Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's in a Name?

Why would an acclaimed author of award-winning novels (awards including the Man Booker prize) choose to write other works under a pen name? More specifically, why would John Banville, author of The Sea which won the prize in 2005, be writing crime novels under the name of Benjamin Black? The Sea is a beautifully written work that we read as a group in March 2007. So when I read a publication announcement for The Silver Swan by Black/Banville I thought it would be a great choice: good writing and a good whodunit. Disclaimer: I am not well- or widely-read in mysteries much less crime novels.

But I can say now with certainty that if I had read The Silver Swan first, I never would have been interested enough to invest more time with this author for The Sea. If I were Banville, I would write these 2 types under different names, also. Is that being a literary snob?

The Silver Swan, set in Dublin, opens with the apparent drowning of a young woman. Quirke (does he have a first name?), the pathologist who performs the autopsy, has his suspicions. The chapters of his investigation alternate with those of the recent activities of the deceased Deirdre prior to her death and with those of Phoebe coincidentally (isn’t that always the case) the daughter of Quirke and an acquaintance of Deirdre. Are there clues that more accomplished readers of crime novels would have seen along the way to the resolution?

I was disappointed in the writing and could have done without the detail of the pornographic photographs but I will remember that Isadora Duncan, the dancer, died from having her scarf caught in the back axle of a sports car and broke her neck.

If you have a favorite mystery/crime novel author to recommend, please leave a Comment and I’ll try again. Or maybe I will revisit the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries of Dorothy Sayers and see if they are as I remember them from thirty years ago.


  1. Josephine Tey is a favorite mystery writer. Once I discovered her work (next blog) I was dismayed to find that she died quite young after producing some 6-7 wonderful mysteries. More to follow...

  2. I suggest PD James, particularly her Adam Dalgliesh series. He is a high-ranking Scotland Yard detective, part-time poet, and re-reads all of Jane Austen every year. Need I say more? I just read PD James's journal of one year in her life, Time to be in Earnest. She had a full career in the civil service while raising two children, dealing with an institutionalized husband, and writing.