A boozy, bitter pathologist becomes a most unwilling detective when he uncovers a baby-trafficking scheme in Dublin in the 1950s.
The hero of this enjoyable crime novel from Black (the pseudonym of Man Booker–winner John Banville: The Sea, 2005) is Dr. Quirke, an oversized smoker with no illusions about himself or the bodies he carves up in the basement of Holy Family Hospital. Though he’s a widower—Quirke’s Boston-born wife Delia Crawford died during childbirth—he is not alone. Delia’s sister Sarah married Quirke’s obstetrics colleague Malachy Griffin, and Quirke is very fond of their daughter Phoebe. Quirke was reared as Malachy’s brother after being rescued from a dreadful orphanage by Malachy’s father, now a chief justice and a freshly minted papal count. Quirke was, oddly enough, the favored child in the family, but Malachy won the sister that Quirke really loved. The complex family relationships, including the torches Sarah and Quirke still carry for each other, muddle matters when Quirke finds that Malachy has falsified the death record of Christine Falls, a young woman who delivered a child, now vanished, before dying. Looking into the dead woman’s past, the curious Quirke finds that she was once employed in the Griffin household, as was hard-drinking Dolly Moran, in whose house Christine died. Quirke’s inquiries bring big trouble. Dolly Moran is murdered shortly after talking to Quirke, and then Quirke himself is viciously mugged after ignoring warnings to let drop the matter of Christine Falls and the babies that vanish from a creepy local orphanage. The pathologist, who hitherto seemed interested primarily in drinking himself to death, stays on the case until it takes him back to Boston and the home of the Crawford sisters.
A good story, and gorgeous writing.