Purgatory by Ken Bruen

“How many times and in how many fucking ways could you adapt Pride and Prejudice?”

Purgatory, the 10th novel in Irish author Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series, finds former cop Taylor in post-boom Galway, haunted by his past and missing a few fingers. Jack has given up alcohol after reasoning that it “wasn’t easing” his “torture but fine-tuning it.” and while his attitude towards society in general has soured, his personal fortunes have improved with the discovery of a nestegg which he grabs before the church gets a whiff of it. Not that he mourns the death of his parents:

My mother wasn’t a simple bitch. She was more evolved, a cunning sociopath who hated the world under the guise of piety.

He’s got new digs, and almost as though he’s expecting the apocalypse, he’s lining the walls with as many books as he can. He turns down missing persons cases, and seems set to detach himself permanently from society when he finds himself dragged back into the mire by two things: the emergence of C33, a vigilante killer and the acquaintance of Reardon, a young dot-com billionaire who’s rapidly buying up Galway.

PurgatoryWhen Jack receives the first anonymous note from C33, he dismisses it, but it soon becomes clear, with the discovery of several dead bodies, that C33 means business. C33 delivers retribution to those who’ve escaped the consequences of their crimes, and for some inexplicable reason, the killer wants Jack to join in–even pointing him towards the next intended victim, and telling him it’s his “turn.” Since Jack is in disconnect mode, he sets his old “reluctant ally” Stewart, “former yuppie dope dealer,” on to the trail of C33. Besides, Jack has his own distractions with a woman 20 years younger–the enigmatic and very dangerous Kelly. It turns out that ignoring the killer, and focusing on Kelly is a bad mistake….

Bruen nails character in his own inimitable fashion with a few sharp sentences:

Peg Ramsay was not a nice lady. There was little in her background to indicate she’d become a mean, vicious, greedy cow. She was simply a bad bitch.


Peg was a heft of a lady, in her rough fifties, with a face that no makeup was ever going to conceal, a face that had learned hard, sustained it. A shitload of jewelry that rattled like a conscience when she moved. A smoker’s pallor, that colour I know, inside and out. She rasped, “Taylor, well I’ll be fucked.”


Purgatory is full of Bruen’s unmistakable voice so we not only learn about Jack Taylor’s reading habits (he’s on a female crime writer binge), but we also learn, in a quote that gives a sense of Bruen’s lean, abbreviated style, that Jack will never own a kindle:

Jack had been educating her in crime fiction and, so far, she had seven of the James Lee Burke titles. And, oh horror, she’d told Jack,

“I’m thinking of getting a kindle.”

See him explode.

Like this.

“Yah dumb bitch, you’ve read what? Six books, total? And what, you’re going to have storage for thousands of books. Get fucking real, lady. You think I’ll come round your house, ask, “hey, can I browse through your Kindle?”

This entry in the Bruen canon is dark and while there are touches of humour, they’re few. Instead Jack Taylor is close to dismissing the whole of the human race, and he’s fine with that, but the vigilante killer is dismissing people in a whole new way, and when the killer’s reach touches Jack’s life, he’s forced back into the game.

On the rating scale, I prefer Bruen’s standalone London Boulevard and A White Arrest–crime novels I cannot recommend highly enough. Bruen’s lean novels somehow manage to clean the mental palate, but a vigilante killer makes this reader wince–especially one who seems to have the abilities of the SAS. While Purgatory has all the prerequisite Bruen skill, it feels a little tired or even end-stage plot-wise (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book) and that may partly be just Jack’s exhaustion with the human race oozing through the pages. Anyway, Bruen/Jack Taylor fans won’t be able to say no, but it’s not his best.

review copy


Filed under Bruen Ken, Fiction

14 responses to “Purgatory by Ken Bruen

  1. “almost as though he’s expecting the apocalypse, he’s lining the walls with as many books as he can” – sounds overly familiar.

  2. I love the fact that the detective in this one is so literate 🙂

  3. Not one to start with I’d say but still interesting enough. The kindle quote made me laugh. I wonder whether Bruen owns one.

  4. I’ve just started the post and I already love the first quote.
    Back to reading…and back here soon.

  5. That’s not his best maybe but he’s still a writer to read for those who haven’t tried him yet. Just for his style.
    I have The Guards on the shelf (Delirium Tremens in French). I don’t remember if you’ve read it.

  6. The kindle quote made me laugh too. And your excerpts of his descriptions of Peg are excellent. Having just watched a Luther story-line on a vigilante- style killer, though, I’m inclined to agree they make me wince. It’s scary really how many people seem to be willing to cross the line from being law-abiding to crossing the line to vigilantism/vigilancy!!? (ha). Vigilante story lines are always discomforting.

    • He’s an excellent writer but the plot in this one didn’t work for me, How is Luther? I saw part of one episode and wasn’t that impressed.

      Vigilantism is the fantasy gap between justice and the law. The reality is rather ugly. Plus it’s an overworked theme.

  7. Thomas Fasano

    I recently discovered Ken Bruen from the Jack Taylor series on Acorn TV. Glad I did.

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