Call Ken Bruen the Irish Elmore Leonard. He would probably like that. After all, he includes a quote from Be Cool, arguably one of Leonard’s weaker efforts, in one book and a quote from La Brava,one of my personal favorites, in another.
There are traces of Elmore Leonard in his books but like Mr. Leonard, Ken Bruen has developed his own style and found his own voice in his Jack Taylor novels, set in the Irish city of Galway, and Inspector Brant books, set in London. ( He has also written standalone novels and co-written a series of satirical paperbacks with Jason Starr featuring an unsavory character named Max Fisher.)
Mr. Bruen favors blunt, clipped sentences which can carry the force of a sucker punch. His chapters are usually brief (Attention ADD sufferers!) His writing style can be interpreted as wilfully eccentric – think of modern poetry adapted to a prose style. There are numerous pop culture and literary references (everything from Flaubert to Jim Thompson). Mr. Bruen not only tells us Jack is a discriminating film buff but what his favorites are: (“I headed for my video shelf. It`s sparse but has my very essentials:
Once Upon a Time in the West
Dog Soldiers “
(No, there is nothing wrong with my keyboard. That is the spacing in the book.)
Ken Bruen also tells us about Jack’s favorite authors and TV shows (Breaking Bad is a particular favorite). Mr. Bruen is also musically literate. (In describing the repertoire of a young singer , Jack recognizes songs by Chrissie Hynde, Alison Moyet, Neil Young and Margo Timmins, lead singer of The Cowboy Junkies).
I would have posted a favorable review of the Jack Taylor novels for fans of hard-boiled noir but the best adjectives have been taken : “Bruen’s astringent prose and death’s head humor keeps this quest for redemption from getting maudlin, just as his ‘tapestry of talk’ makes somber poetry of the bar-stool laments that serve as dialogue. ” (Marilyn Stasio, New York Times) or “… a potent draft of desire and hopelessness, conviction and surrender, inadvertent heroism and unexpected grace.” ( best-selling crime novelist T. Jefferson Parker) and (“there’s not a single drop or morsel of sentimentality to be found”) Oh, excuse me, that last quote (from Entertainment Weekly) is from the back cover of an Inspector Brant novel.
It is tempting to think Jack Taylor’s tastes match those of his creator – and I’m not the only one to wonder. In a lead-up to an interview with Ken Bruen, Mary-Ann Kolton writes on the L.A. Review of Books website: “SLY, PROFANE, CHARMING, ALCOHOLIC, sensitive, lonely, handsome, addicted to drugs, ballsy, well read, wry, nasty, self-deprecating, savvy, vicious, darkly humorous, vulnerable, cunning, insecure, emotionally damaged, loves his music, melancholy, short-tempered, bookstore lover.
Jack Taylor or Ken Bruen? “
During the course of the interview Mr. Bruen asserts that he is categorically NOT Jack Taylor, although they may share some tastes in literature and music. (Mr. Bruen tells Ms. Kolton that the character of Jack Taylor is actually based on his alcoholic brother.)
I already suspected that, before perusing the interview, after reading a Hard Case Crime paperback called PIMP.
One of the Max Fisher novels co-written with Mr. Starr, it is a wannabe (now there’s an adjective that hasn’t been used, to my knowledge) R-rated homage to Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty (it even has a cop named Leonard in the mix) which takes satirical potshots at the movie and book biz. Jack Reacher author Lee Child is satirized mercilessly. (One or two jokes may have been funny but a dozen or more? (Ever the good sport, Mr. Child wrote a blurb for the front cover: “I would have killed these two but I was too busy laughing.”)
I suppose if you were in the book business, or had some frustrating experiences dealing with Hollywood execs (according to his website Mr. Starr has several projects “in development”) the book may have been hilarious. The duo appeared to having fun writing it but to me the whole affair seemed to be a betrayal of Mr. Bruen’s voice in the Taylor novels.
Ironically, I was initially intrigued enough to sample the novels after watching the British TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels (on Netflix in North America and also on DVD). But after reading the novels I found the series (there are six episodes) did not stand up to repeat views. Iain Glen does a serviceable job as Jack Taylor (I guess Ray Stevenson wasn’t available and they couldn’t afford Liam Neeson) but they radically altered The Guards (for that sin alone I cannot forgive them).
If Jack Taylor was a real person, though, I bet we would have much in common as far as our pop culture favorites were concerned. (Steve Earle is one of my favorites, too, especially the way he sings “Galway Girl” and The Good Wife was must-see TV when it was on the air. ) We may not have been mates (I have a glass jaw when it comes to booze and I am a practicing Protestant) but we certainly could share a jar or two.
PS Mr. Bruen’s novels are not recommended for devout Catholics (he directs a lot of shots at priests, nuns and the Church in general) or for those for whom profanity in literature is a dealbreaker (Mr. Bruen’s characters swear a lot.)