"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