The Guards by Ken Bruen

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The Guards by Ken Bruen

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Becky Hazlett
Reviewed by Becky Hazlett
Summary: The Guards is a dark, hard-hitting, Irish crime novel that introduces Jack Taylor, the unconventional investigator.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Brandon
ISBN: 978-0863224102

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A woman makes an unlikely choice by asking Jack Taylor to investigate the apparent suicide of her teenage daughter in Galway. Jack is ex Irish police (Garda) but also a known alcoholic with nothing much else in his life. His approach to investigation is haphazard - he doesn't really have a method beyond asking direct questions and, if necessary, using his fists. Predictably, there is more to the suicide case than first meets the eye and Jack, aided by his unsavoury friend, Sutton, uncover some very disturbing secrets and levels of corruption within the city. The Guards is not your conventional crime thriller; it's darker and has a grim realism.

The plot concerning the investigation moves along at a decent pace and contains several surprises, but it sometimes seems to be the backdrop and not the main narrative focus. Bruen is more concerned with his character development and I think that has paid off. The characters are varied, believable and sensitively portrayed. Jack is a great protagonist. His faults are obvious but the novel makes us understand him and really, he is a good guy. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book at first but as I got to know the central character I emotionally invested in the story. The frank, first-person narration went some way to winning me over and making me care about what happens.

Bruen doesn't go in for long descriptions; his writing style is typically economic so you get more of an impression. The Guards is grim and bleak and a little bit sad. There's a growing sense of unease and foreboding but, there are also lighter moments. Jack has a dark sense of humour and there is a warmth to this novel.

The novel is littered with quotations - every three pages or so there is something written in italics, taking up an entire page. It is not always apparent where the quote has come from and the relevancy is not always obvious. For me, too many of them were poetry which I tended to skim over. The character's many references to books and films became a little tedious too but that might be because I was unfamiliar with them. The chapters are short, almost giving the novel a magazine feel as it's easy to pick up and put down and I read it in about two days.

The Guards is a little bit unsatisfying as a crime novel. It is the first book in a series about Jack Taylor and you can almost tell because it feels more like an introduction that establishes the character for the next books, rather than as a stand-alone novel. I'm interested to read the next Jack Taylor book, The Killing of the Tinkers, as I anticipate it having more of a balance between plot and characterisation.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

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