Any number of woes can be ascribed to the Devil (“Satan” in current cultural reference). Bruen takes him on in a novel oozing with malevolence and the inexplicable power of the Dark One. In human form—that of the enigmatic stranger Mr. K—evil does battle with Jack Taylor, current PI and former Ban Guarda whose alcoholism and misadventures have made him persona non grata with most of his old mates on the force. Approached by the sleekly handsome Mr. K, he of the golden locks and yellow eyes, soon after being refused entry to America, the naturally mistrustful Taylor finds his new friend’s unctuous manners suspect.
Searching for a missing student at the behest of a distraught mother from the airport, Jack hears stories about a nihilistic cult of young people who slavishly follow “the One” on the campus where the missing boy attends classes. Refreshed by the spunky comments of a young woman who derides the cult and its members, Jack moves on to another case, the bullying of a Down Syndrome schoolgirl by fellow classmates. He is devastated to learn not only of the death of the missing student but also the girl he met so briefly on campus. Before long, anyone who has interacted humanely with Jack is at risk, even his friends Stewart and Ridge.
The slick character from the airport appears as a houseguest at the estate of Guarda Ridge’s Anglo-Irish husband. The implied threat of Ridge’s guest is deeply unsettling to the irascible Jack, who begins a reluctant “dance with the devil” that all too quickly becomes freighted with horror and a pervasive threat that there is nowhere to turn for respite. Sunk in the daily dissolution of his relationship with Jameson, Guinness and Xanax, Jack musters up his Irish courage for the fight of his life, years of Catholic dogma filling his mind with images of good and evil, the stealth of the Devil and his easy seduction of those who fall along the way.
Make no mistake: Jack is well-versed in the ways of evil, having assigned his weary soul to the pain and despair of grief long ago, his existence littered with the detritus of the drunk. A raging Mad Max adrift in a corrupt world, Taylor never underestimates his adversary, bartering his future but never his soul. If ever there was a shame-blackened spirit, Bruen has found him in Taylor, a tormented soul whose righteousness is incandescent, who yearns for grace with every fiber of his being: “Evil hones in on those closest to redemption.”
In a novel that swings freely through the metaphysical, mythological and Irish sensibility, Jack’s battle rings too true for all the bloody horror that attends it. Speaking plainly to those who know well the parameters of rebellion and disrespect for the conventional, Bruen’s Taylor is not so much the dishonorable drunk who has betrayed a proud heritage as a noble soldier, battered and scarred, who recognizes the face of evil on his own turf and girds to fight to the death, though conceding that this skirmish may not end even at the gates of the abyss: “Mark my words, Jack Taylor will show you Hell before you’re through.”