Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Christine Falls

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Christine Falls is the debut crime novel from Booker Prize-winning author John Banville (writing under the name Benjamin Black). Set in 1950s Dublin and Boston, the novel is slow, but well-paced. Its finely-drawn protagonist is pathologist Garret Quirke, who as an orphan was sponsored by a prominent judge (and who will hopefully be starring in future Black offerings).

Quirke stumbles into his office late one night after a hospital party to find his brother-in-law Malachy Griffin (the city's most prominent obstetrician) working on a file. When Quirke compares the file to the corpse it refers to he realizes that Griffin was falsifying the record and wonders why. When he begins to ask questions he receives thinly veiled warnings not to look further. Those are followed by the murder of one of his contacts (which rather than scaring him off makes him more determined) and gross physical harm to his own person. The closer Quirke gets to the root of the mystery the more it seems that both his family and the Catholic Church are somehow implicated.

Banville/Black's characters -- Quirke as well as many of the novel's secondary players -- are multidimensional and satisfyingly real. And, the 1950s setting is perfect for what the author is trying to accomplish in the novel.

Christine Falls is atmospheric. It definitely reads more like literary fiction than a traditional crime novel. Banville/Black's prose is precise and beautiful, however his attentiveness does slow down the plot especially at the beginning of the novel (I can see many crime novel enthusiasts losing patience with him). That being said, toward the end of the novel there are enough twists and revelations to satisfy the reader.

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