33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
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.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
In this fifth novel of the Dublin-based series involving Dr. Quirke, author Benjamin Black, the pen name of Booker Prize-winner John Banville, continues all the main characters from previous novels, spending little time rehashing the sometimes sordid history of their relationships. Instead, he picks up where he left off with A Death in Summer, set in the 1950s. Quirke, a Dublin physician, is still running the hospital's pathology lab, and he has finally resolved an old wound by reuniting with his wary daughter Phoebe Griffin. Brought up as the child of Quirke's stepbrother Malachy and never informed until recently of her real parentage, Phoebe is somewhat leery of Quirke, not really knowing how to treat him or what he expects. Quirke, a long-time friend of Police Detective Inspector Hackett, is still available for private consultations with him, especially when the real reasons for a death may be in dispute.
Both Hackett and Quirke become involved with an investigation at the beginning of this novel when Victor Delahaye, the main partner in an old company with a flourishing automobile repair business, invites the young son of his partner Jack Clancy to accompany him on a sail. Young Davy Clancy hates sailing, and has no idea why Jack makes such an issue of having him as the only passenger. When he and Delahaye are far from land, Delahaye pulls out a gun and kills himself. Quirke, upon examining the body, accompanies Inspector Hackett when he interviews the not-so-bereaved family. The remainder of the novel involves the search to discover why Victor Delahaye committed suicide, a problem which becomes far more complicated when yet another death occurs at sea, this one far more mysterious.
Black's style has always been to keep things simple throughout and to write clear, concise prose, and no reader will have trouble keeping track of the characters, their stated motivations, and how their actions evolve. At his most incisive, Black has always placed his characters firmly within the 1950s milieu of Dublin society, allowing the action to turn on personalities and their predicaments. Those new to the series may become completely absorbed in the mystery and its revelations about characters, but those who have read the entire series so far (and I've read them all) may wonder, sadly, if the series has played itself out. The new characters are static and verge on stereotypes, and Quirke and the familiar characters fail to grow or develop in new ways.
The expected twists in the story do come with the kind of suddenness one expects of such mysteries, but they are simple twists, not complex, and many readers may figure out some of the "surprises" - and the ending - before they occur. Vengeance can often be complex and it is certainly a major motivating factor here, but the sometimes elegant simplicity which Black has made a trademark in the earlier novels, becomes merely simplistic here.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Dublin pathologist Garrett Quirke's investigations in the dreary 1950s bring him, an orphan, into many situations where families hide secrets of paternity, maternity, loyalty, and betrayal. John Banville's alter ego Benjamin Black shares Banville's acclaimed command of atmosphere from his erudite, dense, and intellectual novels; this fifth installment of "Quirke Mysteries" moves into similarly complex motivations. Yet their focus upon a repressed and dingy Irish city under the grip of economic malaise, political corruption, and ecclesiastical dominance enables Black to craft a explore Quirke's evolution as a flawed character, battling drink and searching for solutions to the lives of others if not his own, which unravels even as he carries on, like all the living.
Not trained as a detective, Quirke relies on Inspector Hackett, the typical up-from-the-country recruit to the police turned supervisor of hapless trainees. The two meet and reckon with the deaths that come their way. This time, in "Vengeance," business tycoon Victor Delahaye, from the Protestant gentry, shoots himself while sailing with his Catholic (on paper equal but in reality subordinate) partner Jack Clancy's son, Davy. Quirke handles Victor's corpse, and probes into why he came to such an end.
"I have a great curiosity," Quirke explains to an uneasy wife. "If I were a cat, I'd have been dead long ago." His travels keep him mainly in Dublin, but a journey shows him the rest of a rundown Ireland: "The huge sky over the Midlands was piled high with luminous wreckage." Even nature looks grim.
Quirke and Hackett's half-driven, half-detached forays, along with interludes by Quirke's daughter, Phoebe, propel much of the plot. The feline, much younger widow Mona Delahaye, along with Victor's sullen sister Maggie, and Victor's glacial twin sons Jonas and James, complicate the proceedings. So does a woman who hints at a James Joyce allusion or two in the shadows, Bella Wintour. We also meet British-born Sylvia, and her husband, Jack himself.
Without giving away the storyline, this novel moves smoothly, more so than the previous "A Death in Summer." Black as in the best of the series, "The Silver Swan," excels at conjuring up eccentrics. While Quirke's debut, "Christine Falls," set up standard procedure as Quirke faced his own family secrets and learned to untangle those of other Irish caught in their own deceit, it turned so intricate that it lacked energy to sustain its conspiratorial, clerical machinations. Number three, "An Elegy for April," worked better, as it more gracefully told a maturation of Quirke with his reconciled daughter Phoebe, as well as capturing the danger of being an outsider--this time an African student--in insular postwar Dublin.
Similarly, while outliers in "Vengeance" appear more tame if sly, the class distinctions between the gentry and the common folk persist. For instance, the bearish, middle-aged Quirke dallies in these pages with a mistress, the actress Isabel Galloway, whom he had abandoned in a previous novel. "Their lovemaking had felt to him more like a surgical procedure. Isabel had thrust herself angrily against him, all elbows, ribs, and bared teeth. Now she sat there furious in her painted gown like an Oriental empress about to order his beheading."
Black as Banville keeps that writer's ability to indirectly express a character's body and mind, revealing Quirke's unease out of his element, in social situations or in his physical demeanor. After making love with Mona, Quirke on leaving her estate "saw himself as a kind of clown, in outsize trousers and long, bulbous shoes, staggering this way and that between two laughing teams of white-clad players, jumping clumsily, vainly, for the ball they kept lobbing over his head with negligent, mocking ease. Yes, he would find out." It takes him a while, as it always does in the Black mysteries, and often it appears things fall into place around him as he observes or reacts to them, rather than him serving as the catalyst. In his sly way, he determines, with Hackett, to get the twins, and to break the funereal bond that silences those who know among both Delahaye and Clancy clans.
Phoebe, Quirke's reconciled daughter, agrees. But she holds those families, Hackett, reporters, and any--even her own father--who root out the causes of the two deaths which ensue as suspect. "They pretended, all of them, to be after the facts, truth, justice, but what they desired in the end was really just to satisfy their curiosity," As one mordant witness muses after a burial: "The dead get so much more than their share of praise, she thought, and all just for being dead." Jack Clancy's son, Davy, makes the most telling observation: "You don't put a bullet in your heart unless there's something seriously the matter." This acerbic tone sharpens the book in typically Irish fashion, as backbiting shoves into indirection and caroms off of bluntness.
The questions hidden in Delahaye's motives and those of whomever killed off the second character keep three-hundred pages turning smoothly. As with earlier Quirke mysteries, a death opens it, a hundred-odd pages gradually connect those around the cadaver, and at the halfway point fifty pages later, a complication happens. The weakness of certain Quirke tales--of two-hundred pages of coasting past rich settings and engaging conversations yet filled with dead-ends and red-herrings, ending in fifteen pages with a sudden climax and hasty wrap-up--is less present here, if not entirely absent. The author plays it fair, gives the hints, and spins out Quirke and Hackett's quest efficiently. Banville as Black manages to sustain the story with a steadier structure that masks some scaffolding. While I suspect he played out a well-worn dodge to explain the mystery, this may betray Black's send-up of the genre. I am not sure Banville can keep up his yearly output as well as Black's, and the ending to this suggests weariness. All the same, number five in the series proves, alongside "The Silver Swan," a solid read.
(See my Amazon-linked reviews above to "Christine Falls" and "The Silver Swan" in Sept. 2008; "An Elegy for April" in March 2010 and "A Death in Summer" in July 2011.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2012
I fell in love with Quirke and Phoebe in Christine Falls and Elegy for April...this book was so very disappointing. The story line was thinly veiled, obviously solved and with little or no substance I came to expect from Mr. Black. Evidently the book was some 309 pages or thereabouts. I read it on my Kindle Fire and it breezed by so quickly, I felt so gipped for the price. I will not pre-order Quirke again. The struggles in his mind and booze so well presented in earlier novels were never really fleshed out further...Inspector Hackett seemed to be an afterthought...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In this fifth installment of Black's Quirke Series, he ties up some loose ends which are still hanging all the way back to "Christine Falls" his first Quirke Novel. Quirke still has an outstanding connection to the family that beat him up, broke his leg and knee and raped his daughter, Phoebe. This connection goes through the original family that was running the illegal baby exportation ring in Ireland which brought Quirke to America. There he met the Crawfords who ran the Irish ring and the wife of Old Man Crawford, Rose, who in her own way took a liking to Quirke and actually seduced him. But over the time of the last 3 novels, Rose had ultimately landed right in Dublin as the new wife to Dr. Quirke's 'brother' Malachy Griffin, the son of Judge Griffin, his adoptive family in Ireland. They took Quirke out of the orphanage and raised him as brother to their own son, Malachy. Malachy's 1st wife and Quirke's late wife were sisters and both Crawford girls. Thus, these ties still lingered, and the last of the Crawfords, Rose had married Quirke's adoptive brother, Malachy, thereby binding the remaining American remnants of the family with the Irish originals, all right in Dublin.
In this book, Black continues to develop his style and hone his well known bent for literature into a new medium, the detective novel. Black continues to fulfill readers search for a detective novelist who also has high and recognized literary expertise. While Black is still fond of ending the occasional sentence with a preposition (most often "of" as in "things he was afraid of") but has not sacrificed much of his expertise for proper and unique high level writing in a new format that he can write quickly and contribute to his personal interest in developing and penning his own detective series. Black turns out to be a secret lover and admirer of the genre, and the genre is certainly an admirer of his literary talent. While it is true that he still has a good ways to go before he finds perfection or as close thereto as he wishes to go, he certainly is lending his talent to this oft abused and discriminated against genre. All too many detective novelists are not much worried about form and format, and are much more interested in making some quick money from a fairly broad market for mass market paperbacks. Fortunately, the genre finds redemption is such authors as Black, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and quite a few other great writers and thinkers of the past in the genre.
The genre seems to truly have a perpetual hold on a segment of the public. The detective novel genre is a place where the plots imitate the crimes of the real world, but where the facts are contained and resolved usually fully, by the author over time. In this way, the detective novel varies from real life, which does not resolve so perfectly and often leaves those hurt, abused or robbed without any retribution or fulfillment of Vengeance for the crimes committed against them. Such is the American and English Legal system and such is the real world of criminal behavior. However, the crime novelist can bend the reality of the world to a more satisfying resolution when he writes his own version of the genre. And, those many readers who like the resolution afforded them by the genre turn often to the masters for the provision of that fulfillment with panache and aplomb, as well as, literary talent that is so rare in the detective novel genre.
Lovers of the genre can thank Benjamin Black for another great contribution to the genre and enjoy this 5th Quirke novel as part of the still growing body of work that Black has bestowed upon us in the last 5 or 6 years. We wish him well and anticipate a grand and glorious future for us to read and collect as he goes forward with this new foray which complement his pure literature that he has created so wonderfully in the years up to now. The book, while perhaps not his very best, is still a 4 star production worth the attention of serious detective genre novels and literarily particular readers of same. This novel does not let us down and we look forward to reading his recently published 6th Quirked book and those after that one. The book is highly recommended for lovers of the detective genre of all ages.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2013
With Vengeance, Benjamin Black, the mystery-writing alter ego of award-winning Irish novelist John Banville, has produced a tale of two families, linked together through a business partnership but different in almost every other way. When the leading partner takes the son of the other family out on a boat and then kills himself, a mystery unfolds that reveals how much each family has gotten under the other’s skin. We are soon introduced to Doctor Quirke, a pathologist who apparently gets involved in all the murder investigations of his friend, Detective Inspector Hackett. This is part of Black/Banville’s Quirke series, and perhaps you have to have read more of them to appreciate Quirke’s character. As for Hackett, he is barely there.
There were a lot of things about the book that I found disappointing. The plot was not particularly compelling. It was enough to get me to the end of the book, but only just. The characters were also not compelling, nor were they very well fleshed-out. Black tries to make them more complex by overusing the device of the interior monologue. Every character, it seems, muses at some point about how little he or she knows about someone else. And if they are not wondering about that, they are vaguely pondering how they have spent their life, or where their life is headed. There are other variations on that sort of thing, but the sum is tiring, tiring, tiring. Toward the end of the book I finally realized what was really bothering me about the book: too much of it is just filler. Black/Banville has produced a diversion, but nothing more. If you need diverting you could probably do worse. You could also undoubtedly do a lot better
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2013
This is the second Quirke book I've read. The first was "A Death in Summer" which I didn't like so I have no good reason why I would have chosen to read another. It has in no way improved my opinion of the series.
I am partial to characters that are extremely clever & will put up with all manner of oddities from them. Sadly, author Benjamin Black has shown me that I do have my limits. At first I thought Quirke to be a very smart fellow but now I think he is nothing but a boring alcoholic who does not have the sense to keep his pants zipped.
I don't mind drinking or smoking, but I am bored when it's used incessantly, in great detail & in almost every paragraph. It becomes apparent that this is writing just for the sake of taking up space on the page - meeting a word count, perhaps? This simply cannot count as `good writing'.
The theme of suicide a recurring one. The plots of both novels are way too similar. Older men with young foreign wives, jealous family members, blah, blah, blah... It's all been done before. These books have nothing special to set them apart.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2013
The characters in this book all seem too improbably foolish. Quirke is unendingly morose and constantly enslaved by his thirst and his morbid libido. It is implied that Hackett is as sharp as a tack but we certainly never see evidence of that. And Phoebe, fully realizing it is dangerous to frequent the Delahaye twins "hears herself" saying yes to them when they invite her to come to dinner with them. The merry widow is just as catty and shallow as one you would find in a 1930s film, yet Quirke develops a feverish passion for her. Perhaps I was just unable to appreciate the rambling style. I have liked the previous Benjamin Black books I have read, but this one tried my patience.
on November 24, 2014
Vengeance is the fifth of the six novels featuring the Dublin pathologist Quirke (no first name) from the pen of Benjamin Black, aka Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville. Banville reportedly writes the series for money, seeing them as of a lower order than the dozens of “serious” novels and plays he has created. Clearly, the critics agree with him, having awarded Banville a mind-bogglingly long series of awards and prizes. However, this quick and dirty distinction between genre fiction and the more “serious” stuff has me wondering how many people have actually read all those award-winning books, and whether the half-dozen novels in the Quirke series have attracted a wider audience than all the rest of Banville’s work combined. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
Truth to tell, I’ve never been able to read all the way through a single Booker Prize-winning novel. I’m convinced that the judges deliberately seek out work that’s designed to be read by critics, academic deconstructionists, and nobody else. But I digress.
In the Quirke novels, set in 1950s Dublin, Banville comes to grip with the Irish elite, the underlying tension between Catholic and Protestant, the dead weight of the Church, and the veil of history. Quirke and his collaborator, Inspector Hackett of the Garda (the Irish police), invariably find themselves caught up in the often violent conflicts roiling Dublin’s elite society. In Vengeance, two families are locked in combat for three generations, one Protestant, one Catholic, as partners in one of the country’s biggest businesses. The mysterious death at sea of one of the partners triggers an investigation by Quirke and Hackett that leads them to uncover long-hidden family secrets.
The Quirke series is successful, I believe, precisely because it lacks the conceits and conventions of so much detective fiction: the cliff-hanging ends of chapters, the unlikely coincidences, the rosters of likely suspects, the red herrings. Each novel tells a unique story, and each is firmly grounded in its characters and in the history of a particular time and place. If, like me, you enjoy detective fiction but are uncomfortable feeling manipulated, you’ll enjoy Vengeance and the other five novels (so far) in the series.
The creation of John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, pathologist Quirke is a man struggling with the bottle and a weakness for women in mid-1950s Ireland. Plagued by a history of complicated, often damaged relationships, Quirke excels at solving crimes, often assisting Detective Inspector Hackett on difficult cases. The latest is the suicide of a wealthy businessman, Victor Delahaye, who shoots himself while sailing with only his partner's son, Davy Clancy. Hackett has deferred to Quirke's ease in dealing with the wealthy at Ashgrove House in County Cork, where they meet the wheelchair-bound family patriarch, Victor's young widow, Mona, adult twin sons, Jonas and James, mirror images of one another and Victor's sister, Maggie. Quirke immediately senses something amiss in the awkward family dynamic, beyond the oddity of Victor's suicide. Though Delahaye's partner Jack Clancy, albeit a junior partner, has long chafed at his inferior role, there are no business discrepancies apparent at first glance, no reason, really for Victor to have ended his life so dramatically.
Quirke works best when following his instincts, observing family dynamics, contemplating the odd moments of dissonance that engage his curiosity. Unfortunately, Quirke has an eye for the ladies, having only recently resumed an old affair with actress Isabel Galloway, his attention drawn to the sultry Widow Delahaye, who vacillates between vacuity and shrewdness, a cat toying with interesting prey. Then there is Clancy's mistress, Bella, who confides her story with Quirke after yet another shocking death to complicate the resolution of the first. His judgment altered by a surfeit of alcohol, Quirke again jeopardizes his attempts to repair a damaged personal life. Only after immersing himself in Mona's seductive charm does Quirke scent the trouble in paradise, at odds with his better nature once more, familiar demons reawakened: "So many things... had happened before... in identical circumstances... with other women." Ironically, it is Phoebe, Quirke's daughter, who provides the critical link to a trail of death among the wealthy, the bitter fruit of greed, envy, betrayal and murder, the facade of gentility crumbling as Quirke amid the ruins, wondering how to find his way home. Luan Gaines/2013.