Even the Dead is the seventh of Benjamin Black’s Quirke books, a series that began in 2006 with Christine Falls (published in the U.S. in 2007), the book that first introduced the Dublin pathologist to the world. And, as befits a man whose life is the subject of six previous crime novels, Quirke is a man with a past, and it is a rather complicated past, at that. But because Even the Dead is my introduction to Quirke, I’ve had to piece that past together as best I can from what the one book reveals.
I gather that Quirke is a man with a drinking problem bad enough to impress even those who set their drinking standards by the norms of Dublin’s drinkers. But he has an even bigger problem than that one because a severe beating he endured several years earlier has come back to haunt him. In recent months, hallucinations, problems staying in the moment, and other concentration difficulties have made it impossible for him to do his job. Quirke’s personal life is nothing to write home about either. Quirke is a widower who, in his immediate grief at the loss of his wife, asked his half-brother to adopt and raise his new daughter, Phoebe, as his own child. And now, all these years later (the books are set in the early-to-mid 1950s), even though Phoebe knows the truth about her parentage, Quirke’s relationship with his daughter is more one of uncle-niece than father-daughter.
|Author Benjamin Black|
Simply put, Quirke is not a happy man, and after a brain specialist tells him that his latest setbacks are the result of too much sitting around, combined with “nervous tension,” he is a frustrated man as well as an unhappy one. So when invited to give his opinion on the head injury found on the corpse of a young man who burned to death inside his sports car after slamming it into a tree, Quirke jumps at the chance to get back in the game. Now, convinced that the young man’s death is neither an accident nor a suicide, Quirke and his longtime friend Inspector Hackett want to know who killed him and why they did it.
Even the Dead is an intensely atmospheric look at a city, and a country, still very much under the thumb of the Catholic Church of its day. 1950s Dublin, at least as Benjamin Black portrays it, is a city whose most powerful figure is the Archbishop, a man everyone else with any pretense of power strives to keep happy. The church controls more than the souls of Dublin’s people, it controls everything about their daily lives. And the man calling the shots for the church shows them little mercy. A lot of dirty money is being made by a lot of dirty people.
Now Quirke and Hackett need to find a way to stop them.
(And now I need to go back and read the first six Quirke books because Quirke is a man I want to know more about.)