Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Ken Bruen’s Purgatory


As someone who has come to enjoy crime fiction, it’s no surprise I have my favorites. Edgar Allen Poe, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, among the ageless. Craig Johnson, Lee Child, and Robert Crais of late. In fact, if I was stuck in Hell, it’d be the latter’s tandem of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike who’d I want to come rescue me. However, if there was no way to pull me out from the netherworld, it’d be the Irish man, the tortured dramatis personae author Ken Bruen concocted, Jack Taylor, I’d want to keep me company.

He’d always have something interesting to say, if not drink.

For those unfamiliar with this quite distinctive character, Jack is a dismissed former guard, Garda Síochána (Irish police), from Galway, Ireland. Canned for drinking, and now surviving by doing favors and finding folk in his hometown. He doesn’t call himself a “private eye” since it rings too much like “informer” to the Irish. To say he raises hell would be a bit of an understatement. Just ask his friends. Those that are left, that is. The term hardboiled really doesn’t fully describe Jack.

“Jack is an alcoholic ex-Guard with a deadly sense of humour and a love of books that almost redeems his sarcasm. While most people head for the beach in summer, Jack heads for the cemetery.” ~ Ken Bruen

In the poetic hands of Ken Bruen that would leave out too much. Most of the author’s books in the series are less than 300 pages. But, my word, he fills them with a level of prose one has to feel as much as discern. Giving credit where due, I’ve Corey Wilde and Jen Forbus to thank for introducing me to this writer and his work some years ago. Luckily, the current editor of The Drowning Machine blog, Naomi, maintains that same appreciation. You’d only have to read her review of his latest novel, Purgatory, to recognize the reason for our patronage.

“Anyone who has read much of the series probably thinks Jack has either already been to perdition or long been doomed to eventually end there. And yet, here in PURGATORY — the book, not the other — Jack seems to be managing his vices and character flaws better than he ever has; backsliding a bit now and again, but not only making a recovery, but wanting to make a recovery.”

The Book

Having gone through enough mental and physical wounds over the years to fill a psych ward, or hospital wing, Jack Taylor has finally found some peace. Kicking the substances that have plagued him over the painful course of his post-‘guard’ years. Yet, heaven can’t exist without a hell, or a waiting room. The latter only too well-known by Jack. A vigilante killer, calling themselves ‘C 33’, begins targeting the guilty of Galway, leaving notes with our protagonist. Attempting to goad the former cop into joining the havoc, to cleanse the city.

Jack’s not interested, having found some serenity, finally — but it doesn’t last.

Like most of Ken Bruen books, he paints a striking world for his part of Ireland, an insular one of his brethren. With a deft hand, at that, surprisingly in the fewest pages one would expect to achieve it. Weaving current events, at home and abroad, through Jack’s bemused perspective. His choice of books and music ever at the ready to better distill them all. Referencing them and that razor wit and bitterness of his, which is usually only dulled via plentiful doses of alcohol and Zanax. Among other things. No wonder the guy has a hard time keeping friends.

Through the years I’ve followed this character, Jack never fails to fascinate, or failed fascinatingly. Bruen never lets up for a breather in his books. A fact their relatively short length his readers readily appreciate, I surmise. And on occasion, to devastating effect. I finished this novel last Friday, and the damn (meant in the highest regards, mine you) tenth novel in the series is still haunting me. Almost as bad as The Dramatist (book #4 in the series), which I suspect Bruen connected on purpose as Jack refers back to its torment in the story.

Jesus wept.

Once more, Ken Bruen working on all cylinders with Purgatory. Magic and mayhem. Lyrical and bloody hell for those living, and/or dying, on the pages in-between the book’s cover. As fast-paced as this novel is, it points to one of those series that beg the reader to start at the beginning (The Guards) to take in the full effect. And proceed in all haste through the line, if you can help it. Enjoy noirish crime fiction, whether American or European? Then why aren’t you already reading this Irish writer? Take it from someone who learned from the best.


The great thing about this series, it’s all on audiobook for listeners to enjoy. To a lesser degree, depending upon your location, is who is performing the narration on said audio. Without a doubt, for this audio file listener, anyways, Gerry O’Brien is the one you need to hear. If anyone does Jack Taylor justice, it’s Gerry. “…one of the most sought after Voice Actors in the UK and Ireland.”, and one nominated for a number of awards on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Born in Ireland and with a classical theatre background, he brings a sharp interpretive insight to all his narrations. With a warm and seductive voice married to the natural gift of the story teller, he brings an intimate immediacy to all his narrations.” ~ Deyan Audio

The problem is not all Gerry’s work is available in the U.S. Audible has most of the series, but the later two novels have other narrators. And three are not available at all due to region restriction. Solid the others readers are, surely, but they’re just not Jack (as interpreted by Mr. O’Brien). Believe me. The oddity is The Dramatist. Both versions, one by Michael Deehy, are downloadable. Yet, Priest, Cross, and Sanctuary Audible will not let you have, at least over here. The sods.

Headstone and Purgatory are performed by John Lee and Gerard Doyle, respectively. Because I can be a bit anal, I’ve obtained and listened to all those done by Gerry O’Brien, with nary a regret. Even if it’s cost me some — shh…don’t tell my wife. I’ve even gone back and listened to all of the other interpretations for this one-of-a-kind character. Usually, as I wait to get my hands on Gerry’s work, done through the good folk over at Isis Audio. Your mileage may vary, but not for me.

6 Responses to “Ken Bruen’s Purgatory”

  1. broadandhigh

    “Jack never fails to fascinate, or failed fascinatingly” — You nailed it. Even when Jack is at his most repellent, he fascinates.


  2. ruth

    Great review Michael! Man you made me want to check out the Jack Taylor show now. I just might do that as soon as I can find the time. Sounds like an intriguing character, the flawed ones usually are 🙂



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