Bruen, Ken 1951–
Bruen, Ken 1951–
Born 1951, in Galway, Ireland; married; wife's name Phil; children: Grace. Education: Trinity College, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Sailing, travel, soccer.
Writer. Worked as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, Southeast Asia, and South America; also worked for a brief period as a security guard at the World Trade Center. Actor in a horror film directed by Roger Corman.
PEN, Irish Writers Union.
Shamus Award, Private Eye Writers of America, 2003, and Edgar Allan Poe nomination for best novel, Mystery Writers of America, 2004, both for The Guards.
Rilke on Black (crime novel), Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1996.
The Hackman Blues (crime novel), Bloodlines (London, England), 1997.
London Boulevard (crime novel), Do-Not Press (London, England), 2001.
Dispatching Baudelaire, Sitric Books (Dublin, Ireland), 2004.
(Editor) Dublin Noir: The Celtic Tiger vs. the Ugly American, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Jason Starr) Bust (crime novel), Hard Case Crime (London, England), 2006.
A Fifth of Bruen: Early Fiction of Ken Bruen, Busted Flush Press (Houston, TX), 2006.
American Skin (crime novel), Justin, Charles & Co. (Boston, MA), 2006.
Cross, Bantam (London, England), 2007.
"JACK TAYLOR" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
The Guards, Brandon (Dingle, Ireland), 2001, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
The Killing of the Tinkers, Brandon (Dingle, Ireland), 2002, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
The Magdalen Martyrs, Brandon (Dingle, Ireland), 2003, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.
The Dramatist, Brandon (Dingle, Ireland), 2003, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Priest, Bantam (London, England), 2006, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
"BRANT" SERIES; CRIME NOVELS
A White Arrest (crime novel; also see below), Bloodlines (London, England), 1998.
Taming the Alien (crime novel; also see below), Bloodlines (London, England), 1999.
The McDead (crime novel; also see below), Bloodlines (London, England), 2000.
The White Trilogy (contains A White Arrest, Taming the Alien, and The McDead), Kate's Mystery Books (Boston, MA), 2003.
Blitz, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2003, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
Vixen, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2003, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.
Calibre, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice was adapted for film; rights to The White Trilogy were purchased for television by Deep Indigo Productions.
Ken Bruen has worked as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, Southeast Asia, and South America. In 1979 Bruen took a teaching position in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Soon after he arrived there he was arrested for his involvement in a fight that occurred in a bar. His captors tortured and sexually assaulted him. When he was released and returned to London, Bruen was so traumatized by his experience that he contemplated suicide. Instead, he said in his Justin, Charles, & Company Web site author biography, "I decided to write books, just to prove to myself that I was still alive if nothing else." Thus, his writing career was launched.
Bruen's first book, Rilke on Black, elicited praise for its rendering of the dregs of contemporary popular culture. The well-regarded debut was followed by The Hackman Blues, in which Tony Brady is hired by Jack Dunphy, who happens to resemble the actor Gene Hackman, to find his daughter, Roz. Tony easily finds Roz, who is being held by club owner Leon in a rough London neighborhood. Jack instructs Tony to pay off Leon in order to get his daughter back, but Tony has a plan of his own. He decides to kidnap Roz himself, keep Jack's money, and then get more cash from Leon. Tony's plan backfires, however, and he soon finds his life in danger. "Readers of hard-boiled British mysteries such as those by Quintin Jardine and Ian Rankin should enjoy this gritty page-turner," predicted Library Journal contributor Bob Lunn. Booklist contributor David Pitt added: "Bruen's sojourn among London's underclass is a cutting-edge British thriller."
In The McDead Chief Inspector James Roberts's brother is found beaten to death. Even though he has not seen or talked to his brother in ten years, Roberts vows to get revenge. The killer is Tommy Logan, and soon Inspector Roberts and Detective Tom Brant are on his trail. At the same time, other detectives are trying to capture a rapist who preys on black women. Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky believed that "fans of British procedurals and noir novels will savor every speck of grit in this unrelenting crime novel." In London Boulevard a man named Mitchell is freed from jail, where he was serving time for a crime he committed while in a drunken stupor. Determined to make a change in his life, Mitchell finds an honest job as a handyman and also starts dating a nice woman. Something happens, however, that throws Mitchell back into a shady past he cannot escape. Booklist contributor Emily Melton observed: "This one packs one hell of a powerful punch."
In The Guards Bruen's series character Jack Taylor makes his debut when he is kicked out of the Guards, Ireland's police force. Now he spends most of his time at a Galway bar getting drunk and making a meager living as a private investigator. When Ann Henderson's daughter Sarah is found dead in Galway, the Guards claim she is one of several recent suicide cases involving young girls. Ann strongly feels that her daughter would not commit suicide and that she was murdered. She hires Jack to find out who murdered her daughter and why. Jack takes the job, and along the way he falls in love with Ann. Bookview Ireland contributor Pauline Ferrie commented: "Though not without humor The Guards is essentially a dark tale of perversion, evil and violence." Booklist contributor Keir Graff noted that "Bruen has a sly, dark humor that is appealing."
Bruen continued the adventures of Taylor in several other installments. The author explained the origin of the character to Publishers Weekly contributor Patrick Millikin: "Jack Taylor is a tribute to the American private eye, but like myself, his greatest gift was a library ticket as a child. To go to the library in the old days, you had to go to the courthouse and pass all these huge [police] Guards and it lodged in my mind: Guards and books." In The Killing of the Tinkers, Taylor, still struggling with his addictions, returns to Galway only to be caught up in an investigation of the deaths of several young tinkers. Taylor continues his unorthodox investigation methods in this "strong piece of crime writing," as Booklist contributor Graff described the novel. Graff went on to observe that Taylor "may be a drunken shambles, but his wry humor, regret, and sense of impending mortality … keep readers coming along." High praise came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who concluded that The Killing of the Tinkers is "a remarkable book from a singular talent."
Taylor next appears in The Magdalen Martyrs, which is, according to Booklist contributor David Wright, a "stiff shot of evil chased with heartbreaking irony." Here Taylor, battling with alcohol and cocaine, is summoned by a Galway criminal to find a missing woman. Taylor's search leads him to several other mistreated women, as well, who are all connected to a Catholic laundry where unwed mothers have been sent. Wright noted that it was not the procedural bits that were the book's strength, but rather the "the eclectic, lyrical screeds pouring forth from the narrator's ruined heart." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt this "noir mystery-thriller crackles with his trademark tough-guy bravado."
In The Dramatist Taylor is off alcohol and drugs and is trying to put his life back in order. His next commission comes from his former drug dealer who is now in prison and anxious to have his sister's killer brought to justice. This young woman was the first of several dead women found with a copy of the works of Irish playwright J.M. Synge near their bodies. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "a riveting mystery and a deftly rendered protagonist." Priest, the fifth book in the series, finds Taylor just being released from a rehabilitation asylum, where he was incarcerated after his drinking led to the death of a young child. Taylor's lingering guilt is put on hold when he is hired by a priest to find the murderer of a fellow man of the cloth, a pedophile, who has been beheaded. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly described this tale as "a kind of savage poetry, at once exhausting and exhilarating."
In addition to the works featuring Taylor, Bruen has also continued the adventures of the team of London detectives from The McDead, including Detective Sergeant Brant and Chief Inspector Roberts. On the Things I'd Rather Be Doing blog, Bruen explained: "I write Brant to chill me out and Taylor to torment meself…. Brant is pure fun, Taylor is me disgusted with our new rich Ireland." The early adventures of Brant and company, including A White Arrest, Taming the Alien, and The McDead, are collected in The White Trilogy. This is a book filled with violence and clipped dialogue that inspired Booklist writer Graff to conclude: "This stuff smokes like cordite, but it blows a hole in your stomach instead of filling your belly." The series featuring Brant has often been likened to American author Ed McBain's "87th Precinct" series, and Bruen has said in interviews that he much admires McBain's work.
Bruen carries the series forward with Blitz, which finds the team of South East London police chasing a cop killer who dubs himself The Blitz. Meanwhile, each of the main characters struggles with his or her own personal difficulties. Graff, writing again in Booklist, observed: "This one is more satisfyingly plotted than its predecessors, ending with a bang instead of just skidding to a stop." A Publishers Weekly critic had a more positive assessment of Blitz, terming it an "intelligent, uncompromising hard-boiled crime novel." Writing in Booklist, Wright described Bruen's fifth installment in the series, Vixen as a "vicious, black-sheep cousin of McBain's 87th precinct series." In this novel, the police have to deal with a gang of bombers bent on extortion. A serial murder is at work in Calibre, a "superb … pulp-inspired novel," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The same contributor concluded that "Bruen's furious hard-boiled prose, chopped down to its trademark essence, never fails to astonish."
Bruen is equally at home with stand-alone titles. Taking to the road, he delivers a "dark tribute to the Irish fascination with the American dream" with his American Skin, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Here an Irish bank robber and his girlfriend are trying to lose themselves in the American Southwest, only to be pursued by an IRA hit man who wants part of their takings. A Kirkus Reviews critic felt that "this is Bruen beyond noir into full-out stygian." The same writer called Bruen the "poster boy for Irish noir." Collaborating with American crime writer Jason Starr, Bruen wrote Bust, a "terse, sometimes brutal, often funny caper," according to Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly.
Bruen, who continues to teach English, while writing in the early morning hours of each day and churning out sometimes several novels per year. Writing in Booklist, Graff quipped that "Bruen is so prolific that there is mounting evidence he could supply his own book-of-the-month club." the critic continued: "It doesn't seem to affect his quality, though."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1998, David Pitt, review of The Hackman Blues, p. 1204; April 1, 2000, Thomas Gaughan, review of Taming the Alien, p. 1438; May 1, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of The McDead, p. 1624; December 15, 2002, Keir Graff, review of The Guards, p. 736; January 21, 2003, Emily Melton, review of London Boulevard; February 1, 2003, Keir Graff, review of The White Trilogy, p. 975; March 1, 2003, Keir Graff, review of Blitz, p. 1148; November 15, 2003, Keir Graff, review of The Killing of the Tinkers, p. 583; January 1, 2005, David Wright, review of The Magdalen Martyrs, p. 826; August, 2005, David Wright, review of Vixen, p. 1997; January 1, 2006, Keir Graff, review of The Dramatist, p. 63; April 1, 2006, Keir Graff, review of Bust, p. 22; May 1, 2006, Keir Graff, review of Calibre, p. 18.
Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of The Dramatist, p. 71; April 28, 2006, Ken Tucker, review of Bust, p. 139.
Europe Intelligence Wire, January 7, 2006, review of Priest.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, review of Rilke on Black, p. 680; February 1, 1998, review of The Hackman Blues, p. 154; March 15, 2000, review of Taming the Alien, p. 337; March 1, 2001, review of The McDead, p. 293; October 15, 2002, review of The Guards, p. 1505; February 15, 2003, review of Blitz, p. 271; November 1, 2003, review of The Killing of the Tinkers, p. 1295; February 15, 2005, review of The Magdalen Martyrs, p. 198; January 15, 2006, review of The Dramatist, p. 62; June 1, 2006, review of Calibre, p. 547; August 15, 2006, review of American Skin, p. 810.
Library Journal, June 1, 1998, Bob Lunn, review of The Hackman Blues, p. 167; June 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of Blitz, p. 107; January 1, 2005, Craig Shufelt, review of The Magdalen Martyrs, p. 85; August 1, 2005, Craig Shufelt, review of Vixen, p. 59; February 1, 2006, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of The Dramatist, p. 56.
New York Times Book Review, January 11, 2004, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Killing of the Tinkers, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1998, review of The Hackman Blues, p. 77; May 24, 1999, review of A White Arrest, p. 71; March 19, 2001, review of The McDead, p. 80; November 25, 2002, review of The Guards, p. 46; February 3, 2003, review of The White Trilogy, p. 58; December 22, 2003, review of The Killing of the Tinkers, p. 35, Patrick Millikin, "Hibernian Noir," interview with Ken Bruen, p. 36; May 31, 2004, review of Blitz, p. 55; February 14, 2005, review of The Magdalen Martyrs, p. 57; January 16, 2006, review of The Dramatist, p. 39; March 13, 2006, review of Bust, p. 47; June 5, 2006, review of Calibre, p. 40; August 21, 2006, review of American Skin, p. 53; January 22, 2007, review of Priest, p. 165.
Agony Column,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (June 14, 2004), Terry D'Auray, review of The Killing of the Tinkers.
Bookview Ireland,http://www.bookviewireland.ie/ (January 21, 2003), Pauline Ferrie, reviews of The Killing of the Tinkers and The Guards.
Charlotte Austin Review,http://collection.nlc-bnc.ca/ (January 21, 2003), Lisa Eagleson-Roever, review of Taming the Alien.
Crime Scenes Scotland Reviews, http://www.crimescenesscotlandreviews.blogspot.com/ (August 1, 2006), Russel D. Mclean, review of A Fifth of Bruen: Early Fiction of Ken Bruen.
Galway Advertiser Online,http://www.galwayadvertiser.ie/ (May 10, 2006), Kernan Andrews, review of A Fifth of Bruen.
Irish Echo Online, http://www.irischecho.com/ (March 7, 2007), Pól Ó Conghaile, "To Hell and Back."
Justin, Charles & Company Web site,http://www.justincharles.com/ (January 21, 2003), "Ken Bruen."
Ken Bruen Home Page,http://www.kenbruen.com (March 19, 2007).
Murder by the Book,http://www.murderbooks.com/ (March 19, 2007), "Mystery Author Interviews: Ken Bruen."
Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (March 19, 2007), Martin Kich, review of The Killing of the Tinkers.
Shots Online,http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (January 21, 2003), Liz Hatherall, review of London Boulevard; Calum Macleod, review of The Guards and The Killing of the Tinkers; (March 19, 2007), Ali Karim, "Callin Galway: A Conversation with Ken Bruen."
Things I'd Rather Be Doing,http://www.tirbd.com/ (January 28, 2007), interview with Bruen.