Author of the Month

Name: Sam Millar

First Novel: Dark Souls

Most Recent Book: A Dark Place

'Millar is a wonderful find who should instantly be placed on top of discerning reader’s crime shortlist. '

When young, homeless girls are being found mutilated and murdered, the city can’t believe that someone so horrendous could be operating in their midst. However, Karl Kane seems to have problems of his own and isn’t really up to listening to the sob story of a hysterical young girl searching for her sister. Kane believes it to be an everyday case of a drug addict going on a wander. However, soon his head is turned and he finds himself stuck in the middle of the biggest and bloodiest murder case in Irish history.

Soon dumped bodies are being discovered and they have been mutilated and tortured in the most grisly and macabre way. As the police seem to stall in the investigation, Kane has his aim clearly on a very public body. Instead of running, Kane’s adversary decides to take decisive action – he decides to kidnap Kane’s daughter…

Every now and then you stumble across a writer and when you are reading their latest offering you wonder how on earth you haven’t read their books before. I was instantly gripped when I opened the covers of The Dark Place. In only 256 pages, Millar manages to cram in enough tension compared to most novels that apparently need double the number of pages. There is not a superfluous word nor hint of ‘fluff’ to fill out the storyline. What you get here is gritty, ‘to the point’ writing that doesn’t waste it’s time going over the niceties – because there aren’t any! Millar tells the story like it is and you find yourself holding your breath when captured by the story, especially at the ending when, literally, all bets are off.

But amongst all this, Millar shows Kane the human; the man who has to deal with a daughter who wishes he’d get back to his ex-wife, his ex who hates and loves him in equal measure and his turbulent relationship with his new love, Naomi. In a few phrases this marvellous writer manages to flesh out his characters, bringing them very much to life. As with Ken Bruen, another Irish writer who is a master of less saying more,

You won’t go far wrong heeding my words.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Atmosphere for me is the main ingredient. Having said that, great characters - be they protagonist or antagonists – are also extremely important. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be a page-turner, but it should certainly be a chapter turner. The reader should come away from the journey with the belief that their hard-earned money and time was well spent travelling with you.
2) Now that the crime/thriller genre represents the largest section of fiction sold in the UK and Ireland, do you think we do enough to celebrate the quality and diversity of the writing?
In a word? No. There seems to be an entrenched snobbery against crime writing and crime writers – and indeed crime readers. I don’t want to sound as if I’m suffering from a martyr complex, but it has never been a level playing field for the genre of crime. Writers have had to fight tooth and bloody nail for every inch of begrudging ink allocated to them. Thankfully, we now have excellent outlets in crime sites such as and others to spread the word. Coincidently, I strongly believe these sites are quickly becoming more important than newspapers and radio, to crime writers such as myself.
3) The Dark Place is the second novel to feature Karl Kane. What was it about Kane that made you want to keep his acquaintance and write a series about him?
His humanity to those less fortunate in society and his dry, dark wit, despite all that life has thrown at him. I have always been a great fan of crime noir, especially the classics from the fifties. After completing a couple of crime novels, I thought about doing the classic PI, and so decided to incorporate the cynicism of Chandler and the bullet-speed wit of Elmore Leonard, only darker and with more edge in today’s modern noir world. Karl Kane fits the criteria perfectly.
4) The Dark Place is an extremely gruesome tale. What is it inside Sam Millar that feels the need to tell such dark tales?
I would be the first to admit that the stories I create are extremely uncomfortable and not to everyone’s taste or liking. Having said that, I feel it’s a writer’s duty to keep pushing the limits of what is called acceptability and not fall into the trap of mediocre. The real world is no longer black and white, but a gritty shade of grey. It’s the grey I’m interested in. I have always been fascinated by people on the fringe of society, what happened to put them there, how do they cope. The dark writing is also cathartic for me, as explained in question five.
5) One of the quotes on your new book declares ‘While most writers sit in their study and make it up, Sam Millar has lived it’. Tell us about yourself and in what way have you lived the dark places you describe in your books?
That quote comes from Cyrus Nowrasteh, award-winning writer/director, at Warner Brothers when he was working on the screenplay of my memoir, On The Brinks, for Warner. He has just finished reading The Redemption Factory and thought that quote summed me up perfectly. When I was eight, my mother disappeared from the face of the earth, and was never seen again by myself or family. Obviously, it left its mark on me. When Karl Kane was eight, he watched the brutal murder and rape of his mother. Karl was left for dead by the same monster. That was what I meant about dark writing being cathartic for me. Later, in life, I was sentenced to many years imprisonment in America and sent to one of the toughest penitentiary in the American system, charged with being the mastermind behind the biggest armour car depot robbery in American history. Subsequently pardoned by President Bill Clinton, I was sent back home to Ireland, having learned the hard lesson that crime only pays when it’s in book form!
6) The writing is tight and you tell the story in half the pages most thrillers need just to get started. Is your philosophy to simply get on with the story?
I’m a great believer in less being more - especially for a crime novel. I prefer crime stories to be lean and mean, rather than bloated with wastage. The canvas shouldn’t be too large in case the picture held within is lost in translation. I cringe when writers ‘fluff’ their books up with irrelevant scenes just to fill a page.
7) In ‘The Dark Place’ the girls are force fed by the killer. Where did you get this idea from?
As a young man, I worked in an abattoir and based my experience of that terrible place in one of my crime novels, The Redemption Factory. I later returned to that experience having witnessed the inhumane technique of gavaging - or foie gras - deliberately fattening or force-feeding geese for their rich livers. I thought of applying the same technique to humans via a sadistic serial killer and abductor of young women.

8) What do you think drives a story – plot or characters?
Original and strong characters can occasionally help save a mediocre plot. If you look at a Cohen Brothers movie, sometimes the wacky plot is entirely lost and saved only by the even wackier characters. I think that is why most readers enjoy serialisation in certain books. They are familiar with some of the characters already peopled within the pages, and will – occasionally – forgive the odd transgression in plot.
9) Are we going to see Karl Kane soon and are we going to hear more about the trials and tribulations of Karl’s complicated life as well as the numerous scrapes he finds himself in?
The third Karl Kane novel is due out next year, with a shocking revelation concerning his ex brother-in-law and nemesis, Detective Inspector Mark Wilson. Karl will also be making a decision that will change his life forever. Before that, however, there will an anthology of crime stories called The Red Hand of Crime, from numerous crime writers, due for the summer of 2010. One of the stories will be an original Karl Kane story.
10) In a dream scenario who would you like to direct and star in a film/TV adaptation of your book?
Sean Penn was mentioned for On The Brinks, but I suppose an ideal Karl Kane would be Liam Neeson, as he would have the right attitude and accent. If the Cohen Brothers directed it, that would be a dream come true. (Sorry, Cyrus).
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
Shawshank Redemption, taken from a Stephen King short story. Great story telling visualised authentically onto the screen. The most memorable quote of the movie comes from Andy to Red in a hand-written note: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies", has stayed with me through many a dark passage in life.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Had I not read the book many years before the film, then the film would have been terrific. But, unfortunately, the film fell short of the mark and was rushed at the end. Story telling at its leanest and meanest. A classic from one of the greatest writers of our time.