RARA-AVIS: Taming the Alien

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 20 Dec 2006

Read this second novel in Ken Bruen's white trilogy while I was up in Chicago. I read the first a couple years ago and wasn't much impressed but I've been seeing a lot of positive comments on his work and thought I'd give the second a go.

There are moments of solid writing in this novel, notably in the dialogue, but at the end of it and in the days after, it has left a flat aftertaste. I've been trying hard to put my finger on exactly why that is. I'm still bouncing it around, but this is what I've come up with so far.

There are two problems that I can think of right now. First, all the characters are essentially the same. They are incredibly tough with a sarcastic and cynical sense of humor. There are cracks in their armor through which glimpses of compassion and vulnerability show through, and they all take turns having breakdowns so that their comrades can help them back on their feet.

The second problem is that the characters are as stupid as they are tough. Brant is practically illiterate. Any witticism aimed at him that requires an IQ greater than his shoe size falls on a deaf ear. The only way he solves any crime in the book is through snitches. Falls thinks she can walk in without any backup and force a dangerous and violent criminal to come down to the police station with her. And, of course, the only way she found the guy is through a snitch. No real detective work. The bad guys are even worse. The Alien appears to think that he can assault Brant, with no attempt to hide his identity, and walk away with no consequences. Bill thinks he can betray a killer to the police without any worry of the killer turning against him. And all of this goes down with a detailed running commentary and celebration of the UK way.

I'm not saying that the book totally sucked. Bruen is good at juxtaposing toughness with sentiment and spiking it with sharp humor. But for me it simply wasn't enough to overcome its weaknesses.


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