It's Dublin, the 1950s, the sun is shining and love is in the air. Well, sort of. The thing is, despite the engrossing, atmospheric prose and the crisp, purposeful dialogue, Benjamin Black's mysteries are pretty cloudy affairs.
Chief protagonist and reluctant pathologist Quirke is a mountain of a man, with wild mood swings to match. Personal tragedy has rocked him all his life. Orphaned early, then widowed early, he's only just rebuilding his relationship with his daughter, Phoebe, while investing a small amount of time in feisty actress Isabel Galloway. Work meanwhile, dissecting corpses in the basement of a Dublin hospital, has the habit of becoming much more interesting when he's roped into a murder investigation by Inspector Hackett.
A Death in Summer finds Quirke at the centre of an investigation surrounding the death of newspaper tycoon Richard Jewell. What's made to look like suicide doesn't fool Quirke or Hackett for a minute. Though even with enemies all over Dublin, including rival businessman Carlton Sumner, the trail quickly goes cold. Warmth, of the most complicated and compromising kind, is provided by Jewell's stunning French wife, Françoise d'Aubingy. Besotted, and having already fallen off the wagon, Quirke stumbles about Dublin making a fool of himself. Needless to say, he discovers more than he really wants to.
This is Benjamin Black's fourth Quirke mystery, and the best. While Black (aka Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville) can't write a bad sentence, it's taken him some time to ease into Quirke's strange, beguiling rationale, and make him and the plots truly gripping. Much of the success comes from the fact that the blood and gore is left off page. There is, instead, serious character study and beautifully evocative setting.