Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ken Bruen's "Headstone": Book Review

For the ninth in the series, Jack Taylor pursues a cabal of murderous Goths bent on putting a bent version of social Darwinism into action in Galway. Their victim dies poignantly, and it's hard to take. I listened to John Lee's audiobook and that heightened the emotion: his voice is well-suited for Taylor despite a few words a bit off in his pronunciation of the Irish language that speckles a bit of the story, as Ken Bruen does in each installment. Lee and Bruen suit each other for a clipped, hard-bitten, and ironic take on Irish cruelty and endemic hypocrisy.

The plot did not keep me in suspense as much as usual for Taylor. I wondered about Laura's continued off-stage presence. I suppose Bruen knows what he's doing for the long run in the series as to dramatic effect, but her suspension puzzled me. Taylor burns her London letter: the ashes float, "desperate despair of a dying dream."

Desperation builds. Ireland's debt puts her under; this seems set around the end of 2010 when ice crippled the island for three months. Greed, however, still flourishes, same as in the boom years. Stewart's past stint in prison earns a standout flashback chapter that fills us in on his personality better than we'd seen before, easing a bit Jack's summation of him as "a personification of the new Irish: sleek, smug, and self-absorbed."

This time around, the plot did not draw me in much. The atmosphere did. Adroitly, Bruen conveys in tough guy (lots of Americanism filter into the speech of more and more Irish, tellingly raised on crime shows and pop culture) Taylor a respect for decency and an aversion to cruelty, even as Jack metes it out in measure for measure inflicted on the innocent.

Ridge reliably returns, Kosta hovers again, and Clancy's sidekick O'Brien in a late appearance interrupts Jack's reverie of his father at a part of the historic and once lovely city, eager to tear out its heart for luxury flats, hotels, and multinational chain stores. It's a Galway not peddled to tourists, but it remains one of Bruen's best "characters." (8-11-13 to Amazon US)

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