Monday, May 05, 2008


If there is any such thing as Irish Noir, Ken Bruen is surely near the top of the list of its finest creators. His latest is Cross, the sixth novel in his Jack Taylor series and, though readers of the other five books in the series may find it hard to believe, this is perhaps the most dismally brutal book of the lot. Those in charge of bringing tourists to Galway, Ireland, may not be too happy with Mr. Bruen, I suppose, but Jack Taylor fans will want to get their hands on Cross as soon as they can.

Jack Taylor has never been what anyone would call a social success. He has few friends, no long term relationship, and very little real desire for either. And now that his mother is dead, not that his relationship with her was ever a very healthy one, he has no family. It says a lot about the man that the closest relationship in the world that he has is a love/hate thing that he has going with Ridge, a lesbian member of the Guard, a relationship that has gone on for a long time with neither of them ever expressing much in the way of feelings for the other. Sadly, each of them seems to feel the relationship to be more of an inherited obligation than a choice.

As Cross opens, Jack is still blaming himself for the accidental death of a little girl, something that understandably killed his long friendship with the child’s parents. To make matters worse, the young man Jack had come to love almost as a surrogate son after reluctantly taking him on as an investigative partner, is still in a coma after taking a bullet that Jack believes was actually intended for him instead. It is little wonder that most of Jack’s waking hours are spent in a constant struggle with himself to avoid falling off the wagon again. He knows that he may have already used up the last “recovery” he had in him and that if he gives into the bottle he may never be sober again.

Things are so bad, in fact, that Jack is strongly considering abandoning his beloved Galway in favor of a move to Florida of all places. But there are a few things he needs to do first. Like helping Ridge in an investigation that she hopes might finally earn her a promotion – by identifying those responsible for crucifying a young boy and leaving him for dead. And maybe, if he takes it seriously, finding out who is responsible for a rash of dog disappearances in one Galway neighborhood, or perhaps even trying to gain some closure with all those whom he has hurt and those others who haunt him even from their plots in the cemetery.

Jack Taylor is indeed a haunted man. His problem is that he knows himself well enough to understand that he has no one to blame but himself for all the failed relationships in his past. But recognizing one’s problems is the easy part; doing something about them is a bit harder.

Ken Bruen novels are about human nature as much as they are about criminals and their crimes. Bruen’s real story, one that continues from book-to-book, is about the evolution of Jack Taylor, a man who has been physically and mentally beaten up by life itself. None of us wants to be Jack Taylor but we surely cannot help but be fascinated by the man.

Readers new to the work of Ken Bruen would do well to read the Jack Taylor books in the order in which they were written because Jack’s story is a complicated one and in order to really appreciate the struggles of a man like him it is best to understand how he got to be the man he is today.

I am already looking forward to the seventh in the series but I almost wish I were just discovering the books and that I had the first six sitting in front of me ready for a marathon reading experience. They are just that good.

Rated at: 4.5

Previously Reviewed "Jack Taylor" Books:


The Dramatist


The Guards


  1. Hi Sam, I remember you mentioning this author a year or so ago: I tried one of the books but found the violence difficult to deal with.

  2. Hi, Nick. It's really great to hear from you again because I've been wondering where you'd run off to. :-)

    I agree that these books are not for everyone. They are, indeed, extremely violent and it's not always easy to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys." They appeal to me because of the atmosphere that Bruen creates, a very dismal look at modern life in big-city Ireland. I hope they are not truly representative of life in Galway.

  3. I just put the 1st book in this series on my TBR list. Thanks!

  4. It will take you a few pages to get used to Bruen's style, Samantha, but if you stick with it I think you'll come to enjoy the series.