This is an odd, but thoroughly enjoyable, novel. Set in Galway, Ireland, Jack Taylor is an alcoholic and cocaine addict, recently bounced from the Guards. He arrives back in Galway, looks up old friends, consumes quantities of booze and coke and is approached by a man who wants him to help solve the murders of several "tinkers," formerly known in less politically correct days as Gypsies.
Taylor's approach to things is, putting it mildly, chaotic. He is given to a love of old rock 'n roll music, has an expectedly odd assortment of friends, makes enemies easily and suffers fierce hangovers.
But he does solve the mystery in the end in an unpredictable way.
Overall, Bruen's writing is wonderfully quirky. Jack Taylor is a well developed character; so well-developed, in fact, that he's not particularly likeable. Most of the other characters are kind of thing, but passable.
The plot . . . well, it isn't a smooth and winding road, that's for sure. But the twists are fun to roll with. A satisfying excursion with an author with a unique approach. If half-stars were a possibility, I'd give it four and a half. Not quite a five, but well worth reading.
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.
There is magic in Ken Bruen that is not easily placed. It's certainly not the plot - there is little mystery and less forensics in Bruen's Irish crime staccato. And one can hardly be drawn to the characters, unless in the mildly perverse sense of attraction to tragic heroes plotting self destruction. Nor is Bruen good for your spirits, as he drags the reader through vast fields of human wreckage that begin with mere despair and reach utter wretchedness by the climax. Yet just as Bruen's drug and alcohol addled Jack Taylor is drawn to his booze and coke, I find myself addicted to this sparse and brutal poetry disguised as fiction, not merely unique but untouchable.
"The Killing of the Tinkers" is the second Jack Taylor novel. A classically simple Bruen story line: someone is killing "tinkers" (gypsies), the cops could care less, ex-Guard Taylor is offered a lucrative fee by one of the clan to find out who. But as with most of Bruen's writing, this central plot - finding the killer - is mostly forgotten as the insolent Taylor drifts in and out of all varieties of drug induced stupors and subsequent vomit and hangovers - not a lot of social redeeming value here, and far from the cardboard cutout PIs more often found in crime fiction. Taylor stays sober enough to wreck his short marriage and start a torrid new affair. While some of the tangents and side stories may seem like diversion in a patently sparse Bruen novel, this is indeed key to the Bruen's allure of spinning the complex psychological and cultural backdrop to the story. As always, the well-read author peppers his prose with a wide range of literary quotes and references - how can you argue with a guy comfortable with Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan - adding a dimension that complements the story while contradicting Taylor's surface brutishness. The birth of Taylor's friends child builds from the poignant in "Tinkers" to the heart wrenching in subsequent Taylor novels ("The Dramatist", "Priest"). From confrontation to beatings to decapitated swans and irate mothers, Taylor and Bruen careen to a finish that if not Hitchcockian is certainly surprising, highlighting some clever foreshadowing not typically associated with this author.
In short, modern noir as bleak as it can get, an addiction too intelligent to be called guilty pleasure. If you're not a Ken Bruen fan yet, pick up "The Guards" first and start your own habit.
F. J. Harvey
This is the second book in Ken Bruen's series about ex -Garda (Irish policeman)Jack Taylor,who earns a living now as a sort of private eye ,although this is not a profession recognised by Irish law.when the book opens he is returning to his nataive Galway ,after a stint in London.In the interim he has married a German mature student ,Kiki .although she has been left behind in London. What he has returned to Galway with however are his major league alcohol and cocaine habits ,recurrent evils in his life.He quickly hooks up with old friends Jeff )a tavern owner )and Jeff's partner ,Cathy.
Before too long he finds work as an enquiry agent ,being recruited by Sweeper,the head of the local itenerant community ,the tinkers.to investigate the brutal murders of several young men from that community ,murders being given a low priority by the Garda.The victims are all male ,in the early 20's and their naked and mutilated bodies have been dumped on waste ground near the Simon Community, an alcohol treatment centre .He is warned against pursuing his enquiries by the local Garda commander ,his old partner Clancy, and is also savagely beaten up by anti-tinker thugs.(Please note that the violence in this book -and others in the series-is graphic and realistic,Jack's injuries being extensive and described in detail .The book is not for those readers who object to violence and profanity -the books are loaded with them )He is aided in his search by a friend from London ,the old style tough copper Keegan -a dinosaur in methods and attitudes but an effective policeman and stalwart friend
Suspicion falls on a worker in the Simon Community-a supercilious young Englisman ,Ronald Bryson ,a man who seems a few bricks short of a load.He taunts Jack and threatens him through his girlfriend ,Laura ,to an extent that Jack is forced to resort to vigilante acation against him.There is however a twist in the tale -a cruel and bitter one ,that sickens Jack to his very soul.
This is a very bleak book .Violence haunts its pages and even seemingly dapper and poetic souls like Sweeper have apenchant for violent revenge.It is also a very literary book -Jack seeks solace in books and the novel is studded with references to and quotations from ,the author's favourite writers ,such as Pelecanos ,McBain, ,Chester Himes and the mystic Thomas Merton.Music is also important to Taylor and there are frequent refernces to his musical heroes (and villains).As before Galwat itself is a potent force in the experience of the book and it is acity which both delights and angers Jack .The thriving local economy has meant yuppieficationn and the loss of any sense of community as migrants flock into the city and crowd the impoverished locals to the margins of society,
It is marketed as a crime novel and surely there is some merit in this -it is about murder and the ramifications that come in its wake .However detection is not at the core of the book which is more about Taylor's own personal odyssey .It is a study in a dislocated society and of a man enduring rage ,loneliness and displacement
Read only if you can tolerate pessimism and if you insist on neat ,tidy resolutions to problems you should avoid the book .It is not your bag.For those who love noir fiction however this is manna of the first magnitude
"Leaving Galway, I'd left behind a string of deaths.... The investigation had led to.... Three murders. Four, if you count my best friend. My heart being hammered. Tons of cash. Exile."
Jack's back. Wisecracking ex-Garda Jack Taylor is back in Galway after a spell in London. He's brought little more than a coke habit back with him. Now, hanging out at his new favorite pub (defined: one that still allows him in), he tries to reclaim his drinking habit too. While he would prefer nothing more than to nurse a pint --- or, better yet, several pints --- and drown the woes of his Irish past, trouble finds him sitting there on that stool.
A tinker named Sweeper seeks him out and invokes a name from a death Jack looked into, the one that sent him fleeing Galway at the end of THE GUARDS. Jack tries to brush him off, but finds himself unable to turn away.
I said, "Call me if you need anything."
"I need one thing, Jack Taylor."
"Find whoever's killing my people."
Sweeper tells Jack of several deaths among the young tinkers, and of the Garda's response: none. They're only tinkers, after all. He pays Jack well to find the killer. Whether Jack is actually up to the task is debatable at best.
There's always more to Jack Taylor's days than the pursuit of clues. He has friends with crises, strangers with more crises, and an abundance of his own personal crises. Most times, he faces all of these by getting drunk. To his credit, he manages to solve the mystery, despite some rather untidy side effects. The bulk of the entertainment isn't in Jack's sleuthing abilities, though, but in his interactions with others, be they friend, foe, authority figure, mom, wife, girlfriend, lad or lass. He is one idiosyncratic character, full of acerbic quotes: "Lord knows, feeling bad is the skin I've worn almost all my life." Ken Bruen's dubious "hero" is the epitome of a guy you love to hate. Worse, though, he's the guy you hate to love, which you definitely do, at least in his role as the caustic, reluctant PI.
Last year I read THE GUARDS, wherein Bruen introduced Jack Taylor. I have spent many long months waiting for the second, all-too-short, installment of Taylor's adventures. Bruen writes with a unique, if unconventional, style that I find refreshing. Once you get into this book's rhythm, I think you will find it hard to return to stories with long, flowing sentences and showy descriptions. What a voice this author has! Not pretty, not happy, not uplifting, but tragically comedic and highly addictive.
--- Reviewed by Kate Ayers