bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review--The Devil by Ken Bruen--Just in time for the holidays

Happy Thanksgiving all! I was catching up with Ken Bruen and thought I'd pass this review along. 

Jack Taylor has to be one of the most miserable Private Investigators in Crime fiction. Everybody he’s ever loved hates his guts or is dead—usually because of him. His native Ireland is coming apart at the seams. His self medication verges on full blown addiction. Heck, he even has a Catholic Priest who hates his guts and never misses a chance to tell him he’s going to hell.

Which is why Jack Taylor is such a good read.

If you haven’t read Bruen’s The Guards, I suggest you go do so. It’s one of the finest P.I. novels I’ve ever read, and where I first met Jack. Taylor is the cop who punched the wrong bureaucrat and got fired from the force. His life is falling apart, he’s self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and that gigantic chip on his shoulder doesn’t making things any easier. He’s the essence of hard-boiled for one reason only: while he may give up on himself, he never gives in.  We see him teeter on the edge of the abyss, but we never see him fall. And the only reason he doesn’t fall is one of my favorite—Jack’s a stubborn bastard, and he’s not going to give his enemies that satisfaction.

Now in the realm of first person P.I. novels there’s a lot more than the fact’s ma’am, just the facts. What makes the books work is character. Some protagonists, like Ross McDonald’s Lew Archer, are virtually nonexistent, but their outsider’s viewpoint gives us a wide open reading into the lives of the characters and the society we live in. Other detectives take us into their head, and make us wonder if we could be strong as them. Jack is quickly approaching a third category, that William Christopher Baer territory, where we wonder if he’s going to be able to cross the street.

 I have to admit, every once in a while in past books I’d reach a point where I wanted Jack to stop whining and just get on with it. It’s really just impatience on my part, because I already know everybody Jack loves is dead, or he’s dead to them. And, I didn’t get that feeling once in this battle between human and spiritual darkness.  Jack’s a bastard, and he carries that weight on his shoulders, and these cases are solved more by his crappy attitude than any great detective work. But it still takes somebody with an outsider’s perspective to solve the case. And Jack’s been on the outside since day one.

The set up is simple. Jack’s about to make his big escape to America, to start his new life, when he’s refused entry. Afterwards in the airport bar (where else?), Jack meets a polite but strange Mr. K. Mr. K’s comments skirt the edges of everything that’s bothering Jack. Is it a coincidence, or does he know too much? Pretty soon we’re left to ask is he just some loopy guy with a funny foreign accent or a stalker? And by the time we figure out he may be a stalker, signs are he’s a hell of a whole lot more.

I hate to give away anything else, because of the way this story is laid out. Each interview, fact, or legend is presented in such a way as to make the reader ask, “Is Mr. K the Devil?”
Well is he?
I congratulate Mr. Bruen for not taking the easy way out.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pictures: Fredric Brown's real life FABULOUS CLIPJOINT!

 For those of you who don’t already know, the TIP-TOP-TAP is THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT! The Chicago night club is no longer open, but it is registered as a historic landmark. Me, I think we ought to have the thing bronzed.

THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT (no, it wasn’t a barber shop) was the first of several Ed and Am mystery classics by the great FREDRIC BROWN. Ed was the kid who’d joined his uncle Ed in the carnival. Ed, an ex-private investigator turned carnival barker, was Ed’s mentor. A movie version of their adventure THE SCREAMING MIMI was made in the sixties, starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee if you want to check that out—and his short story ARENA has been adapted for more TV series than I could name.

If you like CRIME NOIR, Brown’s THE FAR CRY is one of my all-time favorites. If you like SF, so is MARTIANS GO HOME and WHAT MAD UNIVERSE.

Brown was also a master of the short-short story, and, dare I say, one of the greatest short story writers of the Twentieth Century—right up there with Borges and Harlan Ellison. Seriously, if you never have, check out a collection of his short stories, Crime or Speculative, I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Am and Ed mysteries may seem quaint to some by modern standards, but books like the above mentioned and HERE COMES A CANDLE remain vibrant to this day. As a matter of fact the good people over at SEQUENTIAL PULP COMICS are adapting some of his great works even as I type these words. I’ve seen the Martian from their version of MARTIANS GO HOME, and it’s exactly up to Brown’s Specs.

If you’d like to know more about Fredric Brown, or read a couple of his amazing short-short stories, check out PARADOX LOST THE FREDERICK BROWN HOMEPAGE

And stay out of those clipjoints.