Jack Taylor is changing. Shattered by the shooting of Cody, the young man who came to him for a chance, Jack feels for Cody like a man would for his natural son. Cody is comatose in hospital and even though he didn't pull the trigger, Jack feels responsible for Cody's fate. This has given him a real reason and he's given up drinking, smoking and drugs. Jack's not pretending - it's hard, and he's not found an exactly “normal” way of resisting a drink, but he's serious and he's really trying.
As usual with Jack he's pulled into strange events and strange places. A young boy was crucified in Galway City and despite everyone's shock and horror, despite the Church being scandalised and vocal, no action is ever taken by the Guards. His old friend Ridge comes to him to ask him to investigate – she can't live with the idea that nothing is being done about this boy, and when his sister is burned alive, Jack's not able to leave well enough alone as well.
There's something about Jack that makes stuff happen around him, and the main theme, the murder of this young brother and sister, is only part of what is going on in Jack's life. As he roams Galway on the case, he finds himself in his old haunts, rubbing up against old combatants and associates, glimpses of his old life and the starkness of a sober future in less than sober circumstances. The ghosts of Jack's past are never adverse to giving a good scaring or an even bigger beating.
Finding the answer to who kills so horribly isn't so hard. Deciding what to do about it isn't so easy. Choosing his own future is even harder.
CROSS continues many of the storylines that started out in PRIEST. Reading PRIEST first will give you a little context to what is happening with Jack Taylor, but if you haven't read it, then don't use that as a reason not to pick up CROSS.
Ken Bruen's books are not the easiest reading in the world – they are confrontational, Jack has a self-destructive streak which can be frustrating and the world that he comes from is bleak and violent, inhabited by some damaged and brutal people. But there is also kindness, friendship, care and concern for others. There's brutal reality.
Ken Bruen's books are, however, fantastic reading and CROSS raises that tradition just that little bit higher. I cannot recommend this series highly enough – if you like stark reality, if you can handle one man making his own decisions about his own life, contrary to what everybody else thinks he should do (including the reader), then do yourself a favour and read CROSS.
PRIEST - Ken Bruen
Jack is in all sorts of self-inflicted trouble again. He's in hospital, severely affected by a nervous breakdown, after his negligence caused the death of someone very very important to him and his last close friends, when he's bought back from the brink by the kindness of another patient.
On his release Jack returns to his previous life with a new-found determination to avoid drinking and drugs. When his least favourite priest, Father Malachy asks Jack for help in discovering why a local priest was decapitated in his church confessional, Jack falls into that and other investigations but clings to his promise to stay sober.
PRIEST is the fifth novel in the Jack Taylor series and it is the first novel in which Jack is actively reassessing his life and what he really is. He's still an angry and depressed man, but as he has been all the way through this series, he's acutely self-aware and for the first time some of this anger is actually directed squarely at himself. He's angry with the way that Irish society is changing, he's still angry with the Catholic Church and in particular it's attitude to paedophilia and sexual abuse. Whilst PRIEST is part of a series and the reader definitely benefits from reading the early books, firstly because they are universally excellent, but also to see how Jack and the author have moved through a series of phases, PRIEST can be read as a standalone.
If nothing else, you have to admire Ken Bruen for his brutal honesty and his willingness to tackle the confrontational. In PRIEST he is scratching at a lot of scabs, societal and possibly personal.