Photo of Dublin by FroZman used under a Creative Commons license.
Benjamin Black, Christine Falls (Henry Holt & Co., 2007).
Quirke is a Dublin pathologist; his brother, Malachy, is the most popular obstetrician in town. Drunk after a party one night, Quirke finds Mal in his office, doctoring the autopsy report of a dead mother, Christine Falls. Quirke’s efforts to find out who Falls was and what happened to her infant child lead him into dark corners of Dublin and across the Atlantic to Boston. What I saw of Boston here wasn’t enough for me to recommend the book to someone going there, but there is plenty to make you feel 1950s Dublin. Black is the pen name of Irish writer John Banville, winner of the MAN Booker Prize, and this book received quite a bit of attention as a result. Banville writes wonderful sentences; on the other hand, mystery devotees might find the plotting somewhat pedestrian. For better or worse, Christine Falls is more literary than most mysteries.
Here is Google BookSearch. Here’s “Black’s” website, with an excerpt (.pdf). The Elegant Variation has Jim Ruland’s four-part profile of Black — here are part one, part two, part three, and part four. Janet Maslin (The New York Times) calls it a swirling, elegant noir. Michael Allen thinks it’s more of a mainstream novel than a genre thriller. Ted calls it an anti-mystery. C.B. says the depth of characterization makes it memorable. Michael Dibdin (The Guardian) says Banville can plot. Bill Peschel rates it highly. Critical Mick thinks it falls short. Gideon Lewis-Kraus thinks it a promising experiment. Mark Sarvas says Dublin is rendered with a damp, creaky specificity (scroll down). Kathryn Harrison (The New York Times) says Black’s Dublin oozes existential dread. Patricia Craig (The Independent) says his Dublin is an overwhelming churchly muck. Smithereens loves the wordplay and imagery. Chuck Leddy (Boston Globe) calls it intricately plotted and beautifully written. Tony Bailie says it carries you along but never flows easily. Frank Wilson (PopMatters) says Black paints a scary atmosphere of moral claustrophobia. Jon Polk thinks not many mysteries are better written. downstreamer appreciates the exquisite attention to descriptive detail. rjhowell prefers Banville to Black. Josephine Damian sees flaws but calls it a decent read. Watch Banville explain that he and Black are very different. Listen to him on KCRW’s Bookworm.