'The Silver Swan' is a gracefully literate murder mystery

Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) returns to 1950s Dublin where pathologist Garret Quirke has another body on his hands.

Courtesy of Doug Bnaville/Henry Holt and Company

'The Silver Swan," a second Irish potboiler starring Dublin pathologist Garret Quirke, is credited to Benjamin Black but, as the jacket declares with little subtlety, this is merely the alliterative pen name of noted literary novelist John Banville.

In his second noirish mystery, he delivers a satisfying blend of the muck, and pluck, of the Irish. Quirke is now struggling along as a sober Irishman two years after the events chronicled in 2007's "Christine Falls." Deirdre Hunt has been found dead in the water, a victim of drowning, suicide or, perhaps, something else. Quirke hears from her husband, an old classmate, who has an odd request. He wants Quirke to skip the postmortem, anguished at the thought of his wife's body on the morgue slab. Insatiable curiosity does no favors for Quirke, however.

The author knows 1950s Dublin inside and out and the narrative drives onward with pitch-perfect passages, reminding the reader of the capable hands steering him toward resolution. A typically masterful example: "The bricks of the houses he passed by seemed today a deeper shade of oxblood, and in the gardens lush, damp dahlias hung their scarlet heads as if exhausted after the effort of coming into such prodigious bloom." Black never lets ornate stage-setting overshadow a lean plot free of any excess fat.

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