Jack Taylor

Created by Ken Bruen
(1951–)

“Expect nothing, and by Christ, you’re entitled to even less”
Jack Taylor in The Devil

Alchohic.

Coke fiend.

Pill popper.

Angry.

Bitter.

A limp.

Scarred.

Broken.

Battered, tattered and tortured.

A man of few joys, but many great sorrows.

Loyal to a fault.

As flawed as fuck.

And as Irish as a pint of the black.

Ex-Guard JACK TAYLOR may not be good at much, but he does seem to have a talent for substance abuse, melancholy, astounding loyalty for his friends, and finding things. So when his arse is kicked off Ireland’s national police force, the Garda Siochna, for his excessive drinking and his tendency to shoot off his mouth, he decides to become a private eye in Galway (“the dirtiest city in Ireland”).

Not that alcoholic P.I.s are particularly original, but somehow Bruen manages to not only make the many clichés of the genre come alive all over again, but he blows them out of the water in The Guards (2001), Taylor’s astounding and audacious debut. They’re all here, too: the beautiful client who may be hiding something, the brooding tough but tender P.I. who seeks solace in booze and books and drugs, the missing daughter, the mordant wisecracks, etc.

And that was just the beginning of what’s become one of the most original and singular voices in detective fiction.

The fact is that, stereotypes or not, envelope pushing or not, Jack’s simply a great character, an often self-pitying, obnoxious drunk overly impressed with his own wit who’s almost always way out of his league, and not above using some very questionable methods. He’s not even that good a detective, it turns out.

A veritable flood of literary quotations and music trivia spewing from his mouth, he bumbles around, often doing more harm than good, despite his best efforts, as he works the case, not always sure what he’s doing. And Jack’s harsh, bleek Galway is a far cry from the over-romanticized pastoral paradise described in song every March by a bunch of weepy-eyed fools in green plastic bowler hats swilling green Bud Light in “Irish” pubs all across North America. There are no Lucky Charms here.

The Taylor books are full of tricky punctuation and a plethora of quotations and digressions that in the hands of a lesser writer would sink them, but Bruen manages to pull it off every damn time, with solid storytelling and spot-on characterization, razor sharp prose that cuts through the fat and reveals the meat (and heart) underneath.

In 2010, TV3 in Ireland aired The Guards, starring a suitably rough-hewn (but Scottish?) Iain Glen as Taylor, which served as a pilot for a series of television movies based on Bruen’s novels and characters. The grimness and bleakness were toned down and slightly sanitized (no mention is made, for example, of his cop buddy being a lesbian), but even so, there was plenty of grit to chew on. As well as a little bewilderment at them casting a Scot in the lead.

Still, the film proved successful enough that several more were produced. Unfortunately, as the series progressed, the episodes veered further and further from the hard, bitter truths of the novels, replaced with a increasingly mawkish air-sucking sentimentality that would had the real Jack reaching for the bottle — or a cudgel. Not that the series was necessarily light fare, but it may well have jumped the shark in the “Shot Down” episode, with Glen consoling a young girl by singing her a ballad, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

But that’s the TV show, not the books. The books are the real deal. Accept no substitutes.

Always keep your eye on Bruen. He’s not a contender; he’s a champ; possibly the genre’s most instantly recognizable = stylist since Chandler. If you’re ever in Galway, say hello. And buy him a drink.

According to the Tangled Web, Ken “hails from the west of Ireland and lives in south London. His past includes drunken brawls in Vietnam, a stretch of four months in a South American gaol (and) a PhD in metaphysics.” He spent twenty-five years as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, S.E. Asia and South America.

Besides the Jack Taylor series, he’s the author of a slew of acclaimed crime novels, including Rilke on Black, The Hackman Blues and Her Last Call To Louis McNeice.

UNDER OATH

  • “An elegiac novel of despair and redemption. Bleak, amoral and disturbing, The Guards breaks new ground in the Irish thriller genre.”
    — Irish Independent
  • “Set in Ireland, this is a beautiful, soulful book by a beautiful soulful writer.”
    “Don Winslow’s Five Favorite Police Novels” (June 23, 2017, Entertainment Weeky)
  • “There’s something endearing about this profoundly cynical series, with its idiosyncratic style (quirky quotes, soaring poetry, odd ramblings) and blistering assaults on two great Irish traditions: Catholicism and local politics. Jack Taylor, the self-destructive protagonist, is Irish with a suicidal vengeance. He does drugs and keeps his brain pickled in alcohol, all while remaining aggressively sentimental.”
    Marilyn Stasio (November 2020, The New York Times Book Review)

THE EVIDENCE

  • “My glass was empty, echoing my heart.”
    — Priest
  • “You don’t know hell’ till you stand in a damp dance hall in South Armagh as the crowd sing along to ‘Surfing Safari.'”
    — The Guards (2001)
  • “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 get away weith almost anything except ‘telling.'”
    — The Guards (2001)

NOVELS

SHORT STORIES

  • “The Dead Room” (2005)
  • “All the Swans Are Dying” (2009)
  • “The Galway Hooker” (2011)

COLLECTIONS

  • The Galway Trinity (2012) | Buy this book
    Three Jack Taylor stories, with a an introduction by Gary Phillips, and illustrations and an afterword by Phil Parks.

TELEVISION

  • FIRST SERIES | Buy DVD Set 1
    • THE GUARDS
      (2010, TV3/Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: August 2, 2010
      Based on the novel by Ken Bruen
      Teleplay by Tom Collins, Anne McCabe, Ralph Christians
      Directed by Stuart Orme
      Executive producer: Ralph Christians
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      With Aine Ni Mhuiri as Mrs Taylor
      Paraic Breathnach as Father Malachy
      and Frank O’Sullivan as O’Clancy
      Also starring Ralph Brown, Tara Breathnach, Barry Cassin Ö Sean, Aoife Bell, Frederico Betti, Zoe Cafferty, Megan Conneely, Peadar Cox, Eamonn Cunniss, Colmcille Donnelly, Gerry Ferguson, Ken Fildes, Clodagh Freeman, David Heap, Seamus Hughes, Darren Killeen, Tom Latchford
    • THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS
      (2011, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: April 10, 2011
      Based on the novel by Ken Bruen
      Teleplay by Marteinn Thorisson
      Directed by Stuart Orme
      Executive producer: Ralph Christians
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      With Nora-Jane Noone as Garda Kate Noonan
      Killian Scott as Cody Farraher
      Aine Ni Mhuiri as Mrs Taylor
      and Paraic Breathnach as Father Malachy
      Also starring Liam Carney, Neil Malik Abdullah, Stella McCusker, Muireann Bird, Orla McGovern, Nick Lee, Darine N’Dhonnchadha, Maggie McCarthy, Nick Lee, Sarah O’Toole, Eoin Thornton
    • THE PIKEMEN
      (2011, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: July 10, 2011
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Teleplay by Marteinn Thorisson
      Directed by Stuart Orme
      Executive producer: Ralph Christians
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      With Killian Scott as Cody Farraher
      Nora-Jane Noone as Garda Kate Noonan
      Aine Ni Mhuiri as Mrs Taylor
      Nick Lee as Detective Kavanagh
      Paraic Breathnach as Father Malachy
      and Frank O’Sullivan as Superintendent Clancy
      Also starring Tara Breathnach, Moya Farrelly, Dessie Gallagher, Stuart Graham, Ann Marie Horan, Sam Keeley, SÌghle NÌ Chonail, Paul Valentine, Camille Yourell
  • SECOND SERIES | Buy DVD Set 2
    • PRIEST
      (2012, Magma Productions)
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      Uh-oh. They’re no longer basing the films on actual novels, except in passing.
    • THE DRAMATIST
      (2013, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: March 3, 2013
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
    • SHOT DOWN
      (2013, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: December 1, 2013
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      The nadir. You know you’ve left the Brueniverse when Jack starts singing a tender Irish ballad to console a young girl, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
  • THIRD SERIES | Buy DVD Set 3
    • CROSS
      (aka “Blood Cross”)

      (2016, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: December 17, 2016
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Written by
      Marteinn Thorisson
      Directed by
      Stuart Orme
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      Also starring
      Siobhan O’Kelly, Erin Gilgen, Alan McKee, Ross McKinney, Shane Robinson, Lalor Roddy, Killian Scott, Elva Trill, Sinead Watters
    • HEADSTONE
      (2016, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: December 24, 2016
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Written by
      Marteinn Thorisson
      Directed by
      Stuart Orme
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      Also starring
      Christopher Fulford, Ian Beattie, Fiona Bell, Diarmuid Noyse, Roisin O’Neill, Peter Campion, Simon Boyle
    • PURGATORY
      (2017, Magma Productions)
      Original Irish Airdate: December 31, 2016
      Based on characters created by Ken Bruen
      Written by
      Marteinn Thorisson
      Directed by
      Charlie McCarthy
      Starring Iain Glen as JACK TAYLOR
      Also starring
      Laura Aikman, Rory Fleck Byrne, Christopher Fulford, Eva-Jane Gaffney, Sarah Jane Seymour

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Pictured is Iain Glen as Taylor.

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