4.5 Quirke has made peace with his lot in life. A Dublin pathologist and long-time widower whose wife died in childbirth, Quirke's only solace is found in endless rounds of drinking to oblivion, a familiar state for this stolid Irish orphan. But when he stumbles upon his brother-in-law, Malachy Griffin, one night after an alcohol-fueled going away party at the hospital, Quirke surfaces from the haze long enough to awaken a nascent curiosity about his brother-in-law's interference in Quirke's domain. Mal's specialty is obstetrics, so it is jarring to discover him stealthily filling in the file of a young woman who died in childbirth, Christine Falls. His curiosity piqued, further research leads Quirke to research Christine's death and the secrecy that surrounds it. The meager details he finds only lead him to more questions, Quirke setting out doggedly on a path that will lead him to the terrible truths about dynasty and power.
It is the 1950s and Quirke's relationships with his extended family are tenuous since Delia's death almost twenty years earlier. He remains emotionally committed to Sarah, the sister he should have married, who wed the distant Mal. Brought into a powerful family by marriage, Boston in America and Dublin in Ireland, this rarified society has never been comfortable to such as Quirke, accepted by Mal's father, Judge Garret Griffin, as a second son, an iconoclast who has taken refuge in his work and alcohol. As the judge is about to receive a papal knighthood, Quirke intrudes on the celebration with his unsolicited questions and judgmental recalcitrance. His one genuinely affectionate tie is to his niece, Phoebe, on the cusp of womanhood and rebelling against her family's expectations, Quirke the girl's only refuge from the conventions forced upon her.
Although he is warned to leave the matter of Christine Falls alone, Quirke is constitutionally incapable of doing so, unearthing years of dubious family secrets and an enterprise that endeavors to place the unwanted children of unwed mothers. The two patriarchs, Judge Griffin in Dublin and Sarah's father in Boston, have attained the status of the untouchable, guided by wealth and the Church's imprimatur on their good deeds. It is Quirke who discovers the monstrous truth and the arrogant power at the heart of a society that remains nearly impenetrable in its security and secrecy. A perfectly crafted mechanism, this social structure resists Quirke's penetration as he is threatened and harmed, stubbornly refusing to quit an investigation that tears apart his family ties and leaves him shaking with rage and self-revulsion. Dark and passionate, this protagonist is both tragic and noble. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
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