Irish Crime Fiction

The Undiscovered Country

Aidan McQuade, The Undiscovered Country, London, Undercover, 2020

An Interview with Aidan McQuade

Dominique Jeannerod: I have just recently read your novel, The Undiscovered Country. I have loved it and I keep recommending it to friends. Could you please say a word on the title?

Aidan McQuade: As I was writing the book I went to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, which has become quite celebrated, with Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet. That particular production impressed on me the devastation that revolutions can inflict on innocents, like Ophelia, who through no fault of her own, gets caught up in the machinations. That was an echo of the play I wanted to catch in my book. 

The title, of course, comes from the “to be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet. For Hamlet “the undiscovered country” is death, which made it, I thought, an apt title for a book about a murder. But it had the additional resonance, I thought, for the characters who were fighting for the establishment of another undiscovered country: a future Irish Republic.

 I found your novel very cinematic. Maybe because of the strong presence of the characters and the dialogue. But also because it is set at a time which has, so far, been more represented in films than in Irish Crime Fiction.  Your novel is set roughly at the same time as Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins and Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.  And like in John Ford’s adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer, there is a sense of threat, suspicion and even paranoia linked to the presence of informers. How important was the choice of time period for you when writing this novel? And what were your points of reference – not only in historiography (you mention some key monographs in your acknowledgments), but also in fiction ? Were there also influences you deliberately wanted to reject? 

Very kind of you to say you felt the novel was very cinematic. The film rights are still available if Neil Jordan or Stephen Spielberg is reading. 

I suppose I had an interest in war forced upon me as a child growing up in South Armagh during the Troubles. That probably contributed to my choice of profession – working in community development and humanitarian response in various parts of the world, many of them in conflict or post-conflict. That, in turn, deepened my interest in war, to better enable me to do my job, which included planning humanitarian operations for war-displaced people and managing staff security in Angola, for example.

So, I think I’ve wanted to write about war for quite a while. But, I felt, it would have been highly presumptive of me to place such musings in a context like Angola, a country that I love but which I simply don’t have the same depth of knowledge that I have for my own country.  My interest in the Irish war of independence has, almost, been life-long, certainly since my teenage years, and it seemed to be a context that provided the opportunity for ruminations and reflections that transcended their geographical and historical specificities and relate more generally to the human condition. 

I also wanted to write about the morality of war in a way that people might read. And there are, of course, plenty of fiction writers who have shown just how that can be done in crime or thriller genres. The best Graham Greene – sometimes even the worst Graham Greene – is always about something more than the dynamics of the plot. The same can be said for Eric Ambler and Raymond Chandler and their reflections on the morals of their honest, often tarnished, protagonists in corrupt worlds. One of the great modern exemplars of that was, of course, Philip Kerr, who turned that idea all the way up to eleven with his Bernie Gunther novels – the bruised and brutalised gumshoe who did his best to find some modicum of justice amid the horrors of Nazi Germany. 

The novel opens with a note discussing the archival status of the (fictional) text. How accurate did you want your novel to be as a document and to what lengths did you go to ensure this? 

I’m sure professional historians of the period will find plenty of errors. But I wanted it to be as rooted in the historical evidence as I could make it. So, I read widely in the history of the time, including the published personal accounts of IRA commanders such as Ernie O’Malley, Tom Barry and Michael Brennan, and other personal accounts in the Bureau of Military History, including Cahir Davitt’s account of his experiences as a Republican Court judge. 

I only allowed myself one deliberate historical anachronism: an approach to prisoner management, that, according to a Sunday Times Insight Team report from the 1970s, was first used by the British Army in Korea, but was put into practice by the IRA in their raid on Hazebrouck Barracks in England in 1955. In my book an enterprising IRA officer already knows the approach in 1920. 

The absence, or the suspension of the Rule of Law in the exceptional circumstances of war time is very strikingly described in The Undiscovered Country. To what extent did this suspension, and the possibility to describe a sort of Hobbesian world of unfettered aggression, motivate you to set your novel during the Irish War of Independence ? 

I quote Cicero at one point during the book: “In times of war, the laws fall silent.” There was certainly truth of that during the Irish war of Independence and some took it as a carte blanche knowing that there would be no recourse for any of their excesses. In his book On Another Man’s Wound, Ernie O’Malley described how he murdered three British prisoners close to the end of the war of independence. And of course the term “Black and Tan” is still a by-word for unfettered brutality. 

But many take the opportunity of the silence of laws to abuse their power in every other conflict in human history. At this very moment Vladimir Putin has torn up swathes of international law to allow him to wage unfettered war against Ukraine. So in that regard I hope that readers will recognise that in my book the Irish war of Independence is an exemplar for all wars. 

Did the prospect of shedding light on less heroic aspects of the Irish War of Independence worry you, or were you encouraged by the prospect of contributing to a counter-history of this period, of giving a fuller picture, away from the national celebrations? 

The War of Independence, certainly in nationalist Ireland, is generally regarded as a just war, including amongst those who repudiate the Provos’ campaign. But one of my characters, Eamon, says at one point, “Even a just war is an evil thing.” So while there are particular resonances of that insight with Irish history and contemporary politics, it is again, I think, an important general point. It is particularly so when you see war nostalgists in Britain and Ireland treating their favoured conflicts as if they are things to be celebrated and those who fought in them as moral paragons, irrespective of what they have actually done.  

Your two main protagonists are both educated and political. They are literary, and socially-minded. How representative did you want them to be of young IRA volunteers around 1920? 

The IRA of 1920 was a mixed bag regarding class and education and indeed politics. There were socialists and conservatives, and a few who, it transpired in later years, were proper fascists. Certainly the majority would have been rural and urban working class people. But there were more middle-class volunteers too. Ernie O’Malley, for example, had been a medical student and would tramp across Ireland with the Flying Columns with a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his back pocket. 

The character of Eamon in my book has got his senior certificate from secondary school, but he is mostly an autodidact. So there is a hint of Abraham Lincoln about him: a person who has decided not to allow his lack of formal education from enabling him to learn. 

It is their love of books that is the foundation of the two characters’ friendship. So, it is the fact that these two are a bit less representative of the mass of IRA volunteers of the time which I hope and think makes the nature of their friendship credible.

By contrast, the novel shows two characters invested with the highest authority, military and spiritual, as very questionable individuals, to say the least. How would you describe the IRA commander and the Parish priest?  

One of the themes I wanted to convey in the book was that unchallenged power corrupts. It is that, I think, rather than any particular individual’s role in any particular structure or organisation that poses the greatest threat to the vulnerable. 

It is this moral imperative to find the truth and challenge power that draws my third protagonist, Sophia into the orbit of my other two. As the writing evolved she became, in my mind, very much the moral centre of the book. 

While the corruption of the figures of authority might evoke Hammett, their language and that of all the other protagonists, certainly evokes Chandler in their use of a hard-boiled vernacular.  How important is this deliberate nod to the conventions of the genre for their characterisation? 

I suppose what have become conventions of the crime genre now were not conventions when Hammett and Chandler first used them. Then they were seen as sometimes shocking and, particularly Hammett, cynical. But I think they were trying to write their truths in a way that stripped away certain myths and engaged readers to think anew about their contemporary society, particularly how power, and corruption, worked in their contemporary world. 

So, even though mine is a historical novel, like Chandler and Hammett, I wanted the readers to think anew about certain things that they maybe would otherwise take for granted, and to do it in a way that would engage and entertain my readers. 

With my dialogue I was trying to write something that was true to my experiences of the stresses of life and work during wartimes. Some people have found the coarseness of some of the language problematic. But there is nothing there that I did not learn in the playground of Belleeks primary school in the 1970s. I reasoned that this was probably the way that people had talked for decades, probably longer. Indeed, in Hamlet, Shakespeare has been accused of using the filthiest pun in all of English literature.

How likely are characters such as Jack O’Riordan, the battalion commandant, to have been able to act, without checks and balance and in all impunity at the time? And during subsequent campaigns of the IRA, throughout the 20th Century?  

Certain IRA commanders, and later, National Army officers, committed atrocities during the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War. But many did not. A lot depended on the choices of individual commanders and there was little sanction if there were excesses committed. During the War of Independence Collins and Mulcahy were keen to get action going everywhere and do not appear to have been too critical of any excesses that transpired. During the Civil War the provisional government were quite indulgent of National Army excesses as they were aware that the National Army was the only thing that was keeping the Irish Free State from tipping into the status of failed state.  

In Ireland still some sections of the Loyalist community venerate war criminals from their community, and some sections of the nationalist community will immediately resort to whataboutery when reminded of revolting atrocities committed by “republican” paramilitaries. But again these things, distasteful as they may be, are not exceptional. Recently in Britain we had the spectacle of Theresa May, when she was Prime Minister, promising that no British soldier would ever be held accountable for breaches of basic international standards of human rights. And Boris Johnson has moved to grant British soldiers immunity for any atrocities they were involved in during the Troubles. 

Some people can’t help themselves when it comes to romanticizing war and indulging those who wage it. 

You mention Elmore Leonard as a stylistic influence. Are there other authors, especially in Crime Fiction who were important inspirations in general and at the time of writing?  

Leonard, Greene, Chandler and Philip Kerr were certainly big influences on what I have written. Since completing The Undiscovered Country I have discovered Mick Herron and am in awe of what a superbly grotesque anti-hero he has created in Jackson Lamb. I’m trying to work out if I can emulate some element of that magic in my future work. 

Maybe because you have, like Jonathan Littell, worked for a long time for Humanitarian NGOs before writing your novel, I thought frequently, reading it, of his brilliant, Goncourt Award winning The Kindly Ones. Not least for the amount of cultural references in both your books. Littell’s SS officer was reading Blanchot, and your IRA detectives have read Freud. How likely was this in 1920s Ireland and did you look at Freud’s reception in Ireland in order to make a point?  

I didn’t look at Freud’s reception in Ireland… and now you make me wish I had! I thought that it would not be unreasonable for a character like Mick in my book, the former student, to have come across something by Freud during his hours in the library, but, being a very young man, to have been shocked by anything he might have read. 

Mick and Eamon’s shared reading does cover Shakespeare and some of the Greek Tragedians. There is a small echo of Friel’s Translations here, and its depiction, historically accurate, of the study and opinionated debate of Latin and Greek classics in such establishments. 

I know, like Eamon and Mick, I still talk about books down the pub, including classics, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. (Some of the most important conversations in history about literature down the pub occurred when Seamus Heaney and Co. used to meet in the Bottom Bar in Queen’s Student Union to discuss poetry. I hope at least some Queen’s students are still doing that.)

I’ve only recently come across Jonathan Littell and haven’t read anything by him yet, though I am looking forward to. Certainly, my experience in humanitarian work, for many years in many different parts of the world, was the only thing to do in the evening was to read. So I amassed a considerable chunk of reading during those years. I imagined the same to be the case for people like my character Eamon, returned to Ireland after years in the trenches. As George McDonald Fraser describes in his memoir of the war in Burma, a lot of reading would be done, Shakespeare included, by men of all ranks between the battles. 

When did you write the novel and how long did it take to write? And to be published? 

I stopped and started writing a couple of times, and completed the first draft over the course of about a year. The publication was a more tortuous process: I published with Unbound, which is a subscription model of publishing. So effectively I had to market the book before it was published. That took about two years.

The novel remains slightly open-ended and the reader is able to decide whether there has been an even bigger betrayal than the one seen by the two young detectives. This serves to highlight the unlikeliness for justice ever to be served in these precarious times, but could also suggest that the deception from the religious powers might be even greater than the violence meted out by the IRA. This could also open the door to a sequel, in which the character of the priest is revealed more fully even?  

I don’t want to say too much about the ending, but one of the things that I wanted to convey is that once you start shooting you can never be too sure that it is only the guilty that get hurt. 

 Are you working on a new novel at the moment ? 

I have spent most of the last year writing a professional book, Ethical Leadership, which is due out in June 2022. So that has rather interrupted my fiction writing career. But now I am working again on a sequel to The Undiscovered Country, tentatively entitled Some Service To The State. It is 1925 and Mick is just out of jail in Northern Ireland. He’s contacted by a figure from his past who asks his help in trying to trace a missing girl…

Thank you ! 

It has been an absolute pleasure!

The Christmas List

By Sharon Dempsey

He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

Since we are in the throes of another quasi-lockdown, and with Christmas shopping in mind, I thought I’d blog about my favourite reads of 2020, the year that shall never be named henceforth. While we battled a pandemic – every dystopian novel I have ever read seemed to come alive before my very eyes – books were my go-to safe place. As a child of the Troubles I was used to seeking refuge in between the pages of prose. During the seventies I lived in Enid Blyton safe places of ginger beer, bouncy heather beds, caves and coves and boarding schools. Come the eighties I progressed to Stephen King and a different type of horror while Belfast blazed around me. While the world burned, I have found my reading time has decreased – but hey ho we’re in the midst of a pandemic and have probably experienced the most important election American has ever seen. Yet, still I have found solace in my beloved crime fiction genre, reaching for old favourites and finding new loves among the face masks and hand sanitiser.

Here’s my recommended reads from the latter half of 2020:

I read True Story by Kate Reed Petty during the hottest summer week and loved it for being inventive in from and its meditation on what it means to reclaim your own narrative following sexual assault.

Chris Whitaker’s, We Begin at End, near enough broke me during the first lockdown. A murder mystery with a big heart and an unforgettable heroine in the form of Duchess Day Radley ( my kids should be relieved that they already exist for I would have named one of them after Duchess) is the kind of book that transports you and makes you feel on a whole new level.

One of my all-time favourite writers, Tana French, has gifted us The Searcher, a much-lauded mystery set in Ireland that offers both atmospheric and character-driven storytelling driving towards a devastating ending.

Northern Irish crime fiction has a huge place in my heart so in no particular order these guys distracted me through the great toilet roll rush of 2020: Kelly Creighton, with special mention for Problems with Girls, a sharp, insightful read that has made me hunger for more DI Harry Sloane.

Brian McGilloway’s The Last Crossing, a book that made me ache for the sins of our past and reminded me what Northern Irish crime fiction does best – calls the ghosts of the past to account for their sins.

Claire Allan with Ask No Questions (coming to a bookshop near you soon) a lose yourself in the dead of the night type read that showcases the character of journalist Ingrid Devlin and has a heart-racing dénouement that made me gasp.

The Traveller by Stuart Neville, a collection of short stories and a novella that oozes the macabre and tingles with horror just below the surface.

Other notable releases in 2020 were Steve Cavanagh with the pulsating Fifty-Fifty, taking Eddie Flynn to a whole new twisty level. The Chain by Adrian McKinty was a plot-propelled exploration of chain styled kidnappings. Liz Nugent’s My Little Cruelties showcases her trademark style and preforms a psychological autopsy of the worst of human nature.

My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a disturbing book exploring a relationship between a teacher and his student, which I listened to on audio book while on my lockdown walks.

Coming this month, Anthony Quinn’s Turncoat promises to be haunting and unsettling, and is set on the pilgrim island of Lough Derg and I am looking forward to reading it.

Shout out also to NI crime fiction comrades Simon Maltman who published Witness, James Murphy who concluded his Terror trilogy with Dark Light, and Catriona King who is on her twenty-fourth Craig Crime Series novel.

What’s to come: Looking to 2021 I can promise you that there are some amazing books waiting in the wings.

I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of Abigail Dean’s Girl A and believe me, it lives up to the hype. Part true crime feeling and memoirish it takes the reader to place of pure darkness that is impossible to turn away from. 

Jane Harper returns with The Survivors, a book that promises to consolidate her as one of the best crime writers around.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn asserts itself to be the Mean Girls of our time with a college reunion, slick with secrets. I am really looking forward to reading it.

Kate Bradley’s forthcoming book, What I Did is an addictive and emotional psychological thriller about the darkest family-held secrets. I had a proof copy of this intense, heart-racing story and it kept me reading through the night. The Shadow Man by Helen Fields, claims to be a tightly plotted tale of obsession and manipulation, and is out in February.

The Last House on Needless Street claims to be the Gothic thriller of 2021 with Stephen King declaring it ‘a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end. [I] haven’t read anything this exciting since Gone Girl.’ Yeah, I’m sold Stephen so if Viper want to send me a proof copy, as an early Christmas present, I’m waiting beneath the tree.

Also look out for Who Took Eden Mulligan? my new release in Spring 2021, with Avon Harper Collins, described as ‘Readable. Addictive. Edgy. Intelligent,’ and ‘a crime novel that is as insightful as it is addictive.’

An Interview with Declan Burke for the Launch of “The Lammisters”

[Dominique Jeannerod] How did you come to write The Lammisters? 

[Declan Burke] “The very first inkling came to me in Dungannon, as it happens, when I was teaching a one-day course on crime fiction writing. I was going through a list of what aspiring writers should and shouldn’t do when it occurred to me that I was interfering with the attendees’ most precious resource, their imaginations. There and then I decided I was going to write a book that broke every rule I was ever taught. That’s not strictly possible, of course, but it did give me a huge amount of freedom to write whatever I wanted to, and especially when I quickly realised that no one would ever want to publish the book I was writing.”

What was your original idea?

“I usually start with a setting, and then begin to people it with characters, and then give them a story to work with. I’d always wanted to set a book in Glenveagh Castle, in Donegal – it’s a beautiful setting, and I was fascinated by the idea that, in the 1930s, artists of all kinds would come from all over the world to stay at Glenveagh (Greta Garbo was probably the most famous). And I’d recently fallen head-over-heels for the work of PG Wodehouse, who I’d only very belatedly discovered. So the original and very vague idea was for a Jeeves and Wooster-style story set in Glenveagh; but when I sent my Bertie Wooster, aka Sir Archibald l’Estrange-B’stard, to Hollywood to bring a few movie stars back to Donegal, Archie refused to come back. And so The Lammisters is set in Hollywood, in 1923, amid the bootleggers, film stars and movie moguls of the Prohibition Era …”

John Connolly, with whom you co-edited a few years ago what I consider the best anthology of world crime fiction (Books to Die For, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) has recently devoted a book to Stan Laurel. Now you are exploring Hollywood in 1923 and portraying  characters, real or invented, representing that mystique, like Cecil B. DeMille and “Vanessa Hopgood”.  What is it that fascinates you both with early Hollywood Cinema?

“I can’t speak for John, of course – I loved his Stan Laurel book He, by the way; a quiet masterpiece, I think – but I’ve always loved the classic movies. I’ve earned a living as a film critic for 25 years now, and I’ve always been fascinated not just by the films of Hollywood, but Hollywood itself. And especially early Hollywood, which was a true melting-pot. Anyone who has read Gore Vidal’s Hollywood or Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, say, knows that Hollywood was never just about making movies – it was about myth-making, and the unholy alliance of money, politics and culture. A heady brew. Also, I love the idea that silent cinema was not only obliged to communicate increasingly complex stories without dialogue, but that that very absence of dialogue allowed the movies to appeal to a global audience.”

Who is the inspiration for the mysterious Vanessa Hopgood ? Is it Clara Bow?

She isn’t really based on any one person. More a hazy ideal of what the platonic ideal of a Flapper movie star might be. In the back of my mind she’s very similar to the young Norma Desmond, before she got old and the screens got too small …

Is it fair to say that in that book you have sought to bring together both your experience as a literary critic and as novelist? 

“It certainly is fair to say that, although it’s probably fair to say that that’s true of most of my books (and probably everyone’s books) – it’s impossible, I think, when you’re writing, not to respond, consciously or otherwise, to whatever it is that constitutes your reading. That said, The Lammisters is far more influenced by what I might call my extra-curricular reading, or the reading that isn’t commissioned for review. Over the last four or five years I’ve been reading back into the past, and discovering, or in some cases rediscovering, writers like Dickens and Austen, and Cervantes, and Henry Fielding, and totally falling in love with literary styles that might be considered outmoded today. The Lammisters is a comic novel, and I loved the incongruity of hardboiled gangsters and movie stars talking to one another as if they’d just stepped out of Pride and Prejudice, or Tristram ShandyThe Lammisters’ style is also, I guess, a commentary of sorts on the way the language of public discourse, and certainly at the political level, has been debased and upended and turned inside-out over the last decade or so. But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.”

What interested you more in the process? Telling a great story or almost forensically dismantling the art of storytelling? 

“This question made me laugh out loud. It’s always terrific fun to write a new story, and to try to make it as original as you can – I’m still a little bit awestruck by the idea of creating something from nothing. With The Lammisters, I didn’t set out to tell a story about telling a story; that was just the way it evolved. The story is told by a narrator who has been abandoned by his author and left to his own devices, and so the narrator is keen to prove his credentials by reminding the reader about the various aspects of the storytelling craft. Sadly, the narrator has yet to learn that less is more …”

I remember meeting with you in the IFI in  Dublin, after the publication of The Lost and the Blind (2015): you were saying how much this book had taken from you and even considering it might be your last novel. How did the writing of The Lammisters happen in that context?

“You’re right, Dominique – I did feel very drained after writing The Lost and the Blind: it was a pretty traumatic year, personally and professionally, and that book was the one that gave me the least pleasure when I was writing it. And as far as I was concerned, at the time, if I wasn’t having fun, then there was no point to writing. The Lammisters was the complete antithesis to that – I wanted to write a book purely for myself, that wasn’t written according to any genre conventions, or any deadlines, or anyone’s expectations. And I wanted it to be fun, because it seemed to me – as a result of Brexit, for example, and Donald Trump’s election, and what seems like the inexorable rise of far-right extremism, with its racism and antisemitism – that the world was becoming a darker place. I wanted to be able to cheer myself up on a daily basis. The book certainly delivered on that front.”

How much does this new book still owe to Crime Fiction? 

“Well, it’s a comic novel, and I’d hate for any crime fiction reader to pick up and feel cheated by the fact that the story plays very fast and loose with the expected conventions. That said, I love the crime novel, in virtually all its variations, so there’s certainly elements of crime fiction involved – the characters go on the lam, as the title suggests, and one of the main characters is not only a bootlegger and a bank robber but the terror of all right-thinking Republicans everywhere. The Lammisters isn’t a crime novel; but I don’t think I’d have been able to write it if I hadn’t written my crime novels first.”

Are there shadows of Crime authors you felt looming in particular over the book? 

“Definitely, yes. The first writer I fell madly, deeply and hopelessly for was Raymond Chandler, because of his language, his style. I’ve always said that if Chandler had written science fiction, or romantic fiction, I’d probably have ended up writing that. So Chandler’s hardboiled style is an important jumping-off point for The Lammisters. But I also love crime writers with a comic sensibility – Carl Hiaasen, Barry Gifford – and there’s no doubt that their approach is a factor too.”

You are a keen reader and commentator of European Crime Fiction: what are your main discoveries in that area over the past few years? 

“It’s been mainly Scandinavian reading for the past while, I’m afraid. One of my recent discoveries – and apologies if this is old news to anyone – is Antti Tuomainen, who reads a lot like the Finnish Elmore Leonard. Again, it’s blackly comic crime fiction, which I adore. I read Stina Jackson’s The Silver Road earlier this year, and I thought it was a superb meditation on grief. I thought Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth was a flawed but very interesting contemporary take on Shakespeare, although my favourite of the Norwegian writers – of any of the Scandinavian crime novelists – is Karin Fossum. Her The Drowned Boy is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade, in any genre. Of the non-Scandinavian writers, David Torrans introduced me recently to Pascal Garnier, who is superb; and Hannah’s Dress, by Pascale Hugues, is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years.”

To what European authors do you feel more related, and at what level? 

“This is a bit of a loaded question, I think, because once I start naming writers it’s going to sound like I’m comparing myself to them, which is certainly not my intention. If I can put it like this: I love reading Umberto Eco, and especially his wilder flights of fancy (Baudolino, say), because it seems to me as if he cares very little for any rules or regulations of writing. The same applies to Italo Calvino – when I read If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller many years ago, it made a huge impression on me. I guess I’ve always loved writers who are prepared to take chances, to go beyond the accepted and the expected – as a young man, for example, I loved Milan Kundera’s books, because they seemed to challenge everything I had read up to that point.”  

Violet Hill


violet hill


Belfast-born author Henrietta McKervey will be reading at the Delicate Infractions Conference this week end.  Her  third novel, Violet Hill, was published by Hachette Ireland in 2018.

Here is a taster:

 December 1918: Post-War London is grieving, the city a wound whose dressing was taken off too soon. Violet Hill, the only female private detective in the city, is hired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s business manager to uncover spiritual trickery he believes is deceiving his employer.

January 2018: Susanna is a super-recogniser, one of an elite Met Police team of officers with extraordinary powers for facial recognition. When a freak injury causes her unusual ability to suddenly disappear, a dangerous criminal whom she no longer recognises decides to close in.

More information on the conference can be found here

The programme is available here : 


Belfast-Munich-Dublin: An Interview with Ellen Dunne

Ellen Dunne.PNG

Interview with Ellen Dunne

Ellen Dunne. Wie Du PNG



[Dominique Jeannerod] What made you decide to set your first novel (Wie Du mir, 2011) in Belfast ?

[Ellen Dunne] I became interested in the Northern Irish Conflict aged 17, when I watched the movie “In the Name of the Father” by Jim Sheridan, in early 1994. The story of the Guildford Four upset me so much, I wanted to understand the real background. So I endlessly read articles and books and watched TV documentaries. I always have been writing, and after a while, a story formed in my head, and intuitively I chose Belfast as location.

How would you introduce your protagonist, Patsy Logan? Why does she work in Munich ?

Patsy Logan is Irish-German, lives in Munich but has an Irish father with whom she spent many summers in Dublin. Her stories are set in Munich and also in Dublin. Why? I have been living in Dublin for 13 years and lived in Munich for a year, and to me, the two cities have almost nothing in common, apart their size. Munich is a very affluent, balanced, well-groomed and orderly city, with often grumpy inhabitants. To me, Dublin is much rougher, with a lot more social differences (and thus problems) and a somewhat chaotic setup. A contrast that mirrors Patsys inner conflict and intrigued me.

How would you describe the genre of Crime Fiction to which your novels belong? And do you see an evolution between the first and the most recent ones?

 I always was more interested in characters and their motifs than in plot twists. I guess it is fair to say that my stories are mixtures between crime and contemporary literature.


Who are the top ten main International Crime Fiction writers in your personal Pantheon?

I read mainly British/Irish as well as German speaking crime writers, so here goes, without a particular ranking: English speaking: Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Kate Atkinson, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, Eoin McNamee German speaking: Simone Buchholz, Friedrich Ani, Oliver Bottini, Jan Costin Wagner            

How did you discover Irish Crime Fiction?

Initially, through my interest in the Northern Irish conflict.  

Who are the Irish Crime authors who might have influenced you?

I hope I developed my own voice by now, but I guess it’s hard to not be influenced by writers you enjoy. For example, I adore Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series and also Tana French’s novels, but also like Stuart Neville’s thrillers. Also enjoyed Eoin McNamees Resurrection Man and The Ultras a lot. As I do read a lot of non-crime fiction, it is a short (but growing) list, sorry.

Had you heard of them before settling in Dublin?

 Eoin McNamee, yes – all the rest I only found out about while living here.

 Have you contacts with other writers of Irish Crime Fiction?

Much less than I would want to; mainly due to the fact that I write in German.

What is Irish Crime Fiction all about, according to you? And Northern Irish Noir, as you arguably write both?

 I haven’t read enough of Irish Crime fiction to comprehensively comment on this. Coming from abroad, to me there is this two-faced quality to Ireland, with so many friendly and easy-going people, which makes its social problems and organised crime underbelly all the more jarring – and a good source for stories. There a lots of stories about the crisis and its fallout still. And for Northern Ireland especially the conflict, which writers only in recent years start to really explore. I am excited to see that it gets more attention internationally, too.

Could you tell us a bit about Eire Verlag? Is there a market for Irish Crime Fiction abroad?

Eire Verlag is a very small German press; the publisher has a personal interest in Ireland and we got in touch over private connections.
In general, there is definitely a market for Irish Crime fiction in the German speaking market. Many writers are translated into German, there is a big interest in Ireland as a country.

Do you go to Crime Festivals and meet many authors?

I do attend literary and crime writing festivals regularly. It is a great way to get in touch with authors and network. It is important to network among writers, it’s a lonely job.

Did you write Cigarette Break – A Short Belfast Story directly in English?

There was a German version first, so the English version was between a rewrite and a translation. I did it all myself, with an Irish proofreader to check.

What made you decide to set this story in Belfast (again)? And did you feel the need for a prequel to your first novel?

As it is not a real prequel but a short story that gives background to my first novel, Belfast had to be the logical location. I wrote the story as part of a World Book Day promotion.

To what extent was the timeline important? Will there be other Belfast or Troubles novels?

 There is nothing planned yet, but who knows? I have never stopped being interested in the topic, and the recent tragic events around Lyra McKee’s murder show that the Troubles still effect the whole island.

How much reading/documentation does it take you to write novels set during the Troubles?

 I’d say a lot, it is a complex set-up. It’s hard to tell for me though, as I first got interested in the topic and the story developed naturally out of it. So I guess I did much more “research” than necessary.

 Who are you readers? Where do you meet them? Do you interact with them online? Do they comment on your stories?

My readers are usually people that read a lot and are ready for “something different”; often not the typical crime readers. I meet them often online in book groups or at book fairs, or they write to me after reading the book and tell me how they liked it. Mostly these interactions are great, I enjoy them.

What are the languages in which your books are translated?

I have one of them translated in English, “The Lost Son”

lost son 37635327


What are the four Crime Fiction novels you recommend to your friends?

Available in English:

The Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty
The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
The Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz
Light in a dark house by Jan Costin Wagner


Is there any question you would have liked me to ask? Sorry for not mentioning it…. Please do now…

This was a very comprehensive interview, it was fun. Thank you!


Thank you, and looking forward to your next book! To be followed

Border? What Border?: Irish crime fiction and Brexit

Brexit map

Northern Irish crime writers Anthony Quinn and Brian McGilloway will converse with crime fiction scholar and writer Andrew Pepper about the theme: “Border? What Border?: Irish crime fiction and Brexit”. The centrality of Northern Ireland in the ongoing negotiations will be an opportunity to test the ability of crime fiction to become a vehicle for representing and understanding the dramatic challenges currently faced by the European Union.

Thursday, March 21,  6:00 pm,

  Peter Froggatt Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast,

Lecture Theater 02/011

All Welcome !









Murder One Crime-Writing Festival

murder one

Murder One Crime-Writing Festival, 

 Smock Alley Theatre, Temple Bar, Dublin 

November 2nd – 4th.

Lynda La Plante and Michael Connelly, Declan Burke and Declan Hughes,  Niamh O’Connor, Liz Nugent and Jane Casey, Anthony Quinn, Val McDermid, Peter James, Marc Billingham and many more  Irish  and  international crime fiction authors are all scheduled to feature at this three-day  festival. For more information and to see the programme,  please visit the Festival Website


An interview with Richard O’Rawe.

By Daniel Magennis. PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast.


A Northern Celtic Tiger, Northern Heist (Merrion Press, 2018)

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

I meet Ricky O’Rawe in the lobby of a hotel close to Queen’s University in Belfast. It is an uncommonly warm and sunny afternoon for an Irish autumn. The university is preparing for the arrival of Hilary Clinton, who has been awarded an honorary degree. As I wait, foreign voices – tourists – drift across the space. People seem calm and happy. Belfast is not what it once was.

O’Rawe arrives. He has a pleasing lilt that marks him out as someone from the West of the city. His previous works, all nonfiction, have dealt with divisive and emotive issues such as the 1981 IRA Hunger Strikes and a biography of Gerry Conlon, whom O’Rawe had known since childhood. He tells me that, unlike his earlier books, he found Northern Heist, a work of fiction, liberating.

“Fiction can be whatever you want it to be … There’s nothing sacrosanct. There’s no sacred principle you have to stand behind and that’s the beauty of fiction – you can take it anywhere you want.

“Compared to my other works, I found dealing with Mr Ructions [Northern Heist’s honourable thief protagonist] … incredible. I enjoyed him, I enjoyed writing about him and I enjoyed shaping him and shaping his world… love the freedom of fiction.” It may be a form that permits greater imagination, but it is one that requires its own sort of rigour. “That’s not to say it was easier to write as opposed, let’s say, to the Gerry Conlon book. There, there was a narrative from A to Z … so I knew where the book was starting, and I knew basically where it was going to end.”

Northern Heist has long been a labour of love for O’Rawe. The novel, in one form or another, has been gestating for many years.

“I had a whole different ending prior to starting the Gerry Conlon book. I’ve been footering with Northern Heist for about eight years. I had other major projects that I was doing… so in the end I had to set it aside. But I always sort of drifted back to it.”

A substantial revision saw O’Rawe rewrite the second half of the book entirely and his maverick protagonist, Ructions, did not survive his momentous heist.

“In the first edition, Tiny kills Ructions, up on the farm and it was a dramatic ending, but it was the wrong ending. And now we have Ructions alive – and everybody likes him, everybody I’ve spoken to loves him. And not only that, but it leaves it open for a sequel. There’s a tremendous sequel in there. It’s in my head and all..”

In the end it was O’Rawe’s daughter Bernadette who had proposed a solution. ”You know what – you can’t kill Ructions” – and so Ructions was saved. At least, that is, for the moment…

‘I’m hanging up my guns, I’m going to burn my balaclava.’ But, all of a sudden, he might have to knit a new balaclava. And he’s to get the guns down again.

“But that’s the question – will he get away with it in the sequel? Because everybody comes out of this alive. Tiny is still alive at the end of it, the cop’s still alive at the end of it – the chief inspector – Ructions is still alive. There’s a variety of interests there and Tiny is a force to be reckoned with, he’s far from gone… he [Ructions] wouldn’t be the first criminal to say, ‘I’m hanging up my guns, I’m going to burn my balaclava.’ But, all of a sudden, he might have to knit a new balaclava. And he’s to get the guns down again.”

What was it about the Northern Bank robbery of 2004, on which Northern Heist is based, that sparked O’Rawe’s imagination?

“It was actually three robberies. There were three robberies that caught my attention. There was the Makro robbery …and there was a huge robbery down at the docks where £1 million of cigarettes was taken and then there was the Northern Bank robbery. So even at the time, before I was thinking of writing this, I looked at this and said to myself, ‘this is the work of a certain gang of guys, this is not different gangs running around doing different tiger kidnappings. These things are too well thought-out. It’s either the work of some genius thief, or it’s the work of the IRA. In which case, again, it would be a small cabal of people.’

“So that was my original thoughts on it and then when the Northern Bank robbery occurred you had different people saying different things. You had the two governments saying it was the IRA. The Garda commissioner, the Chief Constable said it was the IRA, and you had the IRA saying, ‘It wasn’t us.’ And therein lay the contradiction for the writer and the writer in me said ‘you know what, I’ll tell you who done it – Ructions.’

“So that leaves a question mark; and in steps Ructions and Ructions does it. So that’s how the Northern Bank etc. came into play. And the thing about the Northern Bank was, it was a very interesting tiger kidnapping… It was timed so precisely. If it hadn’t been done on the day that it was done, it would never have been done because the next day all the keys were being taken off all of the keyholders.”

Northern Ireland is a place where you can certainly write thrillers… It’s just a matter of imagination.

The robbery in question, the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery at the bank’s Belfast city centre headquarters, threatened the then fragile peace process. Over the years, the Troubles in Northern Ireland have provided material for hundreds of novels. “I think Northern Ireland is a place where you can certainly write thrillers… It’s just a matter of imagination and looking for it.”

O’Rawe’s past may have afforded him a sense of how the Irish underworld works and it is perhaps unsurprising that many of Northern Heist’s characters are inspired by real life.

“I had certain characters in my head, who I envisaged, who were real-life characters to a point… I had a vision and I always try to pick someone with an interesting face and, say, ‘this is who it was and this is his traits, and what makes this guy unique?’ … I always try to do that, so the reader has an idea of the type of person you’re talking about. But a lot of the stuff that’s in Northern Heist… it’s a wee bit real life. The characters are not far away from real people.”

I ask him about the distinctive gangland speech of many of the characters of Northern Heist; “I think that sort of subterranean world, that underworld, where moves are made and if you don’t play the game you’ll get shot very easily. I think they do have a lingo of their own. They talk about moves, they talk about clipping people. They talk in a sort of vernacular that is virtually unique – but they also speak the same way in Dublin. If you watch Nidge [the lead character in the RTÉ drama ‘Love/Hate’] – gangsters in Dublin have the same way. They have the same sort of way of communicating. If you fuckin’ mess about you will get shot and they need to know it. A guy needs to say it to you and you need to listen to him. Don’t open your mouth or he’ll take a needle and he will prick you and that’s the sort of stuff that comes across in the book. But that’s natural in that sort of world.”

It is a world that O’Rawe’s honourable thief manages to navigate remarkably unscathed to pull off Ireland’s largest ever Bank heist. While the reader may find themselves admiring, even liking, Ructions, there is of course a darker edge to him. “The thing about Ructions is this; you never know whether or not he would have carried out his threat to hurt the families…”

Nevertheless, O’Rawe does not see Northern Heist as part of Northern Ireland’s prime literary export of recent years; Noir.

“I don’t class myself as a noir writer. I actually don’t particularly like that stuff. That’s not a reflection on any of the writers. I like stories to be… sort of vibrant, and light, and enjoyable. I don’t really get it with three guys and they’ve just emerged from some fuckin’ pathway to hell, and they’re up to be a scourge on the world. That doesn’t work for me – just me personally.

“I’m not running anybody down – there’s a huge market for it – I just think that, sometimes, what you write reflects your personality. Not all the time, but sometimes, and I’ve a fairly… upbeat personality, if I do say so myself [he laughs]”

Reluctant to be pigeonholed as an author of Noir, O’Rawe is equally keen to avoid the broader classification of crime fiction author.

“I don’t want to get into detective stories, where the detective always catches the bad guy. Bad guys rarely ever get caught. Cops only clear up about 6% of all crimes. So I have a penchant for the underdog, for Ructions. Not that I particularly want to get into crime… I have other stuff I want to get on with. I’ve a number of projects… But I don’t necessarily want to be in that genre. And I don’t really want to be known as someone who writes about cop stories. Do you know what I mean? And I like the unpredictability of the likes of Ructions, using him as an example. But I don’t like reading a book where I know what the end is. And the ending, invariably, in all of these things is that the cop catches the bad guy. I like stories to be absolutely different.

The wages of sin is death” and he’s saying “Fuck – I don’t get any of that. The wages of sin is great.

“I’m at my happiest when I’m writing well. I like humour, I like writing anecdotes in the middle of something very serious. Like, for example, Ambrose was coming out of the street and him and Billy and they’ve eight million quid in the back of the truck and the preacher is standing there with the bible and he’s saying “The wages of sin is death” and he’s saying “Fuck – I don’t get any of that. The wages of sin is great. I love sinning. I love that sort of craic in the middle of it. That’s just me.”

At one stage in Northern Heist, Ructions says to his boss and uncle, Panzer, ‘… after this, we’re all out. Nothing will be the same again. It’s over. Our day has come and gone – and I’m glad’ (p. 99). I ask O’Rawe if his book describes a world where the old ways are being left behind; that is quickly changing?

“Yes. The thing is for Ructions and Panzer, they pulled off what all criminals want – the big Pay Day. The payday that means they don’t have to do it anymore. They don’t have to take the risk. So for them’uns it’s the end of an era; Panzer’s bowing out anyway. But he has achieved his lifetime ambition, of pulling off the massive heist that they’ve always dreamed of.

“But in relative terms, the Northern Bank heist was actually at a point in time when things changed. There wasn’t too many tiger kidnappings and banks [being robbed] afterwards. The banks adjusted; brought in security firms … there’s no bank robberies at all now, bank robberies are done on the stock market.”

O’Rawe’s own life has seen pages of history turn. Having been the IRA’s second in command in HMP Maze/Long Kesh during the Hunger Strikes in 1981, his 2005 book Blanketmen, saw him present a very different version of events from that of Sinn Fein’s.

“As you know, I was an IRA volunteer. I would say that I am a pacifist now. I have absolutely no time for armed struggle. In any shape or form. I actually look back on all that and I see it as a huge negative. An awful loss of life, dreadful loss of life and I don’t think the outcome, the political outcome in terms of Republicanism, was worth one life or worth one minute in prison. So I’m very disillusioned with the whole thing.

“Demonstrably, those who were advocating a different way were right. You, politically, ended up in the same place with the Good Friday Agreement as we were in 1974 with the Sunningdale Agreement, the only difference is 2,000 people died and tens of thousands of people done years in jail.”

Does violence work? Not in Ireland. Never has.

A cliché it may well be, but is the pen mightier than the sword?

“The pen is mightier than the sword. The other way of asking that question is, does violence work? Not in Ireland. Never has.”

O’Rawe’s journey has seen him go from militant Republican to self-professed pacifist. He has since been strongly and publicly critical of Republican political leadership. Does he feel he has a duty to write about the events he witnessed and had a part in?

“From my point of view, I had a duty to write about the Hunger Strike. I felt I had. But that’s because I was a player. I was very involved in it. Ordinary writers have no imperative to write about anything other than what they want to.”

Responding, during a recent radio interview, to the calls of some that he should not be writing – and profiting – at all from his past, O’Rawe notes, “Those who would shout at their radios are the very same people who would love to censor writers. I will not be censored by no one. I am a free thinker and a free writer, and I will not be censored by no one … the same question was put to me [during an interview on American radio] and I said “those who would scream at radios are the same people who would burn books. Once you go down this road of saying “this writer’s alright and that writer’s not alright” then you’re in real deep trouble.”


Northern Heist, published by Merrion Press, is available online, in eBook and Paperback, and in bookshops.

Northern Ireland: More than rain. An interview with Adrian McKinty

By Daniel Magennis. PhD Student. Queen’s University Belfast.


Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series.

I meet Adrian McKinty in the Piano bar in Belfast’s Europa Hotel – the self-proclaimed ‘most bombed hotel in Europe’ – to discuss his multi award-winning Sean Duffy series, the Northern Irish identity and growing up in Carrick during the darker years of Northern Ireland’s short but turbulent history. Continue reading