Review

Sanctuary: A Jack Taylor Novel

by Ken Bruen

With each new book --- and he is clipping along with at least
two a year at this point --- Ken Bruen doesn’t so much
redefine the crime novel landscape, or alter it, so much as make it
his own.

I present as Exhibit “A” SANCTUARY, Bruen’s
seventh Jack Taylor novel. Taylor is an ex-Irish guard turned de
facto Galway private investigator. He is not a rumpled knight with
a taste for rock and rye; he is a full-blown alcoholic who falls on
and off the wagon just a little less often than you or I might
partake of a change of clothes. Either way, the transition is not
pretty, but Bruen never lets Taylor’s eyes blink once as he
drags us, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the wreckage of
what occurs. There is a passage in which Taylor describes what will
kick a recovering drunk off of a successful rehab, one that so
perfectly paints the picture of the razor wire that all addicts
walk that it brought tears to my eyes. Bruen gives us descriptions
of similar quality at a frequency of about one per page in this
story of pursuit, deception, regret and, ultimately,
redemption.

SANCTUARY begins with Taylor’s receipt of a cryptic letter
signed by “Benedictus.” It presents a shopping list of
murder --- two guards, a nun, a priest and a child --- informing
Taylor that only he will truly comprehend. The murders begin,
apparently unrelated, with only Taylor aware of their common
significance. He already has much on his plate, given the illness
of his former Garda partner and a revelation that sends him, as
well as faithful readers of this series, reeling in horror.

Nonetheless, Taylor attempts to determine who the mysterious
Benedictus is, working backward from the identities of the murder
victims to find some common thread other than their occupations as
listed, even as his warnings to the local guards fall on deaf ears.
Given Taylor’s less-than-stellar reputation, he really cannot
expect much more. Taylor accordingly must rely on his own powers of
deduction, both diminished and fueled by alcohol abuse. But when
Benedictus’s choice of a final victim strikes dangerously
close to home for Taylor, he must risk all on one last guess and
pray that he is right, even as he realizes that he is well-nigh
damned either way.

A recurrent, unifying theme of the Taylor novels is the manner
in which the backspray of an alcoholic’s past misdeeds and
omissions continues to haunt and resonate years, even decades,
later. This is especially true in SANCTUARY, where the shade of an
act of Taylor’s performed years before under the cloak of
inebriation comes back to haunt him. As always, Bruen’s prose
is beautifully spare, instantly familiar and utterly unforgettable,
infused with enough memorable turns of phrase to fill three books.
And --- as if one needs more --- he weaves music and literature
throughout the narrative, providing a recommended list of noir and
other fiction, and several CD titles for musical accompaniment,
that will hold you until his next offering.

Finally, let us not forget the Leonard Cohen joke near the
beginning of SANCTUARY that will leave the knowing bent over double
in laughter, however inappropriately.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Sanctuary: A Jack Taylor Novel
by Ken Bruen

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312610920
  • ISBN-13: 9780312610920