Tag Archives: crime series

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

The Vault by Ruth Rendell

While I am a self-acknowledged fan of Ruth Rendell’s psychological stand-alone novels, I have also read and enjoyed a number of Inspector Wexford mysteries. The Vault, Rendell’s latest, and one of the best I’ve read in the Wexford series, finds Chief Inspector Wexford now retired and with his wife Dora, splitting his time between Kingsmarkham and London. 

 Rendell’s long acquaintance with Wexford’s character proves to be a worthy journey in The Vault, and through the smoothness of the narrative along with the details of Wexford’s inner life, there’s the sense that the author and her long-standing character are old, familiar friends.

A rather nasty police case finds Wexford, not unwillingly, back involved in police work. Wexford runs into Detective Superintendent Tom Ede of the Met.–a chance meeting, but it results in the rather circumspect Ede asking Wexford if he’d be interested in acting as an “expert advisor” in the Orcadia Place case. Wexford, who’s been trying to read Booker prize-winning novels in order to pass his time in a meaningful way, is excited by the prospect, and so he agrees.

The Orcadia Place case is both notorious and a bit of a puzzle. The Rokebys, the owners of Orcadia Cottage (“a sizable detached house” in an expensive neighbourhood) discovered a manhole cover on the grounds on their home. Rokeby had previously had a number of architects and workmen out to his property to assess the viability of building an underground room. Planning permission was refused, so Rokeby’s plans came to nought, but when Rokeby spied the manhole cover (previously covered with a planter), he opened it and looked inside. He saw a small coal room, and inside the room were four bodies. As Ede explains to Wexford:

The manhole cover wasn’t heavy. He lifted it off, and instead of the drain or drainpipe he expected, leading away into the mews, he found himself looking down into a black hole. At the bottom was something he couldn’t properly see apart from a kind of shininess that seemed to be a sheet of plastic. That was covering a multitude of sins, but he didn’t know it then.

Now before he did anything more, he went into the house and fetched his wife. The two of them looked down into the darkness and at the shiny thing and what looked–he said they could just about see it–like a woman’s shoe.

Enter the police. The biggest mystery about the four bodies is that it’s clear, from the decomposition, that the four people were not killed at the same time. Three of the bodies–an older woman, an older man, and a young man, appear to have been dead, according to the pathologist, for somewhere between 11-13 years. The fourth body in “the vault” as Wexford calls the coal room, has been there for only about 2 years. To top off the mystery, there’s about 40,000 in jewelry with the bodies. How can four people go missing and no one notice? Did the same killer kill all 4 victims and use the coal room as a tomb? How can the Rokebys, who were apparently in residence during the last murder, not know anything? And what about all the teams of architects and builders that poked around? 

There’s a lot here for Wexford to mull over, and he’s more or less left to his own devices to investigate. Since he is no longer a policeman, he’s occasionally lent a young PC to accompany him with his hunt for information. During the course of his investigation, Wexford learns how to use the internet for research and he also sends his first e-mail. 

Since this is a series character, there are also considerable developments in Wexford’s private life. Tragedy strikes and then the limits of family tolerance are strained when Wexford’s divorced daughter Sylvia shows a disappointing lack of acknowledged responsibility, remorse and sensitivity for the events that takes place.  Wexford reevaluates his role as a parent:

Dora had been right and he had been wrong, he thought. Keeping aloof from all this, taking no stand, avoiding judgment, that was all wrong. A parent should speak out, no matter what age his child was, no matter what reputation he had achieved as a tolerant and never moralistic arbiter.

Wexford also discovers that he’s not fond of some aspects of Ede’s character, and this makes him miss Burden, his old sidekick from Kingsmarkham. Ede is fond of using clichés and while this makes Wexford wince at first, he discovers the usefulness of clichés as the story spins out. 

Possibly the most enjoyable aspects of this Wexford novel are the characters he runs into through the course of the investigation. Orcadia Cottage is in a rather swanky area, and Wexford must question some of the neighbours–one of whom– is a repulsively snobby woman, Mildred Jones, also known as Old Mildreadful. Mildred employs a string of illegal girls at sub-wages, and then fires them when she returns to S. Africa. At one point, she even tells  Wexford off for thanking her latest domestic slave for making him a cup of tea. According to Mildred, “It doesn’t do to talk to them like you knew her socially. Do it just once and they start taking advantage.” The fact that Mildred pays a pittance and takes advantage of the fact that illegals have little recourse, escapes this crass, mean-spirited, snob:

Just because I live here–in a whole house, I mean, in St. John’s Wood–and because I got to South Africa every year, people think I’m rolling in money. Let me tell you, I got this flat under our divorce settlement, and that was all I got. Colin got our place in the country and I never had a penny out of him. He sold that house and got enough from it to buy a place on Clapham Common. I have to live on my investments, and you know what that means in a recession. It was all I could do to afford the air fare to Cape Town and then I couldn’t afford first class.

In typical Rendell fashion, the journey to the solution of the crime is one of the best aspects of the tale, and this is manifested in the way Wexford enters people’s lives. Through his eyes we see a range of living arrangements, some happy, some chaotic, and many extremely unhappy. Wexford walks away depressed from some encounters and alternately, he’s happy when he finds a genuinely content couple.

The Vault is actually a sequel to the 1998 novel A Sight for Sore Eyes, but it didn’t seem to matter (and may actually have been a good thing) that I didn’t read the earlier book. It apparently ends with bodies in the coal cellar.


Filed under Fiction, Rendell, Ruth

Beast of Burden by Ray Banks

For the title of Ray Banks’ fourth and final novel in the Cal Innes series, I have to think that the Rolling Stones song played some role. In Beast of Burden, Manchester PI Cal Innes is dogged by two old enemies: Detective Donley (otherwise known as Donkey) and crime lord Morris Tiernan. There’s a lot of history between Cal, Donley and Tiernan, and Beast of Burden finds Cal weakened badly, walking with a cane, and barely able to speak following a drug-related stroke. His condition leads both Donley and Tiernan to believe that they can finally own Cal. But Cal is no one’s bitch, and as the Stones song says: “I’ll never be your beast of burden.”

Cal and his partner Frank run their PI business out of a boxing gym for ex-cons run by a friend named Paolo, and when the book begins, Cal is hired by Tiernan to find his missing son Mo. Tiernan cast Mo off some time before and now Mo has disappeared. Cal doesn’t share the Mo Tiernan case with Frank, and he uses Frank’s distraction with another case to search for Mo on his own. Exactly why Cal wants to fly solo becomes apparent as the book continues.

Meanwhile Detective Sergeant Donley “Donkey,” up to his old ways, is in hot water in the department. Cal’s brother addict Declan was once Donley’s grass, but now that Declan is dead, Donley’s interest in Cal increases. Donley thinks that Cal will make the perfect replacement for his brother, and once Donley learns that Cal is investigating the disappearance of Mo Tiernan, he wants in on the action.

The book goes back and forth between its two narrators–Cal and Donley. Cal tries to find Mo, and Donley’s always one step behind with the goal of owning Cal and also of nailing the Tiernans. Donley has to be one of the nastiest fictional coppers ever created. He gravitates towards the weaker, bottom feeders–people he can threaten, manipulate, and thrash, so naturally Cal, called “Mong” by Donley, falls into that category.  Here’s Donley hassling Paddy, “a nine-carat smackhead.”

I drew my car up alongside Paddy as he walked. When I honked the horn, two short bursts, he near shit himself.

“Y’alright, Paddy?” I didn’t know you were out.”

He saw us, pulled a face. “Aw, fuck.”

“That’s not much of a hello, is it?” I cranked the wheel, jumped the pavement. This lad wanted to pump his feet, I could keep driving, run the bastard down. I flung open the car door and he back ed up a couple of steps. I got out of the car, pulled out my baccy tin, started to roll a ciggie. “Were you going to run there, Pads?”

“Nah,” he said, wiping his feet like he had an itch on the soles.”I wouldn’t run Sergeant.”


“Right, Detective. Not daft enough to run, am I?”

“Used to be a fuckin’ rabbit, as I recall.” I looked around the street, but the place was dead apart from a slow rain that’d started as soon as I left the poof’s club. Right enough, most people who lived out here, they’d still be in their kip, sleeping it off.

Donkey decides there are no witnesses:

“How’s about you and me, we go up that alley over there? I think we need to have a quiet word.”

I pointed up behind him. An alley, long and narrow, boxed in high on both sides, led to the other estate. Looked like the kind of corridor Paddy used to squat down when he was committed fully to smack and fuck knows what else. He obviously didn’t like the idea, pulled another De Niro face.

“You still on the gear?” I said.


“Right then.” I pointed the way. “Up you go.”

“The fuck?”

I put a hand on him, pushed him in his hollow chest towards the alley. He was a streak of piss, nearly buckled under my shove, and when I pushed him again, he flinched like he was set to come back at us.

“What?” I said. “You want something, Paddy?”

Yeah, he wanted to get fucking bolshy, push us back. But he knew, he put the finger on us, I’d have him back in a piss-soaked cell, the kind with the thick stink that got right in your clothes. See how he fancied going back to his ‘mate’ with that smell on him.

Paddy trudged into the alley. I checked behind us, made sure there was nobody with a nose on them, or about to do one with my car. Then I followed him, rubbing my hands to get them warm. I saw the puke and broken glass on the ground, reckoned this’d be perfect.

Beast of Burden is for those who like their gritty crime novels dark & hardboiled. I loved it. For those interested, I had not read the other titles in the series before reading Beast of Burden, but this did not get in the way of my enjoyment. While Cal has a sorry history with the Tiernans and Donley, past incidents are referenced and can be understood. I now own all four books in the series.

Author Ray Banks first created Cal Innes as a character in a short story.  Here’s the order of Cal Innes novels:

Saturday’s Child

Sucker Punch (British title Donkey Punch)

No More Heroes

Beast of Burden

My copy read on my kindle courtesy of the publisher via netgalley.


Filed under Banks Ray, Fiction