Jack Taylor gone sober? Teetotaling makes the ex-policeman more morose than usual, if that's possible. Perpetually trudging through life with an attitude that could shrivel steel, Jack without the booze --- well, let's just say it isn't pretty.
Stewart, Jack's ex-drug dealer --- current drug dealer until a stint in Mountjoy Prison interrupted business --- asks Jack to look into the death of his sister, Sarah. Jack reluctantly agrees to check it out, but his heart isn't really in it. He's not only been sober for months, he's been involuntarily celibate. Whether due to either of those two factors or another of his numerous woes, his mind has a tendency to wander, sidetracking him with a vengeance. In addition to everything else he's dealing with, he's trying to avoid the question of what to do about his ailing mother. Despite his crushing personal problems, Jack manages to do a fair bit of investigating. And his investigation turns up some stunning irregularities surrounding Sarah's death --- irregularities that are peculiar enough to make him want to delve a little deeper. It dawns on him that he may be looking at murder here. When there's another death with identical circumstances, Jack is more than convinced. But he can't seem to get anyone else to care.
Along comes Margaret, who miraculously takes an interest in poor Jack, and he allows himself to wallow in happiness for a little while. But he should know better than to let his guard down. Good stuff just doesn't happen to Jack. Then, while recuperating from an encounter with an old girlfriend's new husband, he runs afoul of the Pikemen, vigilante guards with a vow to take up where the law leaves off. They proudly don't deny responsibility for a couple of recent brutal attacks. And they aren't very nice to Jack. So just where do they fit into his investigation?
Meanwhile, the "swan killer" from somewhere in his past keeps showing up at odd times, almost as though he were stalking Jack --- but why? He says it's to thank him and because he wants them to be friends. Jack, as you might imagine, is dubious. Could there be a connection to the dead girls?
As always, Jack's mouth brings him a great deal of pain, some of it emotional but much of it physical. He can't seem to maintain control --- of his life or his tongue.
Now, as he's starting to feel pretty darned good about things, they go bad --- spectacularly bad. "An event was coming down the pike, already shaping in its black destructive energy and preparing to rip my life in pieces, pieces that would never be restored." The "event" will leave you gasping. Truly, Jack may never recover from this one.
While Ken Bruen's stories are really a powerful character study of Jack Taylor, a man headed toward self-destruction, he manages to work in a mystery around the edges. But it's not the mystery that's compelling. It's simply Jack and his outlook on life. This Jack Taylor installment will rock your world --- way more than the first three.
--- Reviewed by Kate Ayers