Christine Falls (Quirke Series #1)

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It’s not the dead that seem strange to Quirke. It’s the living. One night, after a few drinks at an office party, Quirke shuffles down into the morgue where he works and finds his brother-in-law, Malachy, altering a file he has no business even reading. Odd enough in itself to find Malachy there, but the next morning, when the haze has lifted, it looks an awful lot like his brother-in-law, the esteemed doctor, was in fact tampering with a corpse—and concealing the cause of ...

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Christine Falls (Quirke Series #1)

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It’s not the dead that seem strange to Quirke. It’s the living. One night, after a few drinks at an office party, Quirke shuffles down into the morgue where he works and finds his brother-in-law, Malachy, altering a file he has no business even reading. Odd enough in itself to find Malachy there, but the next morning, when the haze has lifted, it looks an awful lot like his brother-in-law, the esteemed doctor, was in fact tampering with a corpse—and concealing the cause of death.


It turns out the body belonged to a young woman named Christine Falls. And as Quirke reluctantly presses on toward the true facts behind her death, he comes up against some insidious—and very well-guarded—secrets of Dublin’s high Catholic society, among them members of his own family.


Set in Dublin and Boston in the 1950s, the first novel in the Quirke series brings all the vividness and psychological insight of Booker Prize winner John Banville’s fiction to a thrilling, atmospheric crime story. Quirke is a fascinating and subtly drawn hero, Christine Falls is a classic tale of suspense, and Benjamin Black’s debut marks him as a true master of the form.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
"Secrets are like wine…they get a richer flavor, a finer bouquet, with every year that passes." Blending melancholic, deeply introspective, and starkly humorous prose with hard-boiled elements of crime fiction, acclaimed Irish novelist John Banville's first novel written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black is a dark gem -- equal parts Irish noir thriller, 1950s murder mystery, and unlikely spiritual journey of self-discovery.

Hard-drinking Dublin-based pathologist Quirke -- an emotionally demoralized widower "in the foothills of his forties" -- stumbles across an international conspiracy involving his antagonistic brother-in-law, obstetrician Malachy Griffin. When Quirke catches Griffin illegally altering a dead woman's records, he investigates, only to become entangled in an elaborate -- and murderous -- criminal enterprise that includes his affluent foster family, an underground Irish orphanage, a Boston millionaire, and the very future of the Catholic Church…

While Banville (The Book of Evidence, The Sea, et al.) may be renowned for his stylish and lyrical prose, his alter ego (the aptly named Black) will surely find a solid fan base with aficionados of down-and-dirty atmospheric thrillers -- especially those who enjoy contemporary Irish and Scottish neo-noir authors like Ken Bruen, T. S. O'Rourke, and Allan Guthrie. A rich tapestry of contrasting religious, ethical, and cultural themes, Christine Falls is simply brilliant: James Joyce meets Raymond Chandler. Paul Goat Allen
Patrick Anderson
Readers who love gorgeous prose and aren't in any rush to find out whodunit will savor this novel.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
Christine Falls rolls forward with haunting, sultry exoticism (“The quiet in the car seemed to broaden, and something unseen began to grow up out of it and spread its indolent fronds”) toward the best kind of denouement under these circumstances: a half-inconclusive one. Though Quirke uncovers a “Chinatown”-like web of treachery, one that pits the prison of the past against escape and youth, he emerges with his own wounds still festering, his own problems unsolved.

Quirke leaves readers not at the end of this single story, but poised at what looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say in the genre of fiction to which Christine Falls belongs.
— The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

In this expertly paced debut thriller from Irish author Black (the pseudonym of Booker Prize-winner John Banville), pathologist Garret Quirke uncovers a web of corruption in 1950s Dublin surrounding the death in childbirth of a young maid, Christine Falls. Quirke is pulled into the case when he confronts his stepbrother, physician Malachy Griffin, who's altering Christine's file at the city morgue. Soon it appears the entire establishment is in denial over Christine's mysterious demise and in a conspiracy that recalls the classic film Chinatown. And the deeper Quirke delves into the mystery, the more it seems to implicate his own family and the Catholic church. At the start, the novel has the spare melancholy of early James Joyce, describing a Dublin of private clubs, Merrion Square townhouses and the occasional horse-drawn cart; as the plot heats up and the action shifts to Boston, Mass., it becomes more of a standard detective story. Though Black makes an occasional American cultural blooper, he keeps divulging surprises to the last page so that the reader is simultaneously shocked and satisfied. Author tour. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

A young woman has died. When Irish pathologist Garret Quirke discovers that his adoptive brother has altered the autopsy records, he begins an investigation that brings him into conflict with a very patriarchal Catholic Church. Christine Falls died in childbirth and yet there is no trace of a baby, living or dead. Quirke himself was an orphan and his own wife died in childbirth, driving him to trace Christine's last days. The result is violence, torture, and death. Meanwhile . . . but it would be a shame to give away any more of the plot. Black (an award-winning "serious" novelist under another name) applies his elegant writing style to a genre where short, blunt sentences are the norm. The resulting thriller is both complex and fascinating, if occasionally confusing. Timothy Dalton's clear, stylish reading complements the text well. This book should be popular with both thriller and serious fiction readers. Recommended for adult audio collections.
—I. Pour-El

Library Journal
Black is the pseudonym for Booker Prize winner John Banville (The Sea), who may have selected a pen name to distinguish his decidedly highbrow prose from this crime novel, though he needn't have been so sly. While Christine Falls reads like an accessible, classic detective story, its confident manner and psychological portrait of a conflicted, broken narrator set it apart from mass-market fare. Quirke's a Dublin coroner, a widowed alcoholic with a complex relationship with his deceased wife's sister, Sarah. When he stumbles back to his office at the morgue after a night of drinking, he happens upon his brother-in-law, Malachy, tampering with the file of a dead woman named Christine Falls. Malachy's an obstetrician; Christine Falls had delivered a baby before her death; and Quirke is immediately, irrevocably involved in the case. Quirke soon realizes that Malachy's role in the shadowy Knights of St. Patrick is central to a plot that spans decades and involves the highest levels of the Catholic Church as well their family. A solid, dark tale, the first in a new series. For public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/06.]-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A boozy, bitter pathologist becomes a most unwilling detective when he uncovers a baby-trafficking scheme in Dublin in the 1950s. The hero of this enjoyable crime novel from Black (the pseudonym of Man Booker-winner John Banville: The Sea, 2005) is Dr. Quirke, an oversized smoker with no illusions about himself or the bodies he carves up in the basement of Holy Family Hospital. Though he's a widower-Quirke's Boston-born wife Delia Crawford died during childbirth-he is not alone. Delia's sister Sarah married Quirke's obstetrics colleague Malachy Griffin, and Quirke is very fond of their daughter Phoebe. Quirke was reared as Malachy's brother after being rescued from a dreadful orphanage by Malachy's father, now a chief justice and a freshly minted papal count. Quirke was, oddly enough, the favored child in the family, but Malachy won the sister that Quirke really loved. The complex family relationships, including the torches Sarah and Quirke still carry for each other, muddle matters when Quirke finds that Malachy has falsified the death record of Christine Falls, a young woman who delivered a child, now vanished, before dying. Looking into the dead woman's past, the curious Quirke finds that she was once employed in the Griffin household, as was hard-drinking Dolly Moran, in whose house Christine died. Quirke's inquiries bring big trouble. Dolly Moran is murdered shortly after talking to Quirke, and then Quirke himself is viciously mugged after ignoring warnings to let drop the matter of Christine Falls and the babies that vanish from a creepy local orphanage. The pathologist, who hitherto seemed interested primarily in drinking himself to death, stays on the case until it takes him backto Boston and the home of the Crawford sisters. A good story, and gorgeous writing. Agent: Ed Victor/Ed Victor Ltd.
From the Publisher

"A page-turner told in prose so beautiful you'll want to read some passages repeatedly. Intricately plotted, beautifully written."--The Boston Globe

"Measured, taut, and transfixing . . . Benjamin Black's plotting is methodical, detailed, and always gripping. You can smell the smoke in Quirke's favorite pub and touch the cool walls in a Boston convent he later visits."--USA Today

"Swirling, elegant noir . . . Crossover fiction of a very high order . . . Rolls forward with haunting, sultry exoticism . . . toward the best kind of denouement under these circumstances: a half inconclusive one."--The New York Times

"Offers a subtler, deeper satisfaction than just finding out whodunit. . . . What's most disconcerting of all about Christine Falls is the atmosphere of moral claustrophobia enveloping it."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A dark, ambitious crime novel . . . It’s going to make more than a few readers flip the book over to look at the author photo to make sure Banville’s really pulling the strings."--Newsday

"Crime fiction rarely lives up to the term 'literary,' but [Christine Falls] is the happy exception."--Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781427200723
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Publication date: 3/6/2007
  • Series: Quirke Series, #1
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Black is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. He lives in Dublin.

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Read an Excerpt

Christine Falls

A Novel
By Black, Benjamin

Henry Holt and Co.

Copyright © 2007 Black, Benjamin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805081527

Chapter One It was not the dead that seemed to quirke uncanny but the living. When he walked into the morgue long after midnight and saw Malachy Griffin there he felt a shiver along his spine that was to prove prophetic, a tremor of troubles to come. Mal was in Quirke’s office, sitting at the desk. Quirke stopped in the unlit body room, among the shrouded forms on their trolleys, and watched him through the open doorway. He was seated with his back to the door, leaning forward intently in his steel-framed spectacles, the desk lamp lighting the left side of his face and making an angry pink glow through the shell of his ear. He had a file open on the desk before him and was writing in it with peculiar awkwardness. This would have struck Quirke as stranger than it did if he had not been drunk. The scene sparked a memory in him from their school days together, startlingly clear, of Mal, intent like this, sitting at a desk among fifty other earnest students in a big hushed hall, as he laboriously composed an examination essay, with a beam of sunlight falling slantways on him from a window somewhere high above. A quarter of a century later he still had that smooth seal’s head of oiled black hair, scrupulously combed and parted. Sensing a presence behind him, Mal turned his face and peered into the shadowy dark of the body room. Quirke waited a moment and then steppedforward, with some unsteadiness, into the light in the doorway. “Quirke,” Mal said, recognizing him with relief and giving an exasperated sigh. “For God’s sake.” Mal was in evening clothes but uncharacteristically unbuttoned, his bow tie undone and the collar of his white dress shirt open. Quirke, groping in his pockets for his cigarettes, contemplated him, noting the way he put his forearm quickly over the file to hide it, and was reminded again of school. “Working late?” Quirke said, and grinned crookedly, the alcohol allowing him to think it a telling piece of wit. “What are you doing here?” Mal said, too loudly, ignoring the question. He pushed the spectacles up the damp bridge of his nose with a tap of a fingertip. He was nervous. Quirke pointed to the ceiling. “Party,” he said. “Upstairs.” Mal assumed his consultant’s face, frowning imperiously. “Party? What party?” “Brenda Ruttledge,” Quirke said. “One of the nurses. Her going-away.” Mal’s frown deepened. “Ruttledge?” Quirke was suddenly bored. He asked if Mal had a cigarette, for he seemed to have none of his own, but Mal ignored this question too. He stood up, deftly sweeping the file with him, still trying to hide it under his arm. Quirke, though he had to squint, saw the name scrawled in large handwritten letters on the cover of it: Christine Falls. Mal’s fountain pen was on the desk, a Parker, fat and black and shiny, with a gold nib, no doubt, twenty-two karat, or more if it was possible; Mal had a taste for rich things, it was one of his few weaknesses. “How is Sarah?” Quirke asked. He let himself droop sideways heavily until his shoulder found the support of the doorjamb. He felt dizzy, and everything was keeping up a flickering, leftward lurch. He was at the rueful stage of having drunk too much and knowing that there was nothing to be done but wait until the effects wore off. Mal had his back to him, putting the file into a drawer of the tall gray filing cabinet. “She’s well,” Mal said. “We were at a Knights dinner. I sent her home in a taxi.” “Knights?” Quirke said, widening his eyes blearily. Mal turned to him a blank, expressionless look, the lenses of his glasses flashing. “Of St. Patrick. As if you didn’t know.” “Oh,” Quirke said. “Right.” He looked as if he were trying not to laugh. “Anyway,” he said, “never mind about me, what are you doing, down here among the dead men?” Mal had a way of bulging out his eyes and drawing upward sinuously his already long, thin form, as if to the music of a snake charmer’s flute. Quirke had to marvel, not for the first time, at the polished luster of that hair, the smoothness of the brow beneath, the untarnished steely blue of his eyes behind the pebble glass of his specs. “I had a thing to do,” Mal said. “A thing to check.” “What thing?” Mal did not answer. He studied Quirke and saw how drunk he was, and a cold glint of relief came into his eye. “You should go home,” he said. Quirke thought to dispute this—the morgue was his territory—but again suddenly he lost all interest. He shrugged, and with Mal still watching him he turned and weaved away among the body-bearing trolleys. Halfway across the room he stumbled and reached out quickly to the edge of a trolley to steady himself but managed only to grab the sheet, which came away in his hand in a hissing white flash. He was struck by the clammy coldness of the nylon; it had a human feel, like a loose, chill cowl of bloodless skin. The corpse was that of a young woman, slim and yellow-haired; she had been pretty, but death had robbed her of her features and now she might be a carving in soapstone, primitive and bland. Something, his pathologist’s instinct perhaps, told him what the name would be before he looked at the label tied to her toe. “Christine Falls,” he murmured. “You were well named.” Looking more closely he noticed the dark roots of her hair at forehead and temples: dead, and not even a real blonde. He woke hours later, curled on his side, with a vague but pressing sense of imminent disaster. He had no memory of lying down here, among the corpses. He was chilled to the bone, and his tie was askew and choking him. He sat up, clearing his throat; how much had he drunk, first in McGonagle’s and then at the party upstairs? The door to his office stood open—surely it was a dream that Mal had been there? He swung his legs to the floor and gingerly stood upright. He was light-headed, as if the top of his skull had been lifted clear off. Raising an arm, he gravely saluted the trolleys, Roman-style, and walked stiffly at a tilt out of the room. The walls of the corridor were matte green and the woodwork and the radiators were thick with many coats of a bilious yellow stuff, glossy and glutinous, less like paint than crusted gruel. He paused at the foot of the incongruously grand, sweeping staircase—the building had been originally a club for Regency rakes—and was surprised to hear faint sounds of revelry still filtering down from the fifth floor. He put a foot on the stair, a hand on the banister rail, but paused again. Junior doctors, medical students, nurses beef to the heel: no, thanks, enough of that, and besides, the younger men had not wanted him there in the first place. He moved on along the corridor. He had a premonition of the hangover that was waiting for him, mallet and tongs at the ready. In the night porter’s room beside the tall double doors of the main entrance a wireless set was quietly playing to itself. The Ink Spots. Quirke hummed the tune to himself. It’s a sin to tell a lie. Well, that was certainly true. When he came out onto the steps the porter was there in his brown dust coat, smoking a cigarette and contemplating a surly dawn breaking behind the dome of the Four Courts. The porter was a dapper little fellow with glasses and dusty hair and a pointed nose that twitched at the tip. In the still-dark street a motorcar oozed past. “Morning, Porter,” Quirke said. The porter laughed. “You know the name’s not Porter, Mr. Quirke,” he said. The way that tuft of dry brown hair was brushed back fiercely from his forehead gave him a look of permanent, vexed surmise. A querulous mouse of a man. “That’s right,” Quirke said, “you’re the porter, but you’re not Porter.” Behind the Four Courts now a dark-blue cloud with an aspect of grim intent had begun edging its way up the sky, eclipsing the light of an as yet unseen sun. Quirke turned up the collar of his jacket, wondering vaguely what had become of the raincoat he seemed to remember wearing when he had started drinking, many hours ago. And what had become of his cigarette case? “Have you a cigarette itself to lend me?” he said. The porter produced a packet. “They’re only Woodbines, Mr. Quirke.” Quirke took the cigarette and bent over the cupped flame of his lighter, savoring the brief, flabby reek of burning petrol. He lifted his face to the sky and breathed deep the acrid smoke. How delicious it was, the day’s first searing lungful. The lid of the lighter chinked as he flipped it shut. Then he had to cough, making a tearing sound in his throat. “Christ, Porter,” he said, his voice wobbling, “how can you smoke these things? Any day now I’ll have you on the slab in there. When I open you up your lights will look like kippers.” The porter laughed again, a forced, breathy titter. Quirke brusquely walked away from him. As he descended the steps he felt in the nerves of his back the fellow’s suddenly laughless eye following him with ill intent. What he did not feel was another, melancholy gaze angled down upon him from a lighted window five stories above, where vague, festive forms were weaving and dipping still. Drifts of soundless summer rain were graying the trees in Merrion Square. Quirke hurried along, keeping close to the railings as if they might shelter him, the lapels of his jacket clutched tight to his throat. It was too early yet for the office workers, and the broad street was deserted, with not a car in sight, and if not for the rain he would have been able to see unhindered all the way to the Peppercanister Church, which always looked to him, viewed from a distance like this down the broad, shabby sweep of Upper Mount Street, to be set at a slightly skewed angle. Among the clustered chimneys a few were dribbling smoke; the summer was almost over, a new chill was in the air. But who had lit those fires, so early? Could there still be scullery maids to haul the coal bucket up from the basement before first light? He eyed the tall windows, thinking of all those shadowed rooms with people in them, waking, yawning, getting up to make their breakfasts, or turning over to enjoy another half hour in the damp, warm stew of their beds. Once, on another summer dawn, going along here like this, he had heard faintly from one of those windows a woman’s cries of ecstasy fluttering down into the street. What a piercing stab of pity he had felt for himself then, walking all alone here, before everyone else’s day had begun; piercing, and pained, but pleasurable, too, for in secret Quirke prized his loneliness as a mark of some distinction. In the hallway of the house there was the usual smell he could never identify, brownish, exhausted, a breath out of childhood, if childhood was the word for that first decade of misery he had suffered through. He plodded up the stairs with the tread of a man mounting the gallows, his sodden shoes squelching. He had reached the first-floor return when he heard a door down in the hall opening; he stopped, sighed. “Terrible racket again last night,” Mr. Poole called up accusingly. “Not a wink.” Quirke turned. Poole stood sideways in the barely open doorway of his flat, neither in nor out, his accustomed stance, with an expression at once truculent and timid. He was an early riser, if indeed he ever slept. He wore a sleeveless pullover and a dicky-bow, twill trousers sharply creased, gray carpet slippers. He looked, Quirke always thought, like the father of a fighter pilot in one of those Battle of Britain films or, better still, the father of the fighter pilot’s girlfriend. “Good morning, Mr. Poole,” Quirke said, politely distant; the fellow was often a source of light relief, but Quirke’s mood this early morning was not light. Poole’s pale gull’s eye glittered vengefully. He had a way of grinding his lower jaw from side to side. “All night, no letup,” he said, aggrieved. The other flats in the house were vacant, save for Quirke’s on the third floor, yet Poole regularly complained of noises in the night. “Frightful carry-on, bang bang bang.” Quirke nodded. “Terrible. I was out, myself.” Poole glanced back into the room behind him, looked up at Quirke again. “It’s the missus that minds,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper, “not me.” This was a new twist. Mrs. Poole, rarely glimpsed, was a diminutive person with a furtive, frightened stare; she was, Quirke knew for a fact, profoundly deaf. “I’ve lodged a strong complaint. I shall expect action, I told them.” “Good for you.” Poole narrowed his eyes, suspecting irony. “We’ll see,” he said menacingly. “We’ll see.” Quirke walked on up the stairs. He was at his own door before he heard Poole closing his. Chill air stood unwelcoming in the living room, where the rain murmured against the two high windows, relics of a richer age, which no matter how dull the day were always somehow filled with a muted radiance Quirke found mysteriously dispiriting. He opened the lid of a silver cigarette box on the mantelpiece, but it was empty. He knelt on one knee and with difficulty lit the gas fire from the small flame of his cigarette lighter. With disgust he noted his dry raincoat, thrown over the back of an armchair, where it had been all the time. He rose to his feet too quickly and for a moment saw stars. When his vision cleared he was facing a photograph in a tortoiseshell frame on the mantelpiece: Mal Griffin, Sarah, himself at the age of twenty, and his future wife, Delia, laughingly pointing her racquet at the camera, all of them in tennis whites, walking forward arm in arm into a glare of sunlight. He realized with a faint shock that he could not remember where the picture had been taken; Boston, he supposed, it must have been Boston—but had they played tennis in Boston? He took off his damp suit, put on a dressing gown, and sat down barefoot before the gas fire. He looked about the big, high-ceilinged room and grinned joylessly: his books, his prints, his Turkey carpet—his life. In the foothills of his forties, he was a decade younger than the century. The 1950s had promised a new age of prosperity and happiness for all; they were not living up to their promise. His eye settled on an artist’s articulated wooden model, a foot high, standing on the low telephone table beside the window, its jointed limbs arranged in a prancing pose. He looked away, frowning, but then with a sigh of annoyance rose and went and twisted the figure into a stance of desolate abasement that would better suit his morning gloom and burgeoning hangover. He returned to the chair and sat down again. The rain ceased and there was silence but for the sibilant hiss of the gas flame. His eyes scalded, they felt as if they had been boiled; he closed them, and shivered as the lids touched, imparting to each other along their inflamed edges a tiny, horrible kiss. Clearly in his mind he saw again that moment in the photograph: the grass, the sunlight, the great hot trees, and the four of them striding forward, young and svelte and smiling. Where was it? Where? And who had been behind the camera? Copyright © 2006 by Benjamin Black. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from Christine Falls by Black, Benjamin Copyright © 2007 by Black, Benjamin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Interviews & Essays

Benjamin Black and the 1950s

When I decided to try my hand at noir fiction, I realized at once that Dublin in the 1950s would be the ideal setting. All that dinginess, that fog and coal-smoke, those misty mornings and rain-washed twilights, those heartbreakingly lovely silver-grey evenings along the canal bank between the humped, granite bridges; all that furtiveness, that covert sinning; all that despair, all that guilt -- what more could a crime writer ask for?

In those days, Dublin for me was a distant bright glow in a generally overcast sky. I was born, in 1945, in Wexford, a little Irish seaport town situated in what is known as the Sunny South-East, a description that used to provoke mirth among locals, and probably still does. I grew up in a temperate climate, in tranquil times, or at least so it seemed. Life in Ireland was slow, unsusceptible to change, pleasant sometimes, boring always. When I look back now to what was then I might be seeing scenes from Breughel, or Jack B. Yeats at his most primitive. The wars of the Counter-Reformation had long ago ended in Europe, but in Ireland the last one of them had not even begun yet.

Ireland in the 1950s was still held fast in the grip of tradition. Although we did not know it, and would have been shocked to think it, our conditions were very like those in the Eastern Bloc countries. The State, backed by an iron ideology -- Irish Catholicism is a special case of the Roman faith -- ruled over us absolutely; all protest was futile, all dissension was punished. Sinners and misfits alike were sent into exile. Inconveniently free-thinking writers were forced to go abroad or be silent; recalcitrant boys were locked away in Industrial Schools; girls who got pregnant "out of wedlock," as it was quaintly put, were sent to work -- to slave, really -- in laundries run by nuns, and when their babies were born they were taken away from them and put in orphanages, here and abroad. These were the realities of life on this right little, tight little island.

Of course, some had it good -- there is always a nomenklatura. Men of the middle-class establishment, politicians, doctors, lawyers, captains of industry, were free to conduct their lives as such people do everywhere, so long as they were discreet and observed the public pieties. For the rest of us, the stuff of life was a thin gruel indeed. In the 1970s a right-wing politician famously complained that "there was no sex in Ireland before we had television" -- our first TV station started up in the early 1960s -- and while everyone scoffed, in our hearts we knew exactly what he meant.

When I was growing up, Sunday newspapers from England would have blank squares where the Fleet Street printers had removed advertisements for contraceptives, for if the ads had been left in, the papers would have been impounded by Irish Customs. A few years ago I was walking down O'Connell Street in Dublin and saw before me a double-decker bus entirely painted over with an advertisement for Durex condoms. Times do change -- not always entirely for the better, and often at the expense of good taste.

Murder was a rare occurrence here in the 1950s. The country was held enthralled for months by the case of an Indian medical student in Dublin who got an Irish girl pregnant, strangled her, and cut up her corpse and fed it into the furnace in the basement of a restaurant where he had a part-time job. Even Wexford was not without its grisly glories: we were horribly thrilled when the owner of a sweet-shop in Cinema Lane was bludgeoned to death one black winter night by an intruder who was never brought to justice, though everyone knew his identity. The thought of all that blood spilled among the toffee bars and the bottles of bull's-eyes was deliciously shiver-inducing. Oh, we were shocked by such excesses, of course, but as George Orwell pointed out in his essay "The Decline of the English Murder," we all like nothing better than a good, juicy homicide.

Dublin in those days was a rackety town, a "relic of oul dacency," as we would have said. What had once been the second city of the United Kingdom was now, in Republican times, much reduced. An aunt of mine lived there, in a vast, leaky apartment in a Georgian house on Upper Mount Street, just up from Government Buildings, one of the handsomest 18th-century thoroughfares surviving in the city and, in those days, the well-worn beat for what must surely have been Europe's unloveliest contingent of whores. When I came to write Christine Falls I gave that apartment to my protagonist, Quirke. The house is now a solicitor's offices, and from the outside, at least, seems just as run-down as it was 45 years ago, when I inherited the apartment from my aunt and moved in, thinking myself a ready-made cosmopolitan. Quirke lives the life that I wanted in those days: he is well heeled, independent, handsome, fascinatingly troubled, and seemingly irresistible to women. Even his woes are enviable. And Dublin is his town, as it was never quite mine, and as it is not quite mine even yet. But then, Quirke's Dublin is a Dublin of the imagination, and what real city can live up to its imagined shadow-version? --John Banville
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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Christine Falls are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Christine Falls.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 53 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fantastically atmospheric - you can almost smell the smoke and whiskey

    This is what happens when a Man Booker prize winning literary author turns his hand to the murder-thriller genre - a deep and meaningful character-driven story of human weakness, the meaning of sin and meditations on evil. Banville (Benjamin Black is a pen name for Irish author John Banville) creates an oppressive atmosphere of dark foreboding that pervades the story's every corner. At the end, the question is no longer the identity of "the bad guy" but rather of who among us is innocent. The main character, Quirke, is not a sharp detective type, but rather a damaged and lost soul bumbling about a confusing and ever-changing landscape of his world, ties and responsibilities as his sense that he is in some way complicit drives him to seek an answer to the question of what happened to Christine Falls.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2011

    Four Stars

    Well written; descriptions do not slow down the story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Ready for More

    'Christine Falls' marks the debut story of pathologist Quirke. I look forward to continuing with 'The Silver Swan.' Quirke and the other characters are a little flawed, making their stories more like real life. Whose life doesn't have some contradictions? Who hasn't told a lie, thinking it is done for a good reason? The prose is beautiful. Not every detail gets tied up at the end. There are questions I want to discuss with others who have read this book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2008

    An engrossing thriller

    While I agree with other reviewers that the ending of this novel was a bit of a letdown, I'd still recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. The writing is lush and visual, the characters well-defined and the progression of events kept my fingers busy turning pages late into the night. All in all, a riveting read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    Enjoyable and believable. Very well written, certainly to be rec

    Enjoyable and believable. Very well written, certainly to be recommended.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2012

    Interesting ...

    I would recommend this book. The characters are interesting, but not necessarily always likable. The book has a different feel than most mysteries. The story draws you in, but It definitely has a dark/gloomy side. Some of the story is left unsaid for the next book. The book is well written and easy to follow most of the time.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Catholic noir!

    Don't pass this one out if you are a fan of well-written, atmospheric novels of psychological suspense, whose ending will indeed surprise you. The main character, who has an emotional depth surprising for a detective (he's not just a drunk if you read the sample pages), promises to continue to fascinate me in the further novels in the series. Benjamin Black is the pen name of Booker-Award winning Irish author John Banville.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Drew me in from page one

    I really enjoyed this novel. It was dark and stormy and generated a lot of Irish imagery. John Banville's books always leave me a little depressed about the human condition, but they're so authentic that I enjoy them. His prose is engaging and thought-provoking and I can read his novels (including this one) for hours at a time without realizing I haven't moved.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    great story!

    well written story. This the is first book of this author's I have read. I was drawn into the story. He made everything dramatic, but not overly suspenseful. You knew something was awry and you didn't want to put the book down until you knew what exactly was going on. This makes for a good author and good read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2008

    Couldn't finish

    After reading 145 of 340 pages, I chose not to finish the book. Eloquent and descriptive language of events and characters detracted from the story.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    Great mystery and more

    The descriptions are excellent. The characters keep you involved and everything ties together well to the end. I borrowed this book from a library and liked it so well that I placed an order to buy my own. I can't wait for the next in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2007

    Somewhat of a letdown

    I was excited to start this book, however once I started I was bored. I never really cared about any of the characters and had to force myself to keep reading hoping something big would happen. All the makings of a great book were there but somehow it just never clicked for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    A Review

    This book grabbed me from the beginning. It's very well written with interesting characters, mystery and suspense. The thing is, I had the 'mystery' figured out so early that I thought I had to be wrong. Certainly this wonderful writer would sucker-punch me at the end with something shocking and out of left field. Didn't happen. The suspense that grabbed me right away just fizzled out. Still, it's a good story by a really good writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    terrific 1950s medical thriller

    In Dublin after a few drinks at an office going away party for a nurse, pathologist Garret Quirke enters his prime work area the morgue only to be stunned by what he sees in spite of being drunk. His stepbrother Dr. Malachy Griffin was sitting at Quirke¿s desk writing in a file that the pathologist noticed is that of Christine Falls. Too tired to think any further Quirke leaves a nervous Mal behind. --- After several hours of sleep, Quirke wonders why Mal was at the morgue instead of home with his wife Susan. He begins to look closer at the death of the young maid, Christine Falls, who died during childbirth especially since he knows Mal changed the file. However, whenever he raises a point, he finds the Irish medical establishment protecting one another while the clues take him to Boston. --- This is terrific 1950s medical thriller that constantly pulls the rig out from underneath the reader with fabulous unexpected yet plausible twists. The subplot in Dublin is foggy and mysterious as the audience alongside the obstinate hero wonders what is going on. The shift to Boston turns more detective like in tone and less sinister, as the clues begin to come together though spins still will fool the reader. Benjamin Black provides a superior medical investigative tale that will have fans clamoring for more work by quirky Quirke. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014


    Sighs* ik

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2014

    Good read

    Interesting story and well written. Enough fact (laundry and adoptions) to make it even more compelling. Could not put down until i finished reading it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    Jerk quirke

    This guy can write. It's too bad that be can't also develop a less stereotpical Irish protagonist than the jerk named quirke, in all his tedious heavy smoking and drinking Irish cliche-ness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2013


    "I will be back tomorrow but i gotta go. I got that sentence ackwards lol. Good night

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 21, 2012

    A revelation to a John Banville fan!

    This is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill mystery. This is a mystery with a literary feel. If you've enjoyed John Banville's novels I think you will enjoy his work as Benjamin Black just as much. Can't wait to move on to the next book in the series!

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  • Posted August 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A looming and somber man driven by a cloud of questions leads th

    A looming and somber man driven by a cloud of questions leads the reader of CHRISTINE FALLS into the gloom of 1950s Irish Catholicism. There are secrets in the pathologist's morgue, in his family, in the Church, and in his soul. Quirke's unraveling of the story of baby smuggling from Dublin to Boston, though relentlessly tragic, is told in brilliant prose. The words chosen have such precision that images glow on the page. For example, there are these: "a version of the Sphinx: high, unavoidable, and monumentally ridiculous" -- "frost smoke" -- "a leaden line in front of lavender-tinted fog" -- "grinning in that way she did when she was excited, showing her upper gums" -- "old brown paintings" -- "black birds spurted raggedly from behind the rooftops and twirled..." -- "the gaunt hospital room reminded him of the inside of a skull...."

    This writing talent presented as that of "Benjamin Black" belongs in fact to John Banville, a Booker Prize winning author (2005, THE SEA). CHRISTINE FALLS debuts a new branch of his work, a series featuring the pathologist Quirke. Categorized by the publisher as a "psychological novel," it is also called a "new kind of crime novel" and a "suspense novel." In my mind, it also belongs to historical realism, even the emotions of the characters, reminiscent of late 1940s films like THE SNAKE PIT and JOHNNY BELINDA, which commented on shortcomings in institutions without being documentary. Analyses aside, the novel is enjoyable for its well-drawn characters, so deeply motivated by personal circumstances to make a transition from poverty stricken Ireland to a bright and promising United States. It was not as easy as one might think.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews

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