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by Benjamin Black
Henry Holt & Co, August 2013
306 pages
ISBN: 0805094407

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Recently, I was on a camping trip and staying in a sheepherder's wagon. Every time I entered the wagon, I was reminded of HOLY ORDERS, which I had just finished as I left for the trip. Much of the story detailed in the book becomes clear as Quirke (a pathologist helping out on a murder case) visits the travelers who enter their wagons by grabbing the sides of the doors and hauling themselves up. Benjamin Black's descriptive prose sets the scene well, but experiencing living in one of these wagons brought the book to life in a special way. The only thing that might have been better would have been to have actually read the book while lying on the bed that took up most of the space in the wagon.

HOLY ORDERS begins with a couple finding a dead body floating in a canal. It soon becomes clear that the victim, Jimmy, was a reporter who claimed to have been onto a big story. He was also a friend of Quirke's daughter, Phoebe, and this fact explains Quirke's involvement in the attempt to find the murderer. Jimmy's sister, Sally, was aware of Jimmy's infatuation with Phoebe, and follows her in an attempt to conduct her own investigation into Jimmy's murder. When Phoebe catches Sally tailing her, she feels sorry for the girl and invites her to move out of her shabby hotel and into Phoebe's apartment. This sets in motion a side plot which may be the beginning of a better understanding of Phoebe as the series (of which HOLY ORDERS is the sixth) progresses.

The dark and claustrophobic world in which Quirke and Phoebe live is enhanced by the inclusion of the travelers in the plot. The 1950's Dublin setting carries with it the menace of the early days of the IRA and the tightly clamped down control the Church had over the city's inhabitants. Quirke and the police visit the travelers' filthy and sinister camp outside of the city, following in Jimmy's footsteps, and Quirke returns to settle his mind about what he heard and saw during the police interviews. The hidden story that is unveiled reaches deeply into corruption in the Catholic Church.

HOLY ORDERS is an intensely atmospheric book, and the dreary, dark world it invokes sticks with the reader long after the details are forgotten. Quirke's and his daughter's relationship is a part of the darkness, and Quirke's mind seems also to be haunted. The layers of protection that Quirke has built between his past and in his relationship with his daughter mimic the Church's cover-up of its sins. In all of this shadow, only a small glimmer of hope for Quirke and his daughter exists. It will be interesting to see whether Black takes Quirke deeper into his troubles, or allows him some measure of redemption as the series continues.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, August 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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