Fresh Meat: Holy Orders by Benjamin Black

Holy Orders, a Quirke novel by Benjamin BlackHoly Orders by Benjamin Black is the sixth novel featuring Dublin's pathologist Quirke in mid-century Ireland (available August 20, 2013).

No one even pretends that it’s a secret. Irish mystery writer Benjamin Black is the pen name of multi-award winning literary writer, John Banville. While Banville is highly acclaimed for his literary work and won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for his novel, The Sea, he decided to try his hand at writing genre fiction and he found that he enjoyed it. As Benjamin Black, Banville writes a series of mystery novels featuring Quirke (we never learn his given name), a pathologist in 1950s Dublin, Ireland, a time and a place well dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which certainly had more power than the government. And it was a time when Irish Travelers were still called Tinkers.

In Holy Orders, the sixth novel in the series,Quirke finds that a murdered corpse brought to his pathology table is a young man named Jimmy Minor, who Quirke knows is a close and dear friend of Quirke’s daughter, Phoebe. Since Quirke and Phoebe have a relationship that is frequently tense, Quirke tries to get closer to his daughter by finding out why Jimmy was killed and who committed the crime.

Although Banville claims that the Black mysteries are much easier to write than his literary novels because his goals for the books are different, you can see gorgeous touches of literary prose in passages that dot the book. Here is one example.

Grafton Street was redolent of rain on sun-warmed concrete. Another shower had passed and the sun had come out and already the roadway was steaming. Quirke stopped at a flower stall and bought a bunch of violets. Violets were his daughter’s favorite flowers; to Quirke they smelled a little like dead flesh.

Quirke’s investigation leads him into the circles where politics and religion meet and that can only cause great difficulty for him. And he is drawn into the melding of the austere culture of the Church as it crosses the vastly different, but similarly austere, culture of the Travelers.

While Quirke delves deeper and deeper into the mysteries surrounding Jimmy’s death, Phoebe becomes more confused as she examines her romantic relationship with Quirke’s assistant, David Sinclair. Then Jimmy Minor’s sister, Sally, comes from London and her effect on the way Phoebe thinks of these things is profound.

Because throughout this series, Quirke tries so hard to keep himself to himself, I was surprised to see age and health becoming issues Quirke can no longer ignore. Both lace their way in and out of the story.

There was a new nurse at Reception, pretty in a mousy sort of way, and painfully young. Often these days Quirke had the feeling that he was older than everyone around him.

The Quirke novels have become so popular that BBC One has contracted to produce three feature length episodes based on the first three books of the series. And who, you ask, will play Quirke? None other than the magnificent Gabriel Byrne. I cannot wait to see Byrne as Quirke strutting around the streets of 1950s Dublin, heading to Baggot Street to visit Phoebe at work or cabbing to the Shelburne for afternoon tea. So I am begging now for PBS or BBC America to bring these films to American television as soon as possible.

In the meantime, you can settle in with a cuppa yourself and enjoy the time and place in the tightly woven story that is Holy Orders.


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Terrie Farley Moran’s recent collection of short stories, THE AWARENESS and other deadly tales, is currently available in e-format for the Nook and the Kindle. Terrie blogs at Women of, and you can look forward to her short story “Knowledge is Deadly” in the November issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine due on newsstands soon.  She is presently writing the Read ’Em and Eat Café cozy mystery series for Berkley.


  1. Deborah Lacy

    Sounds like a great book. I will add it to the TBR pile. Thanks for a great review.

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    Deb, the book is grand and I am really looking forward to the tv series. Gabriel Byrne, oh my.

  3. StellaKuru

    Great review! The Quirke series by Benjamin Black/John Banville is a real treat for mystery fans who also like fine writing and evocative descriptions. For Black, the character is the thing–and I like that a lot. The new BBC Quirke television series is due out in the UK this fall and the DVD (Region 2) is listed at AmazonUK as being released on Sept. 9! That might change, of course. Shameless plug: you can read more about Quirke and the actor who will play him, Gabriel Byrne, at [url=]Byrneholics[/url].

  4. Terrie Farley Moran

    Hi Stella, Thanks so much for your comments and especially for the link to Byrneholics. Terrific site.

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