Monday, January 4, 2016

Review: Even the Dead

Summary: A suspicious death, a pregnant woman suddenly gone missing: Quirke's latest case leads him inexorably toward the dark machinations of an old foe Perhaps Quirke has been down among the dead too long. Lately the Irish pathologist has suffered hallucinations and blackouts, and he fears the cause is a brain tumor. A specialist diagnoses an old head injury caused by a savage beating; all that's needed, the doctor declares, is an extended rest. But Quirke, ever intent on finding his place among the living, is not about to retire.

One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver's death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke's examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won't say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city's most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits.

Even the Dead--Benjamin Black's seventh novel featuring the endlessly fascinating Quirke--is a story of surpassing intensity and surprising beauty. -- Henry Holt

I know, I know... it's been awhile since I've posted. December was a rough month for me personally, and I decided to take a bit of a break from the blog and reading. I'm hoping to make Booking Mama more of a priority again in 2016, but I have a crazy January -- just a warning. Thanks for sticking with me and I promise I'll try to post more regularly!

Since it's the first Monday of the new year, I decided to review a mystery called EVEN THE DEAD by Benjamin Black (pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville.) I consider myself somewhat savvy when it comes to mysteries and thrillers; however, this series starring Quirke, an Irish pathologist, wasn't even on my radar. And that's really unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

EVEN THE DEAD is the seventh book in the Quirke series, and I have a feeling that I'm going to have to go back and start this series from the beginning. The story takes place in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950s and features an intriguing pathologist named Quirke. From what I could tell from this novel, he has an interesting past, to say the least; and he's quite good at figuring out mysteries.

The book begins with the death of a young man who crashes and burns one night after leaving a party. It appears that the death is accidental or a suicide; however, a trauma to the head makes Quirke wonder if there's more to this story. The young man just happens to be the son of a vocal communist supporter. Could his father's enemies have wanted him dead?

And then, Quirke's daughter Phoebe receives a strange, but urgent, visit from an old school acquaintance. Phoebe tries to help this desperate (and pregnant) woman; however, she ends up disappearing under very mysterious circumstances. Phoebe asks her father for some help in locating the woman.

Quirke, along with some help from friend Inspector Hackett, begin to investigate these two crimes which appear to be related. Together, they uncover clues which lead them to some nasty events and people from Quirke's past. What they discover is darker than they ever imagined and shows just how powerful politics and the church were in Ireland.

I was very impressed with EVEN THE DEAD. The mystery was terrific and kept me guessing; however, it was the characters and the writing that made this book really stand out. Obviously, a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist can write, but it was refreshing to read a mystery that was so well written. I absolutely loved Quirke and Phoebe, as well as many of the supporting characters; and I was blown away by how well developed these characters were. Quirke was extremely complex and flawed -- he actually was an alcoholic who was trying to recover from both the excessive drinking and the hallucinations and blackouts; and I loved how his past was woven throughout this story.

Having said that, there were a lot of references to his past... and they definitely made me want to know more about Quirke -- both personally and professionally. EVEN THE DEAD, without a doubt, worked as a stand-alone. I just felt as if there were references that I would have appreciated more had I read the first six books in the series. Needless to say, I am going to try to catch up on these books because I enjoyed so much about this one!

Another interesting thing about EVEN THE DEAD was the setting. I have always been drawn to books that take place in Ireland, but ever since I visited the country in 2014, I appreciate them even more. I can't say that I've ever read a novel that takes place in Dublin in the 1950s, but I loved the time period and the author's descriptions of the city. Black/Banville did a marvelous job in bringing everything to life.

EVEN THE DEAD was a great mystery. I really enjoyed the characters and the story, and I'm looking forward to catching up on this series.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I used to read a lot of mysteries and thrillers and somehow missed this series too. Quirke sounds like a fantastic character!

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

This sounds really good - mysteries can be hit or miss sometimes with character development. I hope January goes better for you! (in your real life, not just blogging). Happy New Year!

Beth F said...

I'm hoping to read a lot more mysteries this year -- I miss them! This one sounds like something I'd like; both the characters and the setting intrigue me.