The Pull of Place: Ken Bruen’s Galway City

The Devil by Ken Bruen
The Devil by Ken Bruen
I must confess that I’ve been stalling when it comes to reading The Devil,  the most recent book by Ken Bruen in the award winning series of novels featuring Jack Taylor as the much-flawed hero with Galway City as an omni-present character.  In the past few books, Jack has been threatening to leave Galway for America and when I finished reading the previous book, Sanctuary, Jack had me convinced that he was definitely shipping out. Well, not shipping exactly.  In the last few pages of Sanctuary, Jack holds in his hands an airplane ticket (destination: New York City) given to him by a close friend, one of his very few. And as much as I’d love to hang out with Jack in my own native city, I believe his character is more potent and engrossing in the place of his birth: Galway City, County Galway, Republic of Ireland. I don’t think I would find Jack Taylor as gripping were his story told in any other geography.

And I’m not alone in believing that Ken Bruen excels when he uses Jack Taylor to show us all the social changes that have taken place in Galway and in Ireland over the last decade. Desi Kenny of Kenny’s Irish Bookshop and Art Gallery in Galway City, has high praise for The Devil, and in this video review. Desi candidly tells us that Ken Bruen “had a checkered beginning. He began to publish in London and most of his crimes were set there.” Like me, Desi Kenny is glad Bruen has seen the error of his ways, and has written the Jack Taylor series set in Galway.

These novels are written in the first person, so we see Galway City through the eyes of a dishonored former garda (policeman) who forever carries and sometimes battles his addiction to alcohol and drugs. (The pilot TV movie is completed and a Jack Taylor Films series is on the way.)

Internal struggles plague him, but perhaps none more than Jack’s conflict with the city itself. All the physical components are where they should be: Claddagh Basin, the Spanish Arch, Eyre Square. But unlike me, when Jack visits Salthill, he doesn’t wax poetically about the sun going down on Galway Bay. He is acutely aware of and disturbed by the modernization and globalization of Ireland.  At every turn, he bumps up against “non-nationals” as he calls the immigrant population that surged into Ireland while the Celtic Tiger roared. And as Ireland became economically stronger, the Roman Catholic Church began to lose its authoritative grip on a country whose current population is still nearly ninety-percent Catholic. As the Church’s power slipped, its skeletons were revealed. Jack Taylor rattles those skeletons and ponders their effect on his country in books like Priest, which deals with sexual abuse, and The Magdalen Martyrs, which shines a light on the ill-treatment of residents of the now infamous Magdalene Laundries where “wayward” young women were sent “for their own good.”  

In every Jack Taylor book, Ken Bruen uses geography to show us the old Ireland, the one in which he grew up, the Ireland of a tourist’s dream. But in Jack Taylor’s everyday interactions and the intricate plot lines of each novel, Bruen shows us Ireland as it is, a nation discovering the unwitting byproducts that prosperity brings with it.

So at first, I avoided The Devil for fear Jack Taylor actually had left Galway. Then, when I saw the reviews and found that at the beginning of the book he was unable to leave, I was annoyed by the trickery.  But finally, I’m over it.

At long last, I’m going to pick up a copy of The Devil and join Jack Taylor in still another dark adventure in Galway, a city I’ve visited and enjoyed more than once, but which looks very different through Jack’s eyes. And isn’t that the role of good fiction?  Shouldn’t it show you things you’ve seen in ways you’ve not yet seen them?


According to Terrie Farley Moran, writing short mystery fiction is nearly as much fun as hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren. One of her recent shorts can be found in the anthology Crimes By Moonlight,  Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery.

Comments

  1. Megan Frampton

    I had forgotten Taylor was threatening to go–so glad Bruen pulled a bait-and-switch and kept Jack where he almost belongs (since he doesn’t really belong anywhere, except at the bottom of a bottle). Whew!

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    Yep. It was a close call. Jack is so entwined with Galway City that I could never imagine him anywhere else for more than a brief visit.

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    I just got an email from someone who read this post and wondered how I felt a Jack Taylor story would work in any other Irish city. I think his issues with the change Ireland has been going through would be the same as in Galway, but he wouldn’t have the intimacy with the geography in Dublin or Cork that he does with the city of his birth. He can visit for part of a book, but then I’d like him back home in Galway. And, of course, the mystery would, as always, be grand!

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