I can’t remember which novel of Ken Bruen’s I read first. It might have been VIXEN or CALIBRE or AMMUNITION; it’s difficult to recall because I set all else aside and read everything by him that I could get my hands on --- novels and short stories alike --- and have kept up since then. All have been relatively quick, one-sit reads for me, and not necessarily because of brevity (though the newly published PURGATORY clocks in at under 300 pages). Regardless of page length, and Bruen’s choppy and unconventional yet compelling style, each book is full of substance and unforgettable characters who are tragically sympathetic in spite of (or, in some cases, because of) their shortcomings.
"Bruen is as quietly unflinching and honest an author as you are likely to encounter. He’s not for everybody, but everybody should read PURGATORY and every other word he has ever written."
PURGATORY is the latest in Bruen’s long-running Jack Taylor series. As a character indicates here, Taylor should have been dead some time ago. A former member of the Gardai (Irish police) who left the force in disgrace, Taylor wears his numerous addictions as a tragic cloak while prowling Galway in the role of a semi-official private investigator with a reputation for getting things done by taking the quickest course of action between two points. The opening pages find Taylor clinging to sobriety. His peace of mind is breached when a vigilante begins targeting criminals who escape conventional justice. The doer, known as C 33, sends Taylor notes inviting him to join the hunt. He is not inclined to accept the invitation for a number of reasons, among those being that he has enough on his plate.
A request by a Catholic nun that Taylor recover a statue that has been stolen puts him and a close friend on the wrong side of a Galway drug dealer and his loutish son before the statue is finally recovered. Taylor also becomes involved in the world of Reardon, a heavy-hitting high-tech wizard who has brought his extremely successful IP business to Galway and is busy buying up the city in great chunks. Taylor makes the acquaintance of a woman named Kelly, an associate of Reardon’s who is something much, much more. It is interesting to find Taylor uncharacteristically ensnared emotionally, particularly with someone who has something less than his best interests at heart. Things begin to unravel (or, perhaps, unravel more quickly) when C 33’s activities create a deep personal tragedy for Taylor, enabling him to effect an ironic resolution that apparently is left for the next volume.
Bruen’s somewhat unconventional style provides a comfortable familiarity throughout the book, as does his welcome penchant for beginning each chapter with a quotation from such far-ranging figures as Oscar Wilde and Madonna. More often than not, this practice functions as a potential reading recommendation list, so that if one so desires, one will have plenty of books to pass the time while waiting for Bruen’s next novel. His prose is also peppered with popular culture and current event references that frequently blend into his own world, to the extent that there is somewhat of a thin line between fact and fiction.
Bruen is as quietly unflinching and honest an author as you are likely to encounter. He’s not for everybody, but everybody should read PURGATORY and every other word he has ever written.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 15, 2013