Jack Taylor has become his own worst enemy. Relieved from duty with the Irish Garda Siochana in Galway due to frequent bouts of alcoholic indiscretions --- and trouble controlling a smart mouth --- he now holds himself out as a PI, an extremely rare breed in Ireland. The Irish don't like squealers and they view private investigators as close kin to squealers. But one night in a pub, a desperate mother, Ann Henderson, seeks Jack's help. She believes her daughter's death, which has been officially slated as a teenage suicide, was more like murder. Jack takes on the job. Using an unlikely group of his misfit cronies, he employs some questionable techniques. In doing so, he stirs up a wasp's nest of unwelcome interest. What at first seemed a quick look-into turns deadly serious.
Crying his downtrodden Irish blues, Jack comes across as caustic, often disingenuous and mostly well meaning --- at least, I think. I'm not sure and I'm not sure he's sure. In his lucid spells, meaning when he's not totally wrecked by the booze, he has moments of grand profundity, although any gems that come along he tersely delivers. His life feels bleak, always on the verge of one disaster or another, but he has moments of relative contentment. Literary quotes --- some classic, some contemporary --- are woven throughout the chapters, demonstrating our questionable hero's intellectual side. While a wee bit distracting, it adds a playful dimension to the tale.
The abundant dialogue proves Jack a fellow who is quick on his feet with a sassy comeback always close at hand. In fact, the dialogue is so engaging that you hardly notice the plot slowly advancing. It seems that Jack dabbles at working on the case, becomes sidetracked for a few short chapters and then pokes around at a few more clues. His methods, however, yield results --- just not always positive ones.
Ken Bruen writes with an economy of words. He doesn't use very many in this 291-page book, but he makes every one of them count. Simply put, he delivers all meat and no fat.
I never read a book in a day. I always savor. However, THE GUARDS is nearly impossible to stretch over more than one sitting. Mr. Bruen's style, unique and near poetic, commands a literary orgy once you start. It reads so fast that it will leave your head spinning. And the twists the story takes --- and there are plenty of them --- will leave your entire being stunned. Now, excuse me, I have to go and find more of Ken Bruen's books. One was definitely not enough.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 19, 2004