Being a fan of Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series, I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to Bruen’s spare, but brutally harsh, prose. (Jack Taylor fans will note that Jack makes a very brief cameo appearance in this new novel, by the way.) Bruen is not a man who wastes words on the niceties of long descriptive passages about his settings or characters. Rather, his characters speak for themselves and, through them and their words, Bruen paints a more vivid description of their world, and where they fit into it, than many authors could do half as well in a 500-page novel.
Bruen has done it again in Once Were Cops, his new novel about an Irish cop who comes to New York City on an exchange program of sorts and impacts the NYPD in negative ways that no one would have believed possible beforehand. O’Shea, who blackmailed a superior into recommending him for the transfer to New York, is a psychopath of the first degree, a man thrilled to be carrying a gun and who seems to be perfectly paired with his new NYPD partner. That partner, a veteran cop by the name of Kebar, is as much a wild man in his own way as O’Shea, and the two are soon having great success on the city’s streets.
Unfortunately for both men, though, Kebar has already drawn the attention of Internal Affairs and it seems to be only a matter of time before he finds himself jailed, or at the very least, drummed out of the department. Bruen tells his story largely through the eyes and words of O’Shea, who is finding it so hard to keep his psychopathic urges under control that he has become little more than a ticking time bomb.
Bruen masterfully builds the suspense until events force Kebar to a breaking point from which he is unlikely to escape and it becomes just a question of who will survive to pick up the pieces, and whether or not O’Shea will go down with him if he crashes.
Once Were Cops is set in a surrealistic world in which extreme violence is the order of the day. It offers a dark vision of those in charge of enforcing the law on both sides of the Atlantic, often characterizing cops as little more than criminals that wear uniforms and badges. But, even though the novel seems to be set in the Gotham City of the darkest Batman movies, it works well because of the way that Bruen presents it without wasting a single word – a “black and white” style that perfectly fits the scary world he has created.
Once Were Cops is scheduled for an October 28 release.
Rated at: 4.0