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by Benjamin Black, read by John Keating
Macmillan Audio, July 2011
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 1427212376

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Booker Prize Winner John Banville uses the pen name of Benjamin Black for a series of novels about Dublin in the 1950s. At the center of these is Quirke, a pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family, where he is often called upon by the police to help out with suspicious deaths. Nothing could suit the inquisitive Quirke better, so he is not in the least upset to have his Sunday interrupted to attend Inspector Hackett at the estate of Richard Jewell, a rich newspaper baron and horse owner, who has literally lost his head in a way that would be nearly impossible as a suicide, though a shotgun has been neatly placed in his dead arms. Quirke also finds himself tenderly consoling the not-especially-bereaved widow, Françoise, who makes it clear that she and her husband led separate private lives.

Finding the murderer of Richard Jewell, known around town as "Diamond Dick," is complex, as he was a man with numerous rivals and enemies but few close friends or mourners. Discovering that Jewell was Jewish, Quirke wonders whether anti-Semitism played a role in his death, especially after Quirke's assistant, Dr. David Sinclair, also a Jew, is harassed and then viciously attacked.

There are a couple of pleasant departures from the previous Quirke novels. First, Inspector Hackett really comes into his own as a character: He approaches his interrogations from a unique slant that sends his suspects reeling. Second, Black has moved Quirke and the reader into a new season. The previous novels were set in winter or in the damp of April. Quirke has now arrived in the heat of summer, and his emotions have thawed. No longer dwelling on his dead wife, he is smitten at last. Finally, Black has moved the narrative away from Quirke's rococo family. Initially, this shift seems a loss until the reader arrives at the shrewd dissection of the dysfunctional Jewells.

As usual, Black's writing rises well above the general level of procedural novels. He almost tosses in a few breathtakingly lyrical passages and brilliant details. The plotting, however, is not so strong as in the previous Quirke novels. Characters disappear, leaving loose ends. Both Quirke and Sinclair are surprised by anti-Semitic statements and misdeeds despite the history of Ireland vigorously denying refuge to Jews after World War II. Quirke reads his papers on a bench every Sunday, but he clearly never keeps up with that sort of news. Even today, there are fewer than 2,000 Jews in Ireland.

John Keating competently reads DEATH IN SUMMER with a light Irish accent and a reedy tenor of a voice. The major characters, with the exception of the stable manager and his wife and Françoise with her French accent, all sound a bit similar. Keating has a gift for thinking through the monologues of some of the minor characters, such as the thug Costigan's parable about what happens at the top and the bottom of the pond—and in between. Timothy Dalton, who performed the other Black procedurals, has a more engaging voice, a gift for atmosphere, and seems to embody Quirke's complexities better.

Even at his less than best, Black is a sterling writer, one capable of penning one of the best procedural series. Now that Quirke has opened himself up to the possibilities of romance, there's more to come the next time he emerges from his chilly morgue.

§ Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, July 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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