Posted on | April 10, 2012 | Comments Off
I haven’t done one of these in a while. Let’s put that to rights.
Regular readers may know that I have quite a liking for John Banville’s work. I haven’t read a Banville book that I didn’t like. Personally, I’ve always considered that there wasn’t a literary foot that Banville could put wrong.
But this is Benjamin Black…
Benjamin Black: The worst-kept secret identity ever. Seriously, Clark Kent pops on some specs and nobody suspects he’s Superman but the Banville-Black connection was the talk of the remotest group of yurts in deepest, coldest Siberia. Incidentally, there are those who are annoyed by the perceived snobbishness of a ‘proper, literary’ author employing a pseudonym to write something as base as some genre, detective-style fiction. While I can concede this to an extent, it wasn’t really something that worried me. I came to Christine Falls with only my usual Banville-Is-Great preconceptions.
For me, though, Benjamin Black, isn’t Banville.
Christine Falls is a dead girl. She died under mysterious circumstances and the novel’s hero, Quirke is a pathologist who finds himself caught up in cover-ups and violence as he tries to unravel the secrets behind her death. This thing goes all the way to the top, to the top of something, that’s for sure.
The book is set, for the most part, in 1950′s Dublin and it’s all drawn quite believably. The atmosphere is thickly coloured throughout—I could smell the smoke and booze in a way I haven’t since the heady, stinky, days before smoking in pubs was banned.
From time to time, however, the action moves to Boston and it was here that my main problem with Christine Falls was most evident.
That problem is that it all feels too hard-boiled. It feels like the dark and sleazy, noir, detective thing is too forced. For me, that seemed most apparent for me in the scenes set in the U.S. but it ran through the book. Dare I use the word cliché? In Dublin, a hard-drinking (too hard) pathologist hero who’s lost his wife and is in love with someone else’s? In Boston, a hard-talking, hard-fighting, hard-loving truck-driver who loves a beer and dreams the American Dream? A tough-as-nails old woman with a heart of gold who helps fallen women? A prissy, couldn’t-be-more-different brother? Etc.
I couldn’t get into it. I kept getting pulled out by the bloody, hard-bitten, tough-bastardness of the thing. Even the hero’s (adoptive) father calls him Quirke, for Christ’s sake. I kept waiting for Quirke to arm-wrestle Sam Spade—winner gets a small figurine of a bird.
Hard-boiled Banville is not for me, I’m afraid. That said, many seem to disagree so go for it if it sounds like your cup of tea (pun intended). For my money, if you want some ‘crime-fiction’ (in that it’s fiction about a crime) from Banville, you’ll stick with the sublime The Book Of Evidence.
Now I have to figure out what to do with the second Benjamin Black novel that I pre-bought.