Nancy Oakes's Reviews > The Silver Swan

The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
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Jul 26, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: crime-fiction-ireland, crime-fiction
Read in July, 2012

With Quirke's life now in a bit more of a muddle after the revelations made in Christine Falls, he is making more of an attempt to stay off the drink, but he always needs that one more -- but "of course, it would not be just the one." But it's over tea that he meets with Billy Hunt, an old schoolmate he hasn't seen in years. Billy's wife Deirdre was found in the waters of Sandycove Bay, seemingly a victim of suicide, and he asks Quirke to forego an autopsy, claiming that he can't stand thinking of her "sliced up," wanting to preserve his memories of her before she died. By law, Quirke is required to do a postmortem, but agrees to see what he can do for Billy. Back in the morgue he lifts the plastic sheet covering Deirdre, a hairdresser who also went by the professional name of Laura Swan, and while he's trying to picture what may have happened to her, he comes across a small puncture mark on the inner side of one of her arms. While struggling over what course of action he should take now, his better judgment warns him to "stay on dry land," but

"he knew he would dive, headfirst, into the depths. Something in him yearned for the darkness there."

Conducting an unofficial autopsy anyway, Quirke realizes that this was no suicide and begins his own investigation. Offered to readers from an omniscient, third-person pov that frequently switches, as Quirke sets to work trying to figure out exactly what's happened, and as his daughter Phoebe becomes caught up in her story in her own way, Deirdre's story is revealed, little by little via flashbacks, interspersed with action in the present. The Silver Swan reveals a nightmarish view from below, so to speak, in various forms of darkness that envelop seemingly ordinary people in the city.

There are some incredible characterizations here beyond the main players of this series: Dr. Kreutz, a "spiritual healer" who, along with Leslie White, slowly begin to erode Deirdre's sense of freedom; Billy Hunt, Deirdre's husband, and Deirdre herself, who wants to rise above her origins and make something of herself but who makes some very bad decisions. But what really sucks you in is the whole nightmarish scene of what people are capable of -- and Deirdre's story takes you down into an abyss among some of the worst.

Definitely recommended, but let me say something here. Black's focus is not so much on plotting the perfect crime or following the success or failure of the police investigations in this book, or for that matter in any of his books -- it's largely on the characters who inhabit the streets of Dublin and the forces around them that lead them to act as they do. If you would keep that in mind as you read, it will make the experience that much better.
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