Thursday, 24 April 2014

Peter Quinn on The Thrill of the Trilogy

Peter Quinn is the author of Hour of the Cat and The Man Who Never Returned the first two books in the Fintan Dunne trilogy.  He has participated as a guest commentator in several PBS documentaries, including the Academy Award-nominated film, “The Passion of Sister Rose”.  He was an advisor on Martin Scorsese’s film “Gangs of New York”. 

My introduction to the triune came early.  Each morning as my classmates and I made the sign of the cross, my first-grade nun stressed that the Trinity--one God in three separate and distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost--was essential to our faith and, ergo, to our salvation.  Since my six-year-old brain couldn’t make much sense of it, I was happy to be told the three-person God was a mystery beyond human understanding and had almost driven mad the theologians who’d tried to solve it.

Still, it stuck.  Three in one, one in three. The holy trifecta. In the large stained glass window on the south wall of our Bronx parish church, St. Patrick held up a shamrock.  One stem, three petals: They glowed a single emerald green as the sun lofted behind them.  For that moment at least, the riddle of the Trinity ceased to bewilder.

Over the years, as I wandered amid the thickets of secularity, I learned that, as well as a marker of religious dogma, three brought to whatever it was associated with a special aura, whether exciting (Triple Crown), silly (Three Stooges), erotic (ménage à trois), scary (Third Reich), exceptional (triple play), or sad (strike three).  Just by being three, ordinary things gained a special cachet.

When I set out to become a writer of books, I imagined one would suffice.  A historian manqué, just shy of a Ph.D., I first stumbled into speech writing.  I decided to try it for a year, save enough to go back to school, finish the dissertation, and turn it into a book.  The best-laid schemes o' mice and men”, 
as Scottish poet Robert Burns put it “gang aft agley”.  I ended up scribbling for two New York governors and five chairmen of Time Inc./Time Warner across a span of three decades.

On the plus side, my job involved indoor work and required no manual labour.  It paid the mortgage and tuitions, and included a defined benefit plan; on the minus, it was frequently stressful, sometimes grinding, and always anonymous.  Occasionally a speechwriter or two has slipped from behind the curtain and gained fame crafting words for mouths other than his/her own.  But as I saw it, once you take the king’s shilling, you do the king’s bidding, and whatever praise or blame ensues is the sovereign’s alone.

As time went on, I felt a growing need to put my name on words I could publicly claim as mine.  I got to my office two hours early in order to attempt a novel.  Having grown used to churning out large chunks of copy in short amounts of time, I calculated I’d have a finished manuscript in a year or two.  Robert Burns proved right again.  Ten years later, I left the delivery room cradling my long-gestating mind child, Banished Children of Eve, a six-hundred-page saga of Civil War New York.

The first agent I submitted it to was dismissive.  I hadn’t written one novel, she wrote, but
sausaged three in one”.  I was stung.  Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized its truth.  My novel was the story of Irish famine immigrants, the frightening, fecund mongrel world of mid-19th-century New York, and the impact of the Civil War.  These were the three petals.  Minstrel-songster Stephen Foster was stem and sausage skin.  His music is the book’s leitmotiv.  There are worse things to be accused of, I decided, than being a Trinitarian.  I stuck with three in one, and that’s how it was published.

I drew a great deal of satisfaction from at last having my name on writing all my own, so much so that I decided one wasn’t enough.  I had other stories I wanted to write.  Faced by commercial constraints as well as those of my own mortality, I knew the next had to be shorter.  Unfortunately, hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the hang of the short form, which required the precision of the pointillist.  I preferred the Jackson Pollack School, buckets of paint splashed across expansive canvases.

With the second novel, I decided to reverse the first: In place of three packed in one, one would be divided in three.  The stem I started with was Fintan Dunne, Irish-American ex-cop and private eye, a veteran of World Wars I and II, whose formal education ended in the Catholic Protectory, an orphanage cum reformatory in the Bronx.  In hardboiled style, Fin is a man who, if he ever had any illusions about human nature, had them kicked out of him so long ago he can’t remember what they were.

Fin is what the writer William Kennedy calls a “cynical humanist”.  Distrustful of all authority, sceptical of most causes, uninterested in heroics, he is reluctant to get involved.  Whatever the case, he knows from the outset that there are no perfect endings, no spotless souls, and that some mysteries are better left unsolved.  Still, despite his understanding of the futility of good intentions and the hopeless fallibility of everyone--including himself--Fin can’t help but try to see that some modicum of justice is done.  

I followed Fin as he fought with eugenicists and fifth columnists (Hour of the Cat), wrestled with the still-unsolved case of New York’s most-famous missing jurist (The Man Who Never Returned), and burrowed into the Cold War’s intricate machinations and betrayals (Dry Bones).  I’ve seen the city and the world through his eyes as he experienced two world wars, the Great Depression and the gloom-and-boom of the Eisenhower era, the rollercoaster years W.H. Auden accurately labelled “The Age of Anxiety”.

I’m grateful for our three-legged journey.  Fintan has been great company every step of the way.  Now that we finished our last caper and said our goodbyes, I’m hopeful that I’ve told his story the way he wanted it told, and that the three tales together--separate and distinct yet parts of the same whole--capture him in a jaded emerald glow.

You can find out more information about Peter Quinn and his work on his website and on his blog. You can also find him on Facebook.


Dry Bones is out now (£16.99, Duckworth)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Series Of Disasters

My name is Lesley Cookman and I write a series.  I call them Murder Mysteries; in America they call them “Cozies”.  I have learnt, over the past few years, to refer to them as such, although I stubbornly prefer to use the English and – ahem – original spelling.

And the latest of these is called Murder In A Different Place, and as I write it’s vacillating between number one and two in Amazon’s Cosy chart.  This is a surprise, as it was without doubt the most difficult to write.  Part of the problem in writing an amateur sleuth series, is that you have to invent these situations, mostly improbable, for your protagonist to stumble into murder – no choice there, every title has to start with the word.  My eldest son has come up with several ideas in the past, and this was no exception as he said I ought to take my chief characters away together, and came up with the reason – a funeral.  So off I went.  Yes, that’s about the extent of my planning.

First we (son and I) decided we wanted to take them to an island.  Not sure now why, but we decided on the Isle of Wight, being a favourite UK holiday destination of ours.  I didn’t need to do an awful lot of research on the Island, as I knew it so well, but I checked up on everything I could.  But then I came to the victim.  A news item I’d heard came back to me and I thought – yes, that could be how my victim died.  But how? Why?

Another problem these days is the short lead-time of the books and two-a-year contracts.  This
means the minute I send one off to my (wonderful) editor, I have to have the first chapter of the next written to go in the back.  Half the time I put myself in a straightjacket by doing this, because I’ve set it up almost without thinking about it.

I struggled on, despairing.  They came back home from the Island.  Then they went back – and came home again.  What next?  I just kept coming to dead end after dead end, and mine aren’t the sort of books where, as Raymond Chandler tells us, you can have a man come in with a gun.  Meanwhile, I was trawling pages and pages of online research, some of which was unprofitably sparse.  But eventually, I got to the end – or near it.  And changed the murderer.  So don’t believe anyone who tells you they knew who the murderer was from the beginning.  Because I didn’t.

I have readers who know the books and the characters almost better than I do myself so imagine my relief when one of them told me it was all right.  Better than all right.  But it’s taught me a valuable lesson – despite the fact that I like “writing into the mist”, it’s probably better to have a bit of a ground plan first.

More information about Lesley and her work can be found on her website and also on her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter @LesleyCookman and find her on Facebook.


Murder in a Different Place is out now via kindle (£1.60)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Penguin's Crime & Espionage Podcast

The latest Penguin Podcast features a round up of crime fiction goodies!  The episode of the Penguin podcast is exclusively concerned with mischief, skullduggery, ne’erdowells, and - occasionally - cold-blooded murder. 

It features:       
  • Interview between Barry Forshaw (crime writing expert, has written The Rough Guide to Crime), M. J. Arlidge (Eeny Meeny) and Jake Woodhouse (After the Silence)
  • Extract from A Delicate Truth audiobook read by John le Carré
  • Reading from Decoded by Mai Jia
  • Interview with Karen Perry on The Boy That Never Was      
  • Extract from Cinderella Girl audiobook by Carin Gehardsen read by  Candida Gubbins  
  • Reading from Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon     
  •  Oliver Ready, translator of the new Crime and Punishment, talking about Dostoevsky
The Penguin Books Sound Cloud link is here.  The itunes link can be found here.

There is also a penguin blog.

The podcast can be listened to below.




Sunday, 20 April 2014

Criminal Splatterings!!

With the London Book Fair just over a number of books are making a buzz.

Rumored to have been sold for six figures is Jax Miller’s Freedom’s Child. Miller made headlines in the European press shortly before the fair for selling this book to Harper U.K. in a six figure deal. Now the novel, which Claudia Ballard at WME represents, has also sold to Crown's Zack Wagman. Crown called the book a "propulsive, raucous thriller" about a woman in the witness protection program who "risks everything" to save the daughter she gave up for adoption. Miller, a pen name, now lives in Ireland, but grew up in the States. Under her real name, Aine O Domhnaill, she was shortlisted, last year, for the CWA Debut Dagger for unpublished writers.  More information can be found here.

Another novel on a number of radars is The Luckiest Girl Alive. It was acquired well before the fair in the States by Sarah Knight at Simon & Schuster, but its acquisition was announced just before the fair. Knight bought world rights to the book—it was originally shopped under the title Girl Ed—in a six-figure deal at auction. Written by Self Magazine editor Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl follows a New Yorker named Ani FaNelli, who seems to have at all: a dream job, a handsome fiancé and an apartment in trendy Tribeca. But, Knight explained, Ani is actually "clinging desperately to a veneer of perfection" that is about to come undone because a documentary film threatens to reveal "a violent, sordid incident from her past."

It looks as if Breaking Bad is not over yet.  According to the Independent i.e. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame is due to write a memoir.  Bryan Cranston says he will expose “dangerous” events in the Breaking Bad memoir.

The long list for the Desmond Elliott prize has been announced and the full list can be found here.  On the list is The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt (Simon & Schuster) which is set in July 1940w here eleven-year-old Lydia walks through a village in rural Suffolk on a baking hot day. She is wearing a gas mask. The shops and houses are empty, windows boarded up and sandbags green with mildew, the village seemingly deserted. Leaving it behind, she strikes off down a country lane through the salt marshes to a large Edwardian house the house she grew up in. Lydia finds it empty too, the windows covered in black-out blinds. Her family is gone.  Late that night he comes, a soldier, gun in hand and heralding a full-blown German invasion. There are, he explains to her, certain rules she must now abide by. He won't hurt Lydia, but she cannot leave the house.  Is he telling the truth? What is he looking for? Why is he so familiar? And how does he already know Lydia's name?

A painting of crime-writer Ian Rankin has been unveiled at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The image of the Rebus creator was commissioned by friend and fellow author Alexander McCall Smith.  Edinburgh-based artist Guy Kinder painted the likeness after spending a day photographing Rankin. The portrait will be added to a collection at the Edinburgh gallery which celebrates some of Scotland's greatest writers.

According to the Guardian, Damien Lewis of Homeland fame has joined Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris in the John Le Carré Film Our Kind Of Traitor.  Lewis is set to play a member of the British intelligence in the film.

The BBC are to do a new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic gothic novel Jamaica Inn. The first episode of the 3 x 60 minute adaptation will be shown on 21 April 2014 at 9:00pm on BBC 1.

The BBC are to show Happy Valley a new six-part drama for BBC One, written by Sally Wainwright and starring Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine Cawood.

Interesting article in the Metro.  Swedish Crime writer Camilla Läckberg talks about the fact that her love of crime fiction started when she was seven years old.

Sherlock Holmes is coming to London in October!  The Museum of London are bringing a new exhibition of Sherlock Holmes to London between 17 October 2014 and 12 April 2015.  More information can be found here.  The exhibition will be asking searching questions such as who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he still conjure up such enduring fascination. Also an interesting article in the Guardian where readers claim Sherlock Holmes is the perfect way to get back into the reading habit.

Congratulations go to William Kent Kruger for winning the 2014 Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction with his novel Tamarack County.  The award was given by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library.  The other nominated finalists were The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart, The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman, and Wolves by Cary J. Griffth.

Congratulations also go to Martyn Waites whose novel Born Under the Punches won the Grand Prix du roman noir étranger.

In the Sunday Observer crime writer and poet Sophie Hannah talks about the contrasting literary disciplines, the poetry of sex and the genius of Agatha Christie.

PD Smith reviews James Ellroy: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by Jim Mancall and declares it to be a wonderfully detailed A-Z guide of Ellroy’s work.

Brilliant blog post by David Mark in the Guardian where he talks about setting his books in Hull and them being too northern and why he hopes that since Hull will be the City of Culture in 2017 that views will soon change.

Hot on the heels of the publication of her latest best selling novel After I’m Gone Laura Lippman talks about her cultural highlights that are on her radar in the Guardian.  She also tracks down her ten best books on mysterious disappearances.  In more Laura Lippman news the film of Every Secret Thing is being shown as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival which will take place in Manhattan, USA from April 16-27.

John O’Connell latest thriller round up can be found here and includes After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, The First Rule of Survival  by Paul Mendelson and Treachery by S J Parris amongst others.

Very interesting article in the Guardian by Alison Flood where best selling author Andy McNabb and Matt Haig talk about the importance of keeping boys reading and the decline in men reading.

If you missed the 30 greatest TV detectives and sleuths on Channel 5 on 19 April 2014 then you can see a slideshow of them in the Telegraph.

Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph writes about Margery Allingham’s books and how the show the evolution from well-plotted, bloodless stories to psychologically acute crime novels.

According to the Telegraph both Philip Glenister (who is a friend of the author) and Rupert Penry Jones are in the running for the staring role in the television adaptation of Paul Mendelson’s crime novel The First Rule of Survival.

The much anticipated trailer for the David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has been released and can be seen below.


The film stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a journo ousted from his job by cuts, who is then accused of the murder of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) following her disappearance.

According to the Guardian actor Tom Hardy is due to play both the Kray twins in a new film about the East End gangsters.  The film to be called Legend will be written and directed by LA Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland. 

Following the news that Chiwetel Ejiofor is to play a villain in the next Bond film the Guardian have devised a quiz asking readers if they can match the Bond villain to their individual evil plots.

According to the Bookseller, Company Pictures the production company behind adaptations of The White Queen and Wolf Hall, has acquired a TV option for A K Benedict’s The Beauty of Murder (Orion).  Also according to the Bookseller, Film rights to Chris Kuzneski’s The Hunters (Headline) have been optioned by a new UK-based production venture.

Head of Zeus have according to the Bookseller has signed two books from debut novelist Clare Carson in six-figure pre-empt.  The first novel, titled Orkney Twilight, is the story of a daughter determined to discover the truth about her father, an undercover policeman, and is set in the island of Orkney.  It is due to be published in January 2015.


The winner of the 2014 Phillip K Dick Award has been announced yesterday at Norwescon 37, and the winner for the distinguished original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2013 in the U.S.A was awarded to Countdown City by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books).  The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.  The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society.