When newspaper magnate Richard Jewell is found dead at his country estate, clutching a shotgun in his lifeless hands, few see his demise as cause for sorrow. But before long Doctor Quirke and Inspector Hackett realize that, rather than the suspected suicide, "Diamond Dick" has in fact been murdered.
Then there's the predictability. Mild spoilers here, but in this book 2 + 2 really does equal 4, and characters do behave in quite predictable ways. Even Phoebe-- who I have found unpredictable before-- seems rather dull and unexiciting here. Where you can expect to find anti-Semitism, you find it. Where you can expect to find Church corruption, you find it. If it doesn't look like a suicide, well, no fancy deduction needed: it isn't. If it has a whiff of sexual corruption, expect as much. Appears to be mentally unstable? Count on it. This really wasn't one for page-turning suspense and surprise conclusions.
And is Black perhaps getting tired of this set of characters? As mentioned above, even quirky Phoebe seemed tiresome. There's a plot with her and Sinclair, but it fizzes into nothingness. One potentially interesting character from the last novel in the series appears to be written out. Quirke seems to be going through the motions, "playing" an alcoholic detective with a weakness for women stereotype (nothing wrong with that; I can appreciate that in a main character) rather than coming alive on the page as a distinctive example of one (now, that's a problem).
I would have liked to see more of Quirke in his coroner, role, too; it may have been making him into too much of a private detective here that made a lot of the plot hang loosely on coincidencial encounters and "surprising" discoveries. Perhaps he was too far out of his element? I'm not positive what Black needed to do with this novel, but it needed another go-round and think-though at the outset before becoming a published work. It's ultimately disappointing and predictable, full of lost opportunities and humdrum cliches.
When a lovely English summer day is unpleasantly disturbed by the grim discovery of the wealthy, notorious publisher Richard Jewell, aka Diamond Dick embracing a rifle in death, the immediate consensus suggests suicide. Of course, even a rank amateur could detect such an obvious fallacy. Meanwhile, the elegantly composed and lovely French widow Françoise seeks comfort with her husband's edgy half-sister Dannie in the drawing room sipping the Brits' requisite gin and tonic, any visible grief lies well submerged beneath the upper societal strata's strict protocol despite such a grisly event.
Françoise, a fleeting past acquaintance who is shrewdly willing to exploit any means to deflect even the minutest suspicion upon her marvels at the fateful alignment with our precocious, yet often dispirited Quirke, who immediately stumbles into a reflective attraction for the ostensibly tangible suspect. Successful in her seductive attempts, Quirke's conflicted conscience reminds him that his continued dalliance jeopardizes his long-standing relationship.
The subtle complexity of unanticipated actions hurls Quirke into a startling swirl of bewildering events which surprisingly involve not only his daughter Phoebe, but also his assistant Sinclair, who also is Dannie's confidante, a highly unstable woman. Most intriguing to me is Quirke's measured affective and philosophical evolution. Yes, he stumbles a bit along the way, but as the villain is suitably identified, Quirke definitely develops into a more emotionally stable, balanced and highly laudable character. At long last, John Banville's alter ego, Benjamin Black reveals Garret Quirke's immense possibilities.
For the first two-thirds of the novel nothing seems to fit together or to be going anywhere. Plot lines lead to apparent dead ends in a meandering sort of way, but Black's writing is always so enjoyable I was willing to wander wherever he wanted to take me. Of course, in the final third of the book things get going, in churning, gut wrenching fashion, in which he pulls everything together at the last possible moment. Atmosphere is the star of this novel, with scenes described evocatively in very few words. I'd recommend beginning this series at the beginning, with Christine Falls, but if you've been following Quirke along his lugubrious way, you won't be disappointed with this one.
This newest book, A Death in Summer, opens with the discovery of Richard “Diamond Dick” Jewell, wealthy publisher and philanthropist, lying across his desk with his head blown off and his favorite shotgun in his hands. This time, Detective Inspector Hackett calls in Dr. Quirke first thing, in a semi-official capacity. Neither of them accepts that Jewell committed suicide, and given Jewell’s rapaciousness as a businessman, suspects are thick on the ground.
Like the other Quirke novels, A Death in Summer is not a mystery for readers captivated by the art of detection. There is no careful reconstruction of the crime, no well-laid trail of clues for the reader to decipher against an exotic background. For Black, the background is half the story—1950s Dublin, a city of class divisions nearly impossible to traverse, as muses the decidedly non-U Hackett:
“Petty crooks he could deal with, the dregs of the slums, but when it came to the likes of Carlton Sumner and the Jewells he was on shaky ground, in unfamiliar territory. That was why he needed Quirke as a guide and a protector. Although Quirke had come from nothing—literally so, almost, since he had no parents and had passed his childhood in orphanages—he had been taken up into the world of money and position when he was adopted by the Griffin family. Quirke knew his way about in places where Hackett felt lost….”
Dublin’s role in Black’s novels is much like Los Angeles was for Raymond Chandler—a sullen, insinuating presence that threatens to corrupt everything it touches. Here its character switches from foggy, damp, and brooding to dry, hot, and inescapable as the city suffers through a heat wave. (The Dubliners might deal better if they shed their tweed jackets, woolen socks, and felt hats, but they seem incapable of such affronts to tradition.)
Quirke is drawn to Jewell’s preternaturally poised French widow, an anomaly even among Dublin’s upper crust. As before, Quirke’s hapless daughter Phoebe gets drawn into the affair, as does his assistant David Sinclair. Sinclair loses a piece of himself, but perhaps Phoebe gains…
And this is the difficulty with A Death in Summer if you have read the previous novels: it resembles a soap opera, melodramatic and repetitious. The plot reads as if Black draws a certain number of cards from a deck labeled “plot devices”, then reshuffles and draws again for each book. By now these turns have become predictable. While offering the same pleasures of the earlier novels in style, atmosphere, and characters, the book ultimately lets Black’s fans down. He can do better.
Set in 1950s Dublin, the addition of this 4th novel in the Quirke series, seems like more of a mystery than the others. The victim is identified immediately, newspaper tycoon Richard Jewell, and Quirke, a Dublin pathologist is brought into the case. There is an eerie foreshadowing of Rupert Murdoch here, as Jewell’s multifarious dealings and bizarre family connections are gradually revealed. Quirke is as complicated as ever, a loner of course, but for example in each book the relationship with his formerly estranged daughter deepens a little. It is this evolution of Quirke’s character that is one of the most appealing aspects of this series.
It has been frequently noted in reviews that John Banville has found a second career writing as Benjamin Black. He has been quoted as saying that he prefers the Quirke novels to his award-winning progeny. As readers we are all the richer for these beautifully layered, elegantly written mysterious, with our friend Dr. Quirke at the center.
Quirke is brought to the home of Richard Jewell, Diamond Dick, the very wealthy and very powerful owner of a chain of newspapers that he had inherited from his father, who had been Lord Mayor of Dublin, an outstanding achievement for a man of his background in the Dublin of the early twentieth century. Inspector Hackett has been called to the Jewell home after a shot rings out and Diamond Dick is found dead with the shotgun in his hands. Richard Jewell wielded a powerful weapon, the “scurrilous and much-feared Daily Clarion, city’s top-selling paper. The older Jewell had been something of an uncut stone, given to violent vendettas and a loathing of trades unions, but his son, though no less unscrupulous and vengeful, had sought to polish the family name to a high luster by means of well-publicized acts of philanthropy. Richard Jewell was known for his sponsorship of orphanages and schools for the handicapped….” Those who knew Jewell well found the notion of Diamond Dick as philanthropist laughable.
Ostensibly a suicide, Hackett and Quirke realize that the manner in which Jewell is holding the gun indicates that the scene that has been staged. Jewell has been murdered and there is likely to be a trove of suspects from among all the people who have reason to hate Richard Jewell.
Jewell’s French wife, Francoise d’Aubigny, does not appear overcome with grief. But her sister-in-law, Dannie, seems truly desolate. Quirke is surprised to learn that Dannie and his daughter, Phoebe, are friends and that Dannie also knows Quirke’s assistant, Doctor David Sinclair. It is David who hears Dannie’s repeated comment, “the poor orphans.”
The Dublin of A DEATH IN SUMMER is less weighed down by the engulfing presence of the Catholic Church. The influence of the church is there but it is the presence of another group that runs through the story. The Jewell family are Jewish by blood although not by practice. David Sinclair is also Jewish and the author mentions Briscoe, the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Briscoe’s first term began in 1956 so the time frame is established; Dublin is moving closer to the relative freedom of the sixties and away from the stultifying atmosphere of the early fifties.
Quirke is the ultimate outsider, an orphan adopted into the powerful Griffin family, but that doesn’t change his perception of his place in the world. It does, however, influence how other people perceive Quirke and the connection to the Griffins gives Quirke an inside look at the world of Richard Jewell. Inspector Hackett has no difficulty encouraging Quirke to take advantage of his social station. Quirke, despite the pleas of his daughter, is drawn to the puzzle that is the investigation of a crime. Quirke and Hackett make a good team.
A DEATH IN SUMMER is about anomalies. Dublin is suffering through a heat spell that the residents of the city are ill equipped to handle. The Jewell family has denied being Jewish, not overtly, but covertly as they send Dannie “to the nuns” for her education. Yet Dannie’s hope for acceptance lies with David Sinclair. Quirke and Phoebe are not participants in the story, they are observers to a degree that is different from their roles in the previous three books. The soul of the book is David Sinclair, a peripheral character.
Philanthropist Richard Jewell is shot--head blown clean off--and it looks like suicide. Except it's rather difficult to shoot oneself with a shotgun. And since Inspector Hackett is called to the scene and Quirke is the medical examiner on call, well, they walk right into trouble. Again.
We finally get to meet Sinclair, Quirke's assistant, as more than a shadow in the corner. He becomes very real in this novel. And, as always, we get new interesting characters related to the victim. Some I'm sure will be back, though whether as a minor but important plot point, like Jimmy Minor, or more major, like Sinclair, is still to be seen.
And Quirke. He's still mostly likeable, but still also a bastard in some ways, as he shuffles his way through figuring out the mystery, which, as always, is far nastier than it initially seems. The Dublin of the 1950s has an underbelly as dark as NYC or LA. And it makes for wonderful stories. I look forward to the next adventure Quirke has.
I would have trouble recommending this to other readers. I think loyal Banville/Black readers will enjoy the writing, but should lower their expectations re. the plot.
It may be time for Banville/Black to retire Dr. Quirke. They both seem bored with the whole mystery game.
Detective Hackett and Quirke are crusty old guys with a few nicks and scrapes. The writing is superb and the plotting tight. This was a great find and I recommend it highly. Get it at your local library, I did, save some bucks.
In any case, this story involves the suspected suicide of the high-profile society member and horseman Richard Jewell. Quirke ends up at the country estate almost immediately and assists in interviewing the widow, a striking French woman who is calm and collected despite the horror she just discovered. As in many television shows, the medical examiner here seems more of a detective than a doctor...he pretty much leads the investigation for all purposes. Yes, it's a bit of a stretch but Quirke is just that kind of character, one that Black (a pseudonym of author John Banville) writes well.
Because it takes place in Ireland, there are gorgeous descriptions of country estates, drawing rooms, and endless cups of tea. As in all Black novels, many descriptions of the facets of light and dark, the penumbras of shadow play. I noticed a new motif in this particular novel-trees are often described extensively and with a sense of purpose to the story. It's a nice touch that makes the story feel more of a journey than a procedural.
So with all that going for it, it should be better than it is. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the series and the character of Quirke is up there with Wallander for me in terms of crime fiction. But this one disappointed me in two ways. First, it introduces a story line about Sinclair, Quirke's assistant, and his possible relationship with Phoebe, Quirke's troubled but plucky daughter. It's compelling, but it doesn't seem to develop-it drops off completely. Then, there are the other characters that make up the suspects, and I felt like they were all sort of caricatures-from beginning to end, they never changed in their behavior. Instead of developing some complexity or depth, they simply remained the same as when the story introduces them. This made predicting and solving the crime fairly easy for the reader. Usually in a detective story, the underlying rule is 'nothing is as it seems'; yet in this one, yep, it pretty much is exactly how it seems.
And, no spoilers here, but in terms of imagination, the plot of this book has been on every other episode of Law & Order SVU. Mental illness, homeles children, anti-Semitic hate crimes, and business corruption fill in the blanks, but the basic premise is pretty bland and predictable. It's still an enjoyable read, as there's something strangely peaceful about the old-school sleuthing that Quirke does.
Like a take-off on Holmes and Watson, Inspector Hackett and his trusted partner, pathologist Dr. Quirke make an odd pair poking around in the affairs of dead newspaper owner, Richard ‘Diamond Dick’ Jewell. In a country still torn with prejudice after World War II the Irish seem surprised to find a Jewish conclave here in Dublin, one treated with respect unless they happen to get in the way. Jewell apparently got in someone’s way.
Dropping clues like flies on a sticky summer day, Black allows us to see ahead of his investigators and we want to shout out warnings and have them discard the red-herrings. As the only so-human, flawed protagonist, Quirke, stumbles blindly ahead, only seeing the clues like a mole suddenly blinded by the bright sky after sticking his snout of a hole for the first time. Surely he can’t help but notice what he has been tripping over, especially when a bloody finger is attached to his front door in an envelope.
Jewell’s death has so many possible suspects that it takes the entire book to whittle them down slowly, one at a time keeping you guessing until the very end. The plodding pace of the book helps evolve the storyline and makes this one worth hanging in there until the inevitable conclusion.
In future, I'll stick to John Banville, whose books I greatly enjoy.
"When word got about that Richard Jewell had been found with the greater part of his head blown off and clutching a shotgun in his bloodless hands, few outside the family circle and few inside it, either, considered his demise a cause for sorrow."
Thus begins A Death in Summer, the fourth novel of this series. As Richard "Diamond Dick" Jewell lays there in his own gore in his beautiful estate called Brooklands, Quirke and Hackett, the two "Connoisseurs of death," arrive on the scene. Jewell runs the Daily Clarion, Dublin's top-selling newspaper, and while the death looks like a suicide the press isn't going to run it as such, since suicides were never reported in the newspapers. Quirke, who had met Jewell some time earlier at a charity function, doesn't believe it's a suicide anyway. When talking to Françoise Jewell, Richard's widow, and his sister Denise (Dannie), he is stymied by their seeming lack of care and wonders "who are these two women really and what was going on here?" That's but one question on his mind as he and Hackett begin their investigation. They will once again mix in the Olympic realm of the moneyed classes who are very adept at hushing up any hint of scandal and quite skilled at keeping secrets, as the investigation takes Quirke back to Françoise (more than once) and to Jewell's business rival, Carlton Sumner. One of the leads will also take Quirke to the orphanage where he spent a short amount of time before being taken to an industrial school; although he's there to inquire after someone who may hold some information, he also wonders if he isn't there to "knead" some of his old wounds. But what he learns may just be the key to unlocking the whole sordid business.
Aside from the portrait of the powerful in Dublin, Black also takes a look at the deep vein of anti-Semitism that flourishes there. Jews are another group of people who find alienation in the city; many of them won't use their real names and opt for one that is less ethnic. Even though the latest Lord Mayor, Briscoe, is Jewish, there are still a lot of people who are victims of prejudice; David Sinclair, Phoebe's new boyfriend, is one of them. There are several subplots that eventually come together at the end, and there are enough diversions to keep any mystery reader well occupied.
While Black continues to amaze me here with his imagery and his gift for language, and especially with his characters, this book just takes forever to get anywhere. Normally I don't mind the slow pace in Black's novels, but this one sort of dragged in several spots. When the action picks back up again, however, it turns that out the slow interludes can be forgiven because of the most evil and haunting nature of the crime, which ultimately has Hackett making the proverbial deal with the devil to gain any sort of justice:
"It's the times, Dr. Quirke, and the place. We haven't grown up yet, here on this tight little island. But we do what we can, you and I. That's all we can do."
highly recommended -- as are all the novels in this series. They are simply superb.
The writing is excellent,both as far as the story is concerned and in the style itself.
Newspaper magnate Richard Jewell was found dead in his home office apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. DI Hackett of the Irish police force (called the Guards in this book which is set in the 1950s but now called the Garda) investigates along with his friend, pathologist Quirke. Fairly quickly they establish that Jewell was murdered and then the hunt is on for the perpetrator. There are lots of possibilities as Jewell was not well liked. Jewell leaves behind his wife, Francoise, his daughter, Giselle, and his sister, Dannie. None of the women seem devastated by his death although Dannie calls in her friend David Sinclair who is Quirke's assistant to help her deal with the trauma. Francoise certainly seems quite cool and collected. Quirke gets to know Francoise quite well and his daughter, Phoebe, becomes friends with Dannie through David Sinclair. By the time the mystery is unwound relationships have been made and unmade.
I suspected who the murderer was and the reason for the murder well before the end so this wasn't the most gripping whodunit for me. However, I was sufficiently intrigued by Quirke, Phoebe and David to keep reading. There were numerous references to Quirke's past that were not clear to me but maybe if I had read the preceding books they would be. I will be looking for those since I think this series has promise.