Mantle, £16.99 Order for £15.29 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

A Death in Summer, By Benjamin Black

A mystery that's worth investigating

When John Banville compared himself to a sheep venturing among wolves, there were those who felt he was being a touch disingenuous. Banville was referring to a controversial appearance at the Harrogate crime writing festival wearing his "Benjamin Black" hat, as the writer of a Dublin-set historical crime-fiction series rather than as heavyweight literary novelist. In front of an audience of crime writers and aficionados, he was widely perceived to have suggested that he did not grant his crime novels the same level of seriousness as his literary work; the former were mere jeux d'esprit to be dispatched quickly, while his real achievement required far more attention.

Banville seemed surprised at the noses he had put out of joint. But the crime-writing fraternity is famously prickly about its lack of respectability. However, Banville overlooked another factor in the brouhaha – the way his Benjamin Black novels are received among many crime-fiction practitioners.

Just a few pages of the latest outing (featuring his pathologist protagonist, Quirke) demonstrate just what a stylist he is; a writer whose use of English can create an almost sensuous frisson. The bloody shotgun murder of a newspaper magnate has Quirke on the trail of a killer; the Dublin here has a richness reminiscent of the city's greatest chronicler, Joyce, while the 1950s are evoked with pinpoint precision.

But then we come to the sticking point, and the reason why crime writers were grumbling in the wine bars of Harrogate after the perceived slight: Black's plotting. As ever, everything is supremely functional but seems utilitarian rather than inspired. The mechanics of the investigation will be familiar to the avid consumer of the genre: the apparent suicide quickly nailed by the sleuth as murder; the array of suspects who might want an unpopular man dead; the divided family; the misdirection. All are present and correct, but the least interesting things about the novel.

Raymond Chandler, too, spent little time on his plots; his genius was to reinvent the tropes of detective fiction so consummately that readers barely noticed the rickety narrative structure. But despite his descriptive skills, Black's use of such legerdemain is less sure. In the final analysis, however, and putting such reservations aside, A Death in Summer is still a highly professional and engaging piece of work.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test