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Once Were Cops: A Novel Hardcover – October 28, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this stripped-down dark thrill ride from Edgar-finalist Bruen (The Guards), a psychotic Irish cop, Matthew Patrick O'Shea (everybody called me Shea), blackmails his way into a green card and a police exchange program that takes him from Galway to New York City for a one-year stint with the NYPD. Partnered with the brutal Kurt Kebar Browski (he looked like a pit bull in uniform), the clever sociopath, who has a hidden predilection for serial rape and strangulation, brazenly advances his ambitions despite intense attention from Internal Affairs and a mobster named Morronni. An acknowledged master of contemporary noir, Bruen touches all his usual themes in his trademark clipped postmodern style, a deft shorthand that enables him to romp at will through genre clichés to quickly reach deeper and more dangerous depths. No one is safe as this shocker spins wildly toward a violent finish. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

While the critics found this gritty noir tale compulsively readable, they didn't exactly know what to make of it. O'Shea is a charming narrator despite his split personality and inclination toward evil (his murder weapon: a green rosary), and reviewers found both O'Shea and his NYPD partner psychologically compelling. They also praised the short, choppy prose, which seemed appropriate to the story, and the dark, gruesome twists and turns. But the novel, devoid of pity or emotion and full of violence, may not please all readers. The reviewer from the Washington Post sums it up: "Once Were Cops is designed to appeal to readers with less refined sensibilities."
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312384408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312384401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,041,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Clan Lindsey VINE VOICE on October 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ken Bruen writes beautifully bleak and violent tales in a sparse prose which isn't quite like any other author I've read. You'll breeze through this book because Bruen makes a paragraph out of every one or two sentences and the publisher double spaces the paragraphs. So although this clocks in at 300 pages I think we could have saved a few trees and fit the entire story comfortably into 100 pages or so. Despite my quibble that the book could have had a smaller footprint, the remarkable, the truly remarkable thing, is that Bruen is such a gifted writer that he can cram a whole paragraph into one terse, word-niggardly line. Amazing.

This is very good "guy" fiction and the first act in the novel is laced with bitter, violent men, backed into corners, lashing out with bone-crunching ferocity. I've always enjoyed well-written books about the good guys taking it to the bad guys under a black flag. Stephen Hunter and James Lee Burke write wonderful examples of this fiction. But there aren't any good guys in this book. No, what you get here are mob guys who decide to mess with the wrong dude. Stories about bad guys running afoul of much worse guys is about as much fun as it gets. Just think of The Wild Bunch by Peckinpah; there are some guys you just don't mess around with. This is a blistering, savage tale of the NY mob pushing the buttons on the wrong guy and a very good, albeit brief, read.

Once Were Cops focuses on Michael O'Shea, an Irish Guardsman, who participates in an exchange program to become an NYPD cop. He's keen on this because, unlike in Ireland, American cops get to carry guns. He's keen on carrying a gun because O'Shea is a serial killer and murderous psychopath who likes to cause mayhem and carnage.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
New York City's finest must have been on vacation and the not-so-finest are keeping not-so-exactly law and order. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it.

"Once Were Cops" is very sparely written. There aren't any extraneous words about anything: characters, setting, backgrounds. I could almost hear Sgt. Joe Friday saying "Just the facts....". This could be a poster child for Noir.

The Amazon description is more than adequate (and may give away too much). You will meet some very granite-boiled folks who make a habit of doing unto others before ....

Bruen doesn't give you a chance to catch your breath and it's over all too soon.

When I find an author to try for the first time, it is rare that I start with his latest book. I figure the author is at the top of his form by then and then reading what went before may be a letdown. I don't think that will be a problem with Bruen. I will be ordering some (all?) of those previous books soon.

Note: For those of you who are easily shocked - the book has rough language (but realistic street vernacular); very little gore; and just a little sex. None of it is gratuitous and all is in keeping with the characters and story.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Profane, a. [L. profanus; pro, before, and fanum, a temple; lit., forth from the temple, hence, not sacred, common, profane] ... 2. Irreverent towards God or holy things; (from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed.)

This may be the darkest novel I have ever read. A lot of the people in this book are nasty s.o.b.'s who would stab their partner, friend or lover for a slight advantage. Who do you root for in a story such as this?

Kebar and Shea are well described partners on the NYPD. The reader gets to know them intimately. These are no cardboard figures from a dime store novel. They are believable, although almost never likeable.

Bruen uses the first person to tell the story, shifting between characters from one chapter to the next. This device seemed choppy in the early stages, but soon the story hooked me, and I no longer noticed . I was engrossed. The story kept my interest, although it was not a real page-turner. To write a page-turner, you have to create characters that the reader can care about.

The main characters meet, brutalize each other, and form a partnership of sorts. There are early hints about Shea, but I kept reading, thinking that I didn't know where the author was going. It turned out that I did know. I was merely hoping that I was wrong.

Bruen chose rosary beads as a murder weapon. I wondered if he ever used them himself. They are too flimsy to make a real murder weapon, and too small to fit over most people's heads. That may be a small detail, but the beads play a large part in the novel. Bruen managed to make them metaphorical and profane at the same time.

There is some light in the novel, but this story is mostly about darkness. Modern Crime noir fans may like that. I'm not one of them. I would compare this to the movie The Departed. It is very well done, but I felt like taking a shower when I finished. You may be entertained by this novel, but it won't do you any good.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like other reviewers have mentioned, this is more a novella than a full-length novel. It's pretty disingenuous to space out 100 pages worth of fiction over 300 and think of it as "artistic license," but it was compelling enough that I could forgive the less-than-six-hour read. The cut-down, spread out style was probably more of a marketing gimmick to sell the book at full price, but as long as you buy from Amazon's discount price, you won't feel too violated.

This is definitely a page-turner, which is why you won't have any problem finishing it in an afternoon or on a single flight. Bruen does a great job of leaving you hanging at the end of at each chapter, pushing you to the next page. The sly epigraphs before each chapter really amp up the tension and help add some atmosphere to the minimalistic prose.

However, this isn't the traditional "hard-boiled" style novel you might be expecting from the title. A character that fits the tried-and-true role of anti-hero trade places with straight up "villainous psychopath" more than once, but you'll probably see this coming from a mile away. Point-of-view shifts are jarring and occur sometimes in the middle of the same scene, leaving you trying to figure out who Bruen's going to "head-hop" into next. Bruen's thick and sometimes overbearing foreshadowing leave the close reader with good clues of more than one major twist that's supposed to slap you in the face. You'll still want to turn the page and make sure your predictions are correct, though.
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