A DEATH IN SUMMER is the most accessible of the four Quirke books by Benjamin Black but that is not to say that the characters are not as dedicated to understanding that which cannot be understood as they are in the other books.
Quirke is brought to the home of Richard Jewell, Diamond Dick, the very wealthy and very powerful owner of a chain of newspapers that he had inherited from his father, who had been Lord Mayor of Dublin, an outstanding achievement for a man of his background in the Dublin of the early twentieth century. Inspector Hackett has been called to the Jewell home after a shot rings out and Diamond Dick is found dead with the shotgun in his hands. Richard Jewell wielded a powerful weapon, the “scurrilous and much-feared Daily Clarion, city’s top-selling paper. The older Jewell had been something of an uncut stone, given to violent vendettas and a loathing of trades unions, but his son, though no less unscrupulous and vengeful, had sought to polish the family name to a high luster by means of well-publicized acts of philanthropy. Richard Jewell was known for his sponsorship of orphanages and schools for the handicapped….” Those who knew Jewell well found the notion of Diamond Dick as philanthropist laughable.
Ostensibly a suicide, Hackett and Quirke realize that the manner in which Jewell is holding the gun indicates that the scene that has been staged. Jewell has been murdered and there is likely to be a trove of suspects from among all the people who have reason to hate Richard Jewell.
Jewell’s French wife, Francoise d’Aubigny, does not appear overcome with grief. But her sister-in-law, Dannie, seems truly desolate. Quirke is surprised to learn that Dannie and his daughter, Phoebe, are friends and that Dannie also knows Quirke’s assistant, Doctor David Sinclair. It is David who hears Dannie’s repeated comment, “the poor orphans.”
The Dublin of A DEATH IN SUMMER is less weighed down by the engulfing presence of the Catholic Church. The influence of the church is there but it is the presence of another group that runs through the story. The Jewell family are Jewish by blood although not by practice. David Sinclair is also Jewish and the author mentions Briscoe, the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Briscoe’s first term began in 1956 so the time frame is established; Dublin is moving closer to the relative freedom of the sixties and away from the stultifying atmosphere of the early fifties.
Quirke is the ultimate outsider, an orphan adopted into the powerful Griffin family, but that doesn’t change his perception of his place in the world. It does, however, influence how other people perceive Quirke and the connection to the Griffins gives Quirke an inside look at the world of Richard Jewell. Inspector Hackett has no difficulty encouraging Quirke to take advantage of his social station. Quirke, despite the pleas of his daughter, is drawn to the puzzle that is the investigation of a crime. Quirke and Hackett make a good team.
A MURDER IN SUMMER is about anomalies. Dublin is suffering through a heat spell that the residents of the city are ill equipped to handle. The Jewell family has denied being Jewish, not overtly, but covertly as they send Dannie “to the nuns” for her education. Yet Dannie’s hope for acceptance lies with David Sinclair. Quirke and Phoebe are not participants in the story, they are observers to a degree that is different from their roles in the previous three books. The soul of the book is David Sinclair, a peripheral character.