Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vengeance, by Benjamin Black

Henry Holt, 2012 (August)
320 pp
arc, thank you!!!

"He tried not to think of what was below the surface, of the murk down there, the big-eyed fish nosing along, and things with claws scuttling around on the bottom, fighting in slow motion, devouring each other."

My thanks to Librarything's early reviewers program and to Henry Holt for sending this copy.  Book number five in Black's excellent Quirke novels, Vengeance continues the winning streak of beautiful writing and excellent characterizations found throughout the rest of the series.  Black gets more playful with his language and literary references, the characters continue to deepen in scope, and the mystery is a definite conundrum that will keep you guessing up until the very end.  After I was finished with this one, I put the book down and said out loud to no one in particular, "damn! Now that was one ****ing good book!"  I shouldn't have been so surprised at how very good it is, since it's another one of Black's very intensely satisfying novels.  Feel free to disagree all you want, but after reading all five novels in one fell swoop over the course of a week and a half, my conclusion is that  the Quirke series is definitely one of the best and most intelligently-written out there. 

As the novel opens, Davy Clancy is on Victor Delahaye's sailboat, Quicksilver,  after being invited to accompany Delahaye for the day.  Invite isn't the right word, actually, since Delahaye is the big boss of the firm owned jointly by both families, and Davy can't really refuse.  Davy "was not a good sailor, in fact he was secretly afraid of the sea."  Out of nowhere, Delahaye takes out a pistol wrapped in an oily rag and shoots  himself.  Frightened out of his wits, Davy takes the gun and tosses it overboard.  He has no idea how to sail the Quicksilver, and he drifts along, waiting for rescue.  The death is confirmed as a suicide, leading to one question, so beautifully voiced some time later in the thoughts of  Victor's sister Maggie:

"...why had Victor taken him out in the boat -- why him? It had been Victor's way of sending a message, of leaving a signal as to why he had done what he had done. But what message was it, and to whom did he think he was directing it?"

The answer, as Quirke is about to discover, is not one to be revealed quickly or easily.  The Delahayes are a formidable clan -- rich and powerful, but as with most families in Black's novels, filled with secrets.  The wealthy Clancys have their secrets as well, but the Clancy side of the business is viewed with disdain by the Delahayes, who consider the Clancys their inferiors.   When a second death occurs, the mystery only deepens.

is the most current installment of the Quirke series as well as the newest chapter in Black's ongoing dark story about Dublin in the 1950s.  Throughout all of the novels, Quirke is the main vehicle Black uses to explore this city where life was pretty much dictated by the bonds tying together  the church, big money, and politics; it's also a place of many secrets and a lot of guilt.   Quirke's  job as a pathologist working in a hospital morgue  brings with it a certain amount of curiosity; as he says in the first novel Christine Falls, "Dealing with the dead, you sometimes find yourself wondering about the lives they led." 

I absolutely love this series -- Black's forte is in his creation of a particular place in a particular time as well as characterization.  In Vengeance, he has crafted a nearly perfect mystery but also leaves the question of justice for readers to ponder, as well as the relationships of parents and their children and the legacy each generation leaves for the next. It's one of the most chilling reads he's produced yet.

This one is my favorite of the five with Elegy for April  a very close second.  I would highly recommend beginning with Christine Falls before picking up the rest of the Quirke novels, because it lays the foundation for all that's going to come next.  Seriously, considering this is a series novel, it just doesn't get better than this. Not at all.

Macmillan Audio also has Vengeance available as an audiobook, read by John Keating.  You can click the  streampad bar below to listen to a sample. 

crime fiction from Ireland


  1. Nancy - I'm glad you enjoyed this. I have to say I like these novels too. One of the things that appeals to me is the strong sense of time and place. And Quirke's an interesting character, too. Now I have something to look forward to...

    1. I think reading them all at once intensified the Quirke/Black experience. He writes so well and he creates such a dark atmosphere even when the sun is shining in Dublin. I am just blown away.


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