Showing posts with label Ken Bruen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ken Bruen. Show all posts

13 April 2022

The Irish & Their Discontents


There’s a lovely line in Thomas Perry’s new book, Eddie’s Boy – and I’m unreasonably envious – “The sky was the color of disappointment.”

Here’s one from Ed Dee, not so recent.  I think it’s in Bronx Angel. An old New York harness bull is retiring after thirty years, and the boys are sending him off.  Two cops are leaving the party.  One cop asks the other one what he thinks of the guy, and the second cop says, “He’s got Irish Alzheimer’s, he’s forgotten everything but his grievances.” Dennis Lehane wouldn’t kill for that? Or me, or George Higgins?

And then, of course, the inimitable John Gregory Dunne, in True Confessions. The set-up is two brothers, one a cop and the other a priest: Tom, the homicide dick, is on the pad; Des, rising fast in the church, is consigliere to the cardinal. Tom and his partner catch a murder, a dead woman dismembered in a vacant lot, and the victim has a votive candle in her vagina.  Tom’s partner remarks, “Looks like a job for your brother the monsignor.”

These would be, of course, Irish-American tropes, going back to Finley Peter Dunne and his Mr. Dooley sketches, and up to Edwin O’Connor and The Last Hurrah, with a little Studs Lonigan thrown in along the way.  It’s a rich vein, if it sometimes veers into caricature.  You could make the case that John Ford did as much to compromise the immigrant experience as he did to celebrate it.  All that blarney, along with an unhappy nostalgia for the Ould Sod that wraps violence in sentiment.  Then again, Jimmy Breslin’s World Without End, Amen turns that delusion inside out, and makes the politics of denial an engine of despair.

Which is by way of saying that we look at the Irish of the Troubles through an American lens, one sort of tribalism translated by another, provincials both.  It’s altogether bracing to discover that contemporary Irish thriller writers aren’t wearing those leaden shoes.  Irish noir may not be getting quite the rouse of the Tartan variety, but it’s coming up strong on the turn.  Stuart Neville, for one, who I first encountered with Ratlines, and Ken Bruen – his first Jack Taylor novel, The Guards, won the Shamus, and was nominated for both the Edgar and the Macavity.  Not by coincidence, Jack Taylor got his own TV series.

This all to introduce a more recent Irish cop show.  My pal Carolyn, who’s a fan of Jack Taylor, turned me on to the series Single-Handed, which ran for four seasons – the Brits call them series, meaning not the full run of the show, but a single year – and is now gone.  The first three are ninety-minute features, made-for-TV movies.  The last season is three two-hour episodes.  It has something of the flavor of Shetland, in that it’s a dour, damp landscape, but with sudden, striking shafts of light breaking through, that show off its extraordinary beauty.

The Quiet Man it ain’t, though.  This isn’t the Ireland of Sodom and Begorrah, it feels very genuine.  The thing Carolyn liked about it, and why she recommended it to me, and why I’m recommending it to you, is that it has a depth.  You sense a life, and a community, off-camera.

It’s not ground-breaking.  The guy leaves Dublin, under a cloud, and comes back to the west of Ireland, the town where he grew up, where his own Da is the Garda constable, a sitch-ee-ay-shun, as Victor McLaglen might say, rife with conflict. Not as light as The Coroner, not quite as dark as Justified. But close. The kid takes over from his dad, and the storm clouds gather.

I’m sorry, but you gotta watch it.  I can’t describe why I find it so compelling.  The cast and the characters are engaging (some you know to trust, some you know are suspect); the landscape is there, but not a character in itself, as with Shetland; the plots are involving, but not contrived, they seem organic, they rise up out of the yeast and ferment of the place.  Wow, some metaphor.

One other thing.  Thinking about it, it might be the most Irish quality of the show.  The rhythm.  The way the beats are placed.  It really isn’t Law & Order, and I mean no disrespect, but you have to get used to a different ebb and flow. You’re listening to some other instrument. 

07 January 2022

Three Books in 2022


Since about 2011, I've kept a spreadsheet of what I've read over a given year. Thanks to multiple formats, the number's been as high as 100. Thanks to Audible, it's never gone as low as 30. Last year, I read 52. One of them was a book on speed-reading.

I read widely. I'm working my way through Stephen King's back list, and with any luck, Billy Summers will be one of the last books I read this year. I do a rotation. Non-fiction of some sort, crime, science fiction, an indie writer who's caught my attention, a classic, and King. Part, but not all, of the classic side includes Harry Bloom's novel list from How to Read. I'll spare you the rest as the non-fiction tends to be all over the map, and SF is not really the purpose of Sleuthsayers. So, let's focus on crime.


Every year since about the mid-2000s, I've started off with Ken Bruen, mainly the Jack Taylor series. Assuming 2022 does not involve kaiju, nuclear annihilation, another great plague, alien invasion, or Ken writing one more Jack Taylor, I will probably finish the series in January of 2023. For January, 2022, I'm reading Galway Girl. I was not a big fan of Em when she appeared in the series. I couldn't figure out if Ken was passing the baton to a young woman even more rage-prone than Jack or something else. (Spoiler alert: Something else.) But then, at the end of In the Galway Silence, he introduces a woman who is a clone of Em, and, it seems, by choice. She calls herself Jericho, and yes, she is there to make Jack's life a living hell. Only, whenever someone wants to torment Jack, they have to get in line. At the head of the line, they inevitably find out Jack calls that "Tuesday."  Ken doesn't so much write a novel with the Taylor series as much as write violent epic poems set in Galway. Galway Girl is proving to be a dark, bleak novel full of nihilism and death. It's a marvelous way to start off a new year full of hope and optimism. (Or at least the fleeting hope that the hangover from 2020 will finally lift.)


The next crime novel on the list is SA Cosby's Razor Blade Tears. I'd like to compare Cosby to Ken Bruen, but the first thing by him that I read, Black Top Wasteland, I found too optimistic. Seriously, though, I read Wasteland last year after connection with Shawn online. It was probably the best crime novel I'd read in a long time, so both Razor Blade Tears and his upcoming All Sinners Bleed are on this year's TBR stack. Cosby writes about the South, does not shy away from race, yet writes about a world not too dissimilar from where I grew up, which was seventies and eighties Rust Belt. Like Blacktop, Blade is about an ordinary man without privilege who has his life upended by crime, in this case, the murder of his son. What's amazing about Cosby's work is the characters may lead a different life from most of us, but the landmarks on their path are quite often all-too-familiar.


Third on the list is Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Set in 1954, its premise has a lot in common with SA Cosby's work. A young man released from a juvenile work farm is driven home to Nebraska. He intends to pick up his recently orphaned brother and head for California to start a new life. Two of his fellow inmates have secretly tagged along with another plan: They want to take him to New York. Lincoln Highway covers more familiar territory for me geographically, rolling across the Midwest, though it's a time when the steel mills still roared, Studebakers still rolled off the assembly lines alongside Packards, and steam powered the railways.

There will be more, obviously. Someone who read 52 books last year, with every sixth Kindle, paperback, or hardcover a crime novel, these three are only enough to get me through early spring.

So, what's on your TBR stack for this year?