Benjamin Black’s previous mysteries—all set in 1950s Dublin—have been lauded for their tight pacing, intelligent plotting and ambient setting. This writerly skill comes as no surprise, however, as Black is actually the pen name of Booker Award-winning novelist John Banville, who brings his literary acumen (and deeply Irish sensibility) to his noir mystery side project.
A Death in Summer, his newest offering, deftly follows suit, reprising the amateur detective stylings of wry and moody medical pathologist Quirke, who continues to struggle against the memory of his own troubled Catholic childhood and painful lost love.
This time, Quirke sets out to find the truth behind the murder of Richard Jewell, a much-despised newspaper tycoon whose gunshot-to-the-head “suicide” screams foul play. Jewell’s wife, the wonderfully disaffected—i.e., French—Françoise,seems an obvious suspect (though this doesn’t stop Quirke from becoming romantically entwined with her), as do a whole host of individuals ranging from lowly Dublin goons to men and women of prominent social standing. Quirke’s daughter, Phoebe, and assistant, Sinclair, also take roles in the investigation, and Black gracefully moves between his characters in a fashion that leaves readers hanging on his words and hungering for more.
In short, A Death in Summer does everything that a good mystery should do: tantalize without conspicuously withholding, divulge clues in measured and surprising ways and interweave the lives and woes of the series’ recurring characters. Moreover, Black stands out within his genre by gesturing towards social issues larger than each book itself—in this case, the era’s unspoken prejudices and great evils and misconduct within the Church and clergy—without letting such moral quandaries overtake the story.
A welcome voice in the mystery genre, Black has established a series worth following and a central character worth coming back to.