The story is told in first person and follows protagonist, Jack Taylor, an intemperate man in his mid-forties who’s an alcoholic. He is a guy who I would describe as heroic and tragic.
While the novel is labeled as a mystery, the story is mostly focused on Jack and his inability to silence his inner demons. I wasn’t sure how well I could enjoy a story with a hero who was hell bent on destroying himself but as I kept reading, I was eventually won over.
The story starts off with Jack being kicked out of the Guards – not for his drinking but for his lack of political indiscretion. He is now a private detective due in large part to his reputation of being a ex-garda. People come to him because they think he has an “inside track.”
The Guards or “police force” in Ireland come across like a shady organization fraught with controversy and corruption. The case that Jack gets handed is for a mother who believes that her daughter didn’t commit suicide and that she wasn’t the only one who jumped off Nimmo’s Pier.
Given the info, Jack thinks it’s an open and shut case but it quickly goes from simple to complex after he starts asking questions. He’s warned off the case with a few well placed body kicks accompanied by some badly broken fingers for his trouble.
Then there’s the subplot that involves Jack’s friend, Sutton, a talented painter who seems to be more than what he appears. In a nutshell, Sutton is creepy. I mean he was stalker creepy. He had Jack re-thinking his judgement of him after he says and does some really creepy stuff. Then there’s the secondary characters like Jack’s friend Sean, who runs pub called Grogan’s who serves as his mentor/friend/enabler and Padraig – the head wino, who seems to represent social inequality.
This story was more of a character driven story than a mystery which always works for me. I love ambiguous characters and am intrigued by Jack Taylor. I really started to look at him differently after reading this scene, where we are introduced to his sidekick Cathy B, a young rock star on the rise who does the fact finding for Jack’s cases. The two meet when Jack saves her life one fateful night; he’s moved to action after the first blow.
I came behind, used my elbow to hit him on the neck. I helped her up. She said,
“He’s going to kill me.”
I elbowed him again and he went,
“I don’t think so.”
I asked her,
“Can you walk?”
I grabbed the guy by his shirt.
Let his own weight launch him into the canal.
As I was opening the door to my flat, we could hear roars from the water. She said,
“I don’t think he can swim.”
Bruen’s narrative is different with a economical narrative style that I would describe as ‘elegantly brilliant.’ Since the plot was a simple one, it was left up to Jack Taylor to carry the weight of the story and he did that reasonably well. There’s humor to be found here, too, starting with Jack’s refusal to return Item 8234 “regulation garda all weather coat” that keeps being mailed to him for its prompt return.
I had a few minor complaints but nothing worth discussing. I must admit that the writing style was something to get used to but I adapted quickly. The one thing I can say in the negative was that the story behind Jack’s alcoholism wasn’t anything I hadn’t read before. It boiled down to this: he had a crappy childhood. His father was someone he adored and his mother someone he despised (she was emotionally abusive) and remained estranged with after the death of his father.
‘The Guards’ was a quick read since the author utilized short chapters in here and the ending was a bit of a surprise. The story left off with Jack sober and wanting to start anew in London. I have a soft spot for tortured heroes like Jack. A guy who wants to get his life back on track but falls short when his self-confidence is broken. Jack is compelling, tragic, heroic and sympathetic. I look forward to reading more about Jack Taylor and seeing what life and his creator decides to throw at him next. My grade, B. I have The Killing of the Tinkers to read next.