Ken Bruen
(Kate's Mystery Books/
Justin, Charles & Co.)
In the first seven pages, we find Glen and the family racing in their old SUV. "The needle was hitting 100 and Karen was screaming." The two children are terrified.

They're being chased by Dade who wears "tooled cowboy boots, faded 501s, and a Laker shirt." He is bad news. He has fond memories of being in jail in Miami, "it was the most fun, he got to kick the shit out of a drag queen." The food was good, "hash browns, gravy, grits and mashed potatoes, with pecan pie to follow."

    A whore in Philly, whom he'd tried to cheat out of her fee, had come at him with a broken bottle, attempting to gouge his eye out. He'd beaten her to an inch of her life then fucked her again, all the time, the blood pouring from the slash she'd inflicted.

Dade gets the grill of his truck close enough to the back bumper of Glen's SUV to bang into it. A snapshot of Tammy Wynette hangs from Dade's mirror. "He grinned at her, pedal to the metal, having more fun than hunting bear in god's own country."

When the SUV crashes into a tree at 120 mph, Karen "shot through the windshield, hitting the tree with her head, crushing the neck down into the torso." Dade gets out of his truck, sees Karen, says "Hanging out, babe?" He finds Glen still in the driver's seat, says "Glen, how you doing there buddy, day at a time, that's how it goes?"

    Shot him twice in the upper chest, dragged him out, leaned over the seat, looking at Ben [Glen and Karen's ten year old son] took the baseball mitt, and put a round in the child's face.

Rosie the four-year-old girl had fallen out the door of the car just before it hit the tree. An old man in a Buick stops to help.

    "What happened?"

    Dale shrugged, said,

    "Shit happened."

    Shot him between the eyes, reached in, got the wallet, had a hundred bucks in there.

As Dale leaves in his truck, he's singing. "His voice was low, modulated, almost a hint of sweetness in the tone."

§     §     §

USA Today praises American Skin's "soulless and depraved characters." Kirkus Review revels in the "flashes of mordant wit." Barnes and Noble refers to "an absolute bloodbath of crime fiction thriller." The Miami Herald finds Ken Bruen "Gloriously entertaining." Publishers Weekly tells of "The banshee of existential agony wailing loud."

Existential agony ... wailing loud ... A Good Samaritan, shot between the eyes. A four-year-old girl, fallen out the door, bouncing off the truck grill. A young mother impaled on a tree. A ten-year-old boy with "a round" in his face. Are we missing something?

Justin, Charles & Co. home page says that it is committed to "books that will engage, entertain, enlighten and delight." It is "based in Boston," we are told, "a long-time hub of American cultural and intellectual life, home to a great diversity of writers, readers, and thinkers of all persuasions." Presumably the likes of Henry Adams, Emerson, Thoreau, the gentle Transcendentalists.

I live too far from this cultural and intellectual hub at 236 Huntington Avenue, where I could, I suppose, drop in to spend a few moments with the editors and publicists at Justin Charles & Co. They would have me figured for another crackpot, so I would have to promise not to take up too much of their time, keep my distance. I wouldn't ask for much: ten minutes or so chatting about our somewhat different views of "to enlighten" and "Existential agony."

And, thank my lucky stars, I live almost half-way across the world from Galway, Ireland. I am sure I could never in a hundred years, especially at my time of life, make it all the way there to visit, in person, with Ken Bruen, to ask about this Existential business, the one I studied in the 1950s, seemingly so different from his own.

In his photograph, the one that comes along with the poop for American Skin, Bruen --- white hair, jutting chin, icy eyes --- looks like a tough customer, might be disinterested in a lecture --- even a short one --- from some dotty stranger arriving on his doorstep, rattling on about the gentle power of Camus, the holy, non-violent resistance to evil preached by Miguel de Unamuno. He might not tolerate a short speech on simple human virtues offered by so many of the religious masters. Like the vow not to cause harm by deed or by word.

Even ... or especially ... the written word.

--- Lolita Lark
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