Black, Benjamin - 'Elegy for April'
ELEGY FOR APRIL is the third in the series featuring Dublin pathologist Quirke, written by Benjamin Black, nom de plume of literary author John Banville.
Set in the murky gloom of wintry, fifties Dublin, the book opens with Quirke about to leave rehab whilst his daughter Phoebe frets about the disappearance of her close friend, junior doctor April Latime. As Quirke finds his feet in the outside world, Phoebe persuades him to start asking some questions about April's whereabouts, and about the sicknote she submitted to her hospital employers shortly before disappearing. Quirke find April's wealthy grandee family surprisingly disinterested in April's disappearance; despite her medical training, she is regarded as the feckless black sheep of the family, and her prominent politician uncle is keen to shut down any hint of scandal or publicity.
Quirke also finds April's other friends not entirely forthcoming; Jimmy Minor the journalist has thoughts of a story for his paper, and the femme fatale actress Isobel Galloway and African student Patrick also have their own secrets to hide. Against the wishes of April's family, Quirke speaks to his police friend, Inspector Hackett, and they visit April's flat together, where they find disturbing traces of blood. In the meantime, having turned over a sober new leaf, Quirke has time to develop a new romance and to buy and not quite learn to drive an exotic new car, a source of some gentle humour.
ELEGY FOR APRIL is beautifully written, conjuring up the murk, hypocrisies and casual racism of fifties Ireland. As ever Quirke remains an engaging and troubled character, with a tangled family history, and struggling to relate to the females in his life and to stay away from alcohol. The April of the title remains a deliberately shadowy figure, elusive even to her friend Phoebe, who is forced to wonder just how well she knew her.
The plotline follows similar themes to the previous books in the series: a toxic cocktail of families, sex, religion and hypocrisy, with a sprinkling of privilege and political influence thrown in for good measure. There is relatively little emphasis on Quirke's day job in this book; the author concentrates his focus on Quirke's struggle to remain on the wagon. The actual plotting is somewhat languid, eventually proceeding hastily to a dramatic denouement coming from a flash of intuition by Quirke. But with writing of this quality, quibbling about the pace of plotting feels somewhat churlish; ELEGY FOR APRIL is another slice of classy Emerald Noir.
Laura Root, England