Tag Archives: Benjamin Black

TV Crime Log: Dreadful, Quirke

Penny DreadfulTen years ago, fans of Alan Moore’s comic book The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which featured a host of iconic 19th Century genre characters – Hyde, Nemo, Mina Harker et al – foamed at the mouth at the prospect of the movie version. Sadly, that particular blockbuster proved something of a cinematic abomination – but the concept remains a good one.

The new series Penny Dreadful, which is on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday night at 9pm, takes another stab at the gothic monster mash-up. Victor Frankenstein’s rambunctious boy, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker and other public domain characters all pop up along the way.

Josh Hartness is in it, and Timothy Dalton – we like him – and Eva Green, we certainly like her – and it looks lavish and atmospheric. The writer is John Logan, a successful screenwriter who penned Skyfall and Hugo. Penny Dreadful – the title, of course, refers to the lurid Victorian magazines that peddled cheap and sensational thrills – runs for the next eight weeks, so it’ll be good fun to guess which horror icons make an appearance.

QuirkeThere’s a new crime drama on Sunday night which ticks all the right boxes. It’s got lots of hats because it’s set in the ‘50s, in this case Dublin – tick! The protag is a charismatic loner who likes a drink – tick! He’s got lots of dark secrets – tick! And he’s only got a surname – tickety-tick!

Quirke is about the chief pathologist in the city morgue and is based on the books of Benjamin Black, who’s the crime pseudonym of John Banville. It stars Gabriel Byrne. I’ll watch Byrne in anything – and he’s wearing a hat which makes me doubly-excited. He was, of course, in Miller’s Crossing, which was full of hats.

You’ll be wanting the blurb for the first episode, so you will:

Late autumn in Dublin 1956, and city pathologist Quirke stumbles in late one night from a party in the nurses’ quarters, with a view to sleeping off his hangover in his pathology lab.

To Quirke’s surprise, he finds obstetric consultant Malachy Griffin, his adoptive brother, at his desk completing some paperwork for a recently deceased patient named Christine Falls. Mal is not thrilled to see Quirke, a fact that troubles Quirke when he returns the next morning to find Christine’s body gone.

Consumed by curiosity over what Mal may have been up to, Quirke calls the body back from the morgue and performs a full post mortem. There is little love lost between Quirke and Mal, so Quirke is determined to call his brother to account, and as he closes in on Mal’s secret, he stirs up a hornets’ nest of trouble for himself.

As the trail turns darker and more violent Quirke’s investigations take him to Boston, and to the very heart of his complicated extended family. During his trip, Quirke uncovers the truth about a family secret that has remained buried for nearly 20 years, and begins to understand that there are some truths that may be better left unspoken.

Quirke will be looking unimpressed on BBC1 on Sunday night at 9pm.




Criminal Minds: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler was one of the most influential American crime-writers of all time. His battered, moral, cynical detective Philip Marlowe has become an archetype of the genre, endlessly recycled and referenced. Here are ten facts about the writer.

images1/ A quintessentially American author, Chandler spent much of his early life in England. At the age of 12 he moved with his parents to South London, and was educated at Dulwich College, where he resided at, yes, Marlowe House. Becoming a British citizen, he worked in the civil service and as a journalist before moving back to the States in 1912.

2/ Chandler didn’t start writing till he was 44 when he was laid off as an oil company executive for his continual drunkenness. But writing success came slowly. His seven novels: The Big sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady In The Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback and Poodle Springs are regarded as classics (well, the first five at least), but the early novels struggled to sell and it wasn’t until Hollywood started taking an interest that his fortunes changed.

3/ Philip Marlowe – named after the famous Elizabethan writer and secret agent – didn’t appear fully-formed. There were a number of prototypes of the character in Chandler’s many short stories, variously named Mallory, John Dalmas and Ted Carmady. When Chandler later compiled those early stories he simply changed the name of his various protagonists to Marlowe. He was a terrific recycler of his own material. Most of his novels were cannibalized from various short stories.

4/ His essay The Simple Art Of Murder from 1950 is one of the defining texts Unknownabout crime fiction. He extols the virtue of the Black Mask school of hard-boiled detective novels while putting the boot into what he saw as contrived and formulaic English countryhouse murder mysteries. He demands that detective fiction must have a strong moral vision:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor.

5/ Chandler’s adventures in Hollywood were unhappy. He was hired to work on the screenplay for Strangers On A Train – and is credited, although the script was largely rewritten– but Chandler and Alfred Hitchcock fell out big time. Chandler hated what he saw as endless script conferences – ‘god awful jabber sessions’ – and called Hitchcock a ‘fat bastard.’ He accused the director of being willing to sacrifice logic and coherence for dramatic effect, although this was the writer who also famously said: ‘When in doubt have a man with a gun in his hand come through the door.’

6/ Chandler also worked with Billy Wilder, with whom he also fell out. Chandler actually makes an uncredited cameo in Double Indemnity, sitting in a hallway reading a book as Fred MacMurray walks past. Astonishingly, this in-plain-sight cameo remained unnoticed by anyone for more than 60 years, until a French film historian spotted him.

7/ His only origjnal screenplay was The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Chandler struggled with alcoholism all his life and during this period was teetotal. He decided that the only way to cure his writer’s block was to start drinking again. Working in a stupor, with limousines parked outside his house to ferry pages of script to the studio and a battery of secretaries on hand, Chandler got it finished. The producer of the film, John Houseman, said of those eight days: “Chandler did not draw one sober breath, nor did one speck of solid food pass his lips.”

images-28/  Like all irascible, insomniac drunks, Chandler liked to write a letter, and they’ve been published. They are by turns acerbic, combative, defensive and highly-entertaining. “When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I intend that it should stay split.”

9/ Riddled by eczema, Chandler typed his novels wearing white gloves.

10/ His final novel Poodle Springs – in which Marlowe is married – was left unfinished when he died in 1959 and was later completed by crime writer Robert B. Parker. Emboldened by his encounter with Marlowe, Parker – brave man – wrote a sequel to The Big Sleep called Perchance To Dream.

And Marlowe, like other archetypes of the genre such as Holmes and Bond, continues to live on long after Chandler’s death. The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black – the crime-writing name of Booker winner John Banville – is published next year.