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Review: Thrillers: Headstone by Ken Bruen

Suddenly Ken Bruen is flavour of the month. But, in fact, he's one of those overnight success stories who has been quietly plugging away at his craft for 20 years or more.

It's only relatively recently that Bruen, author of a series of tough crime novels featuring Jack Taylor, an alcoholic former garda-turned-private detective, has been hailed as one of Ireland's finest thriller writers and given a major profile.

Despite having won a shedload of awards and written almost 30 noir crime novels, he has remained very much a niche author.

Now, thanks in part to TV3's acclaimed TV series of the Jack Taylor novels featuring Scottish actor Iain Glen (Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey), Bruen is deservedly entering the mainstream.

His visibility was also improved with the release of two action-packed films, London Boulevard, starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, and Blitz, both adapted from novels by Bruen and both set in modern multi-cultural London.

Possibly the only thriller writer with a PhD in Metaphysics, Bruen grew up in Galway. After his studies, he travelled the world teaching English, and even did time in a jail in Brazil.

His parents actively discouraged his writing, his father believing real men didn't read. A library card at the age of 10 introduced him to the world of pulp fiction. His first novel, Shades of Grace, was published in 1993, and his latest, Headstone, is the ninth Jack Taylor mystery.

Since being forced to leave the GardaĆ­, Jack Taylor's life has continued its downward spiral of drink, drugs and failed romances. He would argue that evil has stalked him for much of his shambolic life.

But now, he has the chance of some partial redemption in the shape of a 42-year-old American woman named Laura who he met in London.

As he looks forward to her imminent visit to Galway, evil once again comes barrelling into his life. Fr Malachy, his hated mother's closest confidant and the bane of his life, is beaten to a pulp.

That crime is immediately followed by the grisly murder of a trusting young special-needs man. Then Jack himself, and several close acquaintances, are viciously attacked.

When he recovers, he comes to realise that the violence and death blighting Galway is just the precursor to a planned act of senseless mass murder that will leave his beloved city and Ireland traumatised for decades.

He knows he has to stop it, but to do so he may well have to cross a line into a place he cannot return from and which may strip him of the last shreds of his humanity.

Bruen is a storyteller with an utterly individual voice and a highly idiosyncratic prose style. Jack Taylor's world is disturbingly violent and his dystopian view of Ireland and its institutions bleak in the extreme.

Visiting it vicariously through Bruen's novels delivers an utterly compelling experience.

Indo Review