Banville undoubtedly writes beautifully and many a sentence causes me to pause to admire its beauty. But the finely-tuned prose almost gets in the way of story, character and atmosphere.
Quirke remains likeable, although a recent stay at a drying-out clinic has not cured his thirst for booze (white wine doesn't count as `a drink', according to Quirke; useful to know).
The plot seems perfunctory, almost irrelevant: a friend of Quirke's neurotic daughter Phoebe has gone missing and evidence at her flat suggests that this may be following an abortion. Her family, who have long disowned her, are important people -- her uncle a government minister -- with a family mythology to uphold. Quirke, brought up in an orphanage, is condescendingly dismissed as not understanding such things.
on 16 September 2012
In my opinion the best of the 'Quirk' tales. Deep, dark and intriguing. In Banville style. Almost every sentence is poetry, difficult to get through without re-reading and savouring delicious sentences and paragraphs.
Quirke is back for his third outing and he's on top form. Perhaps there is a little more emotion from him and it's good to see his return to favour via his daughter. For followers of this series, the author doesn't let his readers down.
A girl vanishes, Quirke's daughter, Phoebe, asks for his help in trying to find her and like the bulldog (Phobe and other females suggest he's more like a bull!) he doesn't let go.
The darkness of 1950s Dublin is brought again into the story, the atmosphere in the city is, for some of us, very nostalgic. Life's pace is slow, somewhat improved by Quirke's purchase of an Alvis Roadster much to the dismay of cyclists and pedestrians alike.
But this small piece of humour is offset by the story of the girl. Quirke's investigation, alongside his very good friend, Inspector Hackett, brings him into conflict with a powerful Irish family, a government minister and a hard-nosed dowager-like matriarch each intent on preventing a bleak family history returning into the glare of the modern world.
The end is reached very slowly, actually but the side story of Quirke's life and times fills the book with an easy-to-enjoy step back into an almost forgotten time. The fog - or smog as I recall, the non-stop smoking, the heavy drinking, the badly handled liaisons with the opposite sex, all make for a book which is a joy to read, despite the fact that when the end is reached, the tragedy of lives lost is a sad reminder of what goes on behind closed doors.
I've already read (and reviewed book 4) so I guess it'll be a long wait for book 5 but I have the patience! Anyway, it seems Irish writers, rather like their Scandanavian counterparts are on the increase - 'Dublin Dead' is next on my list.
This is the third in the series of Quirke crime novels, and like its predecessors is set in 1950s Dublin. Once more the aptly named Quirke, pathologist, in cahoots with the redoubtable Inspector Hackett unravels the complexities of an original and intriguing case, triggered by the disappearance of a young woman associated with Quirke’s daughter. Phoebe, the daughter, has her own story to be told. She is a most refreshing character, who adds a great deal to all the stories, never so much perhaps as here, where she is more directly involved with the events of the plot.
What most specially sets this series of books apart from so many crime novels is the texture of the writing. Black, as one would hope from someone whose more obviously literary work written under his true name of John Banville has won awards and plaudits, has impressive descriptive powers and deals with relationships in a far more subtle way than is often found in the genre. I have become increasingly addicted to the Quirke novels and each seems to me stronger and more gripping than the one it follows. Strongly recommended.
on 12 April 2013
This was my first Quirke (indeed, my first Banville), and perhaps for that reason, it took a while for the setting to establish itself in my mind's eye. But once I realised this was 1950s Dublin, all came into focus and began to make much more sense. Perhaps I should have started at the beginning.
Anyway, although I concede that the plot is rather gentle for this genre, at least for the 2013 reader, the writing is beautiful, far superior to that of most of the crime novels with which I spend my time, and Quirke is a pleasure to meet.
As long as you know you're getting a crime mystery, rather than a police procedural thriller, you won't be disappointed by this. A whole world is convincingly presented, and I'll certainly be heading back there soon ...
on 22 April 2013
'The Sea' is such a beautiful book that I was expecting great things from Banville's alter ego Benjamin Black. This book was on an Amazon offer so definitely worth a try but, when I'm reading a murder mystery type of book, I want it to be easy, pacy reading and this was not. Lovely writing of course but it seemed to be swathes of characters' thought processes and scenery with brief explosions of 'action' in the form of sudden revelations of information pertinent to April's demise. I found myself skipping through looking for these, determined to find something to enjoy but failing. I think I approached it in the wrong way, expecting a thriller and getting something else entirely!
Booker Prizewinning author John Banville, writing under the pen name of "Benjamin Black," brings back Quirke, the alcoholic pathologist who has been the main character of two previous novels in this series. Elegy for April is the most sophisticated of the Quirke books so far, and readers who have read Christine Falls and The Silver Swan will be at a decided advantage in understanding Quirke's complex family background and the problems that dog his life as a result. Quirke's estranged daughter Phoebe contacts him for help because her best friend, April Latimer, a junior doctor, has vanished. Phoebe, to whom she usually spoke once a day; Patrick Ojukwu, an attractive Nigerian doctor, whom people suspect of being April's lover; Isabel Galloway, an actress rehearsing for a major role in a play; and Jimmy Minor, a hyperactive newspaper reporter--all these friends are in the dark regarding her whereabouts.
Quirke has been in rehab at the House of St. John of the Cross for the past six weeks, but now, feeling more in control of his life, he has suddenly checked himself out to help Phoebe with her problems while also reclaiming his pathology job at Holy Family Hospital. Whether he can maintain his self control long enough to find April becomes the major question here. As some of the characters from past novels reappear here--Inspector Hackett, Rose Crawford, and members of the Griffin and Latimer families--Banville creates a vibrant portrait of life in Dublin in the 1950s. The importance of family, the need to protect the church and its wealthiest supporters from negative publicity, and the country's attitudes toward sex, unwed pregnancy, and all forms of sexual abuse are all revealed within the context of this story.
Though the plot is well developed, the author's main emphasis here is on character, and he sets a high bar for future novels involving Quirke. Phoebe becomes a particularly sympathetic character, and Quirke himself becomes more understandable as he tries to stay off alcohol, even when it seems to be the only outlet for relieving his lifelong frustrations. Black's unique and memorable descriptions add to the color of the novel. One character has "pale, poached eyes"; bad coffee makes Quirke think unpleasantly of "a monkey's pelt."
The jarring grand finale consists of several unexpectedly sensational revelations, which do explain the motivation behind April's disappearance but lack the same elegance and sensitivity that Black has shown in his character development until this point--the final few scenes revealing the darkest and most repulsive underside of human nature. Ultimately, Black leaves a number of questions tantalizingly unanswered, allowing for more development to come, perhaps, in future novels. Of the three Quirke novels, this one is the most sophisticated in creating a plot which develops intrinsically from the novel's characters, their motivations and frustrations, and further novels suggest that Quirke will continue to evolve as an intriguing, though imperfect, "hero." Mary Whipple
Christine Falls (Crime Scene)
The Silver Swan (Thorndike Crime Scene)
Banville/Black writes really excellent crime novels. They are not "exciting", they are not gory, they are not flashy, they're not particularly bloody, but there is something about the whole ensemble... He writes, of course, beautifully, and the biggest strength is the depth of the writing, the characters, the place and the atmosphere. They're rather a mesmerising series of novels, and I'd recommend them highly to anyone who likes crime fiction distinguished by the quality of its writing rather than the fastness of its plot.
on 21 August 2010
"It was the worst of winter weather, and April Latimer was missing.
"For days a February fog had been down and showed no sigh of lifting. In the muffled silence the city seemed bewildered...."
The opening lines of ELEGY FOR APRIL by Benjamin Black sets the tone for the book. It is a very good book, not a mystery in the strictest sense and not a thriller either. From the beginning, we know that April has come to some harm and Black weaves a story that draws the reader in, waiting.
As with the previous two books, CHRISTINE FALLS and THE SILVER SWAN, the focus of the book is a young woman who has stepped away from the accepted path for women in 1950's Dublin. But, like the previous two books, the focus of the story is Quirke, the tormented adopted son of Judge Garret Griffin, the distanced adopted brother of Malachy Griffin, and the dominant male figure in the life of Phoebe. The relationships are very complicated and the reader will likely benefit from reading CHRISTINE FALLS first.
Phoebe comes to Quirke because she is worried about her friend, April Latimer, a junior doctor, whom she hasn't heard from for over a week. Everyone tells Phoebe that she is letting her imagination take over, that she should wait, that April is probably gone away with a boyfriend. But Phoebe is insistent; she talks to April everyday and Phoebe is convinced that April's silence is not willfully done.
Quirke agrees to ask some questions and calls upon his friend, Inspector Hackett, to look into April's life. She has been estranged from her family for a long time and her only friends seem to be Phoebe and Isabel, an actress, Jimmy Miner, a newspaper reporter, and Patrick Ojukwu, a student at the College of Surgeons. As Quirke asks questions, Phoebe realizes that she didn't really know any of them.
The young women whose tragedies are the catalyst of the stories, are the victims of the society in which they live. April Latimer is the daughter of a hero of the 1916 Easter rebellion and the niece of a member of government. Her brother is a prominent physician. Her family has disowned her because of the hateful statements she threw at her mother, but the family won't explain why these served to banish a child. They order Quirke to give up his search for April, but Quirke is doing it as much for Phoebe as April and he will not bend to their demand. The Latimers have power and Quirke muses that, "Power is like oxygen...being similarly vital, everywhere pervasive, wholly intangible...." and he wonders what April has done to have that power turned against her.
ELEGY FOR APRIL continues Black's indictment of the stultifying society of upper middle class Dublin where public adherence to the rules of the Catholic Church are a requirement of belonging. Quirke is a victim of his own demons and, despite his weaknesses, there is also strength.
An elegy is a mournful lament. The title is well-chosen."
on 7 November 2013
Unlike any thriller-detective writer out there today.The Benjamin Black books are so original,so well written,i can only admir the man.The main charcter Quirke is totally unlike any other ive read about,maybe similar to some of John le Carres spy people.the crimes in the book not great mysteries to solve but all of them (this one Elegy for April included) are 5 star books.please try to read one,I know you will be both entertained and captivated.thank you ACE Books and Amazon