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by Ken Bruen
St. Martin's Press, January 2003
291 pages
ISBN: 031230355

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In THE GUARDS, Jack Taylor is a quasi-private investigator (Ireland does not recognize a PI as a valid career choice. Jack was a member of the Gardua Sichana (the Guards or police force) but was thrown out for his alcoholism. According to this book, it is a testament to Jack’s drinking problem that it was so severe that the intoxicated Guards fired him. Jack’s office is a bar, where he can nurse his drinks without fear of a client locating him but Ann Henderson hunts him down. She is positive her daughter’s, Sarah’s, suicide was in actuality murder and wants Jack to find evidence supporting her claim. Once Jack begins searching into Sarah’s death, he realizes that things are not as clear-cut as he had hoped. As Jack digs deeper, his life is threatened and a friend is murdered. Jack is not the ideal investigator, he spends a large portion of this book drunk or unconscious; yet there is something appealing about him. While confronting the possibility of sobriety, Jack must discover the true reason of this conspiracy before he becomes the next murder victim.

THE GUARDS is a fascinating postmodern interpretation of the mystery genre, while being a less than successful mystery. The book focuses more on Jack’s internal struggles than on investigating a teenager’s death. Jack’s hopelessness and despair regarding himself and his surroundings are more reminiscent of James Joyce or Thomas Mann than they are of Agatha Christie. Most noir mysteries have embraced the hopelessness of postmodernism; however, Bruen’s work is more literary than the stereotypical “dark” mystery. Jack uses of alcohol is simply his way of playing Russian roulette. He does not find hope in society nor believes there is a chance of redemption. The majority of the people he knows are either psychotic or crooked; in fact, he is not untainted himself. Jack is the ideal anti-hero; he is anti-everything.

Bruen also breaks away from traditional mystery format. The actually spacing of the type on the page is also reminiscent of postmodernism’s lack of concern with tradition and function. The page layout and varying chapter lengths demonstrate Jack’s own confusion and lack of balance/ purpose.

Ken Bruen’s THE GUARDS is one of the most interesting books to approach mysteries and crime from a non-traditional angle. He brings his philosophies from literary traditions to one of the most popular genres in the world. The postmodern existential/ nihilistic manner in which this book is presented produces compelling reading material. THE GUARDS is a most read for the nontraditional/ literary reader regardless of his or her genre preference.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, January 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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