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Review: Flawed anti-hero returns in 4th Quirke mystery, 'A Death in Summer'
"A Death in Summer" (Henry Holt & Co.), by Benjamin Black: The setup in Benjamin Black's latest Quirke mystery is a classic one: Newspaper tycoon Richard Jewell is dead from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound; Quirke believes the apparent suicide is really a murder.
The ensuing investigation leads Quirke to Jewell's business rival and to members of each of their staffs, who were plucked out of the same orphanage ' one that Quirke had spent time in as a child.
This is the fourth full-length Quirke mystery by Black ' pseudonym for acclaimed novelist John Banville ' and fans of the series will find the same sort of noir-literary hybrid evident in previous installments. The plotting is a touch too languid to be straight noir, allowing for rich descriptions of 1950s life in Dublin (one salient aspect of which is the various attitudes toward its singular Jewish population) and a number of seemingly superfluous scenes whose relationship to the central mystery becomes clear at the end.
Quirke himself doesn't seem as ill-tempered as in previous books. Though still brusque, a great deal of his time is spent in the company of Jewell's widow, and that may account for his softening. He is still an alluring protagonist, a brilliant man who makes self-destructive choices and, though almost preternaturally intuitive, doesn't always see what's right in front of him. In "A Death in Summer," however, the latter trait makes for a somewhat disingenuous denouement.
A word of caution to those new to the series: Each book builds on the last in terms of character development. Though readers will get the gist of Quirke's problem with alcohol and his complicated relationship with his daughter, those back stories provide more context and thus a more comprehensive picture.