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by Ken Bruen
Mysterious Press, November 2013
272 pages
ISBN: 0802126073

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Several years ago, Jack Taylor, Ken Bruen's Galway ex-Guard, occasional private detective, frequent drunk, heavy smoker, and consumer of various prescription drugs, met the title character of the eighth book in the series, THE DEVIL. He survived that encounter, if only just, but his life thereafter has been a record of loss after painful loss.

To a certain extent, Jack's losses parallel those suffered by the larger Irish society. The Celtic Tiger boom has gone bust, leaving real estate developments half-constructed and abandoned and young graduates queuing up for jobs abroad. The sexual abuses perpetrated by priests have left the formerly faithful bereft and priests afraid to wear their clerical garb in public for fear of attack.

As PURGATORY opens, Jack is on one of his periodic campaigns of reform. He's off the booze and pills and has quit smoking. He is even trying to make nice with the Church, so promises a nun to help find a stolen statue of the Virgin. This he does in short order but, as the old adage has it, his good turn does not go unpunished, as happens more often than not in Jack Taylor's experience.

Another of Jack's employers (though this one, unlike the sisters, pays) is a man named Reardon, who is rapidly taking advantage of depressed real estate values in the city to buy most of it up. A dot.com billionaire, he is reputed to be Steve Jobs, Ghandi, and Putin, rolled into one. He has a PR person, Kelly, an American woman obsessed with Anglo-Irish literature, especially Oscar Wilde, and Jack rapidly falls for her.

A retributive serial killer who styles himself C33 is stalking Galway, wreaking vengeance on various miscreants. He invites Jack to join the crusade and, when Jack doesn't, turns to almost the last remaining friend Jack has, Stewart, an ex-drug dealer, now wealthy Zen master. Stewart likewise has no interest in a private holy war and, with Jack, even attempts to warn a possible target of the danger.

Purgatory, in traditional Catholic doctrine, is a "purification, in order to attain the holiness necessary to enter Heaven." But a chapter epigraph says that "purgatory was deceptive in its promise that you might one day be released." No source is provided for this bleak assessment, but it is certainly the story of Jack's life. Ordinary humans might conclude that by this point, Jack has suffered quite enough for whatever sins he has committed, but Jack doesn't think so and neither does whatever pitiless god is overseeing his fate.

A word of warning. If you have not read the previous books in this series, at least the last five or so, this is no place to begin. It is true that Bruen provides references to previous moments in Jack's career in the form of characteristic pared-down lists, but these books work cumulatively. The style is so spare, the references so oblique, the humour so black, that you simply can't leap in with both feet and hope to understand what is going on. If, as Reardon says, Taylor is "a sort of Irish Zelig, witness to the history of Galway," then the reader who wants to fully experience the most noir set of books of the last decade will have to witness the history of Jack Taylor in all its grim, inexorable detail. The stunning ending of this one makes it clear that he has yet not hit bottom in his descent into the existential void.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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