“I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems,” said Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, and it’s probably fair to extend that absurdity to writing of all kinds. That’s particularly true if you write and you also read and review books for a living. In the last month or so, I’ve read books by Margie Orford, James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Ian Rankin, PD James and Kate Grenville.
What could be more absurd than trying to write to that standard?
Absolute Zero Cool (Liberties Press) was an attempt to side-step that absurdity, essentially by writing a crime novel unlike anything else I was reading. And so the author of Eightball Boogie and The Big O – unnamed in the novel, but to all intents and purposes Declan Burke – is approached by a character called Karlsson, a hospital porter languishing in the limbo of an unpublished manuscript written by one Declan Burke. ‘Publish or I’m damned,’ Karlsson tells Burke. To facilitate the process, and give the book a bit more bang, Karlsson agrees to blow up the hospital where he works.
All rather absurd, of course, but that was a huge part of the fun in writing it, and I was delighted when the book was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards last November. As to whether or not fans of the more traditional crime and mystery novel will enjoy it as much, the jury is still out.
One thing writing Absolute Zero Cool did achieve, however, was to sharpen my appetite for writing a book that was a straightforwardly and streamlined a crime novel as I could manage. That book is called Slaughter’s Hound, and right now I’m in the self-flagellating stage of the final draft, arm-wrestling commas and being half-nelsoned by semi-colons. A sequel-of-sorts to the private eye story Eightball Boogie, it opens with former private eye Harry Rigby witnessing the suicide of his friend, and being commissioned by the friend’s mother to find the inevitable suicide note. Oddly enough, things do not run smoothly for Harry, not least because the mother is the titular head of a real estate corporation crippled by the economic downturn, and has secrets she’s desperate to conceal. As always, there’s more than a touch of homage to the book (or third-rate rip-off, depending on your perspective), and Slaughter’s Hound, despite being set in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland, reverently doffs its cap to the novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, in particular The Long Goodbye and The Drowning Pool.
Which brings us right back to the absurdity of trying to write to the standards of the Old Masters, or new. But then, if I wasn’t half-crazy, I wouldn’t be trying to write at all.
Slaughter’s Hound will be published in June, 2012.
Declan Burke has published three novels to date: Eightball Boogie (2003), The Big O (2007), and Absolute Zero Cool (2011). He is the editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (Liberties Press, 2011), and hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.