The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Ken Bruen's 'The Priest': Galway's Heart of Moral Darkness

(London: Bantam, 2006; New York: St Martin's Minotaur, 2006
London: Corgi Adult paper, 2007)

Book review

Seaghán Ó Murchú • 25 April 2007

Ken Bruen's plots aren't why I read his Jack Taylor series. It's rather the atmosphere that Bruen has, over the Jack Taylor series, created memorably. The plot, as before, is not all that surprising, even for me. And the "Galway noir" installments are the only mysteries I read right upon their publication.

At this stage, the fifth book on, many familiar elements: ex-Garda Jack struggles not to go back to the bottle. Old friends die or despise him. He has fallen away from his brief bout of seeking inspiration in his faith, and Fr Malachy, more nicotine ravaged than ever, shows up needing Jack's assistance in solving the decapitation of a pedophile priest, apparently at the hands of one of his victims, decades later. This is the main plot. Jack also seeks out forgiveness from the parents of Serena May, Cathy and Jeff, whose family's tragic story featured in the previous book, 'The Dramatist'.

A secondary thread follows Jack's former colleague from the Guards, Ban Gharda Ní Iomaire, or Ridge as Jack insists on anglicizing her surname, as she is stalked. Cody, a young man who wants Jack to employ him as his fellow investigator into the stalking, predictably complicates Jack's efforts to get his life on track and deal with the sudden good fortune of choosing from three places to live in rapidly yuppified, gentrified, and stratified Galway city. He still buys his clothes, always with the price included by Bruen (!) from the charity shop Age appropriate name for Jack as he battles with his fragile condition in his fifth decade of struggle physical and personal.

This aspect provides for me the most poignant part of the book. With each chapter preceded by a mordant excerpt from Blaise Pascal's Pensees, the existential despair Jack fights against darkens. The Church has lost its power, its priests are suspected upon their appearance in public amidst youths, and as the narrator wonders at one point as he finds a small lane near Eyre Square converted to plush townhouses, he wants to shake a Euro-rich jerk (he uses another noun) by his Armani tie. 'You know what happened to the people there?' Jack's surrounded by Irish wanting to ape British accents and American slang. Bruen captures with bitter accuracy the growing loss of an Irish cultural identity as wealth widens the gap in Galway and the organic if much poorer community that he (and his protagonist) grew up within shatters. Those in charge there care little, with nearly no exceptions in these pages, for the past of their historic and scenic city. Cranes, construction, and always more euros obliterate. Onslaughts of luxury flats within and second homes outside the city show how tenuous are the claims to tourists that this city takes pride in its cultural heritage. Investors call the shots in more ways than one. Those who knew Jack once are themselves dying off. Those who replace them may be from across the globe. In this flux, Jack roams adrift. Many celebrate the revival of the city, but Bruen, through Jack, mourns the loss of community. It's rarer to find a native now, in real-life or in fiction there.

Here's a scene that sums it up. Jack passes where as a boy he had been hoisted on his da's shoulders to see JFK in his motorcade in 1963 pass that central gathering place in the city. Now, winos haunt it. "Renovations were in full swing. The trees were gone, like civility, and workmen were already digging up the park, driving jackhammers into the green fresh soil. There's some deep metaphor there but it's too sad to draw." (170) Jack engages with his own literary forebears, and in one instance that seems appended to rather than part of the main story (this assembly of his elements has always intrigued me in Bruen but it does frustrate me as a critic wanting to see more polish in crafting these narratives) Jack considers the weird life of a real-life writer, David Goodis. Merton does not ease Jack's pain now. Books line his shelves but in this volume Jack reads much less. Bruen likes to integrate presumably some of his own favorite singers and writers into Jack's life. This can also be rather clumsy at times as you wait for a payoff that never comes. Although the popular musical choices in this tale that takes place in 2004 are as usual up to date and reflect by their lyrics as heard by Jack his reactions to his never-peaceful condition. Jack, like his creator, reacts always against the type of yarn we expect.

I admit that the crimes often seem far less intriguing than their investigator. Perhaps Bruen likes playing with our expectations of what a gumshoe's supposed to act like. As Jack tells us: "I've read tons of crime fiction. I'm especially fond of the private-eye stuff. All alcoholics are doomed romantics and the notion of the doomed outsider pitting against the odds, it's like the line from the movie, 'You gotta love him.'" (156) We do love Jack, as he again battles the forces of hate inside his soul and around his city.























Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

6 May 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

Colluding in Silence
Mick Hall

Censorship Complementing Cover Up
Anthony McIntyre

John Kennedy

Antaine Uas O'Labhradha

Protestantism and the Republic
Roy Johnston

UVF Statement: Unionists Welcome in Nine-County Ulster Parliament
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

Hidden Hand
John Kennedy

Selection at Eleven
Michael Gillespie

Stormont Christian Coalition?
Dr John Coulter

Ken Bruen's 'The Priest': Galway's Heart of Moral Darkness
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Scottish Left Must Reunite in New Socialist Party!
Mick Hall

Return of the Wild Geese
Dr John Coulter

Calling All de Gaulles!
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Blair's Irish Decade
Dr John Coulter

24 April 2007

Tús Nua - Céim chun tosaigh
A new beginning - a step forward

W. Harbinson

Which Way We Are Facing
Mick Hall

Whither Traditional Republicanism?
Michael Gillespie

The Drumcree Conspiracy
John Kennedy

We Must Deal Openly With The Past
David Adams

What Was It All For?
Antaine Uas O'Labhradha

The New Wolfe Tone?
Dr John Coulter

Felon Setting
Martin Galvin

UVF Threats Further Proof of Political Policing
Press Release: 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Widgery II
John Kennedy

Easter Statement
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

Commemoration Report
Cathleen O'Brien

The Road Ahead for the UUP
Dr John Coulter

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!
Patrick Hurley

David Ervine
Anthony McIntyre



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices