Friday, April 12, 2019

My review of Philip Kerr's Metropolis in The Guardian

Metropolis by Philip Kerr review – the last outing for Bernie Gunther

This posthumously published novel sees the world-weary Berlin cop join the murder squad on the eve of the Nazi rise to power
Bittersweet ending … a street in Berlin, December 1928.
 Bittersweet ending … a street in Berlin, December 1928. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images
Philip Kerr’s untimely death last year at the age of 62 deprived us of a gifted writer of a variety of books, from children’s to non-fiction. But it was his creation Bernie Gunther, a sardonic cop and private investigator in Nazi Berlin, that captured the imagination of fans across the world. Gunther first appeared in 1989’s March Violets, as an ex-policeman specialising in what Dashiell Hammett called “wandering daughter jobs” around the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The original Berlin trilogy took us to the end of the war; after that Kerr had fun plunging readers forward into Gunther’s postwar career in Cuba and back into the Nazi era.
Metropolis, the last Gunther novel, begins in 1928 with Gunther working in the Berlin police vice department and lodging with four wonderfully drawn Christopher Isherwood types, including a writer and a musician/escort. A veteran of the Great War, Gunther is the perfect world-weary investigator for the glittering, doomed demi-monde of Weimar Berlin. As Metropolis opens, he is newly promoted to the murder squad of the Kriminalpolizei and begins investigating the serial murders of four suspected prostitutes. In a brilliant set piece scene deploying all Kerr’s empathy and intelligence, Gunther enters into an imaginary dialogue with Mathilde Luz, a young Jewish factory worker who was the first victim.
Nazis in the department wonder why Gunther cares so much about one dead Jewish girl – and of course within a decade a million Jewish children will be murdered under the Nazi racial laws. But nowhere in the series does Gunther commit the fallacy of thinking numerically about moral facts, and in a universe spiralling towards chaos his desire to establish a little local order in a sea of entropy is the best that he can do.
When the daughter of a local crime boss is killed, the stakes are raised – and then someone starts murdering disabled veterans, as if wanting to purge Berlin of ugly reminders of a more complicated past, just as a bold tomorrow begins to gather strength. Wonderfully plotted, with elegant prose, witty dialogue, homages to German Expressionism and a strong emotional charge, this is a bittersweet ending to a superb series.
 Adrian McKinty’s The Chain will be published by Orion in July. Metropolis is published by Quercus (£14.99). To order a copy go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Pre order The Chain here...

My new novel The Chain has been presold in 31 countries and is currently being translated into 22 are what some people are saying about it:

THE CHAIN is diabolical, unnerving, and gives a whole new meaning to the word “relentless.” Adrian McKinty just leapt to the top of my list of must-read suspense novelists. He writes with confidence, heart, and style to spare. He’s the real deal.


This nightmarish story is incredibly propulsive and original. You won’t shake it for a long time.


You have never read anything quite like THE CHAIN and you will never be able to forget it. This book is Jaws for parents. It belongs in the elite company of world class thrillers like Gone Girl and The Silence of the Lambs.

Adrian McKinty is one of the most striking and most memorable crime voices to emerge on the scene in years. His plots tempt you to read at top speed, but don't give in: the writing in THE CHAIN -- sharply observant, intelligent and shot through with black humor -- should be savored.


A masterpiece. THE CHAIN is one of the finest novels ever produced in the genre – I may not read a better thriller in my lifetime.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

my review of The Border from the Sydney Morning Herald

The Border
Don Winslow
HarperCollins, $32.99
American movies in the 1970s tackled the big political issues of the day. Faced with a chaotic world, a corrupt, imploding presidency and a national sense of failure, Hollywood produced the greatest era of American cinema since the 1940s. But that Hollywood is long gone. It's all superheroes and sequels now and we are fortunate then that some of America's best novelists are rising to the challenge of documenting our era and its present ills. In an eerie act of precognition Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel, The Border, that must have taken at least two years to write and yet seems to be about the America of this week.
Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel.
Don Winslow has produced a vast new novel.
Winslow has been writing about the politics of the "drugs wars" since his early masterpiece, The Power of the Dog, in 2005. That book introduced Vietnam vet, half-Mexican Art Keller, a DEA agent sent to Mexico in 1975 to burn the poppy fields and "stamp out the drug problem once and for all". His nemesis becomes Adan Barrera, a central figure in the Sinaloa drug cartel. The murder of Keller's partner and friend, Ernie Hidalgo, and the massacre of innocent people in a Mexican village make Barrera Keller's enemy for life.
The Cartel (2015) follows Keller and Barrera throughout the 1990s and 2000s as Mexico veers into chaos and becomes in effect a narco state slave to America's insatiable demand for drugs. Perhaps 150,000 die in this slaughterhouse and Winslow shows the murder of journalists, cops, women and children with dispassionate, clinical rage.
The Border by Don Winslow.
The Border by Don Winslow.
Winslow's writing in The Cartel reaches new heights and there's a remarkable scene late in the novel when an old caballero attempts to defend his ranch against narco invaders that is written so vividly that I felt I was in the house with him. The Cartel ends with Keller and Barrera facing off in the jungle.
The Border concludes this epic trilogy. Keller is living in retirement with his doctor wife in a small Mexican town when he is offered the post of head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and promised the resources needed to knock back Cartel infrastructure within the United States. South of the Border it is now the post-Barrera era and the various Diadochi struggle with one another to become kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel and, in a way, de facto president of Mexico.
Winslow's book mirrors real events, with the US suffering a self-inflicted opioid crisis and its biggest heroin epidemic since the 1970s. The Border is an outraged, scathing novel that despairs at America's treatment of Mexico and is furious about corruption on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The rise of Donald Trump has given Winslow a perfect foil for his indignation. In Winslow's fictional universe, John Dennison, a pompous real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-host decides to launch a presidential bid in 2015 by lying through his teeth about his achievements and painting a casuistic picture of how to fix America's problems. Dennison has no difficulty flirting with the radical chic of alt-right racism and his speeches become increasingly unhinged and apocalyptic.
Winslow's Dennison joins Robert Graves' Caligula and Sinclair Lewis' Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip as perfect personifications of Trump. In a plot point that made me choke on my tea, Dennison's son-in-law, Jason, is in a parlous financial situation after a disastrous over-leveraged purchase of a Park Avenue skyscraper. Jason needs money and the banks won't lend to such a dim-witted incompetent so the cartel offers to help him out. This is level-headed, livid satire of the highest order and its claims of influence pedalling and corruption at the highest levels are entirely believable.
The Border, like its predecessors, is a glittering, brilliant, violent novel and it is not for the faint of heart. But it is worth sloshing through the gore. In my estimation Winslow joins James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo as the most acute unpackers of an American dream dissolving into American nightmare.
And as for life on the other side of the border? Perhaps the 19th-century Mexican president Porfirio Díaz still says it best: "Poor Mexico so far from God, so close to the United States."
Adrian McKinty's next novel, The Chain, will be published later this year by Mulholland Books.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Being Various: New Irish Short Stories

I have a story in this new collection of short stories edited by Lucy Caldwell. My story is a homage to Ted Lewis called Jack's Return Home. The collection is published by Faber and is available from next week. I'm not supposed to say this cos I'm in it but I thought the book was really good. Lucy and Faber did a great job.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Marlon James

I interviewed Booker Prize winner, Marlon James, for the Age. We talked for about 2 hours about everything from Skippy Dies to Star Trek. You can read all about it here.

He's good people is Marlon.

and here's the full version of the interview in the Irish Times:

Friday, February 8, 2019

more than 13 ways of looking at a blackbird

you might be familiar with the anonymous 9th century Irish poem "a blackbird over Belfast Lough"
which has been translated many times, perhaps most famously by Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson amongst others... A pencil sketch of the Lagan valley blackbird is now the symbol of the Seamus Heaney centre.
Anyway I love this little fragment of a poem and I thought I would offer up my own translation for your approval. The male pronoun works I think because in general only the males have a yellow nib to their beak. There's a little bit of invention with the use of "mudflats" but I figured that was ok because most of the translators of this poem use the word "Belfast" and Belfast as a concept didn't exist until the seventeenth century whereas the muddy "Black mouth" of the Lagan clearly did exist as a place back in the 9th century. I also didn't completely cheat in the rhyme scheme - in Ulster English beak is pronounced bake and round my way sometimes beagh which sounds a bit like lough.
This poem is a little bit like Basho's famous frog haiku which has inspired MANY translations, because, I think, it is so simple.

Anyway here's my version of the poem followed by the Irish itself...

a little bird 


from the tip of his yellow beak 

a blackbird amongst the gorse blossom

throwing music

over the mudflats of Belfast Lough

nt én bec

ro léc feit

do rinn guip, glanbuidi

fo-ceird faíd

ós Loch Laíg

lon do chraíb, charnbuidi

-anon from the Irish c.9th century

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Todd Purdum's Something Wonderful

a real little gem I reviewed last year & now out in paperback:

In early 1942 Richard Rodgers, the composer, realised that he might have a problem on his hands, when, one night after dinner, he watched his lyricist, Lorenz Hart, drink 14 whiskies in a row. Rodgers was clearly in need of a new partner for the musical he was cooking up about the Oklahoma territory. Rodgers and Hart, two Jewish boys from Harlem had been so successful they had appeared on the cover of Time magazine but a series of flops and Hart’s alcoholism could have meant the end of Rodgers’ dreams of reinventing American musical theatre.
Into the breach stepped Oscar Hammerstein another gifted Jewish kid from the neighbourhood (he lived literally round the corner from Hart and Rodgers) who had had some moderate Broadway hits of his own.
The partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein would last from 1943’s Oklahoma! to 1959’s The Sound of Music. The pair would dominate Broadway for twenty years, win thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
Todd S. Purdum’s well written and very well researched Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution unpacks not just the personalities of Rodgers and Hammerstein but also what made the musicals themselves tick and how and why they were so ground-breaking.
Before Oklahoma! Broadway shows had talky bits and singy bits that didn’t really gel together. Oklahoma! was a complete musical vision with unity of book, score, ballet and performance that would set the template of how to do musical theatre until 2015’s Hamilton sort of changed the game again.
Something Wonderful will cure you of the notion that tunes are somehow composed in the ether and simply written down on sheet music. Oscar Hammerstein worked from dawn to midnight on the book and lyrics for his shows and Rodgers, who had a gift for melody, would trim, re-arrange and brutally cut songs and interludes that failed to connect with the audience. Just how much blood, sweat, tears, cutting and editing went into these productions is astonishing.
Oklahoma! was followed by Carousel which was followed by State Fair, South Pacific and The King and I. Every one of them was a winner. Housewives, factory workers, presidents and kings found themselves ‘Whistling A Happy Tune’ or singing ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’. By the 1950’s Rodgers and Hammerstein were a musical producing factory who had become such a juggernaut that even their flops became hits. Who now remembers Allegro,  or Me and Juliet? Yet both of those pulled the punters in in their tens of thousands.
Both men had happy marriages to women called Dorothy who were interior decorators. Australian readers might be surprised to learn that Hammerstein’s Dorothy was from Tasmania and he seems to have spent a surprising amount of time relaxing in Melbourne.
But, into each life some rain must fall (not a lyric by Oscar Hammerstein alas) and this would be a dull book if it was a merely a record of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s upward trajectory of triumphs. Pipe Dream, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, is the first of their flops to actually flop and it’s fun to read about Henry Fonda ghastly croak of a voice and Hammerstein’s starchy and confused attempt to write a musical set in a brothel but not actually set it in a brothel.
After the failure of Pipe Dream and the moderate hit Flower Drum Song the final collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein is the undeniably brilliant The Sound of Music which has hit tune after hit tune, a charming book, witty lyrics and just enough darkness (the Anschluss) to leaven the pudding.
Hammerstein was diagnosed with stomach cancer and did not live to see the superb film version starring Julie Andrews. He died surrounded by his family (including sort-of adopted son Stephen Sondheim) at the top of his game.
Sometimes it’s best to know when to leave the stage. Purdum points out that Richard Rodgers lived long enough to see his work considered to be ‘middlebrow’ and ‘unsophisticated’ and sadly Rodgers seems to have been believed some of these criticisms and he too began drinking heavily like his ex partner Lorenz Hart. He died in 1979 a man baffled and out of touch with his times.
Today, however, the work keeps going strong. Five thousand Rodgers and Hammerstein productions take place each year and it’s a good bet that someone somewhere is singing ‘Edelweiss’ or ‘Happy Talk’ on a stage as you read this. Purdum isn’t interested in literary criticism or Marxist deconstruction or semiotics (thank goodness) he just wants to tell the story of the plays and the personalities and he does this with breeziness, cheerfulness and aplomb. Something Wonderful is one of the most enjoyable books this reviewer has read in a rather depressing year for non fiction and that, surely, is something to sing about.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Darryl Jones Sleeping With The Lights On

my review of the new Darryl Jones book Sleeping With The Lights On from last week's Weekend

Sleeping With The Lights On, The Unsettling Story of Horror

The scariest film I’ve ever seen was Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011). In truth it’s not that terrifying but what put the willies up me was sitting down to watch what I thought was one of kind of flick (a thriller) and then about two thirds of through being plunged into a graphic occult horror movie with a brilliantly, sickening ending. After watching Kill List I found myself worried that my back door didn’t lock properly and I slept with an axe under my bed for the next week.
            That’s the difference between horror and other genres. Horror works on the deep recesses of your mind. Horror turns on switches that kept our ancestors alive long enough to procreate and pass their genes onto us. Flight or fight is something even an amoeba seems to understand.
            Darryl Jones’s Sleeping With The Lights On – The Unsettling Story of Horror is a nice primer and guide to the history of horror fiction in literature and film. At 181 pages it’s not going to be terribly comprehensive and those looking for, say, Neil Gaiman or James Herbert in the index are going to be disappointed. This is not to knock the book, Jones isn’t writing an encyclopedia, he’s attempting to give us a breezy summary of the genre from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Greek tragedy all the way up to Get Out (2017). In this he largely succeeds.
            With so much material at his disposal, Jones, a professor of English at Trinity College Dublin, must find some grand organizing principle. He has decided to split his book into five sections: monsters; the occult and supernatural; horror and the body; horror and the mind; science and horror.
            Monsters is a lively section taking us first through cannibals then early vampires, classic vampires and finally annoying teen vampires. Jones is particularly good on how Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Stephen King use the vampire idea for very different ends. Twilight I suppose needs some cultural unpacking but I wished there had been space too for my favourite vampire film the bleakly creepy, Swedish classic Let The Right One In. The monsters section concludes with zombies and rightly there is a lengthy analysis of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead “somewhere between a Swiftian satire and a Frankfurt School treatise”.
            The occult section begins with Max Weber’s “disenchanted world” and covers ghosts, The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project in a chapter that zips along a bit too quickly for me. Horror and the body is primarily about werewolves and there’s a wonderful bit on Angela Carter whose genius is sadly overlooked these days. David Naughton’s transformation to wolf is rightly praised in An American Werewolf in London and this brings Jones somewhat obliquely to torture porn. Jones finds a paragraph to talk about The Human Centipede but, amazingly, not here or anywhere in the book do we get a mention of Alien one of the best and most influential horror/science fiction films of the last fifty years.
            Horror and the mind brings us to Lovecraft, Poe and good sections on doppelgängers, madness and serial killers. Lovecraft’s prose drives Jones to distraction although he has nice things to say about Poe, Roald Dahl and Robert Louis Stevenson.
            The science and horror chapter covers Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in its many incarnations and this leads Jones rather nicely into one of his best sections on technophobia in books and movies. We race through all those radioactive giant insect films of the fifties and sixties, get a few paragraphs on the masterpiece that is The Day The Earth Stood Still and get an extended look at James Cameron’s brilliant The Terminator and Terminator 2. For some reason this is the place where Professor Jones also looks at comic books though they seem a bit shoved in at the end of a chapter.
            A concise Afterword takes us all the way up to the beginning of 2017. The print deadline allowed Jones to wax lyrical about Get Out and its obvious Stepford antecedents but alas Guillermo del Toro’s maritime monster movie masterpiece The Shape of Water did not make the cut.
            This is a good little book and it will delight someone who is new to all this but hardcore fans will probably find themselves, like poor doomed David Naughton seeking meatier fare.  

Saturday, January 5, 2019