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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: Irish Crime Fiction Season – Colin Bateman

colin batemanA quick glance at Colin Bateman’s website and you’ll realise that he doesn’t have a life. All Colin does is write. He writes krimis, he writes books for children, he writes television screenplays. So if you ask him what his writing day’s like this is his answer: ‘I pretty much work office hours – plus. A lot of writers take years to write a book, and that`s fine, but I`m far too impatient, so I go in every day, and if I don`t write a chapter a day I consider I`m slacking. Doesn`t mean it`s all brilliant, but it`s what works for me. A lot of it has to do with having been a journalist. When you write an article as a journalist nobody says, God, you must be exhausted, have a day off, you`re expected to write a lot, and every day too. When I`m not writing, or at least thinking about what I`m writing, I get pretty annoyed. In a sense, you never really switch off, always thinking about possibilities. A bit annoying for my wife, but as they say, tough.’

Colin’s first novel Divorcing Jack won the Betty Trask Prize in 1994 and was later made into a successful movie. Since then he has written more than twenty acclaimed novels. He was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2010 by the University of Ulster, for his services for literature. The Daily Telegraph listed him among the top 50 crime fiction writers of all time.

Colin sent Crime Beat the opening chapter of his new book Nine Inches for our Irish Crime Fiction Season. It’s a world exclusive as it hasn’t appeared anywhere else yet, and isn’t published until October. Nine Inches is a return to his Dan Starkey character after a six year break.

Here’s what the reviewers have to say about his work:

There are a lot of good reasons to review a Colin Bateman novel. There seems to be a dearth of writers under the age of 40 who write good black comedy thrillers and Bateman, 36, has already come out with four. All have received rave reviews on the other side of the Atlantic. One called him an Ulster Carl Hiaasen and another claimed that, “if Roddy Doyle was as good as people say, he would probably write novels like this – Books This Week.

Cycle of Violence shows how a writer can be both solidly formulaic and brilliantly quirky by turns’ – The Richmond Review

‘[Murphy’s Revenge is] as sharp as a pit of snakes’ – The Sunday Times

‘For those of you not in the know, Bateman is the funniest writer Ireland has produced since Roddy Doyle. Pitch-black comic thrillers such as Divorcing Jack and Cycle of Violence disprove the prejudice that Ulster Protestants lack a sense of humour. Bateman alone has such a surplus he churns out a page-turner a year. No writer’s block for him — he’s more likely to suffer from writer’s cramp. – Irish Abroad

nine inchesNow read the extract from Nine Inches:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Or it might have been, for all the light getting into the office. I was three floors up, and the only hint of an outside world came from a skylight overshadowed on two sides by newer, taller buildings which blocked out 99 per cent of whatever vague sunlight was managing to break through the otherwise solid grey of a Belfast spring afternoon. Somewhere in the far distance there were bagpipes, rehearsing for marching season. And pneumatic drills, tearing up footpaths, providing ammunition for marching season. We had moved on, and then put it all into reverse. It was like married life, we never knew if we were coming or going.

I had a nice desk, a laptop, a lamp, a phone and a family bag of Smarties. I was sorted for E’s.

I was trying to remember the last time the phone had rang, or if it should be rung, when the intercom buzzer sounded and a garbled voice said, ‘Starkey? Can I come up?’

In a better, more prosperous world, I might have had a security camera to tell me who it was, but as it was I had to rely on my investigative skills to find out.

‘Who are you and what do you want?’

There was an audible sigh. ‘It’s Jack Caramac.’

‘Jack Caramac off the radio?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you have an appointment?’

‘Yes.’

‘Just let me check.’

I drummed my fingers on the desk. After a couple of months I said, ‘Jack Caramac, is it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is it raining out there?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you have an umbrella?’

‘No.’

I said, ‘Jack Caramac, Jack Caramac, Jack Caramac…..oh yes, Jack Caramac. Your appointment is for three fifteen.’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s only three ten.’

‘Let me up Starkey, you bollocks, or I’ll take my business elsewhere.’

‘Smoothie,’ I said, and pressed the buzzer.

Jack Caramac – not his real name, incidentally, in case you’re a moron – had, as they say, a good face for radio. If you took a bag of Comber spuds and sucked the goodness out of them and refilled them with Pollyfilla so tight that it leaked out of its pores, then you’d have an idea of Jack’s complexion. I have no idea if potatoes have pores, but that’s neither here nor over there, where a man who ran naturally to fat, but who felt compelled by his listeners to try every diet under the sun, was squeezing through my door. He ballooned, he deflated, he ballooned he deflated; his skin now had the elasticity of bamboo. As he lumbered into the office, it was clear that he’d recently hit the wall on his latest attempt. As he shook my hand and smiled there was evidence of Crunchie between three of his capped front teeth.

He sat and said, ‘Jesus, get a lift, I’m all out of puff.’

‘Exactly why I have stairs,’ I said, ‘it sorts the wheat from the chavs.’

He had on a black sports jacket, black trousers, a black shirt open at the neck. It all looked designer expensive. But it was a bit pointless. People would just say he was a well dressed fat bloke. He looked around very briefly and said, ‘What a dive. I can’t believe you have an office above a butcher’s shop.’

I shrugged. ‘It’s cheap and the sausages are amazing.’

He looked at me. ‘Same old Dan,’ he said.

‘Same old Jack,’ I said.

I’d known Jack Caramac for twenty years. In fact, since before he was Jack Caramac. He was a journalist once, but for the past fifteen he’d hosted a call-in show on Cityscape FM, Belfast’s most popular commercial radio station. By and large, the kind of people who phone radio shows are the last people in the world you’d want to spend any time with: they are the loudmouths, the bigoted, the numbskulls and the egotists; they are the moaners, the blinkered, the mentally infirm and the self-righteous. They are the religious maniacs, the cynics, the war-mongers and the apologists. They are also usually more to be pitied than scorned. It was not an accusation you could place at the large feet of Jack Caramac. Though he was the living embodiment of all of these personality disorders, somehow his whole became something more profound than its constituent parts; nobody particularly liked him, but everyone wanted to listen to him. In the business he was known as the biggest cunt this side of Cuntsville, and he loved it. I used to think I rubbed people up the wrong way, but Jack took the biscuit. In fact, he took the whole tin, and usually between meals.

‘Never thought you’d end up like this,’ he said.

‘Like what?’

He flapped his flappy hands around my pride and joy and said: ‘This. Man, Belfast Confidential used to be a licence to print money. Where did it all go wrong?’

‘Who says it went wrong? I sold up, and now I’m a gentleman of leisure, taking on whatever jobs interest me.’

‘This wouldn’t be the same Belfast Confidential you sold for one pound because it owed a million quid?’

‘They covered my debt, and I was a pound up on where I was when I went in. This day and age, who can complain about that? Anyway, did you just call round to rain on my parade or is there something I can do you for?’

‘Well,’ he said.

‘Well,’ I said.

‘I heard you were out of the journalism racket, and into like…investigating. Like a private eye.’

‘I’m nothing like a private eye. I offer a boutique, bespoke service for important people with difficult problems.’

‘Dan, no offence, but that sounds a bit wanky.’

‘It’s my specialist subject. I was, as you know, one of this country’s leading journalists. That’s still what I do, except I don’t publish unless my client requires it. I inquire. I get answers. Then you tell me how you want me to deal with those answers. That can mean referring them to the forces of law and order, or using my public relations expertise to spin them into something positive. You know, on facebake, or twitter, maybe the Ulster Tatler, all the new media.’ I cleared my throat. ‘Have I sold you on me yet?’

‘Only because I’ve nowhere else to fucking go.’

I smiled. He smiled.

‘I’d make you a coffee, but the kettle’s broke. I can send down for some mince if you like.’

‘You’re a funny man, Dan. But I don’t need funny. I need help.’

‘You were kind of vague on the phone.’

‘I don’t like phones.’

‘You spend your whole life answering them.’

‘That’s different. That’s work.’

‘Oh yeah. The shock-jocking.’

‘I’m not a shock jock.’

‘As I am not a private eye.’

‘I’m the people’s champion.’

I raised an eyebrow.

‘The problem,’ he said, ‘is that one of my people is threatening me.’

‘So isn’t that par for the course?’

‘This is different, usually it’s just the nutters being annoying, but this time….this time they actually did something. They took my kid.’

‘Took?’

‘Yeah. I think so.’

‘You think….? Jack?’

‘He’s frickin four, he can’t exactly tell me, can he? But he was gone for about an hour. And when he came back he’d a note in his pocket.’

‘What kind of a note?’

Jack slipped his hand into his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper. He set it on my desk and pushed it across.

‘Is that blood?’ I asked.

‘Jam,’ said Jack.

The note said: Shut the fuck up.

 

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