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The Silver Swan: A Novel (Quirke) Hardcover – March 4, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews
Book 2 of 6 in the Quirke Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this stunning follow-up to 2007's Christine Falls, Black (pseudonym of Booker Prize–winner John Banville) spins a complex tale of murder and deception in 1950s Ireland. Pathologist Garret Quirke, surprised by a visit from a college acquaintance, Billy Hunt, is even more surprised when Billy begs Quirke not to perform an autopsy on his wife, Deirdre, whose naked body was recently retrieved from Dublin Bay. Though everything points to suicide, Quirke knows something's amiss and begins to retrace Deirdre's steps. Black expertly balances Quirke's investigation with chapters detailing Deidre's past, from her marriage to Billy to her shady business deal with Leslie White, an enigmatic Englishman who knew Deidre as Laura Swan, the proprietress of their joint venture, a beauty salon called the Silver Swan. As Quirke digs deeper, he discovers a web of lies and blackmail that threatens to envelop even his own estranged daughter, Phoebe. Laconic, stubborn Quirke makes an appealing hero as the pieces of this unsettling crime come together in a shocking conclusion. Author tour.(Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Silver Swan raises two major questions: First, is Black-the-crime-novelist as good as Banville-the-novelist? Second, does The Silver Swan live up to expectations raised by Christine Falls? Not surprisingly, critics diverge on both questions. A few think that Black’s crime novels don’t stand up to Banville’s best work. “This distracting mediocrity doesn’t suit him at all,” notes The Globe and Mail. Others cite Black as a genre-bending novelist intent on using the noir framework to successfully delve deep inside individuals’ psychologies. Either way, most critics agree that The Silver Swan, though well-written, is a slightly lesser effort than Christine Fallsâ€"with too many characters and coincidences, a likeable but uncharismatic protagonist, and a phlegmatic plot. Critics hope that The Silver Swan will send readers back to Christine Fallsâ€"or, better yet, back to Banville.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Quirke (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805081534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805081534
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Benjamin Black, The Silver Swan (Henry Holt, 2008)

The Silver Swan is one of those books that reminds me of why I like to read series novels in order. I hadn't read the first book John Banville published under the Benjamin Black name, but Henry Holt were kind enough to drop this one on my doorstep unannounced a couple of months ago, so I figured I'd read it. Black, even more than, say, Robert Parker, draws heavily on the events of his earlier novel for this one; I'm sure the epilogue would have resonated with me a great deal more had I read Christine Falls. That said, Banville still writes a very capable mystery, when he's not wallowing in the past misdeeds of Garret Quirke, the medical examiner/amateur sleuth who once again finds himself enmeshed in a mystery he doesn't really want anything to do with.

In this case, he is approached by an old college classmate, Billy Hunt, with a simple request-- his wife has just died, drowned, and Billy would like Quirke not to perform an autopsy on the body, Quirke agrees, but it's pretty standard operating procedure in mystery novels that such a request (which is relatively common in real life for religious reasons) is going to spark some neurons; in performing a quick examination of the body, Quirke finds a fresh needle mark, and we're off to the races. Things are not helped out by the fact that Quirke's daughter Phoebe is a client at the Silver Swan, Hunt's wife's salon, and that her flamboyant ex-business partner seems to be taking more than a consumerly interest in the girl.

The best thing about Banville-writing-as-Black is that he's not afraid to slap both the reader and the mystery genre around a bit.
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Format: Hardcover
In "The Silver Swan," Benjamin Black brings back the dour and solitary Garret Quirke, who lives in Dublin in the 1950s and works as a pathologist in the Hospital of the Holy Family. Quirke is an alcoholic who avoids drinking except for one bottle of wine that he and his daughter, Phoebe, share at their weekly dinner. Although he is desperately trying to stay sober, he occasionally gets the urge to indulge: "Quirke longed suddenly for a drink, just the one: short, quick, disastrous. For, of course, it would not be just the one." One day, he receives a message from a former acquaintance, Billy Hunt. The body of Billy's much younger wife, Deirdre, has been found after she apparently flung herself off Sandycove Harbor into the waters of Dublin Bay. Billy tells Quirke, "I don't want her cut up," meaning that he does not want a postmortem done on Deirdre. Although Quirke tells Billy, "I'll see what I can do," after he examines the corpse, the pathologist realizes that Deirdre's death is not as straightforward as it seems. Even after the coroner rules that Deirdre drowned accidentally, Quirke decides to look into the matter further.

Black is a literary stylist who revels in long descriptive passages laced with elegant similes and metaphors. He uses an omniscient narrator to delve into each character's innermost thoughts. Even after Deirdre's death, the author utilizes flashbacks to explore the inner demons that drove this tortured woman to engage in reckless behavior. She had been a beautiful girl with reddish gold hair and brilliant blue eyes; sadly, her impoverished and angst-ridden childhood left her scarred for life. Partly to escape her unrelenting misery, she married Billy Hunt, a stolid man nearly sixteen years her senior.
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Format: Hardcover
Booker Prize-winning author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, features Quirke, a pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family in Dublin in this change-of-pace mystery set in 1950s Dublin. Quirke often finds it necessary to go beyond a pathologist's normal duties, and in this second novel in the Quirke series (after Christine Falls), he is visited by Billy Hunt, a casual friend from college, who asks him not to autopsy the body of his wife Deirdre. Deirdre may have drowned herself, and the family wants to avoid conflict with the Catholic Church over her burial. Quirke conducts a secret autopsy, Deirdre gets her church burial, and Quirke then begins his private investigation into her death.

Through flashbacks and shifts in the point of view from Quirke to the other characters involved in Deirdre Hunt's story, her complicated life unfolds. Deirdre, partners in a beauty salon with Leslie White, a roue, has been exploring the "spiritual healing" of Dr. Hakeem Kreutz, a man of German/Indian background who teaches her about his Sufi religion while engaging in secret activities. Inevitably, Deirdre becomes more and more controlled by outsiders, less able to make decisions, less grounded in reality. The involvement of someone close to Quirke makes him even more determined to understand Deirdre's death.

Quirke is an engaging and sympathetic protagonist. Sober for six months when this novel opens, he longs to become closer to his estranged daughter Phoebe, though he recognizes that he has no right to her affection. As Quirke, Deirdre, Phoebe, and the other principal characters reveal their unique points of view, the characterization and the plot expand.
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