Fans of Irish crime fiction are no strangers to anticipation. From the classic police procedural to the emerging domestic noir, this genre and its nail-biting stories have exploded across the global literary sphere. And that popularity is in no small part due to the curiosity and excitement that readers feel as they consume this popular fiction. We at Syracuse University Press are feeling the same way about the publication of Guilt Rules All, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff. Guilt Rules All is an essay collection that explores the roots and also the fluidity of this developing genre. Both scholars and enthusiasts of Irish crime fiction have come together to discuss topics spanning from globalization, to women and violence, and even to Irish historical topics like the Troubles. We asked Cliff and Mannion to tell us a little more about how the project was started, why the collaborative format, and where their love for Irish crime fiction began.
Guilt Rules All hopes to find an audience in both the academic sphere of Irish Studies and with the general readership of Irish crime fiction. How was it trying to balance this diverse readership spanning from scholars to aficionados?
For the most part, it was exciting and a bit liberating. We’ve worked hard to make sure the collection offers insights to Irish Studies scholars new to crime fiction criticism, while doing just as much to welcome experienced crime fiction readers and scholars who may be newer to Irish materials.
Of the five sections of Guilt Rules All, the final discusses the very recently emerged subgenre of domestic noir. This subgenre, and the entirety of Irish crime fiction, is deeply influenced by female writers. How is the discussion of women authors and their work addressed in this collection?
A central goal as we developed this collection was to make the contents reflect the full scope of subgenres and the ways women are writing across all of them, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. So many women are producing some of the richest, most exciting Irish fiction of any genre, and accounts of Irish crime fiction need to address that in detail. Not enough critical work has yet been done on writers beyond Tana French and Benjamin Black, but any dive into Irish crime writing will reveal that writers like Julie Parsons and Arlene Hunt were there from the earliest stages of the genre’s recent growth.
What unique perspectives do nonacademic writers bring to the discussion of Irish crime fiction, that Guilt Rules All would suffer without?
Mannion: Gerard Brennan has a PhD from Queen’s Belfast, so he has one foot in that academic world, but his other is firmly set in the creative realm. Like Declan Burke, who has perhaps done more than anyone to spread the word about Irish crime fiction’s strengths, Brennan is a seasoned crime writer. Both Declan and Gerard were important to this collection because they were able to discuss their subjects – Steve Cavanagh for Gerard, and Alex Barclay for Declan – from the perspective of practicing novelists. Joe Long’s perspective is that of a hard-core fan. He’s one of the undersung heroes of Irish crime writing in America, a real advocate for these writers. Together, these three contributors reflect some of the different perspectives from which people have done so much to support the genre’s growth in recent decades.
In editing Guilt Rules All, what new or different conclusions did you come to about the Irish crime fiction genre?
Both of us have worked extensively on the genre, Beth with her 2016 edited collection The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel and Brian with his 2018 monograph Irish Crime Fiction. The experience of editing and contributing to Guilt Rules All was another reminder of just how diverse and energetic the genre is, and an exciting chance to see what insights our colleagues have been able to glean from their array of authors. The main conclusion we’ve reached is that Irish crime fiction – in general, and in the particulars given here – is marked by a defining fluidity and a generosity in fusing subgenres. These traits show how both crime fiction and Irish literature are more capacious than they may sometimes seem. It’s our hope that, by tracing these traits, these essays will contribute to a foundation on which to build further accounts of the genre’s role in Irish culture. It’s also become crystal clear to us that there are some amazing scholars out there who want to track those directions.
What was the impetus for Guilt Rules All? Why this book, and why a collaborative project?
We had worked well together on The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel, to which Brian contributed a chapter on John Connolly’s work, and we had a number of discussions about what – beyond our own previous publications – could be done to broaden the discussion’s scope, and to reflect the range of authors who’ve made a place for themselves in that discussion. We also saw that the field was expanding faster than most readers can keep up. It was important to us that an attempt be made to keep pace and—before too much more time passed—capture the impact of some writers who were there before the field gained international attention.
Love of Irish crime fiction shines through every chapter of Guilt Rules All. As this passion propels the collection, can you recall your introduction to the genre? What was the first book or series that lit the spark?
Mannion: My sparks were Declan Hughes and Jane Casey. I was familiar with Declan’s plays, and when I heard he wrote crime fiction, I jumped in. I think Brian is the person who introduced me to Jane’s Maeve Kerrigan series. I was hooked with the first book (The Burning).
Cliff: My reading of crime fiction in general was set off decades ago with the Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s “Immram,” which fuses to delirious effect the Southern California of Chandler and Macdonald with medieval Irish vision quests. My specific love for Irish crime fiction, though, began with John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, Tana French’s Faithful Place, and Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series.
In your opinion, why is Irish crime fiction such a booming genre in today’s global literary field?
As we explore in our introduction, the genre’s growth really kicks in at a point where many of the parameters of Irish fiction in general could seem at times to have been pretty thoroughly delineated, but Irish crime fiction – like other forms of popular fiction in Ireland – has offered a wealth of new angles, perspectives, and approaches, to which scholars are increasingly attending. At the same time, for genre readers outside of Ireland, Irish crime fiction offers characters and contexts that are accessible to a wide range of readers in and beyond the Irish diaspora, while still maintaining a strong sense of specificity, a combination that seems to give readers an easy path into a complex world.