Young journalist Jimmy Minor is found beaten to death in Dublin and the pathologist, Dr. Quirke, realizes the dead man is a friend of his daughter Phoebe. As usual Dr. Quirke teams up with police Inspector Hackett to investigate the crime.
Though ostensibly a murder mystery this book is more of a character study than a detective story. Quirke and Hackett discover that Jimmy was pursuing a story involving a Catholic priest and a community of Irish tinkers (gypsies). This leads the hard-drinking Quirke to brood about his childhood as an unhappy resident of Catholic orphan homes, where he was severely mistreated. At the same time Quirke starts to experience hallucinations that he can't separate from reality.
Meanwhile Quirke's daughter Phoebe is also disturbed: she's upset about Jimmy's murder and is unsure about her romance with Quirke's assistant David. In addition, Phoebe still has mixed feelings toward Quirke, who she recently learned was her father and not the uncle she always thought he was. As the story proceeds Phoebe befriends Jimmy's sister Sally, a London journalist, and the ladies - as well as David - develop an awkward friendship that preys on Phoebe's mind.
In the midst of all this introspection Quirke and Hackett solve Jimmy's murder - a solution that contains few surprises. I prefer my murder mysteries to have more detective work than was displayed here but the book does provide interesting insight into the personalities of Quirke and Phoebe. Recommended to fans of the series.