Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Benjamin Black's "Even the Dead": Book Review

Even the Dead: A Quirke Novel
This seventh entry in the Quirke series set in mid-1950s Dublin satisfies. It circles back to elements of the first installment, Christine Falls, but it does not feel stale. You could begin here, but as only asides to the increasingly complex inner life and love affairs and family traumas the protagonist endures emerge, it's better to read Benjamin Black's evocations of the dreary city and the coroner's office in order. Again, we find David Sinclair at the latter, while Inspector Hackett accompanies Quirke on what he reasons is his desultory quest for justice, given his intense "absence of a past" felt.

This emerges at the climax. As before, whether as Black or John Banville, this writer prefers a slow pace. In these mysteries, much work is done by others, and although the three coincidences tallied by characters do defy probability, Dublin's a small place where many of its people cross paths, for dark purposes. Quirke, battered in a previous account (reminiscent of the aging Jack Taylor in Ken Bruen's equally fine Galway noir contributions to this genre), suffers a brain lesion and feels increasingly fuzzy-headed. His confidant Mal also faces weakness, and in a typically eloquent passage common to this writer's works, he makes a poignant analogy. Facing onset of mortality, Mal opens up to Quirke.

"It's like discovering that all along you've been walking on a tightrope, and suddenly the end of the rope is in sight. You want to get off, but you can't, and you can't stop or retrace your steps, you just have to go on, until you can't go any further. Simple as that." (142) The stoicism they share continues.

But as always, there lurks beneath the power and corruption of Church and State glimpses of comfort. "And still the day refused to end. At ten-thirty the sky was an inverted bowl of blue raised radiance, except in the west, where the sunset looked like a firefight at sea, a motionless Trafalgar. He stood at the open window of the flat, craning to see, up past the tall houses opposite, a single pale star suspended above the rooftops, a dagger of shimmering light. It was a long time since he had felt so calm, so untroubled. Serene: the word came to him unbidden. He felt serene." (68) Quirke has solace.

There's also bits of gallows humor, given the trade. "Amazing the number of people who drive into trees or stone walls by accident in the middle of the night, or fall into the Liffey with their pockets full of stones." (17) So Sinclair opines. He leavens the growing sorrow of his senior, Quirke the pathologist. He battles drink, the memories of abandonment and betrayal and guilt, and the drudgery of his tasks. He seeks romance, and even if "love" is but the term people use, he reasons, when they run out of other words to express their predicament or their yearnings, it may comfort him--for now. (Amazon US 12/2/16)

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