🙂 🙂 😐
A young man is killed when his motorbike crashes into a tree. Quirke, a pathologist, is on sick leave, suffering from memory problems and attention lapses due to an injury he received some years earlier. But when his assistant begins to think that the young man’s death was not due to either accident or suicide, he asks Quirke to come in to check his conclusions. Quirke agrees – it looks like the death was a murder. The victim is Leon Corless, son of a Communist politician, and the police don’t know whether Leon has been killed for something he has done or to get at his father, a man notorious for annoying people.
I recently read and loved The Blue Guitar, written by the same author under his other name of John Banville, and wondered how his writing style would transfer to the crime novel. The answer, I fear, is not terribly well, at least not as far as this book, the seventh in the Quirke series, is concerned. To be fair, looking at other reviews suggests this is not having universal praise heaped on it by even fans of the series, so I probably picked the wrong one to start on.
The basic writing, as I expected, is excellent. But the balance is totally wrong between the crime and all of Quirke’s personal baggage, of which he has more than plenty. His daughter resents him for him having given her away at birth to his adopted brother and his wife to bring up. He has had many broken affairs, including with the aforesaid brother’s new wife. His daughter is going out with his assistant, with whom Quirke doesn’t get on. Quirke is a drinker, currently on the wagon, but with a history of going in and out of rehab. And so on and on. His memory problems, which we hear about at excessive length for the first half of the book, are completely forgotten in the second half. (Ha! Forgive the unintentional joke.)
The other thing that irritated me was that I had no real idea of when the book was supposed to be set. For a while I wasn’t even sure if it was before or after WW2 – eventually I decided after, but still couldn’t pin it down to ’40s, ’50s or possibly even ’60s. Presumably some indication was given in previous books, but in this one it’s all very vague. Again, other reviews from people familiar with the series tell me it’s the ’50s. Dublin also failed to come to life. Street names and locations are mentioned but I got no feel for the life of this vibrant city.
There were points when I actually forgot what the crime was, and writing this review two weeks after finishing the book, I’m struggling to recall much about it. The vast bulk of the book is grossly over-padded with filler and the solving of the crime is rushed into the last section. Coincidentally (without spoilers) Quirke, his family and friends all seem to have a personal link to one aspect of it or another, and it appears to relate back to crimes in previous books. And, just to put the icing on the cake, the whole evil Catholic church cliché gets yet another outing.
Add in a ridiculously unlikely love-at-first-sight affair, and all in all, this fairly short book felt very long indeed. In truth, I began to skip long passages of musings about life, the universe and everything, in the hopes that I might finally get to the promised thriller climax. Sadly, I found the ending as flat as a pancake. I’m sure this will work better for people who have been following the series and have an emotional investment in the recurring characters, but as a standalone it left me pretty unimpressed. I’m still looking forward to reading more Banville, but I think I’ll leave Benjamin Black on the shelf in the future.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Books (UK).