The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black

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The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The sequel to the critically acclaimed Christine Falls delivers a neat whodunit plot set in nineteen-fifties Dublin. The writing is exemplary and the book well-worth reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 344 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330454087

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We first encountered Quirke in Christine Falls and whilst we're still in nineteen-fifties Dublin time has moved on for the pathologist. He's getting to know the daughter whose parentage he had long denied, but Phoebe, unsurprisingly, has difficulty accepting him. A man he once revered but now despises is dying and the woman he loved is dead. A telephone call from Billy Hunt drags him even further back into his past - he and Hunt were acquaintances at medical school. Hunt's wife has apparently committed suicide and he's anxious that she shouldn't be opened up at a post-mortem. Every instinct tells Quirke that he shouldn't get involved, but he's unable to stop himself.

When I read Christine Falls I felt that Benjamin Black, better known as Man Booker winner John Banville, had the potential to be one of the great crime writers of his generation. I admired the pace and the imagery which so characterises Banville's mainstream writing but most of all it was an elegantly constructed plot which had me guessing right up to the end. I couldn't wait for the next book in the series. Perhaps it's this anticipation which has caused the almost inevitable sense if not of anti-climax then certainly of it's not having quite lived up to expectation.

This book carries a sticker to indicate that this is John Banville writing as Benjamin Black, but even if it was not there it would be well nigh impossible to be unaware of the fact. The prose is sumptuous, with glorious, rich oil paintings fashioned from mere words. Occasionally it seemed a tad self-indulgent and was the primary cause of the loss of pace in the central section of the book. This was a pity as the plot is deft, if lacking in the complexity of Christine Falls and there's a neat twist at the end. I won't say that I wasn't expecting it as there were only a limited number of viable solutions, but it was well done.

There's a neat twist too in the fact that Quirke gives up alcohol other than when he lunches with Phoebe once a week whilst the rest of Dublin seems to be afloat on a sea of booze. It's a study of the dark, murky side of the city with drug addiction, sexual obsession, blackmail and murder. This book's more atmospheric than Christine Falls, but there's the same suspense and feeling of barely concealed evil.

The book is very much a sequel - to the extent that if you read this book before you read Christine Falls you would find that you knew the outline of how things worked out, if not the precise detail. It is possible to read The Silver Swan without having read Christine Falls, but some of the references would be lost on you. I had a sense too of this being a bridge to another book with various situations being set up for future use. The book is recommended, but I still confess to that slight feeling of disappointment, of feeling that it could have been better.

If you enjoy this type of crime book we can recommend The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett. The writing isn't of the same standard but it's a fast-paced, complex plot. For more 1950's crime in Ireland, which has a nod to the Quirke series, try Snow by John Banville.

Benjamin Black's Quirke Mysteries in Chronological Order

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