This is the first book in the Quirke series by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. He decided to write a mystery under the pen name Benjamin Black and this is the result.
This, the first in the series of detective novels written pseudonymously by John Banville, is set in 1950's Dublin and features the melancholy pathologist Quirke, who, though scarred by failure and a widower's grief, still possesses a spark of intellectual curiosity and a few glowing embers of compassion.
and called policemen peelers, there lived an alcoholic consultant pathologist, with persistently questionable taste in women, named Quirke. Without this thin, almost invisible premise, what Alfred Hitchcock called the MacGuffin, of the alienation from Law, Christine Falls would fall flat for lack of suspenseful narrative.
It turns out to be the name of the victim who triggers Quirkes rollercoaster ride, but I wonder whether it symbolizes the decline and fall of virtuous religious influence on society through the eyes of a mother and daughter who would have had every right to feel let down by the powers that be, both mortal and immortal.
Benjamin Black a.k.a. John Banville has written a suprisingly good noir crime novel, albeit a very dark one. Quirke (whose first name we never discover) is a pathologist in a Dublin hospital. Late one night, after a holiday party, he is amazed to discover his brother-in-law (and brother by adoption) Malachy Griffin, a distinguished obstetrician in the same hospital, in Quirke's territory, the morgue. These include Quirke's late wife, Delia Griffin Quirke, Quirke's niece, Phoebe; Quirke's sister-in-law (and Malachy's wife), Sarah; Judge Garret Griffin, Quirke's adoptive father; Josh Crawford, Quirke's wealthy elderly father-in-law; Rose Crawford, Josh's stunning and much younger wife; Andy and Claire Stafford, a poor Boston couple; Brenda Rutledge, a nurse at Quirke's hospital; and Dolores Moran, a local Dublin woman. Quirke, for all of his many failings (alcoholism, womanizing, brusqueness, cynicism, etc.), is a surprisingly sympathetic main character.
I had thought initially that John Banville was simply amusing himself creating wry stories about a quirky pathologist and his police inspector side-kick as they tracked down the perpetrators of various crimes in 1950s Dublin. Quirke/Black/Banville is indeed chasing perpetrators of crimes but his real quarry is the pious brigade, a grouping surely unique to Ireland but perhaps it also existed in a lesser form in some Irish-American communities.
Benjamin Black is really John Banville. For most authors/poets, literature just doesn't sell or pay the damn mortgage. So, there is option 2) literature + other job. But there is also option 3) literature + entertainments.* This happens, but not as often as the others. The reason I bring this up is because I think that is what the Quirke novels of John Banville are. But because they are written by Banville they can't help being great entertainments. It wasn't a perfect novel, but I'll give it to Banville. I think he has the opportunity to write a perfect entertainment.
Christine Falls, written by John Banville using the name Benjamin Black, is a mystery set in Ireland and also in eastern U.S. Pathologist Quirke stumbles upon his brother-in-law falsifying the file of one Christine Falls. This sets in motion Quirkes investigation of who Christine was, how she ended up in the morgue, and what happened to the child she was carrying at the time of her death.
Griffin had a son, Malachy, but gave all his attention and care to Quirke. Quirke, built like a bus but with ridiculously dainty feet, became a pathologist. Quirke, describing his sort-of-brother Malachy: "he was a kind of sphinx for Quirke: high, unavoidable, and monumentally ridiculous." The author, John Banville, drops these little gems throughout, never ostentatiously, but naturally.
Filled with atmosphere, but not much else, opening Christine Falls evokes the kind of dark noir atmosphere of the early fifties, step into the book and you step back into smoky drawing rooms and corner bars, squat henchmen, sleek cars, and swirling gowns wrapping around the legs of elegant woman.
His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford. I wanted to be free." After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.