For sheer energy and inventiveness you’d be hard pushed to find better. An eclectic mix of murder, mayhem and musings on literature and life that’s Galway Girl. For pace and the ability to weave a plot like a plate of spaghetti, Bruen deserves to be in the Guinness Book of Records. Goodness knows his protagonist Jack Taylor’s consumption of alcohol has him there already. Bruen is the master of the one liner, his quick wit skewers society’s ills. I can only think of one other modern writer, Mick Herron, who knows that farce makes tragedy hit home all the harder. Of course they are very different writers, but then Bruen’s writing is unique.
Galway Girl, the latest novel in the richly textured Jack Taylor series, will have you laughing out loud at life’s outrageous fortunes while wincing at the thought of the darkness you’re finding hilarious. I love the TV series with Iain Glen as Taylor but seriously you can’t film this, Bruen books have to experienced, that’s if you want the full effect. For me, Ken Bruen isn’t just the godfather of Irish crime writing, he’s a poet and he’s one of the godfathers of crime writing full stop.
Even though I know how wicked the Jack Taylor novels are they still have the power to shock. Galway Girl continues to step up Jack’s pain. Surely In the Galway Silence (2018) saw Jack hit rock bottom – things could only get better, right? Wrong, Galway Girl plumbs new depths.
Wasn’t it only the other day that the Pope made an Englishman a saint, happens every four hundred years or so apparently, and yet the church haven’t got round to Ken Bruen yet, why is that d’you think? I’ve a sneaking suspicion it’s because someone in the Vatican got passed a Jack Taylor book: devil’s advocate’s case made, bang goes the gong. The church shouldn’t feel picked upon though there are no kind words for institutions in Bruen’s novels (except libraries). Another year sans Christmas card from the Galway board of tourism for Bruen. Although they say all publicity is good publicity you have to wonder if that includes serial killers, assorted murderers, brutal ignorant cops, vile priests, the underbelly of the city exposed to the scrutiny of the world and Jack (PS: not all of it is real!).
Anyway: “Jack’s back”, or more accurately on his back, an ideal position to appreciate:
Makes the very best toilet bowls.’
That’s something Jack has found out in the four months since his daughter was killed right in front of his eyes. Now Jack is used to people dying around him but wouldn’t the death of your own loved one lead you back to the drink? Jack doesn’t needs an excuse but he’ll take one anyway: Guinness with a Jameson’s chaser.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves because it all started on the Saturday when the first Guard was killed. The forensic boys missed the note, but Garda Nora McEntee found it in the wastepaper bin:
“Ta bronach orm”
Didn’t mean a lot to Superintendent Mary Wilson (feck off with the Supremes jokes will ya!), or Owen Daglish, long-serving, long-suffering sergeant, or Sheridan but then he’s an American seconded to the Galway station, a ‘prick’ by all accounts, connected to special branch and something to do with counter-terrorism. Sheridan hates Jack, he’s too close to the epidemic of murder in the city.
Nora translated the note as they don’t have the Irish: “I am sorry, or actually, I am heartbroken.”
The dead man was Guard ‘Ridge’ NiIomaire’s uncle, Nora’s patient role model on the force, a lesbian, tenacious, fearless, dead:
“She had introduced her to Kai tai Yung. A ferociously vicious form of self-defence that mutated in Galway from what had been a benign form of tai chi.”
Ridge was a friend of Jack Taylor, maybe there was something in their hate/love/hate relationship so Nora goes to see him. Jack, polite as ever, listened for five seconds with only a drop of sarcasm and I could care less attitude before slamming the door.
Scott buried his father, dropped dead of a heart attack on the cusp of retirement from the police, before a spat involving spit with a senior officer because they wouldn’t let him join the force. Driving home drunk he’s arrested, he gets eight months, make that fourteen for calling the judge a ‘bollix’. Now he’s angry.
So far so simple but . . . Things always get complicated in Bruen’s Galway, and so we have to add Jericho who for reasons that will become apparent hates Jack and Stapleton who also hates Jack for another reason, and now Scott who has just decided he doesn’t like Jack either. It’ll be alright as long as the three of them don’t get together, that would be an unholy trinity for sure: Oops! Don’t even mention Amy Fadden, who wants Jack’s help with an eleven-year-old hoodlum.
This series is the only one ever to include a great coat among the characters and some old antagonists reappear. Its wicked black comedy, full of pathos, existential angst, a longing never to return to the good old days and a fear for the future. An explosion of wit, repartee, murder, vigilantism and pandemonium. For the price of one book you get farce, rip roaring action, hardboiled dialogue, philosophy, shock, tragedy and rich comedy all served like a pint of Guinness – dark and cool. Jack brings on a plague of biblical proportions, he fights quixotic battles with all and sundry and with life. Galway Girl is a dark nightmarish story of dysfunction and chaos, this is life as a train wreck. Full of cynical Irish sarcasm and whip-crack American hardboiled retorts – all on steroids. There are no sacred cows in Bruen, this is not for the easily shocked or offended.
In the world of anarchic narcissistic alcoholics, Jack Taylor is still king.
Paul Burke 5/5
Galway Girl by Ken Bruen
Head of Zeus 9781838933067 hbk Oct 2019