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

3.7 out of 5 stars 205 customer reviews
Book 1 of 6 in the Quirke Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this expertly paced debut thriller from Irish author Black (the pseudonym of Booker Prize–winner John Banville), pathologist Garret Quirke uncovers a web of corruption in 1950s Dublin surrounding the death in childbirth of a young maid, Christine Falls. Quirke is pulled into the case when he confronts his stepbrother, physician Malachy Griffin, who's altering Christine's file at the city morgue. Soon it appears the entire establishment is in denial over Christine's mysterious demise and in a conspiracy that recalls the classic film Chinatown. And the deeper Quirke delves into the mystery, the more it seems to implicate his own family and the Catholic church. At the start, the novel has the spare melancholy of early James Joyce, describing a Dublin of private clubs, Merrion Square townhouses and the occasional horse-drawn cart; as the plot heats up and the action shifts to Boston, Mass., it becomes more of a standard detective story. Though Black makes an occasional American cultural blooper, he keeps divulging surprises to the last page so that the reader is simultaneously shocked and satisfied. Author tour. (Mar.)
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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.
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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: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (205 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 17, 2007
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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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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