The all-too-human Dr. Quirke returns in Benjamin Black's new novel, the circa 1950s Dublin pathologist once more drawn to a case because of obscure circumstances. When the flame-haired Deirdre Hunt's nude body is found on the rocks of the coast, "a long swath of hair coiled around her neck like a thick frond of gleaming seaweed", her bereaved husband, Billy Hunt, Quirke's former school mate, makes an odd request. He begs Quirke to intervene and stop the autopsy on his wife's corpse. Although Quirke cannot comply, giving in to his professional curiosity to find answers, he does his best to aid the grieving husband. With his usual plodding efficiency, Quirke begins an investigation, nibbling at the edges of the woman's life and her relationship with her older husband, Billy, an obscure spiritual healer, Dr. Hakeem Kreutz and her smooth-talking business partner, Leslie White, a silver-haired womanizer who thrives on the attention of females.
That one of White's hapless victims is his daughter, Phoebe, is deeply troubling to the newly sober pathologist, family upheavals still reverberating after two years of trauma and the abuse of power of his one-time mentor. Still grappling with the fact that Quirke is, indeed, her biological father, the girl's relationship with Quirke is strained and tentative. Phoebe is not ready to forgive the adults who have deceived her, particularly her putative father. Now, at twenty-three, Phoebe has closed herself off from the family, clinging to a solitary existence. Until she meets the charismatic and seductive Leslie White. Accidentally stumbling across Phoebe and Leslie White as they leave a pub, Quirke is chagrined, but unable to fathom the connection or what frightening consequences lie in wait for the naïve, emotionally bruised Phoebe. Suddenly there is more at stake than the death of a classmate's wife, White a troubling link to Deirdre.
Coming finally to the heart of Deirdre's death and the potential danger for his sheltered daughter, Quirke walks a treacherous path, moving through a mystery that has yet to define the major players, all too aware that his loved one may be in serious jeopardy. Clinging to his newfound sobriety, Quirke is himself on thin ice, plunging into a situation before he has ascertained the danger. It is this anxious, tortured figure that Black (John Banville) captures so skillfully, Quirke an emotionally crippled man with the best of intentions, but few social skills to avoid damaging those he loves. The era dictates much of the characters' reticence, strict social mores clashing with the usual human aberrations and deceits. The subtly nuanced protagonist is a sympathetic figure, painfully unable to find resolution to his life problems, finely honed from the fumbling alcoholic of Christine Falls, a man face to face with the wreckage of his past. His mind clouded by the misjudgments of a lifetime, Quirke is one step behind as events spiral out of control, the sweet oblivion of the bottle calling him. No harsher a judge of himself than Phoebe, Quirke is defenseless in an indifferent world. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
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