The Silver Swan

The Silver Swan

The inimitable Quirke returns in another spellbinding crime novel, in which a young woman’s dubious suicide sets off a new string of hazards and deceptions.Two years have passed since the events of the bestselling Christine Falls, and much has changed for Quirke, the irascible, formerly hard-drinking Dublin pathologist. His beloved Sarah is dead, his surrogate father lies...

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Title:The Silver Swan
Author:Benjamin Black
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Silver Swan Reviews

  • Ms.pegasus

    THE SILVER SWAN could easily be considered a continuation of the author's first book in the series, CHRISTINE FALLS. Readers are warned here that the second book contains numerous spoilers to the first. In addition, however, reading the first book will enhance the momentum of character development as well as the reader's enjoyment.

    Once again, Quirke's curiosity leads him into trouble. As a Dublin pathologist in the 1950's, Quirke is occasionally asked for favors. Relatives of a deceased may ask

    THE SILVER SWAN could easily be considered a continuation of the author's first book in the series, CHRISTINE FALLS. Readers are warned here that the second book contains numerous spoilers to the first. In addition, however, reading the first book will enhance the momentum of character development as well as the reader's enjoyment.

    Once again, Quirke's curiosity leads him into trouble. As a Dublin pathologist in the 1950's, Quirke is occasionally asked for favors. Relatives of a deceased may ask for a lock of hair or other memento. In Catholic Ireland, a finding of suicide can be problematic. In CHRISTINE FALLS, he was urged to ignore a falsified death report. Here, he is approached by a long-forgotten colleague from med. school, Billy Hunt. The previous night, Hunt's wife Deirdre drove up to a secluded beach, neatly folded her clothes, and apparently jumped into the icy waters where she drowned. Billy begs Quirke not to perform an autopsy; he can't bear the thought of her being cut up. Quirke barely remembers Billy who dropped out of med school after that first year and became instead a pharmaceutical salesman. He is intrigued not exactly knowing why. Billy has a rough simple kind of appeal.

    A part of Quirke is sympathetic to Billy's obvious grief. His own life has been filled with a succession of losses which have made him susceptible to Billy's plea. He also has strong personal reasons.

    His life is in shambles; the last thing he needs is more problems.

    His memories and regrets are no longer filtered out by alcohol. It has been two years since the events of the previous book, and Quirke has been sober for about a year and a half. The evenings are the worst. Quirke's desire for a drink intensifies with each new strain in his personal life. His craving reinforces the tension of the narrative, as well as the reader's sympathy for Quirke. On one occasion

    The narrative is split. The second account is told from the point of view of Deirdre, the dead woman. She rose from an abusive family living in a government housing project. She met Billy when she was a salesclerk at a druggists. The portrait that emerges is of a curious woman of limited experience with romantic longings but with a solid practical bent.

    Black is particularly skillful at exploiting the evocative power of smell in this book. Quirke's abstinence has sharpened his senses, and the heavy smell of ground coffee beans nearly overcomes him with nausea. Billy's presence elicits the thought:

    Deirdre's strongest memory of her past is a vivid stew of smells. When she notices an intriguing dark-skinned customer at the pharmacy she thinks:

    And finally, Quirke's regrets are evoked by Sarah's garden:

    Once again, Black interconnects his characters' relationships. Quirke's niece Phoebe was acquainted with Deirdre and her partner at their cosmetics boutique, The Silver Swan. The shop is a short distance from the millinery shop where she is employed.

    Phoebe and Deirdre could not be more unalike. Yet, both are tempted by curiosity to take risks; neither had sufficient experience of the world to evaluate danger. Danger is still something abstract, like the feelings from watching the actors in a movie.

    Two welcome characters from the first book make their appearance. Rose Crawford, Phoebe's grandmother, arrives from Boston. She is a still handsome, strong-willed woman, adept at summoning her southern belle charms to disarm the unwary. The second character is Detective Hackett with his broad, comforting Midlands accent and subtle method of probing.

    Black successfully involves the reader with the fate of his characters. Like CHRISTINE FALLS, the ending is a plot formality; the reader is left curious about the next chapter in these characters' lives.

  • Lynn

    I really enjoyed this second in a series even more than the first. Quirke is such a mess. His family connections and personal life are in tatters, then he stumbles through this book actually making things worse for everyone. Why would that make a great mystery novel? I felt empathy for these characters (good and bad ones). The time and setting (1950s Dublin) are fascinating, but as with the first book, the writing made me love this one.

  • Nancy Oakes

    With Quirke's life now in a bit more of a muddle after the revelations made in Christine Falls, he is making more of an attempt to stay off the drink, but he always needs that one more -- but "of course, it would not be just the one." But it's over tea that he meets with Billy Hunt, an old schoolmate he hasn't seen in years. Billy's wife Deirdre was found in the waters of Sandycove Bay, seemingly a victim of suicide, and he asks Quirke to forego an autopsy, claiming that he can't stand thinking

    With Quirke's life now in a bit more of a muddle after the revelations made in Christine Falls, he is making more of an attempt to stay off the drink, but he always needs that one more -- but "of course, it would not be just the one." But it's over tea that he meets with Billy Hunt, an old schoolmate he hasn't seen in years. Billy's wife Deirdre was found in the waters of Sandycove Bay, seemingly a victim of suicide, and he asks Quirke to forego an autopsy, claiming that he can't stand thinking of her "sliced up," wanting to preserve his memories of her before she died. By law, Quirke is required to do a postmortem, but agrees to see what he can do for Billy. Back in the morgue he lifts the plastic sheet covering Deirdre, a hairdresser who also went by the professional name of Laura Swan, and while he's trying to picture what may have happened to her, he comes across a small puncture mark on the inner side of one of her arms. While struggling over what course of action he should take now, his better judgment warns him to "stay on dry land," but

    "he knew he would dive, headfirst, into the depths. Something in him yearned for the darkness there."

    Conducting an unofficial autopsy anyway, Quirke realizes that this was no suicide and begins his own investigation. Offered to readers from an omniscient, third-person pov that frequently switches, as Quirke sets to work trying to figure out exactly what's happened, and as his daughter Phoebe becomes caught up in her story in her own way, Deirdre's story is revealed, little by little via flashbacks, interspersed with action in the present. The Silver Swan reveals a nightmarish view from below, so to speak, in various forms of darkness that envelop seemingly ordinary people in the city.

    There are some incredible characterizations here beyond the main players of this series: Dr. Kreutz, a "spiritual healer" who, along with Leslie White, slowly begin to erode Deirdre's sense of freedom; Billy Hunt, Deirdre's husband, and Deirdre herself, who wants to rise above her origins and make something of herself but who makes some very bad decisions. But what really sucks you in is the whole nightmarish scene of what people are capable of -- and Deirdre's story takes you down into an abyss among some of the worst.

    Definitely recommended, but let me say something here. Black's focus is not so much on plotting the perfect crime or following the success or failure of the police investigations in this book, or for that matter in any of his books -- it's largely on the characters who inhabit the streets of Dublin and the forces around them that lead them to act as they do. If you would keep that in mind as you read, it will make the experience that much better.

  • Darwin8u

    -- Benjamin Black (or

    ), The Silver Swan

    'The Silver Swan' is Benjamin Black's (alter ego of John Banville) second Quirke novel. There is something about Dublin in the 50s that makes sense for a noir novel. The rain. The brooding. The whiskey. The shit food. The damp seediness and decay (both material and moral).

    Quirke is a perfect character for these novels. He is an off-the-wagon (

    ), on

    -- Benjamin Black (or

    ), The Silver Swan

    'The Silver Swan' is Benjamin Black's (alter ego of John Banville) second Quirke novel. There is something about Dublin in the 50s that makes sense for a noir novel. The rain. The brooding. The whiskey. The shit food. The damp seediness and decay (both material and moral).

    Quirke is a perfect character for these novels. He is an off-the-wagon (

    ), on-the-wagon (The Silver Swan) pathologist who seems to have just as much trouble with his own family dynamics as he does with his work. He is all over ethical lines and exigencies, lonely, introverted, with a "hard heart and hot soul."

    Black, the alter-ego, gives Banville the

    to let loose a bit. He isn't aiming for poetic prose, but just mood and thrill. He's able to wack at a couple festering issues (Catholicism, poverty, sex, death, marriage, drugs, women, family) without having to make it so damn serious. In a period when a lot of good literary fiction is actually genre fiction, I rather enjoy it when an author is able to jack around the authorial persona AND play with the genre too.

    This is a pot boiler that is never quite allowed to boil (think of trying to cook Ramen on Everest). Black is a tease. Quirke is a charade. His name is a game. That said, these aren't fun novels. I've only read two, mind you, but Banville/Black's books can only be considered funny in the way a kick in the balls or a chemical burn is funny. These novels are arresting. They are painful in parts. They are a throb, a choke, a tease and a cough, but never -- never once -- a tickle. If you like Banville, crime fiction, genre fiction, etc you should probably give these a shot. You won't tattoo many lines on your arm from these books, but they may leave you scarred anyway.

  • Paul

    This is the new (second) novel written by John Banville under the pen name Benjamin Black. I think I was first on the reserve list at the MCPL. I had enjoyed the first Black book, "Christine Falls," so much that I was quite eager to get my hands on this one.

    I was disappointed. I truly enjoyed my visit to Dublin that Black/Banville provided (it's one of my favorite towns) but notwithstanding that, I thought the characters acted in ways that were not in harmony with their natures.

    I won't make th

    This is the new (second) novel written by John Banville under the pen name Benjamin Black. I think I was first on the reserve list at the MCPL. I had enjoyed the first Black book, "Christine Falls," so much that I was quite eager to get my hands on this one.

    I was disappointed. I truly enjoyed my visit to Dublin that Black/Banville provided (it's one of my favorite towns) but notwithstanding that, I thought the characters acted in ways that were not in harmony with their natures.

    I won't make this review a spoiler, but I can say that at the start of the book the protagonist, who is a pathologist, lies in report. He certifies that a woman drowned and conceals the fact that he found a needle mark and discovered that her body was full of a narcotic that would have rendered her unconscious and that her lungs disclosed that she had not drowned.

    He didn't know the woman and had no reason to commit malfeasance other than he was curious and wanted to be the only one knowing how she died so his (totally unofficial) investigation would be unimpeded by the police investigating the event. Translation: the author wanted the plot to proceed with the protagonist being the only person on the track of the truth. For this, he had the protagonist jeopardize his professional reputation and commit a crime by intentionally withholding evidence of a possible crime even though he had no substantial interest in doing so. Not a likely scenario.

    This authorial manipulation cast, for me, a cloud on my enjoyment of the rest of the novel. And there were other instances of people acting other than one might reasonably expect them to act, apparently to further the plot.

    I gave the book three stars because Black/Banville uses language and fictional techniques so startlingly well.

    "The Silver Swan" was not a difficult book to finish because it is so stylishly written and the characters are quite fascinating and so richly portrayed, but the book's motivation problems nagged at me throughout.

  • Ellie

    I'm hooked on Quirke-the taciturn, rather unfriendly "hero" of

    (aka

    ) mystery series.

    is the second in the series (and the second I've read). Laura Swan (real name: Deirdre Hunt) is dead and her husband has contacted morgue pathologist Quirke requesting Quirke

    do a post-mortem. Of course, this awakens Quirke's (already infamous from the first book in the series) curiosity. Once again, Quirke is drawn into a mess of murder (and dubious sexual activi

    I'm hooked on Quirke-the taciturn, rather unfriendly "hero" of

    (aka

    ) mystery series.

    is the second in the series (and the second I've read). Laura Swan (real name: Deirdre Hunt) is dead and her husband has contacted morgue pathologist Quirke requesting Quirke

    do a post-mortem. Of course, this awakens Quirke's (already infamous from the first book in the series) curiosity. Once again, Quirke is drawn into a mess of murder (and dubious sexual activities) that he seems unable to walk away from. And, as in his first adventure, nothing is what it seems.

    While this book is not as seamless as the first and I found sections that were slow, at least as compared to the first in the series (

    ), I nevertheless loved the book. I am oddly drawn to Quirke and his painful relationship with his daughter Phoebe.

    None of Black's characters are "easy" or comfortable. They are rather edgy, jagged people who are deeply flawed and caught in an ingrown society in which everyone knows everything about each other and secrets are everywhere. The plot in this story was well-executed and I almost didn't guess the ending (although, sadly, I did). The writing is, as Banville's consistently is, beautifully crafted and worth the read all by itself.

    I can hardly stop myself from buying the next volume in the series immediately.

  • Heidi

    Although John Banville is a very good and evocative writer, I was disappointed in this book, especially since, with some reservations, I quite enjoyed "Christine Falls". The characters were unpleasant, much of the mystery takes place in the head of the murdered woman in the months leading up to her murder, rather than from the perspective of the 'detective' figuring things out, which makes it more of a regular novel than a mystery, and the main bad guy was so, so, SO disgustingly amoral it made

    Although John Banville is a very good and evocative writer, I was disappointed in this book, especially since, with some reservations, I quite enjoyed "Christine Falls". The characters were unpleasant, much of the mystery takes place in the head of the murdered woman in the months leading up to her murder, rather than from the perspective of the 'detective' figuring things out, which makes it more of a regular novel than a mystery, and the main bad guy was so, so, SO disgustingly amoral it made me sick. I also find myself wondering about this environment in which women fall into bed with men, no, wait -- BEG men to go to bed with them -- as easily as shaking hands. It's like a big male fantasy. They meet, they lock eyes, they fall into bed. They continue falling into bed even when it is completely clear they are being used, are about to be roundly dumped, AREN'T WANTED. The amoral bad guy is shaking them off with a stick (including the detective's daughter). Perhaps this is the boggy, depressed, alcohol-soaked, poetic, shady, gaelic (sp) world of Ireland, but I found myself wanting to shout: "For God's sake, women, show some self-respect!"

    Also, the first mystery where the sleuth does not solve the mystery. We are told who did it by going into the murderer's mind. Never clear whether he/she is brought to justice.

    Three stars because he is one hell of a writer. But it's his last mystery I'll read.

  • KarenC

  • Karl

    This book is signed by the author.

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