A review of

Christine Falls

by Benjamin Black

Central question: If you suspect your family of masterminding an international baby-smuggling operation, should you investigate?
Format: 352 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 9"; Price: $25.00; Publisher: Henry Holt and Company; Book design: Kelly S. Too; First wife’s description of author during the process of composition: “like a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”; Opening line of sub-Joycean short story written at age twelve: “The white May blossom swooned slowly into the open mouth of the grave”; Representative sentence: “I’ve cut up a lot of bodies in my time,” Quirke said, “but I’ve never found the place where the soul might have been.”

In his decision to write a straightforward, no-nonsense thriller about transatlantic baby-smuggling and the Catholic Church, John Banville, a veritable emperor of baroque prose, has not so much taken a vow of poverty as put in a sly bid to extend and reinforce his stylistic dominion. Ostensibly a “genre novel,” Christine Falls actually aspires to something far more permanent, shunning the glib lubricity of most pulp fiction for more subtle pleasures. Those familiar with Banville will have expected nothing less; the neophyte, however, who picks up this racy little number anticipating nothing more than a night of brisk casual thrills may soon be surprised to find himself in the grips of a literary passion he had not gambled on.

Still, it is smallish fry compared to the great white of The Sea (last year’s Booker Prize winner), and one understands why Banville has chosen to veil himself, however lightly, with the diaphanous sobriquet of Benjamin Black. Things are set in motion thus: During a party at the Holy Family Hospital in Dublin, Quirke, an aging pathologist who likes his drink, discovers his brother-by-adoption, Mal Griffin, down in the morgue tampering with the records pertaining to a newly arrived cadaver, one Christine Falls. Despite clear indications that he should do otherwise (large, illiterate men, an inner sense of foreboding), Quirke begins to make inquiries around town and soon discovers that Christine Falls (a name bursting at the seams with theological import) was formerly employed as a maid in his brother’s household, at which point his hermeneutic zeal begins to get him in serious trouble.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Giles Harvey

Giles Harvey is a freelance book critic. His stories have been rejected by the New Yorker and the Paris Review. He can be contacted at gilesharvey@hotmail.com.

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