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Holy Orders: A Quirke Novel Hardcover – August 20, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews
Book 6 of 6 in the Quirke Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Postwar, corruption-laced Dublin is as much a character in Black’s strikingly detailed, psychologically intricate crime series as his hard-drinking, brooding hero, Quirke, a pathologist who, as his equally ruminative daughter, Phoebe, puts it, can’t resist playing at detective. The sixth installment begins with the gruesome murder of Phoebe’s friend, pint-sized reporter Jimmy Minor, a key character in the earlier books. The ensuing investigation is as slow and sticky as molasses as Quirke and shrewd if grubby Inspector Hackett visit an imperious priest at the spooky Trinity Manor and an almost mythological tinker encampment. Quirke is in a bad way. Not only is he wracked by guilt over his inability to express love, his grip on reality is slipping under an onslaught of disorienting hallucinations and anguished memories of his boyhood abuse by priests. Phoebe, meanwhile, comes under the spell of Jimmy’s alluring and alarming twin, Sally. Though most intrigued with the mysteries of the mind, Black succeeds brilliantly in delivering piquant social satire and chilling revelations of the church’s unholy power over the justice system and the press. --Donna Seaman


“Absorbing… The murder mystery is solved, after its startling fashion, in due time--but not before Mr. Black has worked his lyrical magic at fine length, in scenes that unfold with a poet's grace.… Long may we wander Dublin's damp streets in the dour doctor's melancholy presence.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Sophisticated… Banville is arguably one of the finest prose stylists writing in English today.” ―The Atlantic Wire

“It is doubtful that anyone can write as well as Benjamin Black when it comes to a psychological mystery... And it is significant that the silken skill with which he writes of past and present death matches the literary talent that marked the author in his incarnation as John Banville, winner of the Man Booker Prize.” ―The Washington Times

“[Holy Orders] starts and ends as strongly as the best of the Quirkes...This book may well introduce many readers to the series, as it is sure to get major attention this year when the BBC airs in Great Britain its production of Black's work. It stars Gabriel Byrne as Black's protagonist, the dour, self-hating, sometimes alcoholic pathologist, Quirke, in 1950s Dublin.” ―St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Outstanding . . . Black (nom de plume for the Quirke books by acclaimed Irish author John Banville) has turned in his most complex plot yet in Holy Orders, the sixth book in this 1950s-Dublin-set series.” ―The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)

“[Quirke] appears for a seventh time in Black's gripping, terrific new novel, Holy Orders. . . Although it shares the vivid settings, evocative mood and striking characters of the earlier Quirke novels, Holy Orders has a tighter, more intricate plot.” ―The Tampa Bay Times

“Banville's knack for drawing the reader in with a good story remains forcefully intact.” ―The Daily Beast

“Black masterfully evokes an Ireland in the iron grip of Mother Church…Quirke, a product of his environment, is a fascinating character.” ―Washington Independent Review of Books

“Black breaks out of the pack . . . The latest book, Holy Orders, is just out. It's an excellent addition to the series, opening with the murder of a reporter, a friend of sorts with Quirke's daughter in previous books . . . Black is an excellent host.” ―WBUR (Boston NPR)

“Deceit, suspicion, jealousy, doubt: Banville and Black join, through Quirke and Phoebe, the ageless concerns of storytellers. Holy Orders freshens them. May my lack of plot details encourage you to encounter their treatment for yourself, for their evocation proves this to be the most powerful Quirke novel yet.” ―Pop Matters

“Engaging…The strengths of Black's methodically paced mystery series echo Quirke's own personality traits…Holy Orders, which will leave Black's readers eager for the next installment.” ―Shelf Awareness

“Strikingly detailed, psychologically intricate . . . Black succeeds brilliantly in delivering piquant social satire and chilling revelations of the church's unholy power of the justice system and the press.” ―Booklist

“The solid detecting. . .will keep readers engaged, but the book's power stems from its multifaceted lead.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A turning point in the series . . . While mortality permeates the novel, its real mystery is the mind of Quirke . . . For Black, the mystery of the human condition remains impenetrable.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Even if Gabriel Byrne weren't starring in a new BBC series based on the Quirke novels by Benjamin Black (John Banville's alter ego), fans will be clamoring for this latest in the popular series.” ―Library Journal ("Barbara's Picks" for August 2013 fiction)


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Product Details

  • Series: Quirke (Book 6)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (August 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805094407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805094404
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mal Warwick on January 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How often have you started reading a book in which the first several pages were beautifully written, only to notice that the prose grew progressively plainer and less interesting as you proceeded? Perhaps you’ve never been aware of that, but I sure have. It’s a sign that the author struggled to produce lyrical and evocative language in the opening chapter that went to the agent or publisher with an outline for approval — but lapsed into pedestrian prose once the project received a green light.

That phenomenon is especially notable in genre fiction — mysteries, science fiction, romance — but you won’t find it in any of the writing of Benjamin Black, a pseudonym for the Booker Prize-winning Irish author, John Banville. Banville is sometimes compared to Vladimir Nabokov — and you can see why even in his genre fiction. Holy Orders, the sixth of Banville’s novels (writing as Black) about the tortured Dublin pathologist who appears to be named only Quirke, is a textbook example of dazzling prose. Here, for example, are a few of the images Black sprinkles so generously through the pages of the story:

As he watched her, with people and cars flashing past, he experienced a sudden, swooping sensation in his chest, as it his heart had come loose for a second and dropped and bounced, like a ball attached to an elastic.
It was his experience that people always knew more than they thought they did. Things lay torpid at the bottom of their minds like fat pale fish in the depths of a muddy pond, and often, with a bit of effort, those fish could be made to swim up to the surface.
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Format: Hardcover
With the sixth installment in John Banville's busman's holiday writing as Benjamin Black, pathologist Quirke with a side pursuit as amateur detective risks resembling a brooding houseguest intent on staying. Banville's erudite, Continental-style novels of ideas, with characters trapped within history by their own haunted compromises, continue to differ thematically from his mysteries set in 1950s Dublin. However, as Black's "Quirke novels" have met with a wider following than his mannered, dour ones, loyal readers such as myself may sense Quirke merging with Banville's louche protagonists.

Black's prose which initially appeared to distinguish "genre" from Banville's "literary" fiction has evolved by now more similarities than contrasts. What still may set this protagonist apart from his creator's other characters may be his troubled, resilient self. It sustains Quirke through more tales than those given Banville's anguished men--although some of those revive or reappear in Banville's novels, which continue apace (I have reviewed most of Banville's novels and all of the Black installments with Quirke--I reviewed this from an advance copy.)

Jimmy Minor, April and Phoebe's friend, had worked as a junior reporter for a Dublin paper. His boyish corpse, fished out of the River Liffey, opens this latest novel. With the suggestive title of Holy Orders, the connivance of a compliant, cowed government with the lordly Church in this oppressive era of postwar Irish history looms; it's very difficult to shake the sensation that this novel is not happening over a half-century later, amidst continued revelations of clerical abuse and conspiracy.

Black conjures doom compactly. It resounds through the calmly told chapters of this confident novel.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As another reviewer noted, Benjamin Black's Quirke mysteries are coming to resemble Banville's literary novels. In Holy Orders, murder and detection play second fiddle to the drawn out portrait of a self-absorbed and angst ridden Quirke. As in so many current mysteries, the original sin that sets everything into motion is child abuse.

My complaint isn't about the quality of the book, but the fact that it is not really detective fiction. The murder and its solution seem tacked on to a narrative that is about something else entirely--a victim of child abuse, now a middle aged man struggles with the psychological blow back of his horrific childhood. He's an alcoholic, can barely relate to his family and lover and is beginning to experience terrible panic attacks. Although superbly written, it is not a narrative I find interesting. For me the best part of Holy Orders deals with the life crisis of Quirke's daughter Phoebe. She is involved in the murder story in a much more authentic way than Quirke.

I can see the problem of an admired writer who creates genre fiction that becomes a runaway success. He must resent all of those readers (I confess to being one of them) who love Benjamin Black but have a hard time with John Banville. Maybe Holy Orders is an attempt to lure us into reading the author's more literary output. Or maybe it's just retaliation because we aren't willing to make the effort.
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As some of the negative reactions here to "Holy Orders" suggest, the book's publisher may be doing a disservice to the Benjamin Black (John Banville) series about his crime-solving Dublin pathologist Quirke by marketing it as a conventional set of detective stories. In this latest entry, things take a much deeper turn into a quagmire that has more to do with psychological than criminal matters. And of course it is in this realm that Banville, Benjamin Black's more literary half, really shines. Now, all the tangled strands of Quirke's abused childhood and paternal deceits that have made him alcoholic, emotionally blocked and passive in the face of his general bewilderment, come together to stun him into a profound reckoning of who and what he is. These events, paralleled by his daughter Phoebe's own trauma of self-discovery, make for not only the best in the Black series, but for one of Banville's most powerful, penetrating novels. One of the most commanding and hypnotic stylists writing in English today, Banville reaches new intensity his description of Quirke's visits to the hellish tinkers' compound where the truth of the central murder - and of Quirke's nature - are joined. The story's open-ended conclusion, promising further developments in Quirke and Phoebe's painful progress toward healing,is its only shortcoming as a novel that can stand on its own. We are in the midst of what, to my mind, is the most absorbing, beautifully constructed crime series I'm aware of today - one matched only by the searing Harry Hole novels of Jo Nesbo. But readers need to know that what's ahead in the Black books are not the cheap thrills of gratuitous violence and satisfying resolutions, but a slow-gripping journey into a man's soul.
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