Sunday, February 19, 2012

Meet Kevin McCarthy

The world's best crime fiction comes from Ireland, and one of the country's best new crime and historical-fiction writers has started a blog.

The author is Kevin McCarthy, his first novel was Peeler, (which no U.S. publisher has seen fit to pick up in a print edition; it is available as an e-book), and the blog is A Criminal History?  Here's a bit of what I wrote about Peeler in 2010:
“When Clive James turned into Francis Fukuyama three years ago and as much as declared the end of crime fiction (`In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.'), I dissented.

“For one thing, the where can constitute its own what, a setting so different from the reader's own that it offers fictional possibilities even Clive James never dreamed of.

“I've just now opened Kevin McCarthy's novel Peeler, and its plot, its dueling epigraphs, and the note of uncertainty in its second sentence offer the promise of an exciting and maybe even morally serious work. And it's all because of where the story takes place: in Ireland, during the country's war of independence, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the IRA each investigating, unknown to the other, a young woman's killing.”
The book fulfilled its promise, and it performed one of those acts of alchemy that always leave me in awe: It conveyed not just the facts of the novel's historical setting (the founding years of the Free State of Ireland), but also the feeling: the rural and urban poverty in West Cork, the moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler. (McCarthy talks about the history behind the novel and the Royal Irish Constabulary at Crime Always Pays.)

It's up there with Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels and Ronan Bennett's Havoc, in Its Third Year as the best historical (crime) I've read since this blog first saw the light of day.

Take it away, Kevin.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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14 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I loved Peeler and I loved Havoc in the Third Year.

I think you loved Peeler before me but I loved Havoc first so we're even.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

And why am I not surprised that no American publishers have picked up a great book like Peeler.

Because it goes against all the preconceived notions and propaganda Americans have been indoctrinated with over the last fifty years. Its a book with a thing American publishers evidently hate: NUANCE.

Also its not set in fucking Denmark or Sweden.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

It is available for the Kindle. Oddly though there are two listings for it, bot by the same publisher, with two different prices.

I have Peeler here but haven't read it yet so you both beat me.

February 20, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hmm. I still have HAVOC lying about. I sampled the style and approved. After that it looked like too much work and a journey into disaster. Haven't been able to bring myself to go back. My life isn't sufficiently joyful and troublefree to indulge in despair in my spare time.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, but you loved Tumblin' Dice before I did, so you're ahead.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, thanks for the note. I have amended the post to reflect your information.

Peeler is a hell of a book. I recommend moving it higher up your pile.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: It's also not set in fucking Iceland or fucking Norway, so there. Yeah, I'd have to expect that a paralyzing caution is at work on publishers' parts.

I want to read the second in McCarthy's series, already, so let's get the business stuff out of the way, publishers.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'd say pathos is more to the fore than despair. HAVOC will bring tears brimming to the edge of the old lacrimal ducts, but also offers a protagonist of the highest nobility, and i don't mean he has a title. I hope you do pick it up again one day.

February 20, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Because it goes against all the preconceived notions and propaganda Americans have been indoctrinated with over the last fifty years

If I'm not mistaken Kevin McCarthy is American. He was born in Suffolk, UK, because his American Air Force father was stationed there at the time, presumably at Lakenheath.

If I can trust the internet, McCarthy served in the US Air Force himself and then studied in Boston, before relocating to Ireland.

Americans are ignorant about Irish affairs? If McCarthy is an example, this statement is true.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

And why am I not surprised that no American publishers have picked up a great book like Peeler.

Because it goes against all the preconceived notions and propaganda Americans have been indoctrinated with over the last fifty years. Its a book with a thing American publishers evidently hate: NUANCE.

Thanks for the lovely comments about Peeler, folks. I am, actually, a passport carrying Yank (w/Irish one as well; also entitled to UK pport which I've never taken. There's only so many documents a man needs), as solo above says, though I've followed the candlelight in the Aras window as returned diaspora and lived in Ireland for longer than I ever lived in the States. I feel kind of both and nothing at the moment, which is not a bad thing to be as a writer in some ways.

I had a think about Adrian's comment on American publishers and nuance. I agree with it, wholeheartedly, though I think that the publishers, like many Europeans, underestimate Americans' tolerance of nuance and complexity.

Perhaps, in purely business terms, however, they're not wrong in thinking that some books, such as Peeler, just won't sell the numbers to justify their publication. In fact, I believe that American life is so full of nuance that people don't have the patience for it in their leisure time. Like IJ Parker's refreshingly honest comment above, re Havoc, leisure time is at an all time premium and maybe nuance, and despair, simply don't sell in times when people are flat out worried about whether or not they'll have a wage next week.

I've also found, ironically, (Americans, according to a French friend, don't 'do' irony either...Colbert Report, anyone?) that the much of the nuance, the shadows and grey haze, of the conflicts Adrian and I write about are lost to many Irish people as well. Nothing is as lacking in nuance as the received version of the struggle for Irish independence taught in schools here. More than one Irish reader has thanked me for writing Peeler simply because they had never imagined any such things happening in the Christian Brothers' version of Irish history that they had beaten into them. No country is without its nuance-free national myths--I'm plowing through tome after tome on the Indian Wars of the late 19th c. US at the moment, and man, there are myths galore about that shit!--but I would view it as my job as a writer to strip those myths away to the carcass of veracity underneath. That sounds horribly pompous. I just write pulpy crime novels, really, or that's what I started out doing anyway!


If I was to guess why the likes of Peeler and many other 'difficult' or 'challenging' novels don't get a US release, I would say it's down to the fact that Americans work harder, longer hours for less money and have far more forms of entertainment competing for their very limited amount of free time. And let's face it, Angry Birds is a much better brain-salve than 500 page novels about Irish lads killing each other!

Btw, I also have Bennett's book on the shelf downstairs in the 'to read' pile and Cold, Cold Ground on order at the local book shop. Fifty-grand is a brilliant book and am looking forward to CCG. I only despair that there are more books I want to read than there are hours in the day. At least I've no longer the distraction of Man Utd in the Champions League. Peace all.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin, I'll get back to this rich comment of yours alter, but for now, what's this about Manchester United? Don't all right thinking people love to have have them around so they can talk about how much they hate them?

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin, you make some interesting guesses about why a book like "Peeler" might have trouble finding readers in the U.S. My first questions would be whether publishers are more cautious than they used to be, whether their impatience makes them reluctant to commit themselves to an author for more than one book, and whether they have the patience to promote a new author.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

Re your first point, Peter, people now have Man CITY to hate. And Chelsea. More than one former ABU (Anyone But United) friend has said to me that no matter how much they hated Utd in the past, they hate City more now. Extravagant wealth is soooo early noughties!

As for publishers, I do think they're more cautious. Fewer people read novels now, full stop. And fewer men, again. And Peeler might be considered at first read a very 'male' book, as my agent as much as told me when we were trying to sell it here in Ireland. It did, he told me, interestingly, have a female victim and surveys say (apparently) that female crime fiction readers go for female victims big time. So, book marketing, publishing etc. is profoundly sexist in its assumptions, as well as cautious, or there's some whacko Freudian thing going on with women readers. The former, I think. But luckily, and not for the aforementioned reasons, Peeler seemed to appeal to both male and female readers equally, which recalls, of course, William Golding's (Goldberg's?) golden rule about Hollywood and what makes a hit film: Nobody knows anything.

Publishers also want a big hit quick. Impatience in spades, but isn't all of society more or less like this now. In reference to the footie above, what other club than Utd has kept faith in a manager (in any sport) for 25 years? Fans demand instant success and so do owners. Like writers are given no room or time to slowly build on quality, neither are managers given time to build teams.

As for promotion, I would have some sympathy for publishers here in that there IS far less money about now and printing costs are still high etc. Authors advances have dropped exponetially as have marketing budgets. I think publishers would like to promote new authors but simply haven't the cash. And there is always the internet, where, thank God, writers can--must--promote themselves!

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep. everybody hates a winner. Must be a psychic shock to Manchester City supporters that their team is no longer a lovable local underdog. (Incidentally I have a colleague who says he has been rooting for Chelsea since well before it acquired its current rich owner.)

In re Peeler and promotion, have your publishers directed promotional efforts to folks who might read history as well as to those who generally read crime fiction?

February 24, 2012  

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