All right, noir fans, the dark hearted master of the Emerald Isle has returned to regal us with the tale of Matthew Patrick O’Shea, and oh, my dear Wild Things, it was worth the wait . . .
O’Shea, whom everyone calls Shea, is a Galway Guard who skillfully blackmails his way into a coveted police exchange program between Ireland and the United States. Manipulative and psychotic, Shea wants to feel the edge of being out there, on the streets, a killing machine; and he does love the ladies, does our Shea, although he does tend to smother them in his ardor. Shea manipulates his way into the New York City Police Department and once there, he is partnered with Kurt “Kebar” Browski. Kebar, as he is known, has made a deal with the devil in the form of the mobster, Morronni, who supplies Kebar with money to keep his disabled sister in a quality institutional home in exchange for information.
Although as shamelessly violent as Shea, Kebar’s love for this sister humanizes him; his frustrations are real, his personal agony over becoming the very thing he loathes is wrenching. Morronni soon implicates Shea in Kebar’s corruption, and Shea moves with calculating, debilitating aggression to assure his rise as a hero cop is not disrupted. In spite of his own feeble protestations of yearning for normalcy, Shea knows and embraces the emptiness in his soul, gleefully exploiting those who stand in his way, confident as only a serial killer can be in his superior intelligence.
Bruen has written this novel in short, hanging paragraphs that burst with characterization; each sentence is a resounding sucker punch to the brain, unrelenting in intensity. There is also poetry here, lyrical in the rhythm in which Bruen carries us through the lives of Shea, Kebar, Morronni, and those unfortunate enough to be a part of their circle. Bruen captures the soullessness of the serial killer with startling reality, reminding us that the most frightening monsters are those that walk amongst us undetected. Yet he manages to skillfully weave a thread of hope into this dismal world he has created for us, proving that even in the deepest night of the most damaged soul, there is a light dimly shining.
Highly recommended is Once Were Cops and may you write on, sir . . .