Ender’s Game


A couple of year ago, I met and got to spend some time talking to the American author Orson Scott Card. He wrote one of my all time favourite books – Ender’s Game. A science fiction classic, it’s being made into a movie due out later this year, with some heavyweight actors involved including Harrison Ford.

Card himself made a strong impression on me. To be clear, he holds some political and religious views that leave me scratching my head –  he’s fairly conservative and devout in his Mormonism – but as a writer there’s no doubt that he’s extremely talented.

It will be interesting to see how Ender’s Game is translated into a big budget movie – the main character is a small child and yet it’s a book that deals in quite adult themes. Card has apparently said that it’s a substantial rewrite from his book – but he’s smart enough not to mind. Why should he? A film doesn’t replace a book – it exists alongside the original version of the story.

When I met him, we shared a car ride for a few hours during which we talked a little about his book. I didn’t think to bring a copy along for him to sign, but with no prompting he pulled into a strip mall with a giant bookstore, bought me a copy himself and signed it. As I said, a nice guy. Sense of humour too.


Book review: Down the darkest road

Book review: Down the Darkest Road, By Tami Hoag
Published in the The sunday Business Post on February 26th, 2012. By Alex Meehan

If someone kidnapped one of your children, and you knew that they’d done it but couldn’t prove anything, what would you do? That’s the central question posed in Tami Hoag’s latest crime thriller, Down the Darkest Road, the third in the author’s Oak Knoll series of mysteries.

Set in the late 1980s when modern police mainstays such as forensics, mobile phone technology and DNA testing had yet to be become available, Down the Darkest Road tells the story of Lauren Lawton’s attempts to rebuild her life four years after the unsolved disappearance of her 16 year old daughter.

Missing and presumed dead, Leslie Lawton was abducted while on her way home from a softball game in 1986. The prime suspect for the crime was Lawton family neighbour Roland Ballencoa. Known to be a convicted sex offender, the crime fit his pattern of behaviour but despite believing him to be responsible, the police were unable to find any credible evidence to charge him.

While dealing with the trauma of the disappearance, further tragedy struck the Lawton family when Lauren’s husband drove his car off a cliff. It’s reported as suicide, but Lawton suspects her family is actually being stalked by Ballencoa.

Despite feeling sure her daughter Leslie is still alive somewhere, Lauren decides the best thing for her family is to relocate from Santa Barbara to sleepy Oak Knoll in search of a fresh start. However a few months later she’s shocked to spot Ballencoa in town and it’s not long before fresh reports start to surface of 16 year old girls going missing.

Lawton’s youngest daughter Leah will soon turn 16 and so she launches a fresh campaign to convince the local police of Ballencoa’s guilt. She wins allies in the form of FBI agent Vince Leone and Oak Knoll sheriff’s detective Tony Mendez, but as the law enforcement team begins to close in on the suspected killer a plot twist changes the way the police are obliged to interpret events to date.

Down the Darkest Road is a good example of Hoag’s work – a smart and stylish whodunit with a 1980s feel to it. For crime fans steeped in the CSI style modern approach to sleuthing, it’s interesting to spend time in a decade when old fashioned detective work ruled the day, and it wasn’t possible to send scene-of-the-crime clues to the forensic labs for positive identification. Instead, Vince Leone and Tony Mendez spend part of the story learning about the brand new concept of criminal profiling.

Down the Darkest Road is a classic suspense thriller, with a serious touch of melancholy thrown in. The central question of when and how a parent should move on following the death or disappearance of a child remains at the heart of the story, giving this novel a genuinely sad undercurrent. Hoag has attempted to create a nuanced story, one in which the bad guys aren’t all they seem to be, but neither are the good guys, and in that she has written something that has a bit more resonance and depth than the average pulp fiction crime thriller.

It’s not perfect – there are some unresolved plot points and the plot twist when it arrives is jarring – but the characters are well drawn and it’s well paced. Down the Darkest Road will keep crime fans happy but also stands alone as a solid story that non-genre fans should get something out of.

Book review: Down these green streets

Down these green streets
Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 26th, 2011, reviewed by Alex Meehan

ImageSo much has been written about the renaissance currently taking place in Irish crime fiction that it’s probably about time a book like Down these Green Streets appeared.

Edited by well-known author, journalist and blogger Declan Burke, this anthology is made up of essays, interviews and short stories charting the development of the Irish crime novel from its earliest incarnations to the present day, asking where it’s been, where it is, how it got there and where it’s going.

Crime fiction has been one of the literary success stories of Irish writing over the last ten years, but some interesting questions remain – why did it take so long for Irish authors to take to the genre, and what does it say about a society that it suddenly decides it wants to read about crime at home, rather than in far off places?

In his afterword, Fintan O’Toole describes Irish crime writing as “arguably the nearest thing we have to a realist literature adequate to capturing the nature of contemporary society” and Down these Green Streets certainly goes some way to analysing the role crime fiction plays in 21st century Ireland.

Divided into three sections — Out of the Past, Thieves Like US, and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye — the first section of the book starts by attempting to explain why the kind of hard boiled private investigator so beloved of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler just couldn’t have appeared in Ireland at the same period — creations such as Philip Marlow and Sam Spade would have stuck out rather than blended into Irish society.

Instead of streetwise private investigators suavely solving crimes and getting the girl at the same time, period readers in Ireland got a different kind of crime fiction, typified by John B Keane’s The Playboy of the Western World and Synge’s The Field.

In fact, Cormac Miller, in his essay entitled The Dead Generations, details how when one of the earliest crime authors to publish in Ireland, Reardan Conner, attempted to write stories that depicted the underbelly of Irish society, he ran afoul of the Irish censorship board.

In his autobiography A Plain Tale for the Bogs, written in 1937, he complained that “a section of the Irish and Irish-American reviewers demand that Irish novelists depict Irishmen as models of virtue and Irish women as models of chastity. God help the Irish writer who, in the genuineness of his heart thinks fit to depict an Irish villain. God doubly help him if he dares to suggest that such a creature as a prostitute exists in Ireland.”

Later on, if hard boiled crime had been published in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it’s quite likely that there wouldn’t have been much of an audience for it anyway. John Connolly asks in his essay, No Blacks, No Dogs, No Crime Writers: Ireland and the Mystery Genre, when the troubles were filling the headlines with horror after horror, who would have the appetite for a crime novel?

Connolly points out that from the author’s perspective, it’s difficult to write a novel about common-or-garden murder, the stuff of mainstream mysteries, when, a couple of hours up the road from Dublin, soldiers, policemen and civilians are being killed on a daily basis.

“Writers who may have been tempted to create works of Irish crime fiction may instead have shied away from it for fear of becoming entangled in the larger political, social and religious questions surrounding the violence in Northern Ireland, or of being accused of trivialising it by using it as material for popular fiction,” he says.

In addition Connolly suggests that Irish society was basically not a violent place until recent times, “the elephant in the room that was/is terrorist violence excepted.” Murder, that staple of crime fiction, was not something that occupied the Irish people on a daily basis and the most notorious cases were also usually solved quickly.

With so many fiction writers contributing to this book, it’s a little surprising it doesn’t contain more fiction. Of the 30 plus contributions, there are only five pieces of fiction – short stories by Kevin McCarthy, Jane Casey, Alex Barclay, Stuart Neville and Ken Bruen.

Jane Casey’s Inheritance is nicely written and breaks up the rest of the section well. It’s the story of a burglar hoping for a big score who knocks on the door of a run-down Georgian country house on a rainy night, posing as a motorists stranded and in need of shelter. He plans to make off with what few valuables remain to the aging spinster who lives in the house on her own. Needless to say, the caper doesn’t quite turn out as he hoped.

Also of interest is Kevin McCarthy’s Twenty-five and Out, which is set in Cork in 1922 and relates how a group of Royal Irish Constabulary men spend the their last few days in uniform as they wait to be demobilised and sent home to the UK. When a clerical error means there is no transportation available to bring them to the port, they decide to take the tram through Cork, knowing that public feeling against them is at an all-time high. A near riot breaks out and the men are left to make the rest of the way themselves.

Down these Green Streets is an interesting read, and an obligatory title to add to the bookshelves of any serious fan of Irish crime fiction. The list of contributors functions as a who’s who of writing in this area – included are Cora Harrison, John Connolly, Colin Bateman, Michael Connelly, Gene Kerrigan, Brian McGilloway, and Tara Brady.

Any anthology is always going to be a mixed bag, particularly one written by 31 different authors, but an interesting and accessible history of crime fiction in Ireland emerges from the pages of Down these Green Streets, and this is a book that hard core fans will really enjoy and in which there is enough to hold the interest of the casual reader.

Book review: Fall of Giants, By Ken Follett

Fall of Giants, By Ken Follett, Macmillan, €22.99
Published in The Sunday Business Post on October 24th, 2010, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Ken Follett is nothing if not an ambitious writer, and his latest novel, Fall of Giants, represents his boldest project to date.

A sprawling epic, Fall of Giants is the first part of Follett’s Century Trilogy, a retelling of the history of the 20th century through the eyes of five interrelated families in the US, Britain, Germany and Russia.

Ranging from 1911 to 1924, the book tells of the impact of the Russian revolution and the First World War on the people who were most affected by them, with the struggle for female suffrage and the inequities of the class system playing a slightly more minor role.

The story revolves around the lives of five families from different social backgrounds who are all affected by extreme social and political change.

It opens in a small Welsh mining town, with 13year-old Billy Williams setting off for his first day down the mines with his father, a rabble-rousing union man.

Billy’s sister, Ethel Williams, works as a maid in the nearby manor house Ty Gwyn in the service of Earl Fitzherbert, until a naive encounter with the earl leaves her pregnant and desperate.

Maud Fitzherbert, the Earl’s firebrand sister, has strong ideas about the role of women in society, and is keen to make her mark on politics.

However, much to her surprise, she falls in love with Walter Von Ulrich, the son of a German diplomat stationed in pre-war London.

During a society dinner at Ty Gwyn, a young American law student, Gus Dewar, is introduced to the Fitzherberts while on a European tour in advance of taking up a position in Woodrow Wilson’s government.

Meanwhile, in Tsarist Russia, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, two orphaned working-class brothers, find their lives change dramatically when one of them is forced to flee the country to escape the police, while the other gets drawn into the Bolshevik movement and the revolution.

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in 1914, the members of all five of these disparate families are drawn into the conflict that becomes World War I.

By the time the war ends, all have been profoundly changed by their experiences.

The Fall of Giants is a big book in every sense of the word – it’s ambitious in scope and physically large in size, clocking in at a bricklike 850 pages and featuring a bewildering cast of over 120 characters. (Helpfully, a character guide at the front of the book reminds the reader who’s who.)

But despite its breadth, it is highly readable. Follett has managed to write an accessible and fascinating page turner that leaves the reader wanting more, at the same time as staying true to history.

He hammers home just how momentous a period his chosen 13-year stretch of history really was – it doesn’t need embellishing, just illustration.

He has his fictional characters freely interact with key historical figures, but manages to stay on the right side of historical accuracy by making sure no real-life movers or shakers act out of character or contrary to their true tendencies.

Seeing these events through the eyes of well-drawn and believable characters is an engaging history lesson, much more compelling than any documentary or textbook could be.

However, the book is not without fault, chief among them the inclusion of a number of gratuitous and incongruous sexual encounters.

It will be interesting to see if Follett can sustain the pace he’s set through to the second and third instalments of his Century Trilogy.

With Part Two set to deal with the Great Depression and World War Two, and Part Three the Cold War, he has created for himself the kind of literary challenge that would make most authors very nervous.

That he seems, so far, to be pulling it off is extremely impressive.

Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan

Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan
Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 20th, 2010, reviewed by Alex Meehan

The key question facing would-be crime authors is how to strike an original note in what is perhaps the most cliché ridden of literary genres. Some attempt to carve a genuinely new literary furrow, while others are happy to take advantage of the literary conventions expected of them – the fans know what they want, why not give it to them?

Declan Hughes’s hardboiled Dublin detective, Ed Loy, gets to go back to where it all started in the City of Lost Girls, as Hughes places him in a caper that sees Loy travel from Dublin to Los Angeles, the spiritual home of the cynical private dick.

And with Loy, this is exactly what you get – a detective unashamedly cast in the mould of a long tradition of jaded, burned-out, West Coast investigators.

With movie studio subplots and a cast of characters drawn from both high society and street level criminality, all the ingredients of a classic detective novel are here, as Loy is drawn back into a life he thought he had left behind.

Famous Irish filmmaker Jack Donovan asks Loy to look into a series of threatening letters he’s received, all of which contain a religious theme. Donovan thinks an estranged family member may be behind the religious threats.

At the same time, a couple of young extras have disappeared from the set of his latest movie being shot in Dublin. In order to complete the film, he needs them back on set. Donovan and Loy go way back, but have officially fallen out, and Loy is wary of being drawn back into his old friend’s narcissistic dramas. A paying gig is a paying gig, though.

Meanwhile, most of the crew assume that the missing extras have merely gone on a boozy bender. However, Loy starts to think something isn’t quite right about the situation.

Fifteen years before, three girls went missing in similar circumstance from the set of a movie Donovan was involved with in Malibu, California, and Loy becomes convinced there’s a connection.

When the bodies of the first set of missing girls are discovered, Loy jumps on a plane to California to see if one crime scene can shed light on another.

Loy is also struggling to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, Anne Fogerty – and a recently released convict from his past seems to be intent on causing the private investigator some problems.

City of Lost Girls isn’t a particularly original book, but it’s all the richer for it. It’s a comforting read that toys with some very well-established convent ions and doesn’t attempt to redefine the genre. Hughes knows what his readers want and is happy to give it to them – a splash of scandal, a glimpse into high society shenanigans and thinly veiled descriptions of the fictional antics of actors and musicians.

Meanwhile, Gerard O’Donovan’s debut novel, The Priest, is an enjoyable account of Detective Inspector Mike Mulcahy’s attempts to snare a religiously-fixated attacker stalking the streets of Dublin. Recently returned to Ireland from Spain, where his infidelity brought about the end of hismarriage, Mulcahy is sunk in melancholy.

He’s back living in the decaying family home where his recently deceased parents raised him, and pondering a career that seems to be going nowhere fast.

When the daughter of a high-profile Spanish politician is brutally attacked and branded with a red-hot cross, Mulcahy is drafted in for his Spanish language skills, a move that doesn’t go down well with the inspector on the case, Claire Brogan, or her smarmy sidekick Andy Cassidy.

But Mulcahy perseveres, convinced that Brogan and Cassidy’s prime suspect is not the real culprit, and that the Priest has struck before. When he’s not chasing down the killer, Mulcahy is spending time with ambitious reporter Síobhan Fallon.

Fresh from a scoop involving the extra-marital adventures of the wife of the coach of the Irish soccer team, Fallon is on the lookout for her next big story when an anonymous tip guides her in the direction of Mulcahy’s case.

There’s more than one clichéd character in the pages of O’Donovan’s book; Fallon, in particular, is almost a caricature of a careerdriven professional woman with little time in her life for anything but her job.

But in Mike Mulcahy, O’Donovan has created a well drawn, multi-faceted cop who readers are likely to want to spend more time with in the future.

In Claire Brogan, he has also given a glimpse into the life of a character that has the potential to be far more interesting than Fallon.

In his next book O’Donovan could do a lot worse than expand on the themes of Brogan’s unhappy marriage, and her struggle to combine motherhood with a demanding job.

The Priest is an impressive debut, with a well paced plot and enough twists to keep the reader interested until the last page.

But O’Donovan is prone to hyperbole at times, and the eventual capture of the Priest is perhaps a little too overblown. Still, most of the issues with the novel are small ones that could be easily ironed out by the time Mike Mulcahy tackles his next case.

Book review: Reporting Live from the End of the World

Reporting Live from the End of the World,  By David Shukman, Profile, €15.60
Published in The Sunday Business Post on May 30th, 2010, reviewed by Alex Meehan

The Arctic Circle’s infamous Northwest Passage confounded explorers for hundreds of years, until Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully navigated it in 1903.

Once thought a myth, the route offered a potentially invaluable way to shorten the sea voyage from Europe to the Far East, but when Amundsen eventually proved it was real, it turned out to be commercially useless for shipping purposes. The majority of the route was frozen solid and, where it was navigable, its waters were too shallow to allow large vessels through.

The passage would remain a footnote in the history of Arctic exploration until 2009, when satellite imagery showed that it had melted to the point that it appeared to be able to accommodate large vessels. Dispatched to report from the scene, BBC reporter David Shukman discovered the new controversy surrounding the route that Amundsen had forged almost 100 years previously – now that it looked like it might be a source of revenue, a major dispute had begun over which country owned it, with Canada claiming the right to tax transit through the area.

The story is one of a number recounted by Shukman in Reporting Live from the End of the World, an account of his initiation into the world of environmental reporting.

Having initially started out reporting from the North in the mid-1980s, Shukman moved on to become the BBC’s defence correspondent, before switching to European affairs and, later being appointed world affairs correspondent. By 2003, years of reporting from war zones had left him burnt out. Even so, when it was first suggested that he become the BBC’s environment and science correspondent, he wasn’t keen; a self confessed sceptic on green issues, he initially felt that the job represented a step down to a field he considered dull and comparatively unimportant.

However, as the scope of the job was made clear to him and he began to explore his new brief, he became increasingly convinced of the area’s importance.

The experiences he recounts in Reporting Live from the End of the World make for an engaging read, as well as providing an interesting account of just how green issues are reported by the mass media.

One of his more telling anecdotes relates a tense exchange with a floor manager and cameraman while he waits in the wings of a TV studio, killing time before going on air. The news item concerns a report on new government sponsored research into the threat of rising sea levels in the next century, and while running through his script, a cameraman takes him to task.

‘‘If the seas are rising, how can that be blamed on global warming? How do they know there isn’t a perfectly natural reason for it?” Shukman replies that he’s a correspondent, not a campaigner, that he’s merely reporting and doesn’t have an agenda. But time and time again, he is accosted by hardliners on both sides of the great environmental debate.

When the subject of global warming and climate change comes up, Shukman finds himself continually confronted by well meaning members of the public demanding to know why, if climate change is happening, they are seeing more rain/ sun/snow/drought/delete as applicable in their area.

When he reports on evidence supporting the idea that global warming is manmade, he is accused of being an ideological believer, one of the irrational faithful. But when he presents the weaknesses in some arguments and the lack of scientific rigour in some research, he’s accused of being part of a media conspiracy.

The book has plenty of entertaining snippets about the practical issues that come with trying to broadcast live from remote islands, snowy wastelands and ocean-going vessels. Technology has made things easier, but heavy equipment still has to be carried by hand, often to remote locations, and broadcasters are at the mercy of weather conditions and environmental factors.

Shukman travels with his team to the Midway Atoll, a coral island in the South Pacific which is 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, but also located right in the middle of tidal currents linking the northern and southern hemispheres. Despite its official status as a wildlife reserve – the island is home to around two million albatrosses – its white sandy beaches are covered in rubbish: lengths of rope, shampoo bottles, computer component casings and plastic sheeting.

The island has internet access, allowing the team to broadcast a signal, but in order to free up enough bandwidth for a successful transmission, they have to ask everyone on the island not to use the internet for the time required.

This, and stories like it, form the bulk of Shukman’s book, making it more of a personal memoir than an issue driven polemic. And it’s precisely because he’s not out to convert people that Reporting Live from the End of the World is as effective as it is, and offers a balanced and thought provoking account of how green issues affect our day to day lives.

Book review: Procession of the Dead, by DB Shan

Procession Of The Dead. By DB Shan. Harper Voyager, €14.80

Published in The Sunday Business Post on March 2nd, 2008, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Procession of the Dead is the latest novel from Darren O’Shaughnessy, writing under the pen name DB Shan. O’Shaughnessy is one of I r e land’s most successful genre authors – his children’s fantasy and horror series The Saga Of Darren Shan And The Demonata are on sale in 35 countries and in 28 languages.

In Procession Of The Dead, Shan has turned his hand to writing for adults, and has taken the precaution of using a pseudonym to prevent children confusing this new book with his usual output.

The story starts with Capac Raimi arriving in the city to apprentice himself to his uncle, a once great gangster now fallen on hard times. Raimi has an unusual name, derived from ancient Incan culture, and this quickly saves his life and brings him to the attention of the Cardinal, the larger-than-life mafioso who rules the city.

The Cardinal’s tentacles are long and far-reaching, and nothing happens in the city without his saying so. Politicians beg for his backing, actors plead for help securing academy awards and popes come and go when summoned. The all-powerful Cardinal runs the city and, for some strange reason, he’s taken an interest in Raimi.

Offered a job in the Cardinal’s organisation, Raimi is set the task of learning the firm from the ground up, starting out in the insurance business. Much to the annoyance of the Cardinal’s existing henchmen and hangers on, Raimi looks like he could be destined to become the organisation’s next leader and the headman’s heir.

But all is not as it seems, and people close to Raimi start to disappear. This is not unusual in the city, but strangely, nobody but Raimi seems to notice they’re gone or even remember them. Raimi is compelled to investigate, but acting behind the psychotic Cardinal’s back is a very dangerous game.

Procession Of The Dead is the first book of the City trilogy and was previously published under the name Ayuamarca in 1999. At the time, both this book and its sequel, Hell’s Horizon, received good reviews but didn’t sell well enough to remain in print, and the third part of the trilogy – City Of The Snakes – was never published.

This time, however, O’Shaughnessy has returned to these adult novels and substantially rewritten them, drawing on the experience he’s gained as a writer in the last ten years. Aspects of the book betray its chequered past though – while the dialogue sparkles and rips along at breakneck speed, in places, the first person narrative descends into clunky and plodding description that is difficult to read and pulls the reader out of the story.

This is part of the problem that authors face when they choose to write in the first person – all events in the story have to be related via the experience of the main character. It can be a real challenge to do this creatively enough to not have the reader become aware of the man behind the curtain.

That said, in this case, the problem is forgivable, as the total package is well done and entertaining. The plot is excellent, with many twists and turns, and the technicolour cast of characters are as entertaining as they are repellent.

With Procession Of The Dead, O’Shaughnessy has produced a macabre, yet stylish, dark urban fantasy that’s more than worth the cover price for fantasy fans who like their strangeness to have an urban noir feel.

Book review: Clean cut, by Lynda La Plante

Clean cut, by Lynda La Plante, Simon & Schuster, €17.75

Published in The Sunday Business Post on September 22nd, 2007, reviewed by Alex Meehan

At first glance, Clean Cut is a police thriller of the old school.

Detective Chief Inspector James Langton is a driven London cop, hot on the heels of a gang of illegal immigrants thought to have murdered a young prostitute.

While trying to make an arrest in connection with the case, he is stabbed and almost killed. As Langton struggles for his life and then comes to terms with being invalided in a police hospice, his girlfriend, Detective Inspector Anna Travis, attempts to pick up the pieces.

She puts her career on hold to care for Langton, but he’s a less-than-ideal patient: embittered, angry and obsessed with tracking down the men who attacked him. However, the case seems to go cold, and his overworked colleagues are quickly assigned to more pressing duties.

Travis is assigned to a new murder team in Brixton and a new case – that of a woman whose body is found in her home by her 12-year-old daughter. This time, the murderer was a particularly cold-blooded type. He killed at random, and then stopped to make a sandwich at the crime scene.

Travis is drawn into the case when the killer is caught and confesses, but all is not as it seems. While making the case watertight, a suspect threatens her with the chilling words: ‘‘You want to get cut up like your bloke? Stay away from here or you’ll get the same!”

Are the cases connected in some way? Is Travis being threatened by the same people who attacked Langton?

Clean Cut is the third crime thriller from La Plante to feature Detective Inspector Anna Travis, and it is obvious from the first page that this is the work of a masterful creator and manipulator of believable characters.
Click here to find out more!

La Plante has a long and illustrious career behind her writing for television, where her credits include Prime Suspect and The Governor, and it shows in her work.

It takes skill to create characters that the reader cares about within the first few pages of a book, but La Plante handles it with ease.

The story is well-paced and interesting, with a good balance between police procedure and plot development.

The criminals are nasty pieces of work and their crimes stomach churning.

La Plante is a writer with strong opinions on the criminal justice system, and she isn’t afraid to voice them. Clean Cut allows her to vent her feelings about the revolvingdoor criminal justice system in Britain, where 67 per cent of criminals sentenced to jail have previously served time.

In the book, Travis has to face the problem of dangerous criminals released back into the community to re-offend, as well as highly-paid legal defence teams defending the indefensible.

At times, the crimes committed by the villains in Clean Cut seem almost over the top, but in interviews, La Plante has said that all the criminals are based on real people.

All crimes depicted in the book took place in real life and came from newspaper clippings she collected while researching the story.

Clean Cut is a great example of an occasionally moribund genre. This is a page-turning thriller with a strong message that is sure to appeal to casual readers as much as crime fans.

Author interview: Jason Pinter

I met Jason for a very pleasant morning of coffee and chatting in The Merrion Hotel a while ago, and this was the piece that came out of it. He’s a really decent guy, depressingly young to have achieved so much, but altogether a down to earth geezer.



Jason Pinter interview

Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 22nd, 2008, by Alex Meehan

Having won a seven-book contract, author Jason Pinter says he’s nervous but excited about the faith shown in his work.

When you’re a 25-year-old aspiring writer, getting your first book published is a big deal. Getting a three-book contract means major success, but having that deal almost immediately extended to seven books is the stuff of dreams.

For New York writer Jason Pinter, that’s exactly what happened three years ago. His debut novel, The Mark, was bought by publishing house Mira as part of a three-book deal and two weeks later, in an astonishing vote of confidence, he got a call to tell him Mira wanted four more.

‘‘I worked as an editor for five years in publishing and I saw a lot of deals get made. Usually, multiple book deals are for authors much further along in their careers,” says Pinter.

‘‘A publisher usually won’t be interested in a multiple deal like that until you have ten to 15 books under your belt and they can be sure you’ll deliver and they’ll sell. When an author like James Patterson signs a contract, it’s for 12 books at a time, but he puts out four or even six titles a year and it’s not that big a deal for him.”

‘‘For me, my deal was an incredible vote of confidence but also a little daunting because I knew this wasn’t usual. I have a lot to live up to.”

The Mark, which has just been published in Europe, features a rookie journalist, Henry Parker, who finds himself caught up in a story he is sent to report on. Parker has just arrived in New York City fresh from the Cornell School of Journalism and has landed himself the job of his dreams – working at the prestigious New York Gazette. His first day on the job starts out brilliantly when he find himself seated in the same office as grizzled newsman Jack O’Donnell, his journalistic hero.

O’Donnell is an old school newsman, renowned for breaking stories of national and international significance and Parker feels privileged to be in the same room as him. He is quickly pulled down to earth, though, when his first assignments arrive – instead of pounding the streets reporting hard news, he is put to work writing obituaries.

Parker can’t conceal his disappointment and O’Donnell decides to cut the new kid a break, promising him an ‘additional reporting by’ credit if he helps research a story. Parker’s task is to track down and interview minor mob convicts released from jail and see how their lives have turned out a few years down the line.

Henry sets out to interview young Hispanic man Luis Guzman and finds himself accidentally caught up in a shooting when a mob gunman turns up to threaten Guzman. A scuffle ensues, the gunman is killed and against his better judgement, an injured and confused Parker flees.

The next day, Parker wakes to find his own face peering out of the front page of the New York Gazette, under the banner headline ‘Cop killer.’

Pinter’s hero Henry Parker is deliberately not a world-weary anti-hero. Unlike the central characters found in the majority of popular crime fiction, he’s young and relatively optimistic.

‘‘I loved the idea of keeping the series a little different,” says Pinter. ‘‘There are loads of crime novels featuring cops or FBI agents or pathologists, so a reporter is a character that isn’t so saturated as an idea. He’s also young – there are actually very few central characters under the age of 40 in crime fiction but Henry’s only 24.

‘‘He’s not a cynical, divorced, alcoholic, world-weary misogynist – I wanted him to be an optimist, at least at the beginning. I really wanted to create baggage the reader could see and then explore how Parker carries it.

‘‘The things that happen to him over the course of the first book change his life and that’s what I want to explore in the later books – how is what happened to him in the first book going to affect him later on?

‘‘He goes into the second book having become exactly what he most disliked in his profession – a celebrity. He hated journalists who put their name above the headline – the Jayson Blairs and Stephen Glasses of this world – guys who had became bigger news stories themselves than the stories they wrote about. He just wanted to report good stories – but he acquires a degree of unwanted celebrity.

‘‘He then has to deal with former Gazette colleagues writing articles about him and trying to place him at the forefront of a new trend for notorious young journalists who’ll stop at nothing to become well known.” Now that Pinter has a bigger publishing deal, he’s looking forward to using the space to develop the stories he has had floating around in his head for years.

But becoming a publishing sensation is not something he is entirely comfortable with. Given his experience in the publishing business, Pinter is in a uniquely qualified position to weigh up the pros and cons of being touted The Next Big Thing.

His five years spent as a book editor in New York have made Pinter painfully aware that marketing a new author is most easily done with an angle – something that sets them apart.

‘‘I worked in publishing and sat in on a lot of meetings where people discussed the author’s age or looks or other aspects of their marketability but thankfully in crime fiction, nobody cares what age you are,” he says.

‘‘If you’re going to write a tell-all about the fashion industry, then it helps to have worked for Anna Wintour. If you’re writing a tell-all about Hollywood, then it helps if you’ve worked with the Weinsteins.

‘‘But you don’t have to have been a cop, or for that matter a murderer, to write a crime novel. Nobody cares – the story is everything. I write the kind of books that people judge based on what’s between the covers as opposed to the age of the person in the mugshot on the back cover.”

One thing you will find on the back cover of Pinter’s books is the kind of endorsements other crime writers can only dream about. Authors like James Patterson, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Jeffery Deaver have all raved about The Mark and obviously that doesn’t hurt when it comes to shifting copies of the book.

‘‘Eleven authors endorsed The Mark, but I’d only met one of them. Many of them were writers I’ve been a fan of for years so I was amazed. If anything, it gave me confidence to keep going and to think of myself as more than a one-trick pony.

‘‘If a reader picks up a book on the basis of an endorsement by James Patterson or Jeffery Deaver and they hate it, then they’re going to lose a little respect for that writer. So it means a lot to me that people put their reputation on the line to add to mine.” Pinter knew he wanted to be a writer from an early age, but his career to date has included a few literary detours. ‘‘Pretty early on I knew I wanted to write, but I knew nothing about the publishing industry and actually tried to query literary agents without having written anything. Not surprisingly, not many agents were champing at the bit to represent me,” he said.

Deciding it would be a good idea to see the industry from the inside, he spent his summer vacations from Wesleyan University interning at a literary agency in New York. This turned his head enough to make him opt for publishing and he subsequently worked as an editor with publishers Warner and Crown’s Three Rivers Press and then at St Martin’s.

A cynical observer might wonder if industry connections like these might open certain doors for an aspiring author.

‘‘Contacts will get you in the door of a publisher, but they won’t get you published and anybody that thinks working in publishing is going to get them a leg-up is sadly mistaken. The bottom line is that publishers want books that the public want to read. Had I written a book that nobody wanted to read, it would still be sitting in my desk drawer.”

‘‘I understand the business side of publishing better than most other writers, but I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. There’s something to be said for being blissfully ignorant.”

The Mark is a cinematic read. It’s fast paced, stylishly visual and it would be easy to imagine it as a movie. Was it written with this in mind? ‘‘I wrote it hoping that a film version might be made, but trying to write with that in mind is a mistake.”

Nevertheless, The Mark has been optioned by Irish company Treasure Films, best known for movies such as Shrooms, I Went Down and Man About Dog. Pinter says he’s thrilled about this development.

‘‘It wasn’t a carefully orchestrated campaign to sell the film rights. Paddy MacDonald from Treasure happened to be at Los Angeles airport and happened to buy a copy to read on the plane. He liked it and called my agent and that got the ball rolling.

‘‘It’s really exciting because they get what I was trying to do with the book and they seem like dynamic guys. My wife and I sat down to watch Shrooms and we thought ‘These guys have style and vision, so it would be great if it happened with this company’. We’ll have to see, though.

‘‘It would be nice to see something different and gritty done with it, and they seem like the guys to do that. But I’m getting ahead of myself – I’m very far down the pecking order when it comes to these things. They say the writer is positioned below the caterer on the totem pole of the movie business.”

Book review: A Death in Tuscany, by Michele Giuttari

A Death in Tuscany. By Michele Giuttari, Abacus, €13.95

Published in The Sunday Business Post on August 10th, 2008, reviewed by Alex Meehan

When it comes to continental crime novels, Italy’s Michele Giuttari has a lot going for him in the credibility stakes. Unlike crime writers who do their research sitting in the back of police cars scribbling notes on late night ride-alongs, Giuttari has seen it for real.

He spent eight years as the head of an elite branch of the Florence police and was responsible for jailing several key mafia figures involved in the Florence bombings of 1993.

He was also instrumental in reopening the ongoing case of the Monster of Florence, a serial killer who murdered 14 people in the hills of Florence between 1974 and 1985. Such life experience in a genre author is extraordinary and holds out fantastic promise for crime fans looking for a realistic dose of gritty procedural sleuthing.

In A Death in Tuscany, we’re introduced to Michele Ferrara, chief superintendent of the Florence police, as his attention is drawn to an unusual case file.

The body of a 13-year-old girl has been found lying at the edge of the woods, suspected of dying as a result of a heroin overdose.

Disgusted by the age of the girl and that nobody has claimed the body or reported the girl missing after a week, Ferrara decides to supervise the case personally. What initially seemed to be a drugs overdose quickly turns out to be something more sinister and a routine Jane Doe case soon becomes a murder investigation.

However, a second case appears to occupy Ferrara’s time. An old friend, Massimo, has disappeared and is now being sought by the carabinieri, who suspect him of being a conspirator in an unrelated murder.

As Ferrara tries to find Massimo and identify the girl, he has to contend with mafia heavies, a paedophile ring, a network of freemasons-gone-bad and a gang of people-trafficking Albanians.

To make matters worse, he must also negotiate inter-departmental rivalry with the carabinieri officers, searching for Massimo, and bitterness and resentment from colleagues whose collective noses have been put out of joint over the years.

Despite an over-reliance on conspiracy theories and a slightly formulaic approach to the subject matter, A Death in Tuscany is a decent read and Giuttari’s police experience makes up for a lot in terms of establishing credibility.

A Death in Tuscany, and his first novel, A Florentine Death, have been major sellers in Italy and have now been translated into English – a tricky thing for novelists as so much depends on the translation maintaining the feel and flow of the original version.

In this case, the effect is to make the Tuscan setting seem authentic and colourful.

A Death in Tuscany is an entertaining read, more than competent enough to stand next to similar offerings on the bookshelves.