“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black’s Dark And Banville’s Light

I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with the cover for Benjamin Black’s forthcoming VENGEANCE (August, Henry Holt), or whether we’re looking at UK and US covers, but I know which one I prefer (right). Certainly the ‘bandstand’ cover conjures up the moody, atmospheric tone I associate with Black’s Quirke novels, which are set in 1950s Dublin; the other cover (below) is rather garish, and brings to mind the worst excesses of the kind of slash-‘n’-cash rubbish that seems to be growing increasingly prevalent in crime fiction these days. Or are said novels (or their lurid covers) merely a throwback to the gory, glory days of the pulp novel? YOU decide.
  Anyhoo, onto the story itself. VENGEANCE is the fifth in Black’s Quirke series, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
A bizarre suicide leads to a scandal and then still more blood, as one of our most brilliant crime novelists reveals a world where money and sex trump everything. It’s a fine day for a sail, and Victor Delahaye, one of Ireland’s most successful businessmen, takes his boat far out to sea. With him is his partner’s son—who becomes the sole witness when Delahaye produces a pistol, points it at his own chest, and fires. This mysterious death immediately engages the attention of Detective Inspector Hackett, who in turn calls upon the services of his sometime partner Quirke, consultant pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family. The stakes are high: Delahaye’s prominence in business circles means that Hackett and Quirke must proceed very carefully. Among others, they interview Mona Delahaye, the dead man’s young and very beautiful wife; James and Jonas Delahaye, his identical twin sons; and Jack Clancy, his ambitious, womanizing partner. But then a second death occurs, this one even more shocking than the first, and quickly it becomes apparent that a terrible secret threatens to destroy the lives and reputations of several members of Dublin’s elite.
  Benjamin Black, as you very probably know, is the alter-ego of John Banville, who also has a novel published later this year. Interestingly - or not, depending on whether you’ve been following the on-off debate about how serious Banville is about writing his crime fiction - he suggested last year, in an interview with The Star’s Mark Egan, that Benjamin Black has influenced the way John Banville writes. To wit:
“Black was able to help Banville,” he says, explaining that the Banville novel he just completed, ANCIENT LIGHT, was improved by his crime fiction.
“Black has got used to doing plots and keeping all that balanced, and Banville has learned some of that from him,” he says.
In ANCIENT LIGHT, Banville revisits his novels ECLIPSE and SHROUD. Narrator Alexander Cleave thinks about the suicide of his daughter Cass and a sexual affair he had as a teenager with a friend’s mother in a small Irish town.
  Herewith be the blurb elves:
ANCIENT LIGHT is a stunning novel about youth and age, first love and the illusions of memory by one of the finest writers in the English language. An elderly actor remembers his first affair as a young teenage boy in a small town in 1950s Ireland -- the illicit meetings in a rundown cottage outside town; assignations in the back of his lover’s car on a rain-soaked afternoon. And with these memories comes something sharper and much darker -- the more recent recollection of the actor’s own daughter’s suicide only ten years earlier. In John Banville’s dazzling new book is the story of a life rendered brilliantly vivid -- the deluded nature of young love and the terrifying shock of grief. ANCIENT LIGHT is one of John Banville’s finest novels, both utterly pleasurable and devastatingly moving in the same moment.
  So there you have it. A Black novel AND a Banville novel in the same year? But Mr Publisher-type Ambassador, with these gifts you are surely spoiling us …

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