putting his character through the mill during the course of the story.

Despite all this, there is still the “legal” part to the “legal-thriller” combo that the author uses to describe the novel, and Cavanagh uses every trick up his sleeve to ensure that the courtroom scenes are as attention-grabbing and engrossing as those that take place outside those formal and refined environs. Eddie’s sharp mind and quick wit leave the reader wishing for a glimpse of the man at the height of his legal career, and hoping for a more permanent return to the courtroom as the series (for series it is) continues. It’s a rare talent that can make the staid and solemn courtroom environment as entertaining and engrossing as the against-the-clock all-out action that makes up much of the rest of the novel.

The Defence heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice in Irish crime fiction, a voice that is as authentically American as the character at the centre of this excellent debut novel. A gripping read from first page to last, it is a new breed of thriller that nevertheless pays its dues to those who have come before: Jack Reacher, John McClane and, maybe, Perry Mason. Cavanagh’s is a name you should expect to hear a lot of in the coming years, and Eddie Flynn is destined to become as instantly recognisable as his forebears. In a word: unmissable.

THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE by Anthony Quinn

BDT jacket THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE

Anthony Quinn (anthonyquinnwriter.com)

No Exit Press (www.noexit.co.uk)

£8.99

In the dying days of 1917, the body of young woman is washed ashore on the west coast of Ireland, near Sligo. She is in an old and decomposing coffin. Before her death, she sent a letter to London, to the poet William Butler Yeats and his Order of the Golden Dawn, foretelling her own death, and asking him to seek out her murderer should it come to pass. A noted spiritualist and supernatural investigator, Yeats charges his young apprentice, the ghost-catcher Charles Adams, with travelling to Sligo to find her ghost, and find out how she met her end. Met by suspicion and loathing, Adams finds himself in a country torn apart by political and religious sectarianism, where the English are less than welcome, and where the supernatural will be the least of his worries.

Taking a break from his Inspector Celsius Daly novels, Anthony Quinn takes the reader back to Ireland in the early part of 1918. Europe and much of the rest of the world is at war, but it seems to have little effect on this part of western Ireland – Sligo and its surrounding areas – which is dealing with its own troubles. It is almost two years since the events of the Easter Rising and many of the rich people who call this part of the country their home – ex-patriot Englishmen, for the most part – have been hounded from their manors and estates and sent on their merry way back to whence they came. This is the heart of Irish nationalism, the domain of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Inghinidhe na hÉireann, the Daughters of Erin.

It is into this politically-charged environment that Charles Adams arrives at the behest of his mentor, the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, an Englishman with no concept of the history of this place, or the current mind-set of the people he is likely to encounter. Charged with finding the ghost of Rosemary O’Grady, it quickly becomes clear that a more natural course of investigation is likely to yield more results. Adams begins asking questions that see him viewed with suspicion by the locals, and brings him into contact with both the local constabulary, and with the Daughters of Erin, in the guise of Yeats’ old lover, Maud Gonne. Adams also finds himself plagued by Wolfe Marley, an Irishman who is employed as a spy by the British Admiralty.

Despite the supernatural elements – or the suggestion of supernatural elements – the mystery at the heart of The Blood Dimmed Tide has a wholly natural explanation, something mundane yet very cleverly constructed to allow the user to catch glimpses of the truth as the novel progresses, while still withholding enough to surprise us in the final act. What is most interesting is how each of the two central characters – Yeats and Adams – approach the question of how and why young Rosemary O’Grady died. Yeats, obsessed with the supernatural, has become an investigator of sorts, a debunker of fake mystics and psychics in much the same way that Houdini was. For him, there is no other way to determine the cause of death than by finding and asking the dead girl’s ghost. Adams, on the other hand, takes a more grounded approach, despite his reputation as a ghost-catcher of some talent. For him, the political environment in which he finds himself when he arrives in Sligo raises more questions about the girl’s death and sends him on his inevitable collision course with the locals, and the local powers-that-be.

The Blood Dimmed Tide is a wonderful character-driven mystery that is defined in large part by place and time. Nowhere else could the story have taken place than the tumultuous west coast of Ireland in the dying days of the Great War: the environment in which Charles Adams – and, later, W.B. Yeats himself – finds himself, and the atmosphere that Quinn generates for the reader are as important to the story as the murder victim herself. Along our journey, Quinn introduces us to secret occult societies, Irish rebels, the last remnants of the British Empire in Sligo and smugglers. All this plays out as war rages in mainland Europe, and German U-boats lurk off the coastline, an ever-present threat for some, and a potential ally for others.

Quinn has done an excellent job evoking the spirit of Ireland in the years following the Easter Rising, and examines the politics of the time by placing an Englishman – and an Englishman with no clue as to what he’s letting himself in for, at that – into the middle of this powder keg of emotions and barely-restrained violence. His characters are well-drawn, his use of the first person allowing us to see inside the mind of young Charles Adams as he undertakes his mission. These sections are interspersed with third-person narratives, which give the reader some insight into the other characters we encounter. The inclusion of Yeats seems superfluous, and indeed he is a character who spends much of the time on the side lines, but it does leave this reader wondering if there are deeper themes at play here, things I might have picked up on had I read any of Yeats’ work in the past (shameful, I know!), or if he’s just a vehicle to introduce the supernatural aspect of the tale. Either way, it’s interesting to see this side of one of Ireland’s most famous sons.

The Blood Dimmed Tide is a dark and gripping tale that takes the reader to Ireland’s very own Wild West. Beautifully written, with a cleverly-constructed mystery at its core, the story blends crime fiction, politics and occultism in a way that keeps the reader interested in every aspect of the story: the political situation as much as Rosemary O’Grady’s cause of death or the insight into the various rebel factions. The book is likely to appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, or those interested in the work on the occult carried out by Houdini around the same time period as the novel’s setting, and introduces Anthony Quinn as a fascinating new voice in the latest wave of Irish crime fiction writers, and one that I’ll be watching closely in the future.

INFLUENCES: The New Northern Ireland by ANTHONY QUINN

AQ photo from Mysterious Press Name: ANTHONY QUINN

Author of: DISAPPEARED (2012)
                 BORDER ANGELS (2013)
                 THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE (2014)

On the web: anthonyquinnwriter.com

On Twitter: @ajpquinn

To celebrate the launch of his most recent novel, The Blood Dimmed Tide, I’m very pleased to welcome Anthony Quinn to Reader Dad to talk about some of the books that have influenced his own writing. My own review of his latest novel will be available later this week.

Like every crime fiction writer I have my personal card catalogue of literary influences that I can rhyme off at the drop of a hat to anyone who is interested – Rankin, Le Carre, Deighton, Rendell, PD James, Ellroy, Leonard – and if you really want to get me droning on for hours just bring up Graham Greene and his subtle shading of good and evil, and the way he charts personal failure in the face of war and death.

To be honest, however, this mental list is an answer to a different, much more superficial question, one that might be phrased: What are your favourite books? Or who do you most try to imitate as an author? Literary influence is about much more than writing within the same genre, or borrowing style and subject matter. Sometimes the biggest influence a book can have on an emerging writer is one that can never be perceived or measured by even the most discerning of readers.

I’m talking about metaphysical or psychological influences. While some of the reasons that prompted me to start writing crime fiction were very personal, the galvanising factor was reading other writers’ works, principally that of the crime fiction vanguard emerging from Northern Ireland at the end of the Troubles, novelists like Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty and Colin Bateman. All great writers with fascinating and original voices, whose books, most of which are set in Northern Ireland, have helped kick away the inhibitions preventing Irish writers from following that old creative-writing course advice – write about what you know.

BDT jacketGrowing up during the Troubles, writing about what you knew was taboo. You had to be careful about what you said. The phrase ‘and whatever you say, say nothing’ was a mantra for survival. Even after the ceasefire, tales about the Troubles were usually ignored. Lurking somewhere at the back of people’s minds was the superstitious fear that talking about those dark days might somehow increase the chances of a return to the past.

Neville et al gave me permission to write about something I had been suppressing for years. They made it acceptable to write about the destructive spirals of violence and revenge that overshadowed my childhood, the malevolent stupidity of paramilitaries and terrorists, the blurred lines between lawmakers and lawbreakers, and the tricks of betrayal and cover-up. Most of all they showed how it was possible to write about the Troubles in a thrilling way. They also convinced me in my contrary way that the landscape of Northern Ireland, its people and their conflicts weren’t being represented fictionally in the way I thought they deserved. For these reasons, they are the most powerful influences on my writing. They gave me the licence to explore, in my opinion, deeper narratives within the Troubles.

These days I don’t so much read their books as eavesdrop on them (a loss to the reader in me). Their fiction has illuminated mine, but I’m wary of their words or ideas ever creeping onto my page.

BROKEN ANGELS by Graham Masterton

BROKEN ANGELS - Graham Masterton BROKEN ANGELS

Graham Masterton (www.grahammasterton.co.uk)

Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)

£16.99

The body of a priest is found in a river just outside Cork. He has been tortured, castrated and bound with harp wire before dying. Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire of the Cork Guardai picks up the case and discovers that the dead priest is one of many accused of abuse in the 1990s. When a second priest turns up, this one also tortured and castrated, Katie and her superiors fear a series of revenge killings against the clergy. It’s strange, then, that one of Cork’s most senior Roman Catholics is trying to keep the case off the front pages, even going so far as to actively misdirect Katie’s investigation. When a third priest goes missing, a new pattern begins to emerge, and secrets that the Church has guarded for decades are in danger of being revealed.

Picking up eighteen months after the events of White Bones, Masterton re-introduces us to Cork’s highest-ranking female Garda, Katie Maguire. Much has changed in the intervening time – Katie is happy, which makes a nice change from the stressful circumstances during which we were introduced to her – and yet much is still the same: Katie is still battling the same sexist attitudes at work, and the ever-present spectre of her dead son. In the tradition of the best noir, we know from the start that Katie’s happiness can’t last long – the stresses and tensions are what make her such an interesting character – and it isn’t long before the author begins to torment her once more.

At work, Katie is surrounded by a bunch of men who are as interesting as they are stereotypical. Backwards Irish country policemen, each and every one, they come across as often bumbling and slow, unable, at times, to follow Katie’s logic when she figures something out. They are almost comedic, bringing a surprising light-heartedness to the book that plays perfectly against the dark backdrop of the heinous crimes they are investigating. Don’t let the jovial tone of the inter-officer interactions fool you; this is a dark and often disturbing mystery, that spends considerable time in small rooms with chained-up priests and medieval instruments of torture that will have every male reader crossing his legs at one point or another. When violence strikes, it is sudden and graphic, all the more striking when set against the laid-back – and often daft – Irish personalities of both perpetrators and police, characters who might have stepped fully formed from the pages of a Roddy Doyle novel.

Masterton seems to touch on something of a taboo subject in the wilds of Catholic Ireland – the alleged (and often proven) sexual abuse of young boys and girls at the hands of the priesthood. As the story progresses, it quickly becomes clear that what is going on here is much more sinister, and much more disturbing. Through the actions of some, Masterton shines an unflattering light on the Church and, while the central tenet is purely fiction, it is entirely plausible and all the more frightening for its plausibility. Once again, Masterton shows a deep understanding of that part of the world, not only in terms of the language the people speak, or the way they live their lives, but also in terms of the thrall in which many people are held by the promise of eternal life.

While the deus ex machina that brings the novel’s climactic scene to an abrupt end seems rather out of place, it does give Masterton the perfect excuse for the ultimate punchline, a line spoken by one of Katie’s colleagues that more or less sums up the point the author has been making throughout:

Inspector Fennessy helped Katie back on to her feet. ‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘Maybe they did it. Maybe God did pay them a visit, after all.’

In all, it’s a cleverly-plotted mystery that manages to show the reader both sides – both the police and the murderers – without giving anything away until absolutely necessary. Masterton shows that he has still got a touch of what made him such a successful horror author, in the wonderfully-written but never overwrought scenes of torture and violence (you’ll be dreaming of castratori for weeks to come, at the very least), but also that he understands the fundamentals of human drama, creating a cast of characters that resonate with the reader, and make us want to come back for more. An unusual mix of “cosy” and “noir”, Broken Angels takes the foundations laid in White Bones and builds on them, cementing the Katie Maguire books as essentials for anyone looking for engaging, funny and frightening crime fiction. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.

RATLINES by Stuart Neville

Ratlines - Stuart Neville RATLINES

Stuart Neville (stuartneville.com)

Harvill Secker (www.vintage-books.co.uk/about-us/harvill-secker)

£12.99

It is 1963 and Ireland is preparing for an historic visit from US president, John F. Kennedy. The death of the third foreign national, a German businessman, in the space of a handful of days could threaten not only the presidential visit, but the relationship between Ireland the US; the dead men are all former Nazis living in Ireland with the blessing of the Irish government. They are all also overt warnings to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite commando and personal friend of the Irish Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey, that he is no longer safe. Albert Ryan, an officer of the Directorate of Intelligence and former member of Britain’s Armed Forces, is seconded to Haughey and charged with finding out who is carrying out these attacks.

So begins Lieutenant Albert Ryan’s investigation, and Stuart Neville’s fourth novel. Along the way we’ll encounter a host of former Nazis and French nationalists, Mossad agents, ex-army mercenaries, and the beautiful Celia Hume, as we watch Albert Ryan make his way carefully through the minefield that lies between duty and morality. Ratlines is, in many ways, a major departure for Stuart Neville. His first standalone novel, it is also the first not set in post-Troubles Belfast. Many of the themes he explores in his first three novels, though – the deep political and religious differences that divide Ireland in two being the most obvious example – are still very much in evidence here, if seen from a much different viewpoint than before.

Ryan is an interesting character – a Protestant from a small Monaghan town, he crossed the border during the Second World War and signed up with the British Army. To many of his countrymen, he is seen as a traitor and lickspittle, and this has repercussions for his family that he could probably never have foreseen; even in 1963, his parents are still dealing with the fallout of that rash decision. Twenty years later, he is a career soldier, albeit now working for the Irish Directorate of Intelligence, so he comes across as something of an innocent, a man very much out of touch with the modern workings of the world. No street-wise, wise-cracking detective here; think mid-Twentieth Century Jack Reacher, and you’re probably not too far off the mark.

Several of the characters – Haughey, Skorzeny – are modelled on real people and Neville’s narrative grows from a single fact – that Skorzeny spent some years living in Ireland with the permission of the Irish government – into a complex, engaging and plausible story in the vein of Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil. As the story progresses, Ryan’s chain of command becomes less clear, and it’s difficult for the reader to keep track of who he is now working for, or what promises he has made. This is a deliberate move on the author’s part, and is backed up by Ryan’s internal struggle between what he is employed to do – in this instance, protect the life of a famous war criminal – and what he feels is right – the expulsion of this man and all his kind from his country, exposing the corruption within the government at the same time. When it becomes apparent that there is also a lot of money at stake, it’s one more element to keeping the reader guessing just what Ryan’s intentions are.

At the heart of the novel is a knot of political tensions that shows a complex, and sometimes schizophrenic, side to Ireland. Tensions between Ireland and America on the eve of the presidential visit; potential tensions between Ireland and the fledgling Israeli state once Mossad discover the country is harbouring Nazi war criminals; the age-old tensions between Ireland and Britain that inevitably result in sectarian bigotry and outright violence. There is an excellent passage early in the novel, as Ryan thinks back to his days as a young boy working in his father’s shop, that shows how dementedly nationalistic the Irish can often be.

Would de Valera…side with Chamberlain? If it came to it, would he ask his fellow Irishmen to fight alongside the British?

Unthinkable, some would say. Old Dev would never sell his people out to the Brits.

But that Hitler, others would say, he’s bad news…

But he’s just a good nationalist, like us, looking out for his own people. Just like Old Dev did, like Pearse and Connolly did in 1916.

As a whole, the novel works very well. The ratlines of the title serve to tie several different stories together, and make sense of the many different groups trying to get their hands on Otto Skorzeny. It’s a cleverly plotted fiction built upon a solid and well-researched factual base. Part spy novel, part detective story, part examination of Ireland’s role in post-War Europe, Neville also manages to find a nice balance of action to keep the story moving quickly without losing any of its intelligence.

I’ve been a big fan of Stuart Neville since I got my hands on an early copy of his first novel The Twelve (The Ghosts of Belfast in the US). While I enjoyed the second and third parts of what turned out to be a loosely-defined trilogy (you can find my review of his third novel, Stolen Souls, here), neither quite lived up to the early promise of that sensational debut. Ratlines is, without a doubt, a return to form, proving beyond a doubt that Neville is more than a one-trick pony. His best novel since The Twelve, Ratlines takes Neville out of the post-Troubles niche and deals with subject matter that should open his work to a much wider audience than would previously have been interested. If you haven’t yet tried this young man’s work, Ratlines is an excellent place to start.

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