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CRIME FICTION Ken Bruen's cops: post traumatic stress disorder as a literary form

Ammunition by Ken Bruen
(St. Martin's Minotaur), July 2007 US
Synopsis and reviews


Bruen's even handed commitment to rough noir may seem a bit relentless if it wasn't so often a seemingly true take on the way people -- such as coppers -- go about  their lives. Quaint English Bobby stereotyping this aint.Amid the Metropolitan Police Force  these characters are in the main ethically challenged as though registered cowboys had gone mad in sync with one another and taken over the town. This is  Dodge City in London town fueled by drugs and alcohol -- and that's only the wallopers' sustenance!

Maybe Bruen's an acquired taste. While I cannot unconditionally embrace Bruen's characters -- I find I'm still uncomfortably resistive in their presence --  I can relate to them as disheveled products of where're they're at and while I would not invite any one of them home to meet mother, I defer to the fact that their stories are told with precision and some very  sharp prose.

I  so love the way Ken Bruen writes. No thrills nor pretension nor manipulated point-of-view 'attitude'. With verbiage kept to a minimum there's nothing to get between you and what's happening on the page.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant -- Bruen's hero in a series of  (so far, seven )  crime novels (this is the latest -- 2007) -- may be for all intents and purposes a dedicated  sociopath. But if you step back and look at the genre overall, Brant wears all the contradictions that rule the lives of so many crime fiction heroes -- whether gumshoe or copper -- who simply reign over their own slice of the creative universe with  impunity. Regardless of what they get up to -- it's Ok because there's a story in it and, in fiction, the creative ends justifies the means.

With Brant, there's the rest of the Old Bill to deal with. While the top brass may try to maintain a certain  protocol and format order for showcase purposes, Bruen leaves us in no doubt that policing is a sham exercise ruled by self interest and  politics. So Brant and his creator are governed by deep cynicism and perhaps a sense of the tragedy of it all. Here there is no room left for idealism. The cops are as one -- a spent force running on auto pilot serving only to manage crime rather than solve or prevent it.

Bruen's knack  is his ability to explore  the consequences  of giving   legal power and weaponry  to individuals  as a career path, and then monitoring the ongoing consequences on their psyche. It's post traumatic stress disorder as a literary form as the gutter they are employed to clean up,  inundates them.

And when you come down to the wire -- cop or crim? -- we're left with the  choice betwen the lesser of two evils.

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