Ken Bruen is brilliant. He has earned a Ph.D. in metaphysics, though if one was to address him as “Doctor,” I am reasonably sure he would turn crimson; he has taught instructional English as a second language in several countries; and he writes crime novels that turn up with great regularity on the bookshelves and annual “best of” lists of those who consider themselves and are thought to be aficionados of the genre. He is also, despite the dark nature of his work, one of the most genuinely kind and polite individuals you could ever hope to meet.
"While HEADSTONE is the stuff of nightmares, it is also the stuff of redemption, even at great cost. You will feel wrung out after reading this one, but all the gladder for it."
Bruen has created an enviable body of work that few can match in quality and no one can exceed. His most successful creation is a troubled private investigator named Jack Taylor. Alcoholism, it is said, is either a disease or a character disorder; in Taylor’s case, it is probably both. While he has experienced successful periods of sobriety, this point in the series is not one of them. So it is that HEADSTONE finds Taylor more often than not caught in his own backwash, alienating former friends (or worse) and making the acquaintance of future ex-friends.
Taylor is a former Irish garda --- he has yet to return the trademark coat --- and presently unlicensed private investigator in Galway, a city where he has spent enough time that there is little that does not touch or connect him directly or indirectly. So it is that when a priest is beaten within an inch of his life, the padre in question turns out to be Father Malachy, a friend of Taylor’s not-so-sainted mother and the literal bane of Taylor’s existence. Taylor has enough decency to take no joy in the event (though he does enumerate the circumstances under which he would), but when a second inexcusable attack upon one of the city’s more unfortunate occurs, he begins to take notice. A street gang calling themselves “Headstone” is behind the series of attacks and is escalating toward a horrendous event, with Taylor one of their planned stops along the way.
Taylor is making plans to nurture and enjoy one of the happiest moments he has experienced in quite some time. Plus, he actually has some paying work, which consists of locating a priest who appears to have absconded with funds that do not belong to him. As is often the case, Taylor’s client is more reprehensible than the target he seeks. For Taylor, professional success often results in a personal failure, one that costs him friends, at least temporarily. But after his path and Headstone’s violently intersect, Taylor slowly comes to learn that there is a dangerous and deadly connection between the shadowy group and one of his past cases, and it becomes imperative for him to stop Headstone, no matter the cost.
HEADSTONE is neither a long book nor is it densely written. Yet Bruen’s talent is such that the sparseness of his prose contains more information and creates more suspense than books four times its length. His novels are worth acquiring and keeping simply for the reading and listening lists that one can compile from the books and music referenced from chapter to chapter. It is his offhandedly chilling prose, however, that ultimately carries the day. Bruen is a deeply spiritual author, but not in the religious sense. His stories are at heart an account of a flawed but basic good set against a horrifically single-minded evil, where winning more often than not means holding evil at bay, if that.
While HEADSTONE is the stuff of nightmares, it is also the stuff of redemption, even at great cost. You will feel wrung out after reading this one, but all the gladder for it.