I was intrigued by the first novel in this new series by the pseudonymous Black, Christine Falls, which I reviewed last year. As I recall the thing that struck me most was the way the protagonist, Quirke lacked a first name – he still does. Is this literary pretentiousness on the part of Banville, or merely lack of imagination? Whichever, I find it’s beginning to grate. And get in the way of the story, which is always bad, especially when, as here, the story is actually pretty good. But then I know nothing about the working practices of pathologists in 1950s Ireland, and it may be total mince for all I know.
The story begins naturally, with a body. This time of an apparent suicide. Quirke is asked to do the autopsy by the body’s grieving husband; an old chum of Quirke’s that he hasn’t seen for years. Billy Hunt is desperate that his beloved’s body not be cut up, and Quirke agrees. But then he finds puncture wounds on the woman’s arm, and his curiosity gets the better of him. As in Christine Falls we have a picture of a society where inconvenient answers, indeed inconvenient questions are swept under the carpet, and the road to find the truth about the woman’s death is rocky indeed. Along the way, Banville creates a wonderfully evocative atmosphere that is so grim and claustrophobic that it makes you wonder how on earth Quirke is going to stay on the wagon until the end of the book.
I understand Banville is very dismissive of these two novels, claiming to have knocked them out in six weeks. Well good luck to him – I wish I could write that fast.