Review: Purgatory

Ken Bruen is an Irish treasure, holding his own in a line of literary giants including Joyce, Yeats, Wilde and Beckett. His noir protagonist Jack Taylor is an ex-cop from the Galway Guard wrestling with a host of addictions. Among his few friends are Stewart, a drug dealer turned Zen master, and Ridge, a tough, gay sergeant of the Guard. Over the years, in Bruen's nine previous Taylor novels, Jack's been around, been jacked up and beaten down, but has remained "always the hard arse" and "a cocktail of self interest, self-doubt, and of course self-harm." As he says, "That doesn't make me bad so much as Irish."

In Purgatory, Oscar Wilde provides the pseudonym for the cryptic notes of a serial vigilante killer teasing Taylor to join in eliminating Galway's unpunished criminals freed by shady defense lawyers. But Taylor doesn't bite. Instead, he takes on a simple investigation into a church statuary theft and reluctantly accepts a lucrative assignment from Reardon, an expat American dot-com billionaire who's out to buy all the city's depression-priced property and suspects an employee of selling information to his competition. On the wagon, but with frequent lapses, Taylor lets Stewart pursue the vigilante's clues while he pursues Reardon's attractive, smart-mouthed American assistant, Kelly. But violence won't leave Taylor alone: Ridge is beaten nearly to death and Stewart pushes his vigilante hunch one shotgun blast too far. And Kelly... well, she turns out to have a psychopathic past and an obsession with Oscar Wilde.

Set against the Irish economic collapse, Purgatory may be the best of the Jack Taylor series. Bruen's dazzling Irish storytelling voice has its roots in the descriptive wit of Robert Parker and the lowlife dialogue of George V. Higgins. Taylor's modern Galway has become so Americanized that ubiquitous T-shirts now reflect the pop philosophy and music of the wearers. Even young mogul Reardon wears "beat-up 501s [and] a white worn T that proclaimed Grateful Dead, SA, 1977." Reardon and his entourage bring more than just bad American street fashion to Galway, however: they also bring American vigilantism, "honed in the States, an equal killer land of opportunity. Get a car and a sound track of Hank Williams and you were good to go." In Purgatory, Ken Bruen brings his A game. Taste it and you'll fall off the wagon too... at least long enough to go back to read the previous Taylor novels. --Bruce Jacobs

Shelf Talker: In perhaps the best novel of his Jack Taylor series, Bruen pits the troubled Galway private investigator against an American billionaire and his entourage.

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