Sunday, February 26, 2006

BUST by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

Hardcase Crime, May 2006 , ISBN 0843955910

In order to reccomend Bust, one need to go no further than to name the authors of this bleak, darkly funny noir novel. Between them, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr have racked up a huge number of accolades and awards and have had so much praise heaped upon them its a wonder neither man has a stoop.

Bust sees the two men tackling Jason Starr's stomping ground of NYC and referencing Bruen's native Ireland as a sleazy New York businessman hires a psychotic Irish thug to off his wife. It should be simple, but these things never are. The hitman - who calls himself Popeye - is sadistically violent and more than a little unhinged. The other woman may know more about the mysterious Popeye than she's ever told her lover. And then there's that snoop in the wheelchair who may just know far too much than could ever be good for a man...

The prose reads like a dream. Fast paced and bursting with energy, the fusion of these two writer's individual styles carries the reader effortlessly along the twisting plot. There are more pop culture references than one can shake a stick at and yet its only afterwards that you notice them. Bruen and Starr manage to make referencing into an art form. The chapters are often headed with quotes from the current crop of noir writers. Simon Kernick, Ray Banks and Allan Guthrie provide the inspiration. In the hands of other writers, this might feel near incestuous, but here its not simply a nod towards friends, its a nod towards the writers who are, right now, creating the kind of modern noir that has influenced Bust.

And noir is the key word here. Bust wears its influences and roots on its sleeve and yet it never feels cliche. The energy here - the sense that the authors are having a ball writing the novel - is infectious. Starr and Bruen delight in taking noir archetypes (the unreliable hitman, the greedy cheating husband, the sleazy blackmailer) and twisting them just right. There is not a single good guy in the book. Actually, there is one, but Bruen and Starr show what happens to good guys in noir and they do it with a great big, malicious smile, too.

If you're a fan of either writer, you should check this book out immediately. If you're a fan of both, you'll be in heaven. And if you've never read a book by Starr or Bruen before, you should start right here. Hard Case Crime have released some of the best new novels of the past few years. They've given us some amazing reprints of classic crime. But this book, Bust, has just upped the ante once more.

Russel McLean for, 26 Feb, 2006