Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 7, 2015


The Hackman Blues (London:  Bloodlines/Do-Not-Press, 1977) and Dispatching Baudelaire (Dublin:  Sitric Books, 2004), both by Ken Bruen

Hands down, Ken Bruen is one of the best crime writers working today.  Not for everyone, though, Bruen is:  his prose is violent, bawdy, funny, terrifying, erudite, topical, nihilistic,and gloriously Irish.  If David Goodis and Jim Thompson were put in a blender at the highest setting and left to ferment for weeks...well, you get the idea.  Perhaps best known for his novels about Jack Taylor, the ex-Garda whose life descends further and further into the abyss with each new novel, Bruen has written many other first-rate novels outside of the Taylor series.  Here are two of the lesser-known ones.

Tony Brady, the protagonist of The Hackman Bllues, is manic-depressive, homosexual, and a minor criminal in Brixton.  He's addicted to booze and drugs and has spent much of his life flat-out insane -- just the sort of person with the sort of reputation that would interest a stone-cold killer like Jack Dunphy.  Duphy, who fancies himself to be a Gene Hackman look-alike, wants Tony to find his daughter Roz and is willing to pay big bucks for the job.  Dunphy is dangerous, but so is Leon, the head of Brixton's most vicious Black gang and the one whom Roz is now living with.  It didn't take Tony long to find the girl but Tony is nowdrugged-up and in one of his manic modes.  He decides that, rather than return Roz to her father, he should kidnap the girl and ransom her to both Dunphy and Leon.  What could go wrong?  Blood soon begins to flow, both that of innocents and the guilty.  Events catapult into race riots.  A pair of crooked cops start putting the squeeze on Tony, who begins to see his life rapidly swirling down the drain.  Still, he has a chance to mete out some first-rate revenge before the book's end.

Dispatching Baudelaire takes place in depressive post-Thatcher England,  Once-mild accountant Mike Shaw meets Laura in a bar. Laura (ever unpredictable) develops a momentary liking for Mike.   This brings Mike into contact with Laura's father Harry, a rich, powerful, and a corrupting influence on all he meets -- including Mike, his oh-so-bland girlfriend, and his best friend.  As Mike's fortunes appear to rise, his personality does an about-face and he becomes arrogant and reckless, self-assured and cocky.  Once again, things don't end well.  There's blood.  Lots of it.

Brief summaries give you very little idea of what these books are like.  Bruen can't just be read; he must be experienced.

Here's a taste from The Hackman Blues:

     I took a sip of the ouzo...jeez, sheep dip.  Farmers sometimes dope sheep with lithium.  If a dog kills one of these sheep, he recoils and never goes near them.  Was that the reason dogs give me a wide berth?  Not that I hadn't been with some real dogs in my time.

Great stuff.

Oh.  And here's something interesting. the compelling story of Tony Brady's father, as related in The Hackman Blues, is repeated almost word for word as the story of Mike Shaw's father in Dispatching Baudelaire.  Leave it to an Irishman to never let a good story go.


  1. New author for me - thanks, really look forward to the Baudelaire book especially.

  2. Had a big thrill yesterday when Ken Bruen sent me a note saying he had "flat-out loved CONCRETE ANGEL." What a kind thing to do.

    1. Not only is Bruen a talented writer, Patti, he is also a discerning reader. Congrats.

  3. Sounds great. Gotta get it. Thanks.

  4. I like Ken Bruen's work a lot. But I like your political analysis of the Republican Debate every more. Very insightful!