Trouble is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers
Declan Burke, editor (New Island Books 2016, Hard Cover) 346 pages, cover price n/a
A good anthology holds the same pleasure as an evening spent in a wine bar, choosing a five glass sampler then softly allowing the mind to muse its way through the similarities and differences of each grape and estate. Ideally one or perhaps two of the vintages served are familiar as that gives the taste senses points of comparison. In paradox, the more varieties on a theme that are tested, the finer are the preferences defined. Have I made you thirsty? Never mind that, let’s talk about murder.
Trouble is our Business is a uniformly excellent selection of twenty-four crime stories written by two dozen Irish writers. Not all of them are murder mysteries per se, although some are; not all are identifiably Irish in speech or setting, although again some are. Each one though polishes a different facet of the whole crime writing genre and just as with the wine sampler mentioned above, by the time you are finished reading this anthology you will certainly have discovered at the very least several writers you’ll list for future enjoyment.
It is completely fair to note that your list of a favourite five stories from Trouble is our Business will be different from mine. As there are no weak offerings in the anthology, I certainly would not seriously argue against your choices, however here are mine.
Eoin Colfer’s A Bag of Hammers is a wry look at the mind behind the most horrible crimes in all of literature – that of the writer. Louis deLacey is a gay Irishman who writes garish crime novels in the spirit of tough guy writers like Mickey Spillane, with titles such as Alone He Hunts or Alone He Mounts (‘the story of a solitary philatelist in a small American town who excises small patches of his victims’ tattoos to preserve in his murder album’). Louis’ greatest creation is himself, as he styles himself Lance McArdon and adopts a suitable tough guy American persona for book signings and such. When a fan asks Louis/Lance for help with his own writing, complications arise.
Now is a ghost story really a crime story, particularly when the ghost in question doesn’t take anything or kill anyone, instead suggesting a nice wine for the widowed Lord of the Manor to enjoy in the evening? Well, truth being what it is (an annoyance) I suppose not, yet John Connolly’s The Evenings with Evans has such a genteel grace to it that hang it all I must recommend it to you. Wait. Did I say hang it all? Good – there’s your crime covered. Next.
I did mention that it is good to have a familiar writer or two on whom to anchor one’s opinions of the anthology as a whole. And represented in Trouble is our Business is Louise Phillips with her story Double. Phillips is quite the current queen of the police procedural, but here she concentrates her shrewd plotting on the story of a middle-aged woman who has an affair after a lifetime of benign endurance of her husband’s liaisons.
The two last stories that really stuck in my mind are linked by a common thread of rough justice. Brian McGilloway’s What Lies Inside takes place inside a penitentiary where a convict attempts to protect his newly-arrived nephew. In brutal conditions there may yet be a certain nobility, just as there is in Stuart Neville’s The Catastrophist, the tale of an IRA team sent to mete out punishment to two of their own for having wrongly beaten to death a civilian.
Trouble is our Business is a perfect gift for anyone who likes to read a good story before bedtime, although I should warn you that the book’s back cover says, ‘Having trouble sleeping? Then don’t buy this book…’ Well, what can I say? Don’t judge books by their covers.
Be seeing you.