The novel reads like a turning point in the series, for those who have read its predecessors, with resolution saved for...

HOLY ORDERS

From the Quirke series , Vol. 6

The sixth in a series of Irish mystery novels resolves its ostensible mystery, but deeper mysteries remain.

The latest novel from Black (Vengeance, 2012, etc.) featuring the pathologist Quirke is not the place to start for those new to the series. Its plot relies heavily on characters from previous novels and developments that transpired within those, and it doesn’t sufficiently elaborate on Quirke’s relationships with his daughter, his girlfriend or even with the corpse whose discovery propels the narrative. Yet plot has always been less important than character, atmosphere and style within these novels from the alter ego of celebrated literary author John Banville (Ancient Light, 2012, etc.), who has typically been less concerned than most mystery writers and readers with whodunit than with mortality, identity, Ireland and other themes shared with his literary fiction. As a pathologist rather than an investigator, Quirke mulls the possibility that he had initially been drawn to his profession “in hope of penetrating nearer to the heart of the mystery,” but he’s since realized that “[e]very day he dealt with death and yet knew nothing about it, nothing.” While mortality permeates the novel, its real mystery is the mind of Quirke, one he no longer trusts as he suffers panic attacks and disorientation while trying to come to terms with a murder that puts the Catholic Church at odds with an exploitive, sensationalistic press. Oddly, neither the murder victim nor the mastermind behind the crime exerts much of a presence in the novel, which focuses more on the abuses Quirke suffered as a young Catholic and on the way the investigation forces him to revisit places in his memory that are as uncomfortable as they were formative. “[E]verything Quirke did, so he felt, was predetermined by laws laid down he did not know when, or how, or by what agency,” writes Black. “He was a mystery to himself, now more than ever.” For Black, the mystery of the human condition remains impenetrable.

The novel reads like a turning point in the series, for those who have read its predecessors, with resolution saved for subsequent volumes.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9440-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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