I had pretty exhausting schedule the month
before our planned break in Ireland. I was rather excited in
having a couple of weeks off with the family. Being an avid
reader, one of the best aspects of holiday contemplation is
skimming the top of my TBR (to be read) pile and throwing that
impatient layer into my trusty Reebok bag. My wife despairs as she
packs the clothes for the Children, herself and I, allowing me to
deliberate on the books selected for the holiday.
I was especially excited as I had received an
email from John Connolly on the Friday before our trip telling me
about an evening with Paul Johnston to be held that coming Monday
night in Dublin. John and I had tried to meet up for a few drinks
in Dublin before to no avail, as his busy schedule had never
matched mine. I know Dublin pretty well having spent the last
twelve years visiting the fair city, and in the process watching
it develop into this maddeningly congested European Hub - though
still retaining a confusing array of contradictions.
On the Monday I persuaded my Brother-in-law
Gerry to come into town as the weather was crisp with the sun
piercing the spring air with its heat, and bestowing the city with
a glow that normally arrives only in the all-too-brief summer.
The first stop was a visit to my dear friend
Michael Gallaher's amazing mystery store 'Murder INK' in Dawson
Street. I have known Michael for some years now and spent many a
pleasant few hours talking about crime novels and the genre we
both love. Michael and I share similar former careers, but Michael
now caters for his hobby by being a professional bookseller. He
had a rocky journey in setting up Murder INK, which specialises in
US editions principally, even though he does indeed stock selected
european editions. When he set-up the store many years ago, some
UK publishers took action against him as he was selling US
editions and not their UK editions. This resulted in legal
action and a protracted court case that he eventually won. He can
smile now about the case which at the time almost put him out of
business. Perversely he is on very good terms with the self-same
suppliers that almost stopped him trading and therefore almost
closed a shop managed by a real enthusiast and a hugely
knowledgeable Crime thriller fan.
Many writers drop-by Murder INK to visit and
often to thank Michael for 'pushing their books', as he is a
voracious reader, and his enthusiasm diffuses to his customers via
osmosis. If you get a chance to go to Dublin, you really must
visit 'Murder INK'.
Michael told me that last week Carl Hiassen had
dropped by to say hello, and the previous summer Michael Jecks had
been most pleased seeing a vast array of his Historical Mysteries
on the shelves at Murder INK. We also talked about Mystery Stores
US and UK as Michael has travelled widely and like me, loves
talking to fellow enthusiasts.
I recall a very funny anecdote that relates to
Harlan Coben. If you visit www.harlancoben.com and
click-on his photo's section, you will see a picture of Harlan and
his wife backstage at a Bruce Springsteen Concert in New Jersey
with Lead Guitarist Nils Lofgren. That photo has it's roots to
Michael Gallagher and his Murder INK store. Apparently Nils
Lofgren is a very big crime and thriller reader, and a few years
ago while he was on tour with Bruce Springsteen in Dublin, he
stumbled upon Michael's shop. Once inside he got chatting and
asked about who Michael would recommend. Michael is a big Harlan
Coben fan and recommended the Myron Bolitar novels. Nils bought
the entire series for reading on the tour and really loved them.
When he was back in New Jersey (sharing 'The Garden State' with
Harlan as a home), he tracked Harlan down and hence Harlan and his
wife becoming friendly with Nils Lofgren.
Gerry and I arrived at Murder INK in the early
afternoon. Considering that I hadn't been there for around a year,
it was rather weird as Michael & I immediately resumed our
normal conversation on what, and who's hot in crime fiction. A
customer came in picking up 'The Big Sleep' for a college project
judging from his attire. This prompted a good half an hour chat on
Chandler, and I picked up a copy of Byron Preiss's 'Raymond
Chandler's Phillip Marlowe' which features a series of short
stories from contemporary crime writers such as Robert Crais,
Robert B Parker and Sara Paretsky re-visiting the character and
adding their own particular 'spin'.
I asked Michael to recommend some less well
known US authors for furthering my own reading, and these are the
books he recommended (and I purchased for my TBR pile) :-
Firstly he raved about Loren D Estleman and the
'Amos Walker' series, selecting 'Lady Yesterday' as a particularly
special book from the series. He then selected the following books
- · One Bad Thing by Bill Eidson
- · Sins of the Brother by Mike
- · Mackeral by Moonlight by William
- · The Sunday Macaroni Club by Steve
- · Basilica by William D Montalbano
- · The Green-Eyed Hurricane by
- · Collision Bend by Les Roberts
I also picked three books that I had read were
apparently pretty stunning, Rennie Airth's 'River of Darkness',
Thomas Perry's 'Death Benefits' and James Hall's 'Bones of Coral'.
So now equipped with a new selection of books, we told Michael
that we would see him later at the event 'Criminal Conversations'
and we bid him good-day. Just as I was about to leave, Michael
pressed a couple of ARC's into my hand ! Including Jason Starr's
'Hard Feelings' due out shortly.
I had recalled to Gerry seeing John Connelly
and Paul Johnston together for the first time at Dead-on-Deansgate
the previous year as the 'Two Blokes Talking Crime'. The chemistry
between the two writer's works extremely well, perhaps it has to
do with the Celtic connection, or perhaps the contrasts in their
style. The 'Two Blokes Talking Crime' reminded me of that surreal
1970's TV show 'The Persuaders' which starred Roger Moore and Tony
Paul Johnston is slightly older with a
distinctive voice and a very funny but dry sense of humour. He was
born in 1957 in Edinburgh but his voice sounds more as if he hails
from the English aristocracy. His first novel 'Body Politic' was
published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1997. It introduced his
series character PI Quintilian 'Quint' Dalrymple in a world set in
the near future, where after a Drug War, Edinburgh becomes a
fortress style dictatorship managed by a group of 'elected'
academics. Paul then wrote four more series novels featuring Quint
entitled - The Bone Yard, Water of Death, The Blood Tree and The
House of Dust. He has since written a first novel in a new series
set in Greece (the country he now calls home) and featuring P.I.
Alex Mavros. The book entitled 'A Deeper Shade of Blue' is due for
a summer release by Hodder & Stoughton.
John Connolly contrasts remarkably with Paul
coming from the tough Rialto District of Dublin 4. He worked in as
a journalist covering a varied series of assignments which
included some difficult crime cases, such as the Belinda Pereira
case which seemed to affect him deeply. This was the case
concerning the murder of a Sri Lankan woman who was found killed
in the centre of Dublin. Public sympathy which was initially high,
soon waned when it was discovered that Belinda Pereira had been a
Prostitute. In a city that is full of contradictions, fuelled by
the steel grip of the Catholic Church, it came as no surprise that
public sympathy often rests on the moral balance of the
individual. John Connolly found this absurd.
He does not come from the Irish Literary
tradition exemplified by Joyce, Shaw or Heaney, but from the
American noir and hard boiled tradition of the 1950's brought
straight into contemporary life. He is on a world promotional tour
for his fourth book 'The White Road' following his series
character Charlie 'Bird' Parker as he travels the US seeking
justice and some form of redemption following the shocking turn of
events in 'Every Dead Thing', to the gothic horror contained in
'Dark Hollow', to the religious madness of 'The Killing Kind'.
We walked into the International Bar, which was
somewhat small and smoky as people sat and drank alone, trapped in
the claustrophobia of their own minds. We noticed a sign in the
doorway advertising the event upstairs, as well as a sign for the
lounge bar pointing downward. As Gerry queued at the bar, I felt a
tug on my arm and there was John Connolly attired in a denim
jacket smiling at us. He ushered Gerry and I to join him and Paul
downstairs in the lounge and have a beer with them, and as John
Connolly is not someone you would argue with - we complied. Gerry
grabbed the beers and I held onto my bags of books. The lounge bar
was pretty small, but had a really cool basement atmosphere. I
could imagine cells of bearded political radicals strumming their
fingers through packs of cigarettes, talking about utopia and
steel-workers' rights, while in reality they were mentally
pre-occupied in eyeing up the girl behind the bar.
I like Paul Johnston immensely, and he sat
curled at the bar, fingers laced over a pint of Guinness. He
smiled and we chatted as I had recently bumped into him at Val
McDermid's launch party at Crime-in-Store for 'The Last
Temptation'. I apologised, as I didn't have a huge amount of time
that night, as I had to leave early due to a business meeting the
following day in South Wales. We talked about his last Quint novel
'The House of Dust' and about the forthcoming 'A Deeper Shade of
Blue' which starts another series, set in present day Greece. We
talked about academia and science fiction, which Paul does a
terrific job in trying to distance himself from.
John Connolly was getting interested in my
Murder INK Carrier bags as he is a frequent customer of Michael's
and often brings visiting writers to the store. He is a good
friend to the second generation Irish/American Crime Writer -
Dennis Lehane. We talked about Lehane's ground breaker 'Mystic
River' but his eyes however spotted the Loren D Estleman book
poking out of the Murder INK bag, and told me that I should read
the Amos Walker book first.
A quick scan of our watches makes us realise
that it's six pm and 'showtime'.
We wondered in single file up the narrow
stair-well to the upstairs bar area. This is again a small room,
fitted with a mini-stage and painted all in black, with the scars
of duct-tape smears on the walls that advertised rock acts.
Michael Gallagher is sitting at the back with a table filled with
John Connolly and Paul Johnston's books while about forty fans sit
in huddles around the room. John Connolly ensures each and
everyone one of us forty assembled in The International Bar have
chairs, and then he smiles and hands over to Paul Johnston who
starts the Criminal Conversations.
Paul starts by introducing us to his 'Quint'
novels, ensuring that there is sufficient distance between his
books and the science fiction genre which he labours is not what
he writes about. Paul is very witty and thanks Hodder and Murder
INK for organising this event, and they are looking forward to
trekking to Belfast for the next event. Paul then talked about is
academic background, and how/why he wanted to write the Quint
Novel's and much of this information he informed us is on his
website at www.paul-johnston.co.uk. He then talked a little about
why he lives in Greece
and the genesis of his new book ' A Deeper Shade of Blue' due out
this summer. He made some fun at his own expense on how he wished
to expand his readership from the 'cult status' to a more
broad-base. He talked at some length on why he writes crime
fiction, especially due to his early reading of Chandler and
noir/hard Boiled fiction. He explained that his first efforts were
'literary' novels, whatever that means, but he now feels much more
comfortable working within the crime genre.
The assembled crowd who in fairness were
probably not overtly familiar with his books, enjoyed listening to
him speak, and I did notice Michael Gallagher passing around
copies of 'The House of Dust' in exchange for some Euro's. Paul
concluded his session by reading from the aforementioned book. He
received a rousing applause from the assembled.
When John Connolly started he thanked everyone
for coming, and he told us that he felt strange talking in his
hometown. He said that the last time he did it, an ex-girlfriend
showed-up and sat and stared at him throughout the evening from a
front seat vantage-point. He stared at the assembled crowd and
said that he was relieved that she was absent tonight. He then
talked about why he was fascinated about the US State of Maine,
and how he had worked there in the summers as a waiter. He
recalled that he must have been the worst waiter in the state,
however he always found work there somehow. He then regaled about
serving some of the Maine 'Gentry' who came for this huge lunch,
then went to sleep it off, and then returned for a huge dinner and
then slept it off, and so the cycle went on and on. He also talked
about how he had researched the madness of religious
fundamentalism in Maine, and how the genesis of 'The Killing Kind'
plot originated. The story of this madman who in the 1800's took
hundreds of his followers to Africa were they perished was
explained in some detail, especially the madman's apology to the
stranded followers, and how mindless faith can lead to death.
John then talked a little about his love of the
Lew Archer Novels of Ross MacDonald (aka Kenneth Millar) and how
MacDonald was probably his main influence. He explained that he
probably levered too much story (because of the MacDonald
Influence) in 'Every Dead Thing' but how later he became more
focused especially with the story in 'The White Road' which makes
Charlie 'Bird' Parker wander back to the deep south again, in
search of the truth.
John Connolly explained that he was not
enamoured about doing readings, however he said he would make an
exception tonight and so he read a short passage from 'The White
After an stirring round of clapping from the
local crowd we all rustled to get more beer, and the floor was
opened to questions. Paul started it off and the first question
was quite funny 'Why do crime writers wear black ?' and looking
around the room it would have appeared that the same could be said
of crime readers. Paul talked then about 'Noir' and 'Black' as in
the works of Cornell Woolrich, as well as his own love of
Chandler. John contributed that black often signifies mystery and
a fear of the dark/unknown.
A discussion then started on why women read
more crime books than men, especially 'True Crime'. As I looked
around the room, I would say that the women out-numbered the men
by probably a two-to-one ratio. Paul explained that the dice were
pre-loaded to begin with as in general woman read more then men,
and that crime fiction has been experiencing a resurgence of late.
John agreed with Paul, and then was asked
general questions on 'The White Road'. He followed this by talking
about his favourite novel of the last couple of years 'Mystic
River' by Dennis Lehane. Paul when prompted cited George Pelecanos
as one of his favourite writers of the last few years, with
particular mention of 'Hell to Pay' the recently published
follow-up to 'Right as Rain'.
The conversation then went back to influences,
and writers with John citing Ross Macdonald, while Paul indicated
as he was a couple of years older than John, so he had favoured
Chandler who was MacDonald's precursor.
A discussion about US vs. European crime
fiction ensued with relevance to how US readers viewed amorality
or moral ambiguity. It was agreed that in reality the US and
European crime readers fully embraced these heroes; whereas in the
past perhaps US readers did have issue with moral ambiguity in the
hero, however, they certainly didn't need the black hat/white hat
to discriminate between the protagonists anymore.
Black humour can be found in John's work whilst
Paul Johnston's Quint novels lend themselves to wisecracks. The
consensus was that humour is an integral element in crime novels,
but care needs to be taken, as it is quite easy to stray into
farce, and distract the reader momentarily. Without humour, a very
dark novel could become a pretty unbearable experience for the
A final topic was the increasingly frequent use
of hard violence and gore in a novel's plot. John swivelled in his
chair, and explained that he would only use hard violence if it
was part of the plot/characterisation mechanism. He stated that he
always looks hard and fast at the violent elements in his work,
and ensures that they are integral to the plot and not for
With that John announced that they would be
around to talk to everyone informally and sign any books that
people had brought. This was a good excuse for a well-deserved
visit to the Men's room due to the Guinness that I had consumed.
On my return Gerry and I drank back some more
beer, and generally got our book's signed by the pair. As the room
emptied John and Paul invited us downstairs to have a beer with
his friends. Although at this stage Gerry and I were awash with
Guinness, we decided to have a night-cap. The PR Manager from
Hodder Ireland was very gracious and bought a round for the small
group down in the basement bar.
John Connolly kindly introduced me to his
mother and Gerry and I had a great chat about books, and how
storage is always a problem. John's mother (who is also a big
reader) was amused at Gerry when he said that the last book he
read was over 20 years ago, and was Jack London's 'Call of the
wild'. What cracked us up was when Gerry said that he couldn't
stomach reading a book now, and that he would rather stare at a
brick-wall! We roared laughing as the Guinness had started to take
We thanked Hodder, John Connolly and Paul
Johnston for a wonderful evening and headed back over the Liffey
to home on the Northside. John thanked me for coming and providing
some of the questions, and I wished him well as he was due to
depart for further promotional work in South Africa.
If you get a chance to visit John/Paul on one
of their 'Two Blokes Talking Crime' session's - you must go, as
you will discover an amusing side to the genre, but more
importantly try sampling their work if you are unfamiliar with
Paul Johnston and John Connolly are published
by Hodder & Stoughton and more information is available online
Or visit your local bookstore and perhaps indulge in some
criminal conversations like I do frequently.