Sunday, October 9, 2011

Benjamin Black writes a riveting Dublin thriller.

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Booker Award winning novelist John Banville. In mysteries like this one, he lets his hair down with great results.

A Death in Summer

A Death in Summer (320 pages, Henry Holt, $25) is another installment of Benjamin Black’s Quirk novels. Quirk is Doctor Quirk, a Dublin pathologist, who works sometimes in conjunction with Hackett, the Detective Inspector.

In this novel, a wealthy newspaper tycoon is executed in his office at his country house. When Hackett and Quirk arrive to investigate the grisly scene, they discover the wife (an elegant French woman) and sister (a slim and young-looking blond) of the deceased and question them. Neither was on the premises at the time of the shooting, but on the other hand, neither seems particularly distraught by this violent death.

As the narrative proceeds, Quirk gets involved with the widow, Francoise, even as he dismisses his sense that she might have been involved in the crime. This love affair is tense from the beginning, but it also brings each of these characters something that he or she needs.

Meanwhile, Quirk's assistant, David Sinclair, a handsome and ambitious younger man, begins to become involved with Quirk’s daughter Phoebe. But David is also involved with Danny, Danielle, the sister of the dead tycoon. Because Danny has some other older and wealthier friends, it seems that David is warned to keep away.

As the plot develops, each of these relationship pairs deepens, and each of the characters shows a depth of feeling that places him outside the role of minor character that he might otherwise occupy. In other words, Benjamin Black makes them all interesting in their own right. David, Phoebe, and Danny, to say nothing of Francoise, together hold the keys to the case, and only until we pay closer attention to them can we begin to understand the workings of the plot.

The plot takes us deeper into the mud of Dublin life—one of the characters calls it the ooze underneath the surface--and before the story reaches its conclusion, some horrifying social details have been uncovered. But even as the murderer is revealed and the loose ends of the plot are tied up, much of what is revealed will remain more or less the way it is. As a result there is deep frustration as well as satisfaction at the end of the novel.

Benjamin Black has written a wonderful work. I look forward to the next volume in this series.

Benjamin Black

A Death in Summer is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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