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by Ken Bruen
St Martin's Minotaur, July 2007
226 pages
ISBN: 0312341458

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Reviewing the seventh Brant novel seems superfluous. No doubt fans devoured it as soon as it became available. As for anyone who has not previously encountered the ethically-challenged universe of our fictional south east London precinct, even though the novel stands quite satisfactorily on its own, beginning with it would be losing a lot of the fun one gets by following the characters from their first appearance.

True, the series may not be to everyoneís liking. Its black comedy is the flip side of the dark, painful intensity of Bruenís Jack Taylor series, the one that has garnered the awards and the nominations. Each Brant novel is more like a new season in some wacky sit-com. But for those of you who, for whatever reason, want a preview, here goes:

This new 'season' opens with a literal bang: a shot that fells DS Brant and lands him in the hospital. DI Porter Nash saves his life by throwing him to the floor of the bar theyíre in and covering his body with his own. Of course, when Brant learns what happened, he responds typically: "Heís a fag, any chance to jump on my bones."

Nash begins reviewing old cases that Brant worked on to determine who might be carrying a grudge: "Thing was, almost every single case, with Brantís unique style of policing, gave rise to a suspect. It was fast becoming . . . who wouldnít want to shoot him?" The most promising lead, however, appears to be "The Case of the Clapham Rapist" (THE McDEAD, 2000).

Meanwhile, Angie returns to bedevil newly promoted (donít ask how) DS Falls. In spite of herself, Falls once again feels the same intense attraction for her that almost undid her the first time (VIXEN, 2003). Also, once again, though by now she should know better, Falls listens to Brantís scheme on how to catch a 'happy slapping' culprit so as to satisfy the Superintendent, whose wife was a victim. Whenever it suits her, Falls plays her racial card. "Sheís too busy to see a black woman?" she asks, to great effect, when a liberal lawyer stonewalls her.

PC McDonald sinks lower into his coke habit. In a scheme straight out of some Monty Python skit, he agrees to become an advisor to a vigilante team made up entirely of 70-year-and-older men who want to take the streets back from "the Pakis." McDonald equips them with baseball bats and leads the charge. The results are about what one would expect.

A new wild card is introduced this season: "the Yank," L.M Wallace, a US terrorism expert. His purpose for being attached to the precinct is never clear, but his operational methods seem more than a little akin to Brantís. When Nash asks him for "the best advice" for handling a situation, his answer is succinct: "Shoot the motherfuckers." Wallace is equally free with homophobic slurs, but he seems just a little too interested in Nash. After blackmailing him, Wallace even proposes they go out to a local club where there is line dancing.

Nash struggles to retain a grip on his moral conscience. PC Lane, even when he is temporarily partnered with Falls, also manages to rise above the embedded chicanery. To all appearances, so does WPC Andrews, but for the wrong reasons: she still thinks the high road is the route to promotion. The epigraph to the novel is taken from Sir Robert Mark, a Metropolitan Police Commissioner: "I have never experienced institutionalised wrongdoing, blindness, arrogance and prejudice on anything like the scale accepted as routine in the Met."

It is never entirely clear whether Bruen is writing satire or not. That is, itís not clear whether he feels the situation can ever be ameliorated. By introducing Wallace, he suggests that the American scene under the guise of Homeland Security has become just as bad. Throughout the novel, "ammunition" means less "projectiles" and "missiles" than it does "a means of defending or attacking an argument or a point of view," incriminatory evidence.

What else? Brantís novel Calibre is about to be released. Nash remains uncertain what position he should take about the publishing event since the plot is his, Brant having doped him on speed and gotten him to spill his "war stories" (CALIBRE, 2006). Nash continues to wrestle with diabetes: "Stress [is] the number one enemy of insulin protection and he was under more stress than Tony Blair." At least Nash manages to find some sexual recreation.

By the close of this season, some of our actors have left us permanently. Some of the cases have been closed more or less satisfactorily (though perhaps with emphasis on "less"). Some remain open. And the final episode delivers a grisly twist, leaving expectations high for 'season' eight.

The book is just as much fun as the previous six. What flaws it has belong to its publisher, not its author. I read a trade edition, not a reviewerís copy. The number of typographical errors resembles what one expects in self-published books, not in a work from a respected firm. And why, oh why, does St Martinís publicity department keep calling Sgt. Brant "Inspector"? One would conclude that no one there bothers to read, let alone proof-read, its publications.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, July 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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