Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Guards, by Ken Bruen

I've been headed toward a rendezvous with Mr. Bruen for a long time. Or at least his books. As with  James Lee Burke, reliable sources have long plied him on me. I haven't been resistant, I've just been, as with so much else, behind times.

I don't know where the latest prompt came from, but I finally bit. One of the benefits of waiting so long is that you have the time to form an impression that will quickly be knocked down once you start turning the pages. So what did I think this book would be like?

Well, for  someone who has read a lot of crime fiction over the years, I'm a little bit of a chicken about the genre. For some reason, I had the Jack Taylor books down as a bit brutal, probably dark and undoubtedly wet.

The Guards wasn't like that at all.

Jack Taylor is an ex-garda, which means he was once an Irish cop, and according to him, getting booted out of this venerable institution meant he really had to put his mind to it. But out of control drinking, among other less than highly desirable traits, has left him high and dry. Well, not exactly dry.

There isn't technically such a thing as a private investigator in Ireland ("the Irish wouldn't wear it") , so Taylor is instead something of a finder. Which really means he drinks his way around Galway, in the company of his mad and sometime friend Sutton, and in Sutton's company he gets himself into a situation that is deeper and darker than any person whose got his problems with sobriety should reasonably get.

Taylor is also a reader, which surprised me. One lesson we learn from his wide knowledge of books, detective novels, but much beyond these as well, is that reading is a lifeline for a certain kind of kid. What we also learn more painfully is that reading alone won't save you.  But I enjoyed the literary asides and the way all of Galway seems to come to Taylor's aid at times, and the way his own low tide makes him compassionate to many others at a similar low ebb. Sometimes, of course, that's a mistake. As in life

I'll definitely be reading more.


  1. Sounds like a good one, and I love your riff on reading at the end!!

  2. You've convinced me - this one is going on the to-read list!

  3. Well, I hope you both do, and I think Bruen is the kind of writer who has a lot to say to anyone, even non-crime readers.

    Which of course are really the kind of crime writers that I like to read best.

    I didn't mention that having been to Galway a few years ago, it was fun to pick out the familiar aspects, but also to see the place through non-touristic eyes.

  4. Seana, you're probably one of the few readers who finds Bruen not dark and brutal.

    Among the Taylor books, I've read The Killing of the Tinkers, The Magdalen Martyrs, Priest and Cross. I liked the first and third of these best.

    I am surprised you have avoided Bruen until now considering the company you keep.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  5. Killing of the Tinkers is next on my list.

    Yeah, I've come into the whole Irish crime fiction world slightly backwards.

    Yeah, when you start from the Belfast Sixpack, dark and brutal has a high bar to meet. I wouldn't say that those adjectives are the first ones that spring to mind. I thought it was a really good and unique book.

  6. "Dark" may rank high among adjectives one might fairly apply to the Jack Taylor novels, though your point about the Belfast So\ixpack is very well taken.

  7. I think dark for me is when you spend a lot of time with mutilated bodies, or have to live inside the serial killers mind. A bleak outlook on life redeemed by occasional humor seems about right to me.

  8. Then you've noticed that Bruen is good at flashes of humor when the chips are way down.

    I want to offer one example from The Killing of the Tinkers, but I want to get it exactly right, and I don't have the book with me at the moment.

    V-word: nordica

  9. Nordica?

    Can't those damned Scandinavians give the Irish crime scene even this poor venue without crowding in?

  10. That crossed my mind, though I also remember Nordica as a brand of skis or ski boots from my attempts at that sport in the winters of my youth.

  11. That's what they want you to think, Peter. I'm telling you, they don't write crime fiction for nothing.

  12. I'm sorry to interrupt the conversation between you and Peter ;), but I just wanted to say I've been thinking of reading The Guards for a while too (unfortunately our library doesn't have a copy). I'm glad to get another point of view on it, which makes me want to read it more.

    Stopping by after seeing link on Carrie's Books and Movies blog.

  13. Cool. That's what I think is so great about all the links being together where we can all get new ideas.