1950s Dublin. in a lock-up garage in the city, the body of a young woman is discovered – an apparent suicide. But pathologist Dr Quirke and Detective Inspector Strafford soon suspect foul play.
The victim’s sister, a newspaper reporter from London, returns to Dublin to join the two men in their quest to uncover the truth. But, as they explore her links to a wealthy German family in County Wicklow, and to investigative work she may have been doing in Israel, they are confronted with an ever-deepening mystery. With relations between the two men increasingly strained, and their investigation taking them back to the final days of the Second World War, can they join the pieces of a hidden puzzle?
[ My Review ]
The Lock-Up by John Banville was published with Faber Books April 2023 and is described as ‘Strafford and Quirke’s most troubling case yet.‘
I readApril in Spain last year and, while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t exactly enthralled by it, so I was slow to pick up The Lock-Up at the time of publication. Like many of us at the moment, I have been feeling off kilter, with the chaotic state the world is in. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate, with my mind very much elsewhere. When the An Post Irish Book Awards shortlists were announced in October I was aware that The Lock-Up had been nominated so I decided that now might just be the time to dip my toe again into John Banville’s work. Either my maturing years have given me a better understanding of the writing of Mr. Banville or it is just a case of good timing, but I really appreciated and enjoyed this novel.
The Lock-Up continues on from where April in Spain left off, with Dr Quirke and DI Strafford not exactly bosom buddies. Quirke is grieving and now living with his daughter Phoebe. He still has an issue with the bottle but Phoebe is willing to overlook certain personality traits and give him the space that he needs to move on. His relationship with Strafford is very much on a precipice, with Quirke seemingly having very little time or patience for him. Strafford is a rare beast. In 1950s Ireland he is a Protestant member of the force, which causes issues for many folk with long memories. Throughout the book the tension between these two is palpable, yet an invisible thread keeps pulling them together, criss-crossing their paths regularly.
When a woman’s body is discovered in a lock-up in Dublin city, it is initially suspected that it is a suicide but Quirke is not convinced. When he presents his thoughts to the police, it is Strafford who is sent to investigate further. From a Cork family, this young woman was completing her doctorate in Trinity College Dublin. She had a reputation for being a bit outspoken, attending protests etc., with liberal ideas for Ireland at that time, but nobody could think of anyone who would wish her dead. A connection to a wealthy German family, now living in Wicklow, leads Strafford and Quirke down a very unexpected path that somehow connects to interests in Israel. As they follow this trail, a murkiness sets in, and Strafford and Quirke must, unavoidably, work together to solve the case.
There are many elements that I really enjoyed about The Lock-Up. John Banville writes with a very descriptive hand completely immersing the reader into 1950s Ireland. There is a constant simmering tension between Quirke and Strafford that creates a parallel story to the main crime investigation. Quirke is clearly suffering and is difficult to be around but there are sections of the book where we see another softer side to him. Strafford’s character is also developed further as he makes tentative steps to improve matters in his personal life. He is quite an introverted, introspective individual who is clearly good at his job but the constant bullish behaviour from Quirke wears him down on occasion.
I know I’m slow to being a fan of the writing of John Banville but on completion of The Lock-Up, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve turned the corner. John Banville creates an atmosphere and sets a scene excellently. No fancy tech equipment or forensic investigative techniques were available in Ireland in the 1950s, so other methods were necessary to uncover the truth. This slows the book down but not in any bad way. There is a mystery to be solved at the core of this tale, but it is also the story of two individuals with diverse opinions forced to work alongside each other, adding an extra layer of tension to the novel.
The Lock Up has been The Times Crime Book of the Month receiving much acclaim from many quarters. It is a well-paced crime novel, with a literary edge and, although a recent publication, it has a classic vibe, mindful of Agatha Christie, that engages and intrigues the reader.
[ Bio ]
JOHN BANVILLE was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of many novels, including The Book of Evidence, the 2005 Booker Prize-winning The Sea, and, more recently, the bestselling Strafford and Quirke crime series, which has twice been shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger.