The Silver Swan (Quirke Series #2)

( 21 )


It has been two years since the events of Christine Falls, the bestselling novel that introduced the world to an irascible Dublin pathologist named Quirke. Quirke's beloved Sarah has died, his surrogate father lies paralyzed by a stroke, and he’s been sober for half a year. When a near-forgotten acquaintance asks him to cover up his beautiful young wife’s apparent suicide, Quirke knows he should stay clear, for the sake of his sobriety and his peace of mind. But his old itch is irresistible, and before long he is...

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It has been two years since the events of Christine Falls, the bestselling novel that introduced the world to an irascible Dublin pathologist named Quirke. Quirke's beloved Sarah has died, his surrogate father lies paralyzed by a stroke, and he’s been sober for half a year. When a near-forgotten acquaintance asks him to cover up his beautiful young wife’s apparent suicide, Quirke knows he should stay clear, for the sake of his sobriety and his peace of mind. But his old itch is irresistible, and before long he is probing further into the circumstances of Deidre Hunt’s death, into a web of drugs and illicit sex that may have snared his own daughter, Phoebe. With its vivid, intense evocation of 1950s Dublin, and intricate, psychologically complex storyline, The Silver Swan is "even more engrossing than last year’s Christine Falls" (Entertainment Weekly).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Grippingly propulsive . . . Christine Falls was the most artful noir mystery in years; The Silver Swan is better."—Los Angeles Times

"[Black] proved he could walk the crime-fiction walk with the Edgar®-nominated Christine Falls, and now his luminous prose gets an even better infrastructure in the sequel, a faster-paced, further melancholic slice of the noir life of Dublin pathologist Quirke."—Baltimore Sun

"If you like your mysteries like Guinness—dark and Irish—look no further."—Rocky Mountain News(Denver)

"[A] brilliant book."—The Seattle Times

"A superb sense of place and an unsettling atmosphere of dread and repressed desire."—The Providence Journal

"A satisfying blend of the muck, and pluck, of the Irish . . . The author knows 1950s Dublin inside and out and the narrative drives onward with pitch-perfect passages."—The Christian Science Monitor

"[Black] is a superb, evocative writer."—The Miami Herald

"Black’s prose is as clear and moody as Banville’s, never stooping to cliché in word, image, or concept. . . . The delicate but inexorable suspense grows in the natural way, from misunderstanding, deceit, loneliness, and fear."—The Oregonian (Portland)

"[Black’s] sinuous prose, subtle eroticism, and 1950s period detail do more than enough to put this series on the map."—The New York Times Book Review


Publishers Weekly

Black is better known as the Booker Prize—winning author John Banville. Timothy Dalton is better known as the guy who used to play James Bond. Their collaboration on this mystery novel, the second in Black's Quirke series, offers an excellent opportunity for Dalton to flash his acting chops. Dalton's reading is hushed, intense and dramatic, read as if being performed onstage. This risky approach ends up melding perfectly with Black's atmospheric whodunit, with Dalton underscoring the literary quality of the prose. Dalton drops to a whisper nearly every other sentence, but it is the kind of whisper that penetrates the eardrums of even the duffers in the back row of the theater. The acted approach—Dalton playing every role, embodying every voice—is not always perfect, but the partnership between author and narrator is a definite success. Simultaneous release with the Henry Holt hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 7). (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Black, the pen name of Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville (The Sea), is a fine writer, but, as so often happens when a "straight" author turns to writing genre fiction, this book (following Christine Falls) is just not one of his best. The wife of an old acquaintance has been found dead, and Irish pathologist Garrett Quirke wants to know what really happened. Not much of a mystery (the murderer, while not explicitly revealed, is quite obvious from the beginning), Silver Swan is mostly devoted to exploring the lives and thoughts of people before and after a murder. Unfortunately, despite some very beautiful writing, most of the characters seem one-dimensional, sometimes irritatingly so. As an audiobook this title suffers from another, more unusual problem: Timothy Dalton reads with a gentle, attractive, singsong inflection but also rather quickly, and American listeners may have difficulty understanding some sentences. Recommended for large public libraries.
—I. Pour-El

Library Journal

Following the success of Christine Falls , Black, the pen name of Booker Prize-winning author John Banville (The Sea ), returns with a second atmospheric crime novel once again starring Quirke, a 1950s Dublin pathologist and unlikely hero, a deeply curious man with the insight to know "something in him yearned for the darkness." Like the first book, this novel opens with the death of a young woman, the owner of a seemingly successful beauty salon called the Silver Swan. Her body is found in the river, her clothing neatly folded at the edge of the water. The distraught husband, not wanting his beautiful wife's body harmed, asks Quirke (a former classmate of the husband) to bypass the standard postmortem. Upon examining it, Quirke quickly notices a puncture mark visible on the dead woman's arm. And so Quirke's descent into darkness begins yet again. Black/Banville is a master of atmosphere; the fear and dread associated with hidden desires and deeds fairly leap off the page. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/07.]-Andrea Y. Griffith, Loma Linda Univ. Libs., CA

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Benjamin Black is John Banville reincarnated as a crime writer, and his coming into being is surely a dimension of the author's obsession with the disunity of personal identity. As Black, however, Banville has jettisoned the heavy bales of philosophical ballast that weighed down -- or deepened, if you prefer -- the novels written under his own name. That's good news to the lightweights among us who admire Banville's potent visual and olfactory imagery, pungent style, and historical mischief making but who also find that a little philosophical rumination, not to say scab picking, goes a very long way.

The Silver Swan follows Christine Falls, the first of the Black oeuvre. It is two years since we last met the central character, Garret Quirke, a Dublin pathologist and a Gloomy Gus of Banvillian proportions, so shy of intimacy that even a home-cooked meal perturbs him. His lost love, Sarah, whom we left in the previous novel feeling dizzy, is dead of a brain tumor; his onetime benefactor and "great and secret sinner," the Judge, has been paralyzed by a stroke; and Phoebe, his recently if unhappily reclaimed daughter, now lives in Dublin in a state of emotional bleakness. Quirke, himself, has given up drink, though the crapulousness of the last book has been replaced by fierce cravings, "every parched nerve crying out to be slaked."

You can't really win in this world, but then it is the Ireland of the 1950s, a hard, dingy, secretive decade, suffused with a moral queasiness left from the Emergency (as Ireland's condition as a neutral country during the Second World War was called). Everyone here suffers some form of spiritual desolation, a state perfectly exemplified by Quirke's widowed friend Mal, who has been given a dog by his daughter: "It was a stunted, wire-haired thing the color of wet sacking.... It was plain the dog and master disliked each other, the dog barely tolerating the man and the man seeming helpless before the dog's unbiddably doggy insistences. It was odd, but ownership of the dog made Mal seem more aged, more careworn, more irritably despondent. As if reading Quirke's thoughts, he said defensively, 'He's company. Of a sort.' "

The novel is set, for the most part, during an especially hot summer in Dublin, and the drawn-out days of deliquescent, sweating flesh are quite as insalubrious as those of the Irish winter's crepuscular damp. An old university acquaintance, Billy Hunt, gets in touch with Quirke, imploring him to prevent an autopsy on the body of his wife, a woman who called herself Laura Swan in her capacity as proprietor of a beauty parlor. She appears to have committed suicide by swimming out to sea. Wretched, "a bulging sack of grief and misery and pent-up rage," Hunt claims that he cannot bear the idea of his wife's body being violated.

Hmmm, we think, and so does Quirke. A pathologist to his unamiable core, he feels "the old itch to cut into the quick of things, to delve into the dark of what is hidden -- to know." He discovers a needle mark on the woman's arm and evidence that she died not from drowning but from a drug overdose.

For all Quirke's appetite for discovery, what follows is not so much an investigation as a perambulation -- a time-honored Irish literary tradition, after all -- through the streets of Dublin with excursions to Clontarf and Howth. Along the way, clues and coincidences swim out of the summer's mephitic ether, drawn into Quirke's darksome orbit by fate's gravitational pull. Indeed, for a while, the plot seems to be actually generated by Quirke's inner state, going so far as to appropriate through brazen happenstance his daughter, Phoebe, the focus of his obsessive self-castigation. But intermittent flashbacks to Laura Swan's life as seen by herself soon give the book real narrative muscle and another voice. It is one of cagey optimism, daring, and, finally, dismay when the doomed woman learns the worst and walks "out into the summer morning feeling as if she were the sole survivor of a huge and yet entirely soundless disaster." These scenes trace a path to death: from her marriage to her involvement with a certain Dr. Hakeem Kreutz, "spiritual healer," and, finally, to her affair with her business partner, Leslie White, and its terrible dénouement. He is a cruel and creepy narcissist with hair the color of "burning magnesium" -- "a born suede shoe wearer," Quirke reflects with distaste. A couple of swatches of narrative from this creature's point of view afford us a glimpse of exquisite malignity.

Benjamin Black's sensibility, dour and doomy and lonesome as hell, pervades the novel, yet it never drags down the lithe prose, prose more supple and unerring than Banville's, whose way with words -- though just as inspired -- suffers bouts of sclerotic ontology. Or so it strikes the shamelessly hedonistic reader. What we like is people and places and plot. We like the image of Quirke as "a huge, dangerous, baffled baby, needful and destructive." We are transported by Black's brilliantly conjured settings and his precise evocations of time and place. Sights, sounds, smells and the whole feel of this world are wonderfully conveyed and are bliss to read. At Howth harbor: "a squad of trawlermen was mending an immense fishing net strung between poles, vaguely suggestive of harpists in their deft, long-armed reachings and gatherings.... A grinning dog raced along the edge of the pier, barking wildly at the gulls bobbing among the boats on the harbor's oily swaying, iridescent waters." Witnessing this, even Quirke feels "the possibility of happiness."

But it is not to be -- for Quirke at any rate. In the end, the realm he inhabits is a grim one of murder, sadistic sex, pornography, drugs, blackmail, embezzlement, brutal beatings, and general sneakiness. On the other hand, fun lovers that we are, all that makes us happy too. --Katherine A. Powers

Katherine A. Powers writes the literary column "A Reading Life" for the Boston Sunday Globe and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312428242
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Series: Quirke Series , #2
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 203,004
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (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

Chapter 1

Quirke did not recognize the name. it seemed familiar but he could not put a face to it. Occasionally it happened that way; someone would float up without warning out of his past, his drinking past, someone he had forgotten, asking for a loan or offering to let him in on a sure thing or just wanting to make contact, out of loneliness, or only to know that he was still alive and that the drink had not done for him. Mostly he put them off, mumbling about pressure of work and the like. This one should have been easy, since it was just a name and a telephone number left with the hospital receptionist, and he could have conveniently lost the piece of paper or simply thrown it away. Something caught his attention, however. He had an impression of urgency, of unease, which he could not account for and which troubled him.

Billy Hunt.

What was it the name sparked in him? Was it a lost memory or, more worryingly, a premonition?

He put the scrap of paper on a corner of his desk and tried to ignore it. At the dead center of summer the day was hot and muggy, and in the streets the barely breathable air was laden with a thin pall of mauve smoke, and he was glad of the cool and quiet of his windowless basement office in the pathology department. He hung his suit jacket on the back of his chair and pulled off his tie without undoing the knot and opened two buttons of his shirt and sat down at the cluttered metal desk. He liked the familiar smell here, a combination of old cigarette smoke, tea leaves, paper, formaldehyde, and something else, musky, fleshly, that was his particular contribution.

He lit a cigarette and his eye drifted again to the paper with Billy Hunt’s message on it. Just the name and the number that the operator had scribbled down in pencil, and the words “please call.” The sense of urgent imploring was stronger than ever. Please call.

For no reason he could think of he found himself remembering the moment in McGonagle’s pub half a year ago when, dizzily drunk amidst the din of Christmas reveling, he had caught sight of his own face, flushed and bulbous and bleary, reflected in the bottom of his empty whiskey glass and had realized with unaccountable certitude that he had just taken his last drink. Since then he had been sober. He was as amazed by this as was anyone who knew him. He felt that it was not he who had made the decision, but that somehow it had been made for him. Despite all his training and his years in the dissecting room he had a secret conviction that the body has a consciousness of its own, and knows itself and its needs as well as or better than the mind imagines that it does. The decree delivered to him that night by his gut and his swollen liver and the ventricles of his heart was absolute and incontestable. For nearly two years he had been falling steadily into the abyss of drink, falling almost as far as he had in the time, two decades before, after his wife had died, and now the fall was broken—

Squinting at the scrap of paper on the corner of the desk, he lifted the telephone receiver and dialed. The bell jangled afar down the line.

—Afterwards, out of curiosity, he had upended another whiskey glass, this time one he had not emptied, to find if it was really possible to see himself in the bottom of it, but no reflection had appeared there.

The sound of Billy Hunt’s voice was no help; he did not recognize it any more readily than he had the name. The accent was at once flat and singsong, with broad vowels and dulled consonants. A countryman. There was a slight flutter in the tone, a slight wobble, as if the speaker might be about to burst into laughter, or into something else. Some words he slurred, hurrying over them. Maybe he was tipsy?

“Ah, you don’t remember me,” he said. “Do you?”

“Of course I do,” Quirke lied.

“Billy Hunt. You used to say it sounded like rhyming slang. We were in college together. I was in first year when you were in your last. I didn’t really expect you to remember me. We went with different crowds. I was mad into the sports—hurling, football, all that—while you were with the arty lot, with your nose stuck in a book or over at the Abbey or the Gate every night of the week. I dropped out of the medicine—didn’t have the stomach for it.”

Quirke let a beat of silence pass, then asked: “What are you doing now?”

Billy Hunt gave a heavy, unsteady sigh. “Never mind that,” he said, sounding more weary than impatient. “It’s your job that’s the point here.”

At last a face began to assemble itself in Quirke’s laboring memory. Big broad forehead, definitively broken nose, a thatch of wiry red hair, freckles. Grocer’s son from somewhere down south, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, one of the W counties. Easygoing but prone to scrap when provoked, hence the smashed septum. Billy Hunt. Yes.

“My job?” Quirke said. “How’s that?”

There was another pause.

“It’s the wife,” Billy Hunt said. Quirke heard a sharply indrawn breath whistling in those crushed nasal cavities. “She’s after doing away with herself.”

They met in bewley’s café in grafton street. It was lunchtime and the place was busy. The rich, fat smell of coffee beans roasting in the big vat just inside the door made Quirke’s stomach briefly heave. Odd, the things he found nauseating now; he had expected giving up drink would dull his senses and reconcile him to the world and its savors, but the opposite had been the case, so that at times he seemed to be a walking tangle of nerve ends assailed from every side by outrageous smells, tastes, touches. The interior of the café was dark to his eyes after the glare outside. A girl going out passed him by; she wore a white dress and carried a broad-brimmed straw hat; he caught the warm waft of her perfumed skin that trailed behind her. He imagined himself turning on his heel and following after her and taking her by the elbow and walking with her out into the hazy heat of the summer day. He did not relish the prospect of Billy Hunt and his dead wife.

He spotted him straightaway, sitting in one of the side booths, unnaturally erect on the red plush banquette, with a cup of milky coffee untouched before him on the gray marble table. He did not see Quirke at first, and Quirke hung back a moment, studying him, the drained pale face with the freckles standing out on it, the glazed, desolate stare, the big turnip-shaped hand fiddling with the sugar spoon. He had changed remarkably little in the more than two decades since Quirke had known him. Not that he could say he had known him, really. In Quirke’s not very clear recollections of him Billy was a sort of overgrown schoolboy, by turns cheery or truculent and sometimes both at once, loping out to the sports grounds in wide-legged knicks and a striped football jersey, with a football or a bundle of hurley sticks under his arm, his knobbly, pale-pink knees bare and his boyish cheeks aflame and blood-spotted from the still unaccustomed morning shave. Loud, of course, roaring raucous jokes at his fellow sportsmen and throwing a surly glance from under colorless lashes in the direction of Quirke and the arty lot. Now he was thickened by the years, with a bald patch on the crown of his head like a tonsure and a fat red neck overflowing the collar of his baggy tweed jacket.

He had that smell, hot and raw and salty, that Quirke recognized at once, the smell of the recently bereaved. He sat there at the table, propping himself upright, a bulging sack of grief and misery and pent-up rage, and said to Quirke helplessly:

“I don’t know why she did it.”

Quirke nodded. “Did she leave anything?” Billy peered at him, uncomprehending. “A letter, I mean. A note.”

“No, no, nothing like that.” He gave a crooked, almost sheepish smile. “I wish she had.”

That morning a party of Gardai had gone out in a launch and lifted poor Deirdre Hunt’s naked body off the rocks on the landward shore of Dalkey Island.

“They called me in to identify her,” Billy said, that strange, pained smile that was not a smile still on his lips, his eyes seeming to gaze again in wild dismay at what they had seen on the hospital slab, Quirke grimly thought, and would probably never stop seeing, for as long as he lived. “They brought her to St. Vincent’s. She looked completely different. I think I wouldn’t have known her except for the hair. She was very proud of it, her hair.” He shrugged apologetically, twitching one shoulder.

Quirke was recalling a very fat woman who had thrown herself into the Liffey, from whose chest cavity, when he had cut it open and was clipping away at the rib cage, there had clambered forth with the torpor of the truly well fed a nest of translucent, many-legged, shrimplike creatures.

A waitress in her black-and-white uniform and maid’s mobcap came to take Quirke’s order. The aroma of fried and boiled lunches assailed him. He asked for tea. Billy Hunt had drifted away into himself and was delving absently with his spoon among the cubes in the sugar bowl, making them rattle.

“It’s hard,” Quirke said when the waitress had gone. “Identifying the body, I mean. That’s always hard.”

Billy looked down, and his lower lip began to tremble and he clamped it babyishly between his teeth.

“Have you children, Billy?” Quirke asked.

Billy, still looking down, shook his head. “No,” he muttered, “no children. Deirdre wasn’t keen.”

“And what do you do? I mean, what do you work at?”

“Commercial traveler. Pharmaceuticals. The job takes me away a lot, around the country, abroad too—the odd occasion to Switzerland, when there’s to be a meeting at head office. I suppose that was part of the trouble, me being away so much—that, and her not wanting kids.” Here it comes, Quirke thought, the trouble. But Billy only said, “I suppose she was lonely. She never complained, though.” He looked up at Quirke suddenly and as if challengingly. “She never complained—never!”

He went on talking about her then, what she was like, what she did. The haunted look in his face grew more intense, and his eyes darted this way and that with an odd, hindered urgency, as if he wanted them to light on something that kept on not being there. The waitress brought Quirke’s tea. He drank it black, scalding his tongue. He produced his cigarette case. “So tell me,” he said, “what was it you wanted to see me about?”

Once more Billy lowered those pale lashes and gazed at the sugar bowl. A mottled tide of color swelled upwards from his collar and slowly suffused his face to the hairline and beyond; he was, Quirke realized, blushing. He nodded mutely, sucking in a deep breath.

“I wanted to ask you a favor.”

Quirke waited. The room was steadily filling with the lunchtime crowd and the noise had risen to a medleyed roar. Waitresses skimmed among the tables bearing brown trays piled with plates of food—sausage and mash, fish and chips, steaming mugs of tea and glasses of Orange Crush. Quirke offered the cigarette case open on his palm, and Billy took a cigarette, seeming hardly to notice what he was doing. Quirke’s lighter clicked and flared. Billy hunched forward, holding the cigarette between his lips with fingers that shook. Then he leaned back on the banquette as if exhausted.

“I’m reading about you all the time in the papers,” he said. “About cases you’re involved in.” Quirke shifted uneasily on his chair. “That thing with the girl that died and the woman that was murdered—what were their names?”

“Which ones?” Quirke asked, expressionless.

“The woman in Stoney Batter. Last year, or the year before, was it? Dolly somebody.” He frowned, trying to remember. “What happened to that story? It was all over the papers and then it was gone, not another word.”

“The papers don’t take long to lose interest.”

A thought struck Billy. “Jesus,” he said softly, staring away, “I suppose they’ll put a story in about Deirdre, too.”

“I could have a word with the coroner,” Quirke said, making it sound doubtful.

But it was not stories in the newspapers that was on Billy’s mind. He leaned forward again, suddenly intent, and reached out a hand urgently as if he might grasp Quirke by the wrist or the lapel. “I don’t want her cut up,” he said in a hoarse undertone.

“Cut up?”

“An autopsy, a postmortem, whatever you call it—I don’t want that done.”

Quirke waited a moment and then said: “It’s a formality, Billy. The law requires it.”

Billy was shaking his head with his eyes shut and his mouth set in a pained grimace. “I don’t want it done. I don’t want her sliced up like some sort of a, like a—like some sort of carcass.” He put a hand over his eyes. The cigarette, forgotten, was burning itself out in the fingers of his other hand. “I can’t bear to think of it. Seeing her this morning was bad enough”—he took his hand away and gazed before him in what seemed a stupor of amazement—“but the thought of her on a table, under the lights, with the knife . . . If you’d known her, the way she was before, how—how alive she was.” He cast about again as if in search of something on which to concentrate, a bullet of commonplace reality on which he might bite. “I can’t bear it, Quirke,” he said hoarsely, his voice hardly more than a whisper. “I swear to God, I can’t bear it.”

Quirke sipped his by now tepid tea, the tannin acrid against his scalded tongue. He did not know what he should say. He rarely came in direct contact with the relatives of the dead, but occasionally they sought him out, as Billy had, to request a favor. Some only wanted him to save them a keepsake, a wedding ring or a lock of hair; there was a Republican widow once who had asked him to retrieve a fragment of a civil war bullet that her late husband had carried next to his heart for thirty years. Others had more serious and far shadier requests—that the bruises on a dead infant’s body be plausibly accounted for, that the sudden demise of an aged, sick parent be explained away, or just that a suicide might be covered up. But no one had ever asked what Billy was asking.

“All right, Billy,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Now Billy’s hand did touch his, the barest touch, with the tips of fingers through which a strong, fizzing current seemed to race. “You won’t let me down, Quirke,” he said, a statement rather than an entreaty, his voice quavering. “For old times’ sake. For”—he made a low sound that was half sob, half laugh—“for Deirdre’s sake.”

Quirke stood up. He fished a half-crown from his pocket and laid it on the table beside his saucer. Billy was looking about again, distractedly, as a man would while patting his pockets in search of something he had misplaced. He had taken out a Zippo lighter and was distractedly flicking the lid open and shut. On the bald spot and through the strands of his scant pale hair could be seen glistening beads of sweat. “That’s not her name, by the way,” he said. Quirke did not understand. “I mean, it is her name, only she called herself something else. Laura—Laura Swan. It was sort of her professional name. She ran a beauty parlor, the Silver Swan. That’s where she got the name—Laura Swan.”

Quirke waited, but Billy had nothing more to say, and he turned and walked away.

In the afternoon, on quirke’s instructions, they brought the body from St. Vincent’s to the city-center Hospital of the Holy Family, where Quirke was waiting to receive it. A recent round of imposed economics at the Holy Family, hotly contested but in vain, had left Quirke with one assistant only, where before there had been two. His had been the task of choosing between young Wilkins the horse-Protestant and the Jew Sinclair. He had plumped for Sinclair, without any clear reason, for the two young men were equally matched in skill or, in some areas, lack of it. But he liked Sinclair, liked his independence and sly humor and the faint surliness of his manner; when Quirke had asked him once where his people hailed from Sinclair had looked him in the eye without expression and said blankly, “Cork.” He had offered not a word of thanks to Quirke for choosing him, and Quirke admired that, too.

He wondered how far he should take Sinclair into his confidence in the matter of Deirdre Hunt and her husband’s plea that her corpse should be left intact. Sinclair, however, was not a man to make trouble. When Quirke said he would do the postmortem alone—a visual examination would suffice—and that Sinclair might as well take himself off to the canteen for a cup of tea and a cigarette, the young man hesitated for no more than a second, then removed his green gown and rubber boots and sauntered out of the morgue with his hands in his pockets, whistling softly. Quirke turned back and lifted the plastic sheet.

Deirdre Hunt—or Laura Swan, or whatever name she went under—must have been, he judged, a good-looking young woman, perhaps even a beautiful one. She was—had been—quite a lot younger than Billy Hunt. Her body, which had not been in the water long enough for serious deterioration to have taken place, was short and shapely; a strong body, strongly muscled, but delicate in its curves and the sheer planes at flank and calf. Her face was not as fine-boned as it might have been—her maiden name, Quirke noted, had been Ward, suggesting tinker blood—but her forehead was clear and high, and the swathe of copper-colored hair falling back from it must have been magnificent when she was alive. He had a picture in his mind of her sprawled on the wet rocks, a long swatch of that hair coiled around her neck like a thick frond of gleaming seaweed. What, he wondered, had driven this handsome, healthy young woman to fling herself on a summer midnight off Sandycove harbor into the black waters of Dublin Bay, with no witness to the deed save the glittering stars and the lowering bulk of the Martello tower above her? Her clothes, so Billy Hunt had said, had been placed in a neat pile on the pier beside the wall; that was the only trace she had left of her going—that and her motorcar, which Quirke was certain was another thing she would have been proud of, and which yet she had abandoned, neatly parked under a lilac tree on Sandycove Avenue. Her car and her hair: twin sources of vanity. But what was it that had pulled that vanity down?

Then he spotted the tiny puncture mark on the chalk-white inner side of her left arm.

Copyright © 2008 by Benjamin Black. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 9
Pt. 1 Working in Commercials 13
Pt. 2 Acting Fundamentals for Commercials 27
Pt. 3 Commercial Acting Techniques 45
Pt. 4 Getting Booked 137
App. 1 Sample MOS Commercials 166
App. 2 Sample Slice-of-Life Commercials 168
App. 3 Sample Spokesperson Commercials 171
App. 4 Samples of Acting Styles in Commercial Copy 178
App. 5 Sample Commercial Storyboard 182
App. 6 SAG Advice Regarding Agents 184
Further Reading 186
Glossary 187
Index 189
About the Author 192
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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 The Silver Swan 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 The Silver Swan.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2008

    Slow-paced, in a good way.

    Even though this title is listed as Mystery, it reads almost like a literary novel. It hovers somewhere between a thriller and a character study. A tricky feat, but a successful one. All the characters feel fully fleshed-out and their motivations, desires, and deceits make sense. The only 'slight' exception is Quirke's daughter who seems to exist only to sulk and get into danger'see the second season of 24 for reference', but everything else in the book is pulled off wonderfully, so that one small mark against doesn't tarnish it. 'The Silver Swan' is a sort of Irish Lit. light. It still contains the rich language you'd expect from a Man Booker prize winning writer, but it's pared down to let the characters and story take center stage.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    excellent investigative thriller

    In 1950s Ireland, Billy Hint sees his old college crony pathologist Garret Quirke. Since they have not seen each other in quite a while, Garret is bit surprised by the visit until Billy asks a favor. He begs Garret not to perform an autopsy on his late wife, Deirdre. The law requires an autopsy when foul play seems possible in this case it is probable as Deirdre¿s naked corpse was fished out of Dublin Bay though indications seem suicide as the most likely cause. However, Garret is stunned by the request as Billy beseeched him to drop the medical investigation. Instead he conducts a quiet inquiry into Deirdre¿s last days not knowing what to expect, but totally unprepared to uncovering her alias Laura Swan co-owning the beauty salon Silver Swan with Leslie White and a blackmailing scheme that includes his estranged daughter. --- This sequel to the superb CHRISTINE FALLS is an excellent investigative thriller that grips the audience from the moment Billy begs and never slows down until the stunning final confrontation. The story line is fast-paced and in spite of 288 pages is a one sitter read. The terrific hero is likable, as he learns one thing leads to another, but deception is part of each step he takes. THE SILVER SWAN is a great Irish whodunit. --- Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2008

    Timothy Dalton 's masterful telling is the selling point for this audiobook

    The Silver Swan is a much faster paced story than the first book in this series, Christine Falls, and more of a true 'murder mystery'. The delight of this series, however, lies not so much with Mr. Black's storytelling skills as it does with Timothy Dalton's vibrant interpretation. Mr. Dalton breathes life into the wide cast of characters, capturing not only their various accents, but their vital essence. From the coarse abortionist Maisie Haddon to the enigmatic and mournful Quirke, Mr. Dalton imbues each character with a distinct personality and makes them instantly recognizable. The Silver Swan is less an audiobook than a movie for the mind thanks to his skilled and masterful vocal talents. I hope as Benjamin Black writes more in this series Mr. Dalton will continue to record them - he injects energy and immediacy into what might otherwise be stories that weigh a reader down with the sheer volume of words and descriptive minutiae.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    Dragonpaw & Silverpaw

    I love those names! Dragonglory and Silverstrike! (Howabout silverglory and dragonstrike or silverfrost dragonfire dragonbreeze dragonice silverfire silverice i like silverglory and dragonstrike) i love your warrior names too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2013

    Shock and Swan

    We picked Shocksword and Swanfeater

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2012


    I like the blast from the past of this series

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  • Posted July 16, 2012


    Good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2010



    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2008

    Black has a knack for detective fiction

    Sex, drugs and murder: a common recipe for detective fiction that can easily become incredibly bland and distastefully redundant. However, Irish author John Banville 'writing under the pen name Benjamin Black' creates a clever and sexy nod to the noir genre with his latest novel The Silver Swan. Set in Dublin and picking up where his previous novel, Christine Falls, left off, Black weaves an engrossing crime story centered around an unlikely suicide and pseudo-detective Quirke, the hard-boiled pathologist with a soft spot for women and booze. After receiving a distressed phone call from his old schoolmate, Billy Hunt, tearfully telling Quirke his wife, Deirdre, has drowned herself, Quirke assumes it¿s business as usual: examine dead body, determine exact cause of death, report findings, case closed. Quirke¿s indelible curiosity is piqued, however, when he discovers that Deirdre did not die of drowning, but an overdose of morphine. Keeping his findings to himself, Quirke decides to go it alone and investigate the mystery of Deirdre¿s death. Through intermittent flashbacks, Deirdre¿s veneer of a normal existence deteriorates quickly as Quirke uncovers the disturbing secrets leading to her untimely demise. Pieces of the puzzle, including Deirdre¿s torrid tryst with the spectrally handsome Leslie White and her questionable involvement with the alluring foreigner Dr. Hakeem Kreutz, slowly slide into place, lifting the shroud of mystery to reveal the shocking truth behind the entire ordeal. Quirke quickly realizes, however, that Deirdre¿s death may not be the only one of the roster as he notices his estranged daughter Phoebe falling into the same destructive circle of acquaintances that once surrounded Deirdre. Black¿s ode to the gritty noir is executed brilliantly through a riveting storyline and vivid, terse writing. Perhaps it¿s from his journalism background working for the Irish Press and the Irish Times, but Black has a knack for illustrating a character or a scene with just enough details to where readers can hear, smell, see, taste and feel the situation or character at hand as opposed to bogging down readers with unnecessary anecdotes and superfluous particulars. Black¿s ability to seamlessly glide in and out of flashbacks is definitely noteworthy given the fact this technique can easily become confusing and jumbled. Gently easing his audience into the sordid and seductive world of Deirdre Hunt, Black lays out early in the novel every clue needed to solve the mystery, challenging readers to put the details in the right order and figure out the sequence of events leading up to Deirdre¿s death. However, herein lies the novel¿s only major flaw. Because Black provides such specific clues, the realm of suspects is severely constrained to a select few. Yet that doesn¿t limit Black from leaving readers in suspense through a series of false endings, ultimately leading to the startling truth. Balancing a gripping murder/mystery plot with the heartbreaking drama of Quirke¿s personal life, The Silver Swan is a masterful addition to detective fiction that will undoubtedly leave readers locked into Quirke¿s Dublin dangers.

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

    Posted August 29, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2010

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    Posted July 22, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2008

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    Posted August 9, 2010

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    Posted April 6, 2009

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    Posted December 6, 2008

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    Posted February 1, 2011

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