Friday, August 23, 2013

Holy Orders by Benjamin Black

First Sentence:  At first they thought it was the body of a child.

A naked body, so badly beaten as to be almost unrecognizable, is found in the body of the canal, bringing out Inspector Hackett and ending up on a table in pathologist Quirke’s morgue.  Surprisingly, Quirke knows the victim, reporter Jimmy Minor, to be a friend of his daughter, Phoebe.  Phoebe feels she is being followed and learns it is the victim’s sister, Sally.  Together, Phoebe and Sally ask for Quirke’s help in learning who killed Jimmy.
We start out being introduced to a collection of characters who, after Chapter One and with the exception of Inspector Hackett, disappear and are never seen again.  From there, we move to a new set of characters whose common trait seems to be angst and depression.  I can forgive quite a bit, when it comes to characters, but there has to be something appealing about them beyond watching them self-destruct.  Although Hackett was the most appealing character, he was also the one of whom we saw the least. 
Other than the obsession over rain, there was little sense of time or place.  It really could have been set anywhere in the British Isles except that the glumness of the characters, the alcohol, obsession with the Church, referring to the Guards (Police) and, yes, the rain, gave it away as Ireland but only if you thought about it.
Beyond that, we had a detective who did little detection, a pathologist who did not pathology, depressing characters and very little suspense.  Lost in all this was the mystery which only popped up occasionally when the characters weren’t busy obsessing over their lives.  The only part worth slogging all the way through the book for was a scene at the end.  Even the satisfaction of that, however, was mitigated by the unsurprising events in the aftermath.

"Holy Orders" was definitely not my glass of Jameson.   I did keep thinking the book was "very Irish," if your definition of Irish is relentlessly bleak settings and depressing characters,.  For me, however, that alone does not a good book make.  I read the first of Black's Quirke books when it first came out, but none since.  Now I remember why.
HOLY ORDERS (Myst-Quirke-Ireland-1950s) – Poor
Black, Benjamin – 6th in series
Henry Holt & Company, 2013

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