four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
Ken Bruen
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
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A-Once Were CopsKen Bruen, the award-winning Irish author of the Jack Taylor series, introduces a sociopathic cop in what critics project will be the start of a new series.

The Story: Michael O’Shea (Shay), a member of The Guards, Ireland’s police force, finagles his way into his dream job via a police exchange program with the NYPD. His new partner in New York City is the bullish veteran cop Kurt Kebar Browski, a dangerous man who justifies his connections to the Mob as a means for helping support his beautiful, mentally impaired sister. Shay is even worse: a true psychopath, he can’t fight his urge to rape and strangle women. The partners make a fearsome duo, but as they both reach the breaking point, the question arises: who protects the innocent if the police are the perpetrators?
St. Martin’s Minotaur. 294 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0312384408

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Bruen, a master of modern noir, renders his prose in short staccato bursts, which is curiously mesmerizing—and, at the book’s gruesome end, downright terrifying." Tina Jordan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[The book] has the feel of having been dashed off in a few weeks, but it possesses a blood-on-the-tracks fascination. You can accuse Bruen of various sins, but he has a distinct voice, and he’s never less than readable." Patrick Anderson

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Bruen’s] bullet-in-the-brain prose style is the envy of many a noir scribbler. … Language is crucial to this tense masquerade; and while O’Shea prides himself on learning the lingua franca, the more American idiom he absorbs, the more his language flattens out." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

While the critics found this gritty noir tale compulsively readable, they didn’t exactly know what to make of it. O’Shea is a charming narrator despite his split personality and inclination toward evil (his murder weapon: a green rosary), and reviewers found both O’Shea and his NYPD partner psychologically compelling. They also praised the short, choppy prose, which seemed appropriate to the story, and the dark, gruesome twists and turns. But the novel, devoid of pity or emotion and full of violence, may not please all readers. The reviewer from the Washington Post sums it up: "Once Were Cops is designed to appeal to readers with less refined sensibilities."