The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen – review

the white trilogy ken bruen

“Here are your poor, your tired, your hungry; your predatory crack dealers, your arsonists; your killers for money, for revenge, for enforcement, and for sheer ugly fun…”

The White Trilogy is an omnibus edition that contains the three novels The White Arrest, Taming the Alien and The McDead.

“Roberts had got the call at three in the morning. The hour of death.”

The White Trilogy follows the exploits of R & B, aging CI Roberts and loose cannon DS Brant (“I was born angry and got worse”) as they encounter the underbelly of London. Some of the cases they will tackle are a serial killer who is offing England’s cricket team, a group of vigilantes lynching drug dealers by hanging them from lamp posts, a rapist who targets black women and a hit man who has fled the country.

“You sure have some odd thought process sergeant. I dunno if that’s because yer Irish, a policeman or a weird bastard.”

As a resident of Baltimore and someone who is well versed on the crime fiction that comes out of it, and it does have its own distinct flavor, The White Trilogy was something that I was immediately able to identify with on many levels. From the characters to the storylines, the shades of grey between “good” and “bad” to the way the stories focus jumps around. All of it. The highest compliment that I can pay to this book is that it reminded me of The Wire. But since no one watches the show (I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the majority of the viewing audience falls into two categories: crime writers and people from Baltimore) I’ll have to try and expand that sentiment just a tad.

“A persistent drizzle was coming down, not an outright soaking but a steady wetting.

In the London of The White Arrest the bad guys are in fact bad, you wouldn’t want to meet them and they probably aren’t in possession of any redeeming characteristics at all. The police are just a few steps away from them though. They are just as unruly, violent and amoral. They possess a tough “by any means necessary” stance that may get the job done but it doesn’t make them likable, not at first anyway. You start out not liking anyone, the police included, but by the end of the story the long term characters have become more real. There lives are so violent, stark and desolate that you want them to find some measure of happiness but part of you knows that it may never happen. That Bruen can make such characters ultimately, if begrudgingly, likable, proves his skill as a writer.

“He remembered when he first courted Fiona – the sheer adrenaline rush of just being in her presence. He missed two people: a) the girl she was; b) the person she’d made him feel he might have been. A deep sigh escaped him.

The White Trilogy starts out with two women police officers having a very frank conversation while grabbing a bite to eat then moves quickly into a murder investigation. The book jumps all over time, place and location focusing in on different characters without explanation before moving on once again. This happens often and without warning. Sometimes the very next paragraph will be so far removed from the previous one that it can take a little bit for one to adjust to the abrupt change. But it is just another necessary ingredient to the tapestry of chaos that Bruen brilliantly weaves. This pacing also serves to further illustrate just how closely linked the two sides can be at times. The narrative will be focusing on a police officer then will switch to the dialogue of a criminal without warning. We are well into the switch when we realize that one was made and then the realization hits that we thought it was the police officer speaking and more importantly that the dialogue fit, and that is disarming.

“Fiona wanted to weep. For whom or why, she wasn’t sure, but a sadness of infinity had shrouded her heart.”

In the midst of all this violence and chaos Bruen may be most successful at illustrating the quiet moments of humanity in these characters lives. He isn’t afraid to explore the emotions of his characters. We bear quiet witness to one man’s battle with cancer by himself, a disintegrating marriage, infidelity, pregnancy, the loss of child and unexpected help from unexpected people.

“A child, the woe of her aching heart and the biological clock hadn’t so much stopped as simply run into nothingness.”

It is exactly these emotional moments that make us care for these characters even if we don’t always like them. But Bruen’s gift is to give this spark of tragic humanity not just to his main characters but to the minor ones as well.

“A waitress in her fifties came over. She’d obviously had disappointing news in her teens and wasn’t yet recovered. Her face seemed unfinished without a tired cigarette”

We are also treated to what has to be one of the great male friendships in Brant and Roberts, it never sinks to the level of cliché or trite sentimentality, they never have a Hallmark moment, nor do we want them to. But we realize by the end that despite the trials they are in fact great friends.

“The relationship twixt Rand B seemed a beat away from a beating. You felt like they’d like nothing better then to get down and kick the living shit out of each other. Which had happened. The tension between them was the chemistry that glued. Co-dependent was another word for it.”

Episodic police shows on TV have gotten us very used to the idea, or perception, that police officers work only one case at a time. That it more often then not gets solved. That the police have near unlimited resources and man-power to tackle even the smallest of crimes. That the police have a near impenetrable moral code that will allow the forces of Law to triumph always over those of Chaos providing an umbrella of protection to keep us all safe. In the real world, especially those areas that are better suited to images of war ravaged third world countries, the police are sometimes bad, they often bend the rules. They have to fill out reams of paperwork just to requisition a simple bullet proof vest when those whom they police are better equipped for the daily battles, and most important of all the criminals, more so then would make us comfortable, often go unpunished and crimes go unsolved. The title of the first novel draws itself from this idea. The police are well aware that they aren’t going to solve all or even most of their cases but they know that if they can solve that one big case then their jobs will be safe. Like Ahab’s increasingly mad search for the white whale, officers Brant & Roberts continuously search for The White Arrest.

“It was always thus, thin ice to the promised land.”

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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