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29 december 2007

Ammunition continues Ken Bruen's ultra-violent, ultra-amoral cop series featuring Sergeant Brant, picking up the trail of bullets and blood where Calibre left off. By the end of Ammunition, the cast on continuing characters has been so shredded by hostile and friendly fire alike that it's hard to imagine the series having enough population to continue much longer.

Ammunition is a bit of a tired book. Brant himself, the bestial detective that we love to hate and can't stop watching, is gunned down in the opening chapter by a hired hitman. This takes a lot of the vinegar out of Bruen's anti-hero. The action devolves instead onto Bruen's only real friend, Porter Nash (the competent, somehow uncorrupted gay detective who has become the victim of Brant's egregious plagiarism in writing the novel-within-a-novel Calibre), and onto one of Brant's few allies on the force, the newly-promoted black woman Sergeant Falls, who has to deal with a closetful of skeletons as she adopts Brant's extrajudiciary methods.

Who shot Brant? Or rather, who ordered his shooting? because the shooter himself is shot only a few pages further on. There's no real mystery here; the villain is the first suspect on the list. His motive is completely untwisty, and he is dealt with in a coarsely unconvoluted manner. The novel introduces someone even less principled than Brant – and American antiterrorist agent named Wallace – and as the unspirited hunt for Brant's enemy proceeds, Wallace wreaks his own kind of havoc on Al Qaeda in England. Or rather, on anyone who looks at him crosswise, an indiscriminateness in law enforcement that even Bruen's supremely decadent Metropolitan Police have not reached.

I was fascinated by Calibre but much less so by Ammunition, and if I pick up any sequel, it is likely to be because Bruen's language continues inventive (though his American slang is an impossible melange of phrases unheard in the U.S.), and his briskness continues unmatched. It takes only a couple of hours to read Ammunition, and for fans of James Ellroy or Elmore Leonard, they are hours agreeably spent. In fact, Bruen continues to revere Ed McBain, and even opens the novel with a sort of homage to the master, who died between the composition of Calibre and that of Ammunition. For the hard-boiled cop novel, the beat goes on.

Bruen, Ken. Ammunition. New York: St. Martin's, 2007.