Friday 3 October 2008

A Wee Review - Vixen by Ken Bruen

Mike Stone brings us yet another entertaining review. Take it away, Mike!

I asked a question on these pages recently -- which Ken Bruen book should I read first? I was told The Guards and/or White Arrest.

So I bought the fifth Brant book, Vixen. Why? Cuz I’m such a maverick! But mainly because it’s a slim book and I’d just finished a thousand page door-stopper the night before. A novel I could read in a few days was an attractive proposition.

The vixen of the title is an insane female serial-killer named Angie James, who is apt to shoot, poison or stab somebody just to see what sort of face they pull as they die. Angie possesses not a single shred of humanity. She is beautiful, though, and casually manipulates two needy men into setting up a bombing campaign in south-east London for ransom money.

Chief Inspector Roberts gets chewed out by Superintendant Brown who demands a quick solution. The black WPC Falls is heading into alcoholism, the gay Porter Nash is heading for a breakdown, and it’s WPC Andrews’ first day on the job. Then there’s Brant. The reader is introduced to him on page 21, just as he’s getting a BJ from a prostitute.


Definitely not The Bill then.

On the evidence in Vixen, Brant is not a complex character. When he puts the boot into a pimp for beating up his girls, Brant does it because he enjoys meting out a kicking and because he knows it’s worth a shag or three. He abuses his colleagues, smokes and drinks where he likes, and drives like a maniac in borrowed cars. As for protecting his informers:

His last two had, respectively, been kebabed and drowned in a toilet. Word was out you talked to Brant you ended up dead and in horrible fashion. Plus, the villains were an added peril […].

The above quote is one of my favourite examples of Bruen humour. Here’s another:

Brant signalled to the waitress who was dressed in flamenco gear, with the name tag, ‘Rosalita’. She sashayed over and lisped:
“Si, senor?”
She was from

Cracking stuff.

When I mentioned Falls and Porter Nash above, you might have noticed I said ‘black WPC Falls’ and ‘gay Porter Nash’. In today’s society, a person’s skin colour or sexual orientation supposedly don’t matter, but in Bruen’s south-east London police squad it does. Racism and homophobia are rife. When Super Brown is told Falls has visited Nash in hospital, he remarks:

“That’s supposed to be some sort of reassurance, is it? A nigger visiting a pooftah. God, the police force is gone down the shitter.”

When a doctor confided to a nurse, “God help us if they’re the good guys,” I could only nod in agreement.

Vixen then is not a police procedural -- the actual detective work is minimal. Brant is the anti-Morse. But the pacing is rat-a-tat-tat and the dialogue is barbed. It’s unputdownable. I read it in a single sitting.

Bruen is brilliant.

Nuff said.

Michael Stone

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.

Read more about Michael and his fiction here.


adrian mckinty said...

I've been sayin it for years. he is the Ayatollah of Irish Crime Writing.

I still dont believe his swan or 5:00 a.m. stories.

Great review.

Michael Stone said...

Thanks, Adrian. I will definitely be checking out Ken's other books. I've a taste for 'em now.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the Brant (and Roberts) novels get lost amid the welter of Bruen's Jack Taylor books and his standalones.

Mentioning ‘black WPC Falls’ and ‘gay Porter Nash’ is highly relevant to the B (and R) books. Wait til you see some of the unexpected ways Bruen handles Porter's homosexuality throughout the series.

Man, you need to read the rest of the Brant books.

(If anyone had asked me where to start reading Bruen, I might have suggested "Vixen," "Priest" or maybe "Bust.")
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - Man, I need to get started on the Brant books. I am reading American Skin right now, though. Bloody marvellous. The man is a genius.


Michael Stone said...

Peter, I will almost certainly be putting the White trilogy in my basket next time I order something from Amazon. I'm intrigued now as to what happens to Porter Nash.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I always liked the Brant and Roberts books better than the Jack Taylors, at least until I read "Priest."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"