Glenstal educated crime writer serves-up a cracking crime novel

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

William Ryan was shortlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year in 2012 and he was shortlisted again this year for the Irish Book Awards
WILLIAM RYAN, the onetime City of London lawyer, has long since abandoned his day job for a shot at big time writing.

WILLIAM RYAN, the onetime City of London lawyer, has long since abandoned his day job for a shot at big time writing.

Nevertheless, he still credits his formative years at Glenstal Abbey for that artistic tour de force.

Shortlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year in 2012 and only recently shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards, Ryan has been going from strength to strength ever since.

He explained: “The Twelfth Department (published by Macmillan) is the third in my series of crime novels featuring the Soviet-era Detective Captain Alexei Korolev, Criminal Investigator with the Moscow Militia. However, I have another one planned for 2015 and a few more plotted so the trilogy may stretch out a bit.

“The novel I am working on now, however, is a standalone set in the dying days of Nazi Germany. It isn’t a crime novel, except of course for the many crimes that go with the setting, and it’s a bit different to the Korolev novels in tone and a bit of a challenge as a result. But I think it is going to turn out well, touch wood.”

With his parents working abroad for many years, Bill Ryan spent most of his childhood shuttling around the globe. He has not forgotten those Limerick roots, however, and often comes home to touch base with the ‘holy ground’.

“We’re pretty settled in London at the moment,” he said. “But I’m generally back in Limerick at least two or three times a year. My wife’s from Nenagh and her brother is Donnacha Ryan, the Rugby player, so we try and make our visits coincide with Munster matches and yes, my wife and I, are both Ryans - not related though!”

Ryan’s previous instalments in the series were The Holy Thief (2010) and The Bloody Meadow (2011) and he relishes the contradictions and dangers inherent in the old USSR.

“I’ve always enjoyed Russian literature so that was probably the starting point,” he stated. “And out of that came an interest in Russian history and, particularly, the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. I think it is interesting to set a crime novel, which is generally concerned with truth and justice, in a totalitarian state where truth and justice are dangerous commodities.

“The Twelfth Department starts with the murder of two scientists and Korolev quickly discovers that they were engaged in some pretty unpleasant experimentation on behalf of State Security. This makes the investigation more than a little difficult but then his young son goes missing!

“A lot of the novel concerns how children were treated in the Soviet Union at the time and also aspects of Soviet experimentation into mind control. Most of my research for the novels is an on-going process, but as regards Soviet science and Soviet children, these were certainly things that I had to do specific work on. Soviet science, with all its politics and pressures, and occasional charlatanism, is probably something I’ll return to in future.”

Martin Cruz Smith, Boris Akunin, Jason Goodwin and Philip Kerr are all writers that he really admires for the way that they control historical settings. He also likes authors who were writing in and around the time that his novels are set, such as Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His detective, Captain Korolev, owes a debt to all of these writers, he feels, but probably most to Simenon and Chandler.

He commented: “Korolev is steady, patient and committed to uncovering the truth in the cases he investigates. Unfortunately for him, he lives in Stalinist Russia, so he often has to compromise. It is how he manages to see the job through, despite the dangers and the obstruction, which is the really interesting thing.

“He definitely owes something to those classic fictional detectives like Philip Marlowe and Jules Maigret – but I’m not sure that he is as world-weary. He is more of an optimist, despite all that is going on around him, and I think, perhaps, he rather deceives himself sometimes to keep his optimism alive. That is how he survives the extraordinary times he finds himself in. He’s an ordinary man, at the end of the day, and that’s why readers seem to like him so much!”

For more information about William Ryan please see his website: