About the Author
Benjamin Black is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. He lives in Dublin.
Read an Excerpt
The Silver Swan
By Black, Benjamin Henry Holt and Co.
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Quirke did not recognize the name. it seemed familiar but he could not put a face to it. Occasionally it happened that way; someone would float up without warning out of his past, his drinking past, someone he had forgotten, asking for a loan or offering to let him in on a sure thing or just wanting to make contact, out of loneliness, or only to know that he was still alive and that the drink had not done for him. Mostly he put them off, mumbling about pressure of work and the like. This one should have been easy, since it was just a name and a telephone number left with the hospital receptionist, and he could have conveniently lost the piece of paper or simply thrown it away. Something caught his attention, however. He had an impression of urgency, of unease, which he could not account for and which troubled him.
What was it the name sparked in him? Was it a lost memory or, more worryingly, a premonition?
He put the scrap of paper on a corner of his desk and tried to ignore it. At the dead center of summer the day was hot and muggy, and in the streets the barely breathable air was laden with a thin pall of mauve smoke, and he was glad of the cool and quiet of his windowless basement office in the pathology department. He hung his suit jacket on the back of his chair and pulled off his tie without undoing the knot and opened two buttonsof his shirt and sat down at the cluttered metal desk. He liked the familiar smell here, a combination of old cigarette smoke, tea leaves, paper, formaldehyde, and something else, musky, fleshly, that was his particular contribution.
He lit a cigarette and his eye drifted again to the paper with Billy Hunt’s message on it. Just the name and the number that the operator had scribbled down in pencil, and the words “please call.” The sense of urgent imploring was stronger than ever. Please call.
For no reason he could think of he found himself remembering the moment in McGonagle’s pub half a year ago when, dizzily drunk amidst the din of Christmas reveling, he had caught sight of his own face, flushed and bulbous and bleary, reflected in the bottom of his empty whiskey glass and had realized with unaccountable certitude that he had just taken his last drink. Since then he had been sober. He was as amazed by this as was anyone who knew him. He felt that it was not he who had made the decision, but that somehow it had been made for him. Despite all his training and his years in the dissecting room he had a secret conviction that the body has a consciousness of its own, and knows itself and its needs as well as or better than the mind imagines that it does. The decree delivered to him that night by his gut and his swollen liver and the ventricles of his heart was absolute and incontestable. For nearly two years he had been falling steadily into the abyss of drink, falling almost as far as he had in the time, two decades before, after his wife had died, and now the fall was broken—
Squinting at the scrap of paper on the corner of the desk, he lifted the telephone receiver and dialed. The bell jangled afar down the line.
—Afterwards, out of curiosity, he had upended another whiskey glass, this time one he had not emptied, to find if it was really possible to see himself in the bottom of it, but no reflection had appeared there.
The sound of Billy Hunt’s voice was no help; he did not recognize it any more readily than he had the name. The accent was at once flat and singsong, with broad vowels and dulled consonants. A countryman. There was a slight flutter in the tone, a slight wobble, as if the speaker might be about to burst into laughter, or into something else. Some words he slurred, hurrying over them. Maybe he was tipsy?
“Ah, you don’t remember me,” he said. “Do you?”
“Of course I do,” Quirke lied.
“Billy Hunt. You used to say it sounded like rhyming slang. We were in college together. I was in first year when you were in your last. I didn’t really expect you to remember me. We went with different crowds. I was mad into the sports—hurling, football, all that—while you were with the arty lot, with your nose stuck in a book or over at the Abbey or the Gate every night of the week. I dropped out of the medicine—didn’t have the stomach for it.”
Quirke let a beat of silence pass, then asked: “What are you doing now?”
Billy Hunt gave a heavy, unsteady sigh. “Never mind that,” he said, sounding more weary than impatient. “It’s your job that’s the point here.”
At last a face began to assemble itself in Quirke’s laboring memory. Big broad forehead, definitively broken nose, a thatch of wiry red hair, freckles. Grocer’s son from somewhere down south, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, one of the W counties. Easygoing but prone to scrap when provoked, hence the smashed septum. Billy Hunt. Yes.
“My job?” Quirke said. “How’s that?”
There was another pause.
“It’s the wife,” Billy Hunt said. Quirke heard a sharply indrawn breath whistling in those crushed nasal cavities. “She’s after doing away with herself.”
They met in bewley’s café in grafton street. It was lunchtime and the place was busy. The rich, fat smell of coffee beans roasting in the big vat just inside the door made Quirke’s stomach briefly heave. Odd, the things he found nauseating now; he had expected giving up drink would dull his senses and reconcile him to the world and its savors, but the opposite had been the case, so that at times he seemed to be a walking tangle of nerve ends assailed from every side by outrageous smells, tastes, touches. The interior of the café was dark to his eyes after the glare outside. A girl going out passed him by; she wore a white dress and carried a broad-brimmed straw hat; he caught the warm waft of her perfumed skin that trailed behind her. He imagined himself turning on his heel and following after her and taking her by the elbow and walking with her out into the hazy heat of the summer day. He did not relish the prospect of Billy Hunt and his dead wife.
He spotted him straightaway, sitting in one of the side booths, unnaturally erect on the red plush banquette, with a cup of milky coffee untouched before him on the gray marble table. He did not see Quirke at first, and Quirke hung back a moment, studying him, the drained pale face with the freckles standing out on it, the glazed, desolate stare, the big turnip-shaped hand fiddling with the sugar spoon. He had changed remarkably little in the more than two decades since Quirke had known him. Not that he could say he had known him, really. In Quirke’s not very clear recollections of him Billy was a sort of overgrown schoolboy, by turns cheery or truculent and sometimes both at once, loping out to the sports grounds in wide-legged knicks and a striped football jersey, with a football or a bundle of hurley sticks under his arm, his knobbly, pale-pink knees bare and his boyish cheeks aflame and blood-spotted from the still unaccustomed morning shave. Loud, of course, roaring raucous jokes at his fellow sportsmen and throwing a surly glance from under colorless lashes in the direction of Quirke and the arty lot. Now he was thickened by the years, with a bald patch on the crown of his head like a tonsure and a fat red neck overflowing the collar of his baggy tweed jacket.
He had that smell, hot and raw and salty, that Quirke recognized at once, the smell of the recently bereaved. He sat there at the table, propping himself upright, a bulging sack of grief and misery and pent-up rage, and said to Quirke helplessly:
“I don’t know why she did it.”
Quirke nodded. “Did she leave anything?” Billy peered at him, uncomprehending. “A letter, I mean. A note.”
“No, no, nothing like that.” He gave a crooked, almost sheepish smile. “I wish she had.”
That morning a party of Gardai had gone out in a launch and lifted poor Deirdre Hunt’s naked body off the rocks on the landward shore of Dalkey Island.
“They called me in to identify her,” Billy said, that strange, pained smile that was not a smile still on his lips, his eyes seeming to gaze again in wild dismay at what they had seen on the hospital slab, Quirke grimly thought, and would probably never stop seeing, for as long as he lived. “They brought her to St. Vincent’s. She looked completely different. I think I wouldn’t have known her except for the hair. She was very proud of it, her hair.” He shrugged apologetically, twitching one shoulder.
Quirke was recalling a very fat woman who had thrown herself into the Liffey, from whose chest cavity, when he had cut it open and was clipping away at the rib cage, there had clambered forth with the torpor of the truly well fed a nest of translucent, many-legged, shrimplike creatures.
A waitress in her black-and-white uniform and maid’s mobcap came to take Quirke’s order. The aroma of fried and boiled lunches assailed him. He asked for tea. Billy Hunt had drifted away into himself and was delving absently with his spoon among the cubes in the sugar bowl, making them rattle.
“It’s hard,” Quirke said when the waitress had gone. “Identifying the body, I mean. That’s always hard.”
Billy looked down, and his lower lip began to tremble and he clamped it babyishly between his teeth.
“Have you children, Billy?” Quirke asked.
Billy, still looking down, shook his head. “No,” he muttered, “no children. Deirdre wasn’t keen.”
“And what do you do? I mean, what do you work at?”
“Commercial traveler. Pharmaceuticals. The job takes me away a lot, around the country, abroad too—the odd occasion to Switzerland, when there’s to be a meeting at head office. I suppose that was part of the trouble, me being away so much—that, and her not wanting kids.” Here it comes, Quirke thought, the trouble. But Billy only said, “I suppose she was lonely. She never complained, though.” He looked up at Quirke suddenly and as if challengingly. “She never complained—never!”
He went on talking about her then, what she was like, what she did. The haunted look in his face grew more intense, and his eyes darted this way and that with an odd, hindered urgency, as if he wanted them to light on something that kept on not being there. The waitress brought Quirke’s tea. He drank it black, scalding his tongue. He produced his cigarette case. “So tell me,” he said, “what was it you wanted to see me about?”
Once more Billy lowered those pale lashes and gazed at the sugar bowl. A mottled tide of color swelled upwards from his collar and slowly suffused his face to the hairline and beyond; he was, Quirke realized, blushing. He nodded mutely, sucking in a deep breath.
“I wanted to ask you a favor.”
Quirke waited. The room was steadily filling with the lunchtime crowd and the noise had risen to a medleyed roar. Waitresses skimmed among the tables bearing brown trays piled with plates of food—sausage and mash, fish and chips, steaming mugs of tea and glasses of Orange Crush. Quirke offered the cigarette case open on his palm, and Billy took a cigarette, seeming hardly to notice what he was doing. Quirke’s lighter clicked and flared. Billy hunched forward, holding the cigarette between his lips with fingers that shook. Then he leaned back on the banquette as if exhausted.
“I’m reading about you all the time in the papers,” he said. “About cases you’re involved in.” Quirke shifted uneasily on his chair. “That thing with the girl that died and the woman that was murdered—what were their names?”
“Which ones?” Quirke asked, expressionless.
“The woman in Stoney Batter. Last year, or the year before, was it? Dolly somebody.” He frowned, trying to remember. “What happened to that story? It was all over the papers and then it was gone, not another word.”
“The papers don’t take long to lose interest.”
A thought struck Billy. “Jesus,” he said softly, staring away, “I suppose they’ll put a story in about Deirdre, too.”
“I could have a word with the coroner,” Quirke said, making it sound doubtful.
But it was not stories in the newspapers that was on Billy’s mind. He leaned forward again, suddenly intent, and reached out a hand urgently as if he might grasp Quirke by the wrist or the lapel. “I don’t want her cut up,” he said in a hoarse undertone.
“An autopsy, a postmortem, whatever you call it—I don’t want that done.”
Quirke waited a moment and then said: “It’s a formality, Billy. The law requires it.”
Billy was shaking his head with his eyes shut and his mouth set in a pained grimace. “I don’t want it done. I don’t want her sliced up like some sort of a, like a—like some sort of carcass.” He put a hand over his eyes. The cigarette, forgotten, was burning itself out in the fingers of his other hand. “I can’t bear to think of it. Seeing her this morning was bad enough”—he took his hand away and gazed before him in what seemed a stupor of amazement—“but the thought of her on a table, under the lights, with the knife . . . If you’d known her, the way she was before, how—how alive she was.” He cast about again as if in search of something on which to concentrate, a bullet of commonplace reality on which he might bite. “I can’t bear it, Quirke,” he said hoarsely, his voice hardly more than a whisper. “I swear to God, I can’t bear it.”
Quirke sipped his by now tepid tea, the tannin acrid against his scalded tongue. He did not know what he should say. He rarely came in direct contact with the relatives of the dead, but occasionally they sought him out, as Billy had, to request a favor. Some only wanted him to save them a keepsake, a wedding ring or a lock of hair; there was a Republican widow once who had asked him to retrieve a fragment of a civil war bullet that her late husband had carried next to his heart for thirty years. Others had more serious and far shadier requests—that the bruises on a dead infant’s body be plausibly accounted for, that the sudden demise of an aged, sick parent be explained away, or just that a suicide might be covered up. But no one had ever asked what Billy was asking.
“All right, Billy,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Now Billy’s hand did touch his, the barest touch, with the tips of fingers through which a strong, fizzing current seemed to race. “You won’t let me down, Quirke,” he said, a statement rather than an entreaty, his voice quavering. “For old times’ sake. For”—he made a low sound that was half sob, half laugh—“for Deirdre’s sake.”
Quirke stood up. He fished a half-crown from his pocket and laid it on the table beside his saucer. Billy was looking about again, distractedly, as a man would while patting his pockets in search of something he had misplaced. He had taken out a Zippo lighter and was distractedly flicking the lid open and shut. On the bald spot and through the strands of his scant pale hair could be seen glistening beads of sweat. “That’s not her name, by the way,” he said. Quirke did not understand. “I mean, it is her name, only she called herself something else. Laura—Laura Swan. It was sort of her professional name. She ran a beauty parlor, the Silver Swan. That’s where she got the name—Laura Swan.”
Quirke waited, but Billy had nothing more to say, and he turned and walked away.
In the afternoon, on quirke’s instructions, they brought the body from St. Vincent’s to the city-center Hospital of the Holy Family, where Quirke was waiting to receive it. A recent round of imposed economics at the Holy Family, hotly contested but in vain, had left Quirke with one assistant only, where before there had been two. His had been the task of choosing between young Wilkins the horse-Protestant and the Jew Sinclair. He had plumped for Sinclair, without any clear reason, for the two young men were equally matched in skill or, in some areas, lack of it. But he liked Sinclair, liked his independence and sly humor and the faint surliness of his manner; when Quirke had asked him once where his people hailed from Sinclair had looked him in the eye without expression and said blankly, “Cork.” He had offered not a word of thanks to Quirke for choosing him, and Quirke admired that, too.
He wondered how far he should take Sinclair into his confidence in the matter of Deirdre Hunt and her husband’s plea that her corpse should be left intact. Sinclair, however, was not a man to make trouble. When Quirke said he would do the postmortem alone—a visual examination would suffice—and that Sinclair might as well take himself off to the canteen for a cup of tea and a cigarette, the young man hesitated for no more than a second, then removed his green gown and rubber boots and sauntered out of the morgue with his hands in his pockets, whistling softly. Quirke turned back and lifted the plastic sheet.
Deirdre Hunt—or Laura Swan, or whatever name she went under—must have been, he judged, a good-looking young woman, perhaps even a beautiful one. She was—had been—quite a lot younger than Billy Hunt. Her body, which had not been in the water long enough for serious deterioration to have taken place, was short and shapely; a strong body, strongly muscled, but delicate in its curves and the sheer planes at flank and calf. Her face was not as fine-boned as it might have been—her maiden name, Quirke noted, had been Ward, suggesting tinker blood—but her forehead was clear and high, and the swathe of copper-colored hair falling back from it must have been magnificent when she was alive. He had a picture in his mind of her sprawled on the wet rocks, a long swatch of that hair coiled around her neck like a thick frond of gleaming seaweed. What, he wondered, had driven this handsome, healthy young woman to fling herself on a summer midnight off Sandycove harbor into the black waters of Dublin Bay, with no witness to the deed save the glittering stars and the lowering bulk of the Martello tower above her? Her clothes, so Billy Hunt had said, had been placed in a neat pile on the pier beside the wall; that was the only trace she had left of her going—that and her motorcar, which Quirke was certain was another thing she would have been proud of, and which yet she had abandoned, neatly parked under a lilac tree on Sandycove Avenue. Her car and her hair: twin sources of vanity. But what was it that had pulled that vanity down?
Then he spotted the tiny puncture mark on the chalk-white inner side of her left arm.
Copyright © 2008 by Benjamin Black. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Silver Swan by Black, Benjamin Copyright © 2008 by Black, Benjamin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about The Silver Swan are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Silver Swan.
1. Describe Deirdre's interest in Hakeem Kreutz, as compared to her interest in Leslie White? What draws her to each of them?
2. "Why did he persist in coming here like this," Quirke wonders, about his visits to the Judge. "Surely no one would blame him if he stayed away altogether and left the dying man to his angry solitude." Why does Quirke continue visiting, considering all that has happened between them?
3. "Do nothing, his better judgment told him; stay on dry land. But he knew he would dive, headfirst, into the depths. Something in him yearned for the darkness down there." What is it in Quirke that pushes him towards the darkness? Does he find any relief in this story? Would he be better off ignoring this impulse?
4. Why do you think Kreutz's story of the girl brought back from the dead (p. 61) makes such an impression on Deirdre? How does it relate to what we learn about her life?
5. Describe the relationship between Quirke and Hackett? Do the two like each other? What do they have in common?
6. Why do you think Phoebe gets involved with Leslie White? What is she hoping will happen between them?
7. Do you think Deirdre loves Leslie? If not, how would you characterize her feelings for him?
8. What effect do you think Phoebe's complicated parentage (the discovery of her real father; the role of Malachy and Sarah) has on her behavior in the novel? Do you see any connection between those effects and the effect on Quirke of being an orphan?
9. Look at the exchange between Rose and Phoebe on p. 165, in which Phoebe tells Rose she admires her. What do you think she admires about Rose? And what does Rose mean when, in response, she says to Phoebe, "You certainly are your father's daughter."?
10. Do you think the relationship between Quirke and Kate is a healthy one? What brings them together? What do they get from each other?
11. Is Quirke a good father to Phoebe? How do you think he should be handling his role with her?
12. Why does Quirke fall off the wagon at the end of the story?
Benjamin Black and the 1950s
When I decided to try my hand at noir fiction, I realized at once that Dublin in the 1950s would be the ideal setting. All that dinginess, that fog and coal-smoke, those misty mornings and rain-washed twilights, those heartbreakingly lovely silver-grey evenings along the canal bank between the humped, granite bridges; all that furtiveness, that covert sinning; all that despair, all that guilt -- what more could a crime writer ask for?
In those days, Dublin for me was a distant bright glow in a generally overcast sky. I was born, in 1945, in Wexford, a little Irish seaport town situated in what is known as the Sunny South-East, a description that used to provoke mirth among locals, and probably still does. I grew up in a temperate climate, in tranquil times, or at least so it seemed. Life in Ireland was slow, unsusceptible to change, pleasant sometimes, boring always. When I look back now to what was then I might be seeing scenes from Breughel, or Jack B. Yeats at his most primitive. The wars of the Counter-Reformation had long ago ended in Europe, but in Ireland the last one of them had not even begun yet.
Ireland in the 1950s was still held fast in the grip of tradition. Although we did not know it, and would have been shocked to think it, our conditions were very like those in the Eastern Bloc countries. The State, backed by an iron ideology -- Irish Catholicism is a special case of the Roman faith -- ruled over us absolutely; all protest was futile, all dissension was punished. Sinners and misfits alike were sent into exile. Inconveniently free-thinking writers were forced to go abroad or be silent; recalcitrant boys were locked away in Industrial Schools; girls who got pregnant "out of wedlock," as it was quaintly put, were sent to work -- to slave, really -- in laundries run by nuns, and when their babies were born they were taken away from them and put in orphanages, here and abroad. These were the realities of life on this right little, tight little island.
Of course, some had it good -- there is always a nomenklatura. Men of the middle-class establishment, politicians, doctors, lawyers, captains of industry, were free to conduct their lives as such people do everywhere, so long as they were discreet and observed the public pieties. For the rest of us, the stuff of life was a thin gruel indeed. In the 1970s a right-wing politician famously complained that "there was no sex in Ireland before we had television" -- our first TV station started up in the early 1960s -- and while everyone scoffed, in our hearts we knew exactly what he meant.
When I was growing up, Sunday newspapers from England would have blank squares where the Fleet Street printers had removed advertisements for contraceptives, for if the ads had been left in, the papers would have been impounded by Irish Customs. A few years ago I was walking down O'Connell Street in Dublin and saw before me a double-decker bus entirely painted over with an advertisement for Durex condoms. Times do change -- not always entirely for the better, and often at the expense of good taste.
Murder was a rare occurrence here in the 1950s. The country was held enthralled for months by the case of an Indian medical student in Dublin who got an Irish girl pregnant, strangled her, and cut up her corpse and fed it into the furnace in the basement of a restaurant where he had a part-time job. Even Wexford was not without its grisly glories: we were horribly thrilled when the owner of a sweet-shop in Cinema Lane was bludgeoned to death one black winter night by an intruder who was never brought to justice, though everyone knew his identity. The thought of all that blood spilled among the toffee bars and the bottles of bull's-eyes was deliciously shiver-inducing. Oh, we were shocked by such excesses, of course, but as George Orwell pointed out in his essay "The Decline of the English Murder," we all like nothing better than a good, juicy homicide.
Dublin in those days was a rackety town, a "relic of oul dacency," as we would have said. What had once been the second city of the United Kingdom was now, in Republican times, much reduced. An aunt of mine lived there, in a vast, leaky apartment in a Georgian house on Upper Mount Street, just up from Government Buildings, one of the handsomest 18th-century thoroughfares surviving in the city and, in those days, the well-worn beat for what must surely have been Europe's unloveliest contingent of whores. When I came to write Christine Falls I gave that apartment to my protagonist, Quirke. The house is now a solicitor's offices, and from the outside, at least, seems just as run-down as it was 45 years ago, when I inherited the apartment from my aunt and moved in, thinking myself a ready-made cosmopolitan. Quirke lives the life that I wanted in those days: he is well heeled, independent, handsome, fascinatingly troubled, and seemingly irresistible to women. Even his woes are enviable. And Dublin is his town, as it was never quite mine, and as it is not quite mine even yet. But then, Quirke's Dublin is a Dublin of the imagination, and what real city can live up to its imagined shadow-version? --John Banville
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Even though this title is listed as Mystery, it reads almost like a literary novel. It hovers somewhere between a thriller and a character study. A tricky feat, but a successful one. All the characters feel fully fleshed-out and their motivations, desires, and deceits make sense. The only 'slight' exception is Quirke's daughter who seems to exist only to sulk and get into danger'see the second season of 24 for reference', but everything else in the book is pulled off wonderfully, so that one small mark against doesn't tarnish it. 'The Silver Swan' is a sort of Irish Lit. light. It still contains the rich language you'd expect from a Man Booker prize winning writer, but it's pared down to let the characters and story take center stage.
In 1950s Ireland, Billy Hint sees his old college crony pathologist Garret Quirke. Since they have not seen each other in quite a while, Garret is bit surprised by the visit until Billy asks a favor. He begs Garret not to perform an autopsy on his late wife, Deirdre. The law requires an autopsy when foul play seems possible in this case it is probable as Deirdre¿s naked corpse was fished out of Dublin Bay though indications seem suicide as the most likely cause. However, Garret is stunned by the request as Billy beseeched him to drop the medical investigation. Instead he conducts a quiet inquiry into Deirdre¿s last days not knowing what to expect, but totally unprepared to uncovering her alias Laura Swan co-owning the beauty salon Silver Swan with Leslie White and a blackmailing scheme that includes his estranged daughter. --- This sequel to the superb CHRISTINE FALLS is an excellent investigative thriller that grips the audience from the moment Billy begs and never slows down until the stunning final confrontation. The story line is fast-paced and in spite of 288 pages is a one sitter read. The terrific hero is likable, as he learns one thing leads to another, but deception is part of each step he takes. THE SILVER SWAN is a great Irish whodunit. --- Harriet Klausner
Black (Banville) has a special way of resolving a mystery plot while completely deflating any attendant sense of satisfaction. The prose is too good to be considered truly noir or hard boiled, but the lead character -- Dublin pathologist Quirke -- is certainly taciturn and utterly opaque.
The Silver Swan is the second novel in the Quirke series written by John Banfield under his pseudonym Benjamin Black. Dysfunctional Dublin pathologist Quirke¿s return appearance happens two years after solving the Christine Falls case. Finally sober, he is mourning the loss of his unrequited love Sarah and trying to make amends with his daughter when he receives a phone call from an old school friend whose wife¿s body has been fished out of the dark waters near Dublin. The man requests that Quirke ignore the law and refrain from performing an autopsy to cover up the apparent suicide. But Deidre Hunt¿s death is not as straight forward as it first appears, and Quirke once again finds himself embroiled in the dark side of human behavior. He is unable to let the mystery alone. It was a postmortem he had performed on the body of another young woman that had led to the unraveling of the Judge¿s web of secrets; did he want to become involved in another version of that? Should he not just let the death of Deirdre Hunt alone, and leave her husband in merciful ignorance? What did it matter that a woman had drowned herself? - her troubles were over now; why should her husband¿s be added to? Yet even as he asked himself these questions Quirke was aware of the old itch to cut into the quick of things, to delve into the dark of what was hidden ¿ to know. - from The Silver Swan, page 25 -Banfield¿s writing is dark and rich and The Silver Swan, like its prequel Christine Falls, reads more like literary fiction than straight genre mystery. Characters are well-developed and plot is secondary to the motivations of the characters. The story unravels through alternating point of view which gives the mystery greater depth and interest. Once again, I found myself not entirely liking Quirke who always seems to be struggling with ethical decisions, while unable to deal with his personal demons. But, despite this, Banfield¿s strong prose engaged me in Quirke¿s story. I found The Silver Swan less predictable and with more intriguing twists than its predecessor ¿ just when I thought I had solved the mystery, the story took an unexpected turn which kept me guessing. He flicked the stub of his cigarette over the embankment wall. A gull, deceived, dived after it. Nothing is what it seems. - from The Silver Swan, page 55 -Both Christine Falls and its sequel The Silver Swan will appeal to those readers who enjoy a good mystery, but also appreciate literary fiction. Speaking for myself, I know I would not hesitate to pick up another thriller-mystery by this author.Highly recommended.
Back again to Dublin and to Quirke, the pathologist featured in Black's Christine Falls. The events of Silver Swan take place some two years after Christine Falls, and there are a lot of changes in Quirke's life and those of the other continuing supporting characters as well. Like Christine Falls, The Silver Swan remains a dark and broody type of novel, so if you're looking for warm fuzzies and a lilting tone, forget it. It's just not in Quirke's nature, and after the events that transpired in Christine Falls, not in the nature of any of the other characters either. The novel begins with a former school acquaintance (Billy Hunt) contacting Quirke about the death of his wife Deirdre. She had been found dead, drowned in a local beach, apparently of suicide. Hunt knows that there will be an autopsy, and comes to beg Quirke not to cut her open. Quirke agrees to the idea, but come the day when he gets the body, he notices a small puncture mark and thus has to break his promise. From there it's a ride into a seamy side of life and secrets -- all of which affect Quirke somewhat personally. He just can't let it go (as was the case in Christine Falls); he has to get to the bottom of what happened to Deirdre Hunt. The case takes a more personal turn when Quirke realizes that his thoroughly depressed daughter Phoebe is involved with one of the principals.Gloomy in tone, it seems that the events which have transpired over the last couple of years have left all of the continuing characters sunk in the quagmire of individual unhappiness and depression, to the point where you wonder how much worse it can possibly get. Black's incredibly well-drawn characters are what make the novel, and his descriptions of Dublin and its denizens make the reader feel as if he/she were there. The writing, of course, is superb, and it's uncanny how Black (aka John Banville) can get into the skin of each character he's created. The epilogue is a bit ambiguous, so if you expect everything to be tied up in a neat package with all problems resolved, you may not want to read this book. I look at it like this -- this is an ongoing story and there are loose ends in life in general, so ambiguity does not bother me. I HIGHLY recommend this book, but PLEASE start with Christine Falls or you will lose much needed detail for understanding the angst, turmoil and dark broodiness that seems to be the hallmark of this series. Readers of Irish crime fiction will love it and serious mystery readers will enjoy it as well. It may be awhile before the next one arrives, so I'll try to be patient.
Quirke's back in The Silver Swan, Benjamin Black's sequel to Christine Falls. He's as quirky as ever - except now he's stopped drinking and he's trying in his own way to make amends with his daughter. In The Silver Swan, an old school acquaintance has asked Quirke to help cover up his wife's suicide. Except things aren't what they seem and Quirke can't let it go until he uncovers the truth.Unfortunately, this one wasn't up to the level of the first. Quirke and his family came off as whiny and unrealistic instead of dysfunctional. The story really lagged in the middle and until the last couple of chapters I very nearly didn't care whether I finished or not.
I wanted to read Christine Falls before tackling this one and I'm glad I did. While I found Silver Swan enjoyable, I liked Christine Falls much better. Quirke is an interesting character to say the least. I love the noir feel to the book but found it slow in spots, which impacted my enjoyment of the novel. Perhaps it was a novel better read at a time when I had more energy and attention to give it--not right after having a baby.
Period murder mystery set in 1950s Dublin. Sublimely written, as we would expect. Characters are fresh and intricately drawn, as is the setting, which fairly drips with the pervasive Irish dampness. The mystery, while maybe not as compelling as one could hope, is still engaging and the book is never less than entertaining. But there's no denying that Banville is a master of the language, and his prose is worth reading even when the story lacks the power of his best work.
Excellent, literate, atmospheric mystery. I will be reading every Benjamin Black.
Won on LibraryThing's Early Reviewers and I'm so glad I did! This is the sequel to Christine Falls and finds Quirke still working as a pathologist a few years after the events of the previous mystery. Things have changed a bit, though Quirke is mostly the man he was. Then one day, he receives a call from a man he knew in college. Seems that Billy Hunt's wife has died, possibly suicide. Billy is horrified at the thought of her body being cut up and requests Quirke not to do an autopsy. Quirke tells the man that by law there must be one in the case of suspicious deaths, but Billy is so distraught that Quirke tells him he won't perform one. But when he performs an external examination of Deirdre Hunt's body, he finds something that causes him to have to perform an autopsy. And once again, he finds himself drawn into a mystery surrounding a young woman's death.Just as good as the first. I hope Banville keeps writing these Benjamin Black mysteries.
Sequel to Christine Falls. Black/Banville scored again. Great characterization.....Quirk is as dark and gloomy as before and has another engrossing mystery surrounding a dead young woman. A smart, well written book.
Dublin pathologist Quirke cannot seem to tame his curiosity. After opening up a Pandora's box of family secrets in ¿Christine Falls,¿ Quirke now finds himself driven to discover how and why Deidre Hunt, aka Laura Swan, turned up dead in Dublin Bay and ended up in his morgue. Why does Billy Hunt, his former classmate and Deidre's husband, plead with him not to do an autopsy? Why does he, Quirke, care? In his stubborn way, Quirke is like a dog with a bone: he knows he should bury it but he can't seem to quit gnawing on it. At the same time he's attempting to discover Deidre's fatal secrets, he's also trying to get closer to his daughter, who has only recently learned of the true biological relationship between them. In a word, Quirke's life is still messy, which makes his character both realistically annoying and somehow endearing. Women can't seem to help falling for him even while he works to sidestep anything that smacks of a relationship.Balancing Quirke's dogged efforts at detection are a host of odd characters and suspects: Deidre Hunt (Laura Swan), the deceased former proprietor of The Silver Swan salon, as well as business partner and mistress to Leslie White; Billy Hunt, Deidre's husband and Quirke's former classmate; Leslie White, a somewhat effete scam artist who Quirke senses is central to Deidre's untimely end; Kate, Leslie's wife, who has kicked him out and now finds herself attracted to Quirke; Dr. Kreutz, spiritual healer, who is running his own scam on the women he treats, including Deidre; and Phoebe, Quirke's daughter, who is depressed and angry at her father and who also falls under Leslie White's spell. In addition, there are the members of Quirke's extended family circle whom we met in ¿Christine Falls¿ and whose stories continue here.In this excellent sequel, Jonathan Black demonstrates his considerable storytelling skills in juggling all these characters and their stories. Some stories are told from the character's perspective; some are told from a more omniscient view. But eventually all merge together and lead to a satisfying conclusion. If there is one failing in this book it's that the reader keeps wishing to see more of Quirke. There's a certain level of frustration and tension created by the scarcity of the main character¿but then, that's the magic and mystery of Quirke. Despite the clouds that follow him everywhere, I am definitely looking forward to his return.
When I get a book as an ARC I always want to really like it, but I couldn't manage this one. It may have been more the fault of mood than the book, but I just couldn't go back into the bleakness with Quirk. He brings a pervasive attitude of gloom for me. And this from someone who loves the guilt-ridden, haunted hero of the Charles Todd books.I made it through the first of the Quirk books, but not as a happy camper, so I felt after a while I knew where we were going and I reluctantly exited the train. Sorry.
Quirke is one weird character. I enjoyed the 1950's Dublin setting but found the story to be a bit slow moving for me and I didn't like the ending. The new character, Inspector Hackett, was a welcome addition to the cast of characters. I hope that Hackett and Quirke pair up for future investigations.
When a mystery novel opens with the discovery of a dead body, it has my full attention. Avoid the eccentric neighbor characters and get right to the chase. Benjamin Black, John Banville to the Mann Booker Prize jury, opens The Silver Swan just the way I like it. A young man drops by the Dublin morgue to ask pathologist Garret Quirke not to perform an autopsy on his wife. She has just committed suicide by drowning, and he cannot bear the thought of her being cut up for examination. The Silver Swan is off to an excellent start.Things have not gone well for pathologist/detective Garret Quirke in the two years since he was introduced in Christine Falls. His wife has died, his father is in a hospital, and his daughter is making every effort she can to avoid him. Quirke does not want to become involved in another investigation, not after how turned out in Christine Falls, but when an old acquaintance makes a special effort to ask him not to perform an autopsy he cannot stay out of the case. What follows is an entertaining detective story that makes a successful effort to grab its readers and force them to keep turning the pages. But, because it strays from its central character, it's not as successful as Christine Falls. Quirke could have walked out of a Dashell Hammet or a Raymond Chandler novel. He has a drinking problem, a jaundiced view of the world, trouble with women, and he really doesn't want to be involved--all things make good hard-boiled detective fiction. When he is present on the page, The Silver Swan has the goods. But over half the time, the focus shifts to other characters: his daughter, his friend, the victim and her backstory, various suspects. These are all interesting people and the book would suffer if their scenes were removed completely, but it would definately gain if they were cut. Mr. Black is up to more than just telling a detective story, of course. In Christine Falls he shone a light on parts of Irish history many people would prefer be kept in the dark. The Silver Swan has a much more domestic agenda. No societal ill is examined, nor is any great historical scandal brought to light. Instead, the characters traverse the conflicts men have with women, fathers have with daughters, and one jaded man has with the world around him. The actual mystery operates as a means to explore these relationships. That's fine if you're looking for a novel, but it's problematic if you're looking for a mystery.
A welcome addition to this outstanding series. These are very absorbing characters, all of them flawed in ways that make them much more interesting than many that populate mystery fiction. I would not recommend reading this book without first reading Christine Falls, as there are many allusions that would be difficult to follow otherwise. I look forward to the next Quirke novel and am anxious to read Banville as Banville for a comparison.
I received a copy of Silver Swan as part of LT¿s early reviewer's program. In this sequel to Christine Falls, Quirke is on the wagon and sober, his relationship with his daughter (whom he formerly thought was his niece), is broken, and his wife Delia and his wife's sister Sarah, whom he loved, are also dead. Billy Hunt, an old school associate, has come to ask Quirke not to perform an autopsy out of respect for his dead wife. Deirdre Hunt, (or Laura Swan as she¿s come to be known in her business), has apparently committed suicide by drowning; Quirke being Quirke, of course, he performs the autopsy anyway. When he does, he concludes she didn¿t drown after all. His relentless curiosity compels him to learn what happened. The Silver Swan is not nearly as atmospheric as Christine Falls in my view, but perhaps that's just because it's the second book of Black's that I've read, and perhaps I have adjusted to his writing style. Oddly enough the atmospherics of the novel are often lighter - there's much less smoke (see my previous review of Christine Falls for more on that), and even when the interpersonal relationships seem strained, Dublin seems a fine place to be:...They set off walking together down the hill road to seafront. For Quirke there was something at once dreamy and quintessential about the summer afternoons; they seemed the very definition of weather, and light, and time. The sunlit road before them was empty. Heavy frondages of lilac leaned down from the garden walls, the polished leaves mingling their faint, sharp scent with the salt smell of the sea. They did not speak, and the longer the silence between them lasted the more difficult it was to break. Quirke felt slightly and pleasantly ridiculous. This could only be called a date, and he could not remember when he had last been on one. He was too old, or at least too unyoung, for such an outing. He found this fact inexplicably cheering.Or..The day was hot already, with shafts of sunlight reflecting like brandished swords off the roofs of motorcars passing by outside in the smoky, petrol-blue air. In any case, Black spends a lot of time and verbiage describing scenes, settings, and details (often to no apparent point). The writing is lovely, and Dublin is well rendered. Quirke¿s constant itch for a drink is palpable, and the mystery is intriguing. But in the end I found this book less compelling than Christine Falls; Quirke¿s motivations seem unclear, and while he still smokes like a chimney, his personal challenges never seem to lead anywhere. The mystery, while entertaining, and progressively more salacious, doesn¿t rise to the intricately interwoven plot of Christine Falls. It¿s a fine book, but doesn¿t rise to the level of its predecessor.
I read mysteries for their entertainment value and to relax. The Silver Swan is not your typical mystery, at least the mysteries that I enjoy do not come with their own list of discussion questions. I do not intend to say the Silver Swan is a bad book. On the contrary, it is well written with a complex plot. The main character, Quirke is a complex man with his own difficulties and challenges in life, not unlike his daughter. But, the Silver Swan is not my choice for escape. If my interests ran to a complex mystery wrapped within serious literature, the Silver Swan would be near the top of my list.
We picked Shocksword and Swanfeater
I like the blast from the past of this series