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KEN BRUEN: Calling Galway

Written by Ali Karim


Ken Bruen OK. I raise my hands as being someone (like many others) to have only just discovered the talented Irish crime writer Ken Bruen. How the hell could I have missed out on his Sarf London-based police series? Or his standalones that broke ground in terms of character and his use of English as a weapon? It was only when I read The Guards (the first in the Jack Taylor series) that I realised I had been missing out on a very important talent and have since locked myself away catching up; and that despite many of Ken’s earlier works now being out of print. However, fear not - they are slowly being reprinted as Ken Bruen’s name becomes branded across the genre. I had a big surprise last October. While I was quietly sucking back a beer in a Las Vegas bar, I heard an Irish accent - and to my surprise I had my back to the man himself. We spent a night with a gang of crime/mystery enthusiasts talking about the genre we love. Ken Bruen is way too modest about his own work, as he was always telling me about the new writers coming onto the block as well as classics I may have missed. Anyway, I have remained in contact with him as his encouragement and enthusiasm about writing is a true inspiration. If you haven’t experienced the dark streets of Ken Bruen, I would strongly suggest you grab a copy of The Guards rather urgently, because this Edgar Award nominated book is a classic not just in the crime genre, but any genre. You should also be aware that the film world is knocking on his door as Her Last Call To Louis Macneice is getting into film production while Channel 4 have optioned The White Trilogy and even Jack Taylor PI may soon be coming to the big screen! Shots decided to telephone him in Galway to learn about this enigmatic talent, and like his work, his insight is raw and he tells it the way it is…
Ali Karim & Ken Bruen Cuffed at Bouchercon 2003! 
Dr Bruen, welcome to Shots! And what is it like to break free from the cult writer status?
All those years of having, as Derek Raymond said.......the down escalator to myself was eerie...I'm delighted with the mega change because I got to meet you in Vegas, as well as James Crumley, Chris Mooney, Eddie Muller. As for breaking free from the cult…hey meeting Ed Mc Bain…and fuck, the money is nice…  

I was looking through your back catalogue and was amazed at your output over the years. I assume you have a strict regime in your writing?
Very strict, every day from 6 to 8.30...Even in Las Vegas after a night with one Ali Karim when I was...fierce bollixed…after what we drank…   

That was a helluva night…Anyway your life has been a complex one. Firstly, can you tell us a little about your childhood in Galway, and what that brought to your writing?
I was a silent child, huge crime reader in chatty Ireland and our family never had books, they were verboten, they said I was left by the fairies and even today, they say...he's odd, he reads...and worse...he writes...  

Despite your travels, you must have seen tremendous change in Ireland over the last twenty years. Would you care to tell us about the good, and the bad, in the changes within Ireland?
he best change is the church has lost its power and the people no longer have to emigrate; the worst is drugs, greed and racism.  

So the politics of the far right are appearing in Ireland?
Yes, the fuckers fester…  

Moving onto the Jack Taylor books, I find the bleakness in them weirdly refreshing (even with a character living with the hell of alcoholism). Taylor is a wonderful creation, but where in your psyche did he originate? 

My best friend Noel, my older brother was found dead in the Australian outback, from alcoholism..does the disease run in our family?.…It fuckin' gallops…  

Are your US readers confused about the reality of modern Ireland as illustrated in the Jack Taylor books, as opposed to the picture postcard of the old country and Michael Flatley and his dancing girls?

Yes, they think I'm ironic...God forbid…  

What was the reaction from the Garda to your Jack Taylor books and the Met to the Brixton books? And do you really care?
I don’t give a tinkers cuss. The Met refused all cooperation...The Guards sent me a zippo lighter said...we don’t always approve but keep it up... a great friend of mine now has the said zippo…   

And to think I gave up smoking…it resides on my bookshelf proudly. The Killing Of The Tinkers as well as The Magdalen Martyrs have social issues wrapped around the plot. Why is a social context important to you?
Because the politicians don’t care and maybe a writer can get some focus on the burning issues.  

Why do you think the Jack Taylor books have such appeal in the US, especially considering the MWA with the Edgar nomination?

They love the humour and the madness and the fact that Jack is so inept, turning the private eye genre on its ass…..  

Many view the context of your work not as ‘crime fiction’ per se, but as leaning toward ‘literary’ fiction. Some people amongst our intelligentsia do not consider crime/mystery genre fiction to be ‘literary’ enough when compared to general fiction. Would you care to comment? 

Raymond Chandler put that argument to bed, see his letters...and my hero James Sallis says that crime books address literary issues in a more relevant way than so-called ‘literature’…  

What differences have you observed from working with the independent press like Brandon (in Ireland), Jim Driver’s (The-do-not-press) to the larger publishing houses like St Martin’s Press (US)?
Like the Independents, I've been blessed with guys, editors who like a beer, a good crime novel, music… So how much can I be hurting?  

Your daughter Grace is wonderful, and I loved the article you wrote about her; tell me what she thinks of her daddy the writer?
She thinks I'm...like seriously boring and she is going to be a hairdresser, as she wants to make money.  

Has having a child altered the way you look on life? And how has it affected your work?

Yes, it made me vulnerable in away I never expected and Downs syndrome features in all my books.  

And your wife, how does she view your work?
She calls my books...stabbing books…As in to stab....  

I had a really good time talking books and sucking back beers at Bouchercon Vegas last October. You were a surprise guest. How did your appearance come about? And what memories do you have of the Bouchercon experience? 

I went at the last minute as Ben and Scott, agent and editor, bullied me.....I had the time of my life and loved every bloody minute.  

What were your memories of Las Vegas as a city?

You riding that mad wheel and injuring your foot, plus the security guards restraining us…  

That was a once in a lifetime experience - drinking with you was the tops …Anyway what were your reactions to total strangers coming up to you to talk about The Guards?

I thanked God from the bottom of my demented heart…..  

What other books impressed you in 2003/4? 

Cypress Grove...Sallis, deserves the Pulitzer...Eddie Muller's The Distance...a masterpiece...McBain...'cos he's the biz...C.J. Box...love his work...Jefferson Parker, such plotting...Pelecanos...Hard Revolution is awesome...David Peace...magnetic...Jason Starr...as dark as myself....   

Who are the new talents that we should watch out for?

Tim Mc Loughlin, Cathi Unsworth, Michael Kortya, Charlie Stella, Lono Waiwaiole...Wallace Stroby....Duane Swierczynski...Karen Fossum, Gabrielle Lord...Donna Moore (if we can get her tied down to write) and when will we see something from you...?  

Ken, it has been a pleasure so what books are we likely to see from you soon? 

There it is Ali...book’s on the way to you...then three new ones just finished...Priest, Jack Taylor 5...Calibre...Brant 6...and the American novel...American Skin…and big hugs to your family and to all you guys at Shots eZine…   


And with that the prolific Ken Bruen was back at the typewriter, so if you’ve not read his work, here’s a guide :- Ken Bruen Bibliography White Trilogy Book Jacket Brant
A White Arrest (1998) Taming the Alien (2000) The McDead (2001) Blitz: or Brant Hits the Blues (2002) Vixen (2003) Calibre (2004) The White Trilogy (omnibus) (2003) Jack Taylor
The Guards (2001) The Killing of the Tinkers (2002) The Magdalen Martyrs (2003) The Dramatist (2004) Priest (2005) The Hackman Blues Book Jacket Standalone Novels
Shades of grace (1993) Martyrs (1994) The Hackman Blues (1997) Her Last Call to Louis Macneice (1997) Rilke on Black (1997) London Boulevard (2001) Dispatching Baudelaire (2004) Collections
Funeral: Tales of Irish Morbidities (1992) Sherry: And Other Stories (1994) Time of Serena-May and Upon the Third Cross: A Collection of Short Stories (1995)
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