Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville, a critically
acclaimed author who is well known in literary fiction circles.
CHRISTINE FALLS is Banville's debut crime novel, a complex, dark
and compelling work that is mysterious and quietly horrifying. From
the very first page, one gets the feeling that nothing is quite
right or as it seems --- and that it never will be.
CHRISTINE FALLS is set in the mid-20th century and centers
primarily on Quirke Griffin, a Dublin pathologist who was rescued
from an Irish orphanage by the esteemed Judge Garrett Griffin. The
Judge raised Quirke with his own son, Mal, but favored Quirke for
reasons unknown. Yet such preference, real or imagined, has done
Quirke little good. Mal has become a prominent obstetrician, who is
favored by his lady patients, even as he is married to an American
woman named Sarah. Quirke loved Sarah even as he married her
sister, who died while giving birth to their daughter.
Quirke's days have become a repetition of work, drink and sleep
when he happens to catch Mal altering a file concerning a dead
woman named Christine Falls. Falls is recorded as having died of
pulmonary embolism, but an investigation on Quirke's part
determines that in fact she died in childbirth and the newborn was
spirited away. Motivated by a vague sense of duty, Quirke begins
the process of unearthing the baby's fate, even as he is given
vague warnings against doing so --- warnings that quickly turn
violent not only for himself but for others involved.
Meanwhile, we learn through alternating chapters where the child is
and into what circumstances she has fallen. Quirke's inquiry leads
him from Dublin to Boston, where he uncovers a scheme that has
roots in the highest levels of Dublin society, even as he is
confronted with one of the deepest secrets of his own past from
which he ultimately cannot escape.
CHRISTINE FALLS is a beautifully told yet dark tale. Banville
uncovers secrets as if he is slowly and gently opening nesting
dolls to reveal an uneasy, roiling mass of wrongness created by
good intentions within. Indications are that more is forthcoming
from Banville in this genre. Please let it be so.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 25, 2011