Pity Jack Taylor. He’s landed in America, the land of promise, only to be turned back. In the bar, waiting for his flight back to Ireland, he meets a strange gentleman with a French accent calling himself Kurt. Kurt seems to know too much about Jack’s life for comfort. Jack shrugs it off and lands back in Galway, resigned to his old life.
But Kurt, calling himself Mr. K now, is waiting for him. And he’s insinuated himself into the life of Ridge, Jack’s frenemy in the Guards. Ridge has married a rich man with a daughter to make herself respectable. The thought depresses Jack since Ridge is a lesbian and hardly the marrying kind. Mr. K has attached himself to Ridge and her husband with big plans.
Meanwhile, it seems a number of people Jack talks to about this mysterious Mr. K die under strange circumstances. It seems he’s got a hankering for Jack Taylor’s immortal soul. Even the Devil, as Jack suspects he is, thinks more highly of Jack than Jack does. The only person who seems to be immune to Mr. K’s malevolence is Stewart, the former dope dealer turned Zen philosopher who helps Jack out. The concept of the Devil doesn’t play into Stewart’s world. Stewart describes him more as “bad karma,” which isn’t as powerful as a supernatural boogey man.
Bruen’s sparse poetic style is very much in force here. And there’s a certain mourning over Jack’s failure to come to America that permeates the book. It’s the object of desire Mr. K uses to tempt him. Previous Taylor novels have been pure noir. This one flirts with horror. I say flirts because Mr. K, even when he comes out and says he’s very much whom Jack thinks he is, never does definitively prove it. Is he really the Devil himself? Or just a clever bad man who uses smoke and mirrors to homicidal effect?
It’s a stretch for Bruen, and I’ve missed Jack. The past two Taylor novels had a certain finality about them, particularly Sanctuary, where Jack leaves Galway for America. He does make a brief appearance in Once Were Cops, but in a story spotlighting Bruen’s more evil protags, Taylor’s giving the psychopath hell is not the same as, say, a thinly disguised version of Taylor giving Sergeant/Inspector Brant a few pointers.
Welcome back, Jack. And don’t be a stranger.