Has Jack Taylor met his match?

Green Hell by Ken Bruen (Mysterious Press)

JACK TAYLOR was always a man with few close friends. These days he has none. Stewart is dead and Ban Garda Ridge has had enough of him, but the whiff of sulphur around this former guard turned vigilante for hire, is always enough to lure people to him.

The latest to fall under his spell is an American postgraduate student Boru Kennedy. After Jack saves him from a mugging, Kennedy gets drawn to the man and eventually conceives the idea of writing a book on him. Yet the more he gets drawn into Taylor's world, the more he puts his own life in jeopardy.

Jack is tipped off about an English Lit professor who is known for his sexual activities with young female students, and his love of torturing them to death afterwards. Jack resolves that only thing that can stop the professor is to kill him, but Jack's actions always leave as many victims in its wake as it does those grateful for what he has done.

Green Hell, the latest Jack Taylor novel from Galway crime writer Ken Bruen, is, as ever with a Bruen work, a highly enjoyable page turner, told in sparse prose, stripped down to the very barest essentials, conjuring a world where the motives of the criminal and the crime fighter differ, but not their actions nor their love of violence.

Yet Green Hell is perceptibly different from other Taylor novels. While Bruen has always shifted between first and third-person narration, the perspective was always been Jack's. This time, the first half of the book is told from Kennedy's point of view, meaning Taylor comes across less as the damaged soul in search of justice, however rough, and more as a charismatic eccentric who gets off on violence by exercising revenge on behalf of others. As Ridge tells Kennedy: "I believed he was running from the ugliness, the brutality. But I was wrong. All the time, he was courting it until finally it became not a part of him, but all of him."

Yet the real change is saved for the book's second half. Jack resumes narration, but he is upstaged completely by the introduction of compelling new character, Emerald de Burgo - a young woman whose appearance changes completely depending on whatever mood or personality she feels like adopting on a given day. She matches Jack for determination and propensity for violence, but even he is left shocked at her audacity, daring, and sheer balls - as evidenced when she convinces the gardaí in Portlaoise Prison she is actually a lawyer. The enigmatic Emerald also largely takes over the case - the wrongful arrest of Kennedy and the stopping of the professor - as well as managing the details of Jack's life.

Green Hell is vintage Bruen and Taylor, but with some striking new elements that hint at potentially fascinating, possible future directions. If Bruen ever decides to retire Jack, a series of Emerald be Burgo mysteries would make an exciting replacement.

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