The award-winning crime novelist Ken Bruen is as joyously unapologetic in his writing as he is wickedly poetic. In Green Hell , Bruen's dark angel of a protagonist, Jack Taylor, has hit rock bottom: one of his best friends is dead and the other has stopped speaking to him; he has given up on sobriety; and his firing from the Irish national police is ancient history.
But Jack isn't about to embark on a self-improvement plan. Instead, he has taken up a vigilante case against a respected professor of literature at the University of Galway who has developed a savage habit his friends in high places are only too happy to ignore. Jack unexpectedly gains a new sidekick after rescuing a preppy American student from a couple of kid thugs. The student, a Rhodes scholar, decides to devote himself to slinging back shots of Jameson and writing a biography of Galway's most magnetic rogue. Between pub crawls and street fights, Jack's vengeful plot against the professor soon spirals towards chaos, putting both the student and himself in danger. Enter Emerald, an edgy young goth who could either be the answer to Jack's problems, or the last ripped stitch in his undoing. Ireland may be known as a "green Eden," but in Jack Taylor's world, the national color has a lethal sheen.
About the Author
Ken Bruen received a doctorate in metaphysics, taught English in Africa, and then became a crime novelist. The critically acclaimed author of the Jack Taylor series and The White Trilogy , he is the recipient of two Barry Awards and two Shamus Awards and has twice been a finalist for the Edgar Award. He lives in Galway, Ireland.
Read an Excerpt
Part IForgiveness Might Be Feeding the Hand that Bites You
The day began ... badly.
For Jack, this was like breathing. Natural.
It was never a plan to write about Jack Taylor. I'd come to Dublin as part of a Rhodes scholarship to conclude a treatise on Beckett. To end up living in Galway, drinking as if I meant it,
... how'd that happen?
As Jack would say,
This is not ...
A Boswell to Dr. Johnson
Or even ...
A Watson to Holmes gig.
But rather a haphazard series of events leading me to abandon Beckett in pursuit of the Taylor enigma. Little did I know it would be an ironic reflection of one of Jack's favorite novels:
The Wrong Case.
As Jim Crumley had once said of a book,
"This is not a crime novel, it's a story with some crimes in it."
I met Jack Taylor at a time of odd disturbance.
Had all recently died. Jack mourned all three. He had heard of only the first. The second was the star of Glee and the third had presented a show called
Jack said those last two represented (a) the youth he never had and (b) how old he was not to recall Whicker.
Both ends of his booze-soaked candle. James G of course was in The Sopranos, demonstrating, Jack said,
"How depression and brutality are uneven dance partners."
This, like many things he said, made sense only to him.
I hadn't, he claimed,
To truly grasp absurdity. Accounts in part for my name. My mother is Irish and steeped in the iconography of a blood saturated in epic/tragic history and so, after
My first name.
My father hails from Boston though, alas, is not of the infamous immediate family. Though they do say all Kennedys are related.
That dog doesn't hunt. I haven't come within a spit of the Hyannis Port compound. I will admit to a certain strain of impetuousness. Spring break in Cancún the year of my graduation, I came to from a tequila slammer ruin with a tattoo on my arm, reading
When I'd jokingly suggested to Taylor I write of his life, he'd gone deep.
"Do a Tom Waits."
He sighed, said,
"Shall I tell you the truth or just string you along?"
The heft of the man. Jack was, he claimed, exactly six feet tall, adding,
"Like the Pale Nazarene."
For such a ferocious derider of the Church, he was sodden with its
I'd told him I was an atheist and he laughed, loud and warm. He had one of those truly epic laughs. It was so rare but when he let go, it was all-embracing. His eyes and his wounded spirit on song.
"See how that flies when a fucker shoves a gun in your mouth at three-thirty in the morning."
Riddle me that.
The books he was reading in those last days. As if he knew something.
Satan, your Kingdom must
Come down. ...
Playing as I perused the book titles.
A fifty-euro sound bite, Jack said. Adding,
"That track used in two TV series:
Jack's coked taste.
Reconstructing Amelia Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Lottie Moggach, Kiss Me First
Sara Gran, The Bohemian Highway
Lynn S. Hightower, Flashpoint The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Malcolm Mackay, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter
And of course, the boxed DVDs:
House of Cards Breaking Bad Les Revenants Borgen The Americans
And I wondered how a perpetual drunk, pill-popping, on/off nicotine freak could focus long enough for any of the above. I asked.
July 2013: The Galway Races on the shimmering horizon. I'd known Jack for three months. In truth, with him,
The sheer hard core.
It felt like three years.
How we met? Not as you'd hazard: in a pub.
I was on the ground, my top teeth crushed by a steel-toed Dr. Martens. Two thugs, trainees almost, no more than sixteen ... collectively had waylaid me as I came out of McDonagh's Fish 'n' Chips. Bottom of Quay Street but a bad poem away from the Spanish Arch. I was balancing my smartphone and the food, authentically wrapped in the weekly Galway Advertiser, the first one asked,
"Gis a chip, cunt."
The richness of Irish youth vocabulary. The second one, I'd carelessly allowed behind me.
I'm an academic, not a kung fu fighter.
He hit me hard in my lower back with a baseball bat. The shame, not to be even mugged with authenticity, like, say, with a hurly.
Oh, America, we export too well.
Shock and pain swamped me as the first took my top teeth out with his boot. Shame too, mortification, I was taken down by ... fuck's sake ...
Amid blood and dizziness, I gasped as both kids stood, ready to, as they chanted,
"Let's kick the fuckin be-Jaysus out of this bollix."
A figure loomed behind, then I heard,
"What's the craic?"
And he literally cracked their small, malicious skulls together. They reeled apart, moaning, and he dropped the first with a kick to the groin. He reached a hand to me, said,
"Take it slow, Pilgrim."
As ... was I hallucinating? ... John Wayne.
With his help, I was able to stand, even spit out some teeth. I mumbled,
"Thanks, I guess."
He smiled, said,
I asked, as I tried to fight off nausea and tremors,
"Is that like ... bad?"
He was staring at the second kid, who, though on his feet, was dazed. He answered,
"Long as you got the bucks, we love you."
Then checking my ruined mouth, said,
"Better get you to A & E."
Used his cell, called a cab, urging them,
"Get here like yesterday."
Again a faux American intonation, as if he was subtly mocking me. Sure enough, a cab screeched to a halt in, as I'd come to know Jack's term,
Helped me to the cab, then turned, moved back to the seriously fucked kids, and, get this, frisked them.
The kid still standing, utterly dazed.
Jack slid into the seat beside me, holding the kid's money wedge, said,
Contempt Prior to Investigation
From Boru Kennedy's Notes/Journals
He sees the little girl, Serena May, delighted with the new trick he showed her. How to make a silver coin disappear. He'd thought, ruefully, A trick the banks had perfected to an inordinate degree.
The sun had been uncharacteristically hot. He'd opened the window on the first story and watched as the little girl gurgled happily on the floor.
Then he dozed.
Woken by a small cry.
Barely a whisper, more a tiny whisper of utter dread. Jumped to his feet.
The child was gone.
Thus began a whole fresh circle of hell. Later, when the full truth was revealed, he might have been partially absolved.
Least of all by himself.
I worry about anyone who is lighting himself on fire for our enjoyment.
The New York Times wrote in 2012 about Cat Marnell, a confessional columnist who described her vampire hours, soulless sex, fragile mental state, and drug-fueled lifestyle. Her job, she said, was to be:
Jack Taylor had been doing that job all his life.
I was released from the hospital on the first day of the Galway Races. The fierce three-week heat wave had come to a deluging stop. Torrential rain lashed the streets. Did it stop the racing?
Like ... hello!
A temporary bridge in my upper mouth would hold until, a cheerful doctor said,
"Some fancy dentist can charge you exorbitantly."
Dentistry, I soon learned, like everything else in Ireland, was nightmarish expensive. To my utter amazement and perhaps a little delight, my savior was standing outside the hospital's main entrance. He was wearing chinos, Crocs, and faded T-shirt with the slogan
"Is maith an talann an ocross."
(Hunger is the best sauce).
He was deeply tanned and his full head of graying hair needed a trim. Deep lines gave his face the allure of old parchment but the eyes were alive and slightly mocking. Extending a hand, he said,
"They let you out."
I took his hand, registering two missing fingers. Barely perceptible was a tiny hearing aid. I shook his hand (carefully), said,
"I owe you big-time."
Holding my gaze, he said,
"Jesus kid, lighten up, these are the jokes. C'mon, I'll buy you a jar."
Not for the first time I behaved like a prig, protested,
"It's not noon yet."
He sighed, took my arm, said,
"It's Race Week, the town is on the piss."
Led me across the road to a pub called the River Inn. He said,
"It's Ireland, there's not a river within spittin distance."
I noticed he limped slightly but still moved with an economy that belied his years. He was right about the town. The place was jammed but he muscled his way to the bar amid shouts of
"Taylor, thought you were dead ..."
"Jack, ya bollix ..."
"Lend us a tenner ..."
"Any tips for the Plate ..."
He ignored all, got a winning smile from the barwoman, who asked,
"By two," he said,
And somehow, despite the crush, carried out a table for us by a large window. He said,
"Plant yer arse on that."
Did he mean the table? He straddled a stool, producing a second from the crowd. I sat, asked,
"How will she find us in this mob?"
"... if that's her name."
I trailed. He muttered,
"I hope to fuck, hell of a time to discover she's a Mary."
"Take her a few minutes to build those pints."
"Alas, not for me, Jack ... it's Jack, yes? I'm on painkillers."
"Yah lucky fuck, the pints will have you flyin in jig time."
The woman appeared, unfazed by the madding crowd, plunked two perfect pints and two shots before us. Jack handed her a flash of notes, said,
"And one for yourself, hon."
She gave him a smile of pure radiance. He raised the pint, said,
Downed half his pint, hammered the shot, said,
"Get that in yah, another round coming."
My Taylor baptism if not of fire, then certainly Jameson.
Flashes of Huge merriment Amazement Incredulity Pathos
Punctuate my fractured recollection of that first, long, insane day with Jack. We even backed a horse, named, I shit thee not:
Beckett's Boy Ridden by A. P. McCoy
And Jack saying to me,
"See kid, the shit-hot favorite is ridden by the people's favorite, Ruby Walsh."
The bookies were truly like Dante's forgotten circle of a Celtic hell. Despite the ban on smoking, the air was suffused with smoke. Smoke of frenzied desperation.
"Bang a ton on BB."
Slight shadow of annoyance flitted across his battered face, then was gone, he enunciated slowly,
"Put a hundred euros to win."
Despite the booze, the sheer adrenaline in the very air, caution whispered. I asked,
"Couldn't we, like, put fifty to show?"
Took him a moment to translate American to Irish-English, then,
"Place better? No fuckin way. I never played for safety my whole befuddled life."
I bit down, withheld,
"And gee, look at the evidence."
I played to win.
At 8 to 1.
I never won a goddamn thing outside of literary stuff. I yelled,
"My Gawd, that's like, with the exchange rate, like ... a thousand bucks!"
Tried to give him half.
No way. Jack's response ... like this,
"Buy me dinner."
Which was chips doused in vinegar, sitting on the rocks over Galway Bay. A six-pack in a cooler and a twenty-euro dope deal.
We proceeded to:
Do a line Throat-drop two fat chips Chug the beer
Then belch as if you meant it. With Jack, I was learning he could turn on a red cent without conversation, rhyme, or reason. He was talking about Walter Macken, veered, asked,
"How was Dublin?"
I said, of my Dublin impressions,
"What's with the rabbits?"
I told him that
(a) I was stunned by the number of beggars and in one bizarre scene, outside the ultraexpensive Brown Thomas, a man on his knees, a cardboard sign pleading for food.
(b) All the homeless guys/beggars on nigh every bridge had, get this, a rabbit.
Jack gave a resigned chuckle, said,
"Last year, on a slow news day — meaning Syria, the Banks, Household Charges were on hold — the media ran with a story of a young homeless guy who kept a pet rabbit. Some mindless morons grabbed the animal, slung it into the Liffey."
"Fuck," I said,
"The homeless guy dived in, saved his rabbit. ... Lo and behold, he got all sorts of help, including the Mayor's Bravery Award."
"... so now every lowlife is trying to cash in on the act."
I mulled this over, then,
"In Galway ... are there rabbits?"
Shook his head,
"Naw, we have a no-frills gig going. Just feck the homeless guy in the river."
Impossible to tell if he was yankin my chain. I tried,
"No rabbits then?"
"Only in stew."
The Year of the Understatement
Even now, I'm not too sure how
None of the above Jack was when he told me about "The Man Who Tortured Women." Laid out that stark phrase like a flat hammer, turned to look at me, then,
"Anthony de Burgo."
Then, bitterness leaking all over his words, he sprinted,
"Impressive name, huh? And fuck me, Tony's an impressive fellow:
Lectures in Anglo-Irish lit, has numerous academic essays, studies, and, get this, even slums as a hack noir novelist, to, as he said on The Late Late Show' pay the light bill.' Oh, Tony's a droll bollix and no mistake. Even persuaded our Galway hurlers to line out for a ..."
"Spot of cricket."
Jack took a deep breath, fired up a Marlboro Red with a heavy click of his Zippo, blew smoke, continued,
"What 'spiffin fun' that was and all for charity. The guy is a media darling. How could you not love him, too? His looks got a brooding De Niro (circa Mean Streets) gig going. 'Cept every few months, he grabs a teenage girl, tortures her beyond imagining, stops a breath short of murder."
"Least so far."
Sweat had broken out above his dark eyes. He reached for the Jameson bottle, hit his coffee with it, offered, I declined, he drank deep, I asked,
"Why isn't he in jail?"
Jack seemed to shudder, then shook himself off, said, "Tony's a clever boy, very, very, clever, and he's got the hotshots in some Rotary-type club to keep him, if not decent, certainly free."
I wasn't sure where this was going or even why he was laying it out. He saw my face, stubbed out the cig, said,
"Thing is, I'm going to take him off the board."
Was I rattled?
Phew — oh! I avoided his eyes, asked,
"Why are you telling me this? Us Americans, we specialize in euphemisms. Who else gave the English language the richness of:
bought the farm
punched his ticket
So like, you know ... 'take him off the board,' am I reading you correctly?"
He gave a short laugh, nodded.
So ... so, I threw it out there:
Mystified, I reached for the bottle, poured a healthy dollop, drank, gasped, asked,
"Why on earth are you telling me?"
"Because you are going to be my witness, my ... how shall I say ... last Will and Testament."
The Jameson singing in my blood, I near shouted,
"You gotta be ... I mean, like, seriously, fucking kidding me."
He stood up, stretched, said,
"Kid, I never fuck around with murder."
Lines from Literary Heroine (Anthony de Burgo)
Everybody's fuckin dead of note perhaps ...
Later I would learn that Literary Heroine, a prose poem, was de Burgo's attempt at a "Howl-like" narrative. Jack commented,
"Tony likes to play, wordplay is just one facet."
Did I believe Jack was seriously going to like ...
kill a professor?
Those first head-rush, adrenalized weeks of his company had me, to paraphrase Jack:
As the Irish so delicately phrase it,
"I didn't know whether I was comin or goin."
My proposed treatise on Beckett was put on a haphazard hold as I tried to find a balance in Taylor's world. A man who was as likely to split a skull with a hurly as hand fifty euros to a homeless person (providing he didn't have a rabbit, of course).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Green Hell"
Copyright © 2015 Ken Bruen.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like a perfect slow poured pint of the dark, Ken Bruen's novels fill the senses, as his words cascade and settle on the soul. Pure perfection. Page after page. Book after book.