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