A queen of crime fiction holds court


Loose leaves: Even though the sun was beating down last Saturday, crowds of book-lovers opted for the cool darkness of the Pavilion theatre in Dún Laoghaire for one of the busiest days in the Mountains to the Sea Book Festival.

And with good reason – the line-up of authors was top class. Edna O’Brien’s session with the Observer journalist Rachel Cooke was more of a warm, informal chat that kept the audience captivated from beginning to end than a formal interview, and Declan Hughes rightly billed his session with Val McDermid as a conversation. It was more like eavesdropping on a chat between two old friends. During the hour, McDermid, the queen of tartan noir (who wore a pair of rather fine black and green tartan trousers for the occasion) described her path from childhood in a Scottish mining community to her current success as a crime author, with worldwide sales of more than 10 million.

Her new novel, The Retribution (Little, Brown), reunites a trio with whom fans will already be familiar: profiler Tony Hill, Det Insp Carol Jordan and Jacko Vance, the psychopath they put away 12 years before. In this scary page-turner, McDermid as usual explores the psychological make-up of all the main characters and two serial killers are on the loose.

Speaking to Loose Leaves after the event, McDermid teased out the reasons women are such fans of crime fiction, and why readers like to be scared. “It’s like a roller coaster; you’re terrified. It’s the adrenalin; you scream your head off. But once you get off, you want to get back on again.” She also advised budding writers. “Just do it. People get hung up on getting the first paragraph perfect, and keep writing and rewriting it. Just keep going.”

Green noir writers converge in New York

Every time this column bumps into any of our top crime writers they are either en route to a thriller-themed festival or just back from a crime conference. For a genre that deals with the darker side of life, they are a remarkably sociable bunch.

Next Saturday, seven leading green noir practitioners will be in New York, at the Glucksman Ireland House at NYU, for a day-long conference. John Connolly, Declan Burke, Stuart Neville, Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes, Alex Barclay (right) and Colin Bateman will join Prof Ian Campbell Ross and guests from among Irish America’s great crime writers.

Several books will be launched, including Down These Green Streets , edited by Burke; the new Charlie Parker mystery by Connolly; the third volume of Neville’s award-winning Belfast trilogy; and new books by Burke and Bateman. The event is part of Imagine Ireland, the year-long Culture Ireland initiative.

English lit for everyone

Evening-class season is upon us, and the series of English-literature evening lectures at Trinity College Dublin is one of the best-value options around. Each talk examines a well-known text; the genres include poetry, fiction and theatre. The key figures under discussion range from Jane Austen to F Scott Fitzgerald and from Seamus Heaney to Sylvia Plath. The first lecture, on October 11th, sees Amanda Piesse explore Hamlet . Admission is €6 for each lecture (€50 to attend all 10); they will be held at the Edmund Burke Theatre in Trinity’s arts building at 7pm. Book on 01-8962885 or oscar@tcd.ie.