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Vengeance: A Novel [Hardcover]

Benjamin Black
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 7 2012 Quirke (Book 5)

A bizarre suicide leads to a scandal and then still more blood, as one of our most brilliant crime novelists reveals a world where money and sex trump everything

It's a fine day for a sail, and Victor Delahaye, one of Ireland's most successful businessmen, takes his boat far out to sea. With him is his partner's son—who becomes the sole witness when Delahaye produces a pistol, points it at his own chest, and fires.

This mysterious death immediately engages the attention of Detective Inspector Hackett, who in turn calls upon the services of his sometime partner Quirke, consultant pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family. The stakes are high: Delahaye's prominence in business circles means that Hackett and Quirke must proceed very carefully. Among others, they interview Mona Delahaye, the dead man's young and very beautiful wife; James and Jonas Delahaye, his identical twin sons; and Jack Clancy, his ambitious, womanizing partner. But then a second death occurs, this one even more shocking than the first, and quickly it becomes apparent that a terrible secret threatens to destroy the lives and reputations of several members of Dublin's elite.

Why did Victor Delahaye kill himself, and who is intent upon wreaking vengeance on so many of those who knew him?


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Review

One of The Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Mysteries of 2012

"Alluring…  The Black books have been lovely and luminous… [They] remain enticing, sultry pleasures." —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"[Vengeance’s] tartly playful opening is a tour de force, and one typical of Mr. Black, who enjoys confounding readers' expectations…. Vengeance is filled with … enticing sentences, sentences that quietly beckon, promising one thing before flirtatiously turning back and ending unexpectedly. Indeed, language is at the heart of the entire series."—Judith Flanders, The Wall Street Journal

"Benjamin Black…has become a dab hand at certain flourishes of classic genre writing, from the thumbnail character sketch (like one of a rascal who is "charming, dangerous, darkly handsome and given to destructive gaiety") to the single startling image that turns the story on its head (like the vindictive final gesture of a suicidal man). Vengeance… is filled with these vivid daubs."—The New York Times Book Review

"Propulsive… [Vengeance] will keep you turning pages."—The Los Angeles Times

"Gorgeously composed crime novels." —Entertainment Weekly

"Even the violence in [Black’s] fifth novel, Vengeance, is fun to read… An enjoyable carnival ride."—The New York Review of Books

"Readers with a literary bent who prefer stylish prose and fully-realized characters are in the right hands with Black… Throughout [Vengeance], Black’s prose is vividly rendered, almost painterly in its detail."—The Boston Globe

"There are very few writers who can write elegantly about murder, but there is no question that Benjamin Black is one of them… Quirke is fascinating as the dominant character, a man who remembers too many old, unhappy things and regrets too much, especially an inclination to repeat his mistakes… Readers who embark on the voyage of unraveling this mystery and others it sets in motion will not be disappointed."—The Washington Times

"[Vengeance] focuses on the charismatic, disheveled Quirke, a pathologist and part-time sleuth who solves murders in and around Dublin.… Delahaye's death won't be the last bit of trouble visited upon those in his orbit, but Quirke, dogged if occasionally quite drunk, isn't one to worry when the bodies start dropping."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"There is no definitive solution to the confusion of the heart and soul, particularly in a culture of repressed desire, guilt and hypocrisy, liberally sprinkled with the holy water of alcohol. Like a Beckett character, Quirke is trapped. The mystery of these stylish Black novels is how his hero will escape his fate."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[Black] displays a melancholy poet's touch in Vengeance… The sleuthing here centers on a suicide at sea and a later death, but the absorbed and absorbing Quirke, ‘a great man for a drink,’ is as much concerned with the mystery of his own and others’ existence as he is with solving the crime."—The Wall Street Journal

"As you'd expect from Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville (here "hiding" as Black), the writing is gorgeous and sleek, 1950s Dublin is richly evoked, and Quirke is captivating — by turns dour and charming, and with an air about him that is catnip to women."—Seattle Times

"[John Banville’s] mysteries are a fun but still toothy diversion."—New York Post

"An exciting read…With Vengeance, Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) offers an elegant fifth companion to the now renowned Quirke mysteries…Set in 1950s Ireland, the novel possesses all the ingredients of a classic American retro-noir."—San Francisco / Sacramento Book Review

"If you haven’t yet discovered Benjamin Black (a.k.a. John Banville) and his marvelous creation, Dr. Quirke, then you are missing some first-rate writing and entertainment…Quirke is … an irresistible and believable character."—The Daily News

"Some incautious people may pick up Vengeance for a beach read, but don’t you do it! You must savor the writing. There are no idle moments. Best to hold this one until the summer ends, until you are back at your fireside, the world outside in a slumber lulled by a distant sea, a dollop of Jameson in your glass."—The Washington Independent Review of Books

"John Banville, when he’s not winning the Man Booker Prize and other literary hosannas, has become one of the world’s great mystery men. You might know him better in that vein by his pen name — Benjamin Black…. Black is to mysteries what Guinness is to beer — rich, complex, satisfying… [Vengeance is] a delicious read."— WBUR (Boston’s NPR News Station)

"Sly, engaging… The stylish mystery of Vengeance unravels in an Ireland where the Catholic Church and its traditions hold a firm grip. Black introduces us to a fascinating, finely drawn group of suspects." —Shelf Awareness

"A provocative whydunit…Superior prose…and subtle mystery ensure another winner for Black."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Tautly paced… [Black’s] new book is the best to date. Detective Inspector Hackett is back, his Irish country charm belying his keen mind, along with Quirke, a broody pathologist who always manages to fall off the wagon and bed a prime suspect."—Library Journal

"Black is in superbly crafty form…[He] keeps the plot sleek as his gleaming prose sails across the page as swiftly as the yachts owned by the wealthy victims in his latest tale of mannerly murder among the Irish elite… A seductively moody and shrewdly damning tale of privilege, arrogance, vengeance, and a touch of madness."—Booklist

"Black is in fine fettle, as usual; his prose harkens back to an earlier time, when the English language was to be savored. He develops a plot with the best of them, and his characters are finely drawn and challenging."—Bookpage

"Quirke remains a compelling mystery, perhaps to himself most of all… Along the way, there’s the pleasure of Black’s prose." —Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. The author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed series of Quirke novels—Christine Falls, The Silver Swan, Elegy for April, and A Death in Summer—he lives in Dublin.


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By NSH
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Gloomy, slightly seedy, and opaque Quirke is a great character. You read these books for their atmosphere-- so Irish, soggy, dark, miserable-- not for the plots, those the plots stir about in the book like bubbles in a peat bog. The writing is fantastic. These are fine books. I liked this one except for the gipsy part of the plot which felt a bit too exotic and a bit too much fantasy thinking on Banville's part. But a fine addition to this "quirky" series.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment X 2 Aug. 31 2013
By little lady blue TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is the second Quirke book I've read. The first was "A Death in Summer" which I didn't like so I have no good reason why I would have chosen to read another. It has in no way improved my opinion of the series.

I am partial to characters that are extremely clever & will put up with all manner of oddities from them. Sadly, author Benjamin Black has shown me that I do have my limits. At first I thought Quirke to be a very smart fellow but now I think he is nothing but a boring alcoholic who does not have the sense to keep his pants zipped.

I don't mind drinking or smoking, but I am bored when it's used incessantly, in great detail & in almost every paragraph. It becomes apparent that this is writing just for the sake of taking up space on the page - meeting a word count, perhaps? This simply cannot count as `good writing'.

The theme of suicide a recurring one. The plots of both novels are way too similar. Older men with young foreign wives, jealous family members, blah, blah, blah... It's all been done before. These books have nothing special to set them apart.
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By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
So happy to have just learned that Man Booker Prize winner John Banville (who writes under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) will write a new Philip Marlowe novel to be published next year. Yes, in an agreement with the estate of Marlowe's creator Raymond Chandler Banville aka Black will reprise the fellow who has been called the hardest of hard-boiled private detectives.

While I have to wait until next year for that I'm now savoring the pleasure found in Vengeance, the fifth novel in Black's popular Quirke series. Quirke, consultant pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family, is a far cry from Marlowe but every bit as fascinating. He drinks far too much, easily beds women when so inclined, isn't much of a father but when Inspector Hackett has a case making him feel "like a monkey with a coconut and no stone to crack it on." he turns to Quirke. And the pathologist is easy to find - "perched at the bar in his usual spot....a glass of Jameson's at his elbow."

The case that so puzzles Hackett involves the death, an apparent suicide, of Victor Delahaye. If it was suicide it was surely an odd way to go about it. Delahaye, an accomplished sailor, takes Davy Clancy, the son of his business partner, out for a sail. Davy dislikes water but believed he could not reject Delahaye's invitation. After going out a fair way and engaging in very little conversation save for a story about how his father thought to teach him self-reliance, Delahaye pulls out a pistol and shoots himself. Knowing absolutely nothing about boats Davy is left at sea in more ways than one.

Delahaye's suicide is a conundrum for all as his garage business is doing well, he has recently married a young, beautiful woman, Mona, and is a well placed member of Dublin society.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but not one of his best Aug. 7 2012
By Sid Nuncius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, although I do have my reservations about it. Set in Ireland in the 1950s, pathologist Quirke investigates two deaths in two families who together own and run a large business. This is the fifth in the Quirke series and it helps to have read some of the earlier ones although it isn't essential.

The plot, frankly, is slight and predictable and anyone familiar with crime fiction will spot most of what is coming from an early stage. Although not as floridly literary as when he is writing under his own name, Banville's underlying interests are the same: insights into how character works and rich evocation of time, place and the internal lives of his characters. He succeeds well with all of that here; my reservations are mainly that I didn't feel that this was quite enough to carry the book with so little interesting plot. Personally, I don't find Quirke a terribly interesting character so having his thoughts and behaviour as the central theme of the book didn't really work for me, and Inspector Hackett, who I found a wonderful creation in the previous book, scarcely gets a look-in here. However, there is enough in other characters to hold the interest and I found I wanted to see how things turned out.

I suspect that readers looking for a good crime thriller will be a bit disappointed, but fans of Banville will love this. It's not a gripping read, but recommended nonetheless as a thoughtful and contemplative one with a good deal of interest.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "This was the part of police work he hated...he felt like a monkey with a coconut and no stone to crack it on." Aug. 7 2012
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this fifth novel of the Dublin-based series involving Dr. Quirke, author Benjamin Black, the pen name of Booker Prize-winner John Banville, continues all the main characters from previous novels, spending little time rehashing the sometimes sordid history of their relationships. Instead, he picks up where he left off with A Death in Summer, set in the 1950s. Quirke, a Dublin physician, is still running the hospital's pathology lab, and he has finally resolved an old wound by reuniting with his wary daughter Phoebe Griffin. Brought up as the child of Quirke's stepbrother Malachy and never informed until recently of her real parentage, Phoebe is somewhat leery of Quirke, not really knowing how to treat him or what he expects. Quirke, a long-time friend of Police Detective Inspector Hackett, is still available for private consultations with him, especially when the real reasons for a death may be in dispute.

Both Hackett and Quirke become involved with an investigation at the beginning of this novel when Victor Delahaye, the main partner in an old company with a flourishing automobile repair business, invites the young son of his partner Jack Clancy to accompany him on a sail. Young Davy Clancy hates sailing, and has no idea why Jack makes such an issue of having him as the only passenger. When he and Delahaye are far from land, Delahaye pulls out a gun and kills himself. Quirke, upon examining the body, accompanies Inspector Hackett when he interviews the not-so-bereaved family. The remainder of the novel involves the search to discover why Victor Delahaye committed suicide, a problem which becomes far more complicated when yet another death occurs at sea, this one far more mysterious.

Black's style has always been to keep things simple throughout and to write clear, concise prose, and no reader will have trouble keeping track of the characters, their stated motivations, and how their actions evolve. At his most incisive, Black has always placed his characters firmly within the 1950s milieu of Dublin society, allowing the action to turn on personalities and their predicaments. Those new to the series may become completely absorbed in the mystery and its revelations about characters, but those who have read the entire series so far (and I've read them all) may wonder, sadly, if the series has played itself out. The new characters are static and verge on stereotypes, and Quirke and the familiar characters fail to grow or develop in new ways.

The expected twists in the story do come with the kind of suddenness one expects of such mysteries, but they are simple twists, not complex, and many readers may figure out some of the "surprises" - and the ending - before they occur. Vengeance can often be complex and it is certainly a major motivating factor here, but the sometimes elegant simplicity which Black has made a trademark in the earlier novels, becomes merely simplistic here.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Number five: a solid entry in the Quirke series Aug. 7 2012
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dublin pathologist Garrett Quirke's investigations in the dreary 1950s bring him, an orphan, into many situations where families hide secrets of paternity, maternity, loyalty, and betrayal. John Banville's alter ego Benjamin Black shares Banville's acclaimed command of atmosphere from his erudite, dense, and intellectual novels; this fifth installment of "Quirke Mysteries" moves into similarly complex motivations. Yet their focus upon a repressed and dingy Irish city under the grip of economic malaise, political corruption, and ecclesiastical dominance enables Black to craft a explore Quirke's evolution as a flawed character, battling drink and searching for solutions to the lives of others if not his own, which unravels even as he carries on, like all the living.

Not trained as a detective, Quirke relies on Inspector Hackett, the typical up-from-the-country recruit to the police turned supervisor of hapless trainees. The two meet and reckon with the deaths that come their way. This time, in "Vengeance," business tycoon Victor Delahaye, from the Protestant gentry, shoots himself while sailing with his Catholic (on paper equal but in reality subordinate) partner Jack Clancy's son, Davy. Quirke handles Victor's corpse, and probes into why he came to such an end.

"I have a great curiosity," Quirke explains to an uneasy wife. "If I were a cat, I'd have been dead long ago." His travels keep him mainly in Dublin, but a journey shows him the rest of a rundown Ireland: "The huge sky over the Midlands was piled high with luminous wreckage." Even nature looks grim.

Quirke and Hackett's half-driven, half-detached forays, along with interludes by Quirke's daughter, Phoebe, propel much of the plot. The feline, much younger widow Mona Delahaye, along with Victor's sullen sister Maggie, and Victor's glacial twin sons Jonas and James, complicate the proceedings. So does a woman who hints at a James Joyce allusion or two in the shadows, Bella Wintour. We also meet British-born Sylvia, and her husband, Jack himself.

Without giving away the storyline, this novel moves smoothly, more so than the previous "A Death in Summer." Black as in the best of the series, "The Silver Swan," excels at conjuring up eccentrics. While Quirke's debut, "Christine Falls," set up standard procedure as Quirke faced his own family secrets and learned to untangle those of other Irish caught in their own deceit, it turned so intricate that it lacked energy to sustain its conspiratorial, clerical machinations. Number three, "An Elegy for April," worked better, as it more gracefully told a maturation of Quirke with his reconciled daughter Phoebe, as well as capturing the danger of being an outsider--this time an African student--in insular postwar Dublin.

Similarly, while outliers in "Vengeance" appear more tame if sly, the class distinctions between the gentry and the common folk persist. For instance, the bearish, middle-aged Quirke dallies in these pages with a mistress, the actress Isabel Galloway, whom he had abandoned in a previous novel. "Their lovemaking had felt to him more like a surgical procedure. Isabel had thrust herself angrily against him, all elbows, ribs, and bared teeth. Now she sat there furious in her painted gown like an Oriental empress about to order his beheading."

Black as Banville keeps that writer's ability to indirectly express a character's body and mind, revealing Quirke's unease out of his element, in social situations or in his physical demeanor. After making love with Mona, Quirke on leaving her estate "saw himself as a kind of clown, in outsize trousers and long, bulbous shoes, staggering this way and that between two laughing teams of white-clad players, jumping clumsily, vainly, for the ball they kept lobbing over his head with negligent, mocking ease. Yes, he would find out." It takes him a while, as it always does in the Black mysteries, and often it appears things fall into place around him as he observes or reacts to them, rather than him serving as the catalyst. In his sly way, he determines, with Hackett, to get the twins, and to break the funereal bond that silences those who know among both Delahaye and Clancy clans.

Phoebe, Quirke's reconciled daughter, agrees. But she holds those families, Hackett, reporters, and any--even her own father--who root out the causes of the two deaths which ensue as suspect. "They pretended, all of them, to be after the facts, truth, justice, but what they desired in the end was really just to satisfy their curiosity," As one mordant witness muses after a burial: "The dead get so much more than their share of praise, she thought, and all just for being dead." Jack Clancy's son, Davy, makes the most telling observation: "You don't put a bullet in your heart unless there's something seriously the matter." This acerbic tone sharpens the book in typically Irish fashion, as backbiting shoves into indirection and caroms off of bluntness.

The questions hidden in Delahaye's motives and those of whomever killed off the second character keep three-hundred pages turning smoothly. As with earlier Quirke mysteries, a death opens it, a hundred-odd pages gradually connect those around the cadaver, and at the halfway point fifty pages later, a complication happens. The weakness of certain Quirke tales--of two-hundred pages of coasting past rich settings and engaging conversations yet filled with dead-ends and red-herrings, ending in fifteen pages with a sudden climax and hasty wrap-up--is less present here, if not entirely absent. The author plays it fair, gives the hints, and spins out Quirke and Hackett's quest efficiently. Banville as Black manages to sustain the story with a steadier structure that masks some scaffolding. While I suspect he played out a well-worn dodge to explain the mystery, this may betray Black's send-up of the genre. I am not sure Banville can keep up his yearly output as well as Black's, and the ending to this suggests weariness. All the same, number five in the series proves, alongside "The Silver Swan," a solid read.

(See my Amazon-linked reviews above to "Christine Falls" and "The Silver Swan" in Sept. 2008; "An Elegy for April" in March 2010 and "A Death in Summer" in July 2011.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vengeance Thinly Veiled Sept. 21 2012
By Telfryn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I fell in love with Quirke and Phoebe in Christine Falls and Elegy for April...this book was so very disappointing. The story line was thinly veiled, obviously solved and with little or no substance I came to expect from Mr. Black. Evidently the book was some 309 pages or thereabouts. I read it on my Kindle Fire and it breezed by so quickly, I felt so gipped for the price. I will not pre-order Quirke again. The struggles in his mind and booze so well presented in earlier novels were never really fleshed out further...Inspector Hackett seemed to be an afterthought...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't Expect Too Much Nov. 9 2013
By MoseyOn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
With Vengeance, Benjamin Black, the mystery-writing alter ego of award-winning Irish novelist John Banville, has produced a tale of two families, linked together through a business partnership but different in almost every other way. When the leading partner takes the son of the other family out on a boat and then kills himself, a mystery unfolds that reveals how much each family has gotten under the other’s skin. We are soon introduced to Doctor Quirke, a pathologist who apparently gets involved in all the murder investigations of his friend, Detective Inspector Hackett. This is part of Black/Banville’s Quirke series, and perhaps you have to have read more of them to appreciate Quirke’s character. As for Hackett, he is barely there.

There were a lot of things about the book that I found disappointing. The plot was not particularly compelling. It was enough to get me to the end of the book, but only just. The characters were also not compelling, nor were they very well fleshed-out. Black tries to make them more complex by overusing the device of the interior monologue. Every character, it seems, muses at some point about how little he or she knows about someone else. And if they are not wondering about that, they are vaguely pondering how they have spent their life, or where their life is headed. There are other variations on that sort of thing, but the sum is tiring, tiring, tiring. Toward the end of the book I finally realized what was really bothering me about the book: too much of it is just filler. Black/Banville has produced a diversion, but nothing more. If you need diverting you could probably do worse. You could also undoubtedly do a lot better
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