Sunday, November 8, 2015

back with Black: Even the Dead

Henry Holt, 2015
287 pp

paperback (my ARC copy from LTER and the publishers -- thank you!)

Even the Dead is number seven in Black's (aka John Banville) Quirke series which begins with Christine Falls, one of my favorites in the entire series.  My guess is that Even the Dead just might be the last Quirke novel --  there is just something I gleaned from the story that makes me feel that way. If not, we'll say I'm wrong and call it a day, but to me it just has that last-of-series feeling.  This one is a bit more subdued than the other Quirke novels -- not nearly as dark in tone but still quite good.  And it is a must read for anyone who's been following this series.  

Set in  "mean and mendacious"  Dublin of the 1950s, a city where the small group behind the powers that be maintain control through a mix of religion, politics, and money, Even the Dead opens with a dead man on the pathologist's slab, being worked on by Dr. David Sinclair, Quirke's assistant and the guy Quirke's daughter Phoebe's been seeing for a while now.  Chief pathologist Quirke is not even at the hospital but rather convalescing from events that started in an earlier story.  The police are certain that the body belongs to a suicide, but Sinclair thinks otherwise and to be sure, he reluctantly calls his boss in for a consultation.  It is actually just what Quirke needs -- being back at work -- and he puts his recovery time aside and goes back to work.  The dead man, Leon Corless,  is the son of a very well-known Communist agitator (this is the 1950s, remember), and Quirke confirms Sinclair's findings that this was no mere accident and definitely not suicide.  While Quirke is getting back into his post-convalescent swing, Phoebe has an adventure of her own when she is contacted by a former classmate who confides to Phoebe that she is both pregnant and in very serious danger.  Phoebe barely remembers her, but sensing that the girl is completely in earnest, she hides her away at a family home.  When she returns later to check on her, the girl is gone, lock stock and barrel, leaving Phoebe feeling despondent:  after all, 
"A person had been given into her care, troubled and terrified, whom she had tried to help, and, somehow, she had failed."
 Phoebe turns to her father, who turns to his friend Inspector Hackett for help both on the Corless case and on the girl's disappearance -- and it isn't long until they discover that the two cases are quite possibly related.

As always in this series of novels, Black's writing is tip-top -- he has a way of not only creating a clever plot but also characters that manage to stay under my skin and make me impatient for the next installment, especially in the main character Quirke, who was driven by "an absence of a past," and who 
"... was aware of no great thirst in himself for justice and the righting of wrongs"
" illusions  that the world could be set to rights, at least not by him, who could not even set right his own life." 
However, as the story continues and Quirke's present crosses his past, things begin to change, leading to an extremely powerful ending I never saw coming.  

Even though (in my opinion)  Even the Dead is not as dark as its predecessors, there is still a deep,  underlying noirish current that runs throughout the story, which certainly kept me turning pages to see where Black was going to take things. I love this entire series and this newest book did not disappoint.  I would truly hate to see this series end, but as I said earlier, it's written so that it feels like it might just be the last -- here's hoping it's not.  

Who's going to like this book? Certainly readers who've followed the series in order up to now, and readers who enjoy the darker side of crime and characters without going to the darker extreme of true noir.   Cozy fans stay away -- there is nothing, I repeat, nothing even remotely cutesy or nice in this entire book.    Also, since much of this book strays into Quirke's past, it would be doing oneself a disservice to start the series with this novel -- each and every book should really be read in publication order.  

As long as Banville continues to write as Benjamin Black, I'll continue reading what has turned out to be one of my very favorite series of crime novels ever.   I hope I'm in for much, much more. 

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