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Category Archive for 'Mystery, Thriller, Noir'

An award-winning Israeli screenwriter and WINNER of Israel’s Sapir Prize for best debut fiction, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen may find a much larger audience with this new novel, her first one to be translated into English. Critics have been busy trying to describe her work, with many calling it literary fiction because of the excellence of the prose style and the complex development of her themes. Others, however, carried away by the action and its consequences, have described it as a thriller. And, since Gundar-Goshen is a clinical psychologist using this novel to explore the ways in which some people can sometimes suppress feelings of guilt, if given enough motivation to do so, the novel may also be described as an intense psychological novel. The opening lines instantly establish the mood and tone. Eitan Green, a young doctor in Beersheba, Israel, having completed his night duty, is relaxing as he drives his SUV at high speed in the Negev desert, enjoying the sense of freedom and the beauty of the moon. Suddenly, he strikes an Eritrean pedestrian, and he knows within minutes that the man will die. He briefly considers what will happen to him when he reports the death to the police, considers that he will probably get a few months in jail, and realizes that that sentence will end any chance of his doing surgery in the future. Another possibility is all too clear, however. “He couldn’t save this man. At least he’d try to save himself.” As Eitan returns home, he must reconcile what he has done with what he has always believed – and live with it and the consequences. Then the widow of the man shows up and makes him an offer he cannot refuse…

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For the past ten years, award-winning Irish author John Banville has been writing crime novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black, in addition to his literary fiction under his own name. Seven of these novels feature an alcoholic pathologist in 1950s Dublin named Quirke. Quirke has had a sad life from his earliest years, having spent time in an orphanage before he was unofficially adopted by Judge Garret Griffin, and brought into his household to live with his adoptive brother Malachi Griffin, who also became a physician in later life. In his mid-forties when he appears in Christine Falls, the first novel in the series, Quirke has never come to terms with who he is because he does not know who he is. Now many years later, his past is still largely a mystery to him. As this novel opens, Quirke, the chief of the pathology lab of , has been on a leave of absence from the Hospital of the Holy Family, receiving treatment for his alcohol addiction and related emotional problems. When an accident occurs and the pathologist performing the autopsy has questions, he comes to Quirke for help, and Quirke leaves his house for the first time in over two months to meet Hackett, his friend in the police. Though it is easy to speed through these introductory pages in an effort to get to the plot, it is the information which Quirke learns about himself and his condition which deserves the most attention, especially at the beginning. Many revelations throughout this book, and many questions from the past answered.

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NOTE: The second of the “Quirke series” by Benjamin Black (the pen name for renowned author John Banville), The Silver Swan (2008) follows Christine Falls (2007). At present (January, 2017) there are seven Quirke novels in this series, which is set in the 1950s. Quirke’s complex personal story unfolds very slowly in the background during these seven novels, some of it especially important to understanding him, though it is referenced, but not usually explained, in subsequent novels. I am therefore reposting these early reviews because they introduce key information in Quirke’s life, important to know in later novels, including Even the Dead, published on Jan. 3, 2017 and to be reviewed here this week.

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NOTE: This novel, published in 2007, is the first of a series of mystery novels written by award-winning author John Banville, under the pen name of Benjamin Black, and set in the 1950s. Because seven of the novels in the current series all feature the same main character, Quirke, whose life gradually opens to the reader during the series, I am re-posting this early review from 2007 and, to come, a review of The Silver Swan from 2008, which help to explain the complex background of Quirke as we see him in his new novel, Even the Dead, just released and soon to be reviewed here.

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In his first Detective Erlendur novel to be published in English since 2012, Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason provides a “prequel” to the entire series, now numbering six novels, and flashes back to establish some of Erlandur’s background, personality, and past history at a time when Erlendur is still in his twenties. In Reykjavik Nights Erlendur has just started working for the Reykjavik police, on the night shift, with two young law students who are working part-time for the summer, and he himself is considering whether to take classes at nearby Hamrahlid College which offers adult education classes. Most of his night-time duties consist of breaking up fights, arresting drunks, attending to the victims of automobile accidents, and reporting more serious events – sudden deaths and disappearances – some of which intrigue Erlendur enough that he follows up, unofficially, on his own. Though he does not consider himself “nocturnal,” he does not object to the night duty, having become “reconciled to the city, when its streets were finally quiet with no sound but the wind and the low chugging of the engine” of the van. A loner who has never established strong connections with his peers, and who seems to have no family, Erlendur makes few commitments, a characteristic which becomes even more dramatic in the novels of his later life in which he is almost pathologically solitary, reflecting his grim vision of reality and even grimmer vision of mankind. As is always the case with Indridason’s novels, he keeps the style clear and sometimes terse, but in this novel, he makes Erlendur more human. By isolating Erlendur from the family he eventually has in the later novels, it is possible to see Erlendur as a person who cares about others when he does not have the family distractions which complicate his life twenty years later.

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