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Even the Dead

by Benjamin Black

Series: Quirke (7)

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20228115,357 (3.81)16
"Perhaps Quirke has been down among the dead too long. Lately the Irish pathologist has suffered hallucinations and blackouts, and he fears the cause is a brain tumor. A specialist diagnoses an old head injury caused by a savage beating; all that's needed, the doctor declares, is an extended rest. But Quirke, ever intent on finding his place among the living, is not about to retire. One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver's death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke's examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won't say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city's most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits. In this enthralling book--his seventh novel featuring the endlessly fascinating Quirke--Benjamin Black has crafted a story of surpassing intensity and surprising beauty"--Publisher.… (more)
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One of the best Quirke stories. ( )
  Doondeck | May 5, 2021 |
On the Track of Evil in Dublin
Peter Brooks
NYRB
July 14, 2016 Issue

“Death,” writes Walter Benjamin, “is the sanction of everything the storyteller has to tell.” And also: the storyteller “borrows his authority from death”; the endstop of death creates the meaning of a life recounted. The classic detective story shares this belief. It starts from a dead body. As the story moves forward in the inquest, it reaches back to reconstruct the events that lead up to that death: the narrative exists only to unearth and make present that past story, the story of the crime.

I sense that the Irish novelist John Banville’s turn to detective fiction in the persona of Benjamin Black, whom he calls “Banville’s dark brother,” has to do with this obsession with death as the “authority” of the tale. He has cleverly chosen as his protagonist Dr. Quirke, a pathologist who spends his life under the fluorescent lights of a basement dissecting room with cadavers, seeking to know the secret stories of the ends of their lives. Quirke might have been a surgeon, except that the living seemed to him more uncanny than the dead:

It sometimes seemed to him that he favored dead bodies over living ones. Yes, he harbored a sort of admiration for cadavers, these wax-skinned, soft, suddenly ceased machines. They were perfected, in their way….

That noirish line is from Christine Falls, Banville’s first novel as Benjamin Black. There now are seven that feature Quirke, and by the latest, Even the Dead, they make a series with a complex intertwining of places, obsessions, memories, and characters, many of whom return frequently: something like Raymond Chandler played through a Proustian woodwind, in stories that take us “back along the dark and tortuous route by which that cadaver had arrived in this place, under this pitiless light.” We can now look at the books as an ensemble that does something remarkable within the detective genre.

Black is particularly good at creating the meanders of what Roland Barthes called the “dilatory space” in the middle of any story that must tease out the clues and delay the ending. Things don’t move forward with the brisk dispatch of Sherlock Holmes; we wander through Dublin and its environs, stopping long in pubs and hotel dining rooms, drifting back into the past, all the while encountering a range of vivid minor figures sketched in high style, a spectrum of Dublin society from the gentry to the bar pulls.

The comparison to Raymond Chandler comes inevitably to mind since Black a few years ago in The Black-Eyed Blonde wrote a “new” Philip Marlowe novel, in homage to the master—possibly something he was put up to by a publisher, with results that seem to me smart but a bit tepid. The hard edge of Marlowe’s Los Angeles and the smoky incertitude of Dublin are different: Black’s is a world of smudges, not edges. It’s a world dominated not so much by money-lust, or…
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Quirke and the Mother of Mercy Laundry
By Edward T. Wheeler
Commonweal
April 23, 2016

Benjamin Black, the noir disguise of Booker Prize winner John Banville, has returned us to 1950s Dublin and to its genteel but menacing mean streets. Even The Dead is the eighth in the series of detective fictions which follows the life of the functioning alcoholic and pathologist Dr. Quirke. A peculiar family history and the established powers of the church and government burden Quirke. Of course, family and church and politics are in league; the revelations of that alliance challenge the doctor and in some cases imperil him through his many professional years.

Black/Banville has layered remarkable complexity in developing Quirke’s character over these eight books. It would be a long paragraph to summarize them here, but the complications are as much a part of recreation of an Ireland of sixty years ago as the murders and violence that Quirke and his ally Inspector Hackett confront.

Quirke is burdened by a past: he was raised in a brutal orphanage, “adopted” by a powerful judge, well educated in Ireland, and as a doctor in Boston. His melancholy and self-doubt ground his alcoholism, just as the death of his beloved wife leads to his profound sense of loss. Not quite a Byronic figure, but certainly a man who would appreciate the notion that he is an ironic approximation of one. Quirke’s every pleasure is won from guilt and every self-assertion a claim for respect from an authority that will mock him. His compassion is his hair shirt. It is to strong women that he turns to face himself in their eyes.

Yes, I am seduced by Quirke’s plight (and by virtually everything that Banville has ever written) but I would like to point out another appeal of these novels: their characterization, deft and “aslant.” This is Quirke’s observation of a nun who runs The Mother of Mercy Laundry (of the sort made infamous in the film The Maudlin Sisters):

“Sister Dominic again touched the pencil and the blotter, lightly, with the tips of her unquiet fingers. How they must torment her, those fingers, Quirke thought; she has spent her life shedding all signs of inner conflict and agitation, yet here, at the very extremities of her hands, she still betrayed herself.”

This is the one occasion we meet Sister Dominic, but her impact is acutely revealed. What she supports is a form of manipulation which compromises itself even as it shows its nervous dexterity.

Take this one other incident, the description of a house maid, Maise, once an inmate of the same laundry. She is being asked by her “betters” to return to the laundry to make discreet inquiries about a missing young woman.

“It was as if she was in a room with a glass ceiling, above her the others – Dr. Griffin and Mrs. Griffin, and Dr. Quirke . . . - carried on their incomprehensible business, plain to be seen and yet shut off from her. There was a book she’d read once, in school or somewhere, that had pictures in it of Chinese people, or maybe they were Japanese, emperors and their wives and children, the men with wispy mustaches reaching nearly to the ground and the women with things that looked like knitting needles stuck in their hair. . . They wouldn’t have been much stranger, those Chinese or Japanese or whatever they were, than this crowd [who addressed her], talking in code and eyeing each other suspiciously all the time. God knows, she thought, what they’re up to now. All the same, she had better help them, or say that she’d try anyway. You’d never know what might be in it for her if she did, or what they might do to her if she didn’t.”

As an exploration of character (again one who appears perhaps three times in the work) this offers a clear sense of class difference, a glimpse at Maisie’s education, and her canny sense of power – its good and ill effects – and her need to respond.

Even The Dead offers these observations throughout and Black/Banville tells a very good, much involuted story. The pleasures of the narrative, the parade of eccentric characters, and the human dilemmas the plot exposes give us fiction of a high order. Banville’s writing tells, and it’s a great pleasure to listen.
------------------------------

“At the heart of Even the Dead is an insidious plot....Black, the pen name of Booker Award–winning novelist John Banville, never worries about letting the plot dangle, breathing lovely, rich emotion through these pages with his unhurried, reflective prose....You linger over his descriptions.”—Chicago Tribune

“There are now seven [novels] that feature Quirke, and by the latest, Even the Dead, they make a series with a complex intertwining of places, obsessions, memories, and characters, many of whom return frequently....We can now look at the books as an ensemble that does something remarkable within the detective genre.”—The New York Review of Books

“Black fashions a meticulously written installment notable for its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement....The investigation’s tense, yet largely nonviolent, resolutions carry great resonance for Quirke.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“EW’s books editor Tina Jordan is a major fan of Benjamin Black’s (author John Banville’s pen name) Quirke series—and his seventh, Even the Dead, is as great as ever. If you haven’t yet met Quirke, an alcoholic pathologist, prepare to binge read the first six books in a fever so you can get to this one.”—Entertainment Weekly (11 Books You Have to Read in January)

“With its flowing prose, penetrating observation and deft evocation of time and place, Even the Dead is an unalloyed pleasure from start to finish....Banville/Black's masterly evocation of [Dublin], with its smoke-shrouded and boozy pubs, the decrepit, uncared-for buildings, the unruly traffic and the often depressed mien of the average Dubliner, is scarily accurate.”—The Independent (London)
-----------------------
24 January 2016
Talking about Quirke with Benjamin Black
Benjamin Black is the pen name of Irish author John Banville. He is the author of seven novels in the acclaimed Quirke series. He agreed to be interviewed for Shots.

What made you decide to write the Quirke series and where did the character of Quirke come from? What made you decide to make him a pathologist?

BB: Many years ago I was commissioned to write a television mini-series set in 1950s Dublin. I did three one-hour episodes but, as with so many of these projects, they never got made. Then I began to read Georges Simenon, was greatly impressed, and had the idea of turning the screen series into a novel: the result was Christine Falls, the first Quirke book. Why did I make him a pathologist? I don’t really know. But I know I didn’t want to write about a detective.

Your latest Quirke novel is Even The Dead. How did the storyline come about?

BB: I start with a very vague notion of a plot and just begin to write. Often I have no idea where I shall end up--with Vengeance, for instance, I was almost at the end before I decided who the killer was. As Raymond Chandler said, it doesn't matter a damn what a book is about, all that counts is how it is written. He also said he didn't care who killed Professor Plumb with a lead pipe in the library, and I agree with that, too.

There is very much an elegiac tone to Even The Dead. Loose ends are being tied up. Is this the end of Quirke?

BB: Not at all. It's true that every time I finish a BB book I think I won't do another one, but the characters are too interesting for me to let them go, and always I'm drawn back to them. In Even the Dead the most significant happening is Quirke's falling in love at last--and with a psychiatrist, at that. I hope he will be happy. We'll see.

How much does religion specifically Catholicism play a part in your writing?

BB: Well, I was brought up as a Catholic, which meant I was brainwashed from an early age. When I came to realise the pernicious influence that religion wields in human lives I became extremely angry. Some of that anger remains, so of course I transferred it to Quirke.

How important is place, in this case Dublin in your novels?

BB: Extremely important. I think of Dublin, and specifically 1950s Dublin, as a central character in the Quirke books.

How would you explain Dublin to someone who has never been there?

BB: I'm not sure that one could 'explain' something so intricate and diverse as a city. What I loved about the Dublin of my youth was its peculiar mixture of gaiety and melancholy; it's this ambiguous aspect of the place that I have tried to capture in the Quirke novels.

What made you decide to set the Quirke novels in the 1950s?

BB: Since I was setting out to write noir fiction, 1950s Dublin seemed the ideal milieu: all
that repression, all that guilt, all those dark secrets deeply buried: perfect material. The Dublin of those days reeked of alcohol and cigarette smoke and sadness.

Raymond Chandler is my favourite crime writer and I very much enjoyed reading Black-Eyed Blonde. How much of an influence did Raymond Chandler have on your crime writing and are there any other crime writers that have influenced you?

BB: I read Chandler as a teenager and was greatly impressed to discover that crime fiction could be stylish. Before Chandler I had read mainly Agatha Christie, whose lumpen prose made me feel I was chewing on sawdust. Chandler by comparison was the epitome of elegance, wit and sophistication. Much later I discovered Simenon, a true genius. And of course the great Richard Stark, whose Parker novels are superb.

Which five noir novels would you say are your favourites and why?

BB: The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler. Not his best, perhaps, but certainly the darkest and most compelling.

Dirty Snow, Georges Simenon. This was the first Simenon I read, and I was utterly bowled over by it.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain. A compellingly nasty piece of work.

The Hunter, Richard Stark. The first of the Parker novels, and still one of the best. John Boorman made a wonderful movie from it, Point Blank.

How's the Pain? Pascal Garnier. Simenon's son, John Simenon, considers Garnier to be his father's literary heir, and he's right.

You have been writing fiction now for quite sometime both as Benjamin Black and also with your real name John Banville. How much has your writing changed and do you have a different way of writing the Quirke series as opposed to when you are writing as John Banville?

BB: Yes, they are two entirely different writers. Even their working methods are radically unalike--Banville writes with a fountain pen, Black types direct on to the screen. I always say that what you get from Banville is the result of deep concentration, while from Black you get pure spontaneity.

What do you think of the state of Irish crime writing at the moment? Including yourself there are a quite a number of excellent Irish writers that are writing really good books.

BB: I haven't read enough contemporary crime fiction to comment.

Crime fiction especially contemporary crime fiction is said to be very good at social history. Is there anything you won’t write about?

BB: Serial killers, rapists. Crime fiction, especially on television, exploits women dreadfully.

What one question would Benjamin Black like to ask John Banville and vice versa?

BB: Do you like being Benjamin Black? Why? I tolerate him. He keeps me busy.

There was a BBC series made of Quirke featuring Gabriel Byrne. Are we likely to see anymore?

BB: Well, I certainly hope so, but at present there is nothing in production.

What are you working on at the moment

BB: A crime mystery set in Prague in the late 1500s.
  meadcl | Jun 26, 2020 |
A return to form for Banville, writing as Black. I had stopped reading these, finding the series growing stale, but this one, while traipsing the same ground, seems pacier and better. Enjoyable and recommendable. ( )
  Laura400 | Jul 5, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Black’s Quirke novels excel in mood, character development, setting and especially the writing. Unlike others in the crime/detective genre, they are more meditative than thrilling. No shots are fired in EVEN THE DEAD; there are few thrilling plot twists; the pace is slow and the plot seems to drift along at a pleasant pace.

The story is simple enough: The son of a rabble-rousing socialist dies in a car crash under suspicious circumstances; the only witness to the accident is the victim’s pregnant lover, who mysteriously disappears; the victim was investigating adoptions by a Catholic charity and powerful political figures who are connected to the Church want to suppress his findings. It is not difficult to see where all of this is leading, but the process of discovery is delicious.

One of the joys of reading a Quirke novel is the complex nature of their protagonist and the cast of interesting characters surrounding him. Quirke is complex and enigmatic. He is a loner who choses to work with the dead, seemingly uncomfortable with most living and breathing people. In this novel, the opinionated Quirke is resting from some unspecified brain lesion, living temporarily and uncomfortably with his stepbrother and his sly spouse, with whom Quirke once had a one-night stand. While struggling with withdrawals from both alcohol and his work, Quirke is seduced—never a man to shy away from a mystery— into this case by his daughter Phoebe, who attempted to help the young woman who witnessed the accident and by David Sinclair, Phoebe’s boyfriend and Quirke’s pathologist colleague. He enlists the help of his trusty sidekick, Inspector Hackett, who is now retired and eager for a new mystery in his now quiet life. In addition to the central mystery, Black gives Quirke a romantic fling with Phoebe’s boss, an intelligent psychiatrist, who helps him to understand issues in the case as well as in his own dark past.

Mixed in among all of this fascinating human interaction, Black’s narrative wonderfully evokes Dublin in the 1950’s with all of its cheerless repression. Corruption and collusion between the Church and politicians is rife; the pubs are smoky and crowded; many of the buildings are in disrepair; and—to make matters worse—the city is having a record heat wave.

As always, Black’s writing evokes a dark mood in both the city and Quirke. Moral ambiguity is pervasive but mixed in with all of this opacity are occasional glimmers of light for both Quirke and Dublin. ( )
  ozzer | May 30, 2016 |
This is definitely an above average crime novel, though as Benjamin Black is a pseudonym used by leading Irish contemporary novelist, and Booker Prize winner, John Bainville, that is no surprise. The Benjamin Black novels are set in Dublin in the 1950s and feature querulous, borderline alcoholic, pathologist Dr Quirke and Detective Inspector Hackett.

Bainville’s literary credentials shine through, however, and the characters are marvellously drawn. Quirke is a generally lugubrious character, battling with demons arising from his past and compounded by his weakness for liquor, and his melancholy pervades the whole book. As the novel opens he is on leave of absence, recovering from a serious assault (incurred during the previous book in the series) and attempting to dry out, leaving his deputy to run the pathology laboratory. He, however, when faced with the autopsy of a young civil servant found in a burnt out car that apparently crashed in Phoenix Park, calls on his boss for a second opinion.

Energised by this summons to help, Quirke agrees with his assistant’s judgement that there was more to the victim’s injuries than could be explained by a road accident. A police investigation ensues, and uncovers dark secrets at the heart of Dublin society. Bainville/Black conjures a compelling air of menace, intensified by Dr Quirke’s own predicaments.

Despite the gloom (and there is absolutely no hint of levity at any point), the novel races along. Bainville/Black understands how to construct a plot and delivers a sound one here. ( )
  Eyejaybee | May 24, 2016 |
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One glorious morning in the middle of June it occurred to David Sinclair that he was in the wrong profession.
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"Perhaps Quirke has been down among the dead too long. Lately the Irish pathologist has suffered hallucinations and blackouts, and he fears the cause is a brain tumor. A specialist diagnoses an old head injury caused by a savage beating; all that's needed, the doctor declares, is an extended rest. But Quirke, ever intent on finding his place among the living, is not about to retire. One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver's death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke's examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won't say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city's most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits. In this enthralling book--his seventh novel featuring the endlessly fascinating Quirke--Benjamin Black has crafted a story of surpassing intensity and surprising beauty"--Publisher.

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One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver's death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke's examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won't say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city's most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits.
Haiku summary
Quirky fighting demons
Facing old advisories
Justice in the end
(hardboiled)

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