<B>Bruce's mystery of the month</B> <I>The Tip of the Ice Pick</I> award for January goes to veteran Irish author Ken Bruen for his brilliant novel <B>The Guards</B>, a dark and ominous tale of serial killings in modern-day Galway. Jack Taylor is a disgraced ex-cop. Ousted from the fabled Garda Siochana, the Irish police force, he has devolved from a social drinker to an unsocial drunkard. Still, he has a talent for finding things, and when a beautiful woman seeks his help in investigating the drowning death of her daughter, he unexpectedly rises to the occasion. Well, at least briefly, for the dispiriting Irish cold and the cold Irish spirits conspire to keep our hero off track, and more than occasionally in the gutter. The thing that separates Jack Taylor from the herds of drunken private investigators, though, is that he is wryly aware of his condition, and of his need to control it. He senses the liquor taking over his life and darkly affecting his choices. Readers of James Ellroy (<I>White Jazz</I>) or Jim Thompson (<I>The Killer Inside Me</I>) will find a kindred soul in Ken Bruen. His clipped, bleak writing style captures the pervasive brooding Irish landscape better than any author in a very long while. <I>Nashville-based writer Bruce Tierney is a lifelong mystery reader who was weaned on the Hardy Boys.</I>

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