Christine Falls (Quirke Series #1)

Christine Falls (Quirke Series #1)

by Benjamin Black

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312426323
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 01/22/2008
Series: Quirke Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 215,755
Product dimensions: 5.53(w) x 8.32(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

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.

Continues...

Excerpted from Christine Falls by Black, Benjamin Copyright © 2007 by Black, Benjamin. Excerpted by permission.
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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.

Discussion Questions

1. "In secret," the author writes, "Quirke prized his loneliness as a mark of some distinction." (pg. 12). What does Quirke's loneliness do for him? How does it make possible what he ultimately accomplishes in the story? Is Quirke's isolation part of what allows him to see the truth about the conspiracy around him?

2. What does Crawford mean when he says to Quirke that America is "the New World," that, "This is the place. God's country." How are Ireland and America treated differently in the novel? How do these portrayals relate to the current America and Ireland?

3. Do the revelations about Quirke, Phoebe, and what he knew about their relationship change your perception of how he treated her earlier in the novel? Why do you think Quirke kept the secret so long of who her parents were? Was it the right decision?

4. Early in the novel, Quirke is thinking about his late wife Delia: "Perhaps he had cared for her more than

he knew, had cared for what she was, that is, and not just what she had been to him." How do these two different

types of caring come into play for other characters in the novel? Do you think they are always distinct

from each other? Are some people capable only of one or the other?

5. What do you think of the overall portrait of the Catholic Church that emerges from the novel? Did you find the conspiracy plausible? Did you feel sympathy for the nuns, the Staffords, and other less powerful figures who were complicit in it?

6. Consider the difference between Quirke's early childhood, first in a brutal orphanage and then in an adoptive home, and Mal's, as the natural-born son of a wealthy father who loved him less than his brother. How do you think their respective childhoods can be connected to the decisions they make in their relationships in this story?

7. What role does social class play in the novel?

8. Why do you think Quirke sleeps with Rose? Is she right when she tells him, "You're more like me than your precious Sarah. A cold heart and a hot soul…"?

9. What do you think drew Quirke and Sarah together initially? Do you think they were better off for having stayed apart throughout the years, despite an acknowledged love for each other?

10. Quirke realizes midway through the novel that as "Mr. Punch and fat Judy" were beating him, the prospect of his own death was insignificant, that "he had thought he was going to die and was surprised at how little he feared the prospect." Is this is a sign of bravery in Quirke, or despair, or both? Do you think his own life matters more or less to him by the end of the novel?

11. At the end of chapter 28 a nun says to Quirke, "From the little I've seen of you, you're a good man, if only you knew it." Do you agree with her assessment? What does she mean by, "if only you knew it." Would knowing it change his behavior?

12. What do you imagine happening after the end of the book? How will Quirke's relationship to his family evolve, including to Sarah and Phoebe? Have the events in this story made him a happier man, a better man? Or have they changed him for the worse?

Interviews

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

Customer Reviews

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Christine Falls (Quirke Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
GG1000 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written; descriptions do not slow down the story.
GriffsPal More than 1 year ago
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.
Persuasion_33 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
PrairieSpy More than 1 year ago
'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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Lman on LibraryThing 29 days ago
How impressive - a crime novel brimming with imagery so vivid that, at times, the smells evoked assaulted my senses; and with such clarity of words, that, at other times, I found myself, almost unwillingly, witnessing events as if first-hand!Set in the 1950s, Christine Falls follows the consequences after pathologist Quirke, retreating quite drunk from a hospital party one night, encounters his brother-in-law, obstetrician Malachy Griffin, out of place, in his office, altering the findings in a report. From some subconscious depth, due to an intrinsic 'quirk' of personality, much like a snow-ball effect, Quirke becomes helplessly, uncharacteristically, ensnared in the circumstances of this particular case; the death of Christine Falls. The more he delves, the more his family becomes entangled in the investigation; and the deeper he delves, the further the convoluted familial relationships between so many impact; until a web of corruption of a society from Dublin to Boston becomes unravelled.This is a sordid tale crammed with condemnable incidents ¿ from the abject to the inexcusable ¿ and with no character left unsoiled. The satisfaction is in the mundane but detailed observances and reactions the author deftly applies, to each situation and to all the participants, offering such interesting distinctions and descriptions that they fascinate and repulse simultaneously. There are times when the reader knows more than Quirke; times when Quirke is not at all forthcoming to the reader; and times, it must be said, that happenstances occur a little too neatly.Amongst all this Benjamin Black masterfully builds the persona of Quirke, whose attributes and true character, so long buried beneath a whiskey bottle, reluctantly surface as Christine `falls¿ into his domain; Quirke¿s life is the real story, perhaps even crime, here. A big man, often uncomfortable in his surroundings, unable to fully reconcile his past, purposely disregarding much of it, his story remains unfinished; his ending to-date untidy, his indifference returning to haunt him in the bleakness of his world, a world very different from today.Still, there is much to like about Quirke in this book and much more to narrate. As the crimes themselves are revealed so too is Mr Quirke. Who knows, maybe, in time we will even elicit his first name ¿ telling, that omission of one word amongst a veritable feast of others. Perfect, a further mystery to unfold.
lmedgerton on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Christine Falls introduces the Irish pathologist, Quirke, who in 1950s Ireland and Boston is confronted with his "robber baron" father-in-law's God-like manipulation of life. Quirke is compelled to unravel this mystery and finds that he cannot avoid his past , however much he would like to, while it does it.I found Christine Falls very riveting and will be looking for more installments in Quirke's story.
reader517 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
This atmospheric mystery set in 1950s Dublin begins with a pathologist finding his doctor brother-in-law altering the records of a recently deceased young woman in the morgue. Although the aptly named Quirke has his own problems, including being a little too fond of whiskey and his late wife¿s sister, he can¿t let go of the mystery of the dead woman and her connection to his family, even when his search leads to more death and violence.Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville, here writing as Benjamin Black, offers up a cleverly plotted if leisurely crime novel written in dark, elegant prose that is an absolute pleasure to read. But beyond the beautiful writing, a big satisfaction of the book comes from getting to know the laconic Quirke, a great bear of a man shambling through the wreckage of his life.Christine Falls is the first of a Quirke series, which is good news for mystery readers who like their UK detectives brooding loners with inner demons. (Think a more morose Morse, a dourer Dalgliesh.) Quirke joins their ranks as a misfit crimesolver with scruples¿and secrets.
tangential1 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
This book was a major disappointment. The jacket synopsis, as well as all the publicized reviews, screamed "thriller!" very blatantly, but that was not what this book was; quite the opposite, actually. As another reviewer said, this is more a dramatic character study than a mystery, let alone a thriller. There was absolutely nothing thrilling about it.The pace of the story was very sedate and I found myself wondering "who cares?" through most of it. The mystery that is presented definitely takes the back seat to the main character's morose thoughts and preoccupations, which was rather unfortunate because I really couldn't bring myself to care about him. Nor could I sympathize with any of the secondary characters; I found most of them rather grating. Don't care about the mystery, don't care about the characters; why am I still reading this?I imagine this might have been a better read had I gone into it with the clear expectation that it was going to be a character study and not a thriller. As it was, I was annoyed at having been roped in by a lie. I found the pace frustrating an the entire resolution very convoluted. I definitely won't be putting myself through the torture that would be the sequel.
twryan72 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
I listened to this book on audio and found it dark and suspenseful. It lost a little steam at the end..but the writing was really gritty...good characters....liked the Dublin setting....good listen.
mcfitz on LibraryThing 29 days ago
I have very mixed feelings about this book and found writing this review more difficult than expected. I won't repeat what the other reviewers have already written about the book, as they've described it more than adequately to give a potential reader the what, where and when of the story.I began reading the book with the expectation of a crime drama/mystery but it quickly turned into character study. The interaction between people was very interesting and the dialog moved along at a good pace. However, I disliked most of the characters, and even Quirke, the "anti-hero," was barely agreeable. His rat terrier attitude toward the mystery was questionable, as well; why was he so interested in the possible crime in the first place? His career as a pathologist seemed very promising at the beginning -- CSI, anyone? -- but it had very little to do with the story.Throughout the story, the theme of Catholic tyranny ran strong. Orphanages, a home for unwed mothers, convents and the nuns and priests themselves were constant targets. The Protestant versus Catholic issue was present, of course. Since the story was set mainly in 1950's Ireland, this was not a surprise, but I think Americans might not appreciate the deep-set religious enmity of some Irish that this represents.The structure the author chose worked well for the book, jumping between two stories in very different locations with very distinct characters, tied together by a single thread. Without spoilers, I will say the two threads did eventually converge. The book was quite slow throughout the first three quarters for me -- I kept wondering when something was going to actually happen -- but the final stretch picked up.The author has an incredible descriptive ability; I could almost smell the cigarette smoke that prevailed in each 'film noir' scene while the damp, chilly weather made me shiver. The atmosphere was often described in detail so exact that I could fully relate to the scene. This was the real strength of the book, in my opinion, and one I admire tremendously.Overall, the book was not an enjoyable read for me. I found the themes depressing, the atmosphere dark, and the characters unlikable, and I must feel more empathy for characters to enjoy a story. The writing itself was wonderful, however, especially the "literary illustrations." I would definitely look for the author again, if not in this genre.
jfurshong on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Admittedly I am an unusual reader. Years ago I decided to upgrade my shotgun approach to reading and have worked my way through the Pulitzers, Bookers and the National Book prize lists just to name a few. I also love mysteries, mostly focused on international writers and foreign locales. What an interesting twist to come across Christine Falls by Benjamin Black. Interesting because Christine Falls is a mystery and Benjamin Black is the nom de plume of Booker award winning author John Banville. In 1981 Banville received the Booker (now the Man Booker) for Kepler. Set in the 16th century Kepler is an accounting of the life of the astronomer Johannes Kepler and his struggle to pursue his scientific discoveries in a world rampant with political intrigue and religious strife. Much more recently, in 2005, Banville received the Man Booker for the second time for The Sea, a strikingly different novel. Returning to the seaside village where as a young man he encountered a family that profoundly shaped him, a middle-aged man grieves the death of his wife. Both novels are intricate, layered and perhaps a little mannered.Christine Falls has all the attributes of the Man Booker winning novels, but is an even greater departure in genre, style and tone. Successful mysteries must contain all of the staples: a suspicious death, an engaging detective, seemingly overwhelming odds against solving the crime and carefully sprinkled clues, like crumbs in the forest, eventually leading to the murderer. Imagine all of this being by accomplished by an author who brings the level of mystery writing to that of literature.Setting is a key element of a good mystery and Dublin in the 1950s feels as atmospheric as Paris in the war years. Quirke, a pathologist, discovers his physician brother-in-law tampering with the body of a murder victim. Like all admirable, and often unwilling detectives, Quirke has a personal history and a set of circumstances that work against him and he pursues the truth despite the opposition of the Catholic Church and men in power in Dublin and in Irish circles in America. Black¿s writing is elegant and it powers a story line that takes hold early and doesn¿t let go until the final pages. Characters are sharply drawn and react and interact in ways that make sense while still providing surprise and suspense. As a reader I experienced a satisfying mystery and a fine novel within the pages of one volume.Unless Banville wins another award I am not likely to read another mainstream novel by him. But the good news is that Christine Falls is the first in a series of Quirke novels and I am eagerly awaiting the next additon. Oddly enough, and despite the recognition of the literary cognescenti, Benjamin Black is a much better writer than John Banville.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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