Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ken (Bruen) likes Karin (Fossum)

I haven't always liked Ken Bruen's penchant for epigraphs and chapter headings taken from other books, but in Calibre, the device works. Perhaps that's because the novel's killer takes his inspiration from a book: Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, another crime novel about an outwardly calm, intensely self-aware psychopath.

Bruen being Bruen, though, his killer is far funnier than Thompson's or anyone else's. Here he is in his own words:

I'm not going to get caught. I'm due for another kill on Friday, a woman this time, keep the balance. The reason I won't get caught is not just cos I'm smart but I have an edge.

I watch CSI.
and

Kids? Would I kill a kid? No way, José. Not unless he was in a boy band.
and

Ever see that profile shine they pedal[sic]? Me now, they'd
typically pin as:


White (true)
Late twenties,
early thirties (wrong)

Loner (mm...mmm)
Isolated
(nope)

Impotent (hey!)
Narcissistic (well okay, I'll
give them that)

Low-paying job (nope)
No partner
(wrong again)

Quiet (I'm a party animal).

In addition to the Thompson (and Cornell Woolrich, Charles Willeford and Raymond Chandler) reading killer, the loud, violent, manipulative, bribe-taking but oddly upright Sergeant Brant is back, not just reading Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, but this time trying to write one himself. So, with both sides of the law -- London killer and London cops -- immersed in pop culture, the chapter headings comment on and reflect the novel's action, rather than standing outside it, awkward and self-indulgent, the way they sometimes do.

The authors Bruen chooses for his epigraphs and headings are no surprise, for the most part: Thompson, Willeford and Elmore Leonard, to name three. One, however, was unexpected, a nod from an author of violent, hysterically funny hard-boiled books to one of quieter psychological crime novels: Karin Fossum. Chapter 16 is preceded by this, from Fossum's He Who Fears the Wolf:

"The only interesting people in the world are the losers," she said. "Or rather, those we call losers. Every type of deviation contains an element of rebellion. And I've never been able to understand a lack of rebelliousness."
By the way, the killer in Calibre has an unusual set of targets: He murders people who have bad manners.
===========

Bruen, of course, may be the hottest and most prolific crime novelist in the world, but critical attention focuses mostly on his Jack Taylor novels or his standalones. The Brant or Brant and Roberts books, of which Calibre is the sixth, with a seventh due this year, deserve to be better known. Sure, it's easy to see Bruen's inspiration; he doesn't bother hiding it. It's McBain's 87th Precinct books. But he puts his family of officers through changes McBain never set down on paper. There has simply never been anything else like this violent, brawling, drinking, cocaine-snorting -- and side-splittingly funny -- gang in crime fiction.

Read about the Brant novels on Bruen's Web site here. I predict that if these novels ever gain the attention they deserve, some adventurous theater producer will find them ripe for the funniest, most violent Broadway crime musical ever.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Karen C said...

"By the way, the killer in Calibre has an unusual set of targets: He murders people who have bad manners."

Now that's something that could definitely catch on...

April 22, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Oh, I have long had fantasies along those lines, but I never dreamed of working a story around them. Bruen found a wonderful and socially acceptable outlet for knocking off loudmouths and other nuisances. And some I must say that the killer chooses his victims well.

April 22, 2007  
Blogger Matt said...

I could definitly see a Broadway musical like this. The Brant character would definitly begrudge the dancing though. I like your blog concept as well.

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks, Matt. You're probably right about Brant. I went back to page 44 of Calibre and found this: "Yeah, Roberts attempting to revive the art of jiving, Brant at the edge of the dance floor, a sardonic smile in place and his hand up the woman's dress, almost as an afterthought."
Brant's big dance number will be called the "The Non-Dance Dance."

I read that Russell Crowe had signed or was going to sign to play Brant in a movie version of Vixen (It may have been an old annoucement.) I'm not sure I can picture a movie capturing the atmosphere of these books.

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Lance said...

I think the Brant novels deserve the same attention that the Jack Taylor novels receive. Why they don't I'll never know.

How about Russell Crowe in the Broadway production of Vixen?

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the comment, Lance. Can Russell Crowe dance?

I don't remember if I've mentioned this before, but it was nice to see Shadow of a Doubt among your favorite movies. I think Hitchcock once called it his favorite among his own films. For me, it has always hovered just below a shifting top three of Strangers on a Train, Rear Window and North by Northwest.

This is just a guess, but Jack Taylor gives readers someone they can identify with, a serious character with serious problems. Brant and the rest are more like cartoon characters or wild men. That's why I suggested that an over-the-top art form like a musical might better capture the spirit of over-the-top books like the Brant novels than would a more somber and realistic form such as a Hollywood movie. (Perhaps Bust falls somewhere between the Jack Taylors on one hand and the Brants on the other.)

A big-budget production would probably "humanize" Brant and the rest the way Mel Gibson "humanized" Richard Stark's Parker in Payback. The result was a good movie, but it wasn't Parker.

April 23, 2007  
Blogger Lance said...

A little off subject but Hitchcock would rank in my top 3 best directors constantly alternating between: Hitch, David Lean, and Billy Wilder.

Hitch did say that Shadow of a Doubt was his personal favorite and who am I to argue with Hitch? A few others of my favorites include: Rear Window, Notorious, and Dial M for Murder.

A few weeks ago the Houston Museum of Fine Arts showed Blackmail and old 1929 Hitchcock flick that what I didn't know was the first British Talkie film...

Okay I could go on forever on Hitch so I'll stop there...

April 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Hitchcock is always an appropriate subject. I've seen Blackmail a couple of times, though I learned only relatively recently that it was the first British talking film.

I, too, could talk Hitchcock forever, but I'll stop by directing you to The Lodger (1927) if you haven't seen it. It's a silent movie, and the astonishing thing is that it's still recognizably Hitchcock.

April 24, 2007  
Anonymous Mary said...

Russell Crowe as Brant? That's just wrong. I picture someone more like Rhys Ifans, only older and meaner. :)

April 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I don't know Rhys Ifans, but I'd be interested in seeing a performance by someone who would make a good Brant. I was tempted to suggest Lee Marvin (before he died), but I'm not sure how good he would have been at conveying the sense of mischief that goes along with the violence and the corruption that make Brant so endearing.

April 24, 2007  

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