I originally reviewed The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen on December 13th 2006.
At the end of The Guards Jack Taylor left Galway in order to start a new life in London. The expectation was that the next book would chronicle those times. But in the beginning of The Killing of the Tinkers we find Taylor returning home leaving behind a failed marriage. While in the middle of a bender he is approached by an Irish Gypsy, Sweeper, who is seeking help in investigating the murders of members of his clan. The Guards are of no help because they aren’t interested in helping the tinkers. Their outsider status guarantees that that they won’t find help using more traditional means within the system. Jack, the consummate outsider looking in, finds a kindred spirit in Sweeper and for the first time in awhile feels comfortable with them. Taylor crosses paths with a thinly veiled character from another book and the two set out investigating the murders. This being a Taylor novel he will spend much of the time fighting losing battles with his inner demons that haunt his every moment. As he is want to do Taylor makes frequent references to the end results as being tragic but even with prior knowledge and looking out for the road signs along the way we are still blindsided with the ferocity of the ending.
The power of Bruen’s prose poetry continues to amaze as he continues to plumb the dark depths of Jack Taylor’s soul. With every encounter with Taylor the reader is left breathless and can’t ever imagine things getting worse for him, but Bruen always manages to add more ghosts to those that are already haunting him. But the darkness is always leavened with a certain level of humor that offers us the briefest respite from his ongoing torment. The ongoing character study of Taylor is continually fascinating and he is quickly becoming not only one of the most fully developed characters in fiction today but one of the more compelling ones also. Bruen uses the strengths of a multi book series to their greatest advantage.
I also like the further development of some of the supporting cast especially Cathy, one of his closest friends. Taylor befriended her when she was a punk druggie and in The Killing of the Tinkers we find her happily married and pregnant. In a slightly ironic scene after the birth of the baby Cathy’s husband, Jeff, falls off of the wagon and goes on an all night bender and the responsibility falls to Taylor to bring him home and set him straight. At times Jack excels at helping out others but he can never do the same for himself. It’s also interesting to note that for someone as isolated as he is he seems to have a lot of friends or at least acquaintances.
The main question that seems to pervade the series as a whole is whether or not Jack will ever find some sort of redemption or short of that achieve a level of respite from his demons. I find myself quietly wondering how Bruen will ultimately end the series, now up to five books, and what path Jack will follow. I wish I had an answer to that question but only time and Bruen will tell.
The Tinker clans are so far removed from our own existence that the interactions with them offer sociological insights that round out the Ireland of Taylor’s world. That the Tinkers are real and a largely unknown commodity in Irish society allows this case as it unfolds to carry with it an alienness that becomes increasingly interesting as it is further explored. They also serve as an interesting counter point to the economic boom that Galway is experiencing, kind of a throw back to the more tribal origins of not only the city but the country as a whole.
Bruen is really in his stride right now and is riding a nice peak both creatively and commercially. He is firing on all cylinders and seemingly can’t make a mistake. I’ve yet to meet a person who hasn’t liked his work.