Fresh Meat: Purgatory by Ken Bruen

Purgatory by Ken Bruen is the tenth Jack Taylor crime novel of Galway, Ireland (available November 4, 2013).

Ken Bruen’s latest book, Purgatory, starts with a bang—fairly literally—and it’s all downhill from there.

Jack Taylor is washed out, washed up, and washed clean. Bounced from the Guards and not really interested in any more private gigs, Taylor is practicing the art of living a day at a time. None of that Zen stuff his friend Stewart’s into, not a proper twelve-step program, but more an acquired apathy that makes caring too hard to even feign.

The woman sat opposite me, didn’t ask, just sat. This used to happen a lot. People believing I had some inside track for finding things, people, solutions, and maybe answers. I’d found some answers, over the years, and they were always the wrong ones. Or right but for the wrong reasons. I’d given it up with the booze, the cigs, the Xanax.

Before she could speak, I said,


Knocked her back.

Her mouth made a small O of surprise. I knew the gig. The touching photo.

Some heart-kicking story.

Her son/brother/husband


Was a great/caring/lovable



Could I find him, what happened to him?

The whole usual awful parade of misery.

She tried,

“But, they said, you care.”

I said, “I don’t.”

And I didn’t.

Not no more.


Someone out there isn’t quite willing to take his retirement as fact, dropping off notes and photos of recent crime victims.

A photo of a young man, on a skateboard, high in the air, looking like an eagle against the sky. Then a piece from The Galway Advertiser which read

…verdict due on January 10th vicious rape case. Tim Rourke, accused in the brutal rape and battery of two young, is due in court for the verdict. Controversy has surrounded the case since it was revealed the Guards had not followed procedure in obtaining the evidence.

There was more, about this being the latest high-profile case likely to be thrown out over some technicality.

And still

The bankers



Continued to fuck us over every way they could.

A single piece of notepaper had this printed on it

You want to take this one? Your turn, Jack.



C33 clearly doesn’t understand the depths of Jack’s apathy, but his buddy Stewart’s curiosity is peaked. Stewart and Jack are friends, despite his insistence that they aren’t.

Stewart was more a reluctant ally than a friend. A former yuppie dope dealer, he’d been sent to jail for six years, hard full sentence. I’d solved the murder of his sister; he felt an enduring debt since. After his release, he’d reinvented himself as a Zenspouting entrepreneur. And seemed to make shitloads of cash. Even in the depths of the current bleak economy. We’d been thrown together on numerous cases and he’d developed a strong friendship with my other ally.


Sergeant Ní Iomaire.

Ridge doesn’t fare so well in Jack’s world. Then again, neither does Stewart. Or Jack for that matter.

And then there’s Reardon.

Talk of the town. One of the rarities, a dot-com billionaire who’d survived the current global meltdown, had come to Galway, set up headquarters, and, according to rumor, was going to save the city. Not yet forty, the guy was allegedly a blend of Steve Jobs, Gandhi, and Putin. Didn’t hurt he looked more like a roadie than a star, gave that edge vibe.

When priests had to disguise their clerical collars owing to public ire, it helped that this whiz kid didn’t look like the other loathed species, bankers.

Which is a running theme of the book. The vapid bumping against the apathetic, most of them drinking themselves to death as fast as they can.

He’d stood abruptly, shot out of the pub, and, in those days, I cared enough to follow him. He was huddled in a doorway, gulping down a cigarette as if it were Holy Communion, he coughed, and I asked him,

“What will you do?”

He gave me a look of utter surprise, as if the thought had never occurred to him, said,

“I’m going the Irish way.”

I mused on that, then tried, “Pretend it isn’t happening or, worse, confined to the U.K.”

He laughed, no relation to joy or humor, said, “I’ll slow-drink myself to oblivion.”

I made light of it, said,

“I doubt that.”

He nodded, crushed the butt into the ground with vehemence, said,

“You’re right. Scratch the slow shite.”

All blended with Jack’s running commentary. The Dalai Lama he is not.

I’d recently come across The Psychopath Test as compiled by the FBI. Jon Ronson had written a book of that title. I’d been compiling my own variation, the AT, as in

The Asshole Test.

I was pretty sure that anyone who used


Made the list.

Which is to say that it’s not an uplifting thing, this book, if ever something called Purgatory should be. But it well-captures the flavor of the time, the despair and hipsterism right alongside Jack’s stumbling.

I was standing on the Salmon Weir Bridge, where the salmon no longer leaped, the water still, five years on, poisoned. Like the fucking country. The cathedral to my left, noon Mass letting out, and sparse — no too many attending these days. A forlorn priest outside, shaking the hands of the measly faithful, grateful they weren’t, I suppose, a lynch mob.

I turned my back on them, headed to town, stopped in the Cellar; used to be the students’ joint. But they, like everyone else, were getting takeout, bringing it on back home. Cider and Red Bull, instant wasted, from A to out of your fucking head in jig time. The Cellar had a flash coffee dock, with even a barista.

You’ve truly lived too long when an Irish guy, in a mock midAtlantic accent asks,

“How would you like your java, sir?”

Way too tempting a question to answer truthfully.


See more new releases at our Fresh Meat feature page.

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

Buy at Powell’s   Buy at IndieBound! Buy at Barnes and Noble


Buy at Books a Million  Buy at Amazon  Buy at Kobo


Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.


  1. Ken Bruen

    Terrific piece of writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.