Vengeance: A Nice Touch of Irish Noir

Vengeance is the fifth in a series of crime noir novels by Benjamin Black, the pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. These novels set in the still staid and parochial Dublin of the 1950s feature Garret Quirke, a hard-drinking hospital pathologist.

The book opens with a suicide at sea. Victor Delahaye, a prominent businessman shoots himself on his pleasure craft, accompanied by Davy Clancy, the son of his business associate, Jack Clancy. Although the Protestant Delahayes and the Catholic Clancys are partners in a successful garage business for three generations, it is clear that the Clancys’ don’t feel like equal partners. This perceived inferiority relationship in the partnership leads to financial shenanigans on Jack Clancy’s part, which ultimately leads to his murder.

Also complicating matters between the two families is the romantic entanglement between Davy Clancy and Mona Delahaye, the promiscuous second wife of Victor Delahaye. Toss in Maggie Delahaye, the grief-stricken spinster sister of Jack, add the playboy identical twins of Victor from his first marriage, the naïve James, and the sinister Jonas, and for seasoning toss in a dash of Sylvia, the long-suffering wife of Jack Clancy’s infidelities and the Delahaye/Clancy dysfunctional metaphorical stew thickens.

Quirke, with the aid of Detective Inspector Hackett, eventually sorts things out and we discover clarity at the end of the book. This was my first read in the Quirke series, and I would have liked a little more on the pathologist’s past. I also thought that the author was somewhat lacking in detailing both the places and mood of Dublin in the 1950s.

Yet no one today writes crime noir with the elegance and grace of Benjamin Black. His prose elevates a genre often mired in clipped and staccato writing. Ms. Agatha Christie would have delighted in reading Mr. Black’s work.