Headstone by Ken Bruen – review

November 23, 2011
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Jack Taylor, Ken Bruen’s endlessly put-upon Galway PI, finds himself up to his hearing-aid assisted ears in shit yet again in Headstone, the ninth novel in the series.   He’s trying to stop a gang of spoiled rich kids from going all ne0-nazi on his beloved town, targeting the handicapped, religious, gay, and drunk citizens of Galway, the escalation in violence heading toward a Columbine-ish massacre.  He’s also been hired by a covert wing of the Catholic church to find a priest who took off with some big-time funds.  With the help of lesbian cop Ridge and ex-con-turned-Zen-practicing-entrepreneur Stewart, Jack will indeed get his respective men, but you better believe that his boozing and self-destructive ways will leave more hurt than necessary, this being, you know, a fucking Jack Taylor mystery.

If you follow my shit, you’ll know that I’m a huge Bruen fan, the prolific Irish author being one of major guys to get me back into crime/noir a few years ago after some, let’s say, decidedly literary years astray in high school and the first couple years of college.  (Hat-tip if not a full-on fucking bow to the great Richard Katz of Mystery One for steering me straight!)  But that said, I’ve also taken Bruen to task a few times over the last couple years for the diminishing returns found in the Taylor book as of late, my exasperation bubbling-the-fuck-over last year with The Devil, a hugely misguided supernatural turn in the series.  With Headstone I’m happy to say that I’m back on board with Taylor and the gang – not over-joyed with it, mind you, as Headstone is not on par with the first three books in the series by any fucking stretch, but it’s a damn decent entry all the same.

My main issue with the later Taylor novels has been Bruen’s reliance on crazy-ass killers.  Seems like every book for a while has just been a super-evil psycho challenging Taylor, fucking with him for two-hundred pages, then getting the shit murdered out of him.  What made the early Taylors so interesting was Taylor’s moral choices, his fucked up code and raging irresponsibility leading to him having to murder friends and doing murders for friends, not to mention his killing the wrong suspect from time to time.  When he’s fighting pure evil, whatever he does in pursuit of said evil isn’t very challenging compared to what he’s done before.

To be sure, Headstone has a stacked deck of crazies in it who deserve (0r at least here “get”) any empathy or shades of gray, but the side plots lead to some classic Taylor conundrums.  For example, Taylor asks vicious gangster Kosta for a violent favor and then must do him one in turn that leads to the death of personal friend.  That’s the kind of dark shit I like Taylor getting mixed up in – if I wanted crazy killers I’d read an airport paperback from the fucking nineties.

Bruen also gives ample time to the other characters in Headstone as well, letting us hang for long stretches with Ridge and Stewart sans Taylor, something he hasn’t seemed interested in doing for a while.  Also, the novel ends with a nice cliffhanger that will no doubt lead to an upcoming book peering into Taylor’s family history in a way we haven’t seen before, leaving me more excited for another Taylor than I’ve been ages.

Then, of course, there’s Bruen’s mastery of prose and dialogue, his distinctive voice able to carry you through damn near anything pretty painlessly.  If you’re not familiar said voice, go back and do up American Skin, The Guards or The White Trilogy toot-fucking-sweet, but if you’ve been wavering on whether to read the latest Taylor ‘cuz you’ve been as burned out with the series lately as the Nerd, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with Headstone.  Well, not surprised, I guess.  I mean, I did just tell you it was good, so…you know what I mean.

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Nerd of Noir

I love crime/noir fiction, comics and movies. I think my opinions are web-worthy. Then again, what asshole doesn't think that their opinions deserve a blog?

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One Response to Headstone by Ken Bruen – review

  1. Garrett Kenyon on December 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Are we the same person? It was “The Guards” that got me back into crime fiction, too. The Taylor series was just the coolest thing ever (I still give the first 3 as gifts) – but after awhile the books became interchangeable – a psycho killing priests, a psycho priest killing people, etc. – each title becoming more depressing than the last…ending with “The Devil” – which I actually returned to the bookstore after reading. I wrote a review so vile, so inflammatory that, after further consideration, I didn’t post. This was Bruen after all, and who am I? Glad you had the cajones to do it, though, Nerd. Someone obviously needed to get him back on track.