Wednesday, May 9, 2012

(4) Bruen vs. (13) Parker

Ken Bruen has written a series of ridiculously good, semi-poetic novels set in Ireland.  Parker writes about the twisty criminal landscape of Southern California.  Is this a battle...or a slaughter?

Quality of Books - We begin with Parker, the lower seed.  He has written a ton of books but for reasons I will soon get in to, I have only read six.  Here is how they stack up:
Great: California Girls
Good: LA Outlaws
Okay: Storm Runners, The Renegades
Not Good: Iron River, The Border Lords
Only two of six books fit into the Great - Good catagory...not a great percentage. 
Bruen's voluminous works on the other hand, break down like this:
Great: The Guards, The Killing of the Tinkers, Priest
Very Good: The Dramatist, The Magdalen Martyrs, Cross, Inspector Brant series
Good: The Devil, Headstone, Sanctuary, We Were Cops, American Skin, Tower, London Boulevard
This thing is essentially already over.
Massive Edge: Bruen

Great Characters - Parker has one major series character, Charlie Hood, but the books become progressively bad the longer the series has gone on.  Hood is a somewhat interesting character made better in the good first book LA Outlaws due to the presence of "villain" Allison Murrietta.  Frequently scarred by tragedy, Hood cuts a dark figure and stands as the "good" against the "dark forces" around the San Diego border. 
Bruen has created two amazingly unique characters.  His drunk Irish PI, Jack Taylor, is an f-ed up force of nature who has made a career out of destroying those around him.  Everyone but Taylor dies, and he often pays the price for his brief acts of contrition.  The other creation is Inspector Brant, a brutally corrupt police officer who runs his crime squad like a medieval fifedom.  Both characters are darker than noir and find themselves frequently travelling from bad to worse.
Massive Edge: Bruen

Style / Inner Workings / Readability - Parker's books are page turners and often compulsively readable.  California Girls is a taut and haunting murder mystery played out over decades, and Parker expertly shows the effects on one grief stricken family.  However, some of his books are just plain bad.  In Iron River he attempts to pull a horrible James Lee Burke impression.  Only one man can write like James Lee Burke and he is seeded #1 in this competition.  Parker has talent and can write taut thrillers but he has been pulled in too many different directions (too much music!) and has lost his way. 
Bruen writes Irish noir poetry and his style is the most incredibly original thing in mystery.  Not a word is wasted.  In one three line sentence he often conveys more emotion than other writers get out of an entire chapter.  His books are spare meditations on violence and brutality and the creeping darkness that surrounds us all.  The best work he has written in my opinion is The Killing of the Tinkers in which his tortured hero, Jack Taylor, is given everything he could ever want.  Having to watch it snatched away piece by piece is gut wrenching and utterly horrifying.  Few mystery writers do it better or more consistently.  There is a reason Bruen is in my Mystery Writers Pantheon.  Additionally, try putting one of his books down.  You will read them all in one sitting and keep returning to his hauntingly beautiful style. 
Massive Edge: Bruen

No surprise here: Bruen destroys Parker and moves on. 

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