Ken Bruen: The Dramatist (2004) A Jack Taylor Novel

The Dramatist

The impossible has happened: Jack Taylor is living clean and dating a mature woman. Rumour suggests he is even attending mass…The accidental deaths of two students appear random, tragic events, except that in each case a copy of a book by John Millington Synge is found beneath the body. Jack begins to believe that ‘The Dramatist’, a calculating killer, is out there, enticing him to play. As the case twists and turns Jack’s refuge, the city of Galway, now demands he sacrifice the only love he’s maintained, and while Iraq burns, he seems a step away from the abyss.

I probably have to thank Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) for discovering Irish crime writer Ken Bruen as he has reviewed a couple of his books, although not The Dramatist. Bruen has written standalones, one of which London Boulevard, has been made into a movie and he’s written the series, featuring the luckless, loveless, ex-Cop turned PI Jack Taylor.

Jack Taylor is a cynic, disillusioned tough-guy with a good heart. He stumbles through live and his cases, gets beaten up, finds love, loses it again, battles addiction and his demons. All this are ingredients which are quite common in PI series, still I found this to be extremely original. The voice is very unique and the fact that Jack Taylor is a great reader adds an additional layer to the books.

The Dramatist is the fourth in the Jack Taylor series. Jack is newly clean and sober and even gives up smoking in the middle of this novel. It’s not easy for someone like him to stay away from booze as he lives in a hotel and spends most of his free time in bars. At the beginning of the novel he visits his ex-dealer in jail. The guy’s sister was found dead. Allegedly she fell down the stairs but her brother thinks it was foul play and wants Jack to investigate. Jack doesn’t buy the murder idea, but must admit that it’s weird that a book with Synge’s plays was found under the student’s body. When a second student dies the same way, also found with a book by Synge, Jack is convinced as well that it is murder.

I really liked The Dramatist and will read the first in the series soon. The mix between crime, character study and insights into contemporary Ireland and Irish culture worked extremely well for me. The novel is much more about Jack Taylor and his bad luck than it is about the crime, but since I really like this character, I liked the book. I’m tempted to compare Taylor to Marlowe, but I’d say he’s a tad more cynic and much more talkative. While his views on society and his own character are dark, he hasn’t given up the fight. He still hopes for love and a sober life. Maybe this sounds as if this was a one-man show, but it isn’t. Jack has a few enemies, but he also has a lot of friends and a knack to talk with “little people”, which is endearing.

24 thoughts on “Ken Bruen: The Dramatist (2004) A Jack Taylor Novel

  1. Thanks for the mention, Caroline. I have all the Jack Taylor novels now and plan to start the first and work my way through. Some of them are on DVD, btw, in case you’re interested.

  2. This sounds really good, Caroline. I especially like that the book is more about the character than the crime. Will also be interested in the insights re Ireland and Irish culture, as I had a grandmother whose family came from there.

  3. I think that the success, or lack thereof of this type of book lies in the character or characters. Based upon your commentary it sounds as if it is strong in this one.

    The first two sentences that you quoted above are very amusing.

  4. Amazingly, I just finished watching the TV series last night. I have not read any of the books, but really enjoyed the series. You should check it out. Iain Glen is excellent as Taylor. I am curious how closely he matches the character in the books. I think the last episode took the series to this book.

  5. What a coincidence! I’ve just had a friend extolling the virtues of the movie, London Boulevard, and now I know who wrote the original book. I’d never heard of this writer before, but I enjoyed your review and am quite curious about his writing now.

  6. Which city is it based in?

    Do you think you’ll go back and read the rest of the series?

    I have an unread Bruen care of Guy. If I read these I suspect I’ll start at the first one, whatever that is.

  7. I’ll have to look for this one as well–or at least books by Ken Bruen–sometimes I don’t mind in the least when a crime novel/mystery is almost more about the characters than the solving of the crime, if that doesn’t sound so weird. Especially if the character(s) are really interesting. I think the only Irish crime novels I have read are those by Tana French, so must rectify that soon.

    • I think you’d like Ken Bruen if you’re in a noir/hardboiled mood. Maybe you try one of the standalone novels first? Although Jack Taylor is an interesting character. I’d like to read Tana French, I’ve still not read her and would also like to pick up one of Banville’s crime novels.
      In Chandler’s and Hammett’s books it’s also far less about the crime as such. Btw – I finally ordered the Continental Op stories,

  8. I’ve read Dispatching Baudelaire by him and liked it very much.
    I have The Guards on the shelf and given its French title, Delirium Tremens, I don’t think that Jake Taylor has given up on booze in this one.
    You’re right, his style is unique.

    • I have The Guards as well now. Driniking is one of his major problems, but he takes drugs as well.
      I didn’t remember your review but it sounds vaguely familiar now.
      I’m pretty sure you’ll like Jack Taylor. I have a hard time imagining how this would be in French.

  9. I am late in commenting, Caroline. But I am glad to be back. I loved your review. I haven’t heard of Ken Bruen before. So it is wonderful to discover a new-to-me writer and this wonderful series. When I read the name John Millington Synge, it made me smile 🙂 Because his play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ was required reading when I studied literature at university. I never thought Synge would be referred to in a murder mystery. So nice! Does Bruen say what is the name of the book found on the murder scene? Jack Taylor looks like an interesting character and I liked your comparison of him with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It is also interesting to know that this book is more about Jack Taylor and less about the murder mystery. I enjoy reading books like that. Thanks for reviewing this book and introducing me to a wonderful new-to-me author, Caroline. I will keep an eye for this book as well as other books by Ken Bruen. I want to find out how Synge’s book is connected to the murders.

    • Thanks, Vishy. It’s an unusal crime novel and I’m looking forward to start the series properly now. He mentions a few of Synge’s novels and I’m afraid I can’t remember which one was found. I think for the murder it’s not important which book, just that it’s Synge. Deirdre of the Sorrows is mentioned. He made him sound like a controversial playwright. It’s not an author I’ve seen mentioned a lot in any kind of book. 🙂
      I think being familiar with Synge would have added another layer. Some of the cutural references and allusions are not easy to understand for an non-Irish perosn.

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