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Book Review: Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

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Booker Prize winner John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, delivers in his first mystery, Christine Falls, a stylish, atmospheric thriller that is both beautifully written and solidly plotted.

The central character is a Dublin pathologist, known only as Quirke, who is good at his job but seems to barely tolerate it. He lives alone and drinks far too much. One night he finds his life-long friend, now a physician working at the same hospital as Quirke but who is rarely in the morgue, altering the autopsy report of a dead woman, Christine Falls. Curious as to why he would do this, Quirke embarks on a journey to discover the circumstances of Christine's death, and finds an organization that is "planting souls," sending orphaned Irish babies to America to be raised.

The book has a mysterious, decidedly noir feel to it, evoking images of darkness and blackwashed colors in the reader's mind. There's a persistent sense of intrigue in the story: who was Christine Falls, why are people trying to get Quirke to back off looking into her death, and how are Quirke's friends and family involved? Just as Quirke seems close to answering these questions, they drift further away, again out of reach.

Christine Falls loses some of its momentum whenever Quirke is not in the picture. The related side story that takes place in Boston concurrent with Quirke's investigation in Dublin is important to the plot, but seems to be written in a more simplistic, less artistic manner. It's possible Black intentionally took this approach in writing, drawing a distinction between the two environments, but it seems a bit incohesive nonetheless.

All the clues to the mystery of Christine Falls are presented in due course, and the drawn out resolution is not unexpected. Still, this elegantly crafted book with its haunting story is deeply satisfying.

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