The Devil By Ken Bruen

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.

Review: Sanctuary By Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor is back and so is the booze he thought he’d beaten.  At the end of Cross, Jack was on his way to America to restart his life when his pal Ridge, a lesbian Guard, is hit with breast cancer.  It’s not his problem.  He can still hop his plane to America.

But did he?

Frak.

And so Sanctuary picks up where Cross left off.  Jack hasn’t left Galway, but he has started drinking again.  With a vengeance.  He also is receiving some very disturbing letters from a killer going by the name Benedictus.  Benedictus plans to mete out justice.  She will kill two Guards, a priest, a nun, a judge, and a child.  Jack has no illusions who the second Guard is, a drunken ex-Guard named Taylor.

As Jack tries to track down Benedictus between blackouts, he learns something else that kicks him in the teeth.  The tragedy that has come to define him, the death of a baby name Serena May, was not his fault.  It only makes matters worse.

Sanctuary is Taylor at his rage-fueled best.  He takes a case in the course of the story, a missing pony.  As usual, it gets solved without his help.  Taylor, meanwhile, manages to push away everyone around him and get them hurt.  Bruen’s writing is as lean and poetic as ever.  Like most good series authors, Bruen leaves Taylor at a point where we can walk away from him, but leaving the door open for more.

Though one has to ask just how much more Jack Taylor can handle.

Best Of The Old Blog: So Bad, Jack Taylor Used Her To Replace Booze

[Originally posted to Northcoast Exile June 9, 2007 after blowing through the entire Jack Taylor series.]

As you know, I’ve been tearing through Ken Bruen‘s Jack Taylor series at a pretty good clip.  Recently, Ken shared with me this snatch of dialogue he wrote for the next Jack Taylor book, Paris, wherein our favorite non-drinking pub dweller and Father Malachy discover they share a common, and rather unhealthy, obsession.  With Ken’s permission, I’ve been allowed to post an early draft of the opening confessional scene.

[Jack has come to Galway Cathedral because something happened the previous night that has shaken him to his very soul and sworn him off Sky News and CNN, at least for the time being.  Poor guy had to order and stare at a six of Guiness to right himself.  He goes to an unlikely ally for help.]

JACK:  Bless me, Fr. Malachy, ya stupid git…

MALACHY:  Hey!

JACK:  Sorry.  ‘Tis an English term of affection, and me mother did think highly of you.

MALACHY:  Very well.  Go ahead.

JACK:  I’ve lost track of when my last confession was…

MALACHY:  You were probably drunk at the time.

JACK:  Watch it.

MALACHY:  Sorry.  Please continue.

JACK:  I have touched myself in…

MALACHY:  Hey, hey, HEY!  There are just some images I really don’t need to deal with.

JACK:  It was while thinking about Paris Hilton in prison.

MALACHY:  Well, that’s different.  We must examine this sin closely.  Please tell me more.  In detail.  What was this fantasy that caused you to sin much less than usual?  [A metallic noise emerges from Father Malachy’s side of the confessional.]

JACK:  Was that a zipper?

MALACHY:  We have rats.  Go ahead.  I’m listening.

[Jack proceeds to tell Fr. Malachy the rudest Paris-in-prison story ever imagined.  He ignores the grunts from Fr. Malachy during the steamier parts.  He finishes.]

MALACHY:  Well, my son, we all…  um…  Could I trouble you to get me a paper towel on your way out?

JACK:  Get it yer feckin self.  My pants got too tight just telling you that story.  Would it count if I confessed ahead of time?  I’m going to need to do that again now, then stare at a double of Jameson tonight.

MALACHY:  Yes, yes.  Say one Lord Bless the Pygmies and you may go.

JACK:  “Bless the Pygmies?”

MALACHY:  Pope Benedict is a huge Larry the Cable Guy fan.

JACK:  Very well.  Lord, I apologize for that.  Please be with the little pygmies in Africa.  Amen.

MALACHY:  Great.  You’re absolved.  Now get out of here.

JACK:  Brit!  [Slams door to confessional on way out.]

MALACHY:  Paris and Lindsey Lohan?  Oh, mama, I gotta do a homily on the evils of that.

[Note:  Ken really did ask me to blog this after I sent him an earlier version by email.  Yes, Paris confuses everyone in the Western world. ]

Reader Request: Favorite Fictional PI

Gerald So asks, “Who is your favorite fictional P.I. and why?”

Good question.  Maybe Jack Taylor.  Ken Bruen’s troubled alcoholic ex-garda has a certain sadness about him I’ve not seen in other PI’s.  I don’t really see the Taylor series as “PI” or “hardboiled” as they are endlessly debating on Rara Avis.  Like a lot of Bruen’s work, the archetype is there, but it’s merely a springboard.  Half the time, Taylor doesn’t even bother with the cases he’s hired to solve.  Most of the time, he’s trying to get his life together, or someone’s trying to do it for him.

If you want to catch the essence of the Jack Taylor novels, read The Dramatist.  The ending crystalizes what the series is all about.  I’d read it again, but that final scene is so gut-wrenching, I can only read what comes next.  I can’t go back.