Thursday, July 26, 2012

John Banville may not have been longlisted for the Booker Prize, but Benjamin Black deserves an award for his crime novels.

John Banville, aka Benjamin Black    
In his more literary life, Benjamin Black is really John Banville, whose The Sea won the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and whose new novel, Ancient Light, is sitting on a shelf here waiting to be read.  Benjamin Black doesn't write the same sort of fiction as John Banville; he's the author of a wonderful series of crime novels set in Dublin of the 1950s, where Black notes "it was a hard time, a hard city, and a dark place to live." His main protagonist is Quirke, a pathologist whose curiosity leads him to examine other people's lives.  Mark Lawson wrote a piece on the fourth Quirke novel for the Guardian just over a year ago, where he notes the following:

"The quirks of Quirke are reassuringly familiar. He is known only by his surname (Dexter's Morse), is an alcoholic chainsmoker (Rankin's Rebus), loves poetry (PD James's Dalgleish), has a difficult relationship with a daughter (Mankell's Wallander) and has difficulty in sustaining relationships (everyone's everyone). Even the fact that, although a pathologist, his involvement in cases goes well beyond the dissection of the body nods to the convention of the forensic investigator popularised by Silent Witness and Waking the Dead on television and Patricia Cornwell in print."
While these books may not have the same familiarity among crime-fiction readers as those of some of the authors mentioned by Lawson, they stand out due to their literary quality and to Benjamin Black's devotion to character. 

I recently received an ARC of Benjamin Black's newest novel Vengeance (published in the US in August  and reviewed in my next post)  and started reading it, but I was so confused!  I had no clue as to who these people are and their backstories, and it drove me a little crazy.   Some years back I had read his Christine Falls and The Silver Swan, but hundreds of books in between later, my recollection of what had happened in those novels was totally nil.  So to do Vengeance justice, I grabbed the four Quirke novels I already have and decided to read them in one lump, then wrote a post about them over on the crime side of my reading journal blog. If you're at all interested, feel free to pop over and take a look.   I love these books -- I don't always like Banville, but I do love Black.

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