- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Cross, by Ken Bruen, is the sixth book to feature his caustic “finder” (detective is a suspicious word in Ireland), Jack Taylor. I feel it is one of his lesser lauded novels in the series. This could possibly be because it is often considered a sequel to the fifth book, Priest, and can’t be discussed without dropping spoilers from the previous novel (WARNING- That will happen in the next paragraph). However, it is one of the most focused and emotionally resonate books in the series. Here, Bruen seems intent on getting Jack to another place in his life. Apparently to do this he had to destroy the man he introduced us to in The Guards.
Cross starts out very soon after Priest as Jack faces the fallout from the previous volume’s events. His surrogate son, Cody, lies in a coma, from a bullet probably meant for Jack. Jack suspects the person who fired it could be Cathy, a former friend whose child died under Jack’s drug-addled baby sitting. After going cold-turkey sober, he is approached with two jobs. First, he’s hired to look into a rash of dog disappearances (Jack subcontracts this gig to another former guard). His next case is brought in by his pal in the guards, Ridge. She knows being a lesbian has hampered her rise in the ranks and thinks solving the crucifixion death of a young man may make her career. She asks for Jack’s assistance.
Bruen uses every interpretation of the book’s title. Jack’s sobriety seems more about penance than healing. He wants to feel the guilt fully. Bruen uses “cross” to mean a journey both physical and emotional, and since this is a crime novel one can expect the definition as both betrayal and harm. Bruen quotes from other works using the word at the beginning of every chapter.
This is a pivotal novel for Jack Taylor both in his life and how he is written. He is beginning to make more serious decisions and plans. His sobriety brings a clarity to his emotions and we empathize more with his struggles. Early in the series Jack could come off as all attitude, an aging punk looking for something or someone to lash out at or a way to go out in a blaze of glory. Here you realize the self loathing was a defense and as it turns on Jack, Bruen cuts deeper into the character than he ever has before.
Cross is a seminal work in one of modern crime fiction’s best series. Bruen always touches the dark, but here you feel its full force because Jack can. You watch the breaking of a man, see the possible hope of his rebirth, and from what we’re told, it will be a painful one.
You can find copies of Cross on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.