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



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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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.


FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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