Whether he’s writing as Black or under his own name, Banville knows that the past pervades the present, that the human...


From the Quirke series , Vol. 2

Graham Greene made a distinction between his literary endeavors and the trifles he called “entertainments.” Some fans may wonder why he bothered: Entertainments such as The Third Man, though not in the league with, say, The Heart of the Matter, rank with his most popularly enduring work.

John Banville has taken the distinction a leap farther, establishing a new identity for himself as Benjamin Black, a writer of stylish mystery thrillers separate from his literary work, such as the Booker-winning The Sea (2005). Christine Falls (2007), the debut by Black, reached a readership that might have had no acquaintance with Banville’s previous novels, though the author otherwise has made no attempt to disguise his identity. The book jacket—complete with photo—informs that “Benjamin Black is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville.” Now Black is back a year later with The Silver Swan. The follow-up is a more compelling mystery than its highly praised predecessor, but it depends on familiarity with that earlier book for full enjoyment. The protagonist again is a Dublin pathologist named Quirke, a character who isn’t exactly a hero and is certainly no detective—he’s as clueless as he is curious. In fact, Quirke is something of a mystery, certainly to the reader, likely to himself. Much has changed. Quirke no longer drinks, he has lost the love of his life and he is estranged from the daughter who was far more affectionate toward him before she knew Quirke was her father. Again, Quirke finds his curiosity piqued by the corpse of a young woman. Again, Quirke feels like he has stumbled upon a secret concerning her death, only to discover that he has it all wrong. Among the differences between Black’s novels and Banville’s is that the former have more dialogue and, particularly in The Silver Swan, more sex—tawdry rather than titillating. Though Black writes some beautiful sentences and seems in love with the sound of words, his style lacks the almost Joycean rapture that some critics of Banville find excessive. Banville plainly enjoys writing the Black novels, and it will be interesting to see whether the style of the mysteries begins to influence his more literary work. For the distinction might well be an arbitrary one. Long after Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler transcended the stigma of generic pulp for literary legitimacy, novelists such as Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and the underrated David Lindsey continue to obliterate the line between mystery and literature. And the greatest of all mystery writers could well be Dostoevsky.

Whether he’s writing as Black or under his own name, Banville knows that the past pervades the present, that the human condition is the ultimate mystery. And that death is either a period or a question mark.

Pub Date: March 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8153-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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