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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
There's been a bit of debate about the Benjamin Black books and whether they really count as detective novels, because they are written by Booker Prize-winning Irish author John Banville, and it's clear that he doesn't really feel the need to follow the crime thriller textbook structure to the letter.

Far from finding this annoying, though, I absolutely loved it. The book has a dark feel to it, with subcurrents of drug addiction, spiritual healing and sexual jealousy that are powerful and dramatic. Set in Dublin in the 1950s the book has such a strong flavour of a past long gone. I love the main character of Quirke, who is a tired pathologist with a drinking habit he's fighting to control and a past full of mistakes and wrong turns. And other characters reoccur from the first novel as well, in a satisfying way.

Banville is a great, great writer, and there's such a control in what he writes; every sentence is perfectly balanced and every scene I could see exactly in my head. This book has the same sense of controlled menace as there is in his best novels. I loved it, despite its profoundly melancholy atmosphere, and I would very very much recommend it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Incurably curious pathologist Quirke is back, in John Banville's second novel written as Benjamin Black. It's two years since the events of Christine Falls, and Quirke has given up the drink. He and his daughter aren't on good terms, his step-father's suffered a severe stroke, and his step-brother's lonely and mourning the death of his wife. A bleak picture in 50's Dublin, then. Things threaten to become even more interesting when Billy Hunt, an old school-friend Quirke barely remembers, calls him and asks a favour: his wife has been found drowned, a suspected suicide, and could Quirke please see that an autopsy is not performed. Billy can't bear the thought of his wife body under the pathologist's scalpel. Quirke, being Quirke, agrees but does one anyway after he notices a suspicious mark on the dead woman's skin. It seems he is right to be suspicious, but all that he finds only begs more questions, questions Quirke begins to worry away at, slowly picking his way through a puzzle of drugs, messy finances, and adultery, to reveal the answer.

It's possible that Banville is the best writer at work in the genre at the moment, in terms of artfulness at least. His prose is simply brilliant, gorgeous and evocative and poetic. The sentences he writes stun, the descriptions of the people and the city seem lovingly penned. However, there are moments when you get the sense he's working on autopilot with these books. Every now and then, a clunker, which would never happen in a book written under the real name. I read somewhere that he writes them very quickly, and if you were to compare the writing here to the writing in, for example, The Sea, I can certainly believe that. If his writing is this good when he's not even really trying, if he were to spend the time on a crime novel that he spends on a normal piece of fiction, imagine the result!

Quirke is a stunning character, too. Troubled, determined, dogged, melancholy, tee-total here, Banville furnishes him with dimension and makes him fascinating with absolute ease. The characterisation of Quirke alone is reason enough to read the series. As would be the atmosphere of the novel: vaguely sordid, repressed, a little desperate, dark, with everything seeming sinister.

Though only area where Banville is less than brilliant is the plotting. Christine Falls was a little too predictable in this department, though with a brilliant end. The plot of The Silver Swan is actually quite simple, but Banville moves it along at a perfect pace and this time ensures that there's enough the reader doesn't know to keep them interested in that department. There are no great shocks (there are, after all, only about three scenarios which could prove to be the truth), but it's all developed excellently. There's no punch at the end as there was with the last novel, but the whole thing is more satisfying over all. I can't wait for the next from the Benjamin Black pen... (Apparently called The Lemur, and to be serialised in The New York Times...)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2014
Compared to many contemporary crime fiction novels, which have a relatively quick pace and are packed with melodrama or dramatic action, The Silver Swan is quite sedate. Benjamin Black’s (John Banville) style is understated, atmospheric drama, told with a steady cadence of unfussy prose. It is well suited to portraying the drab city streets of Dublin and the conservative and reserved society of Ireland in the 1950s and its hidden, seedy underbelly. The book hinges on two events that at first seemed unlikely: Quirke’s decision to lie about an autopsy and his withdrawn and distant daughter taking up with the victim’s flamboyant business partner. However, the first makes some sense when placed into the context of Ireland in the 1950s, when suicide carried significant stigma, and the second works well in terms of introducing a certain edge to what is generally a quite a flat story. The plot is nicely set out and the characters well drawn, with Quirke a reticent, taciturn and troubled investigator. Overall, a tale that takes a different path to most crime fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2014
Extremely well written. Interesting and well drawn characters. I have now read all the Quirke books but rather stupidly not in the order in which they were written. I would strongly recommend new readers to read them in sequence although they make good reading as stand alone volumes. Atmospheric, quite slow in pace but the writing in the 'slow bits' is so good that my attention and interest never flagged. For those who don't know Quirke is a Dublin pathologist with a serious drink problem, a weakness for the ladies and, above all, an insatiable curiosity which gets him into all sorts of trouble.
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on 14 July 2014
Could such a naive, incompetent and terminally stupid drunk as Quirke really hold down a responsible job as a pathologist? I do not know enough about 1950s Dublin to form an opinion, but maybe his family connections would be enough to carry him through. A text-book case for status inconsistency theory? Black does not even allow us the comfort of having Quirke's heart in the right place - he is not driven by a burning sense of justice or compassion, just an insatiable and often destructive personal curiosity.

If we can accept this weird, dim-witted anti-hero, this book is very well written and engaging. The plot construction is also weird though. I will try to avoid a spoiler, but I find it hard to see that any reasonably intelligent reader would fail to tumble what is going on during the first chapter. The bulk of the book is then about Quirke bumbling about stupidly failing to see the blindingly obvious. Entertaining and reasonable enough so far. But then we get to the penultimate chapter and the author seems to think he is delivering a big reveal. Does he think his readers are as stupid as Quirke? Or does he think that, after so long viewing the world through Quirke's un-focused eyes, we'll have forgotten the first chapter?

But the atmospheric evocation of place and character carry this well written book.
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The second in the Quirke series of 1950s Dublin crime novels, this more than lives up to the promise of the first: “Christine Falls”. There is a strong sense of period if rather less of place. Black relies a great deal on a litany of street names and other references to establish Dublin.

The real quality lies in the characterisation, the texture of the writing and the skilfully woven plot. In many respects the books are as much about the central characters as the crimes with which they become engaged. Quirke is a fascinating conundrum of strengths and weaknesses, set off by his assistant Sinclair and the stolid but by no means stupid, Inspector Hackett. Even more fascinating and likeable is his daughter, Phoebe, who lacks the rancour that might justifiably colour her view of her father. Perhaps, of all the books to date, this is the one that focuses most closely on complex family relationships. It is none the worse for that but in tandem comes a cleverly worked out plot that holds our attention in itself.

Few crime writers can match Black’s literary style, even if it is at times over-elaborated. As John Banville, his novel “The Sea” won literary acclaim but a mixed public reaction. Here, without doubt it seems to me, Black/Banville has found his niche.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 October 2008
Having loved Christine Falls, I'd been waiting eagerly for the follow-up. Maybe it didn't have the same novelty value, but I found it a much less satisfying read. The main problem is that it's so relentlessly grim and most of the principal characters are unlikeable and hard to care about. Quirke's daughter Phoebe is especially hard work.

The story proceeds in a plodding way, following parallel strands: in one, Quirke investigates, in the most desultory way possible, the death of a woman in an apparent suicide; in the second, we follow the woman's last few weeks to her death.

This book seemed to have less detail about Dublin in the 50s: the heavy drinking, the endless smoking, the priest-ridden hypocrisy. I found it quite easy to put down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2014
This is the second book in this series that I have read.Good well paced thrillers,enjoying them
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2014
Great book. Excellent TV series! For once it reflected the book very well. Well worth a read!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The world of Benjamin Black (aka Booker Prize-winning author John Banville) is a bleak and cynical one.

So it's rather unsurprising that "The Silver Swan" is a bleak and cynical murder mystery, full of secrets, dark streets and loneliness. The second book about the ironically-named ex-alcoholic pathologist Quirke is a pretty depressing affair, but the tangled relationships do make it a bit harder to identify just who dunnit.

An old classmate of Quirke's comes to him for help -- his wife Dierdre was just found dead at the bottom of a sea cliff, and he's begging for a little understanding and help. But when Quirke does a postmortem, he spies a needle mark on Dierdre's arm -- and though he's unsure of whether it was murder, suicide or an accident, he begins poking into the life she was living before she died.

To make matters worse, his perpetually estranged, chilly daughter Phoebe has become involved with Leslie White, a seductively foppish hairdresser who was also Dierdre's partner in business -- and, Quirke finds, the bedroom. His investigations lead him to a smarmy "spiritual healer" and White's ex-wife, who are pieces in a murderous puzzle...

Do not expect the sunny quirky Ireland of "Waking Ned Devine," or the quaintly modern land of certain chick-lit novels. The Ireland of "Silver Swan" is a determinedly bleak place -- dark, grimy, sunless, where people drink and have sex to forget the miserable emptiness of their lives. Every loved one dies, leaving the remaining people counting down the days until they themselves die.

But while Black's prose starts off rather stilted and spare, he hits his stride a few chapters in -- full of nuanced details and atmospheric little descriptions ("...until at last there should be nothing of her left but a hair's-breadth outline sketched from a few black and silver lines"). Everything takes on the cynical edge of a reminiscence, so that even a shocking crime seems weary and painful.

As for the mystery itself, it's told half in Quirke's meandering inquiries -- he sort of pokes and prods around here and there, unearthing clues. But we get more of a glimpse into the past than he does, via chapters from Dierdre's point of view -- we see the men who enthralled her, used her, and may have murdered her. Pretty creepy stuff.

And the characters, like the prose, are sad outlines. Quirke, as always, is anything but quirky. He's still haunted by a past of lost loves and alcoholism, but he pays more attention to his present problems -- his estrangement from his daughter, and his love life -- than he did before. Phoebe is less striking, mainly because she's so determined to look and act a dried-up spinster.

"The Silver Swan" is a bleak desert of motives and maybe-murders, painted in dark words by a very talented author. But if you feel depressed, then don't touch this book with a ten foot pole.
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