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The Hackman Blues is a book I had been meaning to read for years. It was one of Ken Bruen's earlier works where he was already pushing the terse poetics of the hardboiled novel. He also serves up one of his most indelible characters.

Tony Brady is a gay, manic-depressive London villain fighting baldness. He and his former cellmate, Elias, get by finding lost items for folks. Sometimes they drum up business by taking them in the first place. Jack Dunphy, a construction kingpin who resembles one of Brady's favorite actors, Gene Hackman, approaches him. His daughter, Roz, is missing. It's not long before they locate her at a club with the owner, Leon, who has a a skin color the racist Dunphy wouldn't like. When Dunphy pays him more to bring Roz back, Brady and Elias decide to take the girl, but play off the father and Leon against each other for a big score. Most of the book follows how that plan goes horribly wrong.

Brady brings out an entertaining from Bruen. His film fan knowledge peppers his internal and external dialogues and his take-it-as-it-is observations of life and the London underworld prove sharp and funny. He conveys his condition in a perfect manner. When his mania sets in, it provides a fuel injection for the prose. Brady is a criminal just clever enough to get in over his head.

The Hackman Blues demonstrates the style, brass, and balls of a writer fresh to the scene. The writing shows little concerns for going too far, producing laughs you feel guilty about. However. it's true magic trick is how through humor and character detail he brings a humanity to this thug who we engage with on the page, who we would avoid in real life. Luckily, Ken Bruen has never been afraid to get up close.


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