Friday, June 3, 2016

Review of Elegy for April by Benjamin Black (Picador, 2010)

1950s Dublin.  State pathologist, Quirke, has just spent six weeks in an institution drying out.  His daughter, Phoebe, has become concerned as to the well-being of her doctor friend, April, who has seemingly disappeared.  Phoebe enlists Quirke’s help to discover what has happened to the wayward daughter of a 1916 rising veteran and niece of the Health Minister.  While Phoebe tries to extract secrets from April’s other friends, Quirke calls on help from Inspector Hackett and tackles April’s family, who seem more concerned with possible scandal than the well-being of April.  Despite veiled threats to discontinue their investigation, Quirke and Phoebe continue to search for the missing woman, becoming increasingly concerned as to her fate as they slowly discover some of her secrets.

Elegy for April is the third instalment of the Quirke series and the best so far, in my view.  The story concerns the search, against the family’s wishes, for a female doctor who has disappeared.  The strength of the tale is its evocative atmosphere of fog and smoke, family and secrets, and scandal and power, and its focus on the sexual politics of conservative Ireland in the 1950s. Black evokes a certain mood, sense of place and social relations that draws the reader into a gloomy, drab Dublin.  Although a pathologist, Quirke is cast as a kind of disillusioned, drunken, anti-establishment PI who challenges convention and blunders his way towards truth and love, often losing as much as he gains in the process.  While the plotting is stronger than the first two outings it still seems to play second fiddle at times to the atmosphere, characterisation and social context, and the denouement felt somewhat contrived and strained.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable read and has persuaded me to persist with the series.


R.T. said...

Benjamin Black (a.k.a. John Banville) has had his critics, especially up railing against the Quirk series, but I have read several and think highly of them. Your well-done review reminds me that I need to catch up by returning to Black and Quirk.

Icewineanne said...

Haven't read any in this series but i've read so many positive reviews, including yours, that i must prioritize the 1st book in this series. Thanks for a motivating review!