I enjoyed this book, although I do have my reservations about it. Set in Ireland in the 1950s, pathologist Quirke investigates two deaths in two families who together own and run a large business. This is the fifth in the Quirke series and it helps to have read some of the earlier ones although it isn't essential.
The plot, frankly, is slight and predictable and anyone familiar with crime fiction will spot most of what is coming from an early stage. Although not as floridly literary as when he is writing under his own name, Banville's underlying interests are the same: insights into how character works and rich evocation of time, place and the internal lives of his characters. He succeeds well with all of that here; my reservations are mainly that I didn't feel that this was quite enough to carry the book with so little interesting plot. Personally, I don't find Quirke a terribly interesting character so having his thoughts and behaviour as the central theme of the book didn't really work for me, and Inspector Hackett, who I found a wonderful creation in the previous book, scarcely gets a look-in here. However, there is enough in other characters to hold the interest and I found I wanted to see how things turned out.
I suspect that readers looking for a good crime thriller will be a bit disappointed, but fans of Banville will love this. It's not a gripping read, but recommended nonetheless as a thoughtful and contemplative one with a good deal of interest.
This, the fifth in the Quirke series, more than lives up to the virtues of its predecessors. In fact, I think it is my favourite so far. Certainly, there is no sign of Black running out of steam yet.
Here, the action centres on a family feud and business rivalry, but once again it is less a burning sense of suspense than the texture of the writing and the lives of the three central, permanent characters that rivet attention. Against the background of 1950s Dublin – the time if not perhaps the place – is sharply realised, and becomes almost an additional character. The plot is skilfully handled, but our attention is every bit as much focused on the lives and relationships of Quirke, himself, his daughter Phoebe and his foil, the phlegmatic but sharp Inspector Hackett.
As I write I think I have only one novel in this series left to read. I savour the prospect and hope that Black is hard at work on the seventh. I find Quirke one of the most engaging of crime novel detectives.
The Quirke books are a curious series: John Banville is more famous as a literary novelist and he brings all his powers of evocative description and sense of place to his second identity as a crime writer. Vengeance tells the story of two families linked by business concerns who are so dysfunctional that there is wonderful potential for horrid goings on. A suicide, then a murder - all brilliantly described.
The book takes turns describing events from different characters' points of view, which immediately breaks a crime novel convention - but your knowledge of what actually happened increases with beautiful slowness, utterly loyal to the tradition of the genre. Banville is particularly good at capturing people and their tiny tics - there's a moment in this novel where he describes a woman is feeling utterly short-tempered with a friend, then snaps at her but immediately puts on a smile hoping to soften the impression of her ill-temper... The woman's character is totally defined by this one detail and these sorts of things are wonderfully caught throughout.
In fact a layer of Irish society - for all I know, completely fictional - is totally evoked in these novels, and no less in this new one. These people are upper-class, odd, rather grand, spend money and don't really generate it - they rarely relate to one another in any human way.. Glamorous women dot the books, and are described in loving detail right down to every item of their outfits and their toenail varnish. It reminds me a lot of hard-boiled noir in a way.
But this is not a conventional crime novel, that's the important thing to know. There's a lot more emphasis on colour, flavour, personality, than on narrative. If you buy it expecting the normal twists and turns of a modern crime novel I think you could be disappointed. But for capturing a family so dysfunctional that murder could occur in their ranks, I think he deserves full marks.
So happy to have just learned that Man Booker Prize winner John Banville (who writes under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) will write a new Philip Marlowe novel to be published next year. Yes, in an agreement with the estate of Marlowe's creator Raymond Chandler Banville aka Black will reprise the fellow who has been called the hardest of hard-boiled private detectives.
While I have to wait until next year for that I'm now savoring the pleasure found in Vengeance, the fifth novel in Black's popular Quirke series. Quirke, consultant pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family, is a far cry from Marlowe but every bit as fascinating. He drinks far too much, easily beds women when so inclined, isn't much of a father but when Inspector Hackett has a case making him feel "like a monkey with a coconut and no stone to crack it on." he turns to Quirke. And the pathologist is easy to find - "perched at the bar in his usual spot....a glass of Jameson's at his elbow."
The case that so puzzles Hackett involves the death, an apparent suicide, of Victor Delahaye. If it was suicide it was surely an odd way to go about it. Delahaye, an accomplished sailor, takes Davy Clancy, the son of his business partner, out for a sail. Davy dislikes water but believed he could not reject Delahaye's invitation. After going out a fair way and engaging in very little conversation save for a story about how his father thought to teach him self-reliance, Delahaye pulls out a pistol and shoots himself. Knowing absolutely nothing about boats Davy is left at sea in more ways than one.
Delahaye's suicide is a conundrum for all as his garage business is doing well, he has recently married a young, beautiful woman, Mona, and is a well placed member of Dublin society. When Delahaye's partner and Davy's father, Jack, is also found dead it becomes clear that something is very much amiss, but what? It's up to Hackett and Quirke to untangle the lies and deceit in which the Delahayes and Clancys have hidden themselves.
In addition to being a terrific whodunit Vengeance is gloriously atmospheric, rife with the sights and sounds of 1950s Dublin. It's another winner for Benjamin Black!
on 31 July 2012
"Vengeance" is the fifth in the excellent Quirke series by Benjamin Black, the second brand of John Banville.
Black's series is set in a highly atmospheric re-creation of the upper tier of 1950s Dublin, "an archaic world of mysteries and strange laws, strange rituals and taboos." Dr Quirke is the city pathologist. Like Banville's own protagonists he is an intelligent, rather louche man who is not comfortable in his skin and who constantly dwells on his many past mistakes, missed opportunities and flawed relationships. He battles the Drink, which in this episode he embraces without losing control. He has a penchant to go beyond his official remit to investigate the crimes that brought him his customers. He is encouraged to do so by the canny Inspector Hackett who recognizes that his more socially polished friend has access that he lacks.
"Vengeance" revolves around two violent deaths at sea, one each from the Delahaye and Clancy families. These two clans are in business together, though the Protestant (rather than dissenter, odd for Northern commercial stock) Delahayes appear to hold the upper hand over the Catholic Clancys, one more twist in the society of those times. Quirke encounters members of three generations of both houses, begins to unravel their secrets, and becomes closer than he ought with one of the widows. His daughter also gets involved, and various characters from previous books in the series re-appear.
"Vengeance" proceeds at a ruminative pace with not much torque in the plot. This is more than compensated by the sparkle of the writing, the insights into human nature and the marvelous creation of mood that make for an altogether satisfactory work.
I read "Vengeance" in close sequence to "Ancient Light." Banville's latest under his premium brand. There are indeed two different literary voices. "Black" is more direct and explains more to his readers, though without writing down. He employs more dialogue, fewer literary allusions and no postmodern literary tricks. The writing in both is superb, as is the characterization. In the end, I slightly preferred the Black version - the straight forward, third person treatment of the central character is more satisfying than Banville's tendency to write through slightly over the top literary personae, such as Alex Cleave, in his "serious" work.
Banville/Black's two voices are mutually reinforcing and should broaden one another's readerships - as should the prospective television series featuring Gabriel Byrne as Dr Quirke.
This novel is set in Ireland in the area around Cork and is about two families, the Delahayes and the Clancys. They have jointly owned a business for many years, although it has always been clear that power lay with the Delahayes, in particular with Victor, whose father founded the firm. The senior Clancy, Jack, is merely `Second Boss', although in practice he runs the business on a day-to-day basis. It starts with a bang, quite literally, when Victor takes Jack's son Davy, a reluctant sailor, out in his boat. After telling him a story about how his father had abandoned him in a shop when he was a young child to `teach him self reliance', Victor produces a revolver and shoots himself. Davy is not a sailor, and the following day the boat is found drifting with him badly sunburned.
Enter Detective Hackett and his friend, the inquisitive pathologist Dr Quirke. Both are intrigued by the suicide, but despite the fact that Davy inexplicably threw the gun overboard, his story is believed, and so the mystery is: why did Victor kill himself? The plot gets more complicated when a second death occurs. Jack Clancy is discovered washed up on a beach and his boat is found on a sandbank. He has a serious head wound and the boat has been holed, so it looks as if the death was a murder and has to be connected with the suicide.
Hackett and Quirke start to delve into the relationships in the two families with their complex mix of characters. As they probe deeper they find a mass of resentments, sexual tensions, frustrated ambition and a financial scandal, but do any on these provide a motive for murder? Eventually, a mixture of intuition by Hackett and a piece of good luck by Quirke enables them to break an apparently watertight alibi and solve the murder,and at the same time reveal the complicated reasons why Victor Delahaye committed suicide.
This is the fifth in the series of thrillers featuring the pathologist Dr Quirke, but not having read any of the others, I came new to it. Although it features a stock character, a pathologist with a somewhat flawed personal life, working with a detective friend, I found the rather old-fashioned plot about conflicts within and between families a pleasant contrast to many modern thrillers, with their sustained violence, drugs etc, and the rural Ireland setting is original and ideal. The characters are very well described and in sufficient detail to appreciate their relationships with each other. In fact, the writing is excellent throughout, as one would expect from this distinguished Booker prize-winning author.
Set in around a Dublin of the 1950s this is an atmospheric and haunting novel. The story centres around the Delahaye and Clancy families, and in particular Victor Delahaye and Jack Clancy who are business partners and prominent citizens. The first half of the story concentrates on the relationship and rivalry between the two families, and tragedy is not far away. First Victor takes his business partner's son Davy out sailing, but this is no ordinary trip. Davy hates the sea and is not a very good sailor, but it appears that Victor has an ulterior motive. When well away from sight and sound of the shore and following a conversation with Davy, Victor takes out a gun and shoots himself, with Davy as the only witness. But this is not the only mystery. Inspector Hackett and Dr Quirke then become involved, but only in a fairly small way. In fact once the story develops it is Dr Quirke who becomes more and more involved with Inspector Hackett playing only a peripheral part. Having been 'on the wagon' for a while, circumstances lead Quirke to start drinking again (but not to excess), and his eye for a pretty face means he becomes loosely involved with one woman he would have been better advised to steer clear of. Although slow in starting, give the story a chance for it becomes more intriguing as time passes. Whatever the reader's suspicions might be as to 'who dun it' nothing can prepare that reader for the final revelation. Most enjoyable and a jolly good read.
on 25 October 2012
'Vengeance' is another accomplished and extremely enjoyable addition to John Banville's ongoing series of crime fiction writing as Benjamin Black, and featuring his protagonist Dr Quirke.
This particular story centres on Quirk and Inspector Hackett becoming embroiled in the complex lives of two families, where long-standing tensions simmer under the surface. The book has all the usual reference points of jealousy, money, murder and lust that has run throughout this series.
I find Banville's depiction of 1950s Dublin very beautiful and evocative, and Dr Quirke is extremely well developed in the tradition of the magnetic, but flawed, hero. I still wonder when this enjoyable series will finally be adapted for television (personally, I see Brendan Gleeson in the lead role).
If you are new to Banville's "Benjamin Black" books, then my advice would be to start at the beginning - as many of the key characters are reoccurring, and themes from the earlier books often re-emerged. But if you enjoy extremely well written and entertaining crime fiction, then Dr Quirk is highly recommend!
This is the 5th book in the Quirke series - however this is my 1st & it was possible to read & enjoy it without having read the others. (Having said that I have now just read Elegy for April - the 3rd in the series & will go on to read the others).
I enjoyed this book - is goes at a slow, measured pace to get to a solution - it is not a "wham bang" action thriller.
Dr. Quirke is a pathologist is 1950s Dublin & the strange events involving 2 families capture his attention and that of Inspector Hackett.
The Delahaye family & the Clancy family have been involved in business for several generations. At the beginning of the novel Victor Delahaye & Davy Clancy go out sailing .... Victor takes out a gun and shoots himself dead .......
I went to Dublin in the 1980s ... I think the feel of Dublin is very much here in the book.
Quirke himself is a very flawed character & the "back story" of his earlier life is interesting & strange - to get the full picture I think I must read the rest of the series.
A successful business man invites his business partner's son out on a boat trip - and commits suicide - leaving the young man to fend for himself at sea. Dr Quirke is intrigued by this action and even more so when he meets the two families whose relationship goes back generations yet their lives have turned out very differently.
"The Delahayes were a formidable clan, as were the Clancys in their different way, and to have married them was to be devoured, or as good as"
The book is well written and I think the author portrays the time period and location very well. I did feel that too much time was spent initially on repeating the history between the two families and the fact that one of them had the upper hand throughout, but about 2/3 in the story came to life and I enjoyed the last third very much.
Dr Quirke is an interesting - if not particularly sympathetic - character. There is much said between the lines in this series and little action, but a nice read for a Sunday afternoon.