Monday, October 7, 2013

Ken Bruen's "The Devil": Book Review

As in later Jack Taylor installments, the religious titles continue here in number eight, upping the ante for his confrontation with Mr. K./Kurt/Carl Franz who claims to be the Devil himself. Bothered by Jack's holding out against evil, this mysterious stranger prevents him from flying to America, and ups the ante in Jack's hometown. It's painful, for with an antagonist who knows more than previous opponents, you meet three characters all likeable who meet their maker in sad fashion after Jack crosses paths with them and the enemy follows swiftly to mete out punishment. Cumulatively, the emotional impact for the reader familiar with Jack and his haunted milieu means you will feel the pain of their passing as Jack does.

I like the usual wit. Ridge's husband "Anthony was all Anglo-Irish cordiality, warmth without conviction" (64); near the Augustinian church in Galway city center, a head shop sits: "Seemed kind of apt, both sold mood change, depending on what you believed and especially what you had to spend."(133); "In Ireland, a 'private remark' is like putting it on a billboard." (197)

Tinkers play a role late on, and this refers back to Jack's intervention on their behalf in the second novel, but enough is filled in here for a newcomer to get the gist. This novel works more as a stand-apart than earlier tales. It's odd to see among the usual shout-outs to fellow crime novelists and current singers Taylor likes to promote that Vinny at Charley Byrne's bookstore recommends to Taylor a novel set on Nun's Island named "Sanctuary." The author is unnamed, Ken Bruen himself.

A few reviewers previously noted what I wondered when pondering this: how independently verifiable is the Dark One's presence in Galway. Is this Jack's Xanax-Jameson-Guinness bender unfurling for a novel's length in novel fashion? Still, he drinks and abuses his mind and body in similar style for many years now, so what's different in this situation? Facing off for once against a foe who may be immortal, the action does feel different in tone than the others in the series (all of which I've reviewed here): it's slightly muted for all its horror. Not sure if it works as smoothly, for all its typically savage tirades against a selfish, consumer-driven, and now debt-ridden Ireland. But it's a great premise, and while of course familiarity with Taylor and his career is recommended, this one emerges among Taylor's feisty, stumbling career more independently than others.

What puzzled me was the denouement. Ken Bruen leaves you with a fun twist, but the person on whom it's perpetrated pops in so casually and off-handedly in the final chapter that this feels weaker, limper, than the punch one would expect from an author skilled in channeling rage and insight through his troubled Galway investigator. Still, I liked it and you may too.(Amazon US 8-11-13)

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