The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

July 22, 2010


Jack Taylor has always been ridden by demons: Addiction, bitterness, narcissism, despair, self-loathing. So what's a guy like Jack to do when confronted by the devil. No, excuse me, The Devil. Satan. Yeah, that one. Evil Incarnate. Well, let's see. Have you ever known Jack to back down? Thought not.

What begins with Jack's search for a missing college student ends with a metaphysical tour de force, and in between are packed all of Bruen's hallmarks: Biting wit, dark laughter, heart-wringing sorrow, and enough generosity toward other writers and musicians to earn Ken Bruen his place in heaven, had he not already earned it. At this point though, it's all just polish for the halo.

In Sanctuary, the previous installment in the Jack Taylor series, some measure of redemption for Jack was hinted at by the author. Readers, we should have known better. This is Ken Bruen's work here, this is his Jack Taylor, not ours. And the author quickly disabuses any notion (a thing in and of itself to be despised, according to him) that Jack may have at last found his center of mass (hey, you read this book and see if you can refrain from religious puns!). Right up front, in the prologue, a mysterious figure known as Kurt says to Jack, "... evil hones in on those closest to redemption."

How's that for a harbinger? You can pretty well guess that there's some black misery in store for Jack. Here's a word of advice: Set aside the time to read this one twice. First, just read it. It's quite a story. Then read it again and take notes. When you've done that, let's get together and talk about what you think that ending means. Because Bruen's Devil isn't William Peter Blatty's evil that can be dispensed with ritual and faith; it isn't John Connolly's evil that is simply the vacuum left by the absence of empathy. It isn't even the devil that Garth Brooks sang about (in Tony Arata's song, Face to Face), the one that hides deep inside everyone. Bruen's Devil is of the walking-around, in-your-face, what-are-you-gonna-do-kill-me unstoppable evil. Not just a force but a knowing presence.

Sure, Bruen may well be using the devil as metaphor for what has replaced the Celtic Tiger, but he's got more to say here than that these are miserable times. And it's worth reading. Oh, hell, yeah.

Here are a couple of pithy excerpts:
"Evil is only a concept to those who've never experienced it. To those who've met it, the term 'concept' dropped from their vocabulary."
"Every day, like jig time, Sawyer played nine holes.
And he cheated.
O.J. Simpson did, too, and there's a moral there.
Not of any uplift."


  1. This reminds me that I've got to get back in to the Jack Taylor series. This one sounds positively... I don't know what, but I must have it. Wonderful review, Naomi. Thanks for this.

  2. A few weeks ago on this site, Ken Breun was recommended. Yesterday I started 'Once Were Cops' and found it to be amazing. Today I finished it and it only got better. I'm sold, but there's a lot of catching up for me to do before I get to his newer works. Fortunately, when I ordered 'Cops' I also bought a copy of 'The Max' with a rather sexy cover (Hard Case) and I can't wait to get into Jason Starr. Thanks Naomi et al.

  3. Michael and Nigel, Bruen has once again got my head in a spin. Every page I was going, "say, what?" If anyone thought there was any danger of Jack getting a bit stale, this book should put paid to those critics.

  4. Naomi,
    I just finished The Devil. This is Sept. 23, 2010. After I posted my few comments, I Googled the book and ran across your thoughts. You asked about the ending.

    At the end, I don't think Jack knew (and I sure don't) whether he had acted as the devil wanted him to act, whether he had fulfilled the bargain he made when he took the money and sold his soul to the devil.

    It is an interesting thing to think about. Can you solve violence with violence, evil with evil (which is what murder is)? Or is Jesus' (Gandhi's, MKL's, Buddha's, etc.) way better, total nonviolence while still not accepting evil.

    I'm not saying Bruen was going in any of these directions. They are just the ways he led me to think.

    I do think Bruen believes that Jack, at least, is wondering if Jack fulfilled the bargain by what Jack did.

    I will always be grateful to Corey. He is the one who led me to Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor.

  5. Joe, what's great about this book is the many, many ways it can be interpreted. I was wondering by book's end if Jack was reverting back to his cynical, careless self; in denial somewhat of the things he had just experienced. Now you've made me feel the need to read it again!