Once again, pathologist Quirke is a victim of his own demons. In mid-1950s Dublin, the sensational suicide of businessman Vincent Delahaye brings Detective Inspector Hackett, accompanied by Quirke, to Ashgrove House in the County of Cork, where the family is gathered. Since Quirke is more at ease with this element of society—and more likely to fall prey to his personal weaknesses—Hackett has requested that the pathologist conduct the interviews. The family members gathered at Ashgrove House are Vincent's young widow, Mona; his grown twin sons, Jason and James; his sister, Maggie; and the family patriarch, now confined to a wheelchair. Jason's sultry girlfriend is also present, though only peripherally.
The suicide makes no sense to authorities or family: Victor sailed out to sea, his partner's son the only other person on board, only to pull out a pistol and shoot himself, leaving Davy Clancy to witness the macabre death and wait in turn to be rescued. Jack Clancy has no idea why his partner executed such a bizarre ending to his life, though his recent business manipulations have made Jack fearful that Delahaye's death may cast an unwelcome spotlight on his misdeeds in the company.
Writing as Benjamin Black, John Banville has created a fascinating character in this sometimes intemperate protagonist, though this novel is not as compelling as others in the series. Quirke treads a familiar path in Vengeance, a man with an aptitude for unraveling crimes with a tattered personal history and a tendency toward drunkenness and intense relationships with women that he always manages to sabotage. Perhaps it is his own intimacy with failing others that allows him to intuit the secrets of murderers, a penchant for spotting inconsistencies and lies. Black, like Quirke, is also adept at eviscerating the upper class and their hypocrisies, those who accept the well-spoken Quirke at face value only to discard him when he is no longer useful. Again, Quirke is in familiar territory.
Quirke has his hands full with the Delahaye family, from the sly, overtly sexual Mona, who pretends foolishness but doesn't miss a trick, to the smartly dressed identical twins—spoiled, entitled young men pursuing hedonistic fancies and mischievous cruelties at other's expense. One death is sufficient to arouse authorities to the discord in the Delahaye family, but a second, with a profound effect on business and personal relationships, suggests that there is something terribly wrong in the Delahaye-and-Clancy combination. From long experience, Quirke knows patience and observation will yield the results he seeks. Of course, the combination of waiting and watching—along with the ingestion of alcohol—leaves Quirke prey to the temptations that have so often caused heartbreak to those who love him.
Having recently connected with a former paramour, actress Isabel Galloway, Quirke anticipates some measure of renewed happiness, but that romance is hampered by Mona Delahaye's intentional seduction, drink and his libido leading the pathologist down a road he has traveled before only to rue the decision later: "Never before had he encountered such a striking mixture of artlessness and calculation." Thanks to the observations of his daughter, the key to a clever murder is provided, the killer confronted, Quirke face to face with the usual demons, the love of a good woman never quite enough to save him from himself. Much as I enjoy this character, I am increasingly bored with Quirke's predictable falls from grace.