Quirke, which began with the first of three episodes tonight, has an impeccable pedigree. The original books about the character, an Irish forensic pathologist working in the Fifties, are written by Man Booker prize winner John Banville (using the name Benjamin Black.) The screenplay came from Andrew Davies, one of the most notable writers of television scripts of the past forty years. And the cast, led by Gabriel Byrne as Quirke, was very strong, and included Michael Gambon.
Even so, on a wet Bank Holiday Sunday, Quirke wasn't exactly feelgood viewing. In fact, it made noirish old Hinterland (the fourth and last episode of which was excellent, by the way) look like sun-soaked Death in Paradise. The depressing mood didn't just come from the story, a grim affair about child trafficking. It was reinforced by the background music and, most of all, by the relentlessly dark lighting. All very gloomy.
But was it good television? Well, the story was based on Christine Falls, the first Black book, and one I enjoyed reading. I'm not sure how easy it would have been to follow for anyone who hadn't read the book. The pace seemed rather uneven, with quite a lot of action near the end, when the scene shifted from Ireland to Boston in the US, after some rather sluggish and borderline dull periods. The quality of those involved in producing this show guaranteed that I paid attention, but I think I'll reserve judgment on its success for another week.
There's been a lot of debate about Banville's attitude to crime fiction. His comments have been interpreted as being rather disrespectful towards genre fiction, although you can argue that he's right to be sceptical about the very idea of genre. There was a famous debate which I witnessed at Harrogate a few years ago where he crossed swords with Reginald Hill, and didn't win too many friends in the audience. Reg wasn't impressed, either, I think it's fair to say. But I was lucky enough to be commissioned to interview Banville for Mystery Scene, a few years ago, and in the course of two long telephone conversations, I found him engaging (after a rather guarded start) and not at all dismissive of crime stories. Yes, his tastes run to Simenon and the Americans rather than Christie and Sayers (and Hill, I suppose) but this is simply a matter of personal preference. The fact is, he's a gifted writer, and crime fiction can only gain if the world's finest novelists try their hand at it. My interview with him, by the way, is to be found on my website, in the articles section here. Lots of other stuff there, incidentally!