Ken Bruen, . . St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-312-30411-9

With his second Jack Taylor crime novel (after 2003's The Guards ), Irish author Bruen confirms his rightful place among the finest noir stylists of his generation. A year after the newly sober Jack Taylor left Galway to start a new life in London, the former member of the Gardai Síochána (the Irish police) returns home, a failed marriage behind him. The PI is sinking back into alcoholic oblivion when an Irish Gypsy, Sweeper, approaches Jack for help in solving the murders of a number of young men in his clan. The Guards aren't interested, since, after all, "it's only tinkers... and everyone knows, they're always killing each other." The quintessential outsider himself, Jack empathizes with the roaming Gypsies and feels comfortable in their company. Enlisting the aid of Keegan, a burly cop friend from London, Jack sets about investigating the killings, while at the same time he struggles to keep his own personal demons under control. Bruen's spare, lean style reads like prose poetry. Indeed, beneath the surface of Jack's jaded, self-destructiveness is a romantic with a poet's sensibilities. An autodidact, Jack continually references his literary heroes, from Chester Himes to Thomas Merton. Next to his bottle of Jameson is always a book to help him through the hard times: "I needed Merton and a pint. Not necessarily in that order." This is a remarkable book from a singular talent. (Jan. 19)

Forecast: A national author tour, Bruen's first in the U.S., plus blurbs from T. Jefferson Parker, James W. Hall and James Crumley, should ensure that the author builds on sales of The Guards. The book will do best in independent and specialty stories, hand-sold to readers of literate, cerebral hard-boiled fiction—and to fans of Irvine Welsh and Patrick McCabe who will appreciate the similar dark sensibility.