Saturday, 5 January 2008

John Banville, alias Benjamin Black

I’m reading Christine Falls, the first novel in a projected crime series written by John Banville under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black. It’s not a case of identity concealment, since the publisher trumpets the author’s real name on front and book covers and the first two pages of the book. Presumably, the creation of the Black pen-name is to differentiate this novel (and its successor, Silver Swan) from Banville’s other work.

Banville won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. I confess that I haven’t read that, or The Book of Evidence (short-listed for the Booker), but I did like The Untouchable, which features a character reminiscent of the spy Anthony Blunt

It’s nothing new for the best writers to try their hand at crime fiction (or, at least, novels with crime at their heart- which are perhaps not quite the same thing.) Dickens, Greene, Amis father and son and even Dylan Thomas are among those who have dabbled; and of course, Sebastian Faulks has been hired to write a James Bond thriller. But it’s certainly interesting to see what Banville does with some elements of the genre, even though I’m not sure he’s truly working within it.

This book won enormous praise on publication; the late Michael Dibdin, himself an estimable crime novelist, was among those who raved. It features a pathologist called Quirke, who encounters the corpse of the eponymous Christine and soon realises that her death is shrouded in mystery. However, there isn’t much resemblance to the work of Patricia Cornwell or Kathy Reichs. No deranged serial killer, no DNA evidence. In fact, the setting of the early chapters is Dublin in the 50s, and after a hundred pages, it looks as though Banville’s focus is on examining the nature of sin rather than on springing too many surprises about the identity of the principal sinners. But we’ll see.

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