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by Ken Bruen
Mysterious Press, November 2018
288 pages
ISBN: 0802128823

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The first words Jack Taylor says as he makes his fourteenth appearance may rock those readers who have been following him for years: "I was happy." Happy is a state one would have thought Jack barely aspires to, let alone achieves. But of course, the tense is operative.

Left a pile of money by Emily/Emerald (THE EMERALD LIE), Jack has gained a measure of sobriety and new woman named Marion who comes with a bratty nine-year-old boy named Joffrey. Yes, that's right, and since the kid is nine, she might not have known about "the spoilt pup that gets poisoned." Jack tries calling him Jeffrey, but it doesn't work. Jack's relative peace is disturbed when a notorious hedge fund player demands that Taylor find out who has killed his twin sons and hand him over. The twins did meet a horrible death, with their mouths duct taped and then shoved into the water to drown. But then, you could say they deserved it.

Jack wants no part of it but when did that ever mean very much? Down by the waterfront where the twins went in, he dives in himself to save a man who has jumped. Though in the moment, the stranger is far from grateful, he shortly changes his mind, calls on Jack to thank him and announces that he will teach him to play chess and that they are now joined inseparably. At least so say the Chinese. Jack, on the other hand, says "Like fuck," but Jack is wrong. Before he knows it, he will be involved with a sociopath called the Silenceand spiralling downward to certain disaster.

Two themes run through this novel. One is the state of the world in the year Trump was inaugurated President, the other, the vulnerability of children and the risks they run from predatory or indifferent adults. The later are present through references to Tuam, in County Galway, where, over decades beginning in 1950, the nuns running the hideously misnamed Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home had buried the bodies of 1487 babies and children in mass graves. Additionally, there is the culpability of the Catholic Church, here represented by Jack's old nemesis, Father Malachi, now en route to a bishopric. And there are two child characters who are under threat.

A chapter epigraph could almost serve as a key to the entire book:







(Galway drinking song lyric)

Readers who, like me, have stayed with Jack from the beginning will find themselves on familiar territory. Some of it is almost comforting in its return: swans, the Garda overcoat, Jameson's whiskey, Taylor's inevitable descent into the lower circles of Hell. But some of it is beginning to wear out as fundamental plot elements. Which they are cannot be detailed here, but if you know the series, you will spot them for yourselves.

What is not tired is Bruen's enormous strength as a stylist. Stripped, bare, naked, it never fails to deliver a solid, devastating punch when one is required. Bruen has even invented a way to convey what a reader new to the series really should know in less than a page and fewer than two hundred words. As November comes around and Jack Taylor makes his annual reappearance, I usually wonder if this time Jack will at last be relieved of his Sisyphean tasks and rest. While I wish that Jack could at last find peace, I am always ready to accompany him on his endless circling of the sinkhole of despair.

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 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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