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THE GHOSTS OF GALWAY
by Ken Bruen
Mysterious Press, November 2017
336 pages
$25.00
ISBN: 0802127339


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Those who, like me, have followed Jack Taylor's ever-narrowing descending spiral toward the inevitable final plug-hole must open every installment in his disastrous life with the question, "Will this be the one? Will Jack finally succumb to the relentless battering that constitutes daily experience and go, peaceably or not, to whatever awaits him?"

And so it is with the question that hung over the final pages of the preceding novel in the series, THE EMERALD LIE." Jack had been incorrectly diagnosed with a terminal disease and sent home to get his affairs in order, as they say. That would have been an impossible assignment, of course, since order hardly figures in Jack's life. In GHOSTS he has received a reprieve. The diagnosis was a mistake and he'll simply have to go on living. But wherever he goes, whatever he does, he is haunted by the ghosts of his past and Galway is haunted by its own ghosts, the emanations of past violence and the sins of priests.

Jack is hired to recover something called The Red Book, said to have appeared shortly after The Book of Kells and reputed to be the first true work of heresy. A rogue priest working in the Vatican library made off with it and was now hiding out in Galway. The Church wants it back and Jack's new employer wants to buy it first. Then there is a group leaving dead animals in public places that are accompanied by cryptic messages that look like texters' acronyms. They may be protesting the water charges or they may want to return Galway to its earlier condition of piety. Or they may be up to something else. And Em, the sociopath who first appeared in GREEN HELL and who has a deep hold on Jack's imagination and his heart, has reappeared and has some dubious and possibly murderous connection with The Red Book.

GHOSTS OF GALWAY is not just about the past, however. The reader is kept fully up to date as Jack comments on current events. The Bataclan attack, Prince's death, Donald Trump's presidential campaign and much more all lock the narrative into a brief and specific time frame.

Still it is the past that rules. He is confronted by people from his past whom he has not seen in a very long time. His old flame, Ann Henderson, arrives out of nowhere, seeking his help. Jack grieves every day for the loss of little Serena May, the child who plunged from a window while his back was turned. And he will lose still more of those few whom he loves before this book ends. While Jack may be a formidable enemy, his fondness and regard places his few friends at even greater risk.

Though noir to the core, little about GHOSTS conforms to the conventions of the genre. Plot lines are concluded but not resolved or, indeed, even explained. As the narrative progresses, all grows increasingly dark and Jack himself takes actions which are, at best, morally suspect, at worst, as evil as those of his enemies. What holds it all together, what makes it impossible to put the book aside, is Jack's utter honesty and Bruen's immaculate style. Rarely is a word wasted, never does he miss a beat. You can pull two sentences out of anywhere in the book and show them to a Bruen reader and they will instantly identify the author by his characteristic rhythm and pacing.

The final chapter is called

"The

Fleeting

Ghost

Of

Happiness."

"Fleeting" is almost too strong a word as one more ghost comes back to haunt poor Jack and shatters his momentary peace. He has been sinking lower and lower since he encountered the devil in the book of the same name. It's interesting to note that this title does not appear in the "Also by Ken Bruen" list at the front of GHOSTS, nor has it been listed in the previous two volumes. Perhaps what Jack really needs is a good exorcist. But until he finds one, I shall certainly be lined up and waiting for the next chapter to appear.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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