Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

June 19, 2007 at 1:15 am (Book review, Mystery fiction)

christine-falls.jpgThis mystery begins in Dublin with a faked death certificate and ends in Boston, where a distinguished Irish American family deals with the ramifications of that fateful act. The lives of many others are unalterably affected as well; a young couple and their “adopted” infant are a particularly poignant case in point.

The main character, pathologist Garret Quirke, easily fits the profile of the bereft middle-aged protagonist with a secret sorrow. In addition, there is a potentially explosive secret about Quirke’s life that he himself does not know anything about until halfway through the novel. It is revealed to him by Sarah, the woman he has loved his entire adult life: Sarah, who is married to Quirke’s stepbrother Mal Griffin, a highly respected obstetrician. I had a problem with the character of Sarah, in that she seemed prissy and humorless – anything, in other words, but lovable. But this is an old love that can apparently absorb changes and deterioration – “Love is not love, which alters, when it alteration finds…”

My one other problem with this novel is that the plot turns on a conspiracy involving the Catholic Church and the not-quite-legal adoption of infants of questionable provenance. Oh, no, I sighed, another conspiracy involving the Catholic Church. Fortunately, Black does not dwell long on this aspect of the plot. Christine Falls is as much a novel of character as a novel of suspense, and Quirke himself is the best thing in it: he is an unjustly injured man – emotionally, psychologically, and physically – yet he does his best not to give way to self-pity or resentment. More then that, he is committed to finding out the truth about a dodgy set-up that people in high places wish he would not interfere with. (In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing John Hannah as the actor to play Quirke. Yes, I know: Hannah is Scottish, not Irish – but still…)

Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of Irish novelist John Banville, who won the Booker Prize in 2006 for The Sea. I read that novel, and while I greatly admired the beauty of the writing, I found myself somewhat impatient with its sluggish pace. In Christine Falls, though, Banville/Black’s marvelous prose is in service of a plot with plenty of forward thrust and momentum. A good read, then, and a good choice for book clubs as well.


John Banville


  1. The Creme de la Creme of Crime Writing « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Lists like these are of interest as much for their exclusions as for their inclusions. For instance, P.D. James made the Times list, but not the one in the Telegraph. I also encountered several names that were new to me – including one mentioned in the Telegraph piece, Dan Kavanagh. This turned out to be the crime writing pseudonym, employed in the 1980’s, by a writer I very much admire: Julian Barnes. (Shades of John Banville/Benjamin Black!) […]

  2. Two novels of suspense: The Ghost by Robert Harris, and Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] avers, instrumental in his decision to try his hand at crime fiction (which he now writes as Benjamin Black). All I can say is, small […]

  3. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Seven Lies – James Lasdun Once a Biker – Peter Turnbull Water Like a Stone – Deborah Crombie Christine Falls – Benjamin Black The Tinderbox – Jo Bannister Raven Black and White Nights – Ann Cleeves What […]

  4. Monsieur Monde Vanishes…and reappears in Hanover, PA « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] provided Banville with a new direction in which to take his fiction. The most obvious result: Christine Falls, the first mystery in the Garret Quirke series (written under the pseudonym Benjamin […]

  5. At a meeting of the Usual Suspects: Simenon/Maigret, and other matters… « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] of us had read Christine Falls. Our verdict: it was okay, not great; we weren’t inclined to continue with the series. It was […]

  6. Angie Boyter said,

    I just heard of Benjamin Black for the first time today when Scott Simon interviewed him, soI immediately looked him up on Books to the Ceiling. You put Christine Falls on your recommended list, but then in your later post about Usual Suspects studying Simenon, you say that neither you nor the others in the group were motivated to read any more in the series after reading this one. So which is it? (BTW the interview was quite enjoyable & worth finding at the NPR website.)

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