Ken Bruen Essay - Critical Essays


After some early attempts at literary fiction and several well-received London-based crime thrillers including Rilke on Black (1996), The Hackman Blues (1997), and Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice (1997), Ken Bruen achieved critical and commercial success with the publication of The Guards, a Jack Taylor novel, in 2001. Although his career as a novelist did not begin with the Sergeant Brant and Jack Taylor series, they are his most popular novels and among his most effective. In both series, Bruen brings a markedly American style to unusual settings like London and Galway. The literary influences Bruen claims are, with the exception of Samuel Beckett, more American than Irish: Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Joseph Koenig, George V. Higgins, and James Crumley. Bruen’s economy of language makes for a staccato read that effectively mirrors the thought processes of the characters. The plots of the novels advance at a breakneck speed.

The White Trilogy

Although Bruen’s South London police procedurals have come to be known as the Brant novels, Detective Sergeant Brant shares the stage with several other significant characters, particularly in the first three novels in the series, reissued as The White Trilogy, where he has no more than equal billing with his boss, Chief Inspector Roberts. The police procedural often describes the actions of an ensemble rather than an individual. In the first Brant novel, A White Arrest, Roberts and Brant are referred to as R&B, rhythm and blues, in what seems like an echo of the team Fire and Ice in The Black Dahlia (1987) by James Ellroy, whom Bruen cites as an influence. Also introduced early in the novel is WPC (Woman Police Constable) Falls, who as a black woman is Brant’s unlikely protégé. In A White Arrest, a serial killer called the Umpire is targeting the English cricket team, and a vigilante group is murdering drug dealers. As is common in the genre of police procedurals, the narrative is presented in the third person by a narrator who, although omniscient, does not divulge much about the inner lives or feelings of the characters—little more, at least, than the characters divulge to one another. Marital infidelity and the death of a dog are handled with dark humor amid allusions to British and American pop culture.

In Taming the Alien, the second novel in the trilogy, Brant travels to Ireland and the United States in pursuit of a fugitive with whom he finds a strange affinity, while WPC Falls struggles with an arsonist and the loss of a baby and Chief Inspector Roberts learns that he has skin cancer. The McDead, the third novel in the trilogy, pits Brant and Roberts against an Irish gangster over the death of Roberts’s estranged brother. As elsewhere in the world of Bruen’s London novels, revenge is presented as the best resolution available to the characters. The characterization is accomplished almost entirely through dialogue, with only limited commentary from the narrator, most of it darkly humorous.

Later Brant Novels

The line that separates the...

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