Created by Ken Bruen (1951--)
"Expect nothing, and by Christ, you're entitled to even less"
-- Jack Taylor in The Devil
Battered, tattered and tortured.
A man of few joys but many great sorrows.
Loyal to a fault.
And as Irish as a pint of the black.
Ex-cop JACK TAYLOR may not be good at much, but he does seem to have a talent for substance abuse, astounding loyalty for his friends, and finding things. So when his arse is kicked off Ireland's national police force, the Garda Siochna, for his excessive drinking and his tendency to shoot off his mouth, he decides to become a private eye in Galway ("the dirtiest city in Ireland").
Not that alcoholic P.I.s are particularly original, but somehow Bruen manages to not only make the many clichés of the genre come alive all over again, but blow them out of the fucking water in The Guards (2001), Taylor's astounding and audacious debut. They're all here, too: the beautiful client who may be hiding something, the brooding tough but tender P.I. who seeks solace in booze and books and drugs, the missing daughter, the mordant wisecracks, etc.
And that was just the beginning of what's become one of the most original and singular voices in detective fiction.
The fact is that, stereotypes or not, envelope pushing or not, Jack's simply a great character, an often self-pitying, obnoxious drunk overly impressed with his own wit who's almost always way out of his league, and not above using some very questionable methods. He's not even that good a detective, it turns out.
A veritable flood of literary quotations and music trivia spewing from his mouth, he bumbles around, often doing more harm than good, despite his best efforts, as he works the case, not always sure what he's doing. And Jack's harsh, bleek Galway is a far cry from the over-romanticized pastoral paradise described in song every March by a bunch of weepy-eyed fools in green plastic bowler hats in pre-fab and swilling green beer in "Irish" pubs all across North America. There are no Lucky Charms here.
The Taylor books are full of tricky punctuation and a plethora of quotations and digressions that in the hands of a lesser writer would sink them, but Bruen manages to pull it off every damn time, with solid storytelling and spot-on characterization, razor sharp prose that cuts through the fat and reveals the meat (and heart) underneath.
In 2010, TV3 in Ireland aired The Guards, starring a suitably rough-hewn Iain Glen as Taylor, which served as a pilot for a series of television movies based on Bruen's novels and characters. The grimness and bleakness were toned down and slightly sanitized (no mention is made, anymore, of his cop buddy being a lesbian), but even so, there was plenty of grit to chew on. As well as a little bewilderment at them casting a Scot in the lead.
Still, the film proved successful enough that several more were produced. Unfortunately, as the series has progressed, the episodes haveveered further and further from the hard, bitter truths of the novels, replaced with a increasingly mawkish air-sucking sentimentality that would have the real Jack reaching for the bottle. The series may well have jumped the shark in the "Shot Down" episode,with the sappy scene of Glen consoling a young girl by singing her a ballad, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
But that's the TV show, not the books.
Keep your eye on Bruen. He's not a contender; he's a champ. If you're ever in Galway, say hello. And buy him a drink.
According to the Tangled Web, Ken "hails from the west of Ireland and lives in south London. His past includes drunken brawls in Vietnam, a stretch of four months in a South American gaol (and) a PhD in metaphysics." He spent twenty-five years as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, S.E. Asia and South America.
Besides the Jack Taylor series, he's the author of a slew of acclaimed crime novels, including Rilke on Black, The Hackman Blues and Her Last Call To Louis McNeice.
-- Irish Independent
-- Don Winslow, June 23, 2017, Entertainment Weeky, "Don Winslow's Five Favorite Police Novels"
-- The Guards (2001).
-- The Guards (2001).
Three Jack Taylor stories, with a an introduction by Gary Phillips, and illustrations and an afterword by Phil Parks.
Uh-oh. They're no longer basing the films on actual novels, except in passing.
The nadir. You know you've left the Brueniverse when Jack starts singing an Irish ballad to console a young girl, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Pictured is Iain Glen as Taylor.
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