Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: The Guards, By Ken Bruen

Over the years, I’ve created a formula for choosing a book for a summer vacation: Fiction, involves crime, and light enough to go with beer consumption. With this in mind I went with an Irish noir called: The Guards, by Ken Bruen.

I had never read a Bruen before but I love noir, and thought the Irish would have a good take on it. It did not disappoint. It was bleak, and hilarious; pithy, and poetic.

Jack Taylor is an ex-policeman, of the Irish Garda (Guards) the national force. He was fired for drinking and pissing off the wrong people. (He knew he was in trouble when the chief was giving him the: "Every man likes a pint every now and then but..." speech.) Now his job is finding things:

There are no private eyes in Ireland. The Irish wouldn’t wear it. The concept brushes perilously close to the hated “informer”. You can get away with most anything except “telling”.

What I began to do was find things…...
A woman whose daughter allegedly committed suicide, hires him look into the real reason for her death.

Doesn’t sound very funny does it? The case almost takes the back burner as Taylor narrates us through his drinking binges, his hatred of his mother, his failed relationships with women, his lack of money and his sordid friends. He begins the morning at the pub, where his “coffee” is topped up with Jameson’s. It’s like a very good Irish story teller at a local pub who you’re happy to listen to. He’s got his opinions on books, alcohol brands, music, the church, history, and of course the Irish. It’s charming and grim all at the same time. If you were a bar fly, he would be your best buddy.

Between blackouts, hospitalizations and hangovers, he actually works on the case, with the help of his dodgy friend Sutton. (Sutton has a murky past, probably ex-IRA and has killed people.) Taylor is a drunk and an amateur, and things often don’t go well. I would spoil it by describing some of the foul ups and surprises, but I can say it's laugh out loud funny. (If you like dark humor.)

I enjoyed Bruen's interesting chapter headings. It could be a title, a book or movie quote, or blankness. Sometimes even a bit of poetry like this:

… so smug believed-that desolation
had the limits full explored
I’m not much of a poetry guy, but that one stopped me in my tracks. The Black Irish blood in me can appreciate that sentiment.

If you like noir, and you get a kick out of Irish lyricism, you cannot go wrong with The Guards. Bruen has a series of Jack Taylor novels that I will explore further.


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