The publication by MysteriousPress.com of a quartet of bibliomysteries --- shorter mystery and suspense fiction centered on books --- would not be complete without a work by Ken Bruen. Each entry in Bruen’s enviable bibliography is peppered with references to books and authors, of which at least several are almost certain to wind up on one’s “must read” list. THE BOOK OF VIRTUE, Bruen’s bibliomystery contribution, contains all of the elements that one familiar with his past work would expect; at the same time, he finds new ways to approach familiar topics, such as father-son relationships, without flinching away from often painful truths.
"Bruen is always worth reading, and while THE BOOK OF VIRTUE finds him in somewhat different territory, his dark voice and rough humor shines like one of Satan’s angels. Those unfamiliar with his work will find his latest a good place to acquire a familiarity with the cold comfort of his output."
THE BOOK OF VIRTUE is the title of a “real world” book by William Bennett. Whether that provides the nexus for the events of Bruen’s tale is a question to be left for another time; suffice to say that, based on what we are told during the course of the narrative, it is at least certainly next to it on the bookshelf. Regardless, the volume constitutes the entire estate bequeathed to Bruen’s first-person narrator upon the death of the man’s drunken and abusive father. The narrator himself is gainfully employed, tasked with making sure that a midtown dive named The Khe San runs smoothly at the behest of Brady, the owner-operator. Brady has a significant other, a woman named Cici, whose last name (we learn without being told) is “trouble.” How could it be otherwise? Could a smoldering triangle be in the offing? “Of course” would be the answer to both questions.
There is more, though, and Bruen, in his wonderful and unique way, says more in a few words, sentences and pages than many authors can get around to saying in an entire book. Even if you know what is going to happen by the time you are halfway through --- and, in all probability, you will --- this short, wild ride is worth it. You may be aware of what’s at the end of the journey, but the road you take is going to slip and slide along the way.
Bruen is always worth reading, and while THE BOOK OF VIRTUE finds him in somewhat different territory, his dark voice and rough humor shines like one of Satan’s angels. Those unfamiliar with his work will find his latest a good place to acquire a familiarity with the cold comfort of his output.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 16, 2012