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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

‘Even the Dead’ by Benjamin Black

Published by Penguin,
28 January 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-241-19735-6 (PB)

If I wanted to find one word to sum up the underlying atmosphere of the latest in Benjamin Black’s series featuring a Dublin pathologist, that word would be frustration.

All the main characters, even the arch-villain who doesn’t appear in person until the final chapters,  have reason to be frustrated about something. Quirke, the pathologist, is bewildered by his own brain, damaged by alcohol and a beating in a previous volume in the series, and prone to letting him down at awkward moments. Hackett, his detective friend, knows all too well that his best efforts at cleaning up the city can be thwarted by powers beyond his control. Other characters are baulked by a similar sense of helplessness in the face of cruel fate.

Quirke and Hackett set out to investigate an apparent suicide which is more likely murder: a young man whose car has crashed, leaving him dead and with a suspicious injury to his skull. His pregnant girlfriend approaches Quirke’s daughter, desperate for help, then disappears without trace.

My own frustration played a part too: having missed the previous six books in the series, there was clearly a lot of history to which I wasn’t party. But Benjamin Black, AKA the acclaimed literary novelist John Banville, drops plenty of hints: enough to make the devoted crime reader go back and read the earlier episodes.

The quality of the writing, needless to say, is flawless, and almost poetic at times, sprinkled with delicious phrases like lozenge of silvery light and a haircut which resembles a ragged and tipsy pageboy. But it’s never overdone; the prose flows and the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but is never held up by the demands of fine style.

Eventually the mystery is solved and justice is done – but the book’s main strengths are the interplay between the characters, and that underlying atmosphere. Black evokes a multi-layered 1950s Dublin with a sure hand; think Golden Age with a darker edge and a smidgen (though no more) of sex and violence.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Benjamin Black is the crime-writing pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He was educated at Christian Brothers Schools and St. Peter's College, Wexford. He worked in journalism from 1969, as a sub-editor on The Irish Press and from 1986 at The Irish Times. He was Literary Editor at The Irish Times from 1988 to 1999.  He is the author of fifteen novels, including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. In 2013 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature.
Black has written seven novels starring Quirke, the surly but brilliant pathologist. In 2014 the Quirke novels were adapted into a major BBC TV series starring Gabriel Byrne.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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