Saturday 18 July 2009

Ken Bruen’s Writing Evolution

I received Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman recently (courtesy of Busted Flush Press). Since then, I’ve been thinking... I’ve read a fair number of Ken Bruen novels this year, both new and old, and I’ve found it a very interesting experience.

Thanks to Busted Flush Press you can read some of Bruen’s earliest work in a collection of novellas and short stories they’ve released titled A Fifth of Bruen. I read the opening piece in the collection not long after reading The Guards. Funeral: Tales of Irish Morbidities, as pointed out in the introduction by Allan Guthrie, is not a crime story, but the protagonist is almost an early version of Jack Taylor. Drunk, surly and difficult to get on with, but with a soul that springs deepest sympathy at the most surprising moments. And even with a cluttered mind like mine, you’ll spot a scene that has made its way into both texts. Some people might think of this as recycling. I prefer to think of it in fanboy terms -- like the books share a little overlap in the space-time continuum or something. Both Jack Taylor and Dillon, the protagonist from Funeral, visit a sick wino on his deathbed bearing the gift of socks. It’s a nice scene, brimming with righteous indignation and grief, and it adds a lot to the multidimensional characters from each story.

Another book that can be linked to The Guards via this space-time continuum thing is Dispatching Baudelaire. Mike Shaw, the turbulent accountant who provides the narrative for Dispatching Baudelaire, hints at a rocky relationship with his mother. Just like Jack Taylor. And both characters blame their mothers for the early death of their fathers. And both of their fathers had ten identical suits... Dispatching Baudelaire is a very different book than The Guards. The former is of a quirky American Psycho or Dexter mould whereas the latter is a hard-as-nails PI tale. But the little snippet of back-story works equally well in both novels.

Jack Taylor may be Bruen’s most popular character, but I think his genesis is an interesting one. If you haven’t read his early work, I’d say it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s not too hard to find. Just look here. As well as the nerdy rush to be had at spotting space-time continuum overlaps (or recycled scenes), the reader will find that Bruen’s idiosyncratic way with prose has been constant (though refined) throughout the years. And let’s face it, the speed most of his fans burn through one of his novels? It’s good to know there’s a little more out there to keep you going until his next release.


adrian mckinty said...

Without doubt Ken is the man. Him and Bateman dragged us out of the 80's.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - I 100% agree, mate.