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The Killing of the Tinkers    by Ken Bruen order for
Killing of the Tinkers
by Ken Bruen
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Irish author Ken Bruen produces a gritty, hard-boiled crime novel, The Killing of the Tinkers. It centers on Jack Taylor, a former member of the Irish police force and a severe alcoholic. In Bruen's previous The Guards, Taylor was self-employed as a private investigator in Galway, Ireland (also his home town). At the end of that story, Taylor decided to sober up and move to London. As the sequel opens, he has recently returned to Galway. Unfortunately, his alcoholism rages again and he has added to his problems a cocaine habit that he needs to support.

As Taylor attempts to find a place to live, a tinker approaches him in a pub, seeking his help to solve the brutal murders of his fellows. Tinkers are gypsies whom the Irish police force is not very interested in helping, despite the fact that a serial killer is on the loose. Taylor can relate to being an underdog. Sensing the tinker's combined hopelessness and resolve to find the killer, Taylor agrees to take the case. In return, the tinker provides him with a place to live. Taylor investigates while fighting his alcoholism and drug addiction. He nurses extreme hangovers, experiments with drugs, and experiences withdrawal at various times throughout the investigation.

Fortunately, Taylor's skills as a former Irish policeman help him keep going, despite his daily struggles. And familiar characters from The Guards surface once more in this episode, notably Taylor's former investigative assistant and punk rocker, Cathy B.. She has settled down, married a local pub owner, and is pregnant. Taylor frequents her husband's pub. As a former addict, Cathy B. helps Taylor find drug connections when he is desperate for a fix. Clancy, Taylor's former boss, also appears to make clear that the Irish police do not appreciate an ex-officer trespassing on their turf.

This mystery is more suspenseful than the first, keeping the reader wondering who the killer is till close to the end. Taylor's character is well developed. His addiction problems, and the resulting impact on his life and relationships (including a new love interest) are paramount in the story. The author intersperses wry wit and humor throughout, lightening his somber subjects of murder, pain and addiction. I recommend The Killing of the Tinkers to anyone who enjoys a hard-boiled crime novel with an intriguing, less-than-perfect protagonist.

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