Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Guards

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"In reality, time doesn't pass. We pass. I have no idea why, but I think that's one of the saddest things I've ever learnt. God knows, anything I have learnt has been the hard way."

One of the reviews at the beginning of Ken Bruen's The Guards describes the main character, Jack Taylor, as the Irish Spenser.

Actually, Taylor is a lot harder to get to know and like, but a lot more interesting than Spenser.

This is as sad and real a novel as I have ever read. If there is any hope at all in it, it is that, at the end, Taylor is not drunk. But he has lost everything--the woman he loves, any illusion that he had close friends, any thought that he can set the world right.

For me, the best mystery novels have a sense of the pervasiveness of evil. Like oil on water, evil spreads and contaminates everybody. Jack Taylor doesn't "solve" the mystery of the purported suicide of Sarah Henderson. He doesn't even reveal what might well be the truth of it. But he lives the evil in it. His own actions lead to the death of someone he respects and loves. He loses the people he values most to others who are vastly inferior to him, and he finds the rotten core of what was once the law enforcement agency he served, the Guards.

This is one of the few books I've ever read where the plot is totally character driven. Everything that happens comes out of who the people are what they choose to do. And it is the kind of book I love. By and large, the down-and-outers are the good guys--the street-wise winos and the chocolate loving maids (I almost said "old maids) and others. There are those among them who are among the most valuable people in the world.

That conforms to my experience. Some of the people we routinely leave out are among the best who ever lived.

Will you like this book? I don't know. Jack Taylor is a hard man to get to know. Did I like it? I loved it finally, but I struggled with it at first.

In one way, the book is like a Parker book. It is written in a tight, terse way. But it is Irish all the way. It has the Irish love of booze and books. It has what has always seemed to me (just in the reading) the way whatever Ireland is pervades whoever the Irish are. No one but an Irishman could be William Butler Yeats, Ken Bruen or Jack Taylor.

So, I'd suggest you try Ken Bruen. If you respond to his writing as I did, you will find yourself disturbed and changed.

If you would like to respond to this post, please leave a comment or go to my web site where there is an email address. Thanks.


Cathy said...

I love Bruen's Jack Taylor novels. No matter how low he sinks, there's something about Jack that just won't let me stop rooting for him to find some measure of peace.

Joe Barone said...

I'm learning to love them too.

Corey Wilde said...

I'm glad you found something worthwhile in Jack, Joe. There have been times when I wondered if the series had anything left to say but in the most recent book (Sanctuary) Bruen once again left me staggered by his talent and his insight into human frailty and our occasional strength and compassion.

And Bruen's wicked black Irish humor is incomparable.

Joe Barone said...

Thanks for cluing me in to him. As you noticed, I started with the first one and will work my way up.