Benjamin Black is the pseudonym chosen by acclaimed Irish author, John Banville. When Banville is not working on his powerful and highly-regarded literary novels – The Sea won the Booker Prize in 2005 – he writes a series of crime novels set in 1950s Dublin, with the detective’s role taken by a character named Quirke. The latest novel, Death in Summer (Holt, 2011) is the fourth in the series that began in 2006 with the memorable Christine Falls.
Banville / Black’s theme is the corruption and evil that lurk beneath the respectable surface of Catholic Dublin’s wealthy middle-class life. Death in Summer is no exception to this, opening with the unexpected suicide of newspaper proprietor Richard Jewell, a man known for his wealth and his philanthropy. Quirke is involved from the outset as the forensic pathologist sent to the scene in the summer absence of the state pathologist, Harrison. As is usual with Quirke, he swiftly becomes embroiled with the investigation of the crime, this time by beginning an affair with the victim’s widow.
Readers of Black’s earlier novels will immediately recognize the danger signs: Quirke, a recovering alcoholic who still likes a drink, is not known for his stable relationships with women. As the heat of the summer becomes oppressive -”so hot, the evening , so hot and close, she could hardly breathe” – the secrets that hide the truth behind Jewell’s ‘respectable’ family life and philanthropy, and his sudden death, are slowly revealed. The novel begins at the height of a steamy day in summer, but by the time I reached the last page, I was chilled to the bone.
Highly, highly recommended; Banville’s elegant writing is always a pleasure to read. And if you haven’t read the earlier Benjamin Black novels, give yourself that treat as well this summer.