Byrne returns with dark enigmatic tale

Quirke - starring Gabriel Byrne.
Quirke - starring Gabriel Byrne.

Gabriel Byrne may have lived in the States for some time, but when he was offered the chance to return to Dublin for this new series, he jumped at it – and it’s little wonder.

Based on John Banville’s thrillers, the series has gone down a treat in its native land, but now the Beeb has snapped it up so we get to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about. And if you like your thrillers dark and mysterious, it won’t disappoint.

Quirke opens in the late autumn of 1956, where a hungover city pathologist known only as ‘Quirke’ (we never get to know his Christian name) stumbles from a late-night party in the nurses’ quarters. He hopes to sleep in his subterranean pathology lab. However, his adoptive brother, obstetric consultant Malachy Griffin, is at our hero’s desk completing paperwork for Christine Falls, a recently deceased patient.

When Quirke returns the following morning, Christine’s body is gone and he is curious about his brother’s strange behaviour. Further investigation suggests Mal was the father of Christine’s child, and he believes the youngster has been spirited away to America under the wing of the Catholic Church.

Quirke follows the trail to Boston, accompanying Mal’s daughter on a last visit to her grandfather and uncovers the truth about a family secret that has remained buried for nearly two decades.

Byrne explains of his alter ego: “I think that most people can relate to a wounded past. Some people are more adept at dealing with it, and some people are much more delicate and sensitive, and I think Quirke is one of those people who hides his vulnerability and his pain underneath an exterior of detachment.

“His work as a pathologist; I always thought he was much at home among the dead than he is with the living and, for him, in a strange way, the dead are still living creatures and he’s the last one really to take care of them, so that space where he works is very sacred to him.”

Byrne is passionate about the genre: “Mystery and enigma are fascinating because it forces the audience to raise questions about the character.