Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Dramatist

Jack Taylor is a man defined by his vices and weaknesses. Essentially, he is a man whose life has been largely consumed by an abuse of alcohol, pills, cocaine and nicotine. Taylor does nothing half way and his weaknesses have ensured that his personal life is a wreck; he runs women off at a steady pace and his closest friends are the two octogenarian women who run the failing hotel at which he's taken up permanent residence. But, hey, things are looking up for Jack. He's been off the dope and booze for a few weeks and he's even thinking about giving up cigarettes - all because his dealer has been given a six year prison sentence and Jack doesn't have the energy to locate a new supplier.

It is when Jack's dealer summons him to the prison to ask for help in finding out why and how his sister was killed that Jack reluctantly resumes his non-paying work as a private detective. The Dramatist is Ken Bruen's fourth Jack Taylor novel, and this time around, Bruen offers a more elaborate and detailed plot than in the previous three. Even so, Taylor's reluctance to get involved in the investigation of what he soon realizes was a murder and not an accidental death allows the author to detail Jack's daily struggles to remain sober and to rebuild the personal life that drugs and booze have taken from him.

This is the heart of the book and, along the way, Jack watches his mother's steady deterioration, is confronted by an old lover while struggling to maintain a new relationship, is challenged by one of his few friends to confront a group of vigilantes and is threatened by a deranged killer. Ultimately, the murder investigation is brought to a successful climax but that was not the most intriguing part of the book for me as a reader and, in fact, the killer's identity came as no great surprise. Rather, I found myself fascinated by the train wreck that is Jack Taylor's life. I rooted for him as he managed to stay off the booze after each personal crisis confronted him but I didn't really expect him to manage it. His personal history filled me with skepticism that his abstinence would last despite the fact that he continued to surprise his friends and even himself by remaining stone cold sober no matter what life tossed at him next.

But be warned: even my skepticism did not prepare me for the ending of this book. I was stunned at its suddenness and power. The Dramatist is the first Ken Bruen novel that I've read without thinking about, and admiring, the author's style more than the novel's plot. Jack Taylor fans will consider this one to be a classic.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Is this book just out? Not yet on my library system. I am prepared to give this guy another chance; looks like his writing style has matured since his early novel ''McDead'' failed to hold my interest.

  2. Nick, it was published in the U.S. in 2006 but it appears to have been published in the U.K. in 2004. Your library system may not have purchased a copy?