Category Archives: Guests

Guest post – Seth Lynch

With his debut novel Salazar just released, Seth Lynch was kind enough to pop over to talk about the research which inspired his 1930’s Parisian setting…

 

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The police in France in the 1930s had an interrogation technique which involved cuffing the suspect to a radiator and beating the hell out of them. I say the 1930s but I suspect they started using this method when the radiators were first installed and are probably still using it now. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from reading the memoirs of retired cops, although you get an inkling of it going on. The ones who were ending their careers around this period don’t mention violence too much, except when perpetrated by a criminal. In their books you’d imagine that the worst the cops ever did was raise their voices and serve cold coffee. The ones who started their careers around this time and ended them in the 1960s and 70s are more open about the beatings but it’s normally someone else dishing them out. I can’t read French that well so I have to rely on works in translation. It could be that the cops who describe the violence of their interrogations never had their memoirs translated to English.

There is another source for the beating up of suspects – the guys who received them. In their biographies/autobiographies there is no shortage of violence from the police. Their accounts, with the hints and suggestions in the police memoirs and from the films of the time, we get a pretty good idea of what the police did. Even Simenon’s gentle old Maigret used to get rough with suspects but he was another who left the room when the interrogations became more vigorous.

What’s the point in me telling you all this? It’s research. If you just read from one source you’ll never know what really went on. (OK, we never really know what went on we only get an approximation) Each autobiography is written by a person who wants to present themselves in a certain light. Maybe they’re writing to settle a grudge or, as some claim, to set the record straight. Others have political reasons for writing – maybe even literally, that they want to stand for office and think and account of their daring actions in the Sûreté or the Paris Police will win them support. Maybe those old cops who walked the beat during World War I didn’t think the occasional beating of a suspect as worthy of comment: what’s a bloodied face and a few lost teeth next to a million dead? For some I get the feeling that the beatings were part of the game – you commit the crimes and, if I catch you, I’m going to lay into you.

Once I’ve read from multiple sources I have enough of an idea to start out on my own. From here on I feel free to interpret events as I see fit. Maybe my cop will be one who relishes the violence, a perk of the job for a sadist in uniform. Maybe my union agitator will receive a bloody beating and will move on from organising strikes to planting bombs. I’ll decide as I write if the truth, as I see it, will be a part of the story or ignored (after all these are works of fiction not academic thesis) .

There are no cops in Salazar. There is a cop in Salazar 2, an Inspector Belmont. He’s a little like Maigret in that he’ll leave the room when the beatings are dished out only to return later when the suspect has been softened up. Belmont isn’t a bad man or a bad cop, he just accepts that the beatings are a part of police work. If you don’t like it you don’t have to be the one who does it, you can call in one of the other guys to handle that side of things for you. I’ve only written the first draft of Salazar 3 but he does get cuffed to a radiator. He already knows Belmont from the previous book and has gone under cover for him in this one. It’s a cover the other police know nothing about – hence the cuffing. There is no beating though as Belmont intercedes and takes Salazar away for questioning.

When coming up with the character of Belmont I wasn’t sure where he’d work or who for. The police system in France has been overhauled a few times since the 1930s. Back then there were the Gendarmerie, who acted as the local police in the French regions. There was the Sûreté who acted on cases which crossed the regions of France – in some ways like the FBI. Paris didn’t have a Gendarmerie instead they had the Préfecture of Police of Paris – the Paris Police. The Sûreté were based in Paris and, as you might expect, so were the Paris Police. And they were pretty much rivals. I get the idea that they’d rather see a criminal go free than see the other agency get the credit for an arrest. They weren’t above sending each other on wild goose chases so they could reap the glory of an arrest. A book by Roger Borniche called Le Flic portrays this rivalry quiet well. He was in the Sûreté so you see it from their perspective.

Police brutality and inter-force rivalries and not a real surprise. One thing I hadn’t expected was a punishment they used to dish out – banishment from Paris. It feels like something from ancient Greece or Rome rather than twentieth century France. The threat of this was often enough to turn a petty crook into a police informer. This happens in the film Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler) which came out in 1955. I get the impression that the police relied on informers for most of their information. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t have computers.

Anyway, I’m starting to waffle now so I’ll stop. Thanks to Eva for letting me loiter on her blog today. And thanks to you for reading this far. If you want to read more why not head over to Amazon and buy a copy of Salazar? Or you could head over to my blog at http://salazarbooks.com/

Seth

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Guest post – JH Everington

Nottingham based author JH Everington is responsible for some of the most unsettling short stories I have ever read, the kind of poised and elegant tales which turn the everyday world inside out, finding wells of darkness in unexpected places and imbuing the commonplace with chilly unease.  His latest collection, Falling Over, is out today, and James has been kind enough to join me to talk about one of the influences on his work.  Over to JH…

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning… 

First off, let’s all agree that this is one of the best opening lines to any book, even in translation. Just stand back and read it again: it seems to sum up The Trial in just twenty-one words. And the reason it manages to do this, of course, is that despite all we go on to read, we never find out anything more about why Josef K. was arrested. And neither does he. 

As a writer, describing yourself as being influenced by Kafka is a dangerous business, because of that word: Kafkaesque.  It’s come to be a shorthand for something that isn’t quite Kafka; doesn’t quite describe the combination of surrealism and clarity, of despair and jet-black humour found in his best writing. It implies, too, that Kafka’s style and themes are easy to imitate, easy to copy, when the truth is anything but. So I won’t claim any of my stories are ‘Kafkaesque’ but I do want to talk about one theme of his that has been a major influence: that of a protagonist caught up in a plot over which they have no control. 

This, of course, goes against the grain of the majority of fiction written today. Characters are meant to influence and shape the events of the story; in many stories the decisions of the central characters are the plot. Nor is this a new thing: the action of a play like Hamlet is driven by Hamlet’s personality; if he hadn’t have been so introspective and indecisive things would have turned out quite differently. 

But if Josef K. had a different personality, would the outcome of The Trial be any different? It’s hard to see how. This feature of Kafka’s writing is a key influence over many of my stories, but most consciously and deliberately onPublic Interest Story. The story begins with the central character, Joel, seeing a photograph of himself in a tabloid newspaper. Events follow on from there and as in The Trial, I don’t believe Joel could have influenced his fate one whit. 

You often hear writers say, nowadays, that they love those moments in writing when the characters seem to come alive, and move the story onwards in a way different to the writer had been planning. Not Kafka – he often started his stories at the end and worked backwards. Maybe his characters had limited freedom of movement, like cattle in a field, but they can’t alter their eventual destination. The original manuscript of The Trial had to be pieced together by Max Brod after Kafka’s death because, aside from the start and end chapters, it was partially unclear which chapters were meant to follow on from each. The structure of the novel is episodic and it’s easy to imagine events occurring in a different order, bookended by that brilliant opening line and Josef K.’s final cry of “Like a dog!” at the inevitable end. 

The inevitable end – as a horror writer, I can’t think of much scarier than that.  

——- 

 

Falling Over is published by Infinity Plus and is out now.  Ten stories of unease, fear and the weird. 

 

 

Find out more at Scattershot Writing. 

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Guest post – Andrez Bergen

It’s my pleasure to welcome Andrez Bergen back to the blog.  September sees the release of Andrez’s next novel, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa, a typically inventive and playful take on the golden age of American comics, as seen through a noir lense.  If you’ve read any of his previous work you’ll know what a magpie eye Andrez has, with influences ranging from Soviet propaganda to Dashiell Hammett to Charles Dickens; today he’s sharing one of the points of inspiration for his latest…


THE BLACK FURY: A WOMAN IN TIGHTS; NO CAPE 

 

 

Miss Fury gun

 

One of the more meaningful characters in my next novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? (to be published in September) is actually an inanimate one. 

We’re talking up a doll—which probably augers poorly for the book in question and isn’t the best advertisement for what I’m supposed to be hawking here. 

Disclaimers aside, this doll is the childhood plaything of central character Louise Starkwell, a bank clerk at the Warbucks & Erewhon Union Trust Bank, and it has a name: Tarpé Mills. 

A reason for the meaningful nature of this pre-plastic thing made from glue mixed with sawdust is in nicking its moniker from another Tarpé Mills—the flesh-and-blood woman, real name June Mills, who created comic book daredevil Miss Fury way back in April 1941. 

 

 

Miss Fury comic issue 1

 

Initially called Black Fury (a title promptly changed), Miss Fury always was the kind of label that’d snag the noir/femme fatale-inclined side of me, yet until last year I’d never heard of the character. 

This being a confession (of sorts) brings me full circle to the point where, having discovered her, I’m now paying the respect you’ll discover here. 

In a book heavily influenced by the lads’ locker room that was New York’s Marvel (Comics) Bullpen in the 1960s, as well as the California-baked hardboiled fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (also men’s men) from the 1930s on, when I started doing research into the basic premise for this story I figured it essential to shoehorn in the leverage of a woman of some repute, if only to get a much-needed sense of balance. 

 


After all, I’d grown up with tough, self-reliant women including my mother, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon, British TV show The Avengers’ Emma Peel, Buffy, Xena, even Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward in Thunderbirds. The “fair-sex” fragility inherent in a lot of American comic books leading up to the 1970s was something preferable to ignore. 

Yet I wasn’t expecting to discover what I subsequently did. 

Turns out, Miss Fury was the first female action hero created by a woman, beating Wonder Woman into print by over six months.  

 

Miss Fury 1

 

Her often risqué newspaper strips ended up being published over the next decade, with Timely (Marvel’s predecessor during the so-called Golden Age of Comics) reprinting the strips in comic book form from 1942-46.  

Tarpé Mills, the creative force behind the series, had previously pursued a calling in fashion design and also developed comic book characters Devil’s Dust, the Cat Man, the Purple Zombie and Daredevil Barry Finn—but it’s Miss Fury who’s the outstanding creation.  

Though far less travelled, Mills used herself as the model for globe-trotting adventurer and wealthy socialite Marla Drake—a woman without particular powers who dons a black leopard skin catsuit (sans cape) to confront “Nazi threats, romantic entanglements, catfights, curses, and gangsters”. 

 

Tarpe Mills

 

Drake’s character may seem a tad Catwoman-esque in light of that skin-tight black costume, but Miss Fury actually predates DC comics’ femme fatale in terms of fashion. 

When Selina Kyle became “the Cat” opposite Batman in 1940, her first swing at a costume was a furry, purple cat mask with an outfit straight out of a Buck Rogers movie-house romp. It wasn’t till ‘47 that Selina seriously called herself “Catwoman” and threw on more appropriate livery (the infamous purple dress and green cape). Still later, Catwoman’s apparel bore more than a passing resemblance to Fury‘s, right down to the figure-hugging catsuit, pointy ears and claws. 

It’s also fairly obvious that the Second World War offered a creative field day for Marla Drake and her author Mills.  

 

Erica von Kampf + Miss Fury

 

Chief among the imported problems (courtesy of the always dastardly Third Reich) was Baroness Erica von Kampf, a platinum-blonde counterpoint to our brunette heroine, who fills out the role of Miss Fury’s major nemesis. 

Incidentally, von Kampf had her own influence on another character in Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?—the throwaway ‘Nazi’ villain, Baron von Gatz 

Von Gatz is equal parts Red Skull (as perfected by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at Marvel in 1968) and the Prince Valiant bewigged bad-boy opera singer Rodolfo Lassparri from Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera (1935). He got his label courtesy of another, lesser Golden Age comic book character by the same name that fought Captain Midnight over at Fawcett Publications in the ’40s. 

Anyway, in my novel the doll Tarpé Mills fulfils a point made about what, precisely, constitutes life; she’s the memory someone shouldn’t have—and in a diabolical scene the toy’s eyes are gouged out in a “see no evil” moment. I’ll admit there is a minor degree of symbolism here, in that the real Tarpé Mills retired from the comic book industry in 1952—right before the publication of Fredric Wertham’s hysterical, anti-comic book tome, Seduction of the Innocent 

 

Rooftop Fight

 

Miss Fury would doubtless have been one of the targets of Wertham’s criticisms and the de facto censorship thereafter by the Comics Code Authority. 

Let’s put honesty on the sleeve here. 

In a book rife with sometimes overly sly comic book references and name-dropping most people will never get anyway (and probably won’t care to try), the Tarpé Mills homage ended up being one of those that meant most to me, and through writing Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?—a novel originally inspired by the exploits of fantastic men wearing snug union suits and cowls—I discovered a character of the opposite sex I now cherish. 

 

 

Miss Fury _detail

 

The female gender in Marvel comic books in the ’60s indulged in much swooning, the odd faint, and rapture over fashion accessories or handsome men. I’m looking at you, Sue Storm (Invisible Girl), Jean Grey (Marvel Girl) and especially Janet van Dyne (the Wasp). 

While Miss Fury had her fair share of these ailments twenty years before—you’ve got to read the yarns in context of the times—she possessed the rough-and-tumble aesthetic down pat beyond her alter ego’s glam lifestyle.  

 

 

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Drake also proved women could stand up to the best of the crooks,man or woman, when most of her female peers—even two decades later—were beholden to rescue by the men-in-tights running their four-colour show.  

Heck, Miss Fury’s escapades earned her the honour of being painted across the fuselage of three or four World War II era B-29 bombers.  

Take that, Miss Jupiter. 

 

 

Andrez Bergen 

 



Jay Stringer

Jay Stringer is among the noir new guard’s most exciting voices, an author whose hard and fast crime writing comes with real political and social depth.  His second novel, Runaway Town, featuring half-Romani P.I and ex-cop Eoin Miller is out now and I strongly recommend you grab a copy if you haven’t yet.  But with Runaway Town put to bed Jay’s mind is turning to the tricky issue of writing a trilogy.  Here’s the man himself…

Trilogy.jaystringer

How the hell do you write a trilogy?

We all think we know. I mean, we’ve all seen Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings. Those of us with even better taste have all seen Back To The Future.

I thought there were simple rules. First one sets up a simple status quo (whatever you want, whatever you need…) and has a happy ending. Second one breaks the status quo (whatever you want, whatever you need…) and has a depressing ending. The third one then brings everyone back together, has some dancing teddy bears, somebody invents a Frisbee, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Once I knew I was writing a trilogy I sat and studied all of these films to get a sense of how the structure worked, and I realised pretty quickly that I’d gotten the rules all wrong. Star Wars: Episode Four ends on a happy note -if you count racial segregation and restoration of monarchy as ‘happy’- but The Fellowship Of The Ring ends with everyone split up and Sean Bean dead (again.) Back To The Future has a happy ending, but adds on a teaser of what’s to come. (“It’s not you, Marty, it’s your kids.” Marty should surely solve the problem by staying right where he is and raising them better.)

I also realised that The Empire Strikes Back is not a very good film. We all remember it as brilliant. Mostly because of one moment of Harrison Ford coolness, and also because it was the first time our childhood brains were split open by a downer ending. As a story, however, it just doesn’t stand up. It’s a chapter in a serial. It relies on Episode Four to be it’s first act, and you need to watch the next film to see any character arcs carried through. Incidentally, It also shows that Han Solo is a douche. He is paid his reward at the end of the first film, which is enough for him to cover his debt to Jabba, yet by the second film it’s clear he still never paid up. He’s a bill dodger.

The Two Towers takes this problem even further, as nothing of actual consequence happens in the film. You could watch the first film and then jump to the third film, and you wouldn’t know you’d missed more than a five-minute toilet break. It also shows up some structural problems that haunt the whole trilogy; the good guys keep winning. They win almost every battle in the three films. There are no stakes by the time you reach the final showdown of the trilogy, because we’re betting on the side that has never tasted canvas.
So what I realised was that the only real rules of ‘trilogy’ that I could depend on where that there were no rules.

The ending of Old Gold had been an accident. I’d had a very different finale in mind, and wrote the existing ending as just another chapter on route to that finale, but there was a sadness and heartbreak in the final line of that chapter that seemed like the only fitting end to the book, and I stopped typing there.

But if the first act in my trilogy had already raised the stakes of heartbreak and depression, what was I to do for the second story? Once again I had an ending in mind when I started, but I also didn’t want to write a story that only worked as a second act. There needed to be stakes. Things needed to happen. And I needed to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.
That decision kicked all of the smugness out of me with regards to the “failings” of those films. It’s really hard. Everything that happens in Runaway Town is a consequence of actions in Old Gold. Each of the lies, punches and small betrayals from the first book are bearing down on my cast of characters by the time of the second one, and that has to be addressed. There are confrontations, bloodshed and revelations that need to be held off until book three, otherwise they would feel rushed.

Trying to find that balance between writing the middle act of a trilogy, and writing a story that had a self-contained arc, took my coffee obsession to a new level. The needle kept going to far one way or the other; I was either putting in too much or too little. And that continued even after I handed it in to the publisher, where my editor suggested that I move a couple of revelations forward from book three into Runaway Town.

The main trick was to go internal. It seems to me now –after handing in the manuscript for book 3- that the key to writing a trilogy is emotion. Fitting a story into the structure of a trilogy means we have to manipulate plot. We withhold things from the protagonist reader in contrived ways, and resort to tricks we wouldn’t dream of using if it was a single novel. There are always going to be plot twists and moments of physical drama that you want to hold off until the final act of the story, but book 2 is where you can wreck your characters emotionally.

I write crime and noir, so I deal in grief, deception and anger. Going internal meant ignoring the lies the writer tells to the reader, and focusing on the lies the characters tell themselves. Pulling the rug out from under. If your characters feel they have lines they won’t cross, or people they won’t become, or lies they won’t tell, then book 2 is the point when you make them face facts. Show them that their precious status quo (whatever you want, whatever you need…) is a myth.

I took great delight in making Eoin Miller face the lies he’s been telling himself. To make him relive the memories he chooses to ignore. We learn things about Eoin, Laura and Veronica that adds to the experience when re-reading Old Gold, but we also get the sense that the trilogy is not leading to a happy place in the next book.

Above all, I hope I succeeded in giving people a story with Runaway Town. It’s a book about being challenged. It’s about realising that difficult questions don’t have easy answers. A novel that can be read on it’s own, with a beginning, middle and end. Important things happen to my characters in this book, and I did it without any Harrison Ford coolness.

rt

Runaway Town is available now


True Brit Grit – the Luca Veste Interview

As if he hasn’t already earned enough good karma for the baddest Scouse bastard going with Off The Record, this month sees Luca Veste release another charity anthology for child literacy, in collaboration with Paul D. Brazill.  True Brit Grit features contributions from forty-five of the darkest and dirtiest Brit crime authors around right now, and at less than two quid you’d have to be an animal not to buy it.

Luca’s dropped by to tell us a bit more about it…

So, how are things progressing with the Luca Veste Centre for Kids Who Don’t Read Good?

Great! We have a chair with three legs and a collection of old copies of the Readers Digest now. Hopefully we’ll get a roof for the shed we meet in soon. Been tough with all the rain, not enough armbands to share around.

Serious answer, Off The Record has raised over £200 since December. Happy with that, but would like that total to keep rising.

After going solo with Off The Record you’ve collaborated with Paul D Brazill on this one, I bet he’s a tyrant, he is, isn’t he? Go on, you can tell us.

(sniffs) He…he…calls me names. Like…Beardy, and String Vest. It’s horrible.

I can’t lie, Paul is one of the best. It’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t respect and like the bloke. He’s a great guy, who I’m honoured to call a mate.

Dude can write as well. Seriously great writer.

The line-up for True Brit Grit is seriously impressive, how did you and Paul go about gathering contributors? Blackmail, bribery, threats to insert things in places they shouldn’t be inserted?

I can’t take any credit. It was all Paul’s work on that front. He must have a list of writers he has the goods on, and just works his way through. I just had to make sure the book did the names involved justice, which I hope it does.

Which reminds me…he still hasn’t sent those pictures back…

It’s an interesting mix of big names and bubblers-under, did you make a conscious effort to try and bridge the gap?

I think the idea with this was always to show the quality of writers out there in the U.K. So, whilst we have big names in there, there’s quite a few lesser known ones in there, and taking away the names, I think it’s difficult to see the difference in quality of writing.

In the introduction Maxim Jakubowski puts the Golden Age of crime fiction firmly in it’s place. Do you see the Brit Grit school becoming dominant finally?

I think for crime fiction, it’s very difficult to beat a good British writer. With the rise of ebooks, it’s proved to be a great platform for the less commercial gritty writers out there to make a mark.

Also, I think Brit writers are getting quite a few fans over in the US as well, which can only be a good thing. Shows there can be a wider audience for those types of stories.

Crime is a universal language anyway. Doesn’t really matter about the setting, every country has similar characters about the place.

Ever tempted to write a cat mystery? Maybe do an anthology of cosies…

An anthology of cat mysteries…now there’s a thought.

Cosies aren’t really my thing. I like death too much. It’s far too interesting to not write about. And death is so horrific, I could never treat it with kid gloves.

I want to do an anthology where every writer writes in a genre they have never written in before. Ray Banks doing a Lee Child style story. That would be cool!

Child literacy is obviously a cause close to your heart; which books fired your reading as a kid?

Enid Blyton at first. Moved onto fellow Scouser Brian Jacques and his Redwall series. Then, I was about 12 at the time, I convinced my Dad to let me read The Stand by Stephen King. Still my favourite book.

I stopped reading anything around the age of 16-17. Then was recommended a Mark Billingham book (his first one, Sleepyhead) about 6-7 years later. Haven’t stopped reading since.

Stav Sherez put it perfectly for me (earlier today in fact) “That’s the thing I love about books, the way they can pull you out of your day to somewhere totally different & make you forget who you are.” That’s exactly how it was for me as a kid. And still continues to be now.

And who’s doing it for you now?

Obvious answer (and always mentioned, and will continue to be for a long, long time) Steve Mosby. I got a sneak peek of his upcoming book ‘Dark Room’. An incredible novel, and his best yet. He’s a remarkable writer, paints intricate pictures with just a few words. Even though I’ve become friendly with him in the past year, reading his stuff just makes me go all fanboy.

Other than Mosby…Helen FitzGerald, Neil White, Mark Billingham, Ian Ayris, Nick Quantrill, Sean Cregan, Les Edgerton, Julie Morrigan, Harlan Coben, Tim Weaver, Dennis Lehane, Will Carver, Tom Wood, Howard Linskey, Ray Banks…I could go on and on. So many good writers working today. We’re very lucky as readers.

If there was one contributor you’d love to get next time around, who would it be?

Sean Cregan aka John Rickards. A fantastic writer, who everyone should be reading.

Never asked him as I have no idea if he even writes short stories, and the dude seems to be constantly busy. Next one, I’m just going to ask. Fuck it, he can only say no.

Or, choke me in my sleep. I’ve heard stories…

True Brit Grit is available now from Amazon UK ans US, and all proceeds go to charity.


Criminal Classics – Gerard Brennan

 

Gerard Brennan is a Belfast-based author and ex-rockgod.  His novella The Point garnered rave reviews, and his debut novel Wee Rockets has been justifiably compared to The Wire and City of God.  Gerard also co-edited the Spinetingler nominated Requiems for the Departed, a collection of short stories based on Irish folklore and featuring the creme of contemporary crime fiction.  He blogs at Crime Scene NI.

Here’s Gerard on The Truth Commissioner by David Park…

 

 

 

David Park’s The Truth Commissioner is minimal in action and big on introspection. Each of the four main characters is believable in their flaws, entirely human and utterly miserable. I’m slightly worried that they’re a depressing representation of modern Northern Irish man:

Stanfield – The truth commissioner. He’s been drafted in to oversee a vital stage in the peace and reconciliation process in which the circumstances around the ‘disappeared’ are investigated. However professional he seems, his personal life is far from enviable.

Gilroy – The ex-provo politician. He’s tied in to a particular ‘disappeared’ case under investigation but the issue seems to be overshadowed by his daughter’s impending marriage.

Fenton – The ex-RUC officer. His involvement in the investigation has dragged him out of a peaceful retirement.

Danny – A young man trying to build a new life in America. But not even the Atlantic Ocean can insulate him from his past.

There’s a melancholy running though the book. Isolation and loneliness seem to be the predominant feelings shared by the cast. They’re all haunted in their own way, and for much the same reason in the cases of Gilroy, Fenton and Danny. Little comfort to those who believe they have suffered loss at the hands of these characters, but perhaps a hint of a way towards reconciliation? Yes, we’ve all been hurt by the Troubles, even those perceived to have done the hurting. Is that the book’s message? Possibly. This one will leave you thinking.

As far as an examination of the political situation in Northern Ireland goes, The Truth Commissioner is a well-balanced and very interesting assessment. It’s not preachy and nor does it lean towards any particular political opinion. We need more books like this, and I need to read them. If you’re Northern Irish, you could almost consider it therapy.

 

– Gerard Brennan

 

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.


Criminal Classics – Russel D. McLean

Russel D. McLean is an author, blogger and international jetsetter.  His latest novel Father Confessor is out in September, but until then you can catch up with the travails of Dundee PI J McNee with his excellent collection of shorts The Death of Ronnie Sweets, or the previous novel The Lost Sister.  Russel blogs at Do Some Damage and Crime Scene Scotland.

Russel’s pick is The Privates Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg …

Although it took Ian Rankin to point it out explicitly (he’s writing a screenplay adaptation of the novel and has often talked about in public appearances), it should have been obvious to me when I first read the novel at university that, with its dual narrative and clear psychological insight, MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER would plant the roots of what would later become the serial killer thriller.

Read any novel with a killer who leaves confessions and letters behind and you will hear echoes (however weak) of Hogg’s masterpiece. The plot concerns a young man who is beguiled by a stranger (possibly the devil, but more likely a figment of his own fevered mind) into committing acts of murder and sin. This figure persuades our Sinner that he is one of the Elect and will gain entry to heaven no matter what he does. The book is divided into two narratives; the editor’s narrative and the Sinner’s own journals.

MEMOIRS remains powerful even today, despite Hogg’s slapdash approach to his work. He claimed to never know when writing one line of a novel what the next would be, preferring instead to trust in “the fire and rapidity of true genius”*. And he despised the idea of revisions. Although this makes his lesser works rather forgettable, In the case of MEMOIRS, this approach works wonders, giving the book much of its raw power; something in the intensity of the writing gives life and credence to the book’s dark, confessionary nature.

(parts of this essay were originally presented as part of the Armitstead Lecture Series 2012 – “DOWN THESE AYE MEAN STREETS: A PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH SCOTTISH CRIME FICTION and have been revised or edited for the purposes of this article)

*As referred to in the introduction to the 1999 Oxford World Classics edition, by John Carey

– Russel D. McLean

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.