Saturday, July 19, 2008

REVIEW: Priest

Title: Priest
Author: Ken Bruen
Protagonist: ex-Garda Jack Taylor
Setting: present-day Galway, Ireland
Series: #5
Rating: B+

First Line: What I remember most about the mental hospital
The madhouse
The loony bin
The home for the bewildered
is a black man may have saved my life.

Jack Taylor has just spent five months in a mental hospital, trying to recover from the soul-searing tragedy that occurred at the end of The Dramatist. His last remaining friend picks him up and takes him to the place she's found for him to stay. On the way, she relates some of the latest news headlines. In no time at all Jack finds himself investigating the beheading of a child-molesting priest, trying to find his friend's stalker, and trying to locate his ex-best friend. It's not easy for him: he's an eyelash away from the booze and trying to stop smoking all at the same time.

It's amazing how much I like these books. Jack Taylor is not the sort of character I tend to like, but such is the strength of Bruen's writing that I bleed for this tortured, tormented and ultimately well-meaning man. We're allowed so far into the man's mind that it would be impossible for me not to find something I like about him. Bruen's style isn't for everyone. Lean, literary and full of lists, reading Bruen for me is both exhausting and exhilarating. Jack Taylor never fails to snatch me out of my comfort zone and slam me against the nearest brick wall. At this point, I eye a Jack Taylor novel as greedily as Jack stares at a bottle of single malt.

This is the first Jack Taylor that I've graded below an A, and there are reasons for that. I read one detail of the description of a character's home and I knew that person was the decapitator. The knowledge hit me as strongly as if I'd just stuck my finger in a light socket. The other reason is the ending. Perhaps Bruen believes his yank-the-rug-out endings are a trademark, but I think it's time for him to find a different way (and spot in the book) to do it. He's got talent oozing out of every pore, so I'm certain he is capable of doing it!

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