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Christine Falls: A Novel (Quirke) Paperback – January 22, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 196 customer reviews
Book 1 of 6 in the Quirke Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Dalton uses all his pacing and vocal skills and his wonderful, deep Welsh tones to keep listeners engaged and on edge through this mystery set in 1950s Dublin and Boston. He skillfully sustains our empathy for widowed Dublin coroner Quirke, the alcoholic, angry and acerbic narrator who drags himself into solving the mystery of Christine Falls's death in childbirth and the disappearance of her newborn—a scenario that parallels Quirke's own experience. Black (pseudonym of Booker Prize–winner John Banville) is a fine writer, reminiscent of P.D. James in his care for language and his emphasis on psychologically complex characters, including Mel, Quirke's obstetrician stepbrother; Sarah, Mel's wife (and sister of Quirke's dead wife), whose love for Quirke is reciprocated; and Mel and Sarah's confused daughter, Phoebe. Black weaves his characters through a neat and original plot that descends into the dark depths of Quirke's family history and rises to the highest ranks of the Catholic church. Detective fiction readers will love Black's writing and Dalton's reading, and look forward to more from both.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Christine Falls may be Benjamin Black's debut crime novel, but it's not his first book: Black is the nom de plumeof John Banville, the Booker Prize?winning author of The Sea (****1/2 Jan/Feb 2006). As expected, Banville's lyrical writing stands out (and is more accessible than in The Sea), but the expressive style doesn't eclipse the dark, suspenseful plot. Set during the all-powerful reign of the Catholic Church, the novel touches on themes of sexual repression, grief, and lost opportunities. Readers expecting a fast-paced crime novel may initially be surprised by Banville's slow, deliberate rendering of the plot and the complex characters—but they will certainly look forward to the next novel in this projected series.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Quirke (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426323
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (196 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Benjamin Black, the pen name of acclaimed novelist John Banville, is the author of Christine Falls and The Silver Swan. Christine Falls was nominated for both the Edgar Award and Macavity Award for Best Novel; both Christine Falls and Silver Swan were national bestsellers. Banville lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) With the same care that he devotes to his "serious" fiction, Booker Prize-winning author John Banville, under the pen name of "Benjamin Black," plumbs Dublin's Roman Catholic heritage in a mystery which examines the question of sin. The result is a vibrantly alive, intensely realized story of Dublin life and values in the 1950s--a mystery which makes the reader think at the same time that s/he is being entertained. Unlike most of the characters, Quirke, the main character, holds no awe for the church. In his early forties, "big and heavy and awkward," Quirke is a pathologist/coroner at Holy Family Hospital, a man who "prizes his loneliness as mark of some distinction." A realist, he has seen the dark side of life too often to hold out much hope for the future, his own or anyone else's.

His vision of humanity is not improved when he goes to his office unexpectedly one evening and finds his brother-in-law, famed obstetrician Malachy Griffin, altering documents regarding the death of a young woman, Christine Falls. Quirke's autopsy of Christine shows, not surprisingly, that she has died in childbirth, a "fallen woman" in the eyes of the church. The nature of Christine's sin, however, does not begin to compare to the sins that Quirke uncovers during his investigation of her death and the fate of her child.

John Banville (Black) has always been at least as interested in character as plot, and this novel is no exception. Quirke lived in an orphanage before being unofficially adopted by Judge Garrett Griffin, father of Dr. Malachy Griffin, who is obviously involved in the case.
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Format: Hardcover
Solid writer of obscure though occasionally prize-winning literary fiction turns his hand to the crime novel. It sounds like a great idea that solves the 'problem' of both styles: such a novel would have the suspenseful, page-turning plot that literary fiction often lacks, and yet it would be handled with the depth of character and richness of language usually absent from genre fiction. Sadly, the result is more like decorating a suburban bungalow in the style of Louis XIV: ill-advised and more than faintly ludicrous, but salvaged by its winking self-awareness as something not to be taken entirely seriously. Banville claims he was inspired by rediscovering the novels of Georges Simenon. There is something of that here, though not quite enough of the existential anxiety (which Martin Amis, in a similar mode, to my mind nailed perfectly, terrifyingly, in the much-maligned "Night Train"). For me, the central problem here is that the moral claustrophobia of Banville's tale - which needs to be about real, credible characters to move us - is consistently undercut by ludicrous melodrama, the sheer silliness of some sequences, and the relentlessly clichéd depiction of characters such as Andy Stafford. None of it felt real to me, so neither did the moral angst around which the plot turns. I understand this began life as a television script, and that's precisely how it feels: worth spending 100 minutes with over a cup of tea, but not worth slogging through 400-odd pages. I like Banville. I like good crime fiction, too. This is neither.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not a mystery/thriller reader (strictly speaking, this book fits neither genre) and so bought this book only because its author is Banville. So to an extreme outsider it seems that Banville has taken almost every pulp cliché and turned it inside out, doubling up at every opportunity (Mal works with the living / Quirk with the dead. They are married to sisters: Mal's wife is alive / Quirk's dead -- thus they are brothers-in-law and because they share a parent, brothers by law. Father to Mal, adoptive father, or better still, Judge to Quirk. Mal orders an omelet, Quirk, the bird, and so on to deliriously detailed levels of interplay...and later still remarkably persisent stretches of alliteration) that make this something of a entertainingly postmodern excursion in Fun with Form wrapped within a dark to darker noir setting. All this is done without ever abandoning the fundamental obligation of delivering a well-told tale. Time, place, character, plot and the hazy details that shape up lives and deaths are all convincing in their familiarity, but the surface texture isn't all that matters here. As is usual for Banville, the language is exceptionally rich and lyrical, with some allusions proving profoundly unnerving, others profoundly amusing and still others so tenuously connected to their subject that you'll stop and think and think again. And importantly -- unlike another work by a "serious" writer pursuing a theoretically less demanding form -- "Christine Falls" never strains under the weight of all this talent in the way that Martin Amis' "Night Train" sadly came to a creaking halt, mid-rail. Bottom line, this one is as engrossing to read as it must have been to write.
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Format: Hardcover
As several of the reviewers here have pointed out and at least one on the back cover of Christine Falls, this novel is not so much a murder mystery as a novel about sin. To that most prevalent theme I would add those of selfishness and corruption, of nostalgia that is in no way wistful. I came to this novel as a lover of Banville's other novels, especially The Sea, and the pellucid style (to use one of his favorite words) that distinguishes his writing is still present here, although more subtly. Christine Falls does not have the intensity of The Sea, at least in part because its narrative is spread out across a number of characters rather than one first-person narrator. But each of these characters is nuanced, marked by Banville's unusual perceptiveness of a person's "tender damage" (to quote another of his novels). And his focus on character is not to say this isn't a damn good yarn. Christine Falls moves more slowly than a usual murder mystery, however, with more of a sense of consequence. It is a dark, affecting novel - and if this is how John Banville has fun, then I can't wait to read his next serious effort.
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