Off the Shelf: April in Spain by John Banville

Off the Shelf: April in Spain
By John Banville Hanover Square Press ISBN-13: 978-1-335-471 40-6 318 pp. 2021
Review by Terrence J. Kenneally

There have been many legendary Irish literary characters. Names like Leopold Bloom, from Ulysses, Jimmy Rabbitte, from the Barreytown Trilogy, Mary Kate Danaher from The Quiet Man, and Cathleen Ni Houlihan from Cathleen Ni Houlihan. A more recent one is Quirke, chief pathologist in the Dublin city morgue, who investigates sudden-death victims in the 1950s.

The character was created by well-known Irish author and Booker Prize winner, John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Black wrote seven novels featuring Quirke as his titular protagonist. The character has also been adapted as a BBC series under just the name Quirke. This year, however, an eighth novel has been written in the series by Banville, not Black, titled April in Spain.

April in Spain finds Quirke on holiday in Spain with his psychiatrist wife in the sunny Basque city of San Sebastian. The change of scenery gets on his nerves (the holiday being his wife’s idea). “You love to be miserable,” his wife analyses. “It’s your version of being happy.”

Quirke is not a happy camper. It was like, he said, being in a drying -out hospital. He had been in more then one such place in his day and he knew what he was talking about.

One day Quirke decides to open an oyster with nail scissors rather than proper shucking tool. He slices his hand and ends up in a hospital, where he comes face to face with a young woman whom he has seen recently in a café. Her name, she tells Quirke, is Dr. Angela Lawless.

Despite only having glimpsed her in the shadowy twilight at the bar, Quirke grows suspicious that Angela Lawless is in fact a woman named April Latimore who was supposed to have been murdered by her brother, who later committed suicide back in Ireland. April was a friend of Quirke’s daughter Phoebe. Alerted by Quirke to the possible discovery of April’s status, as a person who is still alive, Phoebe heads to Spain.

The Latimore family is powerful, and there are secrets and scandals that must not come to light. The only thing to do is hire a killer and take carte of matters once and for all. The payoff is melodramatic, but almost worth the prize of admission. Having read almost all the Black/Banville books, this does not disappoint. It’s TOP SHELF for sure!

*Terrence Kenneally is an attorney whose office is in Rocky River, Ohio. He received his Master’s in Irish Studies from John Carroll University.

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