Declan Hughes
 

 

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Please welcome our April featured author, Declan Hughes!

 

   

      Titles included in Hughes' series of Irish Suspense:

                                           
         The Wrong Kind          The Color             The Price
              of Blood                     of Blood                of Blood

    

 

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 Rough Magic.

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 novel?

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.

 

 I 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 not before?

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.


 
SPOILER ALERT!
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  www.declanhughesbooks.com.

 

Here readers can read the first five chapters of the book:

http://browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780060825515