Culture Night Derry/Londonderry 2010
Watch a video from the Maiden City, whilst Garbhan Downey attends the Night of Crime literary event
Stuart Neville did it with a dagger in the library. Three short pumps of a blade and an entire room gasped. Of course, Neville, recent winner of the LA Times Book Prize, is only reading from his new thriller, Collusion. And the carpet in Derry's Central Library remains unsoiled.
While Neville has the 50-strong audience on the edges of their seats, Eoin McNamee holds them spellbound, as he unravels two notorious miscarriages of justice.
The former law student, whose novel about Iain Hay Gordon’s wrongful conviction, The Blue Tango, was shortlisted for the Booker, reads a snatch from his latest book, Orchid Blue. It explores the incongruity of Judge Lancelot Curran presiding over the murder of a teenage girl, only a few years after his own daughter’s brutal killing.
A man called Robert McGladdery was hanged by Curran, on circumstantial evidence, after the icily-careful judge demolished the two central planks of the defence case in his summing up.
During a question and answer session, conducted by the north’s leading crime fiction specialist Gerard Brennan, McNamee shows judicial care in not fully exonerating McGladdery. But he emphasises that today Curran would not have been allowed anywhere near the case.
McNamee also demonstrates a lawyer’s acumen in refusing to state openly who he believes murdered Patricia Curran – though he makes it clear he has his own opinion.
The writer’s caution is understandable, given that he was roundly vilified by right-wing sections of the British media for his book on Diana’s last days, 12.23: A Parisian Summer. And he also received death threats after his thriller on the Shankill Butchers, Resurrection Man, was made into a film.
Critics are everywhere. Neville, in turn, recounts how he was once forced by libel lawyers, pre-reading one of his books, to change a character who was ‘clearly based’ on a real person – a man Neville had never even heard of.
And the Armagh author, who invented one of the most foul-mouthed, violent hit men in modern fiction, in the form of ‘The Traveller’, reveals a peculiar foible of his own. He doesn’t like using bad language in front of an audience – so he self-censors his own reading, very smoothly.
The ‘Night of Crime’ event was just one of many free events taking place in Derry to celebrate the city's inaugural Culture Night. Elsewhere in the city, the Nerve Centre hosted a range of short films and live music performances; there was an open-air concert on Guildhall Square; and for those of a stylistic disposition, there was an open-air fashion show up on the city’s old ramparts.
There were also art exhibitions, poetry readings and music recitals at venues right across the Northwest And amazingly, for Derry in late September, it all stayed dry.