PURGATORY, the 10th title in Ken Bruen’s masterful Jack Taylor series, is another dark, intoxicating and irresistible mixture of mystery and despair.
Few can survive what Taylor has lived through over the course of the past nine novels, so we find ourselves as fascinated by his vision of his hometown of Galway, his country of Ireland and the condition of his tortured soul, as we are the complexities of the book’s central crime.
Although he now wears a hearing aid, suffers from a recurrent limp and has lost a few fingers from his right hand, Taylor, Galway’s best-known unlicensed and altogether unofficial private investigator, is as close to a state of peace as he’s ever been. He’s sworn off booze, drugs and cigarettes, and takes refuge exclusively in his beloved books and music. Perhaps most importantly, he is far more selective of the various problems and cases he’s offered.
This peace is abruptly interrupted when a vigilante killer targets various notorious Galway citizens. Taylor receives notes from the killer, who refers to himself as “C33.” The notes invite Taylor to join his campaign to cleanse the city of its scum. Taylor dismisses the notes and instead busies himself with other concerns — one being a man named Reardon, an enigmatic tech billionaire who is buying up massive amounts of Galway property and has an urge to enlist Taylor as an ally.
Then Taylor’s close friend Stewart, a former drug dealer who became a devout Zen follower and successful entrepreneur following a prison sentence, receives similar notes from C33. Taylor urges Stewart to ignore the notes, but Stewart becomes obsessed with learning C33’s identity and stopping his murder spree. Soon Stewart, Taylor and some of Taylor’s other few friends are caught up in C33’s dangerous and deadly game.
Bruen opens the novel with a third-person perspective and then immediately shifts to Taylor’s more familiar first-person narration. Such shifts are a rarity in these stories. Here, however, they occur more often as the author details the various events within the same timeline. Taylor’s voice and personal observations have always been the main attraction to the series, so these focus shifts are at first a bit disorienting. But they eventually become essential as Bruen slowly pulls all the events within Taylor’s view and involvement.
As usual, Bruen drenches Taylor’s voice with equal parts cynicism, abhorrence and sarcastic humor. After so many novels in the series, Taylor’s voice and attitude flows naturally, but never fails to impress and often stuns readers with its emotional intensity and shockingly accurate insights. This effect is aided by Bruen’s sentence structure, which frequently reads more like a prose poem than a traditional, straight-line narrative.
The author continues to be one of the central defining voices of contemporary noir, while concurrently defending the validity of crime fiction, its writers and its place in literature.
After all this time, and especially after the events of PURGATORY, Taylor realizes there is no such thing as true peace in his world, but at least he has finally come to fully know himself. As he expresses it near the conclusion, “I don’t know what I think I ought to know but fuck, I know my own act and it is a cocktail of sordid self-interest, self-doubt, and of course self-harm. This doesn’t make me bad so much as Irish.”
As Taylor himself would undoubtedly respond: Argue that! —Alan Cranis