Friday, March 30, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Christine Falls by Benjamin Black. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
A Quirke Mystery

Henry Holt (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8052-6 (0805081526)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8052-7 (9780805081527)
Publication Date: March 2007
List Price: $25.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): It's not the dead that seem strange to Quirke. It's the living. One night, after a few drinks at an office party, Quirke shuffles down into the morgue where he works and finds his brother-in-law, Malachy, altering a file he has no business even reading. Odd enough in itself to find Malachy there, but the next morning, when the haze has lifted, it looks an awful lot like his brother-in-law, the esteemed doctor, was in fact tampering with a corpse--and concealing the cause of death.

It turns out the body belonged to a young woman named Christine Falls. And as Quirke reluctantly presses on toward the true facts behind her death, he comes up against some insidious--and very well-guarded--secrets of Dublin's high Catholic society, among them members of his own family.

Review: Booker Prize winner John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, delivers in his first mystery, Christine Falls, a stylish, atmospheric thriller that is both beautifully written and solidly plotted.

The central character is a Dublin pathologist, known only as Quirke, who is good at his job but but seems to barely tolerate it. He lives alone and drinks far too much. One night he finds his life-long friend, now a physician working at the same hospital as Quirke but who is rarely in the morgue, altering the autopsy report of a dead woman, Christine Falls. Curious as to why he would do this, Quirke embarks on a journey to discover the circumstances of Christine's death, and finds an organization that is "planting souls", sending orphaned Irish babies to America to be raised.

The book has a mysterious, decidedly noir feel to it, evoking images of darkness and black-washed colors in the reader's mind. There's a persistent sense of intrigue in the story: who was Christine Falls, why are people trying to get Quirke to back off looking into her death, and how are Quirke's friends and family involved? Just as Quirke seems close to answering these questions, they drift further away, again out of reach.

Christine Falls loses some of its momentum whenever Quirke is not in the picture. The related side story that takes place in concurrent with Quirke's investigation in Dublin is important to the plot, but seems to be written in a more simplistic, less artistic manner. It's possible Black intentionally took this approach in writing, drawing a distinction between the two environments, but it seems a bit incohesive nonetheless.

All the clues to the mystery of Christine Falls are presented in due course, and the drawn out resolution is not unexpected. Still, this elegantly crafted book with its haunting story is deeply satisfying.

Special thanks to FSB Associates for providing a copy of Christine Falls for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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