From police procedurals to satires and even screwball comedies, the Inspector Devlin author picks the best from a booming genre
Crime scenes … Gardai in St Stephens Green, Dublin.
Brian McGilloway is author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin series. He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974, where these days he combines his writing career with his work as head of English at St Columb’s College.
His first novel, Borderlands, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed in 2008 by Gallows Lane. His third Benedict Devlin novel, Bleed a River Deep, has just been published by Macmillan.
“Crime fiction has taken off in Ireland over the past few years with a number of our best writers winning awards and making an impact on the international scene. If anything marks out the movement it’s the sheer diversity of sub-genres, from PI novels to police procedurals, by way of political satire and screwball comedy. And that’s not including John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series which is absent here only because it is set in the USA. Many of the recent group of Irish crime writers (myself included) cite Connolly as the inspiration that got them writing. As an introduction to this recent growth and range in the genre, here are 10 of my favourites from the past decade.”
1. The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes
Declan Hughes has crafted a superb series based on his PI, Ed Loy, winning the Shamus Award and being shortlisted for this year’s Edgar in the US. The debut novel in the series, The Wrong Kind of Blood, has, among many other things, a corking first line and an unforgettable scene involving a shed, some gardening implements and a psychotic hoodlum called Podge that showcases Hughes’s skill in handling dialogue.
2. The Guards by Ken Bruen
Ken Bruen needs little introduction. This novel, the first in the Jack Taylor series, proved that it was possible to set a crime novel in modern Ireland successfully. All the trademarks of Bruen’s future work are here; sparse, brutal poetic prose, black humour and a sense of bleak desperation in the voice of the narrator.
3. Mystery Man by Bateman
He may have lost his Christian name, but Bateman’s sense of humour remains intact. His newest book, Mystery Man, is notable for the setting – No Alibis, a specialist crime bookshop in Belfast that has been supporting Irish crime writing for more than a decade. There is a huge amount of enjoyment to be had from author spotting in the book – particularly a certain literary novelist who tries his hand at crime whilst being massively disparaging about the genre. Plenty of laugh out loud moments too, including the mention of one fictional, though strangely believable Northern Irish book title: It Was Fine When It Left Us – The Building Of The Titantic.
4. Darkhouse by Alex Barclay
Her recent book, Blood Runs Cold, continues to win rave reviews, but there’s nowhere better to start than with Darkhouse. Merging plot lines on both sides of the Atlantic, it brought a distinctly American plot onto Irish soil, while offering a dramatic insight into the minds of both the detective and crucially, the killer too. Dark, unsettling and compulsive.
5. The Midnight Choir by Gene Kerrigan
Gene Kerrigan’s novels carry a weight and depth of knowledge few other crime writers can match, born from his work as a journalist. There are no simple answers in his work, no easy demarcations between good and bad. His prose is superb, his grasp of characters and the desires which drive them frighteningly realistic.
6. The Big O by Declan Burke
Declan Burke is single-handedly supporting Irish crime fiction at his site www.crimealwayspays.blogspot.com but he is also a terrific crime writer himself. The Big O charts the relationship of armed robber Karen and her new lover Ray. Throw in an ex-prisoner looking to set up a support group and a wolf called Anna and you have some sense of a novel which recalls Elmore Leonard at his best.
7. Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty
The first in the Michael Forsythe series also boasts one of my favourite book titles, taken from the song, Danny Boy. Adrian McKinty establishes Forstythe from the start as a troubled character, struggling to find revenge and redemption in equal measure. Startlingly violent yet darkly humourous, this is hard-boiled Irish noir at its best.
8. Undertow by Arlene Hunt
Arlene Hunt’s novels, based around QuicK Investigations, examine the darker side of modern Ireland. In this, the fourth in the series, the treatment of immigrants, the fate of women forced into employment in the new Ireland, and the personal implications of an ex-partner’s death all criss-cross. Recalling Dennis Lehane’s Gennaro & Kenzie series, Hunt’s novels offer a massively readable insight into the underbelly of Irish society.
9. The Anglo-Irish Murders by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Ruth Dudley Edwards satires have hit many targets – academia, the Art world, and here, in arguably her finest novel, local politics. With a happy disregard for political correctness in any sense of the word, and a sharp sense of the ironic in so many aspects of Northern Irish life, her depiction of, amongst others, The MOPES (Most Oppressed Peoples Ever) would be funny, even if it weren’t true.
10. In The Woods by Tana French
Tana French has enjoyed massive success with both her novels to date, winning a Best Debut Edgar for this book. Dealing with how the events of the past impact on the present is a common theme in Irish crime fiction, but one which French develops in her own way. She is to be applauded too not only for the manner in which she crafts a cracking crime narrative, but also her refusal to reveal all the answers in the end.