There’s nothing like a good dose of Ken Bruen every now and then — especially if that dose includes a big helping of Brant. In Vixen, we follow Brant and his police cronies as they investigate a series of bombings perpetrated by a beautiful Vixen and her two underworld cronies. The investigation goes as one would suspect, but it’s the “police work” outside of the investigation that sets this author — and his character Detective Inspector Brant — apart from the others. When a new muscle-bound pimp starts roughing up the girls, they turn to Brant to take care of him — much to the delight of the London cop and his steel-tip boots. As a token of their thanks, the hookers throw him a party. Brant, of course, brings his boss, Chief Inspector Roberts, who has a bloody good time in Brant’s world, where a badge is simply a shield for a thug. It’s a world that I’ll keep turning to, one where it’s not about the plot but rather the story and the characters who are all characters with a story.
Posts Tagged London
Bad-ass old school British cop Brant is back in Ken Bruen’s ninth novel, Blitz, and this time he’s chasing a cop killer. A cop killer who, not surprisingly, was roughed up by Brant several years earlier. The premise of this book is simple: As the cop killings continue, Brant and his mates track down the suspect and some heads — both good and bad — get cracked in the process. Let’s face it, if you are looking for an elaborate police procedural, this is not it. In fact, if it was any author other than Bruen, I’d rip him for the lack of detective work and the crazy coincidences that lead to leads. But since we are talking Bruen, don’t worry about it, just enjoy the rugged characters and the wonderful urban dialogue as the story unfolds. There’s not much more to say, other than if you haven’t read one of Bruen’s books featuring Brant, you’re in for an interesting treat, one akin to the Club Milk biscuit he is so fond of.
In Ken Bruen‘s eighth installment, London Boulevard, we are once again introduced to a main character who is an ex-con. Since Bruen specializes in urban fiction set in the British and Irish underworld, it would almost seem wrong if we weren’t following the exploits of a convict. This time it is Mitchell, who spent three years in the clink for an assault that he doesn’t remember. We pick up the story as his jail term ends and he immediately is recruited back into the criminal life. Mitchell doesn’t seem to mind the illegal stuff, it’s just that he doesn’t want to be forced into committing crimes. His troubles begin when he makes a stand against a crime boss and instead takes a job doing handyman work for a famous actress. Her butler has a past as equally as questionable as Mitchell and they wind up involved in some rough stuff. Mitchell also breaks some laws with his former gang and does some solo vigilante work, including seeking revenge against a young soccer star who is known for wearing a Beckham jersey. Like all Bruen books, Mitchell lives in a world where it’s an eye for eye and there aren’t any happy endings — at least not in the storyline. And like his American urban crime-writing counterpart George Pelecanos, the ending always seems to build violently. You know it’s coming, but you can’t help but enjoy the carnage you witness as the story comes to a powder keg of a ending.
After reading two books in a row by British authors, some of the Queen’s English seems to have made it’s way into my head. “Boy, am I knackered,” I thought to myself the other day after some strenuous exercise. What the hell got into me? The answer is Mark Billingham and his second novel, Scaredy Cat, which features Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Thorne and his team investigate of series of murders that don’t seem to be connected. But are they? Billingham’s first book, Sleepyhead, shows how Thorne thinks outside the box when it comes to solving a mystery. He continues this in the second novel, as the childhood and hometown of a potential suspect comes into play, while the pressure mounts from the media and Thorne’s superiors to close the case. I can’t say that I go out of my way to read Billingham, but he’s very good, very early and I look forward to his later work as he becomes more seasoned. (Mark Billingham books and reviews)
Her Last Call To Louis MacNeice, the third novel by Ken Bruen, is more of the same from Bruen: A rugged, main character straight out of the seedy London underworld. On this go-around, we meet Cooper, an ex-con who did his time for grievous bodily harm. Cooper and one of his former cellmates called Doc — due to his penchant for Doc Marten boots — put their criminal skills to use as both repo men and bank robbers. The first is on the up-and-up and makes good money, but the two keep getting drawn to the second and its adrenaline rush and enormous cash windfall. Things are going well for the bandits until Cooper meets a crazy American woman named Cassie. With Cassie in the picture, Cooper and Doc start to have personal and professional issues. Similar to the main character in the previous books, Cooper is long on brawn and short on brains, although Cooper’s choice of a Subaru Impreza as his everyday vehicle is a smart move according to this WRX owner. And similar to the other two books, we see Cooper on the run and attempting to hide in a London full of nooks and cranny’s. All-in-all, another gritty and enjoyable urban novel by Bruen, who seemingly atones for a mistake he made in The Hackman Blues — he mentions The Untouchables again, and this time he correctly says Kevin Costner played Elliott Ness.
As you may know by now, I love reading Ken Bruen. When it comes to urban fiction set in the United Kingdom, there is no one better — at least that I’ve found. And The Hackman Blues is another spectacular, gritty story. Unfortunately, there are a couple of slight issues. In Bruen’s previous book, Rilke on Black, the main character was a thug who got involved in a kidnapping plot. One book later, we’ve got the same exact plot. But what saves things this time are the twists — Tony Brady is not only a thug, but he’s one who battles manic depression. And Brady has an even larger flaw when it comes to the underworld — he lives an alternate lifestyle. But what really struck me were a couple of factual mistakes that an American proof reader would have caught but a British one didn’t, obviously. Bruen talks about the Chicago mayor who was arrested for drugs and then re-elected. He meant D.C. mayor Marion Barry. Bruen also talks about Kevin Kline’s role in The Untouchables. He meant Kevin Costner. Errors aside, it was still a damn good book. Brady is a sleazeball playing relationship Russian roulette, but neither he nor Bruen apologize for it, although there are consequences. And again we are shown the seedy underbelly of London and learn terms such as rent boy, which is British slang for a male prostitute. British gangsters and thugs again come to life and if you enjoy authentic urban fiction, The Hackman Blues is worth checking out.
On the cover of Rilke on Black, American author George Pelecanos lauds the work of British author Ken Bruen. I have to say it’s fitting since Pelecanos is my favorite American author and Bruen is my favorite British author. The reason, of course, is quite simple. When it comes to gritty, noir fiction filled with wonderful dialogue, excellent characters and a realistic dose of drugs, sex and violence, these two are the best in the business right now. Rilke on Black is Bruen’s third novel, but since the first two are out of print, for my purposes, we will call this Book No. 1. The story is told in first person by Nick, a massive bouncer short on smarts who lists “Thuggery” as his occupation. We are introduced to Dex, a psychopathic neighbor who gets saved from a beating by Nick, and Lisa, a saucy black woman who Nick picked up in a bar. This odd trio decides to commit a crime and, as one would suspect, things start to unravel in the aftermath. The book is damn entertaining once you get accustomed to Bruen’s unique writing style and the Queen’s English, and my only complaint is that the book is a bit short. (Lisa gets Nick hooked on drugs and he goes into a slide, but things move so quickly it fails to make an impression.) Brevity aside, as Pelecanos says — and I second — if you like realistic crime novels, Bruen is the one to read.