• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Headstone by Ken Bruen

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller

By By Susan Condon, Writing.ie Crime Scene Reviewer

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Evil has many guises. Jack Taylor has encountered most of them but nothing before has ever truly terrified him until a group called Headstone rears its ugly head. An elderly priest is viciously beaten until nearly dead. A special needs boy is brutally attacked. A series of seemingly random, insane, violent events even has the Guards shaken.

Most would see a headstone as a marker of the dead, but this coterie of evil intends to act as a death knell to every aspect of Jack’s life as an act of appalling violence alerts him to the horror enveloping Galway.

Headstone is the ninth novel in the Jack Taylor series. It may be the first I have read; but it won’t be the last. The novel opens with a prologue and, immediately, we are straight into the story and witness to a vicious attack on a priest. It is somehow all the more shocking with the sadistic actions of the girl in the gang and further into the book there’s more to come. Thankfully Bruen doesn’t supply explicit detail, instead feeding the reader enough information for their imagination to fill in the gaps.

Bruen’s style of writing is very unique and I found I needed a couple of chapters to acclimatize to it. An experience I’d compare to watching an old black and white movie – it takes some time to forget it’s not colour – but once you do you just get on with enjoying the story.

Jack Taylor is introduced as a hard-drinking Irish man who is no longer on the force. The reference to Superintendent Clancy who was once, “Jack’s best friend and was now his sworn enemy” whet my appetite and when they come face-to-face later in the book, it ensures that you’ll feel compelled to search out more Taylor novels to learn more.

The tone of the book is dark and we get a real feel for the undercurrent in Jack Taylor’s Galway world which is not visibly apparent to the naked eye. There is a strong feeling of good and evil, and Taylor, although flawed, does his utmost to keep the scales balanced on the side of good.

The constant characters in Taylor’s life are Garda Ridge, who unlike him is by-the-book and Stewart, a Zen practitioner who has spent time behind bars. As the story unfolds we encounter other associates from his past who appear to have been developed over the last eight Taylor novels. But it is when Taylor finally comes into close contact with the Headstone gang that the tension ratchets up. You really begin to feel for him and wonder how much more he can endure as his personal life and those close to him are directly affected by the gang and their actions.

Headstone is a gritty, fast-paced novel and the flawed, Jack Taylor, as the main character keeps the reader interested from start to finish. His imperfect life is fuelled by drink and drugs, yet somehow, throughout the pages of murder and mayhem he manages to hold it all together just long enough . . .

Ken Bruen was born in Galway, Ireland. After turning down a place at RADA, and completing a doctorate in Metaphysics, he spent 25 years as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, South East Asia and South America. An unscheduled stint in a Brazilian prison where he suffered physical and mental abuse spurred him to write and, after a brief spell teaching in London, he returned to Galway, where he now lives with his daughter.

Ken Bruen is the award-winning author of nine Jack Taylor novels, four of which have now been filed for an acclaimed TV3 series starring Iain Glen in the eponymous role.

By Susan Condon

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