DECLAN BURKE – Absolute Cool Zero. Liberties Press, Ireland, trade paperback, July 2011; US, 28 November 2011. (Kindle edition available now.)

   Declan Burke continues to expand the limits of not only his own writing, but of the Irish crime fiction genre as well. His latest, Absolute Cool Zero, is the story of the clash between writer and his abandoned creation come back to life, a character who is willing to blow up a hospital to get published.

DECLAN BURKE Absolute Cool Zero

    “He just appears, as if wished for,” wrote the writer.

   Declan is trying to finish the book his publisher is impatiently waiting for when he is interrupted by a man he does not recognize, but who knows him. The man claims to be Karlsson, a fictional character from an earlier book written by Declan but never published. In that book, Karlsson was a hospital porter who killed old people who wanted to die.

   Now Karlsson is seeking another chance to be published and find closure. He has changed his appearance and his name. Now calling himself Billy, he wants Declan to rewrite the book, take Karlsson’s plans a step further, and blow up a hospital full of people.

   Declan humors Billy at first, as the two form the most basic of writer’s groups. critiquing the other’s suggestions. The mind games and disturbing discussions between Declan and Billy about love, family, violence, and survival slowly evolves into a surreal nightmarish struggle as both writer and character attempt to escape a past they fear could destroy them.

   Billy wants desperately to escape the muddled fate of Karlsson in the first book. He wants things to turn out differently between himself and Cassie, the female character he hopes to raise a family with, and who he, as Karlsson, may have killed in the first book (neither Declan or Billy know for sure).

   Now happily married with a baby daughter, Declan worries about what would happen to him without his family. They had saved him from that terrible time in his life when such monsters as remorseless killer Karlsson lived in his head.

   Each spends time away from the other. Declan with his loving family. Billy with Cassie and working as a hospital porter at what seems to be a very real hospital.

   Absolute Cool Zero is a fine example of comedic crime noir. As I was reading it, I was thinking of Donald Westlake and Parker.

   Absolute Cool Zero is also a fine example of Irish literary fiction. John Banville (Benjamin Black) describes Declan’s writing in AZC as “a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler” (on the AZC front cover).

   If you enjoy modern crime noir, especially with an Irish comedic touch, this is an author you need to read.