Headstone (Jack Taylor)
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I once called Ken Bruen "the dark poet of contemporary noir" (yes, I'm quoting myself -- sue me) and his latest novel, Headstone, confirms that his status is unchallenged. This is a fascinating, powerful and, yes, dark crime novel that only enhances Bruen's already amazing reputation.

Irish private eye Jack Taylor is back for his ninth go-round with demons both natural and otherwise. A gang of young thugs is preying on some of Galway's innocents, and Taylor takes it on himself to stop them.

Headstone is typical of the series. The plot is straightforward, but elegantly wrought. It's violent, but not bloody. The prose is beautiful, idiosyncratic and evocative. As always, Bruen's style is uniquely his own. Nobody else can write like this and they'd be crazy to try.

Venerable editor and bookseller Otto Penzler could not have chosen a better novel with which to relaunch the Mysterious Press, his publishing imprint now located at Grove/Atlantic. Headstone is one of the year's best reading pleasures.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2011
As with all of Bruen's works, this one was a page turner; so much so that as i started it on a short plane trip, i stayed at the airport to finish and missed a connection, but it was well worth it. Taylor's best days are past, but he still can whoop a** and Bruen can still make me laugh until i cry. Well done Mr. Bruen!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Bruen's iconic Irishman, Jack Taylor, PI, is a colorful rogue, a drunk who has weathered the incongruencies of his own life and collected his share of enemies. Knocking back his whiskey of choice, Taylor provides no end of insights into Irish culture, troubled history and the pervasive influence of Holy Mother Church on the population. For all the enemies he has made along the way- and they are many and bitter- Jack remains the go-to investigator, formerly on the force, whose wily methods and willingness to do harm when necessary brings results. In Headstone, Jack's associate, former drug-dealer and current Zen practitioner Stewart and Garda Ridge, a lesbian in a marriage of convenience with little hope of career promotion, appear to be the only constants in a ruined life, but even they are frequently driven to distraction by the incorrigible Taylor and his destructive ways.

His past littered with losses, Jack is temporarily euphoric, filled with hope for the first time in years awaiting the arrival of a lady he has met in England when a threat from a violent group targeting society's weakest citizens suggests serious troubling brewing, violence that will include Taylor, Ridge and Stewart as collateral. But Jack is sidetracked by a lucrative finder's fee earned from a cold-eyed prelate that ends tragically. Likewise, hiss efforts to save a friend's daughter from a greedy spouse turn sour in the light of day, Jack reeling with outrage and betrayal. Then Taylor is trapped in a nightmare, proof of the limitless cruelties of God's creatures. Splayed across a headstone by the evil cult, Jack is given a lesson by some nasty individuals, one of whom holds a serious grudge against him, Garda Ridge and Stewart in imminent danger as well, serious wrongs to be avenged. Bruen's writing is so utterly charming and curmudgeonly, acerbic and authentic, it is impossible not to fall in love with his flawed protagonist, an unredeemable drunk with an ear for poetry, a love of whiskey, a conscience that flickers to life in his dreams and a scarred heart made to be broken. Luan Gaines/2011.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What is a former cop to do when he gets a medical discharge off the force? Become a private investigator, of course. Jack Taylor is one of the best, always was, but his gimpy leg and hearing aid have left him with a thirst for adventure and a bottle of Jameson.
Taylor seems to have annoyed everyone he ever came in contact with, from the clergy and the nuns to his former employers, to the criminals he helped put behind bars, all who seem to go out of their way to great him as maliciously as possible. It's enough to drive one to drink. This being Galway, Ireland drinking is as much the national sport as curling is.
One of the malfeasant characters that he arrested as a teenager has rousted a small group of hoodlums and preached to them his twisted version of Darwin's evolutionary theories, one that includes ridding the world, or at least Galway of misfits, retards, gays and parasites. Christening his band of warriors "Headstone," he leads them on a killing spree. Taylor is not only on the case he is also on the list for extermination and so the plot builds as one by one those in his community are attacked, molested, and killed all in the name of saving the purity of the human species.
Bruen has written a plethora of novels and his style slips easily across the eyes and the tongue. I found myself repeating his dialogue out loud to hear the brogue in which it needs to be read. The technique instantly reminded me of the master of dialogue, Charlie Huston in the form of the paragraphing and I too was drawn to the prose, simple two and three word sentences that just pop on the page.
I was totally entranced with the originality of the plot, the humor, and the grit in this novel of the dark side.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Have heard a lot about Bruen and decided to give him a shot. I like noir - Ellroy, Vachss, those guys. There's a sameness to your typical noir hero/antihero, and I'd say Jack Taylor fits that mold. There's not too much of a story here, just a major plot surrounding a few Columbine types (but in Galway, Ireland) and some treacherous priests stealing from the Church's coffers. Also, of course, plenty of betrayals, beating, torture...the works, though Bruen, to his credit, lets the torture be imagined. I think as a writer, he's smart enough to know that long, lingering portrayals of such things move your work into the discreditable realm of torture porn, and if there's one thing that Jack Taylor/Ken Bruen have, it's respect for the written word and for detective fiction. While I enjoyed the book (though "enjoy" might be too strong a term, and I'll probably read more, I didn't quite take to Jack the way I have to Vachss' Burke and some of the other hard-boiled greats. Also, there is a very quirky bit of typesetting in this book - there are no paragraph indents. It is odd, and I can't see a reason for it; some say Bruen's prose is poetic, and sometimes it is. But typesetting a novel as if it were a poem - I just couldn't buy that, though clearly it didn't stop me from reading the book. By the end of the book, with all the maiming that's been done of Jack over previous books (I don't know details, but could pick up bits and pieces of the backstory here and there), I think he's ending up like Smilla at the end of SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW, where she's basically held together by band-aids and willpower. Ken Bruen's a talent - and if you like your books dark, I think you'll like this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
I read my first Ken Bruen/Jack Taylor book after watching the Jack Taylor TV series. I was not disappointed. Like all his others, Headstone is filled with humor, great quotations, fine writing, and a detective with enough character flaws to satisfy any reader. Add to this that Ken Bruen makes Galway come to life as another flawed character, and Bruen has a winner ... again.
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For the ninth in the series, Jack Taylor pursues a cabal of murderous Goths bent on putting a bent version of social Darwinism into action in Galway. Their victim dies poignantly, and it's hard to take. I listened to John Lee's audiobook and that heightened the emotion: his voice is well-suited for Taylor despite a few words a bit off in his pronunciation of the Irish language that speckles a bit of the story, as Ken Bruen does in each installment. Lee and Bruen suit each other for a clipped, hard-bitten, and ironic take on Irish cruelty and endemic hypocrisy.

The plot did not keep me in suspense as much as usual for Taylor (I have reviewed all nine). I wondered about Laura's continued off-stage presence. I suppose Bruen knows what he's doing for the long run in the series as to dramatic effect, but her suspension puzzled me. Taylor burns a letter from her in London: the ashes float, "desperate despair of a dying dream."

Desperation builds. Ireland's debt puts her under; this seems set around the end of 2010 when ice crippled the island for three months. Greed, however, still flourishes, same as in the boom years. Stewart's past stint in prison earns a standout flashback chapter that fills us in on his personality better than we'd seen before, easing a bit Jack's summation of him as "a personification of the new Irish: sleek, smug, and self-absorbed."

This time around, the plot did not draw me in much. The atmosphere did. Adroitly, Bruen conveys in tough guy (lots of Americanism filter into the speech of more and more Irish, tellingly raised on crime shows and pop culture) Taylor a respect for decency and an aversion to cruelty, even as Jack metes it out in measure for measure inflicted on the innocent.

Ridge reliably returns, Kosta hovers again, and Clancy's sidekick O'Brien in a late appearance interrupts Jack's reverie of his father at a part of the historic and once lovely city, eager to tear out its heart for luxury flats, hotels, and multinational chain stores. It's a Galway not peddled to tourists, but it remains one of Bruen's best "characters."
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VINE VOICEon December 11, 2012
Jack Taylor is not your average P.I. Forced from the Garda, he has since spent years back in his native Galway, sunk in alcoholism, drugs and depression. Such is life with losses, and Jack has had more losses than his share. Fiercely loyal to his few friends, and unexpectedly kind to those suffering, he is also capable of enormous rage and violence. Taylor is the man you go to when something has to be done, and the law just doesn't seem adequate to the task.

Galway is suffering from a new kind of criminal. The weak and helpless; a boy with Down's Syndrome, a homeless man, an old retired priest, are being targeted and savagely murdered on the streets. The murderers seem to be a new breed of mindless violence; young people who have everything to live for and no desire to do anything more than destroy all around them. The victims are sent miniature headstones, and Jack is an early recipient. When the gang attacks him, they mark him for life but leave him alive to watch as they carry out their plans. Finding and stopping the gang is a race against time for Jack and his friends.

Bruen is an amazing writer, and those readers who have not discovered him have a rare treat in store. Taylor is an anti-hero, but one that the reader cannot help but cheer for. To offset his violent ways, he is also a reader, a music and art appreciator and his unsparing assessment of himself is full of clarity. When one sees one's faults but still rises to the occasion when something needs to be done, there is something heroic about them. The prose is short, choppy at times, full of insistence that the story move onward, ever onward to a stunning conclusion. Headstone is one of a series of Jack Taylor novels, and those new to this author will close the last page and rush out to find the others. This book is recommended for mystery lovers.
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Congratulations!
You have another chance." - Graffiti on the wall of the Abbey Church

This is the latest book by Ken Bruen in the very entertaining series about ex-An Garda Siochana (Irish National Police) officer Jack Taylor. If you've read the other books in this excellent series, then you know how pessimistic and self-destructive Jack is. In this book, however, there's hope and even, dare he believe it, the possibility of happiness. For Jack, it's a long shot, but you never know.

The title of the book comes from the name of a small gang of very nasty thugs who call their group "Headstone". The leader, a real psycho, sends miniature headstones to selected victims before doing terrible things to them. Guess who receives one in the post. Not only Jack, himself, but his two friends, Ban Garda (Irish National Policewoman) Ridge, but pal and ex-con Stewart, as well as his chainsmoking, longtime verbal adversary Fr. Malachy.

How Jack handles the bad guys and gal, as well as a few other ne'er-do-wells, is what keeps this story a page turner from beginning to end. Unfortunately, for Jack, he has a very rough time of it...and bleeds a lot. But that isn't at all surprising to those of us who have followed our favorite sometimes up-sometimes down, but never out, hero around the cold and rainy streets of Galway, Ireland for several years.

Jack, despite his exterior toughness and low regard for most people and their weaknesses, is always in awe of his own failings:

"Where did I go?
What happened?
To this bloody day, I've no idea. One of those terrible ironies of alcoholism, striving for numbness and terrified of losing control.
What the Brits call a conundrum.
Great word and I might actually understand what it means someday."

5 Stars
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on December 5, 2011
Ninth in the Jack Taylor suspense series based in Galway, Ireland and based on an alcoholic, drug-addicted, good-hearted private investigator tossed out of the Garda years ago.

My Take
This is the most depressing one yet of Bruen's Jack Taylor series with the losses surrounding Jack and the warped interpretation of Darwin's survival of the fittest by the Headstone gang. It's also a pretty good reason to reinstate the death penalty!

As usual with Jack, it's a mess of drugs and alcohol throughout the story. Not even a need to protect himself or Stewart is enough to encourage a sober moment. It's weird. One moment Jack does something really decent; the next, something horribly wrong. And through it all, he eventually bashes through with his own sense of justice.

The Story
The story starts with the attack on Father Malachy, Jack's nemesis, and continues with Father Gabriel hiring Jack to find yet another priest who absconded with Church funds. Jack has never been one to accept anyone's thinking they were superior to him and he sure isn't startin' with Father Gabriel. Nor does he trust the good father's word as to the eventual fate of Father Loyola Dunne.

Then it's an attack against Ridge. Against Jack. Being whittled down piece by piece. Stewart will be next as he got one of the headstones in the mail as well. A young man doing well despite his Downs' syndrome. Clancy threatening his father's memory.

And all the way through, we stagger through aided by Jameson's and Xanax with a whiff of Players.

The Characters
Jack Taylor was a Garda once. A long time ago. Alcohol and drugs took their toll and continue to do so. Along with Jack's addiction to cigarettes. Still hanging onto his Garda raincoat. Continuing to work as a private investigator. Jack utilizes his unique perspective to help all who apply to him with a heavy helping of cynicism. Even as he betrays others. Laura is an American writer with whom Jack met and fell in love. She's coming to Galway to spend some time with Jack.

Stewart is a convicted drugs dealer from whom Jack has always gotten his drugs. Released from jail, Stewart and Jack have remained friends, helping each other as asked. Stewart has embraced a vegan lifestyle with lashings of green tea and a very Zen attitude. Sergeant Ridge, a.k.a., Ban Ni Ionaire, is a cop and, for some reason, Jack's friend. A lesbian, she chose to protect herself after suffering a life-threatening beating by marrying Anthony to enhance her career. A decision she's fast coming to question even as she finds refuge with Stewart. Vinnie and Charlie Byrne's Bookshop is a constant where Jack gets his books fix. It's not necessary to read them all; it is necessary to have them. Caz is Romany and another friend of Jack's.

Father Gabriel is part of a reform group within the Catholic group called the Brethren and hires Jack to find their chief fundraiser. Kosta is a crook. A friend. One who uses Jack to accomplish his own aims and knowingly destroys a friend of Jack's. A stupid chance Jack takes. One he pays back.

Superintendent Clancy is a cop, a garda. He used to be a friend of Jack's; now he hates him with a passion. O'Brien is Clancy's hatchet man. Mr. Mason is an English private investigator with a heavy hand and backed by Clancy.

The Headstone gang is led by Bine whose agenda is the annihilation of retards, alkies, crippled, misfits, vulnerable, weak, pitiful, ah heck, anyone Bine doesn't like or wants to hurt. A man whom Jack put away years ago, Ronan Wall. A tyrannical, sadistic leader, he uses pain and intimidation to sway his three followers. Bethany is intrigued by Bine even as she despises what he's doing. The big attraction is that Bine gives her permission to do what she wants to do anyway. Then there's Jimmie and Sean. A couple of useless boys with no ambition. Jimmie is willing to go along with anything at all while Sean is intelligent enough to understand it's wrong and weak enough not to care. All four are the product of wealthy families.

The Cover
The cover has a pale gray-blue background with mists hovering over headstones and crosses in a graveyard. Very icy. Very chilling.

Almost as chilling as the title describing the criminal gang targeting misfits of society.
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