Elegy for April, by Benjamin Black
by Robert A. Parker
It is interesting to read Black after having just read Banville. This Black mystery from 2011 moves forward quite briskly, and yet there is Banville’s familiar richness in presenting the setting and the characters. Dublin lives on these pages, as do those who are searching for answers, both to their life and to the mystery behind the disappearance of April.
The friends of April Latimer, the girl of the title, are desperately trying to find out what happened to their unconventional colleague, while her estranged family claims to have no interest, indeed wants the others to stop their search. The friends are five young people and include Phoebe Griffin, the daughter of Quirke, this series’ pathologist hero. She asks her father to help them find out what happeed to April, and Quirke, in turn, seeks the help of his friend Inspector Hackett, the policeman of this series.
The other friends are the newspaperman Jimmy, the actress Isabel, and the black, educated Nigerian, Patrick. Jimmy is not a suspect; he is just curious as a reporter. Nor is Isabel, but she catches the eye of Quirke, and a romance adds a potential new touch to the series. And Patrick is too obvious a suspect to be one. Plus, neither they nor the reader know if April has disappeared on her own, or has died at someone’s hand.
On the other hand, all the Latimers act suspiciously, as they try to forestall the investigation. These include April’s mother Celia; her brother Oscar, a doctor; and her uncle William, a government minister who is the brother of her dead father Conor, an Irish revolutionary. Do they know if April is alive or dead? Were they involved in her disappearance? They all do seem to be hiding behind the desire to protect the family’s reputation.
What makes this work so interesting is not really the fate of April. It is the relationships. Of Quirke with his daughter Phoebe. As well as with Inspecrtor Hackett. And also with the actress Isabel. Plus the relationships among the five young people, first April’s with everyone, and then the black Patrick’s with everyone. Not to mention the Latimer family and their various negtive feelings about April.
And as mentioned earlier, the novel comes alive in its descriptions. From the mists of November to the freezing air of December. From Dublin’s streets and cafes to its parks and waterways. From office interiors to mansion rooms to dark stairs in dingy apartments. All of which becomes richer through the responses of Quirke, Phoebe, and Hackett to both the poverty and the wealth that they enounter.
The least effective section of the novel is the denoument. First, because it stems from Quirke’s sudden flash of memory regarding a moustache. The reader is aware of this moustache but has no reason to recall it, because it is slipped in so casually. And second and more significant, because this is another tale in which, once accused, the villain quickly confesses. So conveniently, author Black. And the confession becomes a long drawn out scene in which the villain keeps flashing a gun. Will he use it? How will he use it? And on whom?
The villain’s motive, on the other hand, reveals evil personified. And makes convincing why the Latimer family wanted to conceal the truth of April’s disappearance. But this powerful motive that tries to jar us at the end seems too much tacked on, as if the author decided to come up with something truly evil to achieve a final impact.
And so, yes, one is interestd in more mysteries by Benjamin Black. But less because of the mysteries themselves than because of the people. And less in the solutions to come than in the relationships inside the Quirke family, as well as their always interesting interaction with the Dublin environment. (May, 2015)