Please welcome our April featured author, Declan
Titles included in Hughes'
series of Irish Suspense:
Wrong Kind The Color
Irish novelist Declan Hughes
shifted gears in mid-career, diverting from life as a successful playwright to
becoming acknowledged as a rapidly rising star of crime fiction. In his first
book, The Wrong Kind of Blood, Ed Loy returns to Dublin from twenty-plus
years in Los Angeles for his mother’s funeral, and one of the great Chapter One
openings ever written: The night of my mother’s funeral, Linda Dawson cried
on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth, and asked me to find her husband.
Hughes’s two subsequent books (The Color of Blood and the newly released
The Price of Blood) have built on the success of their predecessor to
refine Ed’s character and relationship with childhood friend Tommy Owens,
Detective Sergeant Dave Donnelly, and the Halligan brothers, overlords of the
Dublin underworld. The books are distinguished throughout with a tone of
seediness, as the patina of wealth barely disguises its corrupt origins. The
humor is dry and effective, the characters surprise while remaining true to
themselves, and the stories keep the reader turning pages.
Declan Hughes lives in Ireland, where took time from working on the next Ed Loy
novel to answer some questions from New Mystery Reader’s Dana King.
Mr. Hughes, you were well-known in Ireland for your work
in the theater well before you became a novelist. Please tell us a little about
Lynne Parker and I founded Rough Magic in 1984 direct from Trinity College,
Dublin, where we had both been students. At first we wanted to produce
contemporary English and American plays, because we thought they spoke more
directly to our generation than many Irish plays with their rural, pastoral
settings and themes. And gradually we began to produce our own work: my first
play, in 1990, was I Can’t Get Started, a drama about Dashiell Hammett –
his relationship with Lillian Hellman, his politics and the mystery of his
thirty year silence after The Thin Man. So the obsession with crime
fiction was in place back then. Rough Magic is still going strong under Lynne
Parker’s direction, celebrating its 25th anniversary next year – it’s
sponsored by a big Irish bank at the moment, a far cry from when we started. But
most guttersnipes end up in the establishment one way or another! And Lynne
still takes as many risks as she ever did.
Are you still active in the theater?
Not so much in the past couple of years, but there are two plays I want to
write; they’ve been circling around my brain like aeroplanes waiting for a
flight path. If I can carve a larger gap between the novels, I’ll get to them –
provided they haven’t left without me. Ideas are like that – if you leave them
too long untended, by the time you get to them, they’re dead on the page.
How has your experience as a playwright affected your
It taught me how to tell a scene through dialogue, to
make a story out of a series of scenes, to keep editorialising comment to a
minimum if you can’t cut it out, to have a sense of pace, to have a very low
boredom threshold, to “cast” characters so a reader can “see” them, to end a
story at least three times. Also I’m influenced by the way Shakespeare and his
contemporaries liked to present an entire society from high to low, to show the
way we’re all connected. That’s something the crime novel does uniquely well, I
think: how the cocaine you take at a rich man’s table has come to you because a
poor man had his head blown off.
Your first two novels had the
same titles in both the United States and Ireland, but what we refer to as The
Price of Blood is titled The Dying Breed on your side of the Atlantic. Is there
a specific reason for the change?
Very simple: the sales people at my UK publishers, along with some bookstores,
were anxious that people might think the titles were too similar, and mistakenly
believe they’d bought the book already.
Any hints about what to expect
in Book Four?
City of the Dead sees Loy take the case of a woman whose father was
murdered fifteen years ago; her mother’s lover was convicted of the crime, but
the conviction was found to be unsafe, and he was released. The dead man was a
tax inspector, and at the time of his death, was preparing tax evasion
investigations into three men: a major gangland figure, an IRA terrorist and a
prominent businessman. The Guards refuse to re-open the case, insisting, despite
the verdict of the appeal court, that the right man was found guilty. Now the
IRA are on ceasefire, and the businessman is a friend to politicians, and the
gangland figure has paid his debts and gone legit, Loy finds the investigation
extremely complicated, and begins to suspect it is in no-one’s interest except
the dead man’s family to uncover the truth.
You’ve said your greatest influences have been Raymond
Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. Which of their books do you
think gives the best example of that writer at the peak of his powers?
I couldn’t narrow it down with Hammett: Red Harvest, The Maltese
Falcon and The Glass Key are all masterpieces. I love The Big
Sleep above all the Marlowe books. And with Ross Macdonald, everything he
wrote after The Galton Case is essential, and The Galton Case
stands out for me: it’s about patrimony and personal reinvention and the
American dream: it’s The Great Gatsby of crime fiction.
Where do you see the greatest evidence of Chandler,
Hammett, and Macdonald in your novels?
The whole California family gothic that was Macdonald’s territory always spoke
to me because in Ireland, the family looms large, and secrets and lies and the
power of silence are immensely important. Hammett is the JS Bach of hardboiled
crime fiction: we’re all profoundly influenced by him in ways we can’t begin to
count. But calling my PI Ed Loy – Loy being a shovel or spade – is quite a
hat-tip. And Chandler’s style is an inspiration, as is his wit. We’re dealing
with grave matters, but Chandler reminds me that reading of them should be –
must be - pleasurable.
expect the Loy=spade parallel is unknown to most American readers; thanks for
sharing. Elements of Marlowe and of Archer are evident in Ed: Marlowe’s hopeful
form of cynicism, and Archer’s compassion for those who are being steamrollered
by family history they had no part in. Ed is a more overtly damaged man than
either of them, yet he seems more ready to come to grips with his personal
baggage, where they let it shape their personalities. Is this deliberate on your
part, to make him stronger by grappling more directly with his demons, or is it
more a sign of the times, with men more likely to expose and cope with their
feelings? Or am I just off base here?
Well yes, there’s greater license these days, as you
say, for men to be more explicit about their feelings. But I think there’s a
limit to where Ed can get – I don’t see him ever being ‘healed’, or even
particularly happy, but I think he can rise above the pit in which he’s found
himself in the current books – and he’s about to do that in the new one. I
should say another big influence was James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux. I think
Burke really developed the character of the detective and opened up a more
direct way of discussing what was happening to him. And Walter Mosley’s Easy
Rawlins series was another big influence, again with an interesting balance
between what the character told you about himself (much more the classical
detective) and what he kept back.
Sidekicks tend to come in two
flavors: lethal and comic relief. Tommy Owens is neither, with elements of both.
Much of the suspense in your books, at least for me, comes from wondering if Ed
has put too much confidence is such a leaky vessel, though Tommy (usually) comes
through. Was Tommy designed this way, or is that just how he worked out in the
service of the plot?
Good question – and the answer is, I’m not sure! Tommy
is a moveable feast – or maybe he’s one of those people everyone has a different
take on – to some, he looks like a waster and a loser, even a buffoon – but he’s
got a lot of qualities that emerge under pressure. He is loyal to Ed, but it’s
simply not in his nature to be straight down the line about anything. And
frankly, this can be useful – where Tommy tells Ed something in chapter four,
and you get a bit further on and realise Tommy’s not honour bound to tell the
truth, or even know whether he is or not. Ed feels responsible for him – up to a
point – but he owes him as well. And you know, now, he’s just there.
There’s a saying about how you choose your friends but not your family. I think
at a certain point in your life, you don’t choose your friends either – what you
have you hold. At least, that’s how it is for Ed – he wants to make things work.
We appear to be entering a Golden Age of Irish crime
fiction, with yourself, John Connolly, Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke, Ken Bruen,
and others finding critical and commercial success. Any thought on why now, and
I can only really speak for myself, but I think my experience suggests that the
circumstances are more propitious for crime fiction now than they have been. If
you live in Dublin, as I do, one of the biggest stories is the economic
success of recent years, the great boom times the country has been enjoying
since the early nineties, with full employment and reverse emigration, a
stunning contrast to the bleak years of the eighties, when the nation’s youth
fled in search of a living. Now, that story is well enough known everywhere by
now, at least to those with any interest in Ireland: indeed, it’s often cited
as a model for other small countries to emulate. What isn’t as well known is
the dark side of the boom: the explosion in illegal drug use, and the
consequent rise in organised crime, as drug gangs enjoy their own kind of boom.
Last year saw the highest incidence of violent crime in the history of the
state. You also have a society in turmoil: retreating from the hold the
Catholic Church had for so long, drinking too much, spending money like drunken
sailors, searching for meaning – on many levels, emerging from a prolonged
adolescence and starting to grow up. And I write about this because it’s such
great material: al this change is happening now, out the window. The novel used
to take as its subject “The Way We Live Now.” For the most part, only the crime
novel seems interested in how we live any more. And in Ireland, there’s stories
only the crime novel can tell.
This next question may interest
only me, with a background as a classically-trained musician. You like to listen
to post-romantic composers (Mahler, Sibelius, Vaughn Williams, Bruckner) when
writing; most crime fiction writers seem to have a preference for rock or R&B.
Posts to your blog (http://www.declanhughesbooks.com/blog.html)
show your interest in more popular musical forms. Is there a particular reason
for choosing classical for writing? Do you think it makes a difference in the
tone of your books?
At its simplest , vocal music is distracting, and rock music is too rhythmic, as
is most jazz. I don’t know if it affects the books – but I guess there’s a
heightened sense of drama in the work of the composers I favour. And it’s begun
to creep into the books themselves, of course: Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead”
features in The Price of Blood in part because I was listening to it on a loop
for a while, and it seemed to blend in.
Will Ed Loy ever become involved with a woman who lives through the book?
Well, that’s the plan for the book I’m writing at the moment. And he gets
tangled up with two women this time so that certainly makes it more likely. But
you never know: Ed’s problem with women, with the kind of damaged women who are
drawn to him, is that he hasn’t made his peace with his past: with the child he
lost, the wife who betrayed him, the past he can’t quite break away from. He is
a damaged man, slow to heal. And damaged people seek each other out. So it’s
not as if he’s entirely to blame!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Declan Hughes
co-founded Dublin’s Rough Magic Theatre Company in 1984, and was artistic
director until 1992. He directed many of the company’s productions and was
writer-in-residence with Rough Magic until 2000. His plays have been produced in
the UK, Europe and North America, and he has been writer-in-association with the
Abbey Theater. Awards include the Stewart Parker Award for I Can’t Get
Started and a Time Out Award for Digging for Fire and Love and A
Bottle. Screen credits include The Flying Scotsman (2007). The
Price of Blood is Declan’s third Ed Loy novel. The first, The Wrong Kind
of Blood, was nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger
and won the Shamus Award for Best First PI novel. Declan lives with his wife and
two daughters in Dublin, Ireland. For more information visit
Here readers can read
the first five chapters of the book: