Why we're thrilled by 'Emerald noir'
Asked why he'd set his private eye novels in the United States rather than in his home country, best-selling author John Connolly once joked: "Because in Ireland everybody would have known whodunnit within days."
Recently, though, that hasn't deterred scores of Irish novelists from writing thrillers located in contemporary Ireland -- so many that, as a judge of this year's Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, I'm struck by the fact that almost a third of the 40-plus submitted novels are thrillers.
Scottish crime writer Val McDermid (inset) sees it as emanating from the Celtic Tiger and its aftermath. Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, she argues that 'Celtic Crime' or 'Emerald Noir' (as she describes the phenomenon) is due to the fact that "Ireland, north and south, has gone through seismic changes, which have given Irish writers a challenge of material. You really have got something to write about".
From these recent thrillers, she says: "I'm learning a lot about how Ireland functions these days."
And certainly the best of them do confront the realities of contemporary Ireland in a way that you don't find in more self-consciously "literary" Irish fiction, which still favours the backward look.
Among 50 authors asked by the Guardian to name the books they've most enjoyed getting or giving as gifts, Roddy Doyle cited Great Expectations, given to him as a present when he was 10. "I eventually read it, and more than 40 years later I'm still reading Dickens."
John Banville nominated the appropriately arcane Microscripts by Swiss modernist Robert Walser, while the book Colm Toibin most likes to give to people is Eugene McCabe's 1992 novel, Death and Nightingales.
"It is a wonderful gift," he said, "because once someone has read this book, they become addicted to talking about it, describing their shock at the level of darkness and evil and sheer malevolence, as well as innocence, depicted and dramatised in its pages."
I wouldn't disagree.