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by Ken Bruen
Mysterious Press, November 2019
288 pages
ISBN: 0802147933

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In an interview in The Atlantic that appeared in October 2011, Ken Bruen remarked:

My own life has had so many twists that I keep thinking I'll have one blessing that is not in disguise. With Jack, I wanted to see how much grief one person could endure without breaking. In the new book, Headstone, Jack is happy ... but at least a quarter of the book.

To those who have followed Jack's annual reappearance over the past eight years, Jack's measure of happiness in HEADSTONE might seem like everlasting bliss to the poor battered ex-Garda. Year by year, Jack has lost almost everything dear to him. Friends, children, dogs, name it - if he is even mildly fond of it, it is apparently instantly inscribed on a cosmic hit list and sooner or later stricken. This pattern has become increasingly evident since the novel that appears to have marked a turning point in the series - THE DEVIL (a book which never seems to be on the "Also by Ken Bruen" list at the front of the subsequent novels) - came out in 2010. By the time we get to GALWAY GIRL, readers may not only worry about the measure of Jack's grief, but about their own.

This time out, Galway is being wracked by a series of murders of Garda officers and in desperation, his old colleagues on the force implore him to find out who is launching the attacks. As we might expect, Jack himself appears to be the ultimate target, with the previous assassinations merely a kind of warm-up to the final assault. At the heart of it is a group of young people motivated by a shared grievance against Jack Taylor and kept on message by Jericho, a mad Galway girl who seeks revenge on Jack for the loss of a lover. But they are in no particular hurry and Jericho in particular entertains herself by breaking into Jack's flat in his absence and leaving little tokens to remind him that she's been by.

The action unfolds as it has in the past, with the violence coming ever closer to finishing Jack off, though not before he is made to suffer heavy loss. The series seems almost stuck in a ceremonial pattern of threat and sacrifice and no one who has read previous novels will be surprised at the turns this one takes, though the climax is a bit of a shock.

Does it matter? Not really. The addictive pleasure is Ken Bruen's immaculate, rhythmic prose, his impeccable timing, his adroit exploitation of current events and outrage that fixes his tale in a particular moment. Apparently even without even breathing hard, Bruen does what Hemingway hoped for but was only occasionally able to achieve and then really only in the short stories.

Incidentally, the Galway Girl here is Steve Earle's, the one with black hair and blue eyes, not the one who fell in love with the Englishman:

On any given

Day in Galway

You will hear at least one busker mutilate the

Words of "Galway Girl."


Sometimes overcomes

The sheer banality

Of the performance.

Jericho may be from Galway, but she's no girl, and there is nothing whatever banal about Bruen's performance.

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 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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