Friday, October 11, 2013

Ken Bruen's "Purgatory": Book Review

The tenth Jack Taylor novel finds our Galway noir investigator in a somewhat more cheerful mood. Thanks to some money earned from the past installment's (Headstone: see my review for this as all his Taylor tales) good fortune keeps him in better spirits; smokes and drinks tempt him reliably. Ken Bruen provides a steady if ultimately sly plot, as Jack, cranky enough, has a bit less to grouse about.

Bankers, the Church, the developers ruining Galway city and everywhere else: they all seem to connive and thrive even as, circa late 2011 into 2012, the economy for everyone else Irish (and abroad?) goes south. Jack this time out, with Ridge his help on the police force and Stewart his contact with the more marginal forces that instill compliance, return. They square off against a vigilante, "C33," who we learn is self-imagined as "A Dexter with an Irish lilt." But surprises await, sad more than uplifting, for all who get sucked into the force field.

Hoodies may cloak some of the wealthy who seek to own cities while Jack struggles to pay the rent, as he's told. But robber barons still lurk within denim or cotton casuals. Jack--who for once doesn't hit the charity shop to outfit himself--is tuned into popular culture as always. This time, he's watching a lot of largely American cable-t.v. series that have been cancelled before they can come to fruition: an apt comparison, he discovers. He's called "Seth MacFarlane with an Irish sensibility" for his own hapless non sequitors and wandering attention, as age and other abuses take their toll.

He blames Lonely Planet and tourists and the relentless buskers and balladeers that cram the medieval streets of the city center for the Galwegian decay, too. Part of the curdled charm comes from Bruen channelling via Jack his own jaundiced look at his native town's transformation by greed, fads, and globalized capital. But, he's tapped into them well enough, in terms of entertainment, himself. As a student of the concept of purgatory, as an aside, I wondered how it fit in more than as anther ecclesiastical-eerie title in the series. Not much except a few chapter colophons, such as that state as a "backup" policy kept in reserve by the Church, which as always gets its share of scorn.

Bruen's eye for the quiet insight rewards. A gold Zippo sounds "like some weary hope" as it's clunked to light up another smoke. "My life didn't imitate fiction; it mocked it." He looks into a suspect's library room: "When books are for show, be sure you've put ammunition in the nine, double-check."

As always, Irish character gets notice. A contact who helps Jack and is helped in return, to nicely contradictory results that spur the ambiguous, hang fire conclusion, is said to be "not the worst, which  in Ireland is a huge compliment." This novel, which moves along in smoother fashion than some recent Taylor escapades, has one key character again getting more body blows than a cartoon cat, and I wonder about that person's resilience, but it looks from the final chapter more surprises will follow in another Taylor adventure if he and his pals can hold out and keep upright. (out 10/22/13)

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