If this is London, then Mayor Sadiq “I’m with Mohammed” Khan has a point. Life in the big city will kill you, so you might as well stop complaining and get used to it. In Ken Bruen’s world, if the Allahu Akbar screamers don’t get you today, the cops will tomorrow.
Blitz is the fourth of Bruen’s Inspector Brant books, but after this one I have my doubts about how he could have survived three earlier volumes. For a start, it’s as though he’s the lovechild of Sid Vicious and Hillary Clinton; a psychopathic, alcoholic thug, with no hint of morality or conscience. He’s self-destructive, loathes himself and others, for which he is hated in return, and although comically violent strides through life consequence-free. I did say Hillary was his mother.
The problem with all of this is that Blitz is like a bad Marvel script written in a style that can only be described as punk hard-boiled (puke hard-boiled?), which seems to get the critics and edgy readers onside but ultimately tips over into farce, a point well made by the British comedy duo Hale and Pace way back in the late 80s with their classic skit, “Well ‘ard boys at the pub”. But a comedy this is not.
There's a coke snorting black WPC, a murderous detective sergeant, a serial killer called Blitz, a Nazi, a fag, and an assorted cast who between them have about one redeeming character trait. By the end, between the machine gun grammar and anarchist nihilism, you’ll be ready for something a good deal more sedate (I moved onto The Warden by Anthony Trollope).
But there’s something else at work here, which is how fake the whole punk hard-boiled act is. Everyone is hard, violent, amoral, and out of control. Brant is sexist, homophobic, racist, and an all-round hater. But the black WPC, although a substance abusing slut, is drop-dead gorgeous and befriends a Nazi (hello, cardboard cutouts). The author can’t bring himself to go the final mile, and really take on the PC literary establishment. He goes half way, but has to draw back with a wink. See? My characters are racists and sexists, but I’m not one myself. Seriously, how do you write hard-boiled noir about the mean streets of London and not confront the racist violence of blacks? Or the fact that the WPC was an equal opportunity hire and shouldn’t be on the force? Or, perhaps more importantly, the death wish Mohammedans who are notable by their absence?
If you can’t be authentic about the rot at the heart of a Western city like London, decaying before our eyes, then stick to writing conservative police procedurals. At least there’s a chance of a good story and something approaching reality.