DIG TWO GRAVES,
This review is from: Vengeance (Quirke Mysteries) (Hardcover)
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"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.