Even the Dead (Quirke 7) by Benjamin Black

even the deadDisappointing…

🙂 🙂 😐

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.

Benjamin Black
Benjamin Black

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).

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

52 thoughts on “Even the Dead (Quirke 7) by Benjamin Black

  1. What made you decide to start with the 7th book in a series? Personally, I don’t like reading series books because I’m worried that I’ll get stuck with a series and really wish I were on an entirely different book. If I stop reading in a series, I can easily forget what’s going on, especially if the book isn’t pivotal to me. However, lately I keep reading book bloggers who start in the middle of the series and work their way backwards, or don’t read any more books from that series. I thought series meant that the books were simply split up. Like, if I read Hunger Games, I couldn’t start out of order. Are there different names for the kinds of books I’m talking about (books must be read in order vs. books that use the same characters/settings)? I’ve always wondered!

    • Two things really – one, this one was available free on NetGalley(!), and secondly, I often find series get better as they go along, so sometimes the first one can actually be the worst and can end up putting me off if I read it first. I think of ‘series’ as having the same characters but a unique standalone story in each, whereas books with a continuing story I think of as ‘serials’. (Ha! This was one of my Dad’s pet hates, when people used series to mean serial and vice versa – guess I’ve inherited it!) I do wish publishers would make it clearer on the blurbs whether books are series or serials though. This one is a series, with a separate story, but there’s too much of the characters’ baggage carried over from previous books to make it properly stand on its own…

  2. Now, you know how I love it when you are not so keen on a book but you have been very polite about this one, FF. But it sounds dull rather than bad so we shall forgive that. I like Benjamin’s hat very much indeed.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone! Yes, I don’t think he’s quite got the balance right – this reads too lit-ficcy in parts and he seems to forget that crime should move a bit faster. Not many authors achieve books that fit as either lit-fic or crime – McIlvanney, and some of Reginald Hill’s later books, maybe.

  3. I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed in this one, FictionFan. The Quirke stories aren’t for everyone, and it is hard to experiment with a series two books in. Still, I know just what you mean about flat endings, unlikely events and the rest of it. You make an interesting point about the depiction of the era when the book is set. The first ones are set in the 1950s and (at least for my money) showed it. And I couldn’t agree more that having that context – knowing when a book is set – is important.

    • Yes, I was sorry too – I enjoyed his writing as Banville so much. I suspect this series might be one that should be read in order to build up an emotional attachment to the characters, but it felt that he maybe wasn’t taking into account readers who were new to the books – hence, not botheirng as much with setting the place and period…

  4. Quirke! Hahahaha. That’s a good name. I’m sure lots of things can come from it. Plus, the author’s hat is something else. I like it, I think.

    FEF, why wouldn’t you start on the first book in the series?

  5. Wow. The premise sounded good too. But I think I’ll skip this one. Thanks to you, I’m hooked on the Dalziel and Pascoe series. I’m now reading AN APRIL SHROUD. Someone else is plowing through the series too. He or she returned the second book that I should have read before I read RULING PASSION.

    • Ooh, I’m so pleased you’re enjoying them! You’re making me want to hurry up and re-read them all – I may have to throw all these other books out the window! They can definitely be read out of order without losing much though…

  6. Okay…forgetting about his memory problems actually made me laugh. That’s too bad that the book was such a disappointment though – I’ve heard good things about this series. And I had no idea that Benjamin Black and John Banville were the same person!

    • Haha! Me too! I didn’t realise how it looked when I wrote it, but when I read the review back it tickled me! I wouldn’t be completely put off trying them by my review – I do get fed up with too much character baggage in crime novels whereas lots of people enjoy that, and certainly other reviews make me feel the earlier books were probably better than this one. Yes, I only found that out recently too!

  7. Well, at least we know he’s not a double threat. Maybe he should stick to more literary writing. I don’t really understand why the different pen names when we can find out who he is and what he’s written in the first place. At least after you read this, you understood he’s still a terrific writer of other works! I wish I could forget my memory problems. I can’t recall if I’ve had my chocolate ration for the day… better go to it again.

    • Yeah, some people seem to be able to write in both styles, but it felt to me he hadn’t quite got the more fast-paced style of crime writing right somehow. I guess it’s a good shortcut for people who might only want to read either his lit-fic or his crime, but I do get baffled by all these pen-names.

      *laughs* Now that’s a good memory problem to have! I was chuckling about the fact that I could remember so little about the plot when writing the review – maybe it’s catching…

  8. Yay, another one I don’t have to read!! FF, you’re more than kind to suffer through these works and give me the heads-up. Don’t think it’s not appreciated! Gee, you finished reading it two weeks ago and still struggle to recall much about it?? Not very memorable, then, was it?!

    • Haha! My pleasure! Sometimes I do feel I spend more time warning people than tempting them… 😉 I must admit I have a terrible memory for books. I remember conversations incredibly clearly, but most books disappear without trace quite quickly. That’s partly why I started reviewing, to try to remember more about what I thought of a book or an author…

  9. I, too, have tried Benjamin Black and found him wanting. But I’m not a detective story fan in general, so I was interested in your take. I’m not terribly surprised, I suppose, though it does make me wonder what the audience for those novels is if it isn’t FF!

    The best crime novel Banville ever wrote is The Book of Evidence, one of his early novels writing as himself (before BB got started, I believe). It’s not a detective story, but a crime novel from the POV of the perpetrator, written as his testament to the court. When I finished it, I packed a copy off straightaway to my brother in England, who has a particular taste for dark tales from the likes of Roberto Bolano and Jose Saramago. He loved it, as did I.

    • Ha! I must admit if it read a bit too lit-ficcy for me, then he does seem to have a bit of a problem! Not many authors can make crime read like lit-fic successfully – the style is so different. McIlvanney and some of Reginald Hill’s later stuff manage it, but I’m afraid Black didn’t – for me, anyway.

      Oh, that one does sound interesting – and though about crime, much more traditionally lit-fic in style, which I can imagine would work much better for him. Hmm… I have The Sea on the TBR already, but shall bear this one in mind for a future read… thanks, Matt!

    • You might enjoy these more than me – I know you enjoy all the stuff about characters’ lives more than I do. But if you ever do decide to try them, I think they’d definitely be better read in order. Haha! Yes, I must admit that made me laugh too…

  10. Your review for The Blue Guitar was memorable, it’s a shame Even the Dead didn’t impress. I don’t think I’ll start on this set of stories though. Did you notice that I didn’t use series or serial incorrectly 🙂

    • Yes, it’s a pity – part of the problem was probably that my expectations were too high after loving The Blue Guitar so much. Haha! Very neatly done! My Dad would have been proud of you… 😉

  11. I’ve read a couple of his Quirke’s and found them OK-ish but the book of his which I completely love is The Untouchable which although fiction is about the spy Anthony Blunt. It’s brilliant – his best by far in my opinion.

    • Oh, it sounds as if his fiction goes down better than his crime writing with lots of people. That sounds interesting too – I enjoy a bit of spy stuff from time to time. I shall check it out – thank you! 🙂

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.