"Belfast Noir": Move over Scandinavia, the Irish are the real thrillers ...

Ireland’s ascent to the top of the crime-fiction tree will reach new heights this week, when an anthology featuring the country’s finest thriller-writers is launched in New York on November 7, writes author and journalist Garbhan Downey.

‘BELFAST Noir’, which was edited by Northern thriller masters Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, includes contributions from bestselling authors such as Lee Child, Ian McDonald, Alex Barclay, Brian McGilloway and Arlene Hunt.

There are 14 short stories in all in the book, crossing a wide range of genres.

Former IRA man Sam Millar, once convicted of one of America’s most audacious Brinks bank robberies, brings a wealth of black humor and hard-bitten life experience to his PI Karl Kane. Lucy Caldwell, winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Fiction in 2011, deploys a lighter, lyrical and literary approach in her story ‘Poison’.

Sometime screenwriters Glenn Patterson and Eoin McNamee serve up a series of disturbingly graphic images in their gripping, fast-paced productions (Patterson’s opening scene, in particular, is spectacularly hard to forget).

While newer guns like Gerard Brennan, Claire McGowan and Steve Cavanagh prove they’ve all the right bloodlines and that they know where to bury the bodies.

And yes, before the Nordics start crying about Jack Charlton ‘grannying’ rules, Lee Child – author of the Reacher series – absolutely qualifies as an Irish writer. His father was born in Belfast – on Van Morrison’s Cyprus Avenue, no less. Indeed, Child himself has previously described Belfast as ‘the most noir place on earth’.

Peter Rozovsky, an international authority on crime-writing, whose blog ‘Detectives Beyond Borders’ has for many years been the last word on all things noir, has been very praising of the new book.

He described it as ‘possibly the best entry’ in the entire ‘City Noir’ series – which already includes scores of volumes from Toronto to Tehran.

‘The pieces are well-chosen and the volume intelligently planned,’ he writes. ‘Its four sections recognize, not just Belfast's violent recent past but the realities of its quotidian present. Most of the stories depict no violence directly, but violence, and the possibility or memory thereof, loom always.

That's a lot more effective than whipping out a kneecapping or rolling down the balaclavas whenever the action lags.’

There is, as Rozovsky suggests here, some reference to the Troubles within Belfast Noir, though it is firmly in the past tense. And most of the contributors resist the temptation to be in any way preachy.

The book’s editor Adrian McKinty believes the wheel is finally starting to turn toward Northern Irish fiction.

He says: ‘For years the words “Northern Ireland” and “Belfast” caused book buyers, programme makers and publishers to either shrug with indifference or shudder in horror; but the new generation of writers coming out of Belfast is so good that a previously reluctant audience has had their interest piqued.

‘I've been saying for the last three years that the Scandinavian crime boom is going to end and the Irish crime boom is going to begin, and I still believe that. The depth of talent is there. All it needs is a spark, hopefully “Belfast Noir” will add kindling to a growing fire.’

‘Belfast Noir’ will be launched at Glucksman Ireland House, NYU on Friday November 7 at 6pm.

Guests to include Lee Child, Stuart Neville and a few surprises besides. On Friday, Nov 14, Neville, Adrian McKinty and Gerard Brennan will take part in a panel discussion on ‘Belfast Noir’, hosted by Peter Rozovsky, as part of this year’s Boucheron crime festival at Long Beach, California. The book will then have its Irish launch at Belfast’s No Alibis bookshop on November 22.

'Belfast Noir': Move over Scandinavia, the Irish are the real thrillers ...

Derry author and journalist, Garbhan Downey 

'Die Like a Rat' inspired by true events

Derry novelist Garbhan Downey explains how his story in the collection, ‘Die Like a Rat’, was actually inspired by true-life events.

'WITHOUT giving too much away, one of the villains in my piece dies a particularly gruesome death. I got the idea for it from a yarn my grandfather told me over Easter dinner about 15 years ago.

‘Apparently, when he was young, they’d been having trouble catching a rat in the outside toilet. So Bertie, who was very resourceful, built a self-locking cage and laced it with chocolate. Sure enough, he snared the creature and carried it off in the cage to a nearby ditch to drown it.

'But the rat kept getting his nose above the waterline. And no matter how Bertie tilted the cage, he couldn’t get it down deep enough. “So,” says Bertie, “I ended up going back into the house and boiling a big kettle on the stove...”

'By the time Bertie finished telling the story, about half the guests had left the dining table and the other half were begging him to stop. Somewhat oddly, U.S. Publishing Weekly described my story as “jaunty”. Obviously, they have stronger stomachs on the western side of the Atlantic.

'In deference to Bertie, I actually named all the characters in the story after rats (Zucker, Cotton, King and Hairless). He’d have got a chuckle out of that.’


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