Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Rilke on Black

Rilke on Black Rilke on Black by Ken Bruen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve had a serious jones for Bruen’s work over the last few months. When he’s on, he just gets the hardboiled. He has his own voice and his own powerful sense of humor, and he has a knack for writing stories that favor the jab over the haymaker: quick narratives that take off and wrap up in skilled fashion.

This one, despite sounding great, is my least favorite of his so far. For one thing, I find the voice here more challenging that in other places. Nick talks in a strange fashion, some of it British-street vernacular (which can make it tough) and some of it just idiosyncratic in its rhythms. I expect him to go on about one thing, and he instead chooses another. It isn’t a matter of vocabulary, but of direction; I had too many instances of expecting he’d talk about one thing and finding, instead, that I was supposed to pick it up by innuendo or implication.

For another, Nick is very self-satisfied. He may have ambitions to be more than a tough bouncer, but he likes being a big plug-ugly. He likes the feeling of intimidating most people he sees. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a perspective I can readily adopt. Unlike the extraordinary Jack Taylor in The Guards, who manages not quite to hate himself as he wrestles with his many failures, Nick risks patting himself on the back at every turn.

That tension undermines the strong premise of the book: Nick, his new young lover, and his sociopathic neighbor kidnap a local businessman. That might go in a lot of directions – and it does bring some solid payoffs, especially in the way the businessman teases the not-too-bright Nick – but it leads to Nick taking more and more responsibility for the crime as we see him less and less able. (I mean, forgetting to wear the mask that’s in his pocket?) In other words, Nick trusts (and even likes) himself despite increasing evidence that he shouldn’t.

The good news is that, like the other Bruen I’ve read, this is all over in a rush of adrenaline. This isn’t disappointing enough to put me off Bruen, but it’s certainly at the bottom of my list of his.

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