For the last few months, I’ve read all over the web how amazing Ken Bruen’s books are. I was lucky enough to meet him at Bouchercon and thought he was a hell of a nice guy. So I bought a few of his books and set them aside to read on a rainy day.
That day came yesterday. And at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I don’t get what all the excitement is about. I read THE GUARDS, about an alcoholic ex-cop investigating the suicide of a young girl. While the book was definitely well-written, with a sharp, economical style, I can’t tell you how tired I am of alcoholic cops, alcoholic ex-cops, and alcoholic private eye heroes whose lives are spiraling out of control because they can’t stop drinking.
While he didn’t write with cliches, the lead character himself was certainly one. Jack Taylor is a self-destructive cop thrown off the force for being a drunk. And he’s caught in an endless spiral of drinking and self-destruction he seems powerless to stop. Yadda Yadda Yadda. Enough. I’m not reading any more books about alcoholic cops, ex-cops and PIs. I’ve had my fill.
Bruen’s cliched, alcoholic loner hero might have been easier to take if the mystery was the least bit compelling…but it wasn’t. The mystery wasn’t a mystery. It was hardly even a story. The hero "solved" the crime by being passed out most of the time. Peripheral characters literally walked right up to him and volunteered information he needed. I couldn’t have cared less about the hero…or the resolution of the story.
While I liked much of Bruen’s prose, I felt he overindulged in pointless gramatical tricks that actually diminished the impact of his work. The self-conscious formatting tricks started on page one:
It’s almost impossible to be thrown out of the Garda Siochana. You have to really put your mind to it. Unless you’ve become a public disgrace, they’ll tolerate most anything.
I’d been to the wire. Numerous
Cautions Warnings Last chances Reprieves
And I still didn’t shape up. Or rather sober up.
Bruen also over-indulges using quotes from other mystery novels, not just as heading to his chapters, but within the prose itself. There’s no doubt he’s a great writer… I just wish I liked his characters and his storytelling as much as his way with words.