Heidi's Reviews > Elegy for April

Elegy for April by Benjamin Black
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's review
Jul 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: recorded-books-lapl, recorded-books-smpl, electronic-resource-lapl, own-hardback
Read from January 12 to 20, 2014

** spoiler alert ** This is my third Quirke, and by now I've struck a pretty good balance in my feeling about this series. I liked Christine Falls a lot, as much for its portrait of Quirke and his picturesque tortured family as for the murder being investigated; I found the writing superb, and if the protagonist was sometimes too self-pitying, too alcoholic, and too inclined to fall into bed with every woman who crossed his path, I learned to shrug and let it go. The Silver Swan, by contrast, was a serious disappointment, though I don't remember why; I only know that it seemed slight in terms of both the mystery and the back story. Consequently it was a long time before I picked up "Elegy for April", and now find my interest revived. Even though the series still hasn't lived up to its initial promise, I'm giving it four stars.

Quirke is still irritating and endearing by turns, and his friend, Hackett the detective, continues to be appealingly likable. The description of Irish society in the 50s is one of the strongest assets of the book: the religiosity, the hypocrisy, the straight-lacedness masking monstrosities of degradation and cruelty. The sense of place, of touch, feel, and smell of Dublin in winter is palpable. The relationship between Quirke and his daughter continues to evolve: as a foundling who was never wanted, Quirke doesn't know how to love, yet you sense the desperation of the soul locked behind bars and raring to get out. Phoebe is equally trapped, and the question is – will these two eventually connect, and will Phoebe's outcome be better than her father's? You want this for her, but it is a function of this series' honesty that you don't necessarily think she will.

Downsides: a mystery so slight that it barely ripples the surface of the novel. We move through Quirke's struggles with alcohol, his affair with one of Phoebe's friend, his attempts to learn to drive a new car, his musings on Irish society, none of which really has anything to do with solving the question of April Latimer's disappearance. And quite honestly, when the answers surface, they do so almost haphazardly, and are, frankly, disappointing. Why does every murder these days have to revolve around incest or sexual deviancy? It makes you long for the good old days when murderers killed for money. It makes you long for a plot with little bit of originality.

But no matter, the ride is still enjoyable, and I look forward to picking up my next Quirke, if only to find out whether he starts to come to terms with his tortured past, and begins to resolve his relationship with his daughter. After all, let's not forget that Benjamin Black is actually John Banville, who is a literary gent and not a mystery writer by trade at all. We're probably lucky that he throws us a murder now and again in between his alter ego's emotional and psychological struggles.

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