An Interview with Ken Bruen: The Jack Taylor Series

November 24, 2012   •   By MaryAnne Kolton

SLY, PROFANE, CHARMING, ALCOHOLIC, sensitive, lonely, handsome, addicted to drugs, ballsy, well read, wry, nasty, self-deprecating, savvy, vicious, darkly humorous, vulnerable, cunning, insecure, emotionally damaged, loves his music, melancholy, short-tempered, bookstore lover.

Jack Taylor or Ken Bruen?


Do you always tell the truth?

Of course, but bearing in mind Tom Waits dictate

...............Do I tell you the truth or just string you along?

And of course, never allow a little thing like the truth to ruin a good yarn. 

Sean Connery said...........tell them the truth and then it’s their problem.

Now take all the above, add a large dose of incredulity and stir.

I’ve always been a fine ...........stirrer, vital if you intend to write.

There is a rumor making the rounds that one of your ribs was surgically removed, and from this rib Jack Taylor was created. What are the similarities between you and Jack?

I’m laughing at the notion, great idea.

Jack is based partly on my brother Noel, who was found dead, a homeless alcoholic, in the Australian outback.

Does alcoholism run in our family?

It gallops.

 I wanted a character who had my fascination with books, who showed the horror of booze and unlike the other stereotype, did not love “His Mammy.”

Jack says “My mother is a walking bitch.”

Jack is the road I might have travelled if I’d another lifetime to squander.

He has alas, my short temper, and love of hurling.

You mentioned your fascination with books. What about your passion for music? Jack has a distinct love/need for the haunting, pulsing, rabid music of the soundtrack of his life. Is it your music or his?

I sometimes think that music is a spiritual ID.

Jack’s music runs pretty much parallel to my own.

It’s always:

  • Van Morrison,

  • Tom Waits,     

  • Tom Russell,

  • Marc Roberts,

  • The Clash,

  • The Pogues,

  • Gretchen Peters,

  • Emmylou Harris,

  • Iris DeMent.

Many of the people in Jack’s life appear to be soulless deviates. It would be too facile to say they are all mentally deranged. Where do they come from?

My friends.

There seems to be a neon sign over my head that proclaims

“Gather here ye rogues, vagabonds, ragamuffins, marginalised, ye fooked, “

This of course in no way includes my writer friends who are

  • Sane

  • loving

  • and dammit

  • Successful.

One of my best friends said one time, the biggest surprise of her life was she read I had a real education!

And the other who said on hearing I did jail in South America who wasn’t surprised but amazed.

..............They let me out.

I’ll forgive most anything, even awful novels if they have a sense of humour. You’re ahead of the game when you realize, they are

And yet your books are so dark and intense. Aren’t you using some of these characters to define the nature of evil?

Ralph tried to smile and hoped the lunatic was going to leave, but the man said, ‘I get a very bad press, and really, I’m a fun guy. You like tricks, Ralphy?’ Ralph managed to utter a yes. He knew if you could keep a psycho on your side, you had a shot.

The man said,

“Wonderful, I do love a player. Watch this.”

And he clicked his fingers.

A noose appeared above the statue of St. Jude. Last resort of hopeless cases.

“Just for the hell of it, you’re going to hop up on there, put that around your ecclesiastical neck and swing as if you meant it.”

Ralph felt his limbs move and he was walking toward St. Jude.

                        from The Devil (2010)

Yes, the very dark characters do signify evil in all its guises and I studied evil for my Ph.D dissertation and so it is reflected in all the books.

I research evil but try to live as if it wasn’t a constant threat.

One last ‘evil’ question. Do you believe there is a spiritual aspect to evil?

Oh God no, the two terms are so far apart. I do believe there is zealotry where spirituality is hijacked in the name of evil.

Spirituality is almost always absent in those who claim to be spiritual.

True spirituality is akin to humility, i.e. once you think you have it, you’ve lost it.

Do you see yourself as a religious man?

I believe that religion is for people who are afraid of hell.

Spirituality is for those who’ve been there.

Thus, I’m trying to be the latter.

The books Jack buys, reads and quotes from are not those of an uneducated thug. More likely those of a man who has a desperate need to educate himself in spite of the lack of opportunities given him — or one who has a painful wish to know the ‘how and why’ of the world he occupies. Which is it?

It's a dual motive with Jack.

One the fierce thirst to know and connect with the world.

To try and self educate, the noblest act in a fractured world.

A bookless world to Jack would confirm the bleak view he already suspects.

You get a call out of the proverbial blue that knocks the bejaysus out of you, I’d had a dream, on Thursday night, that I’d still hadn’t been able to shake. Laura was back in my life. I swear, I could feel her hand in mine.

For no reasons at all.

We were feeding the swans at Claddagh , and she leant back into my shoulder and I was deliriously happy.

And woke.

Tears on my face, coursing down my cheek.

Hard arse that.

             — from Headstone (2011)

Pure poetry, that. . . . Does Jack have relationship problems with every women he meets because they are afraid of him or rather because he is afraid of himself?

Thank you so much, MaryAnne

What a lovely thing to say.

And how wonderfully perceptive of you, yes, he is afraid of relationships because of himself, he doesn't ..............dare to be happy.

And his self-loathing is such he is suspicious anyone could love such as him.

How do you explain the fact that here in the United States we bow down to you as The King of Irish Noir and in Ireland you are just Joe Writer?

A couple of things I believe. My constant assertion that my influences are US not Irish and that is always going to be a bitter pill here. I'm supposed to trot out the usual tired hackyned Irish giants.

Two, I don't play the Irish events calendar, I have as much interest in Literary heritage as I do in The Waltons.

And...................... in truth, they don't think I'm much cop in every sense.

Thank you for the US compliment, would it were so, but lovely thought. 

You spend a fair amount of time in the US, honoring cities like New York and Las Vegas with your presence. New York is understandable, but Las Vegas? What’s the siren song that calls you to Sin City. Or the Bone Yard as it is now called by some. . .

I love Vegas as I got married there, oh so many years ago when I thought happiness was separate from reality. We'd no money and the whole biz cost about 150 bucks.

Vegas used to convey a certain edgy glamour and you felt anything was possible.

That notion is quickly dissipated by a visit to the pawnshops on the ridge of the city, to see dreams shattered by the items on sale, a real wake up call.

Though I had real fun setting a scene there in American Skin

And.............. I think Bouchercon in Vegas was the greatest gathering of mystery writers ever, legends abounded.

Some have said you are also a card shark extraordinaire!

I'm highly impressed, MaryAnne, that you tracked down that.

Indeed, as I write, I've been reading Al Alvarez and his superb book on Poker.

My father believed you'd never be lost if you had one great skill so instead of cars, he taught me poker and phew — oh, it saved me arse on many an occasion and true, in Vegas, I had one amazing evening when the cards were alchemy, it was like winning The Edgar and all the other mystery prizes in one night and as much as a rush.

Texas Hold em is especially gripping these dark days.

Since we’ve determined you are not Jack Taylor, but rather a successful writer with a wife and daughter, what is a typical day in Galway like for you and your family?

 I make breakfast for the family.

Then write, always, no matter how barren my mind is.

I kid you not, two hours of cycling which is a blast.

Afternoons, a blend of writing and email

Then, with my dog to feed the swans.

Intersperse with friends, household biz, new books to read and night is for the 


  • Breaking Bad

  • Game of Thrones

  • Walking Dead

Review what I've written, usually I go………….

Jesus wept..................................what was I thinking

Breaking Bad, the perfect choice: a man who has lost his soul. . . and what’s for breakfast?

Breaking Bad............. just superb. I'm reading Life Of Pi and the biography of David Foster Wallace.

Breakfast is always Greek yoghurt, with honey and a banana crunched in. A pot of Colombian, that's coffee I mean.

Truth to tell, I yearn for the cholesterol nightmare

  • Three rashers

  • 2 eggs over easy

  • Mushrooms

  • Toast with Irish butter

  • 2 Dietrich sausages

and you have to have tea with that to get the full lethal taste.

What’s due to be released next and what are you working on?

I'm working on the final Taylor.


And a TV series.

And a new standalone.


© MaryAnne Kolton