Writing as his more accessible nom de plume Benjamin Black, Irish novelist John Banville has added a fourth installment to his acclaimed and well-received series of suspense novels about Dr. Quirke, a pathologist in 1950s Dublin with a tendency for getting caught up in the murders of the bodies he inspects – and a dangerous talent for solving them.
Here, Black cuts right to the chase with an unforgettable, unsettling first line: “When word got out that Richard Jewell had been found with the greater part of his head blown off and clutching a shotgun in his bloodless hands, few outside the family circle and few inside it, either, considered his demise a cause for sorrow.”
The sentence has all the makings of the mystery that follows. Who killed Jewell, the wealthy, slightly shady philanthropist and owner of the Daily Clarion, Dublin’s most powerful and sharp-tongued daily newspaper? Could it really have been a suicide if the shotgun remained firmly in his hands? What accounts for the impassivity of his family and acquaintances? While slowly revealing the answers (and a few red herrings) Black takes his readers, as always, deep into the darker side of Dublin, with glimpses into the lives of some great recurring characters, including Inspector Hackett, Quirke’s assistant David Sinclair, and Quirke’s once estranged daughter, Phoebe. He also introduces intriguing new figures, like Richard’s half sister, the erratic and vulnerable Dannie Jewell, and his coolly alluring French widow, Francoise d’Aubigny.
In this fourth Quirke book, Benjamin Black may be at his most Banvillian: the prose often steals the spotlight from the plot twists and the story becomes, at times, much more about Quirke himself – dipping his toe back into the shallows of booze, falling a bit too easily under the spell of Francoise d’Aubigny, contemplating his own corporeality – than about the mystery he is trying to solve. This may prove frustrating for some readers, but it will be utterly delightful for others.
– Sheila Langan
(320 pages / Henry Holt / $25.00, eBook: $11.99 )