four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Christine FallsOne night Quirke, a hard-drinking widower and pathologist in 1950s Dublin, finds his brother-in-law, esteemed obstetrician Malachy Griffin, altering the file of a young female corpse sent to the morgue. When the wary Quirke performs an autopsy on Christine Falls, he discovers that she died during childbirth—not from the pulmonary embolism that Malachy claimed. Quirke starts asking questions, and his investigations lead him into the past—including his adoption by the Griffin family and his love for Malachy’s wife—and into the present, where Quirke’s suspicions lead to a conspiracy involving the criminal underworld and the Catholic Church.
Holt. 352 pages. $25. ISBN: 0805081526

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Christine Falls is crossover fiction of a very high order. … [Banville] makes his plot almost secondary to the haunted, richly developed characters who ricochet through this suspenseful but unhurried book, all of them full of secrets and all very much products of their time." Janet Maslin

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"While this family drama might turn maudlin in lesser hands, Banville’s unspooling of the narrative thread is expertly paced, continually heightening the story’s dramatic tension. … In Banville’s shadowy, soul-dark world, the journey toward truth is invariably painful but always revelatory." Chuck Leddy

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Christine Falls extends The Sea’s preoccupation with loss, bereavement and memory, steered in a hard-boiled direction by its compromised hero. … But what’s best here isn’t so much the forensic details of a horrendous crime, or even the inspired cameo by a barely disguised Brendan Behan, but the unraveling mystery that is Quirke himself." Mark Rozzo

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"In the early sections of the book, Banville struggles, just a bit, to keep his foot off the pretty pedal. … But Banville gets many, many other things right—especially the kind of quick, throaty introductions crime novels need to maintain their aura of coiled violence." John Freeman

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"What’s scariest of all about Christine Falls is the atmosphere of moral claustrophobia enveloping it. This is, in a strange way, a religious novel. … This is religion as the Elizabethans understood and felt it—as personal drama of cosmic dimensions." Frank Wilson

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Those who go for a slam-bang plot will find Christine Falls heavy weather—it’s slow and elegiac, with a conclusion that’s never in much doubt. But readers who enjoy a meaty, textured tale from a skillful novelist will be well satisfied." Adam Woog

Critical Summary

Christine Falls may be Benjamin Black’s debut crime novel, but it’s not his first book: Black is the nom de plume of John Banville, the Booker Prize–winning author of The Sea ( 4.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2006). As expected, Banville’s lyrical writing stands out (and is more accessible than in The Sea), but the expressive style doesn’t eclipse the dark, suspenseful plot. Set during the all-powerful reign of the Catholic Church, the novel touches on themes of sexual repression, grief, and lost opportunities. Readers expecting a fast-paced crime novel may initially be surprised by Banville’s slow, deliberate rendering of the plot and the complex characters—but they will certainly look forward to the next novel in this projected series.