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Monday, May 07, 2007

Calibre

I really enjoyed Ken Bruen’s, The Guards, in which I met Irish ex-cop Jack Taylor for the first time. I was taken with Bruen’s unusual style and his love for all the classic crime novelists who preceded him (my thoughts on The Guards) so I looked forward to reading something else from him.

Bruen has two crime series going at the moment, one series of four novels featuring Jack Taylor and another of three Inspector Brant novels set in London. Calibre, from the Inspector Brandt series, largely maintains the tone and style that I enjoyed in The Guards, but it didn’t work as well for me as a reader this second time around.

The sparsely written novel centers around the “Manners Killer,” a man who has taken it upon himself to rid southeast London of as many belligerently rude people as he possibly can. Unfortunately for them, he decides that the best way to do that is to kill them in what he, at first, hopes will appear to be nothing more than regrettable accidents. Soon enough, the killer decides that he would like some credit for his good deeds and starts to mail taunting letters to the Southeast London police squad. That’s when Inspector Brandt decides to put a stop to all the nonsense.

As in The Guards, the main thread of his plot soon becomes relatively secondary to Ken Bruen; his novels are more about characters and atmosphere than they are about plot. The Southeast London police squad is manned by an assortment of characters who have more in common with the criminals they confront everyday than with the public’s general concept of what makes a good and honest policeman. Brant himself, an Ed McBain want-to-be, remains a successful street cop only by playing by the rules of the street and shows little concern for the law he has sworn to uphold. And the cops with whom he works everyday, both male and female, are so much like him that any differences they have are only a matter of degree.

I think that Calibre is a worthy tribute to Dashiell Hammett but I soon started to wish that Bruen was not so intent on out-Hammetting Hammett and that he would put a bit more meat on the bones of his characters. I would like to know more about them than Bruen tells us, cops and robbers alike.

Rated at: 3.0
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