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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.{short description of image}

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 Stewart
· Mackeral by Moonlight by William F Weld
· The Sunday Macaroni Club by Steve Lopez
· Basilica by William D Montalbano
· The Green-Eyed Hurricane by Martin Hegwood
· 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 Curtis.

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.

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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 {short description of image}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 Road'.

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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 reader.

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 titillation.

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 effect.

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 them.

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Paul Johnston and John Connolly are published by Hodder & Stoughton and more information is available online at :-



Or visit your local bookstore and perhaps indulge in some criminal conversations like I do frequently.

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