Ken Bruen- Purgatory (Jack Taylor 10)

Product DetailsSomeone is scraping the scum off the streets of Galway, and they want Jack Taylor to get involved. A drug pusher, a rapist, a loan shark, all targeted in what look like vigilante attacks. And the killer is writing to Jack, signing their name: C-33. Jack has had enough. He doesn’t need the money, and doesn’t want to get involved. But when his friend Stewart gets drawn in, it seems he isn’t been given a choice. In the meantime, Jack is being courted by Reardon, a charismatic billionaire intent on buying up much of Galway, and begins a tentative relationship with Reardon’s PR director, Kelly. Caught between heaven and hell, there’s only one path for Jack Taylor to take: Purgatory.

Ken Bruen, being a personal favourite of mine, would mean that I could wax lyrical for hours about Purgatory, the tenth outing for Jack Taylor, a man destined for melancholy punctuated by acts of random violence. I could draw attention to the pitch perfect characterisation of Jack, with his regular mounting and dismounting of the wagon of physical pleasures, the booze and the fags, and his less than harmonious forays into the pleasures of the flesh. Always the wrong woman Jack. I could highlight the intrinsic morality buried deep in his soul, that manifests itself at times in observations of an almost lyrical beauty and  his steadfast  engagement with books, culture and current events that Bruen effortlessly weaves into the plot. At the same time it would be foolish to ignore the dark side of our erstwhile hero though, and the black places he inhabits mentally, and gets taken to, in the demands of this case all beautifully rendered by the sparsity yet richness of Bruen’s language which ebbs and flows with laconic perfection throughout Jack’s travails. I could mention the twisted, yet ultimately affectionate, relationship between Jack and  his native Galway, as the seedier aspects of this community and those that wish to exploit it, come to bear in this tale of avarice and murder…

Or I could keep it simple in a homage to Jack himself with his honest,  sweary nature and gravitation to the simple pronouncement.  Purgatory? Feckin’ great.

Ken Bruen was born in Galway, Ireland. After turning down a place at RADA, and completing a doctorate in Metaphysics, he spent 25 years as an English teacher in Africa, Japan, South East Asia and South America. An unsheduled stint in a Brazilian prison where he suffered physical and mental abuse spurred him to write and, after a brief spell teaching in London, he returned to Galway, where he now lives with his daughter.

(With thanks to Transworld Ireland for the ARC)

William Shaw- A Song From Dead Lips

song deadLondon, 1968

The Runaway A young woman found naked and strangled in an alley in well-to-do St John’s Wood.

The African The neighbours would love to pin it on the enigmatic black stranger who has just moved in.

The Pariah Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen is convinced there’s more to the case than anyone wants to admit; no-one’s listening.

The Outsider In walks WPC Helen Tozer – awkward chatterbox, farmgirl, and the first woman to enter the murder unit – and gives Breen a breakthrough.

Prepare to be transported back to the heyday of the swinging Sixties in this thoroughly enjoyable debut by William Shaw. Drawing on the sights and sounds of this iconic era, with a musical soundtrack resonating with references to the age of Beatlemania and the hugely influential Abbey Road studios, Shaw has conjured up a gripping crime thriller infused with period detail. I think to simply draw comparisons with Life On Mars vis-a-vis the police element is fair to an extent- the novel is peppered with references to racism, homophobia, sexism and the more Neanderthal methods of policing, all in what we view now as the non-PC language of the time- but I think this does the novel a bit of a disservice. As the larger, and indeed more global, themes of the novel become apparent, and the strength of the police characters generally have a more intrinsic depth to them, Shaw rises above a mere whimsical trip back to the past and produces something altogether more gritty and compelling.

The main police protagonists, DS Cathal Breen and WPC Helen Tozer are well-drawn and carry the weight of the plot with ease. Breen is a deep and thought provoking character, set apart from his more brutish colleagues in the murder unit, often being at the brunt of their misplaced humour or vitriol. At times he shows a distinctly more human and empathetic approach to both victim and the suspects, and genuine physical responses to the criminal acts he bears witness to. The interplay between him and the ballsy Tozer, the first woman assigned to the murder unit, is beautifully realised combining a mixture of humour, camararderie and emotional involvement, which makes the scenes between these two in particular, one of the most satisfying aspects of the book. Breen is haunted by demons, but Tozer has also experienced a dark event in the past, which has caused her to carve out a career in the police service. The grittier aspects of this investigation has serious effects on, and consequences to both officers that Shaw effortlessly inveigles into the main, and for the most part, intriguing and disturbing plot making reference to the social prejudices of the era and drawing on aspects of the Biafran conflict- a political hotspot of the era.

I had certain pre-conceptions of this book, largely because of the period it was set in, thinking it might just be a run-of-the-mill sixties police procedural, which were confidently dispelled by the weight of the issues contained within the book, and the exceptional characterisation throughout. Shaw recreates the sights and the sounds of the era with ease and the prejudices of the time and I found this a most enjoyable and compelling read, drawing on a historical conflict that I personally had little knowledge of. A highly readable debut and I hope to see more in this series.

William Shaw was born in Newton Abbot, Devon, and lived for sixteen years in Hackney. For over twenty years he has written on popular culture and sub-culture for various publications including the Observer and the New York Times. A Song from Dead Lips is his first novel @williamshaw1

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

July Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

 Okay- I’ll start with a big hands-up and confess that despite having read a substantial amount of books this month, I am still a little behind with my posting of reviews. I will try to rectify this as soon as possible, so expect a flurry of activity here over the next week or so!

July marked an overhaul on my blog, changing the appearance and layout to freshen it up a bit. Haven’t received any negative feedback yet so hope you are all happy with the changes. I think it looks rather splendid- Raven says modestly!

However, with such a stellar line-up of reads this month, set in widespread locations and featuring serial killers, hitmen, forensic pathologists, mentally tortured detectives and global conspiracies, awarding the accolade of Book of the Month has been a task and a half! So here goes for my July round-up…


A. D. Garrett– Everyone Lies.

V. M. Giambanco– The Gift of Darkness.

Michael Harvey– The Innocence Game.

Terry Hayes– I Am Pilgrim

Arnaldur Indridason– Strange Shores

J. A. Kerley- The Killing Game (Carson Ryder 9).

Malcolm Mackay- How A Gunman Says Goodbye (Glasgow Trilogy 2)

Nele Neuhaus- Snow White Must Die

Craig Robertson- Witness The Dead.

Dan Smith– Red Winter

David Thomas– Ostland


Not an easy decision this month as there are many here that are definitely worth a place on anyone’s bookshelves. So with this mind, I will extend very honourable mentions to Malcolm Mackay’s How A Gunman Says Goodbye– the excellent follow up to The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter– and Dan Smith’s Red Winter, both of which are worthy runners-up!

Product DetailsHowever Raven’s top book this month has to be David Thomas’ Ostland which moved and enthralled me in equal measure with its sublime blend of crime and history. It is very seldom that a book strikes such an emotional chord within the reader, sometimes through just a single, perfectly realised image and this is one such book. As a said in my review, a book that doesn’t just deserve to be read, but needs to be read.