Benjamin Black is a pseudonym for Irish author John Banville. In addition to receiving high critical acclaim for his complex metaphors and intricate literary allusions, Banville, who has been compared to such illustrious Irish authors as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, is highly regarded for his experimental prose style that oftentimes presents a series of interwoven narratives to unravel an intricate plot instead of the more traditional chronological linear form. For instance, his The Sea (2005), which deals with an aging man’s attempt to forget his present unpleasant circumstances by escaping into the past, simultaneously and seamlessly interweaves the protagonist Max’s childhood, midlife, and old age. In Christine Falls, Banville successfully tries his hand at murder and similarly manages to interweave his characters’ past behavior and the subsequent problems that have presently come to fruition. The author plans future noir fiction titles featuring Dr. Garret Quirke under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, a name particularly appropriate for an author of noir fiction.
Noir fiction has increased dramatically in Ireland thanks to the country’s changing social landscape since joining the European Union. Referred to as the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s new prosperity accompanies a correlating increase in crime and violence, and this intersection of wealth, crime, and subsequent fear has given rise to a new literary genre called Irish noir, a blending of American-style hard-boiled mystery crime fiction from the early twentieth century school of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but set within twenty-first century Irish locales such as dark and shadowy Dublin. (The Gaelic dubh linn means “dark pool.”)
Set in the dreary Roman Catholic Dublin of the 1950’s, Christine Falls, a classic hard-boiled detective novel, is, as the title suggests, a tale of a fallen women who dies from complications after giving birth to an illegitimate child and ends up in the morgue of antihero pathologist Garret Quirke. Quirke, whose name when sounded gives insight into the physician’s basic personality, examines Christine Falls’s corpse at the ironically named Holy Family Hospital, but before he can determine the cause of her death, he passes out drunk and wakes to find that the young woman’s body has disappeared. Even more disturbing, Quirke remembers the night before seeing his adopted brother Mal Griffin, a popular obstetrician, altering the death certificate of Falls, who used to work in the Griffin household. After he manages to reclaim the corpse, Quirke learns that the death resulted from complications associated with childbirth, instead of Mal’s claim of a pulmonary embolism. He also wonders what has happened to the unwed mother’s baby. Readers should keep in mind that while the idea of a woman giving birth out of wedlock today brings nothing more than a shrug in many social circles, in 1950’s Ireland giving birth to an illegitimate baby was considered deplorable and resulted in condemnation by the Church and the social ostracizing of both mother and child.
At this point, Quirke, who at 6 feet 5 inches stands very tall and thin among Dublin’s dark denizens, takes on the role of sleuth and begins investigating the mysterious life of Falls. An orphan himself, Quirke was adopted by the prestigious Judge Garret Griffin and feels a personal need to find Falls’s baby and to discover the identity of the child’s father. In this attempt, he investigates the dark underlayers of the city, its pubs and brothels and less-than-savory neighborhoods, where he hopes to gain the assurance that her child is still alive. McGonagle’s pub produces a particularly vile line of charactersdrunken, toothless, and unwashedbut who are more than willing to provide information for the right price and, in a particularly Kafkaesque scene, to serve up a brutal beating when Quirke gets too close to the truth, which he figures must involve a man of authority and...
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