Solving a case has a profound effect on its investigator in this Dublin-set thriller.
Black (the pen name of Man Booker Prize–winning John Banville) centers his seventh Quirke episode around two well-worn—and less than breathtaking—plot elements. First comes a suspicious suicide. Initially, it appears that Leon Corless died after he slammed his car into a tree. But Dublin pathologist Quirke’s autopsy reveals a traumatic blow to the victim’s skull, a fatal wound that did not result from the collision. A few days later, Lisa Smith, a fearful, agitated young woman, approaches Phoebe Griffin, Quirke’s daughter. Smith, who knows Phoebe from a class they took, insists she's in great danger and begs Phoebe to shelter her. Lisa then relates the story of a boyfriend, Leon Corless, the very same man killed in the auto accident Quirke is about to investigate, and adds that she's pregnant with Leon's child. Phoebe spirits Lisa to the coastal town of Ballytubber. Shortly thereafter, Lisa goes missing, a predictable and familiar plot turn. The two-pronged case brings Quirke back into action after a two-month convalescence for a brain lesion. He suffers as well from a personal crisis, struggling to control a drinking problem and feeling “no great thirst in himself for justice and the righting of wrongs.” He pictures himself as “a child standing alone in the midst of a vast, bare plain, with nothing behind him but darkness and storm.” Black skillfully interweaves the case that ensues with Quirke’s maladies. Working with his “old companion-in-arms,” Inspector Hackett, Quirke finds himself in "a sticky place with the powers that be": it appears that Corless had been probing “sensitive” mother and child issues that tie to the Catholic Church and to organized crime. The case plays out as Black’s splendidly described Dublin endures a heat wave, and the investigation’s tense, yet largely nonviolent, resolutions carry great resonance for Quirke.
From less than promising material, Black fashions a meticulously written installment notable for its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.