Ken Bruen is an Irish author of hard-core crime fiction novels. Bruen is highly-educated, having earned a Ph.D. in metaphysics from Trinity College Dublin. (Ken Bruen Web site|Ken Bruen on Wikipedia)

Books by Ken Bruen that I have read

Rilke on Black1. Rilke on Black (1996)

Mini book review: 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.

The Hackman Blues2. The Hackman Blues (1997)

Mini book review: 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.

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice3. Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice (1998)

Mini book review: 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.

The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen4-6. The White Trilogy (A White Arrest, 1998; Taming the Alien, 1999; The McDead, 2000)

Back of the book summary: Here are your poor, your tired, your hungry; your predatory crack dealers, your arsonists and rapists; your killers for money, for revenge, for enforcement, and for sheer ugly fun. The neighborhoods of Southeast London are the kind of place where the most hardened, brutal criminals are treated like Robin Hood, where a snitch is likely to get cooked alive, where even the pit bulls better travel in pairs. It’s the place R&B call home. Chief Inspector Roberts and Detective Sergeant Brant are obverse sides of the same tarnished coin. Roberts is cool, calculating, cerebral, and deadly. Brant is a thug, bad as any of the hard case crooks, but with his own unshakable code. In The White Trilogy, Ken Bruen’s jagged, brilliant tour of London noir, they come up against some of the worst. A sadistic gang who hang crack dealers from lampposts; Fenton “The Alien,” who leads Brant on a deadly chase through London, New York, San Francisco and Acapulco; and Tommy Logan, a ruthless lowlife with social aspirations and no compunctions about dealing out brutal death. The White Trilogy is a potent epic of death and redemption, love and betrayal, and the thin line between chaos and the rule of law.

The Guards by Ken Bruen7. The Guards (2001)

Mini book review: Just like beer, Ken Bruen is an acquired taste. My first exposure to Bruen was in The White Trilogy, which featured British detective Brant in three novels: A White Arrest; Taming the Alien; and The McDead. While The Guards was written before The McDead — and Bruen has written a couple of prior books — for my purposes, I consider this his fourth book. Anyway, Irish detective Jack Taylor is the focus of this book. A former member of the Irish Guards militia, Taylor takes shit the entire book since there aren’t really any private eyes in Ireland. He also has major issues with alcohol and hangs around with some shady characters, which is your standard detective fare. What isn’t standard, is the prose of Bruen. Not only are you hit with the Queen’s English, but Bruen has a unique writing style in which he sometimes uses poetry. In the middle of a paragraph. Or he makes a list and puts it in the form of poetry. Similar to your first sip of beer, at the start of the novel, you are a little skeptical. But as you continue to read, it starts to make sense. And you find yourself enjoying his quirky style. Not to mention his characters. Bruen is compared to Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos for this reason. Taylor and his criminal friend, Sutton, are both a dichotomy between good and bad, normal and abnormal. And just like Pelecanos, Bruen is a mix between detective fiction and book noir. A literary cocktail worth trying.

London Boulevard8. London Boulevard (2001)

Mini book review: 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.

The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen9. The Killing of the Tinkers (2002)

Mini book review: After having a taste of Jack Taylor in The Guards, I was ready for some more. And thus came The Killing of the Tinkers. In this book, Taylor reads voraciously and he actually talks about two of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block and George Pelecanos. Which makes sense, since similar to Block’s Matt Scudder character, Taylor is a drunk former cop turned detective with some shady friends. And similar to Pelacanos, Bruen has a film noir writing style that perfectly captures the hip local underground in the place in which he lives, including the drugs that often exist but are rarely written about in mainstream fiction. As I mentioned before, Bruen is an acquired taste. Pelecanos, T. Jefferson Parker and Mark Billingham sing his praises so I know I am in good company as I enjoy the ride. Which, basically is a mystery which involves a social worker and some gypsies. And includes some vicious violence to go along with drunken debauchery. Enough said.

10. Blitz (2002)

11. The Magdalen Martyrs (2003)

12. Vixen (2003)

13. The Dramatist (2004)

Books by Ken Bruen on my reading list

14. Dispatching Baudelaire (2004)

15. Calibre (2006)

16. Priest (2006)

17. Bust (2006)

18. American Skin (2006)

19. Ammunition (2007)

20. Cross (2007)

21. Slide (2007)

22. Sanctuary (2008)

23. The Max (2008)

24. Once Were Cops (2008)

25. Killer Year (2008)

26. The Devil (2010)