Under the pen name Benjamin Black, Mann Booker winner John Banville has written a series (five or six novels) about Quirk, an Irish pathologist who tends to get caught up in helping the police solve crimes.
While it helps to have read the earlier novels, “Vengence” can stand alone as a mystery with holding power. The earlier novels set Quirk’s character in the context of a traumatic childhood which explains some of his aloofness, and sheds greater light on his relationship with his daughter Phoebe.
“Vengence” begins with an interesting set-up. A successful businessman in his mid-50s invites a 25 year old man, the son of his own business partner, to join him sailing on an Irish bay. When they are far from land, the older man stands up and relates how his own father left him in the street when he was about seven years old, just to test his mettle. After mentioning how he learned to rely on himself, the older man produces a pistol and shoots himself in the chest as the young man looks on in horror.
At that point, the mystery is what made the man do what he did. Things become more ominous when a few nights later, the dead man’s business partner (the 25 year old man’s father) is found drowned in the same bay. There are indications that violence may have been involved. Are these events tied to each other?
While the mysteries involved aren’t earth-shattering, they hold the reader’s interest. More intriguing is the author’s attention to detail and his ability to describe the most quotidian events with an uncanny eye–the smell of the streets, the look of sherry in a glass on a sunlit day, and other beautifully rendered word pictures. Again, if you get the chance, read Benjamin Black’s series of novels about Quirk. They’re well worth the read.