Review: The Killing of the Tinkers

The Killing of the Tinkers
Ken Bruen


When Jack Taylor blew town at the end of The Guards his alcoholism was a distant memory and sober dreams of a new life in London were shining in his eyes. In the opening pages of The Killing of the Tinkers, Jack’s back in Galway a year later with a new leather jacket on his back, a pack of smokes in his pocket, a few grams of coke in his waistband, and a pint of Guinness on his mind. So much for new beginnings. Before long he’s sunk into his old patterns, lifting his head from the bar only every few days, appraising his surroundings for mere minutes and then descending deep into the alcoholic, drug-induced fugue he prefers to the real world. But a big gypsy walks into the bar one day during a moment of Jack’s clarity and changes all that with a simple request. Jack knows the look in this man’s eyes, a look of hopelessness mixed with resolve topped off with a quietly simmering rage; he’s seen it in the mirror. Recognizing a kindred soul, Jack agrees to help him, knowing but not admitting that getting involved is going to lead to more bad than good. But in Jack Taylor’s world bad and good are part and parcel of the same lost cause, and besides, no one ever accused Jack of having good sense.


The latest Bruen I’ve read is actually the second Jack Taylor book, after The Guards. For those keeping score at home, this is when Taylor loses his teeth (mark that on your Jack Taylor Injury Scorecard, a big 50 points). I can’t really explain why I haven’t tried to read them in order; I suppose it’s because if I made a deliberate effort to put them all in order I would read them through in one great orgy of words until they were all done and then where would I be? Probably standing on the streets of the Claddagh listening to Bruen type.

And the Gardaí would come drag me away.

So, it’s better that I just read them in the order in which they cross my path, which happened with this tale of the tinkers and Taylor. He’s still raggedly recovering from his flight after the end of The Guards and the deaths left in his wake. It’s Jack, so he’s managed to screw up his life even more in London and as he returns to Galway, things look bleak. Then he’s asked to help deal with the killings of young tinkers because his former colleagues in the force have no interest in their world. The tinkers give him a home, his friends give him hope and he’s got a good idea who might be behind all the killings.

But you know it’s going to turn out badly because Jack Taylor is a magnet for nightmares. Bruen gives you a Galway that rustles with skittering shadows and malevolence. The circle of recurring characters have been sketched in by this second volume, but they grow more intricately here. Terrible things lie ahead for some and it makes the happy moments even more bittersweet. There’s philosophy, poetry and too much backsliding from Jack. Bruen tells his tales with a ragged beauty, his eloquence matched only by the bleak horror.

Sure it’s grand.

~ K. A. Laity


Review: The Devil by Ken Bruen

That’s the thing with Bruen novels, you can’t just read one. An unholy trinity I offer this week, ending with perhaps the oddest of the three. From the brutal realism yer man from Galway dips a toe into the dark swirling waters of magical brutal realism. Here’s the blurb:

The eighth novel in the award-winning Jack Taylor series by Ireland’s most acclaimed crime-writer: America — the land of opportunity, a place where economic prosperity beckons — but not for PI Jack Taylor, who’s just been refused entry. Disappointed and bitter, he thinks that an encounter with an over-friendly stranger in an airport bar is the least of his problems. Except that this stranger seems to know rather more than he should about Jack. Jack thinks no more of their meeting and resumes his old life in Galway. But when he’s called to investigate a student murder — connected to an elusive Mr K — he remembers the man from the airport. Is the stranger really is who he says he is? With the help of the Jameson, Jack struggles to make sense of it all. After several more murders and too many coincidental encounters, Jack believes he may have met his nemesis. But why has he been chosen? And could he really have taken on the devil himself?


I really can’t get enough of Jack Taylor; Bruen keeps chipping off bits of him — knocking his teeth out, breaking his bones with a hurley stick, and of course wasting his flesh with a variety of drugs, whiskey and the good old black gold, Guinness. Despite everyone’s attempts to do so, it seems you just can’t kill Taylor, much as he tries to do it himself. Of course everyone around him seems to snuff it regularly, even more so in this novel. Even his usual nemesis, “the nicotine czar, his own self, Father Malachy” is looking pale. When these two have a drink together, you know all bets are off. Is it really the devil who’s taken a dislike to Jack’s meddling? And is he the one bad guy Jack can’t find a way to stop? I suspect when the devil wakes up from a nightmare, he’ll have Taylor’s name on his lips.

Review: Cross by Ken Bruen

Sensing a theme, aren’t you? I love Bruen.


Cross (kros/ noun, verb, & adjective) means an ancient instrument of torture, or, in a very bad humour, or, a punch thrown across an opponent’s punch. Jack Taylor brings death and pain to everyone he loves. His only hope of redemption – his surrogate son, Cody – is lying in hospital in a coma. At least he still has Ridge, his old friend from the Guards, though theirs is an unorthodox relationship. When she tells him that a boy has been crucified in Galway city, he agrees to help her search for the killer. Jack’s investigations take him to many of his old haunts where he encounters ghosts, dead and living. Everyone wants something from him, but Jack is not sure he has anything left to give. Maybe he should sell up, pocket his Euros and get the hell out of Galway like everyone else seems to be doing. Then the sister of the murdered boy is burned to death, and Jack decides he must hunt down the killer, if only to administer his own brand of rough justice.


I love Jack Taylor: good thing he’s fictional, because he is definitely made, bad and lethal to know. This is another addictive read: once you start a Bruen, it’s hard to put it down until you finish. Since I was supposed to be writing something myself, I forced myself to stop at each chapter and get back to work. Brutal — so is this narrative. Wow — the horror elements are front and center in this one. If you like it dark, you will love this one. Bruen often skirts the border between crime fiction and outright horror and this one definitely leans to the horror side. Some of the set pieces will really make you cringe. The only reason it’s four and not five stars is that there were a few instances of rough passages that jarred me out of the narrative. The editor should have been tougher! Nonetheless, that’s fairly minor and maybe something that most readers wouldn’t baulk at in the least. Visit Bruen’s Galway, the one the tourist office tries to hide!

Review: Vixen by Ken Bruen


For the Southeast London police squad, it’s rough, tough, dirty business as usual. The Vixen, the most sensuos, crazed female serial killer ever, is masterminding a series of lethal explosions. She is unpredictable, wild, angry–and the cops don’t even know she exists.

Meanwhile, Inspector Roberts is helpless to stop the explosions and his subordinates aren’t doing much better. Brant is consumed with an even-bigger-than-usual mean streak, and fast-rising Porter Nash finds himself facing serious health problems–everything to do with needles. PC MacDonald is determined to soldier on, whatever the cost, and the career of a new addition to the squad, WPC Andrews, starts spectacularly but with Falls as her mentor she’s not expected to last long. At the top, Superintendent Brown is close to a coronary, and arresting the wrong man in a blaze of publicity is only the beginning of his problems.

If the squad survives this incendiary installment in Ken Bruen’s blazingly intense series, they’ll do so with barely a cop left standing.


Damn you, Ken Bruen! Why do I keep getting your books? There I was planning to get some writing of my own done, but no — I cracked open this book just to see how it started out and then I was too far in to stop. Worse than crisps. I’m terribly fond of the Jack Taylor books, but I love the part of London this is set in, so I got a kick out of seeing familiar places. It took a bit to keep the characters straight, my only complaint — maybe because I’m always reading things out of order (this is part of Bruen’s London saga), but as usual I was sucked in and flipping pages until I got to the end. And I’ll be back for more, oh don’t you know it. Bruen is one of my favourite drugs.