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Priest    by Ken Bruen order for
by Ken Bruen
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Minotaur, 2008 (2007)
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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Find yourself a copy of Priest, Ken Bruen's most recent top-notch novel, and say Hello again to Jack Taylor, one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary mystery/crime fiction.

When Jack first appeared in The Guards (U.S. 2003), he had just been dumped from the Garda Slochana (the Guards), Ireland's elite police force; spending too much of his time drinking large amounts of booze, Jack begins his sleuthing career when he helps a woman look for her missing daughter. He returns to his hometown of Galway in The Killing of the Tinkers (U.S. 2004), and - with a growing drug and alcohol problem - he finds himself investigating the slaughter of young travelers. In his third appearance, in The Magdalen Martyrs (U.S. 2005) Jack has nearly reached the bottom as an alcoholic, but he nevertheless still has uncanny investigative skills which he puts to work in looking for a girl missing from a laundry run by nuns. Then in The Dramatist (U.S. 2006) Jack is off the sauce and living clean when he investigates the deaths of students whose reading interests give Jack essential clues.

Now, having returned in the trade paperback edition of the riveting and raw Priest (with the hardcover having appeared in 2007), Jack Taylor is involved in his most controversial and disturbing case. With years 'spent as a half-assed private investigator, finding people, solutions, mostly fuelled on alcohol ... and time after time ... plunged into horror and disaster,' Jack knows that 'the list of dead in his experience would cover a wall.'

When the action of Priest begins, an emotionally scarred Jack has just been released from a mental hospital, having spent a few months there after the death of a three-year old girl entrusted to his care. Almost immediately upon his release and return to Galway, a friend asks the fragile and volatile recovering alcoholic to look into the gruesome murder of a priest whose ugly and obscene temptations may have been the reason for his death. Before he can ultimately find and confront the priest's killer, though, Jack - haunted, angry, bitter, and hurting - will encounter numerous obstacles and detours along the way, and in doing so he will make some stunning discoveries about the most wretched ironies of life, especially his own.

With thirteen other crime novels (in addition to the Jack Taylor novels) to his credit, Bruen has solidly established his reputation as an exemplary craftsman and gifted story-teller. Priest, like the rest of Bruen's work, is superb. So here is the bottom-line question: If you haven't already discovered Bruen's extraordinarily interesting hard-boiled crime novels, what are you waiting for?

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