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Editorial Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: Whenever I'm asked for an example of the perfect marriage of a story's characters, language, and pacing and a narrator's talent and presence, this is my first recommendation. Timothy Dalton's smoky, boozy, world-weary Irish brogue is truly haunting. He is so convincing as the fictional lead that I felt as if he was Quirke, sharing a story as he lived it. — Steve Feldberg

Publisher's Summary

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, including members of his own family.

Set in Dublin and Boston in the 1950s, the first novel in the Quirke series brings all the vividness and psychological insight of Booker Prize-winner John Banville's fiction to a thrilling, atmospheric crime story. Quirke is a fascinating and subtly drawn hero, Christine Falls is a classic tale of suspense, and Benjamin Black's debut marks him as a true master of the form.

©2006 Benjamin Black (P)2006 Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC

Critic Reviews

"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." (Publishers Weekly) "Christine Falls is deeply atmospheric. Clydesdales drag drays through the streets of 1950s Dublin, and the pubs are 'fuggy with turf smoke'. Nearly all the characters are painstakingly detailed and developed - even though they're likely to be morally mysterious." (Booklist)

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  • Overall

Great Listen

I start a lot of books I don't finish. I usually give it a couple of hours if it's an audiobook. Once I gave a book 7 hours before quitting because I thought it was going to get better; but it didn't ("An Unpardonable Crime"). This one got me from the first line. Timothy Dalton narrates with a deep rich Welsh accent - think Dylan Thomas if you've ever heard him, an octave lower, or Richard Burton. Of all of this audiobook's virtues, quite apart from how good it is substantially, the narration is its most attractive asset. If you like thrillers and mysteries that you don't have forgive the quality of the writing to enjoy, you'll love this. The writing is extraordinary.

The plot follows a more or less formulaic path, but illuminates the genre even as it moves through its generic rules. The setting is Dublin for the most part, and Boston in the 1950s. The protagonist, aptly named "Quirke" is a forensic patholigist (in the US we call them coroners) who, in the book's opening scene, stumbles upon his brother in law - also a doctor, an obstetrician - in the act of falsifying information in a file of one of the corpses Quirke hasn't examined yet. This initiates an obsession on Quirke's fault to find out what happened to this woman (the eponymous Christine Falls), who allegedly died giving birth to a stillborn infant girl. Well, the little girl wasn't stillborn, the truth leads Quirke on a journey into a darkness of which Christine Falls was only one of many victims, and that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. I loved this audiobook and would recommend it over the print version, which from me, is a big compliment.

37 of 40 people found this review helpful

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I was glued to this book--couldn't stop listening!

There are already many, many reviews of Christine Falls--so I don't want to add what's already been said. But hard not to--since this was simply one of the most compelling mystery novels I've heard in a while.

The meticulously detailed writing style brings the reader/listener directly into the story--that's what makes it so engaging I think--and the author's ability to create scenes in which tension builds, leaving the listener almost leaning forward--straining for all the next words to come is what makes it so fascinating. I don't know what this would have been like to have simply read it, but the narrator managed to infuse this with a good sense of the feeling of menace and evil from the beginning.

I gave the narrator one less star--but I'm not sure it was his fault. It could have been the recording itself--but his voice was the slightest bit muffled in places--so I had to rewind to listen (but rewind I did--as I was unwilling to miss even one word of this gripping story!)

Is this a true mystery crime novel? Not in the classic detective sense, but there are mysterious things afoot, there is murder, and there is someone who cannot give up on trying to find out what is going on that causes all this. However, it also read like a piece of fiction--powerful writing--that happened to have a mysterious, evil underpinning. Take your choice I suppose.

This book spans a lot of territory--two continents, families, the catholic church, and only after it was finished, did I realize that it was also a subtle exploration of the ways women (at least in that time/place) were treated as diminished, demeaned and/or expendable in many of the roles. There are several plot lines that explore that topic without it ever being totally obvious. I don't know if the author intended the reader to put that with the culture and the church aspects--or if it was simply the way things were in the early 1950's, or just the author's perspective for this book. Whatever the intent of the author, I believe it was one of the sub-messages of the book.

I highly recommend--but will suggest this. Don't listen till you have a whole day to sit and do nothing else. You shouldn't try to do your housework, exercise in a gym, or even drive in a car while listening to this--because you don't want to take your attention away for even one moment!

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Banville as crime writer

I'm not sure this should really be called a crime thriller, but it's gripping, dark, psychologically astute, intriguing historically. Can't get much better than that as far as I'm concerned!

Timothy Dalton is a superb reader, though it might have been better not to have attempted American accents!

I hope they'll record the second Quirke novel, The Silver Swan.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Christine
  • Richmond, VA, United States
  • 07-28-09

Excellent Choice

I hesitated after reading reviews. So glad I took the plunge. Timothy Dalton was most definitely NOT boring or monotonic. The story was compelling and all the elements were neatly tied together by the end. I could imagine a juicy entry for MASTERPIECE THEATER or MYSTERY!

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Engaging debut.

This is an engrossing read, with deep character development and a great plot line. The first half of the book keeps you riveted to the story. Unfortunately the second half is not as fast paced and bogs down some in the emotional life of the central characters. Some interesting twists and turns keep you going. Enough of the story is unique that it is possible to overlook the places where it becomes predictable.

27 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Marie
  • Tyler, TX, United States
  • 04-28-07

The narrator makes this one a winner!

I try to avoid books that include the murder of infants, spousal abuse, and rape as part of the plot since reading is escapism for me and I want to escape to a better world this this one. However, there was no hint of those themes in the snyopsis or other reviews. But I am not sorry I chose it. In spite of those painful passages, this is a good book. But I am not recommending it for that reason -- it is for the narrator. Timothy Dalton took my breath away. What a disspointment that there are no other Audible books narrated by him. Wish I could listen to this one again, but I will have to wait for his next one.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 08-06-15

I'm no more morbid than the next pathologist.

It is hard to review this novel without wanting to give the whole nursery away. The nasty, dark, secretive details of this book are where it's all at, but I'm afraid if I started swinging around just one detail, I would end up spilling it all. Dropping the baby I was dangling. So, I'll just stick with some of the things that are obvious and have already been said.

Benjamin Black is really John Banville. The Man Booker award winner who wrote The Sea and The Untouchable. Banville is a serious artist. He has been honored with such wild descriptions as the "the heir to Proust, via Nabokov." So, what does a serious, literary author do for money? I remember reading once that the poet Allen Ginsberg made less than $70k per year at the height of his success. For most authors/poets, literature just doesn't sell or pay the damn mortgage. So, there is option 1) literature + professorship. This seems to be the route of a lot of serious fiction writers. William H. Gass is a professor, so too was Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, true. Many of these top tier authors get their jobs because of their notoriety and the benefit it brings to the University. It works well for all involved. So, there is option 2) literature + other job. This is the route chosen by T.S. Eliot and Franz Kafka. You write at night, work selling insurance or something during the day. But there is also option 3) literature + entertainments.* This happens, but not as often as the others.

Probably the best example of this is Graham Greene. He wrote his serious major literature: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American, etc. But he also wrote his entertainments: Stamboul Train, A Gun for Sale, The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, Our Man in Havana, Travels With My Aunt, etc. These were his less serious novels. His spy novels. I'm not sure if Greene meant they were inferior, but I don't think he took them quite as seriously. The reason I bring this up is because I think that is what the Quirke novels of John Banville are. His quirky (sorry, I had to) entertainments. They aren't mean to be dripping with poetry. They aren't supposed to be masterpieces. They are supposed to be entertaining. But because they are written by Banville they can't help being great entertainments. The writing is tight. They pacing is fantastic. It works. I loved it. It wasn't a perfect novel, but I'll give it to Banville. I think he has the opportunity to write a perfect entertainment. One that is on par with John le Carré or Graham Greene.

* There is also family money, etc., but I'm already bored with my list making.

24 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Lubricious Narration Made Me Weak in the Knees

Any additional comments?

I always read something entirely frivolous at the end of quarter to unwind from several months of complex literature and pedantic professors. I listened to this on audio instead of reading. I almost never get fiction for audio books because I like to multi-task when I listen to audio books and find nonfiction much more suitable attention span wise for that task, but I found this on and picked it mainly for the narrator, Timothy Dalton, who is in my opinion, the finest example of masculine energy on planet earth.

I knew it was a hard boiled noir kind of detective story, but oh. my. stars. I had no idea it would be so deliciously salacious. Combining the lascivious prose with Timothy Dalton's lubricious narration made for many awkward blushing moments while I was on the bus, at the laundromat, and grocery shopping with my headphones on.

I wasn't expecting a literary masterpiece, and it isn't one by any stretch of the imagination. The books is stuffed full of trite cliches, exhausted metaphors and genre archetypes. The book was kind of like the restaurant Olive Garden - a corporate franchise that looks the same in each city with the same menu and prefabricated meals. I mean that you know exactly what you're getting when you walk in. That's the strength and failing of genre novels. But for chrissakes, as much as we all love patronizing the new avant-garde bistro with locally grown sustainable organic fairy dust, sometimes you just wanna go to Olive Garden and have some corporate pasta.

I know a lot of reviewers want to imbue this with some kind of literary merit because Banville, the author behind the pen name, does write literary fiction. I don't know why everyone feels the need to puff up genre fiction and try and legitimize it. What's wrong with a book just being entertaining? I picked this up exactly because I didn't want to over-think and analyze something to death. It was a fun read from a highly competent writer who either enjoys the genre or is milking the old cash cow--neither of which detract from or add to the literary merit of the book. It isn't fine dining, but it was a good meal and Timothy Dalton's smutty narration has me queuing up the sequel.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Dreary and Pointless

I like "dark" books. Stories do not have to have unrealistically happy endings for me to enjoy them. But ... this book had nothing positive in it, from beginning to end. Dreary, depressing and hopeless are words I would use to describe the plot and the characters.

The narrator is excellent. But the book is absolutely not worth reading.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Excellent writing, brilliant reading

What about Timothy Dalton’s performance did you like?

Can you fall in love with sound of a voice? The timbre and tone of Dalton's voice is a thing of beauty, flowing effortlessly through the required Irish (tinged with his own Welsh) brogue, he creates one of the finest audiobook readings I've ever heard - powerful, nuanced and deeply felt. His Shakespearian roots (yes, long before James Bond) are obvious in the range and power of his skills, which would surely do justice to any work of the Bard's. Gorgeous man with a gorgeous gift. I wish he'd recorded more than just these three audiobooks.

Any additional comments?

Almost forgot to say that the material is superior, with fully realized characters - described in an incredibly rich world of language that only Irish authors seem to own. Could not stop listening. On to the next in the series. Can't wait!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful