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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Vengeance: Quirke Mysteries Book 5
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on 8 March 2017
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on 13 July 2017
Superbly written, an atmospheric evocation of 1950s Dublin. Reccommended!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 July 2017
Benjamin Black, the Man Booker Prize-winning author, John Banville, is a writer of crime stories rather than a mystery writer. It is the elegance of his writing rather than the detail of his plot that compels. Here Dr Quirke, a consulting pathologist, and Detective Inspector Hackett, a deceptively plodding policeman, are brought together in 1950s Dublin to investigate the death of an influential businessman, Victor Delahaye.

The book opens with Delahaye on his yacht with Davy, the son of his business partner Jack Clancy. Unfortunately the blurb on the back page describes the bones of the plot and this further reduces its tension. Black populates his novel with a range of characters from the Delahaye and Clancy families, as well reinforcing what readers have come to learn in earlier books about Hackett, Quirke and his daughter, Phoebe.

Quirke’s weaknesses for alcohol and women are again emphasised. Those familiar with Black’s/Banville’s style will perhaps not mind too much at the initial slow pace of the story; the descriptions of the period and the complexities of the family relationships are fascinating, as are references to the religious and social divides of the time. Nowhere are these tensions better illustrated that in Quirke’s pathology being conducted at the Hospital of the Holy Family. Once again it is rather difficult to understand the physical or psychological nature of Quirke’s attraction to almost every woman that he meets, and Hackett’s observations on this are particularly pithy.

The solution comes in two parts, one being relatively straightforward to work out from the cast list, the other coming as a surprise.

Whilst the tone of this book is dark, there are humorous moments – not least in Hackett’s observations of life and crime. There are also some more extended comic scenes, as when the two investigators ‘enjoy’ a chip supper. However, Quirke’s determination to think the worst of himself and to hasten his death by smoking and drinking offer a rather dispiriting overall context and this series will certainly not be liked by some readers. Personally, I found it rather less compelling than the earlier books in the series.

Much of the action takes place in rather claustrophobic surroundings, laboratories and offices, corners of pubs and the small boats; much activity also occurs in the bedroom. The enjoyment of the author’s verbal dexterity, often centred on smoking and drinking, sometimes obstructs the story’s unfolding. Psychological depth is rather lacking in the descriptions of generations of Delahayes and Clancys whilst characters noted for a split second remain in the memory – of a man in a hotel ‘each time he took a sip of his drink he would let the whiskey flow back into the glass, mixed with spit that sank to the bottom of the glass, stringy and white’.

Having withheld Quirke’s first name from readers in the first four mysteries Black now admits that his name is not Garret. Maybe the next novel will offer even more of a pointer.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in 1950s Dublin this is a crime novel with an old-fashioned air about it, written with a high level of literary integrity. The characterisation and prose are fluent and assured, and there's a simple eloquence about the style which makes this a very easy book to get drawn into.

The plotting, however, is less satisfying, and it's very easy to work things out well before our investigators.

This is the fifth in the Quirke series but the first that I have read and Quirke himself feels like an afterthought in the book. I found it impossible to believe that a man who is so cold, awkward, dull and `dusty' could also prove so attractive to so many women - maybe the clues are in the earlier books?

So this is effectively an easy, cosy read written with more style than in usual in the genre - I enjoyed it well enough but it hasn't left me desperate to read the rest of the Quirke series.
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 10 July 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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VINE VOICEon 24 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Un-putdownable? Err no. This is one of the few books I've read of late where I've had to force myself to keep going with it. The trouble is it's trying to do too many things. You want to read about complex family relationships in Ireland? Read The Blackwater Lightship; you want a clever mystery with historical overtones, read A Whispered Name (Father Anselm Novels). Black has tried to do too much here and it doesn't quite work. There's no denying the writing is brilliant, but it's smothered by a lack of direction.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 September 2014
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 29 June 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on 31 July 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 19 October 2012
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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.
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