A Journey with Sam Millar


Jack Kirby, The Avengers, 4, March 1964 (cover art)

There are many photographs of Sam Millar in the press, and on the web.  On most of them, he looks rather intimidating. On some, you might even feel  a sense of menace.  He comes across as a hard man,  no mistake.  His  reputation, CV, and books, of course, do nothing to change this first impression. Or maybe they  do influence it. Nobody would wish to know  as  much about violence as he does. There is something else also, and his books prepare you for that too, when you meet him : a  dark and constant sense of humour, and a great gift for telling stories, especially stories of tough luck.  And a passion for books, magazines, and all printed matter. The journey between Dublin Connolly Station and Belfast Central lasts 2 hours.   It  feels much shorter. We have barely passed the  viaduct on the Broadmeadow  estuary when he orders coffees, and starts talking about the books he read. His father, a sailor, encouraged him to read;   himself read all the time.  Reading was a political act. When he came  ashore, back to Belfast, he brought books.   From America, he used to bring him Comics;  Marvel, DC Comics, stories of heinous villains and  of superheroes fighting for justice. Sam grew up during the early period of the troubles  in Northern Ireland, reading  Detective Comics made in New York.  The Civil rights movement and the tail end of the silver age of Marvel comics might  have seemed to intersect, not only historically, but at some distant, ideal point.

Fast forward 40 years or so, and Sam, now an acclaimed playwright and writer of  detective stories, is  officially the most controversial Irish Noir author. His P.I character, Karl Kane, I realise, is an avenger; his ethics owe as much to Chandler as to a comics superhero code, where right and wrong are starkly contrasted. This is   probably why his books sit uneasily with other representatives of the Irish Noir. While most contemporary, post good Friday agreement Irish Crime Fiction favours a  sort of  consensual relativism, Sam Millars’ recall that there have been  true political beliefs, too.  That actions were led by systems of thought, and that for some, the idea of right was more than just another moment of wrong. His views result in his books being  met with a measure of reticence in some corners of Northern Ireland, the  UK, and even in the Republic of Ireland, where they are published.  At the  same time, Millar’s account on the legacy of dread left by the troubles is what makes the books so noir. It is one of the reasons why they have found such an echo abroad, in France, and in Germany. Like Chester Himes, Sam Millar  has had to advance as a  noir author on the international literary field, to gain the liberty  to discuss domestic politics in his own terms.


Sam Millar, Les Chiens de Belfast, Translation Patrick Raynal, Paris, Le Seuil, 2014


Sam Millar, Le Cannibale de Crumlin Road, Translation Patrick Raynal, Paris, Le Seuil, 2015


Sam Millar, On the brinks, Translation Patrick Raynal, Paris, Le Seuil, 2013


Sam Millar , Die Bestien von Belfast: Ein Fall für Karl Kane 1, Translation :  Joachim Körb, Atrium Verlag, Hamburg, 2013 (original, Bloodstorm, 2008).

Sam Millar,  Die satten Toten. Ein Fall für Karl Kane, 2, Zürich : Atrium-Verl, 2013


 Sam Millar, Die kalte Kralle : Ein Fall für Karl Kane, 3, Translation,  Joachim Körber,   Zürich : Atrium Verlag,  2014




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