It would be interesting for me to know what the majority of Americans think who read Bruen's novels. I've been to Galway, and I have to confess that I didn't encounter any of the dark heart of Ireland while I was there. But of course that means nothing--I was a tourist. It was perfectly easy for me to avoid the underworld of Bangkok when I visited as well. More than the crimes that form the plots of the Jack Taylor novels, though, it's the exposure of the darker side of the Irish psyche that I wonder what Americans will make of. Although Ken Bruen himself has a good bit of the famous Irish charm, his novels don't seem to play to Irish-American expectations of the Old Sod. The Magdalen Martyrs dealt with the notorious Magdalen Laundries scandal, and this fifth book doesn't tread lightly when it comes to abuse by priests of young boys. I don't give too much away to say that it pretty much starts with a priest's beheading.
But apart from these large issues, it's really more the Irish character that Bruen is so good at dissecting and skewering. He doesn't shy away from subjects like Irish alcoholism or the abuse of power by Catholicism in a country where the church and state are more firmly wedded than they ever were in ours.And yet Bruen writes as an insider to the culture, not as an anthropologist. And he still has a bit of respect for the old Galway as opposed to its modern manifestation for all that.
As always literature, figures into Jack Taylor's life, but this round he's at a place where books fail to sustain him. Nevertheless, the chapters often start out with short quotes from the one book that's attracted him, Pascal's Pensées, a memoir that I never thought I'd read, anymore than Jack Taylor thought he would (although I can't speak for Bruen himself here.) But as is often the case with classics you haven't read, the book appears to be a stranger creature than I took it for, darker about humankind and its journey than I would have thought. I have a feeling I'm going to have to read it.
I've thought off and on about why Taylor is such a charismatic character, not just for his fellow characters (and love or hate him, none of them seem to be able to leave him alone), but for us. But Bruen himself answered the question for me in this one. Early on, he has Jack say:
"Soren Kierkegaard talked about man's condition being caught between insoluble tensions.
Fucker nailed me."
It isn't I admit, a very California kind of attitude, but the longer I live, the more I see how this must be so, and Jack is the character who knows this within his bones. His integrity, what he has of it, comes from this knowledge. He can be cruel, destructive to people who might not have earned such brutality, but he'll give money to the alcoholic beggar on Eyre Square, or any of a number of other sad sacks that you know are never going to make good either.
He isn't, however, on the evidence of these last couple of books, someone it would be wise to become close friends with.
Here's an interesting article on Bruen that I ran across when I was looking for an image of the book.
You could do worse, too, than to check out the Jack Taylor television series, which is available on Netflix. The stories so far are close to but not quite the same as the books, and Taylor on the show is not as dark a character as the one Bruen wrote. But there is something in the show that remains true to the spirit of the books, and for that I'll keep watching them. Recently, I watched a writer's conference on the web where Bruen talked of being tapped on the shoulder as he walked down the street in Galway and turning around to find a man who said, "Hi, I'm Jack Taylor." The actor was there on location as they shot the show, large as life, in Taylor's disreputable old garda coat and all.
For an author, it must have been quite a moment.