Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor Series, Irish Noir At Its Best

I’ve read four Jack Taylor novels written by Irish novelist, Ken Bruen. Big thanks to the many, many readers who have recommended his books to me over the years. I highly recommend them but be aware they are hard-boiled novels and not always easy to read and are dark (love it). Jack Taylor is an ex-cop with baggage. He embodies the standard tropes of this genre. He’s a loner and an alcoholic and an ex-cop. A man with few friends who scrapes by in a hotel run by a eighty-something grandmotherly type. He’s a fragile man who has issues with authority figures and who clings steadfastly to his past with his stubborn refusal to return his “Item 8234 reg­u­la­tion garda all-weather coat.”

As a reluctant, part-time PI, his clientele know where to find him: at the bar. As an ex-cop, people think Jack can help them. He does have his usual contacts on the police force to help him fill in the missing puzzle pieces on some of his cases. Also, for services rendered: a bottle of Jameson and paying for his living expenses suits him just fine. Brief summaries of the novels begins now.

The Guards (2001) is Jack’s first introduction. The series is set in Galway. Jack gets fired from his job due to his drinking. He goes on a binge but gets interrupted when a woman approaches him and asks him to look into the disappearance of her daughter. The mother suspects foul play and the police aren’t very helpful. Jack gets beat up bad for being an interloper. But he solves the case but this isn’t the only case the author gives him to solve. Initially, I was put-off by Bruen’s writing style. It’s succinct with some bite to it. Different. I was on the fence about this series but was immediately won over with this scene of Jack playing the hero for his friend, Cathy. This is how he first meets her, actually, while she’s being assaulted.

I came behind, used my elbow to hit him on the neck. I helped her up. She said,
“He’s going to kill me.“
I elbowed him again and he went,
“Urg…gh.“
I said,
“I don’t think so.“
I asked her,
“Can you walk?“
“I’ll try.“
I grabbed the guy by his shirt.
Up
One
Two
And over.
Let his own weight launch him into the canal.
As I was open­ing the door to my flat, we could hear roars from the water. She said,
“I don’t think he can swim.“
“Who cares?“
“Not me.“

Jack is a nice guy with emotional baggage that he chooses to drown in alcohol and drugs. A man in his late forties described as being still somewhat ruggedly handsome in a world-weary way. And he does have a quick temper. He loved & adored his father (he’s dead) and hates his mother (who’s still alive). The series tone is somewhat bleak but lightened by Jack’s biting sarcasm, his angry tirades at the social injustices around him and his love for reading. Reading is like a balm to his fragmented soul. Certain passages he’s either memorized or bookmarked. The author highlights some great quotes from some of the most popular crime fiction writers. What can I say? I love a man who reads.

Next is, The Killing of the Tinkers (2005), where Bruen sets the tone even darker with Jack investigating the suspicious death of the “tinkers” or gypsies. Confession: I had to look up “tinkers” as I had no idea what the word meant. Anyway, it refers to a class of people regarded by some as being way down the social ladder. The ending in here was a shocker as are most of Bruen’s endings. As usual, Jack goes on binges, has withdrawals and suffers from depression. I bet many wonder why anyone reads this series. Well, I can only speak for myself, I read them for the cases he has to solve and of course I like Jack. I’m sympathetic to his loneliness and sorrow. Plus, he wants to be sober and tries hard to stay so but one swift kick to his ego has him grabbing his bottle of Jameson again.

Next, Jack is asked by a gangster from his olden days to look up someone who used to work at the Magdalen Laundry in the third book, The Magdalen Martyrs (2005). The Magdalen Laundry was an asylum for “fallen women” who needed rehabilitation before they were let loose back into society. The girls were often beaten or tortured and this is told in flashbacks alongside Jack’s task of locating the woman who ran the institution after the asylum closed. The girls referred to this woman as “The Devil Incarnate” for obvious reasons. This is another great entry in the series that had me on the edge of my seat and again the author has Jack solve alongside the other, the baffling case of slaughtered swans.

This brings us to the last book I read in the series as there are 7 total out now, The Dramatist (2007), that has Jack matching wits with a villain who likes to leave a copy of playwright, John Millington Synge’s book near the body of the victims. They all look like accidents on the surface but thankfully, Jack is now sober and on his game and realizes that these accidents are far, far from random. I like The Dramatist best so far.

I still have three more books to read in the Jack Taylor series: Priest (2008), Cross (2008) and Sanctuary(2010). I’m told I still have more shock in store for me as the series progresses (gleeful). There is a brand new Jack Taylor novel, The Devil, that’s due out the end of August of this year. So, my two week vacation is coming up and guess what I will be doing? Playing catch-up. If you enjoy noir, Irish settings, ex-cops who can’t hold their liquor acting as private investigators with captivating, mind puzzling cases with shocking endings then I recommend you pick up this series. The correct reading order is below. No, the series cannot and should not be read out-of-order. I think another big reason I enjoy the series is that I find Ken Bruen commentary on social issues dead on and I’ve grown to appreciate his talented writing skills and hopefully, you will, too.

The Jack Taylor series:
#1 The Guards
#2 The Killing of the Tinkers
#3 The Magdalen Martyrs
#4 The Dramatist
#5 Priest
#6 Cross
#7 Sanctuary
#8 The Devil*

*coming August 31, 2010

Edited: spelling and clarity

One thought on “Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor Series, Irish Noir At Its Best”

  1. OK, I live in Ireland and I’ve never read Ken Bruin. I’ve heard good things about him but have to check out his books. Jack Taylor, here I come…

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