Rilke on Black by Ken Bruen – review

rilke on black ken bruenRilke on Black tells the story of three people who form a precarious partnership to kidnap a local Rilke quoting businessman. On the surface they all seem to be on the same page, kidnap the man, collect the ransom, and split the money. But as the plan spins out of control and their grasp on the situation slips it becomes clear that they each have their own agendas. As these hidden agendas bubble closer to the surface they will threaten not only the whole operation but the lives of everyone involved also.

After some tentative footsteps in crime fiction Rilke on Black was Bruen’s first full length, full forced crime novel. It is maniacally paced and tightly plotted. The three main characters and the supporting cast are all uniquely defined and fully formed. It’s interesting to watch the various subplots make themselves known as the three kidnappers try to change the situation to their advantage but instead find themselves changing because of their involvement. Some of them also become increasingly unhinged as the pressure of pulling off a successful kidnapping mounts. This unhinging is going to directly lead to the severing of the relationship ties. The story is set up as such that we know in general terms what is going to happen but the skill of the writing keeps us guessing as to the specific until its too late and we are left to just hang on for the ride.

Having read Bruen’s books out of publication order it seemed that Rilke on Black was heading for that rarity in Bruen’s body of work, a happy ending. But, I’m happy to report, that the ending comes with a sudden finality that squashes any hopes of a clean get away.

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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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