After the last book in this series, readers were left wondering if ex-Gardaí Jack Taylor had finally met his match. Jack’s always been his own worst enemy & it looked like years of hard living had finally caught up with him. But very little in Jack’s life ever turns out as planned which is good news for us. He’s back, with dog Storm supervising his recovery.
In the wake of his reprieve, Jack decides to take a stab at “normal” & gets a job as a security guard. But it’s not long before he’s approached by a man offering a whack of cash for a simple job. He’s looking for “The Red Book”, a controversial 9th century text that blasts “The Book of Kells”. Until recently it was hidden at the Vatican. Then a young priest snatched it & ran & rumour has it he’s holed up in Galway. Jack has zero interest in dealing with any clergy but could really use a good payday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as planned…again.
Then things get weird(er). Someone is leaving animal carcasses in Eyre Square along with cryptic messages. But this is Galway. If you’re aiming for public shock and/or outrage, you’ll have to get in line behind politicians & those responsible for the water tax.
Jack’s life is further complicated by the return of Emerald, the young woman who first got his attention in “Green Hell”. Em’s always been unstable to say the least. But her tenuous grip on sanity has finally snapped & all her personalities are coming out to play. And some of them seem remarkably well informed about the book Jack is looking for.
As usual, the story is a combination of Jack’s activities & his thoughts on everything from the state of Irish politics to seeing Trump hug Sarah Palin on TV (“to see them embrace in Iowa was to see ignorance & prejudice entwined”.) Social commentary is delivered with his trademark black humour & profanity. But his recent brush with mortality has revealed a more reflective side & we catch glimpses of a lonely man taking a hard look at his life. Quotes from individuals & literature are randomly inserted throughout the book, adding to the author’s stream of consciousness style of prose.
The first half almost lulls you as several plot lines unfold & more characters take the field. Maybe that’s why a sudden act of violence at that point comes as such a shock. The story takes a much darker & deadly serious turn. You realize there’s a showdown coming & some of these characters will not survive. It’s a tough read at times but thinking back over the last couple of books, it feels inevitable & I should have seen it coming.
This is a book for true fans of the series & not one I would recommend as a starting point for a couple of reasons. First, Bruen has a distinctive style of prose that becomes looser & less linear as the series progresses. Second, there is a tremendous amount of back story that informs each book & makes for a richer reading experience if read in order.
The ending is poignant yet oddly cathartic & once again I’m wondering where Jack will turn up next. Just as an aside, two thumbs up to those responsible for the striking cover art.