Thursday, December 26, 2013

Purgatory by Ken Bruen

When compiling the list of  favourite crime novels of 2013 there were some glaring omissions. No mention, for instance, of the latest by George Pelecanos,  Walter Mosley, Scott Phillips or  Reed Farrel Coleman. My reason for not including a number of books was simple enough: I not yet read them  (blame the publishers for not sending copies). Also, no mention of  Jean-Claude Izzo's magnificent Marseilles Trilogy- Total Chaos, Chourmo and Solea- probably because  I'd read all three years ago. And no Gone Girl. But wasn't that one published in 2012? On the other hand, it was a list of my favourite books, not a list of the best books of 2013.

Had I read it a few weeks earlier, I would certainly have included Ken Bruen's Purgatory, the most recent in his Jack Taylor series. For me, it came as a pleasant surprise, mainly because I've never been able to work my way through an entire Bruen novel. Which is ironic given his style- short sentences and paragraphs, sometimes more like free verse than prose. On the other hand, I don't hold the view of a pundit-friend who maintains Bruen's novels are more akin to comic books, that he writes for people who don't like to read, that he over-relies on Irish stereotypes, and throws in an excessive amount of many cultural references- songs, quotes, movies, t.v. programs- leaving it to the reader to work out what they stand for.

Well,  that's a bit unfair. After all, I've got nothing against comic books or, for that matter, novels that are easy to read. Nor do I have anything against cultural signifiers- though I admit Bruen does tend to over do it- so long as I like or can comprehend what they signify, and it's not simply a matter of name-dropping or product placement.  And even the most casual reader would have to admit that Bruen has some important things to say about contemporary Ireland, if not the world in general.

Purgatory- which  I guess is the state in which most of us live- might be easy to read, but it's also very funny, with more than its share of serious observations and, as one would expect, dark moments.  Having said that, it could be that I enjoyed the novel because it's the first by Bruen  I've read since watching the Jack Taylor series on TV earlier this year. It was only while doing so that  I realised how good Bruen's dialogue can often be, with some great one-liners and pithy observations about Catholicism and the Celtic Tiger. Maybe it's simply that Bruen is better visualised than read, or that he should be read as though visualised. I was reminded  of Billy Wilder's comment to James M. Cain to explain why he might not be the right person to pen the screenplay for Double Indemnity: "Jim, that dialogue of yours is to the eye." To which Cain responded that he knew it was to the eye, but he could also write for the ear. Wilder obviously didn't think so.  But what I think Purgatory illustrates is that Bruen can write for both the eye and the ear. Okay, it doesn't offer much in the way of suspense- most readers will know  who the killer is quite early on. Not that it matters, because  Jack Taylor novels are really about... well, Jack Taylor. A consummate outsider with a cranky disposition, now wrecked and ruined by drink, drugs, work, his age, and demands made on him by the state and world in general, yet with enough humanity and wit to still do what he thinks is right. Now that I've revised my opinion of Bruen, I'm going to have go back to those earlier Jack Taylor novels and see what they have to offer.


Goodis said...

Long live Bruen, Pelecanos, Phillips, Coleman and Mosley! May they make 2014 just as exciting!

Goodis said...

Long live Bruen, Pelecanos, Phillips, Coelman and Mosley! May they make 2014 just as exciting as 2013.