Friday, May 30, 2008

BLITZ by Ken Bruen

This review originally appeared in an online magazine--I think in the Spring of 2004; maybe 2005--and while my review is luke-warm I really did enjoy the novel. And be warned, this review is a little harsher than the usual fare around here, but when I stumbled across it a few days ago it brought back good memories of not only the novel, but also of the time spent writing the review.

Blitz, written by Edgar nominee Ken Bruen, is a white-hot, dialogue-rich, British noir—Bruen is Irish, so it should probably be classified as Irish noir, but whatever it is, it is most certainly set in southeast London.

Blitz is the story of a serial killer—The Blitz, he calls himself—and London’s finest as they track him. The cast is large and often unpredictable: Detective Sergeant Brant, a brutal, belligerent cop accused of assault; Detective Sergeant Porter Nash, a recent transfer into the squad, and openly homosexual; Chief Inspector Roberts, who finds respite in wine after his wife’s death; Police Constable Falls, a black female cop with a liking for nose candy and a skinhead called Metal for a pal; Police Constable McDonald, a young cop with an eye at the top job. The cast creates a mix of tension and humor. They play off each other like pin-balls in a machine—seemingly never playing, acting, or responding as expected.

The prose is quick, sharp and intense. The novel is written with a haphazard storyline. The chapters are quick hits of story—each written from the perspective of a major player: Blitz, Brant, Nash, Roberts, etc. They seem to meander, almost stall a few times, but Bruen pulls the story along with a gritty, yet humorous prose. The bad guy—The Blitz—is somewhat shallow and two dimensional. The good guys aren’t that good, and they seem to do less police work and more battle against personal demons. The novel is a composite of its characters. They are more important than the plot. They define the story—humanity interacting with humanity; the good, the bad, and all the varying shades in the middle.

Blitz is not the best modern noir has to offer, but it is entertaining. The prose is rough and hot—it has the uneven feel of a blues song. The characters are raw, both disgusting and hilarious in the same paragraph, even sentence. The words pulse with energy. They drive the story forward with a fresh and unexpected beat, but it burns a little too long before it climaxes into an amusing, if mildly unsatisfying, ending.


Anonymous said...

I would respectfully like to point out that while Ken Bruen is an Edgar nominee, he is also a Shamus Award winner for Best Novel.


Ben Boulden said...

Absolutely. He won the Shamus for his terrific novel THE GUARDS in 2003. And it deserved the honor.

Anyone reading this that isn't familiar with the Shamus should get acqauinted with it. It is presented by the Private Eye Writers of America, and honors the best work in the field. A sampling of Shamus winners are; Bill Pronzini, Ed Gorman, Loren Estleman, Lawrence Block, John Lutz, Mickey Spillane, Sue Grafton, Walter Mosely, and a host of other equally talented and productive writers.

The list of Shamus award winners can be found over at the Thrilling Detective website, and it makes a great reading list. Start with 1982 winners and work your way down.