Much as I enjoy John Banville’s Quirke series written under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, Elegy for April is a slow starter, eventually just as riveting as the others but not as immediately engaging. That said, Black delivers his usual complex portrait of 1950s-era Dublin characters, and it is this particular time warp that he captures so beautifully.
In Dublin, the Catholic Church is a major player behind the scenes, a black-and-white society that brooks no challenges to the rigid moral expectations of the faith. More than the ever-quirky Quirke, his daughter Phoebe plays a major role in this particular story, for it is Phoebe’s friend April Latimer who has suddenly dropped out of sight. There are secrets and lies aplenty behind April’s disappearance, and only Phoebe’s persistence eventually leads to the truth.
Phoebe and Quirke have a complicated relationship, one bred of even more secrets, but both are trying to repair years of deceit. As Phoebe’s concerns for April grow, it is to her father that she turns. Recently, Quirke has been in a recovery house, hoping to tame the ravages of alcohol, his progress on that front less than stellar as he returns to normal life as a pathologist at the Hospital of the Holy Family. Those he encounters post-rehab are more than willing to enable his return to drinking, a problem that dulls the edges of his usually effective investigation.
An eccentric mix of characters makes for an unpredictable resolution, from Phoebe’s and April’s group of friends (including a charming Nigerian man who is a favorite of the ladies), Quirke’s brother-in-law Malachy Griffin, DI Hackett, and April’s wealthy and politically powerful family. The result is a tragedy born of the expectations of others, a rigid moral code and the implacability of the Church, as well as a dark secret from the past.
Grasping for a safe foothold in a crumbling life, Quirke balances precariously on the precipice of the future, his personal demons threatening to break free and tarnish the work of a lifetime.