"Headstone" Book Review
Written by Ken Bruen
2011, 281 pages, Fiction
Released on October 4th, 2011
Allow me to get something off my chest right off the bat: no one writes like Ken Bruen. You might think his award-winning prose is the best of any Irish crime writer ever or consider his minimalist approach a simple gimmick. However, regardless of opinions, the fact remains: if you've read him once, you don't have to look at the name on the cover of a book to know you're reading Bruen. Headstone, the most recent entry into the Jack Taylor series, brings us Bruen, not surprisingly, in fine form.
In Headstone, a violent group has taken to the streets of Galway, Ireland, and started dispensing punishment to random citizens. First, an elderly priest is nearly beaten to death and then a special-needs boy is viciously attacked. Although the assaults seem arbitrary, they're connected. A group calling themselves Headstonee is committing the brutal crimes and ensuring that the people the leader ultimately wants to target, Jack and his usual allies, Ridge and Stewart, receive their cryptic message through small headstones. Jack has to put all the pieces together and stop Headstone before it's too late and they put an end to everything he holds dear, but the group, which is linked to his past, might just prove to be too fast, to vicious, and too passionate about what they're doing.
There are two things that Bruen does very well. Luckily for readers, those two things usually make or break a book: the main character and the pacing. Jack Taylor is a main character that encompasses all the elements that make noir great: the drinking, the attitude, the troubled past, the rough demeanor, and the dark sense of humor. He's the kind of protagonist who you can't help to like even when he's doing his best to hide any redeeming qualities. Also, the prose here is as good as ever, always moving forward at breakneck speed and full of witty turns of phrase and great dialogue.
The Jack Taylor series, which blends the best of noir, horror, and the supernatural, never shies away from grittiness and carnage. However, Headstone might be the bloodiest entry in the series so far. Between the sadistic attacks, the plans the people in the group have, and the fact that Jack gets beaten and they cut off one of his fingers, this one packs enough aggression, tension, and gore to satisfy readers regardless of which of the genres that Bruen mixes they prefer.
Headstone is classic Bruen, and that's a very good thing. The novel is fueled by violence, fear, and, ultimately, a very powerful thirst for revenge. If you're a fan of the series, you already know this is a must-read. If you're new to it, this is a great place to start.
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