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Sleuthing Around Dublin's Darkest Corners

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"If you are going to write noir fiction, Dublin in the '50s is absolutely perfect," novelist Benjamin Black tells NPR's Philip Reeves. "All that poverty, all that fog, all that cigarette smoke, all those drink fumes. Perfect noir territory."

You may know Black better as Irish writer John Banville, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sea. Banville writes his crime fiction under the name Benjamin Black. His novels star an oddball sleuth named Quirke — a bachelor in his early 40s who works as a consultant pathologist in a Dublin morgue.

"He has a very dark and troubled past," Black explains. "He was an orphan. When he looks back to his earliest years, he sees only a blank, which is I think what drives him. What drives his curiosity. His itch to know about other people's lives, other people's secrets."

If you're looking for a savvy investigator, you won't find it in Quirke. "In these books, nothing is ever resolved," Black says. "The baddies are not put away. Poor old Quirke is as dumb as the rest of us, you know. If you wanted the exact opposite of Sherlock Holmes, Quirke would be your man. He just stumbles along as we all do."

Like his protagonist, Black's Dublin setting is flawed, but full of character. "I suppose I love this place," Black says. "I feel very odd saying it. In a way, it's the cheapest thing you can do. It's like saying, 'I love my mother,' or 'Apple pie is nice.' But I suppose I love this place in a strange, embittered kind of way, which is the best way to love somewhere I think."

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