Christine Falls by Benjamin Black Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black; Picador/Henry Holt and Company, 2006.  340 pages; 16.00 (paperback); reading level: adult.

Can a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist write a good mystery without letting his literary skills overwhelm the basic demands of a who-done-it?  In his first installment of the “Quirke” series (which, as of 2015, includes seven volumes), John Banville, under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, does just that.  His writerly skills are fully in evidence: the Dublin setting is so wrapped in fog it leaves the reader feeling damp; class, morality, and religious issues plant us firmly the 1950s while adding depth; we get to know each character through the biased descriptions of all the others until we hardly know whom to trust.  When our dour hero, Quirke, a pathologist at Holy Family Hospital, catches his obstetrician brother-in-law, Mal, making changes on the death certificate of a young woman named Christine Falls, Quirke is determined to find out why – more out of dislike for Mal than any more noble reason. Pockets of characters are introduced, each inhabiting seemingly unconnected worlds, until they rush, stumble, drift, or are dragged together to reveal a plot involving the Catholic Church, unwed mothers, orphans, bad people being bad, and bad people trying to be good.  More than once, I noticed author pulling the characters’ strings in order to make the plot go. But the pages turned so easily that I chose not to notice I was noticing.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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