PW: Let's talk first about Jack Taylor, the hardened yet bookish protagonist of The Guards and now The Killing of the Tinkers.
Ken Bruen: Jack Taylor is a tribute to the American private eye, but like meself, his greatest gift was a library ticket as a child. To go to the library in the old days, you had to go to the courthouse and pass all these huge [police] Guards and it lodged in my mind: Guards and books. Like me, he's an old Galwegian, an endangered species. Jack feels pain to an inordinate degree, like I did, which was a real handicap in a macho world, so you develop a front to survive. Like Frederick Exley, the booze dims the lights.
PW: There's a wistfulness in the books for the old Galway, before all of this new growth and Americanization. Jack complains bitterly about it.
KB: The new prosperity fucked us entirely, kids speaking with mid-Atlantic accents and cash being the new medium of respect. The clash between the old and the new is fertile ground for any novel, especially here, where as the tinkers of the world, we suddenly became a host nation, deporting non-nationals.
PW: Jack's an extremely well-read man and an autodidact. Books give meaning to his life and provide solace when nothing else can. He's constantly referring to the books he's reading, which are often by neglected crime writers.
KB: That was my way of getting books that were ignored some attention. James Sallis isn't even stocked in Galway, [nor is] Daniel Woodrell. Don't even try to find Chester Himes. Plus, it got up the precious literary set's noses, and I love to do that. I go demented that no one here has heard of, say, George V. Higgins.
PW: The Gardai Síochána [Irish police], as you portray it, is just like any other police force in terms of its corruption. How have the Jack Taylor novels been received in Ireland? Have you had any feedback from the Guards themselves?
KB: The Guards kept quiet about the books for a time, then one morning a package came containing a Zippo lighter with an unsigned note saying, "We don't always approve of what you write, but stay with it." My daughter, who's a feisty 11-year-old with Down's syndrome, goes up to Guards in the street and asks, "Do you know my dad?" and the answer is, "Alas, yes." My own favorite bit: I portrayed the women Guards as always wearing tiny pearl earrings. Well, lo and behold, my wife tells me she's noticed a whole batch of them sporting said items.
PW: In The Killing of the Tinkers, Jack investigates the serial murders of a number of young Irish Gypsies. The Guards are completely indifferent to the killings. Can you say a few words about the marginalization of the clans in Ireland, and do you see this situation improving?
KB: The tinkers are the outcasts of Irish society, but their traditional place of scorn has recently been supplanted by the racialism around the refugees. When the book came out [in Ireland], I was on stage with Gerry Adams, and they sent a woman to say, "Thank you for giving dignity to us."
PW: Your books are firmly grounded in the noir tradition. Has the Irish literary establishment begun to accept crime fiction, or do you find yourself ghettoized as a "genre writer"?
KB: The Irish Times ignored me for years as just a crime writer, and then, with the success around the world, they called, and I said there'd be a huge harvest of young crime writers in the next few years. Already, there are more than 20 with first novels out; suddenly it's cool to be a crime writer. For years, they wouldn't acknowledge me, and then I was invited to a literary festival by mistake and a leading light of the Irish [literary] mafia asked for me to be removed.