Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 12/18/2017
A heretical book has been stolen from the Vatican; its contents promise to
upend Christianity. No, we haven't entered the pages of a Dan Brown novel
(although that author is name-checked in The Ghosts of Galway). The
Red Book, reputedly a ninth century refutation of The Book of Kells, is, for the most part, a MacGuffin, Jack Taylor has been hired to
find it by a wealthy factory owner with ties to the Ukrainian mob for whom he works as a security guard.
Taylor, a former member of the Irish Gardaí (police force) and the protagonist
of a dozen previous novels by Bruen, has fallen upon hard times. He has an
attempted suicide in his recent past after a mistaken terminal illness diagnosis, and
enough scars on his body to narrate his violent history. And yet Bruen manages,
through his poetic style and lyrical presentation to elevate Taylor from simple
ruffian to hero.
Violence follows Taylor everywhere he goes. He locates the priest who
supposedly stole The Red Book, but the man ends up murdered shortly
thereafter. Suddenly no one wants anything to do with Jack's quest, least of all
the man who hired him. To top things off, the story takes place during a
year when many of Taylor's favorite musicians are departing this mortal coil and
radical nationalism is sending shivers through the Western world. Taylor is an
avid consumer of popular culture, and Bruen's novels can be used as an
introduction to any number of other crime writers whose books line Taylor's
shelves or the box set crime series he's taken to bingeing.
People are always asking Jack, a champion of lost causes, to do virtually impossible things, but he's
never had an assignment like the one he accepts from a young girl who wants him
to find her brother. She scrimps together a paltry finder's fee but, from all
indications, the "missing" boy has never existed.
What of the supposed ghosts referenced in the title? Just when it seems like
things couldn't get any stranger, dead livestock are being left in Eyre Square,
apparently an act of social protest by an ultra-right group with nefarious intent—one
perhaps more sinister than it at first seems. A sexy goth named Emerald, a sociopath
with more personalities than Taylor has drinks every day, with whom Taylor has a complicated history, enters the
picture, which can only mean things will go from bad to very much worse.
Bruen's Galway, or at least the part of it that Jack Taylor inhabits, is a
dire, brutally violent place. Taylor has a kind of Midas touch where seemingly
everyone he comes into contact with dies. There is a mystery to be solved here,
but not much actual detection in a private investigator sense. Taylor doesn't
follow clues so much as he blunders about causing trouble for everyone and
himself. That Bruen writes so directly and lyrically (and briefly—his
books are quite short) only makes the violence that much more terrible.
This book may not be the best entrance point into Bruen's series, as it
involves threads from a few recent novels, but it is another solid entry into
one of the strangest and most wonderful crime series.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2017. All rights reserved.