Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

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Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The first in a new crime series from Benjamin Black, better known as Man Booker winner John Banville, is set in nineteen-fifties Dublin. It's pacey, atmospheric and totally compelling. It may well be the best crime novel of 2006 and comes highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330445320

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Quirke - he has but the one name - is a consultant pathologist. After a hospital party he staggers back to the morgue and finds a body that shouldn't be there and his brother-in-law, an eminent obstetrician, altering a file to cover up the real cause of death. It's a discovery that will lead to more death and a secret which has been poisoning the heart of Dublin's Catholic hierarchy.

I almost didn't read this book, as quite a lot about it worried me. Firstly, its author, Benjamin Black, is actually the 2005 Man Booker winner, John Banville. Moving from genre to genre isn't unknown in the literary world, but it's rarely done well and usually only done for the money. Then I read that this was the first of a new crime series. Somehow saying that the book is the first of a series always seems presumptuous, as though sales of future books are already being planned and my money counted. Then there was the mention of Pathology and I was put in mind of the over-gory novels of Patricia Cornwell. Finally, there was Banville himself. He's a superb writer but his books are not exactly action-packed and I like my crime novels to have more than a semblance of a plot.

I was wrong, completely wrong. The book is superb and Ian Rankin, Michael Dibdin et al will need to look to their laurels. Benjamin Black's Christine Falls is a challenge to those at the top of the genre.

The eponymous Christine Falls would have been an unmarried mother had she not died giving birth to her daughter. It's nineteen-fifties Dublin and the child is spirited away to America, for a 'better life'. You can smell the grimy streets and the hypocrisy. Through the film The Magdalene Sisters the shameful and inhuman treatment of the 'fallen' women of Dublin is now well-known and there's a nod to this with the Mother of Mercy Laundry where the women work whilst they await the birth of their child. There's the absolute chill of cold charity and exploitation.

This isn't a cheerful book. At times it's unbearably sad and Black portrays a suffocating Dublin afloat on a sea of alcohol and riddled with religious fanaticism. There's even a shadowy organisation, the Knights of St Patrick, doing good deeds by their own standards and furthering the Catholic Church, no matter what harm they do to others in the process.

Quirke is a great bear of a man and his investigation into the death of Christine Falls is more of a compulsion than a professional judgement, particularly when he uncovers incriminating evidence which involves his own family - and what a family it is. He and his brother-in-law were brought up as brothers and married two sisters, the daughters of a wealthy Irish-American. The relationships are initially difficult to follow, but it's worth the effort, particularly as they all quickly become distinct, fully-fleshed people.

The plot is a real page-turner. I read the book in the course of a day, not because I had the time, but because I simply had to know what happened next. There's real pace, accompanied by the imagery which so characterises Banville's mainstream writing. It's the sort of book which you wish you hadn't read so that you might still have the pleasure of discovering it.

If you enjoy Ian Rankin and his Inspector John Rebus books then you should buy this book. I wouldn't even want to say that Rankin still has the edge: this book is that good. He's better than Michael Dibdin, even at his best. I'm afraid other crime writers pale into insignificance.

This book was kindly sent to Bookbag by the publishers, Picador.

Buy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg Christine Falls by Benjamin Black is in the Top Ten Crime Novels.
Booklists.jpg Christine Falls by Benjamin Black is in the Top Ten Books For Your Father.

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Jill said:

That's definitely mother's Christmas present sorted then. (Unless she gets here first and reads the review. Eek!)

Magda said:

Oh, I don't know about genre crossing. Iain Banks writes SUPERB s-f as Iain M. banks and in Poland an incredibly acomplished translator of Shakespeare and Joyce wrote a series of great Agatha-Christie type crime mysteries!

Sue replied:

Ah, but there are always exceptions which prove the rules, Magda!