Unlike most detective fiction, this first novel in Benjamin Black's Quirke series is worth reading simply for the writing alone. Not surprising, given that Black is in fact Booker Prize winning novelist John Banville. That said, I absolutely hated Banville's 'The Sea', so was very surprised to enjoy this opener in the Quirke series as much as I did.
If anything, it's light on plot, driven instead by the atmosphere of 1950's Dublin and the wonderful characters. Quirke becomes a more tortured, darker soul as the book unravels, setting things up nicely for future stories, no doubt. The darker side of the Catholic church is also exposed, and, although it's been done in other books as it's familiar theme, it's handled well here. All the characters are vibrant, flawed people; you may not warm to many of them, but they are certainly real and plausible. Black also weaves in a sub-plot involving characters in Boston, tying the two strands of the book up in the third stage of the novel. It feels a little contrived towards the end, but the writing never flags, and it is the crisp, direct style, the beautifully drawn atmosphere (almost cinematic, like something Sam Mendes might direct) - that keeps you rivetted as a reader. It's like Chandler crossed with the very best of Irish writers.
This is one of the few crime/mystery genre novels that I think would bear a second reading, the style is that good. Already looking forward to more in the series. Superbly crafted, superior fiction.
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