God’s favorite whipping boy Jack Taylor is back in The Devil, Ken Bruen’s eighth entry in his Galway private eye series, and you better believe he’s still drinking and drugging his way through his miserable life. But though his addictions still have him in a half-nelson, Jack’s looking for a change at the beginning of the novel, change that’s spelled with a U, an S, and a fuckin’ A. But, this being a Jack Taylor novel, the guy makes it as far as the airport before he’s sidetracked by a nefarious motherfucker who starts killing people close to Jack, a man who may not be a man at all but the titular character himself, ol’ scratch, Beelzebub, the guy Faust called on only to get Mephistopheles to drop by in his fucking stead, *insert other name for the devil here.*
That’s right, dear reader, just in time for Halloween we’ve got Bruen going all supernatural on our asses. I feel the last few books of the series have been moving toward this level of evil, what with increasingly more outlandish serial killers fucking with Taylor in novels like Sanctuary, Cross and Priest, and no doubt the entire series has had at its core a Catholic belief that there is true, absolute evil in this scary old world of ours. But just because it’s been heading that way for a good goddamn while now doesn’t mean the Nerd has to like it.
I know I’m not alone in yearning for the early days of the Taylor series, when Jack stumbled drunkenly through life, eventually making the hard choices for the good of the world but at the cost of his fragile soul. I loved the fresh, original thrills to be had in books like The Guards and The Killing of the Tinkers where Jack was fighting against relatable enemies like himself, his friends and rednecks, not super-villains so comic-book-evil you’ll think you’re reading a fucking J.A. Konrath novel.
Granted, I’ll always read whatever Bruen puts out and, shit, The Devil is still a good read – there’s no geting around that. Bruen’s Taylor is a character I will always follow, a complex, sad bastard with a nasty sense of humor and Bruen wisely always puts character ahead of plot. Shit, that’s what made the series so exciting to begin with, that Taylor’s skill as an investigator or ass-kicker was never what propelled the plot so much as his shit luck and terrible, tragic choices in life. And, just because I’m a sick person, I’ll always be up for seeing what kind of terrible shit Bruen is willing to stack on Taylor’s charred conscience (though I’ve said before that the only way Bruen can shock us at this point is to have Taylor win a billion dollars in the lottery, marry, have kids and live happily ever fucking after).
And that shit, along with Bruen’s famously awesome and concise prose is still strongly at play in The Devil. Also, as ever, this shit is short and sweet as fuck so you’ll breeze through it. But if you’re not already a Jack Taylor fan and serial killers and appearances from the devil himself are not your bag (and that luggage sure as shit don’t have the Nerd’s name on the tag, admittedly), you’d be well served to check out some of his other shit first like A White Trilogy, the aforementioned Guards and Tinkers, Rilke on Black or American Skin, one of the best crime novels of the last decade. But then if you’re already stuck with Taylor for the long haul like the Nerd, you know what to expect from his latest adventures and don’t need the Nerd to tell you how to live your fucking reading life anyway, right?