At the end of THE GUARDS, the prequel to this book, Jack Taylor leaves Ireland for London. Now he's back, although any sign of a fanfare for his return is sadly missing. I though Ken Bruen took Jack Taylor just about as low as it is possible to take a character in THE GUARDS, but he's managed to follow that dark excursion up by plunging him into an even deeper canyon in THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS.
He's not long back home when he is sought out by a man who needs his help. Of course, Jack is in a pub at the time and has no problem listening to the man, a tinker named Sweeper. He explains that someone has been savagely murdering, occasionally including dismemberment, the young men from his clan. The feelings towards the tinkers (sometimes otherwise known as gypsies) range from dislike to fear and hatred, so the suspect pool could be very large. Sweeper has resorted to turning to Taylor for help because the Garda Siochana (the Irish police force), of which Taylor used to be a member, have not bothered to investigate preferring to write the deaths off as the result of a feud between tinker families.
It's a pretty grim sounding situation and a difficult case, but when the offer of free accommodation is included with a healthy pay packet, jack can't refuse.
Just because he has agreed to take the case, taken the tinker's money and moved into a tinker's house, it doesn't mean he will throw himself into a full-scale investigation. His intentions are honorable, mind you, but the temptations of the many pubs see him succumbing all too often, mixing his alcohol consumption with a steady supply of cocaine.
He makes progress on the case thanks mainly to the help of a policeman friend from London, but there are external factors that also adversely affect his progress. When he isn't being harassed by his ex-colleagues from the Garda, he is being severely beaten by men who despise tinkers or he's being hounded by nuisance suspects. Somehow amongst all of this drama, drug-taking and intrigue, Jack also manages a couple of relationships and accompanying break-ups. Yes, there's certainly a lot going on and emotions are being whipped from high to low.
This is a bleak story filled with noir themes. A sense of hopelessness surrounds Jack who is either unwilling or unable to save himself even while he's trying to help others. The mood isn't improved by the repeated warnings given to us in Jack's narrative that mistakes and oversights he is making will later result in tragedy. Armed with this fact from quite early I was on my guard to trust nothing and nobody, but Bruen was still able to produce an ending that moved me.