‘He wanted to know who she was, and why he was convinced he had some unremembered connection with her. It was as simple as that. But he knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t simple at all.’
– April in Spain
[ About the Book ]
When Dublin pathologist Quirke glimpses a familiar face while on holiday with his wife, it’s hard to tell whether his imagination is just running away with him.
Could she really be who he thinks she is, and have a connection with a crime that nearly brought ruin to an Irish political dynasty?
Unable to ignore his instincts, Quirke makes a call back home and Detective St John Strafford is soon dispatched to Spain.
But he’s not the only one heading for the Spanish coast. As a terrifying hitman hunts down his prey, they are all set for a brutal showdown . .
[ My Review ]
April In Spain by John Banville will be published 7th October with Faber and Faber and is described as ‘the sumptuous, propulsive, sun-kissed follow up to the bestselling Snow, from the Booker Prize winning author’. It is the eighth book in the Quirke series of Irish crime novels by the author, albeit John Banville is publishing April in Spain under his own name, as opposed to his pseudonym Benjamin Black. All previous seven novels, up to Even the Dead in 2015, were released under Benjamin Black. The central character in this series is the cantankerous Dublin-based pathologist, Quirke.
Set in the late 1950s, John Banville evokes a great sense of time and place immediately transporting the reader back to the post-war era when life moved at a very different pace. Quirke, with his wife Evelyn, an Austrian who came to Ireland during the war, is on a break in the beautiful city of San Sebastián in northern Spain. Never content to just relax, Quirke is constantly sniping and passing grumpy remarks to Evelyn. She knows his past, she is aware of his fondness for the drink and she has a way of handling his moods that even he finds intriguing. Evelyn suffered during the war years. Although we never get a deep insight into her past, we are given enough to feel empathy for her character.
One evening Quirke’s attention is drawn to a woman at a nearby table. She is most definitely Irish and he is convinced there is something familiar about her. An unexpected trip to the emergency department of the local hospital puts Quirke directly in contact with the woman from the café as she is a doctor there, but she flees on sight. Quirke, more than ever, is convinced that he knows her but he just cannot connect the dots. He rings his daughter, Phoebe, to explain what he has seen but she is in disbelief. It couldn’t be. This person, this woman who is connected to an Irish political dynasty was presumed dead, murdered by her own brother. Quirke asks Phoebe to travel to Spain as she was once a friend of the mysterious woman and would be in a position to identify her immediately. Phoebe is looking for a much needed change in her routine so, although frustrated, she is intrigued and books her ticket to Spain.
This is where the original Quirke series and John Banville’s 2020 release Snow cross paths. Snow introduced readers to Detective Inspector St. John Strafford and he also plays a role in April in Spain, when he is quickly dispatched to accompany Phoebe to San Sebastián to investigate Quirke’s claims. If Quirke is correct, a political crisis will surely ensue back home in Ireland.
As Quirke tries to figure out what is going on, unbeknownst to him, DI Strafford or Phoebe, there is a hitman on their tail, a man with a string of violent crimes behind him, a man with no soul and dead eyes.
Now I do like a good murder mystery but, if I’m being honest, at no point did my heart race. I wasn’t gripped in any way by that side of the story. It was almost superfluous in many ways and I did feel that certain elements were stretching my imagination a bit too far. For me the strength of April in Spain lies in the dialogue and the historical setting, alongside the intriguing relationship between Quirke and Evelyn. John Banville’s ability to paint a picture is outstanding, as depicted in the description below of a low-life Dublin character…
‘He was a skimpy little fellow with a thin face and a crooked little pointed nose. A comma of slick black hair was stuck to his forehead, like an unruly curl still there from years before when his mother had plastered it down with a spat-on finger before sending him out into the world. He had a peculiar corkscrew walk, sort of hugging himself as he went along and setting one foot directly in front of the other, like a ballet dancer…..He carried his head at a permanent tilt, his right jaw tucked in against his shoulder. This was due to a congenital defect – the pub wits said that when he was born the doctor took one look at him and tried to push him back in again.’
April in Spain will no doubt be an interesting book for fans of the Quirke series and for those who have previously read Snow. It can definitely be read as a standalone but, I do wonder, in this case, would a reader enjoy it more having read the earlier books. April in Spain is a slow-burning mystery. Not every reader looks for fast-paced and I am sure that there are many who will completely immerse themselves in John Banville’s descriptive hand and enjoy the pace of his latest work.
[ Bio ]
John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of seventeen novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and the Quirke Series of crime novels under the pen name Benjamin Black. Other major prizes he has won include the Franz Kafka Prize, the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature, and the Prince of Asturias Award. He lives in Dublin.