Perhaps he did not want to be happy. He had little talent for it, that was certain. Besides, happiness was another of those words, like love, the meaning of which he could never quite grasp. He wanted to tell her about his vision of the canal bank in the dark, how all evening since she had arrived he had kept seeing it, and how it filled him with mysterious longing. He wanted to make her understand, too, what a danger he was, what a menace, to those who came near him, who tried to come near him. But then surely she knew that. -from Holy Orders –
The sixth book in the Quirke series by Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) opens with a body floating in a canal in Dublin – what first appears to be a child, but is later identified as someone Quirke knows – a friend of his daughter, Pheobe. The death is ruled a homicide, the victim bludgeoned almost beyond recognition. What begins with a murder investigation, devolves into uncovering corruption in the Catholic Church and forces Quirke to deal with his dark demons from childhood.
Holy Orders is perhaps Black’s most darkly psychological novel to date in this acclaimed series. Finally, readers begin to understand the factors which have made Quirke such a cold, distant and troubled character. Even Pheobe, his damaged daughter, has secrets of her own which surface in this novel about sexual identity, facing one’s mortality, and the power of the Church in 1950’s Dublin.
Quirke is vulnerable in this book – he begin experiencing hallucinations and questions not only his physical health, but his emotional well-being too. But just as the reader begins to hope for resolution, a twist in the story (right at the end) catapults the reader into uncertainty.
This is perhaps my favorite book in the Quirke series to date. Black/Banfield is at his literary best with deeply introspective prose and spot on character development. Holy Orders is haunting and resonates with a sense of doom and catastrophe. Quirke, who has always been the stalwart protagonist, reveals a more vulnerable side to his personality and his very survival feels threatened.
“I might be going away myself,” Quirke said, glancing at the sky.
“Away? Where to?”
He smiled. “Like you, I’m not sure.” -from Holy Orders-
Readers who like their stories tied up with a neat bow at the end, might find themselves a little frustrated with how Black/Banfield wraps this one up. On the other hand, those who love a great series will find themselves anxiously awaiting the next installment.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through the Library Thing Early Review Program.