For much of this extremely enjoyable and gripping thriller, John Banville is in a cheerful, almost nervous mood. It’s the 1950s and Dublin pathologist Quirke (previously met in the books of author Benjamin Black’s former alter ego) has embarked on a happy second marriage.
e and his Austrian psychiatrist wife Evelyn are on vacation in San Sebastian and everything is in love at first while Quirke, normally morose and curmudgeonly (for whom “petulance was a hobby”) marvels at the balance, the Evelyn’s equanimity and good humor, not to mention her ass, which, when he teases her, wobbles “in the wonderful way she did.”
The playfulness persists even when he sees a young Irish woman, a doctor at a local hospital, who looks remarkably like a close friend of her daughter Phoebe – the only problem being that the young woman in question, the offspring of a powerful dynasty politician, had been presumed dead four years earlier after her brother confessed to murdering her.
Her body had never been found and Quirke initially considers this chance encounter intriguing, but when he phones Phoebe about it, she takes it more seriously, contacting the girl’s intimidating ministerial uncle before flying away. for Spain with Detective St John. Strafford, who we had already met in the latest Banville thriller, Snow.
Turns out there’s a lot at stake here and we shouldn’t forget the eerie opening phrases from the book, which informed us that professional hitman Terry Tice “loves killing people.” It was that easy. Maybe loving was the wrong word. Today he was paid to do it, and well paid. But money was never the motive, not really ”.
So how does the London-based Tice fit into the Iberian scheme of things and what does it do in Dublin, haunting the Wynn’s hotel bar on Lower Abbey Street and the Eblana bookstore on Grafton Street? , where he buys a copy of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock while daydreaming about the “strange business” of being a novelist “making up stories and expecting people to pay to read them”. The author is having fun here and, indeed, Tice deliberately reminds one of Pinkie in Brighton Rock, albeit even more frightening.
Even more than in Neige, which I found exceptional, Banville juggles with his different characters with the confidence of a master, offering each of them stories that give both depth and urgency to their decisions. and their actions, while evoking an extraordinary sense of place. and period.
Quirke is treated with contempt by venal politicians, their only concern being to silence their involvement in a story of incestuous abuse at the hands of a patriotic patriarch, “the chieftain”, who, in official legend, is was committed suicide. “In a fit of noble despair. The country had failed him, it was said ”.
Ireland at the time being what it was, the scandal “had been contained, of course”. But now he’s in danger of being exposed, and so we have the convergence in San Sebastian of Quirke, Evelyn, Phoebe, Strafford and, not least, Terry Tice.
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This is the ultimate page turner, expertly paced and beautifully written.
Fiction: April in Spain by John Banville
Faber & Faber, 368 pages, hardcover € 21; eBook £ 6.02