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The Jack Taylor Novels

Ken Bruen's Irish Noir Fiction - Galway's Underbelly Dissected


The Jack Taylor Novels by Ken Bruen are not easy reading and certainly not for everyone - they certainly are not cosy murder mysteries solved by little grey cells, old ladies or cats. Instead they are "Irish noir". The Guinness of crime fiction. And, similar to the black stuff, an acquired taste to some, unpalatable to others.

Nonetheless I do recommend them for some holiday reading. And they should be on your list of things to do in Galway City. Though they do not age well - too many current affairs hinted at that may be forgotten by many too soon ...

Who is Ken Bruen?

Born in 1951 and hailing from Galway, Ken Bruen is an Irish writer, renowned for hard-boiled, noir crime fiction with locations ranging from the USA to London via Ireland. Equipped with a Ph.D. in metaphysics from Trinity College, Bruen spent a quarter of a century as an English teacher all over the world. With some jail-time in Brazil thrown in. Today, he lives and works as a writer in ... Galway.

Who is Jack Taylor?

Jack Taylor, whom I at least always imagine as physically similar to the haggard-looking Bruen, used to be a member of the Garda Siochana, the Irish police, before being removed under a less-than-honorable circumstances. Setting up shop (for want of a better phrase, as he has no office and often no home) as a private investigator of sorts in Galway City, he deals with missing persons and violent crime, using a very hands-on approach. And unconventional methods.

Taylor is the ultimate "defective detective" - a wreck from substance abuse, prone to violent outbursts, a danger to himself and (more than often) his friends and associates (who tend to become his late friends and associates, often through Taylor's actions and as collateral damage).

What are the Jack Taylor Novels About?

At first glance, they deal with Galway crime - but there is a strong undercurrent of social and political commentary. The social change in Ireland over the last decades, from poorest country in Europe to "Celtic Tiger" and back into the red, is maybe more important than the actual events depicted. The decline of the Catholic Church as a social, moral and political power is explored, as is the materialistic society of prosperous Ireland, which tended to ignore the social inequality still present. Migration, be it immigration or emigration, is also a recurring theme.

What to Expect ...

As I said before - this is not Agatha Christie and the murder will not have been done by the Colonel in the shed with a knife, neatly solved. Taylor's cases start off as straightforward, often become very convoluted and mixed with other cases, then tend to solve themselves without too much classical detective work or even deductive logic. Taylor stumbles and mumbles his way towards the solution.

There is no courtroom drama, no neat presenting of theories and facts. People (and often animals as well) get killed, often in messy ways, without reason at times.

The outlook on life and society ls bleak.

Having said that - the writing at times is brilliant, the novels are fast-paced and the average book will be finished in one session as it is hard to put down (and quite short, which helps).

On the other hand ... occasionally Bruen's writing suffers from sloppiness, some passages are repeated verbatim in different books and some cultural references go awfully wrong. Then again we are in the world of a drug-addicted alcoholic misogynist (Taylor, not Bruen), so it might be on purpose.

Where to Read the Jack Taylor Novels

Get one for the flight. Better still, get one and read it in Galway City, on Nimmo's Pier, in Eyre Square or on the Long Walk, you'll recognize the city and see it with different eyes at the same time. Follow in Taylor's footsteps and explore.

How to Read the Jack Taylor Novels

You may start with any novel, but be careful ... events happening in earlier novels are often referenced in later novels, so by mixing up the time-line you might spoil some surprises for yourself.

A List of Jack Taylor Novels in Chronological Order

  • The Guards (2001)
  • The Killing of the Tinkers (2002)
  • The Magdalen Martyrs (2003)
  • The Dramatist (2004)
  • Priest (2006)
  • Cross (2007)
  • Sanctuary (2008)
  • The Devil (2010)
  • Headstone (2011)
  • Purgatory (2013)

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