A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black

Book Quote:

“You think you’ve seen the worst of the world,” she said, “but the world and its wicked ways can always surprise you.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  AUG 25, 2011)

Irish author John Banville continues to pick up a number of literary prizes (including the Booker Prize in 2005) for his novels, but he sidelines with the pseudonym Benjamin Black for a series of ‘50s crime novels set in Dublin. Banville aka Black has produced these crime novels steadily over the past few years: Christine Falls (2006), The Silver Swan (2007), The Lemur (2008), Elegy for April (2010), and now A Death in Summer.  The Lemur is a stand-alone mystery which shifts from New York to Dublin, but the other novels comprise the Quirke series–a series of mysteries featuring a Dublin pathologist. Banville states that reading the roman durs of Simenon inspired him to try his hand at writing crime fiction. While reading Simenon, he noted the “simple language and direct, lightweight narrative,” accompanied by existentialist thought and decided to “try it.”

In A Death in Summer, pathologist Quirke, a slipping-off-the-wagon middle-aged alcoholic with a fascination for amateur sleuthing is called to the scene of a death. The dead man is the fabulously wealthy newspaper tycoon, Richard Jewell, known to his few friends and his many enemies as Diamond Dick “a ruthless bastard, …, who would tear out your heart as quick as look at you.” Jewell is dead from a shotgun blast at close range, and someone put the gun in the victim’s hands in a poor attempt to pass the death off as a suicide. Only a rudimentary knowledge of guns is enough to know that a shotgun is not the natural or easy choice for a suicide, so Quirke who arrives on the scene soon after Inspector Hackett knows he’s looking at a murder case.

The book’s opening scene takes place at Brooklands, the palatial country estate of Dick Diamond. What should be an entrancing, delightful summer day is marred by the bloody, violent crime:

“It felt strange to Hackett to be standing here, on a fine country estate, with the birds singing all about and a slab of sunlight falling at his heels from the open doorway of Jewell’s office, and at the same time to have that old familiar smell of violent death in his nostrils. Not that he had smelled it so very often, but once caught it was never forgotten, that mingled faint stink of blood and excrement and something else, something thin and sharp and insidious, the smell of terror itself, perhaps, or of despair—or was he being fanciful? Could despair and terror really leave a trace?”

This scene, the juxtaposition of calm countryside beauty side-by-side with violent death sets the tone for the rest of the book as Quirke pokes around those connected to Jewell. These are the wealthy society elite of Dublin–an impenetrable set who holiday together, conduct business together, party together and whose lives contain many dark secrets. Quirke senses that there’s something not quite right about the family scene at Brooklands. Jewell was murdered and yet apparently no one noticed. Jewell’s servants, including the shifty yard manager Maguire, are noticeably shaken by the crime whereas Jewell’s family treats his death like some sort of minor social inconvenience. Jewell’s cool, elegant French wife, Francoise d’Aubigny, a woman Quirke met once before at a social event, was off riding one of her horses when the murder took place, and Jewell’s half-sister, Dannie is disinterestedly lounging on the sofa drinking gin and tonic when the police arrive:

“Dannie Jewell lifted her glass from the arm of the sofa and took a long drink from it, thirstily, like a child. She held the glass in both hands, and Quirke thought again of Francoise d’Aubigny standing at the window in the embassy that day, with the champagne glass, of the look she had given him, the odd desperateness of it. Who were these two women, really, he wondered, and what was going on here?”

With a man as despised as Dick Jewell, there’s no shortage of suspects. Carlton Sumner, Jewell’s crass business rival who is trying to take over Jewell’s newspaper empire declares he’s amazed that it took this long for someone to murder this much-hated man. Jewell’s wife, the French trophy wife, Francoise doesn’t seem to exactly be the grieving widow. While Inspector Hackett finds himself comparing Francoise to the cool impeccability of Ingrid Bergman, Quirke is inexorably attracted to the new widow. He’s intoxicated by her perfume and her glance. Turning a cold shoulder to his actress girlfriend, Isabel Galloway, Quirke begins peppering his thoughts with French phrases, buys French newspapers, and tries desperately to limit his alcohol consumption to just a few drinks a day.

As with any series detective novel, the private life of the protagonist (Quirke in this case) is juggled with the crime under investigation. A Death in Summer finds Quirke half-heartedly investigating while struggling with his interest in Francois. A large portion of Quirke’s private life in this novel contains Phoebe, Quirke’s daughter and her relationship with Sinclair, a pathologist who works with Quirke. For those late to the Quirke series, some mention is made to the story threads from earlier volumes in the series, but these references are woven into the plot so effectively that it’s easy to catch up with these prior relationships.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 62 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co. (July 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Benjamin Black
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


Also by John Banville:




August 25, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Ireland, Sleuths Series, y Award Winning Author

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.