Nordy Noir

Nordy Noir Knocks at the Door
Sharon Dempsey
Northern Irish crime writers have been exploring issues relating to the landscape of the Troubles for decades within the confines of a genre that is well-placed to provide close examination of social, economic and character-driven concerns. The success of Anna Burns’s Milkman has brought attention to Northern Irish writing, with some saying now is the time, post-Good Friday Agreement, to explore the complex issues.
When Milkman won the Man Booker prize it was heralded as a win for Northern Irish literature. Yet the attention the novel’s success has brought to the Northern Irish literary scene has been met with partial disdain. After all, the Northern Irish crime-writing fraternity has been producing work that explores the complexities of social unrest and political division for decades. Writers like Adrian McKinty, Anthony Quinn, Stuart Neville, Claire McGowan, Gerard Brennan and Brian McGilloway have made great use of writing about life in a trigger-happy society, with the inherent socio-economic problems providing plentiful material for their work. However, there was something different in Milkman, something that touched a nerve and suggested that now, post-conflict, we were ready to explore our violent past in a new imaginative form.
If ever a place needed retelling, then Belfast is that place. Like most writers, I don’t fully understand anything until I have written an account of it for myself. I feel that it is only now, with time providing distance from the realities of living amidst conflict that we can examine the nuances of how the incendiary atmosphere and ongoing violence has shaped us.
Belfast has changed. The security barriers around the city centre are long gone and there is a vibrancy to socialising in the Cathedral Quarter that those of us who grew up during the seventies and eighties could only find by moving away. Now Belfast is a tourist destination, cashing in on the popularity of the filming hub that produced Game of Thrones. Our landscape is now as well known for the Dark Hedges as it is for the peace walls and the graphic sectarian murals. Yet, it is with this change, this growth, that we can now begin to understand what we have survived.
In the totalitarian landscape of Milkman we come to see clearly the insidious nature of paramilitary control of society. The nameless characters and the unnamed city serve to make our plight universal, to expose the uncomfortable truths of living within the confines of a society controlled by fear and intimidation. A place haunted by the knowledge that one wrong word is enough to bring unwanted attention. Books are our narrator’s escape but reading nineteenth century literature, with her head down while she walks, trying to escape her bleak surroundings, marks her out as different and brings her to the attention of the intimidating Milkman. His character, a senior paramilitary who has a preference for young girls – “a befouler” of young girls as the book describes him ‑ is both feared and respected in the district. While stylistically inventive in its use of language, language that feels at once wordy, verbose and comical, Milkman is an immersive reading experience, which rejects a linear plot, preferring an intense study the narrator’s interior life.
Like many novels discussed in this essay, Milkman also provides a great sense of place – the ten-minute hinterland of in-between on the out skirts of the city centre is described as a bleak, eerie, ghostly place and without being named I recognised it immediately.
Perhaps the novel’s most compelling theme is the insidious nature of Milkman’s advances, with parallels being drawn between political violence and sexual violence and an exploration of the effects of living with insinuation and menace. Fear and intimidation are normalised and there is an awful sense of helplessness, for who can our protagonist turn to in this damaged society? She is powerless to change the situation; where she lives they only phone the police to shoot them. And anyway,
There was a lack of certainly as to whether or not there was anything to tell. That was the way it worked. It was constant hints, symbolisms, representations, metaphors.
But where does this exploration of a community living in Troubles-era Belfast sit within the literary tradition that has come before? Eoin McNamee has provided the most authentic telling of Northern Ireland’s violent past in his seminal body of work. From Resurrection Man to his more recent novel The Vogue, he has explored the darkness at the heart of crimes committed. Stylistically cinematic, McNamee’s prose is literary and uncompromising, taking the myth and reality of the notorious Shankill Butchers and providing a razor-sharp examination of a society that can form a character like Victor Kelly in Resurrection Man.
When it comes to writing about Northern Ireland’s troubled past and uneasy future there has at times been a fusion of genre. McNamee’s literary fiction, like Glenn Patterson’s and Kelly Creighton’s, finds a wealth of material exploring this place within the confines of crimes committed.
Not all crime fiction from Northern Ireland relies on Troubles tropes for material. Claire Allan has recently moved from writing romantic fiction to a darker brand of psychological fiction, still set in her native Derry. Adrian McKinty says: “In my hometown of Carrickfergus alone, which is a tiny place, there are two internationally known science fiction authors: David Logan and Jo Zebedee. There are no rules – thank goodness ‑ about what you can and can’t write about.”
Indeed there is a strong tradition of magical realism emerging in the writing of Jan Carson and Bernie McGill. A realist, street style has been employed by Gerard Brennan in the writing of Disorder, published by No Alibis Press, a new publishing house headed by David Torrens of the famed No Alibis crime-centric bookshop in Belfast. Brennan uses the vernacular and characters that once encountered are hard to forget, to navigate a satirical look at parts of Belfast where recreational rioting is a legitimate pastime.
Anthony J Quinn’s novels offer us a lyrical prose that like McGilloway’s explores the border and its murky hinterland. His Inspector Celcius Daly series uses the outsider character, a Catholic working in the PSNI, and the police procedural form to explore the moody, bog-trenched landscape populated by fuel smugglers, ex-cops with dodgy histories, crime overlords and informers.
We are said to read crime fiction as a flirtation with fear, savouring the nearness of violence that cannot harm and enjoying the satisfaction of solving the mystery lying at the heart of the narrative. For Anthony Quinn, who grew up in a Republican stronghold of Co Tyrone, fear and violence were never far away.
Many of us walked a tightrope with the IRA at one end, and the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries at the other. You had to be careful about what you said and wrote. Words could kill. If you said the wrong thing, you might never be seen again.
The phrase “and whatever you say, say nothing” was a mantra for survival. Only the foolhardy or overtly political talked publicly or wrote about the intimidation and violence that many ordinary nationalists experienced at the hands of the IRA, as well as the British Army. Denial, silence, putting on a brave face, these were the coping strategies during the Troubles.
Quinn is not surprised that crime fiction has become a means for Northern Irish writers who grew up during the Troubles to tell stories, “to write about what they know, to make public untold stories or those that contest the received prejudices and stereotypes of the Troubles and the subsequent ceasefire”.
In the absence of a truth commission, a working Assembly and politicians who actually take their seat, the fictional detective character seems to be the only protagonist we have that is capable of challenging the divisions of the past and of navigating its difficult and morally ambiguous terrain.
Traditionally, crime fiction has been described as a “quintessentially bourgeois” form (Ernest Mandel): despite its concern with murder and violence, it demands that the social order is, in the end, restored. This understanding of the genre is redundant in the context of Northern Irish crime fiction, especially post-Troubles, when the demand for resolution and closure cannot neatly be achieved within the confines of the narrative form.
The paradox of the state as being perceived as the moral authority by one side of the community and a divisive force by another has not been lost on crime fiction emerging from Northern Ireland. Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series, set in 1980s Carrickfergus and Belfast, addresses the uncertainties and ambiguities of the state’s claim to moral authority. Crime fiction, at its heart, argues for social justice and it is no different when the setting is a place marked by inequalities and political violence. Sean Duffy, a Catholic navigating a largely Protestant RUC, while society around him blazes with sectarianism, uses wise-cracking dialogue and an irreverent attitude to negotiate his way out of tight spots. The taut prose, period references (Jimmy Savile, Muhammad Ali, John DeLorean) and pacy plots ensure readers are left satisfied and willing McKinty on to the next in the series.
Brian McGilloway’s Inspector Devlin series uses the border as a device to explore the differences between the Republic and the North. Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is a perfectly placed character with a foot in two worlds, the past and the present, while the Lucy Black series feels contemporary in outlook and subject matter with issue-driven plots.
When Stuart Neville came onto the scene with The Twelve, it seemed that we were seeing the beginning of the impact of the Troubles on characters placed in a post Agreement world. How could these often thuggish, violent characters survive post-conflict? How are they affected when their raison d’être has been extinguished? Kelly Creighton’s The Bones of It also explores the impact of peace on previously violent characters. Juxtaposing father and son, Creighton examines the impact of toxic masculinity and the anger and resentments that lurk beneath the surface. But can we write about Northern Ireland without drawing on the Troubles? Stuart Neville believes it is becoming easier to do so. “Writing crime, it (the Troubles) never falls too far into the background, but it need not be the focus of the story any more. I think we’re well past that now. Writers can choose to write about the Troubles, like Anna Burns and Adrian McKinty, or choose to write around them, like my most recent books have. You can never fully escape that history, but it no longer has to dominate one’s writing.”
Neville has also developed his female character, Detective Inspector Serena Flanagan, into a series. In reference to the idea of crime fiction being somewhat undervalued in comparison with literary fiction Neville says, “There seems to be this notion that literary fiction is the One True God that we should all worship, but really, literary fiction is simply another genre, like crime, romance, sci fi, or whatever. The problem stems from conflating ‘literary fiction’ with ‘literature’; they are not the same thing, and never have been. Literature is work that stands above the rest, that earns its place in the canon over time. The Big Sleep merits that label as much as The Great Gatsby. James Ellroy is as significant a voice in American literature as John Irving. And frankly, if some are blind to that, it’s their loss.”
Adrian McKinty’s take on this lack of respect for crime writing is that it could be down to, “old fashioned snobbery, but putting a more generous spin on it, I think it’s because so much of crime fiction used to be so bad. Olaf Stapledon famously said that ninety per cent of everything is crap. And I think most of what literary critics would be exposed to would be the bestsellers, which often aren’t that great. The standard of crime fiction has gone up in the last decade or so, so though this kind of criticism is a little behind the times.”
Claire McGowan’s novels feature forensic psychologist Paula Maguire returned to her childhood home in Ballyterrin, a fictional border town. Again, the border offers opportunities to highlight the differences between North and south and to expose the difficulties of working as separate entities on one island. The personal backstory of Paula’s missing mother, assumed “disappeared” by the IRA, provides a taut thread running throughout the series. According to Claire McGowan, while male crime writers have dominated in Northern Ireland in comparison to the Republic, where writers like Liz Nugent, Louise Phillips and Jane Casey have been hugely successful, there are more female crime writers coming through now. She says she is “not sure why the crime market is so male-dominated but I imagine it’s because the Troubles has often been written about as military history”.
Stuart Neville says: “Adrian McKinty predicted a few years back that the great post-Troubles novel would be written by a woman, and he has been proven right. There have been a number of writers picking apart the legacy of the Troubles over the last twenty years, but Anna Burns has earned her accolades. The only thing that irked a little was the seeming ignorance of the literary establishment, as if no one had written about the topic over the last twenty years. The fact that much of that writing was done in genre fiction might be why they were unaware of it.”
Adrian McKinty says of Milkman, “to see a wonderful literary fiction novel on this topic [the Troubles] particularly by a woman, was thrilling. I did think it a bit funny when, a day after it won the Booker, an American journalist called me up and asked me this question: ‘Why has no one ever thought to write about the Troubles before?’ That was a bit of a facepalm moment.”
When asked about the lack of female voices breaking through McKinty says, ‘I think it just happened that way. About eight or nine years ago there was almost no scene at all and then me and Stu Neville and Brian McGilloway all kind of published at the same time and then Steve Cavanagh, Anthony Quinn, Gerard Brennan, William Shaw and Claire McGowan came along and suddenly there’s a thriving Northern Irish crime-writing scene where there was nothing before. I think the Troubles, and associated economic ruin, crushed the arts in Ulster and it was only about ten years after it was all over that various artistic communities began to reassert themselves.”
Stuart Neville says, ‘As for the gender imbalance, I’m really quite confused by this. While more female writers have emerged over the last couple of years ‑ Claire Allen stands out ‑ there remains a huge contrast to the crime scene in the Republic, where women seem to dominate. I’d hope there’s a wave just waiting to break, so we’ll see what the coming years bring.’
Writers like Adrian McKinty, Anthony Quinn, Stuart Neville and Claire McGowan use their stories to explore the Troubles past and expose tensions and contradictions, juxtaposing the demands of state and law with the requirements of justice. It is not surprising therefore that writers have turned to crime fiction as a means to reconnoitre contemporary Northern Irish society and to think about how the ongoing legacies of the Troubles impact on contemporary society. Anthony Quinn believes the crime fiction genre is a legitimate way of exploring our past. “It gives us a deeper insight into the Troubles and illuminates the splintered personal landscapes of ordinary people caught up in violence, in ways that non-fiction can never hope to replicate. Politicians lie and dissemble, and historical accounts are always subjective, but at least fiction doesn’t pretend to be anything else other than a made-up account.”
Post-conflict, Northern Ireland is living through uncertain times, with no Assembly sitting in Stormont. So-called punishment shootings and beatings still happen, and despite the decommissioning of weapons, paramilitaries can still wield power over communities. We have arrived at this peace, but still significant issues remain unresolved, providing fertile ground for crime writers.
When a call went out on Twitter asking where all the working class writers were, there was a torrent of cries that they were mostly writing within the crime genre. It seems that many such writers have found voice with the genre that perhaps more than any other allows for an exploration of society and that can bring attention to voices from every echelon of it. Crime writers know what Graham Greene and George Orwell also understood, that to fully explore society and its dark heart, is to examine what we do when pushed to the extremes. Northern Ireland and the crime genre are the perfect partnership, with many stories yet to be mined and explored.
Sharon Dempsey’s first crime novel, Little Bird, is published by Bloodhound Books.
This article was first published in the Dublin Review of Books (1/1/2019)

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.

“Very close to the bone”


Northern Heist

– Richard O’Rawe –

Book Launch

September 28 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

No Alibis Bookstore, 82, Botanic Avenue, Belfast


In association with The Merrion Press, No Alibis Bookstore invites you to the launch of this stunning new thriller by Richard O’Rawe

When James ‘Ructions’ O’Hare put together a crack team to rob the National Bank in Belfast in December 2004, even he didn’t realise he was about to carry off one of the biggest bank heists in British and Irish history.

And he’ll be damned if the Provos are getting a slice of it.

In Richard O’Rawe’s stunning debut novel, as audacious and well executed as Ructions’ plan to rob the National Bank itself, a new voice in Irish fiction has been unleashed that will shock, surprise and thrill as he takes you on a white-knuckle ride through Belfast’s criminal underbelly. Enter the deadly world of tiger kidnappings, kangaroo courts, money laundering, drug deals and double-crosses.

Northern Heist is a roller-coaster bank robbery thriller with twists and turns from beginning to end.

Source: No Alibis :
Richard O’Rawe is a former Irish republican prisoner and IRA bank robber, and was a leading figure in the 1981 Hunger Strike. He is the author of the best-selling non-fiction books Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike; Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History, and In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story (source : googlebooks)


Still Silver’s city? Maurice Leitch’s 1981 prize-winning novel re-released.

A review by Daniel Magennis. PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast.


Front cover of the May 2017 reissue of ‘Silver’s City’ by Turnpike Books.

A German once said the Irish always reminded him of a pack of hounds pulling down a stag, but, Nan, we only drag down our own kind. Or try to. (107-8)[1] Continue reading

No Alibis : An Interview with David Torrans

No Alibis


 by Annika Breinig (with thanks to Portia Ellis-Woods and Dominique Jeannerod)


No Alibis : a  Bookshop to die for (83, Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BTL7 1 JL) Continue reading

San-Antonio’s International Connections

San-Antonio Belfast pics Finland Daniel Panel 5

The San-Antonio International conference took place last week end  at Queen’s University, Belfast, under the aegis of the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities and the School of Modern Languages. It gathered specialists, scholars, collectors and members of the public from around the world. They came to discuss (in French, mostly) the immense body of work left by one of France’s most famous popular writers, Frédéric Dard, aka San-Antonio.  Joséphine Dard, his daugther, attended the conference and took part in the discussions. People came together who don’t normally get to talk together.  Genuinely multidisciplinary, the conference relied on  expertise from various fields (from American Studies to Linguistics, from Cultural History to Literature studies),   on  public and private collections, and on new digital tools.  The multiplicity of approaches and expertise allowed to  tackle precise research questions on a defined and contained (if vast) corpus of texts Continue reading

Troubles Thrillers, made in France

shannon(With thanks to François Rivière)

The  “Troubles Thriller” is an international genre. Albeit  peripheral,  and taking place in a small country,  the conflict in Northern Ireland has generated a flurry of crime novels set there during the Troubles.  In addition to the several hundreds Crime and spy novels written in Britain and in America on the ” Troubles” in Northern Ireland, there have been a number of novels written on this subject by European Crime authors and published in their own countries. These works have very rarely been translated into English (nor, as a rule in many other languages), as they primarily targeted their  own domestic market, and sought to offer there a similar fare to the Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins and others who dominated the genre. They might be derivative, but this in itself does not make them redundant.  Their take on the conflict is often highly idiosyncratic. They are controversial, but they were read by hundred thousands, if not by millions of readers.   The political views they display and the representations of Ireland which they carry are of interest, making the books  precious sources  for a cultural history  of European responses to the situation in  Ireland. Continue reading

The Irish Crime Week Giveaway!

Following the Roddy Doyle giveaway last week (which was won by Col at The Only Way is Reading), this week I have a crime related prize up for grabs!

_DRB5180 Photo: DRB Images

As I’m going to be spending the week reading and reviewing Irish Crime Fiction, I’m offering one lucky winner signed copies of Eoin McNamee’s Blue is the Colour and Stuart Neville’s The Final Silence, along with a rather nifty tote bag from Northern Ireland’s greatest bookshop – No Alibis (where both these books were bought!)

Blue is the Night(taken from Eoin McNamee’s website)

1949. Lance Curran is set to prosecute a young man for a brutal murder, in the ‘Robert the Painter’ case, one which threatens to tear society apart. In the searing July heat, corruption and justice vie as Harry Ferguson, Judge Curran’s fixer, contemplates the souls of men adrift, and his own fall from…

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