Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black

I’m not much of a mystery fan. I’m more of a fantasy/sci-fi kind of guy. But despite the appalling family secrets, ominous settings, and rampant alcoholism in Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls, I still found myself compulsively turning pages. It’s a brilliant book, gloom and all.

I opened Christine Falls with certain expectations—it was a mystery, so there would be a bad guy who commits a crime, a good guy who tries to uncover the bad guy’s dastardly deed, and a tidy, satisfying ending. Black clearly thrives on turning expectations on their heads. Few of the characters in Black’s novel are as uncompromised as they seem to be at first glance, and almost all find themselves pushing the boundaries of morality at some point in the book.

Set in Ireland in the 1950s, the novel’s protagonist is a pathologist named Quirke, who was adopted as a child by a preeminent judge. Quirke’s life is not a happy one, and at the start of the novel he is an isolated, hard-drinking widower. (His wife died in childbirth, while his true love married his adoptive brother, Malachy.) Late one night Quirke discovers Malachy altering the cause-of-death paperwork for a woman named Christine Falls. Disturbed by his behavior, Quirke begins to investigate, and eventually connects the dots all the way to Boston, where he uncovers a secret his adopted family has gone to amazing lengths to hide.

Black is a gifted writer, and Christine Falls practically crackles with intelligence. Unfortunately, he seems to be one of the (many) authors that assume quality literature must feature loads of anguish. I spent most of the second half of the novel hoping that somehow, somewhere, Quirke would catch a break... but when it came to making his protagonist suffer, Black left no stone unturned.

Reading a book so relentlessly depressing was a new experience for me, but it had its payoffs: Christine Falls’s darkness was equaled by its elegance and intensity. I think I’ll go back to reading fun stuff for a while—after all, I have my mental health to consider—but I’ll be keeping an eye out for Mr. Black’s next release.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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