'Once Were Cops' brilliantly told, pacing intense

There, O'Shea gets paired with Kurt Browski, nicknamed Kebar after the heavy metal rod he keeps up his sleeve. Kebar is a brutal cop, and he prefers to work alone.

At first, Kebar figures his new partner for a greenhorn and treats him with disdain. But he soon discovers O'Shea can teach him a thing or two about brutality.

O'Shea tells it this way:

"He no longer gave me grief and Jesus, asked my opinion on stuff, like if we were going into a crack house, he'd go,

"How d'you want to play this . . . partner?'

"Even he seemed stunned by his behavior, as if he'd lost his way and was floundering."

Together, the new partners wreak havoc on the streets. But Kebar harbors a secret. He's on the take to the mob.

That's bound to cause friction with his partner because O'Shea hates dishonest cops. It's not money O'Shea cares about. It's the power to hurt people.

O'Shea has a secret of his own. He likes to seek out women with long, swanlike necks, wrap his green rosary beads around them, and choke the women until they are dead.

That's the set up for "Once Were Cops" by Ken Bruen, the author of more than 20 crime novels, most of them set in his native Ireland. The book is one of the darkest portrayals of policing since James Ellroy's "LA Confidential" (1990.)

The novel's tone somewhat resembles "The Shield," an FX TV series in which Michael Chiklis plays Vic Mackey, the leader of a gang of ruthless cops. But viewers of the show find themselves rooting for the anti-hero. It is impossible to develop a rooting interest in either Kebar or O'Shea. Both are irredeemably evil.

But, as the reader will eventually discover, they aren't even the most vile characters in the book.

Bruen tells the story brilliantly. The dialogue captures both Irish and New York accents. The pacing is intense. And the prose is at once vivid and as tight as anything this side of a haiku.

Copyright © 2023 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.