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Some Murders Do Have Em
In addition to his celebrated literary novels, John Banville has carved out a parallel career as a crime writer of some distinction, writing under the pen name Benjamin Black. He talks to Paul Nolan about the latest book in the Black series, the compelling A Death In Summer.
Paul Nolan, 26 Jul 2011
“There’s a weird coincidence with the photograph on the cover of the first book, Christine Falls, which they chose from thousands of pictures on Getty Images. It’s an archway in the middle of the street and it seemed familiar. My Greek publisher used the same image and I took him up to see Upper Mount Street. Purely by coincidence, the photo was taken on St Stephen’s Place, just off Upper Mount Street. I took that as a good omen. I loved being there, especially on the weekends, because in those days Dublin used to shut on the weekends, so there were no cars or traffic, and no one out in the evening except the whores and their extraordinarily numerous clients. This used to fascinate me. Those poor working women in those days were not exactly young and not exactly ravishingly beautiful, but they did a brisk trade. So it was a different world, gone now – although of course Mount Street is still there (laughs).”
Banville doesn’t do much research into police procedure (“it kills fiction”) and, for various reasons, isn’t particularly keen on a lot of modern crime writing, whether it’s TV shows such as CSI or the massive selling Stieg Larsson books.
“One of the difficulties in writing this series is that, in those days, a murder in this country would be headline news for months,” he considers. “We had about one murder every five years or so; now of course we’re completely inured to people slaughtering each other all over the place. So the police wouldn’t have been used to dealing with murders, and they were sort of making it up as they went along. Forensic science was in its very early stages. I abhor all this stuff that you see now on television, which is completely fantastical, like CSI. Also, I deplore the absolute horror of modern crime fiction, whether in book form, on television or on the screen.
“Somebody was writing in The New Yorker recently wondering at the success of the Stieg Larsson series, and I was going to write in and say, ‘Don’t you realise that, for our time, this is the perfect formula for crime fiction?’ Extreme violence against women, a woman who is herself violent but a heroine, and a hero who is so politically correct as to be completely unbelievable. It’s a perfect combination. But 95% of crime fiction nowadays has extreme violence against women; women being raped, tortured to death and cut to pieces. Our palate gets increasingly jaded. Most of us – and this is the attraction of crime fiction – will never see any violence throughout our entire lives, apart from people waving their fists at each other after their cars collide.