Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading challenge #1

So I agreed to blogger Jen Forbus' 2011 reading challenge over at Criminal Plots. There are several categories and this book could have gone in two for me but I'll put it in the "A Different Country" because I'm fairly certain I'll read something that is the first in a series this year and when I really looked at it I don't read a whole lot set in other countries. But I guess that's the point here. Anyway, the reason I read this one was because it is a series and I like the author. So here goes:

The Guards by Ken Bruen.
I'd heard so much good stuff about this book I feel like the last person in America to actually read it. I have liked Ken's writing but it struck me that I have read mostly his co-written works. Tower with Reed Farrel Coleman, the books with Jason Starr, Bust, Slide and The Max. Rilke on Black was the only standalone of Bruen's that I'd read and I liked that one too. Time to jump in to the Jack Taylor series.

At an appearance promoting Tower Reed Coleman said he changed his style a little to fit with Bruen. After the first draft and reading his part up against Ken, Reed went back and started plucking out words to tighten the language and make it a little more clipped. It worked in Tower.

Now, I try hard to never say anything bad about a book because you never know when it will come back to haunt you. I am also a firm believer that there are no bad books, only books that are not right for a particular reader. Even Dan Brown (who I've never read). Even The Bridges of Madison County (which I have).
That said, The Guards didn't do it for me. Not a total failure on my part but it just lacked a certain something that would make me seek out the others in the Jack Taylor series. Certainly nothing that would turn me off Ken Bruen in the future though. I still want to read back through more of those early books.

Mostly it was that clipped and staccato language that Coleman mentioned. It is much more aggressive in The Guards. For me, it was to the point of making it hard to dive deeply into the story. Things happened in fast motion. It became exhausting. A part of it too may have been the lingering on Taylor's alcoholism which is just something I don't enjoy reading even in the best scenario. I know, I know - why even read Noir fiction?
Bruen's plotting is excellent and all that but the sparse language and the short bursts of scenes and chapters left me standing outside the story in a way. And Taylor as a character was not someone I felt I wanted to spend a lot of time with. Hell, he doesn't even seem to like being with himself.
In the end The Guards is hardly a bad book and Bruen is still a hell of a writer in my opinion. The style he reached for in this one just didn't do it for me. But The Guards is an award-winning classic already so I am obviously in the minority.
So there. I was honest. Not easy for me. So far, that's the most challenging thing about this reading challenge. Thanks Jen. (sarcasm font, where are you?)
Oh and the country is Ireland. Bruen is Irish. So there.


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I of course am familiar with Ken Bruen, but have never read any of his writing. I know he is very kind with his support of other writers. I have almost been hesitant to to read him, for the same reasons you have mentioned about THE GUARDS. He seems like a great guy and I would be bummed out if I ended up not digging his writing. I'm also in the same boat with James Ellroy. Great that you could provide a candid opinion, but in a professionl way. This was very helpful.

Jen Forbus said...

Bruen's style is definitely unique, Eric. And while I love his writing, he isn't one I would universally recommend to other people. Your response is a prime example of that.

I love your comment about books not being right for certain people. Kinda the way I felt about the one I reviewed myself today.

Thanks for the review...and especially for the honesty!