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on 8 March 2017
Brilliant
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 June 2014
It's hard to describe Black's crime novels. The pleasure is to be found as much in any one individual sentence as it is over the whole plot. The writing is gorgeous - thick, poetic, languid, written for its own sake. The impressions created by the sentences, one upon the other, are stunning, and again are as important as anything related to the actual story. The plots themselves flow like rivers, almost pre-determinedly, uncomplicatedly, inevitably. They move quietly from one event with the next, with very little flashiness or show. These are not novels, really, for fans who primarily want a lot of plot. That's not Black's intention. There's a sense I get when reading these novels of just quietly watching, as if people on a street.

This entry is the strongest in the series so far. Of course, Ireland is redolent with religion and its past crimes, and this novel addresses that as directly as any of Black's have before. As they inevitably would have to, given Quirke's background - the background machinations of the church are deliciously, quietly sinister. The ending is fantastic.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 June 2014
. . the bite, that is, of well-constructed detective fiction. Despite all the blurbs on my paperback cover about how great the plot is, I'm here to tell you that the plot here is really quite perfunctorily handled, and the identification of the killers is almost anti-climactic. What replaces it is "atmosphere," and Black (Banville) is very good at that. The book is very readable, and the writing is fresh and alert and lively, even when the characters are often not lively. So by all means give it a go -- it's not dull . . .

BUT be aware that the real focus of the writer's interest here is the inner lives of Quirke, Black's pathologist protagonist, and his daughter, Phoebe. In fact, when one is worrying about spoilers in writing about this novel, it isn't plot details that one is worrying about: it's about revealing possibly too much of Quirke's state of mind. That state of mind is vividly rendered, as is the behavior it occasions, and the reader of the Quirke series is likely to speculate on its relation to Quirke's history, going back to his days as a child in the care of the Catholic authorities at Carricklea. What isn't so clear is how this attention to Quirke's consciousness fits in with his solving of the mystery of the death with which the book opens -- the death of Jimmy Minor, a reporter and friend of Phoebe's, whose battered body is found in a canal in Chapter 1. Is it a distraction, as he works with Inspector Hackett to solve the mystery, or does it help him solve it? I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that it isn't a distraction, but it's not clear that it's a help.

Jimmy has left behind notes that indicate a couple of directions of inquiry for a story he was working on. One has to do with the Church (no surprise, given the novel's title), and the other has to do with a clan of traveling people, whose presence in Ireland is one of the odder features of its social texture. A lot of the atmospheric writing has to do with both Church and travelers, who are in effect closed subgroups of Irish society and thus pose challenges to people like Quirke and Hackett, who need to get at some of their secrets. Given that similarity, it's hardly surprising that the two are connected in this particular plot.

The book's main weakness, I think, is its attention to Phoebe's state of mind (the writing is so engaging that the skeletal plot quality doesn't bother me). We are given to believe that Phoebe's discovery, many books ago, that Quirke, whom she has thought her uncle, is her real father, is an ongoing trauma. This has ceased to be credible -- we're talking about a grown-up intelligent woman who has in fact fairly good relations with both Quirke and the couple who brought her up. The reader might be forgiven for feeling that she needs to just suck it up and get on with things. And Black might be thinking that too -- and so he adds the possibility of a new dimension to Phoebe that is frankly not very interesting -- and certainly not connected substantively to the matter in hand. Phoebe is frankly becoming a pain for the reader, and Black needs to write her out and let Quirke get on with the job. There is a hint that he might be getting ready to do that.

So read this for the atmosphere -- repressive Catholic Dublin, c. 1956. Savor the rain and the streets and the bars, the texture of the travelers' camp, the texture of Quirke's consciousness. Remember that guns showing up in Act 1 will be fired by Act 4. And hope that Black is not losing the capacity to surprise us . . .
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 June 2014
It's hard to describe Black's crime novels. The pleasure is to be found as much in any one individual sentence as it is over the whole plot. The writing is gorgeous - thick, poetic, languid, written for its own sake. The impressions created by the sentences, one upon the other, are stunning, and again are as important as anything related to the actual story. The plots themselves flow like rivers, almost pre-determinedly, uncomplicatedly, inevitably. They move quietly from one event with the next, with very little flashiness or show. These are not novels, really, for fans who primarily want a lot of plot. That's not Black's intention. There's a sense I get when reading these novels of just quietly watching, as if people on a street.

This entry is the strongest in the series so far. Of course, Ireland is redolent with religion and its past crimes, and this novel addresses that as directly as any of Black's have before. As they inevitably would have to, given Quirke's background - the background machinations of the church are deliciously, quietly sinister. The ending is fantastic.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 September 2014
I can't begin to rival RachelW's review which for me captures the very essence of Black's Quirke novels.

We are not taken on a roller coaster ride gripping the edge of our seats and scarcely breathing with tension. Rather we savour each moment owing to the quality of the writing and the evocation of a world palpably alive. At times I think Black is inclined to gild the lily when it comes to his love of images; "his heart had come loose for a second and dropped and bounced, like a ball attached to elastic". Here, and occasionally elsewhere we may smile, albeit a little superciliously. Nonetheless, for the most part the texture of the writing is dense and often strikingly original. Phoebe remains my favourite character - a genuine original.

This is the sixth and last of the Quirke novels to date. Already I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms. This response is all the sharper because "Holy Orders" seems to me the best of them all.
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on 20 May 2014
To be honest, I had been feeling pretty jaded about the Quirke mysteries. I love John Banville's writing, but as Benjamin Black, I felt that the last two Quirke novels had been of the potboiler variety. This book was so good, however, perhaps because it was more John Banville than Benjamin Black. The voice was authentic and it seemed to me to be the voice of John Banville. There was some superb writing - for instance, the marvellous description of the tinkers' campsite, which was a real set piece. Banville is known for saying that what happens in a book doesn't matter; it's how it's written about that counts. This was absolutely the case here. The plot was slight and not particularly complex. Thank goodness, it wasn't quite a repetition of the usual 'The Catholic priests, they done me wrong', which Irish literature is giving us quite a lot of, at present. The reason I didn't give it five stars is that I felt that Phoebe's voice, and Quirke's, were a bit too similar - virtually interchangeable at some points, such as when they both consider taking a sickie because they are so soul-sick. But overall, reading it was an enjoyable experience.
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on 11 August 2013
I was delighted to learn there was a sixth Quirke novel in the offing and placed my order in advance. When "Holy Orders" arrived on my Kindle I had to resist opening it until I was on holiday. Once opened, I couldn't leave it alone. Quirke is back, still drinking, still flinching from the abuse he underwent during his childhood in the religious-run orphanage, and still ill at ease with his daughter. The Quirke novels do not provide a trail of clues about the identity of the murderer to tease the reader or confirm her cleverness: rather they indict the hypocrisy and cruelty of 1950s' Ireland. There are occasional instances of kindness and self-sacrifice but overall Dublin is depicted as a bleak place.
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on 2 October 2013
The only disappointment for me is when I have completed reading any books in the Quirke series. Holy Orders is beautifully written, equals anything written as John Banville. The best in the series to date. Love the introduction of Cant (language of Irish Travellers).
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on 28 September 2014
After the first fantastic novel in the pathologist Quirke series, Christine Falls, I fell in love with the character, and indeed the whole ambience and prose. The following four however I found pretty dull at times, the reading becoming a bit of a task as the plots became increasingly drawn out and predictable. But I perservered out of affection and sympathy for the world weary Quirke. Quite a surprise then to find this sixth installment being for me the best and most gripping of the series, and also one of the most satisfying. As they say, I just didn't want it to finish. A quietly stated masterpiece of modern Irish fiction.
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on 28 March 2014
Admirers of Booker prizewinning novelist John Banville's elegant and thoughtful prose should by now require no further encouragement to explore the work of his alter ego Benjamin Black and in particular the world of his Dublin pathologist creation, Quirke. This, the sixth of Black/ Banville's Quirke Mysteries , comes however with a single health warning : the Mysteries really should be read sequentially . And how fortunate the reader who can thus begin at the beginning with "Christine Falls" !

Here, in " Holy Orders" ,Quirke once again stumbles forward, all too human in his damaged past and his present weaknesses , as he seeks to confront his demons. It is unnecessary, if not downright undesirable , to provide any sort of resume of this beautifully crafted tale. But it is perhaps enough to comment that , like Raymond Chandler - his great predecessor in the noir thriller genre - Black / Banville has created a world shot through with betrayals and often unintentional collateral damage . At its core is the unresolved but evolving relationship between Quirke and Phoebe. All around is a richly realised 1950s Dublin bathed in what the Irish call soft weather , but which cannot wash away its darker grains.

Andrew Roe
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