Thursday, February 4, 2010

Two By Bruen

I recently finished CALIBRE and THE DRAMATIST on audio, both by Ken Bruen and both read by Michael Deehy, so I'm going to review them together in this post.

CALIBRE first line: "Shit from shinola. You have to hand it to the god-damned Yanks, they have great verbals, man."

CALIBRE is Bruen's sixth Inspector Brant novel. Brant is a member of the Southeast London Police Squad, and in this installment of the series, he's after a killer who is taking cues from Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME. The murderer targets people with poor manners and kills them in such a way that it's impossible to declare them murders because the actual cause of death is always questionable. While he's trying to track down this killer, Brant is also trying to become England's Joseph Wambaugh by writing his own crime fiction novel. However, he can't write. Point of view effectively alternates between the murderer's first person monologues and third person limited.

THE DRAMATIST first line: Lemsip and Greek yoghurt. That was my daily fare, the Lemsip for a flu I thought I had.

THE DRAMATIST is Bruen's fourth Jack Taylor novel. Taylor is a sometimes P.I./former Guard in Galway, Ireland. Bruen's alcoholic Taylor is living a clean and sober life in THE DRAMATIST when his former drug dealer summons him to the prison where he's incarcerated. The drug dealer's sister died apparently by accident, but the drug dealer doesn't believe it to be an accident; he wants Taylor to investigate and find the person responsible. When Taylor begins investigating he finds a scary similarity to another "apparent accident," the presence of a book by John Millington Synge.

I opted to review these together because, despite their unique characters, plots and settings, they share a recipe for excellence. Bruen, in both novels, takes the reader through an experience riddled with crime, darkness, and wretchedness. Yet in both novels he elicited genuine laughter from me. His dark humor is as striking as his heart-wrenching despair.

Bruen is a minimalist. Every word, every sentence counts; he sculpts elaborate, detailed universes with the most basic of tools and is unmatched in his craft. He also has a very distinct style and sound. There is a short, sharp sound to Bruen's writing and that works to reinforce the tone of the novels.

Brant is an unlikeable protagonist, but smart as a whip. And while you wait patiently for someone to pull one over on Brant, you still grin when he cleverly outwits those around him. Taylor, in THE DRAMATIST, has a tendency to evoke pity from the reader. He's created the life he now lives, but you find yourself rooting for him to succeed in his efforts to turn his life around, yet at every turn he's met with overwhelming obstacles. For a character-lover such as myself, Brant and Taylor are dreams come true. They're complex characters that can't be forced into stereotypes or traditional protagonist roles so you're challenged as a reader to develop a new kind of relationship with these characters. The challenge doesn't come with identifying flaws in these characters, but rather in looking past the flaws to discover why they are so magnetic.

Ken Bruen crafts works of art and binds them between two covers. In my case, Michael Deehy interpreted the works of art vocally in the form of the audiobook. It actually took me awhile to discern that it was in fact the same person reading both books. That is how deep-rooted he was in each of the characters. I felt he did an outstanding job with both narrations. The only thing I had to watch for was my love of Irish brogue. It had a tendency to lull me because I find it almost transfixing. I highly recommend both book as well as both audiobook versions.

CALIBRE was published in the U.S. by St. Martin's Minotaur in 2006 (ISBN: 978-0-3123-4144-2) and on unabridged audio by BBC Audiobooks America (ISBN: 978-0-7927-4073-5), also in 2006.

THE DRAMATIST was published in the U.S. by St. Martin's Minotaur in 2006 (ISBN: 978-0-3123-1647-1) and on unabridged audio by BBC Audiobooks America in 2006 (ISBN: 978-0-7927-3911-1).


le0pard13 February 4, 2010 at 8:48 AM  

I have to pick up a Ken Bruen sometime soon. Thanks, Jen.

Jen Forbus February 4, 2010 at 9:39 AM  

Michael, these were the only two my library system had on audiobook. If you find others, would you let me know?

le0pard13 February 4, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

Sure thing, Jen. Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) February 4, 2010 at 9:43 AM  

I adore THE DRAMATIST. The ending just floored me.

Jen Forbus February 4, 2010 at 9:46 AM  

Oh, me too, Patti! I think my jaw was on the floor because I didn't see it coming AT ALL!

Joe Barone February 4, 2010 at 10:07 AM  

I always admire a writer whose work is consistent. You can pick up one of his/her books and know you are going to get something worth reading. The books may be very different, but you will get a good story and good writing every time.

To me, that's Ken Bruen, with some extra genius in the mix.

Naomi Johnson February 4, 2010 at 11:59 AM  

The ending of The Dramatist is probably THE most memorable ending I've read in years. Years. Maybe ever. Effing Bruen just tore the heart right out of me. God bless him.

Sam February 4, 2010 at 1:49 PM  

Ken Bruen is one of the best in the business for sure. I love his work and enjoyed both of these.

BTW, love the new look atop your blog...very, very cool.

Jen Forbus February 4, 2010 at 2:16 PM  

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting today.

Joe, you're so right! I listened to this audio books back to back and wanted more immediately! I have a couple print versions that will be coming up shortly in my TBR pile, and I know I can count on consistently wonderful reads.

Naomi, it took me several minutes after the book ended to actually process what happened. I kept thinking, "that really didn't happen, right?" It was just so powerful!

Sam, THANKS!! I can say that not only is Ken one of the best in the business; he's also one of the nicest in the business.

Anonymous February 5, 2010 at 8:46 AM  

I am a huge fan of Ken Bruen. The Jack Taylor books are brillant. The writing is so profound. Galway, of course, is not exactly like Bruen potrays it.

Patrick Murphy

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