The first book I’ve finished this year (I began reading it at the end of last year) is a library book, Vengeance by Benjamin Black. I still have a few library books on loan from last year and I’ll be slotting in them between reading my own unread books.
Vengeance is an interesting book, ostensibly crime fiction, because there are two deaths investigated by Detective Inspector Hackett and his friend, pathologist Doctor Quirke, but it’s more of a character study, with Hackett playing a minor role. It has a slow, steady pace throughout and the mystery is not complex or difficult to solve.
As often happens when I borrow books from the library I have read a book that is one of a series of books – Vengeance is number five in Black’s Quirke Mysteries series (there are currently 6 books in the series). I think it stands well on its own, with enough back story included to keep me happy.
Benjamin Black is a pseudonym used by John Banville (an author whose books I’ve enjoyed before). His Quirke Mysteries are set in Ireland in the 1950s. Vengeance begins with a suicide – Victor Delahaye, a business man who takes his boat out to sea and shoots himself. He had taken his partner’s son, Davy Clancy out to sea with him. The Delahayes and Clancys are interviewed - Mona Delahaye, the dead man’s young and very beautiful wife; James and Jonas Delahaye, his identical twin sons; Marguerite his sister; Jack Clancy, his ambitious, womanizing partner and Sylvia, Jack’s long-suffering wife.
Then there is a second death. Why did Victor kill himself and who is the murderer, wreaking vengeance on the families?
I liked Black’s style of writing – clear and concise, the characters are distinct and the setting is excellent, both in location and time, with the characters wreathed in cigarette smoke, and having to find public telephones for example. At one point a journalist comments on detective stories, comparing them to ‘real life’ investigations:
‘I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes and Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey all rolled into one. I knew I could be. I knew I’d get all the clues and work out who had done it and at the end would get to point my finger at the culprit …
And then I grew up.’ … ‘ Everything doesn’t get explained,’ he said. … ‘You find a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, some of them fit together, some of them you just leave lying on the board, by themselves. That was the point of those detective stories I used to read – there was nothing that didn’t mean something, nothing that wasn’t a clue. It’s not like that in real life,’ (pages 213 -214)
A nice touch, I thought.
I liked this book enough to make me want to read the earlier books in the series:
- Christine Falls (2006)
- The Silver Swan (2007)
- Elegy for April (2010)
- A Death in Summer (2011)
- Vengeance (2012)
- Holy Orders (2013)