Quite a few of us like hanging out with Jack Taylor, and have done so for many of the nine novels in which he has featured. We like Jack – Galway’s limping, half-deaf, alcoholic, occasional detective – for being a battler, for the pain he's suffered (the lost surrogate son, Cody, the childhood beatings), and for the code he follows, of the ‘law being for courtrooms and justice being for alleyways’. But how many of us would really enjoy having him as a friend?
Because Jack has a dark side, as this latest book reminds us. He does a terrible thing here out of loyalty to a shady old friend, Kosta, which adds another boulder of guilt to his conscience. And he also has the alcoholic’s flair for self-destruction, for abusing those who look out for him, such as his friends Stewart and Ridge.
But he is such a compelling, believable veteran of the hard life that we still root for him and want him to pull through. Here, a group of self-absorbed, angry young people led by a psychopath launches a terrifying campaign to cleanse the city of anyone they label inferior. An elderly priest is attacked, a special-needs boy brutally assaulted. Then Jack falls victim to an ambush from the gang, and suffers a vicious ordeal.
Even more damaging than the physical pain they inflict on Jack is the emotional hurt, as they sabotage his chance of happiness with Laura, the American he has invited to come out to Galway. To add to his difficulties, he takes a job from the well-heeled and manipulative Father Gabriel, 'a poster boy for the clergy or the Gestapo', to find a priest who's disappeared with a fortune.
In Ken Bruen's stories, however, the plot is slight and just gives the characters something to do. It's Jack we come back for, his cussedness, black wit, tenacity and even his taste in books and TV (here he's reading Jim Nisbet, Tom Piccirilli, Craig McDonald, Megan Abbott and Adrian McKinty; is watching Breaking Bad). The writing is so direct and smooth, never spilling a word that Jack Taylor comes through 40 percent proof. A difficult man to get on with, but most people who follow Jack in these pages will want to raise their glass to one of crime fiction's great mutineers.