benjamin black

Benjamin Black. Wolf on a String

When John Banville (Ireland, 1945), a writer finalist for the Booker Prize and the Prince of Asturias Award, presents a noir novel, he does so under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Wolf on a String should, therefore, be a noir novel. However, its setting in Prague in 1599, the detail with which the author recounts the palace affairs and the detailed description of the capital of Bohemia at that time bring this novel closer to a historical one. Actually, it tries hard to be a crime novel in a very specific historical setting. In my opinion, the novel fails to be neither one nor the other: in terms of a crime novel, it lacks narrative tension, as well as an interesting plot: in this sense, it is weak, lacking pulse. The characters are not quite believable, particularly the main character, Christian Stern. This is serious as he is, too, the narrator: not even speaking to us in private does he manage to have his own distinguishable voice. Furthermore, as the facts unfold as the narrative progresses, one can only wonder how our detective can be so clumsy. As for a historical novel, it lacks texture, as well as interest: this period is rather bland, with no more surprises than the whims of Rudolf II.

Let’s see: the novel can be read. But it will not arouse passions and, worst of all, it will not entertain, which in the case of a noir novel is a deadly sin. When reading a novel of this genre, one abandons everything – the care in the language, the depth of the characters – in favor of the strength of the plot. That is enough. Wolf on a String does not even come close to meeting that demand of the genre. It might as well have been signed by John Banville.


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