It's a poet's way, to think of the long evening sunlight as a "big gold contraption"... And I do like the unexpected, almost throwaway description that catches the quirky nature of, 'um, Quirke, our Irish pathologist, our detective hero. Quirke drinks too much, smokes too much, tends to have lurid dreams and a lascivious but discontented sex life. Definitely not happy about himself or what he does or the state of the world; he's not married, not divorced, not even widowed, just not... A remote, disconnected outsider. So what's not to like?
Noir to be sure, but not the crackling daylight noir of Hammett, even though the story begins with a violent and nightmarish death: man with his head shot off. The rest has a kind of darkly ambiguous broody dreaminess about it, with detectives who "behave like a pair of school boys" even as they attempt to solve terrible crimes that are undoubtedly not schoolboy fare. It's the Fifties in Dublin, sort of--I mean, polio is on the rise and Gamal Abdel Nasser has just been elected president of Egypt. Nevertheless it feels contemporary. The aura is thoroughly noir, for the world IS darkly ambiguous, a place where criminals get away with their crimes, where even good people have a dark side, just as the worst of criminals have a glint of good that makes them, on some level, likeable.
In Black's world detection is a soft sort of business, intuitive, almost accidental, having none of the sureness of Sherlock or even Wimsey, both of whom always know exactly what that little button means, though they may not explain immediately. Poor Quirke, silent , stubborn, relentless self-appointed knight in shining armor that he is barely knows himself. At one point it seemed to me that the greatest mystery to be solved would be whether or not the murder would in fact be solved.
Not read any Black before, but I intend to put him on the ever growing list. John Banville, of course, has been writing wonderful novels since the 1970s; he won the Booker Prize for "The Sea" in 2005, then took to mysteries. Why this late career move? Something to ponder. Here's the list if you're interested: "Christine Falls" (2006); "The Silver Swan" (2007); "The Lemur" (2008); "Elegy for April" (2010); "Death in Summer" (2011); "Vengeance" (2012); and "Holy Orders" (2013).