In 1950s Dublin, in a lock-up garage in the city, the body of a young woman is discovered, an apparent suicide. But pathologist Dr Quirke and Detective Inspector Strafford soon suspect foul play. The victim's sister, a newspaper reporter from London, returns to Dublin to join the two men in their quest to uncover the truth. But as they explore her links to a wealthy German family in County Wicklow, and to investigative work she may have been doing in Israel, they are confronted with an ever-deepening mystery. With relations between the two men increasingly strained, and their investigation taking them back to the final days of the Second World War, can they join the pieces of a hidden puzzle?
Not to say that the Quirke novels are breezy confections. They work best when Quirke is at his worst, and that’s what Banville gives us here, with his usual insight and elegant prose ... Plotting, police procedure and making the clues add up have never been the strengths of the Quirke novels. Their deeper pleasures come from Quirke’s emotional give-and-take within his tight circle of friends, family, colleagues and adversaries ... There is also Banville’s prose to savor ... While his writing in the Quirke books is more fluid, it, too, can dazzle with finely wrought moments that make you want to slow down to savor them ... The novel’s only disappointment is its epilogue.
More interesting than the dynamics of the whodunnit are the insights we get into the characters of Quirke and Strafford ... It is tribute to Banville’s great skill as a novelist that the men feel convincing and fully rounded, sidestepping clichés through the complex inner life with which Banville imbues them ... But the Strafford and Quirke novels give the sense of a writer content in his rare ability to fashion a novel that will have his readers hooked. That they are also beautifully written is, with Banville, a given.
It’s a good plot, though the narrative is not the most interesting thing in Banville’s crime novels. I read and relish them... for the atmosphere, the characters, and their understanding of the vagaries of human nature ... The plot of the novel is full of twists and turns, not all, on reflection, entirely probable, yet all so good in themselves that any incredulity is waved away. Banville is always good on weather, characters and set-pieces. One might not care to spend time in real life with the likes of Quirke and Strafford, but on the page they offer a deep, purring pleasure.