When John Banville decided to write a straightforward mystery novel he adopted the pen name of Benjamin Black. This gave him permission to write faster, and be more interested in a plot driven story. “Christine Falls” is the first of these novels, and despite the different approach, the old Banville is, thankfully, still evident.
Banville’s signature attention to the details of weather – passing clouds, changing light, the effect of mist, sleet, and cold weather – makes the book worth reading on its own. Set largely in 1950’s Dublin, there is a conviviality in the indoor scenes which comes largely from the contrast to the weather outdoors. The main character, Quirke, is a pathologist who stumbles onto a plot involving the distribution of unwanted orphans to Boston. The scheme involves his close family, and he must decide whether or not to proceed, as he is warned off at all levels.
While the story is indeed plot driven, it it not at the expense of Banville’s exquisite attention to descriptive detail, his evocation of place, his uncanny ability to conjure up a scene and a mood through description of smells. The ending of the story is frenetic, and somewhat improbable, but this is still a book to be savored and enjoyed.