Tag Archives: Benjamin Black

Benjamin Black’s Vengeance Quick Review – Audiobook update!

I’ve liked Benjamin Black – aka John Banville – and reviewed two of his books, Elegy for April and A Death in Summer.  Now comes his latest book, Vengeance, again featuring Dr. Quirke and his friend Detective Inspector Hackett, with a strong supporting role for Quirke’s daughter Phoebe.

As usual, Black’s prose is elegant, his characters multi-dimensional, and Quirke  has his typical rough appeal for beautiful women, falling into bed with somewhat more regret than forethought.  And just as you know that any woman involved with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher will likely be dead halfway through the book, you know that any woman involved with Quirke has a good chance of being up to no good.

The mystery for this Quirke outing hinges on the relationship between Ireland’s Delahaye and Clancy families.  They are ostensibly partners in a family business, but clearly the Delahayes have gotten the best of the deal.  As Black says, “A Clancy cannot say no to a Delahaye,” and that’s why young Davy Clancy agrees to go sailing with Victor Delahaye.   Delahaye’s motivation is less clear.  When out to sea, Delahaye produces a gun, tell Davy a long story about self-reliance, then shoots himself in the chest.  Why has he killed himself?  And why has he chosen his partner’s son to witness his suicide?  Enter Inspector Hackett, who as Black notes, “felt like a monkey with a coconut and no stone to crack it on.”  And from Hackett, to Quirke.

Of necessity, Vengeance has a lot of interconnected characters, many of whom are vaguely unpleasant, including Delahaye’s much-younger wife, Mona, and his twin sons, James and Jonas.  The stakes are raised for Quirke and Hackett when Delahaye’s business partner Jack Clancy goes missing, turning up dead two days later – like Delahaye, in his boat, but not a suicide.  Murder.

The book’s resolution comes through the untangling of the many relationships – some known, some hidden, and some misunderstood – between those in the two families.

Overall, Vengeance is worth reading for Black’s style, the characters, and the leisurely unraveling of the plot.  With not much at stake, the reader should feel comfortable taking the time to enjoy the experience.

————————-

Want to experience the audiobook version of Vengeance?  It’s read by someone with an awesome Irish accent, evocative and yet still completely understandable.

Reviews: Relatively random, recent

As always, I’ve been reading.  But due to big doings in the land of dentists, I haven’t been doing much reviewing.  So here’s an effort to get caught up, with quickie reviews of several recent reads.

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina:  Mina’s a Scottish crime writer with a psychological bent.  I love her series about journalist Paddy Meehan, which are a thick stew of family ties, misguided loyalty, and criminal undertaking.  The End of the Wasp Season features Detective Inspector Alex Morrow in a twisty tale of crime and family tragedy.  You see it all coming, but are fascinated anyway.   Well worth reading.

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo:  I liked Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and reviewed Nemesis here.  Alas, I cannot say the same for Headhunters.  Meant to be darkly humorous, I found it to be an unpleasant story of a criminal who works as a highly successful executive recruiter by day and rips off his clients by night.  He’s shocked to realize that the latest executive he’s recruiting is his wife’s lover.  I bailed on the book when he’s being chased by even worse bad guys than he is, hides in an outhouse, and is shat upon by his wife’s lover.   Farvel, Jo.

A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black:  This was on Julia Keller’s top books of 2011 , and reading her write-up reminded me how much I enjoyed his previous work featuring Quirke and Hackett, Elegy for April.  Once again, the writing is keen and lovely, the characters well-drawn, and the relationships are interesting.  The only down side for me was the cliche upon which the plot turned – evil, self-centered  rich man has a charity involving small children in orphanages.  How surprising is it that perversity is at the heart of his murder?  Still, it was a quick, engrossing read.

Bone by Bone by Carol O’Connell:  I mentioned in this blog post that I chatted with a fellow reader on the el – she was reading Bone by Bone as we sat side by side, and I had The Chalk Girl in my backpack.   Upon further reflection, I realized that I had missed this standalone mystery and got it from the library.  Bone by Bone has a lot in common with    O’Connell’s series featuring Kathy Mallory, the former feral child cum detective savant:  quirky characters and a mystery rooted in the past.   Despite its somewhat convoluted plot, Bone by Bone is ultimately a more linear book than the Mallory books.  I’d give this one a middling thumbs up.

Tribune posts 2011 book picks

I read a lot and a read a lot about reading.   Newspapers, magazines, blogs, events: it’s all a giant funnel of info.  Still, you can’t read everything (or even remember everything you read!).

That’s why it was great to see that today’s Chicago Tribune includes a wrap-up by literary mavens Julia Keller and Elizabeth Taylor of the year’s “best reads.”  Twenty books – fiction, nonfiction, and even one graphic novel – to move the top of my reading list.

Not quite 20, though.  I had already added Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Marriage Plot to my list.  In fact, my husband is reading it now and I am anxiously pacing to get my mitts on it.

 

And I had already read, loved, and blogged here about Mo Hayder’s Gone.  So count my enthusiastic thumbs up on this novel, as another endorsement.

Both Keller and Taylor selected Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hedrickson for inclusion on their “recommended” lists, so although it’s nonfiction and I’m more of a fiction gal, I’ll probably head in that direction soon.  And Keller’s pick of A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black – and her description of it as a “gloomy and hypnotic mystery” is intriguing.  I read another Black book in 2010 and found it confusing at the end – you can read that blog post here – so a recommendation by Keller is encouraging me to try again.

Check out the full listing in the Tribune (go ahead!  Buy a copy if you don’t get it delivered!) or click here to see the article online.  For those of you who are still floundering for Christmas gifts, it’s way better than wandering, unmoored and confused, through Barnes and Noble.

Who was haunting Phoebe Griffin?

An ad in the New York Times book review section led me to Elegy for April, the third book in a series by Benjamin Black (pen name of Irish writer John Banville).   Set in 1950s Dublin, the series features a medical examiner named Quirke with the not-unfamiliar Irish malady of drunkenness.  Elegy focuses on the disappearance of April Latimer, a surgeon in training and friend of Quirke’s biological daughter, Phoebe.

The story proceeds in a leisurely fashion.   Friends are concerned, but not quite concerned enough.  Phoebe is worried, but then begins to suspect that April kept things from her… perhaps she has just gone away for a bit?  The Latimers – well-connected, moneyed, and with a family reputation to burnish – have all but banished April and beseech Quirke to let sleeping dogs lie.

Romance gone wrong threads throughout the mystery, as does the faint air of unreality.  Incest and obsession are revealed to be at the heart of April’s disappearance.  Dead, from a self-induced abortion, and her body buried by her brother.  But where?  He kills himself (in Quirke’s expensive, uninsured new auto) and never says.  Meanwhile, the reader knows that someone – a slight someone – has been hanging about outside Phoebe’s apartment.  Is it April?  Perhaps she is not dead, after all. Or friend/reporter Jimmy Minor, a tiny guy with a sunny smile, convinced that Phoebe knows more than she is saying about April, and hanging about, looking for a scoop?  We don’t know.  And it’s driving me crazy.

I re-read the last 25 pages of the book.  Nope, nothing more is revealed.  I Google reviews.  They are as unrevealing as the blurb on the book jacket.  I visit the author’s website.  Nada.  Am I supremely dunce-like?  Help would be appreciated.