Headstone (2011) by Ken Bruen is a welcome entry in the Jack Taylor series that first introduced him in The Guards (2004). Jack Taylor is an ex-cop now practicing part-time private investigator. He’s an alcoholic and yes that had something to do with his leaving the Guards. The total of his life experiences between these pages is best described as days filled with binges, black-outs, anger, sorrow and loneliness. He tries to ground himself with his books and music.
What draws me to Ken Bruen’s work is his depiction of modern Ireland, its culture, crime, politics and social injustices, church corruption especially. As the lead protagonist of this series, Jack Taylor is a world-weary, fifty-something loner who’s had to tangle with hoodlums and extremists who are often people of the privileged class.
The group of four labeling/calling themselves “Headstone” are targeting the feeble and disabled. Their background is one of wealth and privilege. The doctrine behind their ethnic cleansing is their misinterpreted, twisted understanding of Charles Darwin’s work to target the weak. A priest, Jack’s chain-smoking nemesis, is beaten and left in a coma. That incident jump starts the wave of random attacks on the frail and the vulnerable. Included/targeted in those attacks are Jack and his two side-kicks Stewart, an ex-drug dealer/ex-convict now practicing Zen and Ban Garda Ridge, a lesbian cop who married a man to move up in her career while struggling with the day-to-day grief she gets from her male colleagues in the Irish police department. Continue reading
I lied. I said I wasn’t going to mention this one but I am. No worries, it’ll be brief. “Sanctuary” (2009) by Ken Bruen is the seventh book in the Jack Taylor series set in Galway. In this entry, ex-cop Jack Taylor is after a murderous, former clergy member who’s obsessed with him. Also there is a major revelation/development in the story that has been like a burden for Jack Taylor for several years.
As usual, Bruen talks about his beloved Galway and the new vs. old Ireland. Of course there’s Jack, Jack’s world and the three people who’ve been a constant in his life and got his back. Starting with Ban Garda Ridge (female Guard) who is gay. The two share an interesting relationship that’s defined as a “love/hate relationship.” Then there’s Stewart, his ex-drug dealer, who got out of prison and went straight into Zen. He’s Jack fact finder. Best of the bunch is chain smoking Father Malachy, Jack’s nemesis. I’ve grown to enjoy their exchanges and/or scenes together. Wrapping up: did this book add anything new to the series? No. Was it good though? Was it fuck – to quote Jack Taylor. Sorry.
“Cross” (Jack Taylor No.6) written by Ken Bruen has ex-cop, Jack Taylor, going after religious fanatics. A young college student is found crucified. A girl is burned in her car. Vigilante justice is alive and well in Galway. As for Jack’s personal life, he’s finally sober. He even makes for a decent private investigator.
I’ll be brief: the books are dark and yes, entertaining. If you enjoy noir and don’t mind that the mysteries take a back seat to character and setting then you will enjoy these novels. I’m in the middle of “Sanctuary” now and will be finally caught up when I read “The Devil” which is his latest in the series. I’ll spare you all the reviews of those two books. It’s just difficult to for me to share my thoughts on his novels without spoiling all the fun. Plus, I can’t do the series justice anyway. It all sounds so bleak and depressing when I talk about it. My grade for “Cross” is a B.
“Priest” (2007) written by Ken Bruen follows ex-Guard, Jack Taylor. There are now 8 books in this series that started with “The Guards” (2003). Jack was kicked out of the Guards for being a drunkard. He now works as a private investigator in Galway. Plot details with minor spoilers after the break. While “Priest” is good it’s not my favorite of the series. Continue reading