He straightened, still kneeling, and took from the pocket of his trousers a small, pearl-handled penknife on a long, fine chain and leaned forward again and began to scrape carefully in the gaps between the boards. Quirke leaned too and looked over the policeman’s shoulder at the crumbs of clotted, dark dust that he was salvaging. “What is it?” he asked, although he already knew.
“Oh, it’s blood,” Hackett said, sounding weary, and sat back on his heels and sighed. “Aye, it’s blood, all right.” – from Elegy for April
Dublin, Ireland in the 1950’s is the setting for the third novel in the Quirke series by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. Phoebe Griffin, Quirke’s daughter, is concerned when her friend, April, goes missing. April Latimer is a junior doctor at a local hospital, but her familial ties are more interesting than her job. The Latimer’s are wealthy, privileged, and have some dark family secrets which may or may not have anything to do with April’s sudden disappearance. Quirke is freshly out of rehab for his alcoholism and struggling to remain sober when Phoebe comes to him asking for his help in locating her friend.
As with previous books in the series, Quirke finds himself embroiled in a mystery that takes him behind the scenes of a dysfunctional family. In Elegy for April, the themes include racism, inter-racial relationships, and the struggle to free oneself from not only the past, but from substance abuse. Quirke is more likable in this third novel, due largely to Banville/Black’s decision to show Quirke’s vulnerability and inner turmoil, especially when it comes to his battle against alcohol.
Quirke’s whiskey arrived. He had determined he would not touch it until a full minute had gone by. He looked at the blood-red second hand of his watch making its round, steadily and, so it seemed to him, smugly. – from Elegy for April
In fact, the mystery in Elegy for April takes second place to the development of Quirke’s character and his ever evolving and difficult relationship with his daughter. From this perspective, I found the book engaging on a psychological level. But for readers wanting a thriller-mystery, they may find themselves a bit disappointed with an anticlimactic ending that was easy to predict. This series has been described as literary suspense – which I think is apt. But in this third book, the literary supersedes the suspense.
I thought the first two books of the series were stronger than this one (read my reviews of Christine Falls and The Silver Swan). Even still, Elegy for April is worth the read if only for Banville/Black’s strong prose and excellent character development.