Off the Shelf: The Lock-Up

By Terry Kenneally

By John Banville
Hanover Square Press ISBN-13:978-1-44963-4 2023 315 pp. Review by Terrence Kenneally

Quirke, the only name he ever goes by, is the brooding pathologist central to “The Lock-Up” and eight earlier novels by John Banville, several of which were reviewed in this column. The Quirke novels work best when Quirke is miserable, and the greater his misfortune, the better the story.

In his previous installment, “April in Spain,” Banville took a bit of a break from that formula in which Quirke was not only content, but sober and on holiday in the Spanish seaside town of San Sebastian. His happiness was due to his recent marriage to Evelyn, a psychiatrist.
Banville solved that problem by killing off Evelyn in the final chapter, resulting in Quirke being miserable once more in “The Lock-Up.”

The setting for “The Lock-Up” is 1950s Dublin. Rosa Jacobs is a young, Jewish, Trinity college history scholar, who is also a progressive firebrand. She is found dead in her car in a lockup garage of an apparent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Evidence at the scene, however, leads Quirke to believe she was murdered. Quirke and detective inspector St. John Stratford begin to investigate the death as a murder. When one of Rosa’s friends turns out to be the son of a wealthy German who’d moved to Ireland under shady circumstances just after World War II, the scope of Quirke’s inquiry widens.

The victim’s older sister, Molly, an established journalist from London, comes on the scene and does some digging of her own. But as Quirke and Stratford close in their personal lives, it may put the case, and everyone involved, in jeopardy, including Quirke’s own daughter, Phoebe.

The epilogue of the story is somewhat disappointing, but no spoilers here. Banville’s fiction can be divided into two parts: his literary fiction, in which he can obsess for hours over a single sentence, and his Quirke books, which are more fluid, but can dazzle with finely wrought moments that make you want to slow down to savor them. As in the case with all of his Quirke books, Banville has not disappointed. This is a TOP SHELF read.

*Terrence J Kenneally is an attorney and owner of Terrence J, Kenneally & Assoc. in Rocky River, Ohio. He received his Master’s Degree in Irish Studies from John Carroll University and has taught Irish History and Literature.

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