Malachy and Quirke are also brothers-in-law; they married sisters but Quirke’s wife is dead and Malachy’s is unhappy and distanced from her husband. One sister in literally dead; the other sister lives as if she is. The story shifts from Dublin to Boston and back again, pointing out the control the Catholic Church exerts on the Irish in both countries, no matter the social or economic class. There are strong ties between Dublin and Boston that no one wants revealed.
THE SILVER SWAN continues the story, beginning a few years later. Quirke has been sober and the genesis of that change lies in the first book. THE SILVER SWAN is a less accessible book than CHRISTINE FALLS; to understand Quirke and his relationships to the members of the Griffin family, it is important to have read CHRISTINE FALLS first.
Like the first book, THE SILVER SWAN opens with the death of a young woman. Deirdre Hunt has committed suicide; no one doubts that fact until Quirke is approached by Billy Hunt, Deirdre’s husband, who was Quirke’s college classmate. Billy has come to beg Quirke not to do an autopsy on Deirdre. He wants Deirdre’s death to be ruled as an accident so she can be buried from the church. He pleads with Quirke not to cut up his wife. Quirke agrees but the request drives Quirke to look more closely at the dead woman. As Laura Swan, Deirdre has another identity as a partner in The Silver Swan, a high-end beauty salon and spa that attracts the wealthy women of Dublin, including members of Quirke’s family.
As Quirke investigates, he finds that Laura/Deirdre’s partner, Leslie White is a con man who has introduced many of their clients to a doctor who offers alternative medicine to women looking for more than physical cure. Billy Hunt’s wife was a complicated woman and her death is no less so.
THE SILVER SWAN is a less compelling book than CHRISTINE FALLS. CHRISTINE FALLS pulls the reader in more quickly than does THE SILVER SWAN. The book continues the complicated relationships of Quirke and the Griffin family.
I liked CHRISTINE FALLS better than THE SILVER SWAN. The problem that I find with the books is that Benjamin Black seems not to know how far he wants to distance himself from John Banville. There is the canard that the mystery genre is not “literary” so it is therefore less than those books that are labeled as such. The word is derived from “literature” which means, literally, “familiar with letters”; by that definition, mysteries are literary because their writers are most definitely familiar with words and have mastered their use. Most often, the term is uses to imply that the writers and the readers of literary works are more discerning than those of us who enjoy a mystery for what it is, a game and a conversation between writer and reader. Part of that conversation lies in the creation of characters with whom, to greater and lesser degrees, the reader can identify. I don’t know anyone who is like the characters in the Benjamin Black books. Quirke is the only character for whom I can have any sympathy but Quirke is the author of his own tragedy.
John Banville has won the Booker Prize. It is unlikely that Benjamin Black will do so but sometimes it seems like he is trying too hard to be the first to write a Booker Prize essay.