Los Angeles Times


By Benjamin Black

Henry Holt

309 pages, $25


It starts with a dead man. Rich, powerful and headless, Richard Jewell is sprawled across his desk, his hands still grasping one of his well-polished shotguns.

There is no small amount of glee in Benjamin Black’s description of the scene — “he lay with a bit of jawbone and a few teeth and a bloodied stump of spine, all that was left of what had been his head” — and that’s partly because he’s the pulpy alter-ego of Irish novelist John Banville. Known for his layered, intelligent writing, the Man Booker Prize-winning author sets aside literary ambitions and dons a black fedora when he becomes Benjamin Black, detective novelist.

“A Death in Summer,” Black’s fourth book featuring pathologist Garret Quirke, is a swift, hopscotching murder mystery set in postwar Ireland. Quirke is called in on the Jewell case by Detective Inspector Hackett, and he can’t help but get involved. He and Hackett believe Jewell’s death was not a suicide, and they spend much of the book working together. They’re similar and different; both are middle-aged, but Hackett is plump and rumpled, while Quirke is tall and dissolutely handsome. In one of Black’s previous novels, Quirke went to rehab, but here he starts drinking again; it’s as if the genre demands that he lift a glass.

Black slides between the pair’s points of view, jagging the story first one way and then another. Sometimes we know less than the investigator, sometimes more. Although Hackett has a hunch that Quirke is being drawn into Jewell’s widow’s sphere, he doesn’t realize how much — but we readers do.

The primary suspects in Jewell’s murder, if that’s what it is, include his beautiful French widow, Francoise, the thuggish horse trainer who discovered his body and a business rival who has adopted the trappings of a cowboy.

If there is something top-shelf about the book, it can be found in the descriptions, and in the complexity of its characters.

“A Death in Summer” is a beach read for the brainy, with a backdrop of sweltering Dublin to remind readers to go for a dip every now and then.

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