Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

51FLkOS0cLL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_David Downing is the author of six John Russell spy thrillers set in World War II Berlin one of which, Stettin Station, I read and reviewed for Euro Crime back in 2009. That series is now completed so I was interested to get an ARC from publishers Soho Crime of the first book in what promised to be a fine new spy series set around the Great War. Jack McColl, a luxury car salesman, is also working  for British spymaster Cumming and hoping to obtain a full time post in the fledgling intelligence service.

Cumming is based on George Mansfield Smith- Cumming, the original C, first director of the Secret Intelligence Service SIS whose top agent during the Great War was the “Ace of Spies” Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, the man Ian Fleming probably based his creation James Bond. It has always amused me that the quintessential British secret agent was based on a  man going by the name Sidney Reilly, who was actually Georgi Rosenblum from Odessa.

The story starts with McColl in Tsingtao, a German colony on the Chinese mainland, where along with his younger brother Jed and his friend Mac he is marketing the Maia luxury automobile. McColl, the spy, uses local prostitutes to obtain pillow talk information from German officials and naval officers about their East Asian Squadron. Tsingtao fell to our Japanese allies early in the war, but this German colony left the legacy of a beer sold widely in our supermarkets. When one of his young Chinese information gatherers asks too many questions and the German officer becomes suspicious, McColl has to flee Tsingtao travelling by rail to Shanghai. 

McColl himself was thirty-two years old, and had been born into a world without automobiles or flying machines, phonographs or telephones, the wireless or moving pictures. Who in his right  mind would exchange this thrilling new world for battle fields soaked in blood? 

Well that question was answered earlier in the chapter by a supposed German water engineer, talking about the Kaiser.

He grew up playing soldiers and can’t seem to stop.

Simplistic but probably not too far from the truth.

McColl begins an involvement with the beautiful  suffragette journalist Caitlin Hanley, and the story moves rapidly on as he journeys from Shanghai across the Pacific to San Francisco; enjoying Caitlin’s company at every opportunity despite worries about her family’s affiliations and her antagonism to British colonialism. There is much more to McColl’s journey, and the reader learns about  working conditions in American factories, India’s struggle for independence, the Irish problem, and the Mexican revolution.  

This book was an easy read and there was tension and excitement in places, but I could not get over the feeling that there was more than enough international incidents packed into the 338 pages to fill another couple of books. I wondered if some of the plot, that occurring at Tampico and Vera Cruz, was added later with thoughts of an American readership. Unfortunately the frenetic action meant the characters were a bit predictable and somewhat naive, with McColl’s ability to sustain punishment and get out of impossible situations a bit more James Bond than Richard Hannay. A good, but slightly disappointing read, and I will be very interested to see how the rest of the series develops.  


I read four books in March:pickofthemonth2012

The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri

Ratlines by Stuart Neville

Murder One by Robert Dugoni

and my pick of the month, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas.

I was impressed by Robert Dugoni’s Murder One as I find the American legal system endlessly fascinating. I spent too much time in my youth watching Perry Mason.

But the inventiveness of her plots and the brilliant quirkiness of her characters make every novel written by Fred Vargas a  joy to read. 

51HrSuGfaBL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ Ireland 1963.

A German business man is murdered in a guesthouse at Salthill just outside Galway City. He is the third foreign national to be killed in a few days, and with the forthcoming visit of President John F. Kennedy young Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey must have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible. A note left on one corpse threatens famed SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny and therefore Haughey brings in a reluctant Albert Ryan to track down the killers.  Ryan works for G2, Directorate of Intelligence, but he is an outsider, a Protestant in a majority Catholic country and above all an Irishmen who fought with the British against the Nazis. Now he is asked to protect Nazis and a rag tag bag of nationalists who fought with them in the war, the Irish call  euphemistically ” The Emergency”. 

Author Stuart Neville in his fourth novel successfully blends real life characters Skorzeny [who rescued Mussolini in September 1943] , the  unpleasant future Taoiseach Haughey, and Breton nationalist Celestin Laine along with his fictional creations, Ryan, the beautiful Celia Hume, various mercenaries and Mossad agents. The Ratlines of the title are the escape routes from Europe for Nazis and collaborators organised with the money held by Skorzeny and his associates. 

We know, for example, that Martin Bormann siphoned off a huge fortune right out of Hitler’s pockets. In 1945, when the end came, as far as we know, Bormann never made it out of Berlin. But the money did. Eight hundred million dollars wound up in Eva Peron’s bank account, not to mention the gold bullion and the diamonds. We are talking enough money to run a small country.

I knew that President De Valera with “strict neutrality” had expressed condolences to Admiral Doenitz [Hitler’s successor as German head of state] on the death of the Fuhrer, but I did not know of the extent of the sanctuary and protection given to Nazis by the Irish Republic. 

The set up of the situation with Ryan’s difficult choice between his conscience and following orders is very well done. But I felt the book lost its way a bit with Ryan becoming just an Irish version of James Bond. He survives some graphically described torture, but is able to make love to the beautiful Celia despite physical violence that would put most men out of action. 

But I think I can forgive this minor weakness in the narrative and some interesting plot twists that did not convince me, because the novel is well written, tense and exposes a part of Irish and world history that many would like to forget. 

‘Perhaps,’ she said. ‘If I had known the truth of it, the Germans who promised us so much, if I’d known what they were doing to those people, the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals, I would have made a different choice. Do you believe me?

The results are in for Crime Scraps Poll no 2, and the main conclusion is that I did not list the correct countries! 

There were 36 votes cast, and very surprisingly not a single one for France [four times winner of the CWA International Dagger] or Argentina, whose Ernesto Mallo was picked by several of us as favourite for this year’s International Dagger. My excuse for not picking Ireland as one of the countries listed was that we have already had a mini hot spot there with some fine writers  such as Ken Bruen, Declan Burke, Rob Kitchin, Tana French, Benjamin Black, KT McCaffrey, Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan,  Brian McGilloway and others producing some stimulating crime fiction. A poor excuse for a mental slip up. 😮

The results: South Africa 8, Italy 7, Ireland 5, Australia 4, Canada 2, Spain 2, Germany 2, Greece 2, and one vote each for Eastern Europe, Scotland, New Zealand and Japan. 

Thanks to everyone who voted.

Kevin McCaffrey, author of the Emma Boylan crime series, has started a new blog here.   

Do have a browse round his blog because you will find reviews of his books and discover the man is a talented painter as well as fine crime writer. You can read my review of The Cat Trap here, and a review of his latest Emma Boylan novel No Curtain Call here

Preview: Absolute Zero Cool

Posted: July 16, 2011 in Intro, Ireland, notes

I met Declan Burke at Crime Fest in 2008 and realised at once that he was a very funny man. I  have even forgiven him for trying to pass me off as Salman Rushdie,  and claim a $10  million bounty from the Iranian Embassy. It is great news that his new book Absolute Zero Cool has its official launch on August 10th at the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin. 

Below some of the early praise for Absolute Zero Cool, and my own review of The Big O.

More information at Declan’s blog Crime Always Pays.

“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?

            “Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”

            Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.

            Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

Here is my own review of Declan Burke’s wonderfully amusing debut novel The Big O:

Over the holiday period I read Declan Burke’s novel The Big O.
Frank a crap plastic surgeon has problems, with an ex wife, twin daughters, and the medical ethics committee, all on his back. His golf is not too good either.
He decides to arrange the kidnapping of his ex wife Madge, in an insurance scam, and pocket the ransom money less the kidnappers’ fee.
Frank’s receptionist Karen moonlights sticking up gas stations, and during one of these stick- ups meets hunky Ray, a decorator, who happens to be also the designated kidnapper of Madge. Madge and Karen are friends and Karen’s ex boyfriend Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan is just out of the slammer and is looking for Karen, his 44, his Ducatti and his stash.
Frank is then mugged by Rossi and cop Stephanie Doyle enters the scene and develops a thing for Ray. Then Doug, Frank’s insurance broker,who is sleeping with Madge gets in the way of a golf ball hit by Frank…….
Confused no way, and I haven’t even introduced Anna yet.
Rossi’s partner in crime is called Sleeps because he suffers from narcolepsy, but I can guarantee you won’t fall asleep reading The Big O.
This book is a blunt, rude, crude, politically incorrect, raucus, rumbustious, rollicking, romp of a crime caper novel. The characters are larger than life and the action is convoluted and non-stop. I certainly admire the chutzpah of Declan in writing this, because among all the other stuff….
“He actually said he’d staple your tits together?”….Doyle thinking how they’d need to be big staples,…..
there is a lot of wit and wisdom.
That was when it finally dawned on him: it’s not the way a woman looks, it’s the way she looks at you.
And other gems:
“And you’ve trained for this? Done courses and shit?”
“Believe it. At the university of fucking hard knocks.”
“So you’re not actually, y’know, qualified.”……..
“See, this is the beauty of it,” Rossi said. “Know what kind of qualifications you need to start a charity?”
The Big O is a loveable rogue of a novel and while it is not literature you will have a lot more fun reading it than some labyrinthine incomprehensible Booker prize winner.