Ken Bruen's unique style gets sharper and grittier with each new
book. THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS, his third Jack Taylor novel, cements
him as an enormous talent and fresh voice among Irish writers. The
smart-mouthed, self-destructive Taylor, an ex-Garda, still retains
his Garda jacket. Jack refuses to acknowledge the periodic letter
demanding the return of said jacket, to wit Item No. 8234, mostly
because he doesn't play by anybody's rules but his own. When common
wisdom suggests one course of action, Jack nearly always takes the
In Bruen's latest tale, Galway tough guy Bill Cassell calls up for
repayment of a favor he did Jack a while back, and Cassell is not
the kind of guy you say no to. It sounds simple, really. Cassell
wants to find one Rita Monroe --- an ancient nun who worked at the
Magdalen, a one-time home for young women "in trouble" --- to thank
her, he says, for her kindness to his mother. Delighted to be off
the hook for so altruistic a task, Jack starts making inquiries.
But he should have remembered the old adage: If it seems too good
to be true, it almost certainly is. Just the mention of the
Magdalen causes doors to slam and conversations to shut down. Not
one person sings its praises or mourns its closure. The more Jack
learns about it, the less he understands his mission. And Cassell
keeps the pressure on.
While conducting his investigation, a couple of seemingly random
murders occur, but Jack is too involved in his return to booze and
drugs to make a connection. He floats along in his chemical
euphoria --- surprisingly staying alive, but not out of jail.
Interspersed with actually endeavoring to find Rita Monroe, he
struggles with personal tragedy, finds himself enjoying some
energetic sex (with just about the worst partner he could have
chosen) and continues to terrorize his mother's good friend, Fr.
Malachy, when his mother isn't available firsthand.
Even with the many pitfalls and backslides that plague him, Jack
somehow manages to solve the mystery, but he still finds it hard to
get back into anyone's good graces. Jack Taylor ultimately is a
likable character, despite attempts on his part to be anything but
Supremely tight writing and razor-edged dialogue spin you through
the pages. As is always the case with any Ken Bruen book, THE
MAGDALEN MARTYRS is much too short.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 7, 2011