Acclaimed Irish crime writer Ken Bruen has won numerous awards for his hard-charging, dark thrillers, which have been translated into ten languages. In Headstone, an elderly priest is nearly beaten to death and a special-needs boy is brutally attacked. Evil has many guises and Jack Taylor has encountered most of them. But nothing before has ever truly terrified him until he confronts an evil coterie named Headstone, who have committed a series of random, insane, violent crimes in Galway, Ireland.
Most would see a headstone as a marker of the dead, but this organization seems like it will act as a death knell to every aspect of Jack’s life. Jack’s usual allies, Ridge and Stewart, are also in the line of terror. An act of appalling violence alerts them to the sleeping horror, but this realization may be too late, as Headstone barrels along its deadly path right to the center of Jack’s life and the heart of Galway. A terrific read from a writer called “a Celtic Dashiell Hammett,” Headstone is an excellent addition to the Jack Taylor series (Philadelphia Inquirer).
About the Author
JOHN LEE has acted in shows ranging from Beckett to Shaw and has narrated hundreds of audiobooks including the works of Nobel Winner Orhan Pahmuk and James Joyce’s Ulysses. He is an Audie® Award winner, an AudioFile Golden Voice, and recipient of dozens of Earphone Awards.
Read an Excerpt
He drained the last of the pint, thought, "Christ, that was good."
But he'd had two alongside the batter of pints already. Primarily, he needed a cig. That tipped the balance. He could already feel the first hit of ferocious nicotine. He moved from his stool, brushed the dandruff from his jacket. Normally he didn't notice it but he'd caught sight of himself in the old mirror with the slogan,
"My Goodness, My Guinness."
And a frazzled comic zookeeper chasing a pelican with pints of the black in his beak. Nearly made him smile; you just didn't see those ancient slogans anymore. More's the Irish pity. He cursed anew those damn black jackets that showed up every fleck of white. Like stranded drops of snow. He said,
Got a few muttered,
No warmth though.
Fecking media had given his profession the taint of leprosy. Grudgingly, he conceded the fact he hadn't paid for any of his drinks the whole evening might be a factor.
"Bad cess to ye."
Outside, he stared at the church. Saint Nicholas's. One of the two Protestant outfits in the city and, they claimed, some hoofmarks inside the door were made by Christopher Columbus before he set sail to find the New World. He figured they needed all the lures they could conjure. He got out his pack of Major, the strongest Irish cigarette, none of the Marlboro Light shite for him. Smoke or fuck off. He wouldn't be surprised if the decaffeinated tea rumor was true.
Flicked his Bic.
Got the first lethal drags of smoke into his starved lungs.
When the blow came to the back of his skull.
He dropped the cig, nearly fell. Then a massive kick to his stomach did drop him to his knees. The mix of Jameson and Guinness spewed forth like a nervous confession. He heard,
"Fucking bastard's spewing."
Another forceful kick laid him flat on his back. He could barely see, had the mad thought,
"Nothing good happens outside a Prod church."
He could barely see from pain but he registered three figures.
Was one a girl? He heard, "He's wearing his dog collar."
And it was ripped from his neck with the chant of
A hand in his jacket, ripping out his wallet. Holding it up for the others to see, a male voice going,
"He's got a photo in here."
"Who is it then?
"Some old cunt."
He made the drastic mistake of trying to get up, surely the young people still had respect?
The next kick broke his nose.
He fell back.
The girl stood over him, sneered, "Trying to see up my skirt, yah pervert."
And shredded the photo into his face, paused, added, "Nearly forgot this."
Spat in his face.
"Who's for a pint then?"
As they moved away, he allowed himself a tiny amount of hope till one hesitated, came back, and with slow and deadly aim, kicked him in the side of his head, laughed,
"Forgive me Father, for you have sinned."
A light rain began to fall, drenching what remained of his mother's torn photo. She'd always wanted him to be a priest. As his eyes rolled back into his head, he muttered, "Top of the world, Ma."
A headstone is but a slab of granite lashed by an indifferent wind.
Things were looking up. Late October had brought a week of Indian summer. Be it global warming, the world going to hell?
We grabbed it while it lasted.
Eyre Square, people lying out in the sunshine. Ice cream vendors peddling slush at five euros a pop. The country had, on a second referendum, said yes to the Lisbon Treaty. We took that for what it was, ......................................... a brief stay from Death Row.
I was coming off the worst case of my bedraggled career. Literally, a brush with the devil. I muttered,
Had sworn, "Never, never going down that dark path again."
Whatever it was, the occult, devilment, Xanax, delusion, it had shaken me to the core. I still kept the lights on in the wee hours. In my apartment in, get this, Nun's Island.
Who said God had no sense of the ridiculous?
To add bemusement to bafflement, I met a woman. After the devil, I'd gone to London on one of those late deal Internet offers. Met Laura. An American, aged forty-two, and, to me, gorgeous.
She made my heart skip a beat. She was a writer of crime fiction. At my most cynical, I thought I was simply material for her next book. A broken-down Irish PI, with a limp and a hearing aid.
Yeah, that would fly.
Did I care?
Did I fuck?
She liked me.
I grabbed that like the last beads of the rosary. She had rented a house in Notting Hill and was due to come and stay with me for a week. But hedging our collective bets, we went to Paris for five days, see if there was any real substance in what we thought we had. February in that wondrous city. Should have been cold and bitter.
Such Gods there are gave us the Moveable Feast. Glorious freak spring weather. We had a lovely hotel close to the Irish Institute and were but a Bonjour from the Luxembourg Gardens, where we spent most of our time. I was nervous as a cat, so long since I'd been in a bed with a woman, a woman I hadn't paid for, that is. My scarred body, I dreaded she would be repulsed by it. The opposite, she seemed to embrace my hurt and pain. Whispered as she ran her fingers along one lengthy scar,
"No more beatings Jack, OK?"
Worked for me.
In Hemingway's beautiful memoir, pastiche, he writes of the miraculous time he and Hadley had and how they felt it would last forever. And ... wood was all around them and he never touched it for luck. I said that to Laura, she answered,
"You touched my heart, that's all the luck we need."
Would it were so.
I'd sworn that despite Paris and their customs, you'd never catch me eating food in the park, I'd never be that uninhibited to grab a French roll and eat it as I lay on the grass. I did, loved it, a bottle of Nuits- Saint-Georges, the French amazing sandwiches, wedges of cheese, the almost warm sunshine, and Laura. Jesus, it was heaven. I even rolled up my shirtsleeves. Made her laugh out loud, she said,
"My God, you heathen you."
We did all the tourist crap and relished it. Got our photograph taken on Boulevard Saint Michel. I carry the photo in my wallet and never, never now look at it. I can't. But it's there, like the blessing I once believed I'd be granted. Went to the Louvre and again made her laugh when I said the Mona Lisa was little more than a postage stamp.
In Montmartre on the second-to-last day of our holiday, drinking café au lait in the early morning bistros, she reached across the table, took my hand for reasons not at all, said,
"You make me happy."
Jesus, mon Dieu, me, to make anyone happy. I was fit to burst. Our last evening, in a restaurant on the Left Bank, she literally fed me escargots and I thought,
"Fuck, if they could see me in Galway now."
And then her idea:
"Jack, if my next book deal comes through, would you consider living here for six months?"
Was she kidding? I'd have just stayed there then.
In bed that night, after a slow lingering lovemaking, we were entwined in each other and she asked,
"Are you content to be with me Jack?"
I told the truth,
"More than my bedraggled heart could ever have imagined." After I got home and we were arranging for Laura to come to Galway, I went to the church, lit a candle, pleaded,
"I've never asked for much, but if it doesn't screw with some inflexible Divine plan, could I please have this woman with me, could Paris be, indeed, A Moveable Feast?"
And, I don't know, the candle flickered, went out.
My drinking. She was aware of it, Jesus, how could she not? But seemed to think there was hope.
I abetted the illusion. No doubt, I'd fuck it up. Sure as the granite on the walls of Galway Cathedral. But if this were my one last day in the sun, then I intended to bask.
My odd times friend/accomplice/conscience was Stewart. A former drug dealer who'd reinvented himself as a Zen-spouting entrepreneur. He'd saved my life on more than one occasion. I was never sure if he actually liked me but I sure as fuck intrigued him. I could hear strains of Loreena McKennitt carried on the light breeze from somebody's radio. Worked for me, till my mobile shrilled.
I answered, heard,
Before I could snap off some pithy rejoinder, he said, "Malachy has been badly hurt."
Father Malachy, bane of my life. Close confidant of my late mother, he despised me almost as much as I did myself. Stewart still clung to the notion I could be redeemed. Malachy believed I had no future and my present was pretty much fucked too. His ingrained hatred of me was fuelled by the fact I'd once saved his clerical arse. He could have been the poster boy for "No good deed goes unpunished."
But I took no joy in him being hurt, unless I was the one who did the hurting. He was part of my shrinking history and I clung to the battered remnants like an early morning wino and his last drops of rotgut.
Stewart was trying to phrase it as delicately as he could, gave up, said,
"He was mugged."
I nearly went, "But he's a priest."
The awful fact wasn't that priests were mugged in our new shiny country, it was that more weren't.
Stewart said that Malachy was in UCHG, the University Hospital, in intensive care. I said I'd get up there straightaway. He said, hesitantly,
"Ah Jack, go easy."
Then a thought hit me.
Steel in my voice, stiffening my question, I asked, "You think I did it?"
"Of course not."
I eased, said,
"Well, least you think I have some standards."
He shot back, "If you mugged him, he wouldn't be in the hospital."
"He'd be in the morgue."
And he clicked off.
Reluctantly, I left Eyre Square. Was it my imagination or was the sun already receding? The recession was in full bite. We'd buried the Celtic Tiger ages ago. The papers carried daily dire forebodings of worse to come. The specter of emigration was looming all over again.
A huge new outlet for TK Maxx had just opened. "Designer clothes at affordable prices." The Grand Opening a week before, people had queued for seven hours. The line of recession-proof people had stretched from the statue of Liam Mallow, our Republican hero, past Boyles Betting Shop (free coffee for punters!) along Cuba's nightclub pink façade, and of course the inevitable off-license (ten cans of Bavarian Lager for ten euros) to the very doors of the new shopping mecca.
On the great day, a local had invoked St. Anthony's Brief:
.............................. flee you hostile powers ............................. the lion of the tribe of Judah
The root of David, hath conquered ............ ...Alleluia.
Saint Anthony wasn't available that day, the only alleluias we were familiar with were mangled versions of Leonard Cohen's classic by X Factor wannabes.
Recession my arse.
Swine flu continued to stalk, slow but deadly, across the land. The death toll higher than the government would admit. But hey, they had good news: we'd only a year to wait for the vaccine.
And just to add a kick in the balls, they said, "It will be administered according to priorities."
Meaning the likes of me, and such, weren't on the top ten. I passed down by HMV, who were touting Season Three of Dexter, the serial killer who only kills the bad guys.
Maybe we could import him.
Then down past Abracadabra, the home of the drunkard's beloved late-night kebab. I turned at what used to be Moon's shop and is now the posh Brown Thomas, selling the latest Gucci handbag at the amazing price of only three thousand euros.
I doubt my late dad ever saw three thousand pounds his whole wretched life.
Passed Golden Discs, now closed (the lease had run out), and reached the Abbey Church. Recently renovated, it looked much the same except the price of a mass card had skyrocketed. I dipped my fingers in the holy water font, blessed myself and headed for St. Anthony's altar. I lit a candle for Malachy and for my legion of dead and departed. The rate those I knew were dying, I could open my own private cemetery, issue loyalty cards, and, why not, air miles.
You want something from Saint Anthony, it's real simple, "Pay him."
Shoved a large note in the slot and momentarily was lost for words, So many dead.
The best and the brightest as always. I prayed for a little girl, Serena-May, who still tore the heart out of my chest.
Back when I'd been trying to find who killed Stewart's sister, I spent a lot of hours with the Down syndrome child of my close friends Jeff and Cathie. The little girl filled me with wonder and yearning; I felt my life had some meaning. Her gurgle of delight when I read to her did what gallons of Jameson failed to do: it gave me ease. Her terrible death, literally in my presence, was a lament of such horrendous proportions that I had a complete breakdown and was in a mental hospital for months. Some things you never reconcile and Serena-May was my daily burden of love and care, crushed beyond all recognition.
I prayed for Cody, my surrogate son, dead because of me. Back in the time of the Tinkers, I'd taken on a young impressionable kid, one of those wannabe American young Irish who saw the world through a cinema lens. In the beginning, I'd given him literally errands to run but, over time, we'd developed a bond, so that I came to regard him as the son I'd never have. It was a time of richness, of joy, of fulfillment in my shattered life. And, what the Gods give .............. they sure as fuck take away.
He was cut down by a crazed sniper with a hard-on for me.
His loss was a cross I'd never climb down from.
Finally, I asked that I might find a modicum of peace.
It's not what you read, or even study, it's how you bend the material to shape and endorse your own dark designs.
— Caz, Romanian domiciled in Galway
The basement was lit by thirteen black candles. A flat slab of granite in the rough design of a headstone was supported by beer crates and acted as a table. Three ordinary kitchen chairs were placed thus:
Two on the right side.
One, almost forlorn, on the left.
Top of the table was an ornate throne, rescued from a theatrical shop — like most businesses, gone bust, and the throne had been dumped in the skip. It had been cleaned up and now was alight with velvet cushions and a decorative banner, proclaiming "The New Order."
Behind, pinned on the wall were:
A — a large swastika.
B — a black-and-white reproduction of a school.
C — a worn, battered T-shirt of one of the death metal groups.
On the right side of the table were two brothers, Jimmy and Sean Bennet. They could have passed as twins but Sean was actually three years older. They both had long black hair that they seemed to take turns in flicking out of their respective eyes. They came from one of the wealthiest, oldest Galway families and had inherited, aside from shitloads of cash:
1 — Arrogance.
2 — Entitlement.
3 — Deep seething malignant resentment.
An Irish version of the Menendez brothers but it was unlikely they'd even heard of that infamous duo. They had a limited range of knowledge, like the product of all the wealthiest schools. They smoked continuously, Marlboro Red, and had identical Zippos, chunky ones with the logo:
Opposite them was the girl. Currently answering to Bethany. That changed as frequently as her mood. Her current look was Goth, deathly pale face, black mascara, eyeliner, lipstick, and, of course, raven hair to her shoulders. As Ruth Rendell titled her novel,
An Unkindness of Ravens.
She was very pretty beneath all of the gunk and she knew it. More, she knew how to use it. She was twenty-three, burning with a rage even she no longer knew the motive for. She had embraced hatred with all the zeal of a zealot and relished the black fuel it provided.
On the throne was Bine.
Older than all of them and so intoxicated by power he never even thought of his real name anymore. In front of him was a small bust of Charles Darwin. Bine had studied and completely misunderstood what he read.
His crew were as he'd ordered, dressed in black sweatshirts, combat pants, and Doc Martens. With the metal toe installed. To his side was a wooden crate containing:
Three assault rifles.
A riot of handguns.
Eight sticks of gelignite.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Headstone"
Copyright © 2011 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ken Bruen is in a class by himself. But even a die hard fan like me thinks his bad guys could have had a little more depth. Considering the havoc and fear they created you expected more than just a bunch of crazies to be at fault. Poor Jack! He's had his knees busted -- teeth knocked out--hearing damaged and more cuts ,bruises and broken bones then all Michael Connelly detectives put together. And now thy're cutting off body parts. I hope there is enough to scrape together for another book. I can't help myself I'd miss him. Even though I doubt happiness is just around his corner. Highly Recommended!
Ahhhh.....Ken Bruen is simply one of the best. This is dark Irish crime fiction at its best. In these books the plot is immaterial, its all the other stuff that goes on around the plot that holds your interest. The other thing that sets these books apart is that the character suffer very real consequences, that includes the major players. These aren't for the squeamish but god they are good.
No one writes a flawed character better that Ken Bruen. Jack Taylor is an alcoholic, pill popping ex Guard in Galway, Ireland. He has a caustic tongue but a heart of gold. His nemesis, Father Malachy, is assaulted and ends up in a coma. Soon after, Jack is assaulted and two of his fingers cut off. Someone is mailing his friends tiny tombstones identical to one Jack had received. He realizes someone is targeting what they consider to be social misfits: Jack¿s friends, Ridge and Stewart who are gay; a young man with Downs Syndrome; Jack who is an alcoholic. The attackers have a plan, one that Jack has to figure out before more attacks take place. As if he doesn¿t have enough on his plate, Father Gabriel hires him to locate a priest who had taken off with the money belonging to The Brethren. Jack doesn¿t trust Gabriel but takes the job anyway. Jack deals with his enemies in ways not for the faint at heart but humor softens the blow to the reader. Bruen offers large dollops of Ireland¿s past and present as well as quotes from some of Taylor¿s favorite books. As an aside, HEADSTONE has one of the most striking covers I have ever seen.
Violent but interesting as usual. Hard to not appreciate the character Jack Taylor and his own special brand of ethics. Feels touched when blessed by a nun but wants as little to do with the church as possible. Loves books and quotes from two of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke and Carol O'Connell, loyal to his friends, well for the most part, and helps those less fortunate them himself. Yet I wonder how much more violence his own body can withstand though he never backs down nor backs away. Love these books and love these characters.
First became aware of the author through the Jack Taylor series on television. Excellent writing!!!
What could be more fitting on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day than to read the ninth book in the Jack Taylor series, perhaps as good as they come. It is a kick-off novel from a new imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press, and serves well as a guide to the future. As in the previous volumes in the series, the troubled Irish PI wallows in drinks and drugs, violence and evil. It begins with the brutal beating of a priest, where no love is lost between Jack and the victim. Then Jack, his buddy Stewart, and Ridge, the female Garda, receive miniature headstones, apparently the targets of a person or persons bent on some form of aggression. Along the way are a variety of side issues occupying Jack’s attention, including the church and the precarious economy. Jack Taylor is a unique character. Beyond that, one can read Ken Bruen and enjoy the writing, the sad commentaries on Ireland, life in general, and the awesome adventures of Jack Taylor. The book is, obviously, highly recommended.
This was my introduction to noir poet Ken Bruen, and I will be diving into his prolific writings immediately. The latest in the Jack Taylor series, Bruen peels back the veneer of Galway and shows the machinations of the idyllic seaside town through real and broken people who love it. Jack Taylor is a hard drinking man who believes "law is for the courthouse and justice is served in the alleyways," a dinosaur relic in our ethically wobbly times. With a verbal economy verging on poetry and a masterful eye for human character, Bruen is a force of nature and his latest novel with the Mysterious Press is a treasure. If you haven't read him before, like myself, you'll be kicking yourself for waiting so long.
In Galway, Ireland young punks calling themselves the Headstone batter Father Malachy. The elderly priest is in intensive care at the University Hospital. The next victim of the vicious Headstone gang is Tom Reed, a Downs Syndrome child, whose throat is slashed before they rob him. Former Garda Jack Taylor has met some amoral brutal predators but none like the Headstone whose objective is to cleanse society of misfits like gays, recovering alcoholics, special people, and those they dislike. He knows he is a target as are his friends Ridge the Garda and Stewart the former convict when they receive headstones in the mail. Not one to avoid violence and knowing anyway there is no Sanctuary from this insane fringe, Jack and his buddies take the fight to the Headstone members. The latest Taylor thriller is an exhilarating but gorier than usual tale, which says a lot as this series is known for the flow of blood and guts. Jack struggles with his ugly past though the American he recently met has given him some hope for redemption of sorts. Ironically Jack concludes the Headstone's lunatic homicidal actions make his transgressions seem like virtues. Although the plot is thin, Taylor fans will anticipate the Galway confrontation. Harriet Klausner