Once Were Cops: A Novel

Once Were Cops: A Novel

by Ken Bruen

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Michael O'Shea is a member of Ireland's police force, known as The Guards. He's also a sociopath who walks a knife edge between sanity and all-out mayhem. When an exchange program is initiated and twenty Guards come to America and twenty cops from the States go to Ireland, Shay, as he's known, has his lifelong dream come true—he becomes a member of the NYPD. But Shay's dream is about to become New York's nightmare.

Paired with an unstable cop nicknamed Kebar for his liberal use of a short, lethal metal stick called a K-bar, the two unlikely partners become a devastatingly effective force in the war against crime.

But Kebar harbors a dangerous secret: he's sold out to the mob to help his sister. Her rape and beating leaves her in a coma and pushes an already unstable Kebar over the edge just as Shea's dark secrets threaten boil over and into the streets of New York.

Once Were Cops melds the street poetry of Brooklyn and Dublin into a fast-paced, incomparable hard-boiled novel. This is Ken Bruen at his best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312540173
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/10/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 657,148
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ken Bruen has been a finalist for the Edgar and Anthony Awards, and has won a Macavity Award, a Barry Award, and two Shamus Awards for the Jack Taylor series. He is also the author of the Inspector Brant series. Several of Bruen's novels have been adapted for the screen: The first six Jack Taylor novels were adapted into a television series starring Iain Glen; Blitz was adapted into a movie starring Jason Statham; and London Boulevard was adapted into a film starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. Bruen lives in Galway, Ireland.

Read an Excerpt

Once Were Cops

By Ken Bruen

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Ken Bruen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8331-0



Wasn't that like a song?

And a pretty fucking bad one.

Like my story.

The old chestnut, and how did what started out so good, go so freaking bad?

The Yanks whine ...

"Who you gonna call?"


Do me a favor.

Whatever else is in this narrative, it ain't Him.

Unless He was seriously fucking with us.

Somebody was.

My name is Matthew Patrick O'Shea.

And you're thinking,

"Does it come any more Mick?"

Not a lot.

Course, everybody called me Shea.

Has a ring to it and the first thing I did in America, yeah, Shea Stadium.



If only I'd stayed thus.

Right at the end, when the shite was coming from every direction, I'd have given a lot for a dose of me own predictability.

I grew up in Galway, the son of a Guard, and it was never for debate but that I'd follow in me old man's heavy shoes.


You'll notice the caps there, so you'll know I told you from the off.

Part of me has always wanted to be a decent human being, and being a cop seemed like a way I could make a difference. People like me, no shit, it's just the truth and I've always known how to get them to do so.

Nothing wrong with that.

Then there's the zoning, from the time I was a child, I'd go someplace in my mind, a cold place and it's like seeing the world through a fog or very heavy glass and what I most want is to do damage, biblical damage, it's beyond rage, more like a controlled fury that oh so careful watches, then strikes. I saw a cobra once on the TV and that hooded head, the poise and then the ferocious strike ...

I never saw anything more beautiful in my life and I felt I was inside that hood. My mother used to say,

"Shea lives in another room."

A room covered in ice and fierceness.

My father said,

"Ah, he'll grow out if it."

He was so close ... what I did was grow into it. I knew some bad stuff happened when I was zoned but I'd only barely recall it after. There was a priest in our parish, named Brennan, he liked me as I was one hell of a hurler.

Hurling is our national sport, a cross between hockey and murder.

I'd zone in games and some poor bastard would end up with forty stitches in his head.

Fr. Brennan liked to win, and our team never lost because he used to say,

"Let Shea loose."

He spoke to me one time and asked,

"How does that change happen, is it the adrenaline of the game?"

And I told him of the zoning, he looked worried, then said,

"Don't ever tell another soul about this, they'd lock you up."

Then he handed me a green rosary beads, it was a few weeks before Easter and the days were offering up rare moments of sunshine, as I took them. It was a lovely piece, gold cross, emerald beads and silver threads. The sun came flooding through the windows, catching the beads in a shaft of sheer translucence, and I felt a jolt of electricity that nearly knocked me off my feet.

Fr. Brennan said,

"You grip that beads when the shadows invade your mind and pray to our Holy Mother and all the saints to deliver you."

I did grip the beads like a vise when the shadows came creeping but didn't ask for help, I wanted something entirely different, a release from the pressure building in my head, and the longing for this sometimes had the beads cutting into the palms of my hands.

I felt like I'd been gloriously crucified.

It was such delicious agony.

I began to collect rosary beads but they had to be green, and I began to watch movies like a person possessed, cop movies especially.

Thing is, I always loved cop movies. Thing was, being a Guard didn't jell with the cop movies I watched.

I mean, do you really think you're going to see a movie titled:

The Guards?

Yeah, like that's going to happen.

First, the Guards don't carry guns. Fuck that.


Saturday night, you're facing off against a drunk gang, you think a baton is going to disperse them.

Especially as the bastards were carrying.

And not sticks.

Like fuck.

I did me year.

Pounding the wet miserable streets of Galway, soaked to the skin, freezing me nuts off and thinking,

"Has to be something better than this."

Then my old man died, he'd been connected, to a politician. He'd gotten a drunk driving gig quashed and did some other stuff too.

The guy, Kearns, at the funeral, said to me,

"Anything you need, you call me."

I did.

Told him,

"I want a green card."

He had the eyes of a rat, and the smile of one too, he stretched back in his oh so expensive leather chair, asked,

"And why would you want to go to Amer-i-kay?"

Leaning on the word, playing with it, playing with me.

The bollix.

But I let him screw around, I wanted this and if it meant eating shite, give me the shovel.

He added,

"The whole world wants to come and live here, especially the Yanks, and you, you want to go the other direction?"

Story of my life.

I had me a temper, a bad one, hair trigger me mother said.

Mind you, she said a lot of stuff, most of it garbage.

I said,

"I'm still young, want to travel a bit."

Biting down on the anger I felt building, trying not to tell him to go shove it. He said,

"Not as easy as it used to be."

Here we go, so I said,

"My old man, he kept files, I was thinking I should burn them, what do you think?"

Got me green card.

And the green rosary beads.

My mother wept ... buckets, course, the half bottle of dry sherry she put away before lunch might have helped.

"And what will you do, amac?" Son.

I gave her me best smile, the one in me first communion photo, said,

"I'll do the best I can."

We'd recently had Clinton on a visit and he was especially impressed with our police force, that we didn't carry guns. He helped put in place an exchange program where twenty Guards would go to America and twenty of their finest would come here. The Guards would be sent all over the States, for that overall view. I knew what I wanted and it wasn't some backwater down south, I wanted the big one, New York. I went to Kearns again and he sighed, the guy could have sighed for the Olympics, and he snapped,

"What is it this time?"

I told him of the program and how I wanted New York.

He tut-tutted, there really is such a sound and it sounds ridiculous, unless you're a woman in her late seventies and even then. He said,

"That's for the best and the brightest."

I smiled and he said,

"Confident little bollix, aren't you?"

I gave him my best smile, I've practiced it, blends humility with the right amount of attitude. He said,

"I thought we were done with our little arrangements, you have, how shall we say, no further leverage, do you?"

I looked a bit bashful and said,

"I lied."

Now he was sitting up and I added,

"An underage girl you put the meat to, I have her sworn statement."

He couldn't believe it; he'd called in a lot of favors to get this to go away, but I'd pried a copy loose from the officer in charge, a guy who hated Kearns.

He debated on the prospect of telling me to go fuck meself but knew with the election coming up, this story would finish him. He said,

"It's going to take some time and I'm not sure I can swing it."

I said,

"I have every confidence in you."

He was right about one thing, it did take a while, and I walked those streets of Galway, the beads in the top pocket of my tunic. There was a woman, her car had stalled and she called me for assistance, I zoned but I do remember her beautiful neck, the rest is a blur. Those were still early times in my development of the beads and I took them with me when I was done.

Only later did it occur to me that to leave them would be like reverence.

Show me an honest cop and I'll show you that pigs can fly.



I HAD A GIRLFRIEND, IF YOU DIDN'T, YOU DIDN'T BLEND, and I knew how to do that. She didn't have that snow white long neck I adore and I think that's why I chose her, so she'd be in no danger.

Then I got a call from Kearns and he near shouted,

"It's done, you're with the NYPD for one year."

"Thank you so much, Mr. Kearns."

There was silence and he added,

"I hope they burn you fucking good."

And slammed the phone down.

I took the girl out for dinner and I think she thought I was going to propose, instead I told her of my year assignment to New York.

She had a mouth on her, went,

"Yah eejit, what do you want to go there for?"

Nearly said,

"To get the hell away from you."

Went with:

"For us, build us a better life."

Did she buy that?

Take a wild guess.


"Sure, we're the prosperous country now."

We danced around it for a bit but neither of us really cared, and before I left, she said,

"I'd never have married a Guard anyway."

I could have said,

"And who was asking?"

She gave me a bottle of aftershave as a going-away present, smelt like piss.

I could say she meant well.

She didn't.

I was listening to her, the green rosary in me pocket, zoning in and out ... my eyes fixed on her neck, she was so blessed it was a mediocre one.

Few days before I left, I ran into this broken-down guy, had been on the force with my father. An alcoholic, he was some kind of half-arsed private investigator, he'd been dry for a few years then hit the bottle with ferocity and by Jaysus, the bottle hit back.

He looked like death warmed up. I lied, went,

"Mr. Taylor, you're looking well."

He gave me the look, said,

"You're full of shite."

It was in a pub, naturally.

One of the old ones, still unchanged, Garavan's, on Shop Street. Even had an Irish guy behind the pumps and believe me, the Irish are rarely to be found doing these jobs anymore.

Most likely, you'll find a woman from Nigeria or some guy from Lithuania behind the counter, and can they pour a pint?


They just pour it straight into the glass, no time to sit, or get that creamy head settled.

They know about Bud, Coors, Miller.

Who doesn't?

Taylor still had the all-weather Guards coat and it was as battered as himself. I asked,

"Aren't you like, supposed to give that back?"

Not that I gave a feck but ... chat, you know.

He sighed, said,

"'Tis me only link to what once was ..."

I thought that was pathetic, a frigging lousy coat, that's what he had to show for his life?

No wonder he drank.

I asked,

"Get you something?"

No hesitation.

"Jameson, pint of the black."

What the hell, I had the same.

We watched the guy build the pints with care and craft and he knew his trade, didn't bother us with nonsense like asking if we wanted ice in the whiskey.

The nonnationals, they don't ask, plunk ice in everything, especially their attitude.

We took our drinks to a corner table and he said,

"So you're going to the States?"

Galway, now a cosmopolitan city but still a village where gossip was concerned. One of the reasons I wanted out.

Before I could answer, he said,

"And let me guess, you want to be on the NYPD?"

He might have been fucked in just about every way there was but he still had that intuition.

I said I might consider it.

He raised his glass, a tremor in his hand, which we both elected to ignore, said,


Without hesitation, I threw back,

"Leat fein." And you.

He shuddered as the whiskey hit his gut and followed it fast with half his pint, get the sucker nailed down.

He wiped the cream from his lip, an old pro, and said,

"You want to carry a gun."

Jesus, he was good.

I said,

"That's not the reason I'd sign on."

He gave a bitter smile, the corners of his mouth turned down.

I saw a photo of Beckett in a mag once and fuck, more lines on his face than the ordnance map of the country.

Taylor's face would have given him a close run.

The lines were imbedded, like with a very sharp knife.

And the ones around his eyes, you just knew laughter certainly hadn't been responsible.

He said,

"Be sure you don't let the gun carry you."

Deep — or pure shite.

I said I'd bear it in mind.

And he said,

"You're the new Irish, you know that?"

I knew this wasn't flattery and asked,

"Yeah, what's that?"

He'd drained his pint, was signaling for another, said,

"Arrogance, confidence, and fuck-all ability."

Drink that.

As I got up to leave, he said,

"That darkness in you, get some help on it."

Fucking loser.



KURT BROWSKI, BUILT LIKE A SHIT BRICKHOUSE AND JUST as solid. A cop out of Manhattan South, he was having a bad day.

Much like most days.

His heritage was East European but contained so many strands, not even his parents knew for sure its exact basis.

And cared less.

They wanted the American Dream.

Cash ... and cash ... and yeah, more of same.

They didn't get it.

Made them mean.


His mother was a cleaner and his father had been a construction worker but had settled into a life of booze, sure beat getting up at five o'clock in the morning.

His father beat his mother and they both beat Kurt.

Somehow he, if not survived them, got past them and finished high school, joined the cops.

He wanted to be where you gave payback.

That was how he saw the force, emphasis on force. He was certainly East European in his view of the boys in blue, they had the juice to lean on ... whoever-the-fuck they wished.

And he did.


His early weapon of choice was a K-bar.

Short, heavy and lethal and you could swing it real easy, plus, they rarely saw it coming.

They were watching your holstered gun and wallop, he slid the bar out of his sleeve and that's all she wrote.

His rep was built on it and over the years, he became known as Kebar.

Did he care?

Not so's you'd notice. He didn't do friends, so what the fuck did he care.

Sometimes though, he longed to go have a few brews with the guys, shoot the shit, chill. He adored country music, that sheer sentimentality was a large part of his nature and he kept it hidden. His fellow officers, they went to the bar, got a few put away, then played country and western till the early hours.

He loved Loretta Lynn, Ol' Hank of course, and then Gretchen Peters, Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, Lucinda Williams, they were his guilty pleasures. All that heartache, it was like they knew him.

His partners in the prowl car rarely lasted long, he took so many chances, they either got hurt real fast or transferred.

And now, you fucking believe it?

They were giving him some snot-nosed kid.

O'Brien, his commanding officer, a Mick, those guys, they still got the top jobs, had summoned him.

Anyone tell you the Micks were a thing of the past in the force ... take a look at the roll call.

You think they were letting that lucrative line of not so equal opportunity slip away?

O'Brien didn't like Kebar, knew the guy was unhinged, but he sure got results and like O'Brien, he adhered to the old idea:

Justice was dispensed in alleys, not courtrooms.

He said to Kebar,

"Have a seat."

"I'll stand, sir."


O'Brien wondered if the guy ever eased up, said,

"Suit yourself."

He took a good look at Kebar.

The guy was all muscle, rage and bile.

Perfect cop for the times.

His face was a mess of broken nose, busted veins (he liked his vodka, straight), a scar over his left eye: he looked like a pit bull in uniform.

O'Brien said,

"Got you a new partner."

Kebar growled,

"Don't need no partner."

O'Brien smiled.

This is where it was good to be chief, flex that muscle, asked,

"I ask you what you needed? ... Did you hear me do that? Yeah, it's not what you need, mister, it's what I tell you you're getting. We have a reciprocal arrangement with the Irish goverment to take twenty of theirs and twenty of ours go over there."

Kebar had heard all this crap before ... yada yada, he sighed, asked,

"Who am I getting?"

O'Brien was looking forward to this, opened a file, took out his glasses, all to annoy the shit out of Kebar, pretended to read:

"Matt O'Shea, did a year on the beat in Galway."

He paused, then added,

"Galway, that's in Ireland."

Kebar would have spit, reined it in a bit, sneered,

"A Mick, no disrespect, sir, but a greenhorn, gonna have to break his cherry for him?"


Excerpted from Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen. Copyright © 2008 Ken Bruen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Once Were Cops 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writer has a very unique writing style. It is writtten in short paragraphs. Each paragraph is to the point. Very quick reading; it can be read in one long day or in a couple of days. Interesting story, well written. Not a great book, but enjoyable none the less.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Clever sociopathic Galway, Ireland cop Matthew Patrick ¿Shea¿ O'Shea arranges through extortion and blakcmail for a one-year assignment with NYPD as part of a police exchange program. The Irish cop is teamed with abusive New York cop Kurt ¿Kebar¿ Browski.------------------ Matthew knows he must hide his vice as his host city will not tolerate him choking to death beautiful women with lovely long swan necks. Shea realizes quickly his partner is as crazy as he is perhaps even sicker as Matthew gains more pleasure than he does with roughing up someone. The two nasty police officers seem to work well together as poster-boys of police brutality until Kebar introduces Shea to his retarded sister, who has a beautiful long swan neck.--------------------- These two brutal cops who believe in taking no prisoners star in Ken Bruen¿s deep character study of two sadistic police officers abusing their authorities not so much to catch felons even but more for personal pleasure of sorts. The plot is somewhat limited though readers anticipate a violent showdown between the lead police officers once the long swan neck sibling is involved. Fans of Mr. Bruen will appreciate his New York Noir style Irish stew.------------ Harriet Klausner
littlewatkins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Didn't like the writting style.
catapult_operator on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It seems that every time Bruen loses out on that Edgar Award (nominated last year for Priest), he turns around and produces another gem that proves he is worthy of substantial accolades. This novel of sociopathic, Bronson-like police officers, New Yorker Kebar & his Galway-transferred partner Shea, is fast, furious, dark, dark, dark, and unabashedly hilarious. Shea¿s unrelenting murderous tendencies tend to hamper his policing abilities, but prepare to be blindsided - although you know that Shea will eventually do something really, really crazy, there's no way that you're prepared for his level of sadism - or his intelligence and ability to climb the corporate ladder. Good times!
wednesdayschild on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like being hypnotized by a cobra, deadly but irresistible. Two rogue cops wind up partners with unimaginable results
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Graphicsman More than 1 year ago
Once again K.B. has written a page burning novel (or epic poem) about the very darkest side of our souls. Started this one and didn't put it down until the final period.
BadNewsBrown More than 1 year ago
This book was such a quick read that I read it in a few hours. I couldn't put it down which is a true testament to Ken Bruen. Great read!
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