I have just finished reading the new Ken Bruen, THE DEVIL. It features Jack Taylor who I love but was having second thoughts about after the previous novel SANCTUARY. But Jack returns in classic Ken Bruen style; short, sharp, brutal and funny. THE DEVIL is vintage Bruen, classic Jack Taylor, a cracking story and a one hell of an ending (pun intended).
After putting the book down I got thinking about why Ken Bruen doesn’t sell a lot here in Australia. The quote on the front of the book hails him as “Ireland’s most acclaimed crime-writer” and every crime writer worth a damn always lists him as one of their favourite writers but he still remains this big secret to many readers.
My first introduction to Bruen was THE GUARDS, which was published in Australia by Duffy & Snellgrove, who sadly are no more. What first got me hooked on Bruen and Jack Taylor was the fact that some chapters would start with a quote from another crime novel. There was something cool about a chapter starting with a quote from another writer that you also loved like George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane. What endeared me even ore to the novels was Jack’s own tastes which also included books I loved but also TV shows like Oz, Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men. It has actually been a shame that since the Jack Taylor novels started being published by Random House UK these quotes have stopped (although they have been replaced by Bruen’s own quotes so it’s not a total loss!)
Initially I just stuck to the Jack Taylor novels. It proved a challenge to source these books. Locally Duffy & Snellgrove wound up so they weren’t publishing Bruen locally and thanks to the quirks of the supply chain in Australia it is next to impossible to get the books from the UK or Ireland. I started to source them from the US but they were about two years behind which was very frustrating. But what were readily available was Bruen’s other brilliant series featuring DS Brant.
The Brant novels break every convention of crime fiction, which is only one reason why this series is so enjoyable. They are absurd, politically incorrect, laugh-out-loud-in-inappropriate-places funny and compellingly readable. They are so wrong they are right (if that makes sense). The best part is the cops in the series are more violent, wicked, corrupt and scary than any of the crooks. You almost feel sorry for the crooks in each book, almost.
But why doesn’t Ken Bruen sell? I think the advantage the Brant series has over Jack Taylor is that they are published straight into paperback (although they aren’t published in Australia at all and the first three books are now out of print!). The Jack Taylor books are initially published in hardcover in the US and in the UK and here into a large format paperback. AND the Jack Taylor books are always fleshed out with blank pages and excessive margins to make the books look like 300 pages to justify the hardcover/trade paperback price point.
The beauty of Bruen is you want to read him in one sitting. You do not feel cheated if you do. My best memory of reading a Bruen was lining up for 4 or 5 hours for concert tickets reading a Brant novel with another one in my pocket. Bruen is made for a cheap, nasty looking format; it’s part of the ambiance of reading a Bruen.
Apparently there are two films on their way this year, LONDON BOULEVARD (which I haven’t read) and curiously BLITZ, which is book 4 in the Brant series. Maybe the films will encourage people to seek out his books, they are well worth it. THE DEVIL is out here in August (I just discovered it is already out in the UK *groan*), which makes two Jack Taylor books in a row., and my fingers a crossed that 2011 will see a new Brant book.