Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: VENGEANCE by Benjamin Black

An intriguing, involving book right from the first chapter. (The allure of a great first chapter can never be underestimated.) The bizarre suicide (or is it?) of prominent Irish businessman Victor Delahaye to which we and another character, Delahaye's partner's son, are witness, starts things off with a bang: a dramatic bullet to the heart while both men are out sailing.

This is followed by the death a few days later - another suspected suicide - of Delahaye's womanizing partner, Jack Clancy. This also takes place out on the water though in rather different circumstances. As before, we're in at the death.

On the case, more or less, are Dublin detective inspector Hackett and his occasional working companion, the morose, self-involved, taciturn pathologist, Quirke. I say 'more or less' because the book is really basically a why and how than a who done it.

The police work is minimal since the author's concentration is on the often bewildering emotional lives of his characters who, in this instance, make up two well-to-do families - the Delahayes (Protestants) and the Clancys (Catholics) - whose day to day existence is seemingly made up of indolence, chicanery, double-dealing and sex - the usual pass times of the rich. (Or so they would have us believe.)

Not to be outdone, Quirke comes in for his fair share of the sex - he is a big strapping fellow with an eye for the ladies. A man old enough to know better, though perhaps not old enough to be very clever about his susceptibility to women. He also drinks too much. But his brooding remoteness and complexity of character hold attraction for the opposite sex.

The suspects in the case aren't many. There are Victor Delahaye's creepy twin sons, Jonas and James - two sybaritic entities who delight in smugness and malice aforethought, there's also Clancy's son Davy, whose creepy quotient almost matches the twins'. There's Delahaye's conniving, but beautiful and sexy young wife, Mona, as well as a few other family members - none of whom (except for Delahaye's sister Maggie) show much emotion at the death of either head of family.

Essentially a character driven story, VENGEANCE (set in and around 1950's Dublin) is a novel with suspense focused on the two unpleasant deaths of two unpleasant people who have left behind a small circle of unpleasant relations who continue to behave in unpleasant ways. Inspector Hackett and Quirke the ruminating pathologist aren't very likable either. Hackett, especially, is kind of a non-entity, a collection of bits and pieces not quite making a whole person. As for Quirke, I don't know what to make of him. I'll have to read more in the series.

Yes, I am recommending the book even if it may not sound like it. Why? Well, because the writing is damn good even with the objection I voiced in the previous paragraph re: Inspector Hackett. Benjamin Black has a way of making the mundane sound complex and mysterious - I like that. He also knows the importance of the rhythm of words - something that always pleases me. Plus there is, in this story - the telling of which is rather byzantine - an odd sort of pull which keeps you coming back to see what will happen next.

That VENGEANCE reads more like a mainstream novel than a thriller or mystery isn't surprising since Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Man Booker Prize winning Irish author, John Banville.

The book was sent to me by the publisher for possible review.
Publishing date in this country is 8/7/12.

To learn more about the previous titles in the Quirke series, please use this link.


  1. Well, well, well. Looks like someone else got a review copy of this book. HA! I was planning to get my review done by this Saturday and look who beat me to it prior to the official release (August 7). I'll have to skip reading this post of yours as I'm only on Chapter 7. I've not read any of Black's books but I really like the way this one is going. I'm reminded a bit of Ross Macdonald's corrupt wealthy families when I'm reading the portions dealing with the Delahaye household.

  2. I think this one sounds really interesting. Lucky you to get a free copy!

  3. It was, Ryan. I think it's the kind of book you'd like. You know I rarely review books by request, but this on sounded too good to pass up. Black really is a terrific writer. Even with my minor quibbles.

  4. Yes, I agree, John. Good point about Ross MacDonald's view of the other half. :)

    These people all deserve a good whack about the head and a couple of weeks in solitary confinement. Ha!

    I don't think I gave much away.

    Can't wait to read your review.

  5. It is good, Lauren. Check it out.


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