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by Ken Bruen
Minotaur Books, August 2010
288 pages
ISBN: 0312646968

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Perhaps Bruen did not intend to imply that US Homeland Security is in league with the devil, but when it bars Jack Taylor from boarding a flight to America, it puts him squarely in the sights of a mysterious figure who bears a very strong resemblance to Satan. Or at least, so he would have Jack and the reader believe.

When Jack enters the airport on the fateful day, he has been sober for six months, thanks to the help of Xanax. He has quit both smoking and the private detective trade. He is planning on a whole new life, off to America like too many of his compatriots, now that the Celtic Tiger is licking its wounded paws in a corner somewhere and the boom has very decidedly gone bust. By the time he leaves, he's back on the drink and by the end of the book, he's launched into full-fledged alcoholism, Xanax abuse, and a pack-a-day habit.

Whether his precipitous decline is down to his own self-destructive nature or to the intervention of one Kurt, Karl, Mr K is not certain. Jack meets him first in the airport bar, a man with long blonde hair, wearing a gorgeous suit, who seems to know entirely too much about Jack. He will meet him again, in Galway, under other names and bald, but always beautifully dressed. And he will come to the realization that where Mr K goes, death and destruction follow, especially of those close to Jack himself.

Does Bruen intend us to believe that the devil is abroad in Galway and paying particular attention to Jack? Is Mr K a deranged serial killer with an Aleister Crowley fixation? Or is this all the product of a dangerous combination of Xanax and booze, a mix known to produce hallucination? It's difficult to say, but two of the most chilling scenes in the book are told from a third-person point of view and describe events Jack could not have witnessed. In any event, THE DEVIL is without question the scariest book I've read in years.

What makes it all work is Bruen's characteristic impeccably controlled style. One false step and the whole thing would collapse in a heap of self-pity and bathos. It never does. His typical mordant humour is present as well, especially as Jack, that spectacularly lapsed Catholic, is spooked into lighting candles in churches, consulting priests, and uttering the conventional Irish greetings and blessings. "God mind you well," he says to a drinker in a pub. "God, like the rest of the slick bastards, moved to a tax haven," is the reply. What indeed to say to that?

If you have not read the earlier Jack Taylor novels, you can't start here. This one is inextricably knit into the unfolding disaster movie that is Jack's life. At least go back and read those that precede this one: PRIEST, CROSS, and SANCTUARY. Oh, and THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS wouldn't hurt. Never mind, read the lot; no one does it better than Bruen.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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