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Even the Dead: A Quirke Novel


Even the Dead: A Quirke Novel

Gradually, incrementally, the Quirke series has found its way onto my drop-dead, must-read list. While this historical canon (set around 1950) by Benjamin Black (the pen name/alter ego for “mainstream” author John Banville) is primarily character-driven by a troubled Dublin, Ireland consulting pathologist, each of the novels that comprise this gem of a series moves Quirke’s life forward, for better or worse, while introducing an always interesting mystery to sink the hook, as it were, deeper into the reader. Try one, any one, and it becomes impossible to resist reading the rest.

EVEN THE DEAD is the latest of Black’s efforts, and it picks up a short time after the conclusion of HOLY ORDERS. Quirke had been suffering headaches, lapses of attention and short-term forgetfulness. The cause was found to be a brain lesion resulting from a beating he had received by some criminal thugs some time before. As the book opens, Quirke is attempting to follow his physician’s orders, which include what the British might call a “gardening holiday” (no work) and no alcohol. He has also moved into the home of his half-brother and sister-in-law for an open-ended rest and relaxation stay. He’s resting, but suffering from a fit of melancholy, wondering if he will ever be the same again.

"The characters, the dialogue, the story and, of course, the writing all come together to create a tale that seems all too short in the telling but is ultimately, finally, just right."

A sudden death upsets the apple cart of his recovery. An automobile accident occurs that results in a fiery one-car crash, leaving a young man who was the sole occupant of the vehicle dead. The subsequent investigation reveals that in all likelihood the deceased, Leon Corless, died as the result of a deliberate blow to the head before the accident took place. At the gentle but incessant urging of his acquaintance, Inspector Hackett, Quirke returns to work in an advisory capacity with his old friend and is glad for it, to the extent that he is able. The pair learn soon enough that Leon had no enemies to speak of, but it develops that he was the son of a local Trotskyite whose strident advocacy had rendered him quite unpopular.

Meanwhile, Quirke’s daughter Phoebe is approached by a heretofore nodding acquaintance from school, who introduces herself as Lisa Smith. Lisa is extremely nervous and tells Phoebe that she fears for her life, though she won’t say why at first. Convinced of Lisa’s sincerity, Phoebe helps the young woman get out of Dublin. Lisa disappears in a matter of hours, but not before revealing to Phoebe that her boyfriend --- and the father of her unborn child --- was killed in a fiery car crash the night before. When Phoebe tells her father about the young woman, Quirke is immediately sure that Lisa’s suitor is the man who was killed and then set ablaze.

As Quirke attempts to locate Lisa and discover who she really is, he learns that she and the murder have a tie into Quirke’s own past, one that he would rather forget. At the same time, he is provided with a welcome distraction that longtime readers of the series will not expect but nonetheless will enjoy. By the end of the book, a hanging storyline is resolved, a new one is introduced, and a most satisfying conclusion --- for Quirke and for others --- is at long last presented.

EVEN THE DEAD is a wonderful read, as is true of the other volumes in this fine series. The characters, the dialogue, the story and, of course, the writing all come together to create a tale that seems all too short in the telling but is ultimately, finally, just right. One could learn much about writing from Benjamin Black just by studying his technique, but the important thing is to enjoy, which you most certainly will do.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 15, 2016

Even the Dead: A Quirke Novel
by Benjamin Black