Black, Benjamin. Christine Falls.

NY: Henry Holt, 2006.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, “Benjamin Black” is the nom de crime of Irish novelist John Banville, and this was his first mystery novel featuring Quirke, a decidedly quirky forensic pathologist in Dublin in the 1950s, when the Church ran absolutely everything. But even though this is a “detective story,” it’s nothing at all like what Michael Connelly or Lawrence Block might write.

We first meet the woman of the title as a dead body in Quirke’s hospital morgue, reportedly the victim of an aneurism, according to the report filed by Malachy Griffin, a famous obstetrician — and also married to the sister of Quirke’s late wife. But it doesn’t take Quirke long to discover that Christine actually died in childbirth, and that Mal therefore was faking her file. And what happened to the baby? That’s where the Church comes in, via its smuggling operation that secretly transports unwanted or orphaned infants to the States, especially when their presence might embarrass some of the High and Mighty in Dublin civil and religious society. Even so, while he suspects the worst, Quirke is a product of his own culture, and so he covers things up himself. But then the woman who had looked after Christine is tortured and murdered. And Quirke himself is threatened by the same two hoods. There must be something much more pressing in Christine’s past. And Quirke’s own past intrudes, too, since he was himself an orphan and was raised by Mal’s father, now a high court judge and a newly-named papal count. Quirke also married the sister because he couldn’t have the woman who subsequently married Mal, and both of them rather regret it. And now Mal’s daughter is attempting to kick over the traces herself in search of a life of her own.

Several of the books Banville has written under his own name have either won or been nominated for the Booker Prize and he’s frequently on peoples’ short list of likely Nobel laureates. He writes with care and his style and subtle way with characters carries over firmly into his mysteries. This isn’t a fast read, and there are no car chases, but it’s a deep and very involving experience.


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