Benjamin Black’s latest Quirke novel, Even the Dead, was published in the US in January. It is a brilliant follow-up to Holy Orders, the previous Quirke story, while it also opens up several new avenues for angst, love, and vindication for our hero. While there is no word on any new adaptations of Quirke for television, we still have Quirke on the page and this story is worth your immediate and rapt attention for its fine writing (which we take for granted because Benjamin Black is, after all, John Banville, award-winning and respected author of literary novels that offer language to take your breath away…), heart-breaking characterizations, and foggy/dark/dangerous Dublin of the 1950’s. I read it breathlessly in one night. I am reading it again now. It is gripping, of course, but more importantly, loose ends are tied up and hope glimmers at the close. And Quirke is, once again, himself–as much as he can be, anyway.
A suspicious death, a pregnant woman suddenly gone missing: Quirke’s latest case leads him inexorably toward the dark machinations of an old foe
Perhaps Quirke has been down among the dead too long. Lately the Irish pathologist has suffered hallucinations and blackouts, and he fears the cause is a brain tumor. A specialist diagnoses an old head injury caused by a savage beating; all that’s needed, the doctor declares, is an extended rest. But Quirke, ever intent on finding his place among the living, is not about to retire.
One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver’s death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke’s examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won’t say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city’s most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits.
Even the Dead—Benjamin Black’s seventh novel featuring the endlessly fascinating Quirke—is a story of surpassing intensity and surprising beauty.
The Benjamin Black website page for Even The Dead includes short reviews and an excerpt from the audiobook, so be sure to check it out!
This is from the middle section of the excerpt, just to whet your appetite:
He heard the door behind him opening. He didn’t turn. He knew by her step who it was.
“You look like a man standing on a ledge and about to jump,” Rose said.
Now he did turn. Rose was no longer young, but she was still a handsome woman—slim, sleek, straight-backed, with a cool smile and a mocking eye. They had gone to bed together once, just once, a long time ago. And now she was married to Mal. Quirke still considered it the most unlikely match. But then, to Quirke all matches seemed unlikely.
Rose came and stood opposite him on the other side of the window, and together they looked out at the broad, sunlit street. “What about a stroll?” she said in her smoky drawl; the side of Rose that was a southern belle would never age. Quirke shook his head. She frowned at him. “You don’t go out enough,” she said. “Don’t you ever get cabin fever?”
“All the time. Especially when I’m out.”
“Oh, you!” she said, and laughed.
Gabriel Byrne as Quirke and Sara Stewart as Rose Crawford, in Elegy for April
Ed Siegel at The Artery, the arts blog for Boston’s NPR news station, has a lovely review:
It’s gotten to the point where I look forward more to an appearance by John Banville’s alter ego, Benjamin Black, than I do to Banville himself, as much as I admire the Nabokovian adventures and musings of the Man Booker Prize winner.
As standing sleuths go I can’t think of a better one than Quirke today — though Quirke isn’t really a sleuth at all, he’s a pathologist working in the Dublin coroners’ office. But Quirke’s corpses don’t rest easy, they tell him something in their way about the nefarious doings of Dublin in the 1950s. Particularly as concerns the Catholic Church and its, well, ungodly power to do evil and Banville/Black/Quirke hardly shy away from telling us the story of its abuse of trust.
(Referring to the first Quirke novel, Christine Falls): It was the first indication that Banville had this other more playful and straightforward — but no less literary — side to him. Maybe every great writer has a Benjamin Black inside him. These seven Quirke novels prove that they ought to let him out.
Danielle’s blog, A Work in Progress, is a great place for book reviews and all things bookish. She read Christine Falls and then skipped all of the others to jump right into Even the Dead, apparently with no ill effects. I do hope she reads the others, and she says she will.
The Quirke novels are not just about the solving of a mystery, though truth-finding is certainly at the heart of the story. These books have more to do with the psychology of people, the place and of the era. It’s as much about the why as the who and motivations seem to be more important than analyzing clues left behind at the scene of the crime. I’ve read and can see a nod in the direction of an author like Georges Simenon, whose dark crime novels serve as an inspiration for Black.
As part of the Even the Dead Blog Tour, Mr. Black was interviewed at Waterstone’s:
Your novels were made into standalone films by RTÉ and the BBC, whereas the current trend is for sprawling, multi-episode series focusing on one story (like Happy Valley or The Fall). Would you have preferred this approach, or do you feel your books fit nicely into the one-off format? Do you know if there will be any more adaptations of the books?
It really depends on how well the series is made. Many crime series sag badly in the middle—it’s a problem known to all screen writers—and with some shows one feels it would have been better to have fewer episodes. But look at The Sopranos: dozens and dozens of episodes, and not a clunker among the lot. I would hope to see some more of the Black novels adapted, of course.
Now Gabriel Byrne has played him in the films, do you picture Byrne’s face in your head when you are creating new cases for Quirke?
In the early books Quirke was enormously tall and broad, with blond hair—it was a sort of private joke, making him as unlike myself as possible. One day a woman reader wrote to me crossly to say I should stop saying he had blond hair when obviously it’s brown. I realised she was right, and acted accordingly. Then Gabriel was cast in the part, so Quirke now has black hair, and is appreciably more compact, shall we say, than he was originally.
get the book